Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Thank you all. I think I was backstage going through...you did go over my achievements and things, like you said you would? Good. Gave a good briefing, like you said...good. Being an introducer at a thing like this is a thankless task. John Hodgeman, who was my introducer and interrogator in New York compared it to the audience to having walked for two days through a hot and trackless desert and finally reaching an oasis, and all the people who've come through the desert with you starving, thirsty, look out to the cool blue waters of this oasis and you say, "You can go down there and drink, but first! Let me tell you the history of this oasis." So, the plan for this evening, and there is one. I am going to read to you. And then at some point I'm going to grab this stack of questions that came in, take a deep breath, and see how many of the questions we can get through. And then I'll read some more. And then we stop. And this was really a kind of solution to what happened the last time I tried signing in this area, where I got to leave at two o'clock in the morning, and the janitorial staff were actually mopping around us as the last few weary people got their books signed. And I thought, Well let's try and do something a bit more like this, where you may not actually get that magical 30 seconds at the end of a line where you forget how to spell your name and I stare at your belt buckle. But with luck you'll get something a bit more fun. And you'll get to be in a warmed-up place with somebody reading you stories. If the person next to you starts snoring, you are allowed to nudge them. Hard and suddenly. If at some point during this evening you get nudged hard and suddenly, do not yelp. This will only attract more attention to you. Cell phones: if you have one, turn it on turn it off, don't turn it on. If you have one turn it onto silent or turn it off now, or it will be embarrassing otherwise. Somebody will ring you, it will start playing the Batman theme, everybody will laugh at you. This is a poem, actually. And it's in this book Fragile Things like what everything I will read this evening is. And it's called, The Day the Saucers Came: That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them. Golden. Silent. Coming down from the sky like great snowflakes and the people of earth stared, descending, waiting to find, dry-mouthed, what waited inside for us, and none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow. But you didn't notice it...because. That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence, was the day that the graves gave up their dead. And the zombies pushed up through soft earth or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable, came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran. But you didn't notice this because on the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was Rag n Rock also and the television screens showed us a ship built of dead men's nails, a serpent, a wolf, all bigger than the mind could hold, and the cameramen could not get far enough away, and then the gods came out. But you did not see them coming because on the saucer-zombie-battling gods day, the floodgates broke. And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites offering us wishes and wonders and eternities, and charm and cleverness, and true brave hearts and pots of gold while giants fi-fo-fummed across the land and killer bees. But you had not idea of any of this because that day, the saucer day, the zombie day, the rag n rock n fairies day, the day the great winds came, and snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day all plants died, plastics dissolved, the day computers turned, the screens telling us we would obey, the day angels drunk and muddled stumbled from the bars, and all the bells of London were sounded, the day animals spoke to us in Assyrian, Yeti day, the fluttering capes and arrival of the time machine day, you didn't notice any of this. Because you were sitting in your room not doing anything, not even reading, not really, just looking at your telephone, wondering if I was going to call. And that was one that came in as a request. I actually...my god there's water down here. There's water...you have never seen so much water...I put out a thing on the blog, saying "if anybody had any requests," and a few came in. So I'm going to do all the ones that came in. Or at least, all the ones that came in before I left the hotel. So if you zoomed one in at 6:00, you're out of luck. Let's do a short story next. This next story was one that I did the first draft of when I was 22. I started writing it late one night in the waiting room at East Hoyden Station while the winds howled and writing it in pencil on the back of whatever pieces of paper I had. And then I typed it up, I showed it to some people whose opinions I really respected. And the first one read it, went "Hm" and handed it back. And the second, because this was in England, read it through very carefully, said "Well, it's facetious twaddle, isn't it" and also handed it back. And so I put it away. And thought and when I thought of it over the years, it was with a sort of relief that I hadn't published it and publicly embarrassed myself by going into print with facetious twaddle. And then twenty years later, I was asked by an anthology called Gothic if I would write them a Gothic story. And I bethought me of cause I'm an author, and I'm allowed to say things like "I bethought me" - and I bethought me of the tub in the attic where the folder that everything sort of nothing ever gets thrown away in my house, which drives everybody but me mad and went up to the tub in the attic and dug out the story and read it. And thought, "Actually, it's not bad. It's a really good first draft." You know, that young man who wrote it needed there's things that could have been fixed, but it's pretty good. So I thought, I'll do a second draft. So I did. And the first thing I did, in my second draft, was I shortened the title. Because the title had been much too long. And I shortened the title to: Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire. One. Somewhere in the night, someone was writing. Two. Her feet scrunched the gravel as she ran wildly up the tree-lined drive. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her lungs felt as if they were bursting, heaving breath after breath of the cold night air. Her eyes fixed on the house ahead, the single light in the top-most room, drawing her toward it like a moth to a candle-flame. Above her and away in the deep forest behind the house, night things whooped and scrocked. From the road behind her, she heard something scream briefly, a small animal that had been the victim of some beast of prey, she hoped, but could not be certain. She ran as if the legions of hell were close on her heels, and spared not even a glance behind her until she reached the porch of the old mansion. In the moon's pale light, the white pillars seemed skeletal, like the bones of a great beast. She clung to the wooden door frame, And then she rapped on the door, timorously at first, and then harder. The rapping echoed through the house. She imagined from the echo that came back to her that far away someone was knocking on a another door, muffled and dead. "Please!" she called. "If there's someone here, anyone, please let me in! I beseech you, I implore you!" Her voice sounded strange to her ears. The flickering light in the topmost room faded and vanished to reappear in successive descending windows. One person walked with a candle. The light vanished into the depths of the house. She tried to catch her breath. It seemed like an age passed before she heard footsteps on the other side of the door and spied a chink of candle-light through a crack in the ill-fitting door frame. "Hello?" she said. The voice, when it spoke, was dry as old bone, a dessicated voice, redolent of crackling parchment and musty grave hangings. "Who calls?" it said. "Who knocks, who calls on this night of all nights?" The voice gave her no comfort. She looked out to the night that enveloped the house and then tossed her raven locks and said in a voice that she hoped betrayed no fear, "Tis I, Amelia Ermshaw, recently orphaned and now on my way to take up a position as a governess to two small children, a boy and a girl, of Lord Falconer, whose coy glances I found during our interview in his London residence both repellent and fascinating, but whose aquiline face haunts my dreams." "And what do you do here then, at this house, on this night of all nights of all nights? Falconer castle lies a good twenty leagues on from here on the other side of the moors." "The coachman, an ill-natured fellow, and a mute or so he pretended to be, for he formed no words but made his wishes known only by grunts and gobblings, reined in his team a mile or so back down the road, or so I judge, and then he showed me by gestures that he would go no further, and that I was to alight. Well I did refuse to do so. He pushed me roughly from the carriage to the cold earth, then whipping the poor horses into a frenzy he clattered off the way he had come, taking my several bags and my trunk with him. I called after him but he did not return, and it seemed to me that a deeper darkness stirred in the forests behind me. I saw the light in your window and I-- I--" she was able to keep up her pretense of bravery no longer. She began to sob. "Your father," came the voice from the other side of the door, "would he have been the honorable Hubert Ermshaw?" Amelia choked back her tears. "Yes. Yes he was." "And you-- you say you are an orphan." She thought of this father, of his tweed jacket, as the maelstrom seized him and whipped him on the rocks and away from her forever. "He died trying to save my mother's life. They both were drowned." She heard the dull chunking of a key being turned in a lock, then twin booms as iron bolts were drawn back. "Welcome, then, Miss Amelia Ermshaw. Welcome to your inheritance in this house without a name, I welcome on this night of all nights." The door opened. The man held a black tallow candle. Its flickering flame illuminated his face from below giving it an unearthly and elfish appearance. He could have been a jack o' lantern, she thought, or a particularly elderly axe-murderer. He gestured for her to come in. "Why do you keep saying that," she asked. "Why do I keep saying what?" "On this night of all nights, you've said it three times so far." He simply stared at her for a moment. Then he beckoned again with one bone-colored finger. As she entered, he thrust the candle close to her face and stared at her with eyes that were not truly mad but were still far from sane. He seemed to be examining her, and eventually he grunted and nodded. "This way," was all he said. She followed him down a long corridor. The candle flame threw fantastic shadows about the two of them. And in its light the Grandfather clock and the spindly chairs and tables danced and capered. The old man fumbled with his keychain and unlocked a door in the wall beneath the stairs. A smell came from beyond of must and dust and abandonment. "Where are we going?" she asked. He nodded as if he had not understood her, then he said, "There are some as are what they are and there some as aren't what they seem to be and there are some as only seem to be what they seem to be. Mark my words and mark them well, Hubert Ermshaw's daughter, do you understand me?" She shook her head. He began to walk and did not look back. She followed the old man down the stairs. Three. Far away and far along the young man slammed his quill down upon the manuscript, spattering sepia ink across the ream of paper and the polished table. "It's no good," he said despondently. He dabbed at the circle of ink he had just made on the table with a delicate forefinger, smearing the pique a darker brown, then unthinkingly rubbed his finger across the bridge of his nose. It left a dark smudge. "Hello, sir." The butler had entered almost soundlessly. "It's happening again, Tombs. Humor creeps in. Self-parody whispers at the edges of things. I find myself denying literary convention and sending up both myself and the whole scribbling profession. The butler gazed unblinking at his young master. "I believe humor is very highly thought of in certain circles, sir." The young man rested his head in his hands, rubbing his forehead pensively with his fingertips. "Well that's not the point, Tombs. I'm trying to create a slice of life here, an accurate representation of the world as it is and the human condition. Instead I find myself indulging as I write in the foibles of my fellows. I make jokes." He had smeared ink all over his face. From the forbidden room at the top of the house an eerie undulating cry rang out, echoing through the house. The young man sighed. "You had better feed Aunt Agatha, Tombs." "Very good, sir." The young man picked up the quill pen and idly scratched his ear with the tip. Behind him, in a bad light, on the portrait of his great-great grandfather. The painted eyes had been cut out most carefully long ago, and now real eyes stared out of the canvas face, looking down at the writer. The eyes glinted a tawny gold. If the young man had turned around and remarked upon them, he might've thought them golden eyes of some great cat or of some misshapen bird of prey, were such a thing possible. Those were not eyes that belonged in any human head. But the young man did not turn. Instead, oblivious, he reached for a new sheet of paper, dipped his quill into the glass inkwell, and commenced to write. Four. "Aye," said the old man, putting down the black tallow candle on the silent harmonium. "He is our master, and we are his slaves, though we pretend to ourselves that it is not so, but when the time is right he demands what he craves, and it is our duty and our compulsion to provide him with--" he shuddered and drew a breath. Then he said only, "With what he needs." The black curtains shook and fluttered in the glassless casement as the storm drew closer. Amelia clutched the lace handkerchief to her breast, her father's monogram upward. "And...the gate?" she asked, in a whisper. "It was locked in your ancestor's time, and he charged before he vanished that it should always remain so, but there are still tunnels, folk do say, that link the old crypt with the burial grounds." "And Sir Frederick's first wife?" He shook his head, sadly. "Hopelessly insane but a mediocre harpsichord player. He put it about that she was dead, and perhaps some believed him." She repeated his last four words to herself, then she looked up at him with new resolve in her eyes. "And for myself, now I have learned why I am here, what do you advice me to do?" He peered around the empty hall, then he said urgently, "Fly from here, Miss Ermshaw, fly while there is still time, fly for your life, fly for your immortal hog." "My what?" she asked. But even as the words escaped her crimson lips the old man crumpled to the floor, a silver crossbow quarrel protruded from the back of his head. "He is dead," she said in shocked wonderment. "Aye," affirmed a cruel voice from the far end of the hall. "But he was dead before this day, girl. And I do think that he has been dead a monstrous long time." Under her shocked gaze, the body began to putress, the flesh dripped and rotted and liquefied, the bones revealed crumbled and oozed, till there was nothing left but a stinking mass where once there had been a man. Amelia squatted beside and dipped her fingertip into the noxious stuff. She licked her finger and she made a face. "You would appear to be right, sir, whoever you are," she said. "I would estimate that he has been dead for the better part of a hundred years." Five. "I am endeavoring," said the young man to the chambermaid, "to write a novel that reflects life as it is, mirrors it down to the finest degree, yet as I write it turns to dross and gross mockery. What should I do, eh, Ethel? What should I do?" "I'm sure I don't know, sir," said the chambermaid, who was pretty and young and had come to the great house in mysterious circumstances several weeks earlier. She gave the bellow several more squeezes, making the heart of the fire glow an orange-white. "Will that be all?" "Yes. No. Yes," he said. "You may go, Ethel." The girl picked up the now empty coal scuttle and walked with a steady pace across the drawing room. The young man made no move to return to his writing-desk. Instead he turned and thought by the fireplace, staring at the human skull on the mantle, of the twin crossed swords that hung above it, up on the wall. The fire crackled and spat as a lump of coal broke in half. Footsteps close behind him. The young man turned. "You?" The man facing him was almost his double, the white streak in the auburn hair proclaimed them of the same blood if any proof were needed. The stranger's eyes were dark and wild, his mouth petulant yet oddly firm. "Yes, I, I your older brother whom you thought dead these many years. But I am not dead, or perhaps I am no longer dead. And I have come back, I come back from ways that are best left untraveled to claim what is truly mine." The young man's eyebrows raised. "I see, well all this is yours if you can prove that you are who you say you are." "Proof? I need no proof. I claim birthright and blood right, and death right." So saying he pulled both the swords down from above the fireplace and passed one to his younger brother. "Now guide you my brother, the best man win." Steel flashed and kissed in an intricate dance of thrusts. At times it seems no more than a courtly and deliberate ritual while at other times it seems pure savagery, a wildness that moves faster than the eye can easily follow. Around and around the room they went, and up the steps to the mezzanine, and down the steps to the main hall, they swung from drapes and from chandeliers, they leapt up on tables and down again. The older brother obviously was more experienced and perhaps was a better swordsman, but the younger man was fresher and he fought like a man possessed, forcing his opponent back and back and back to the fire itself. The older brother reached out with his left hand and grasped the poker. He swung it wildly at the younger who duck and in one motion ran his brother through. "I'm done for. I am a dead man." The younger brother nodded his ink-stained face. "Perhaps it is better this way. Truly I did not want the house, or the lands, all I wanted I think was peace." He lay there bleeding crimson onto the grey flagstone. "Brother, take my hand." The young man knelt and clasped the hand that, already, it seemed to him, was becoming cold. "Before I go into that night where none can follow, there are things I must tell you. Firstly, in my death I truly believe the curse is lifted from our line. The second--" his breath now came in a bubbling wheeze and he was having difficulty speaking. "The second...is the...the thing...in the abyss. Beware the cellars, the rats, the...it follows!" After this his head lolled on the stone and his eyes rolled back and saw nothing ever again. Outside the house the raven cawed thrice. Inside, strange music had begun to scurl up from the crypt, signifying that for some, the wake had already started. The younger brother once more he hoped the rightful possessor of his title picked up a bell and rang for a servant. Tombs, the butler, was there in the doorway before the last ring had died away. "Remove this," said the young man, "but treat it well. He died to redeem himself, perhaps to redeem us both." Tombs said nothing, merely nodded to show that he had understood. The young man walked out of the drawing room. He entered the hall of mirrors, a hall from which all the mirrors had carefully been removed, leaving irregularly-shaped patches on the paneled walls, and leaving himself alone. He began to muse aloud. "This is precisely what I was talking about," he said. "Had such a thing happened in one of my tales and such things happen all the time, I would've felt constraint to guiet unmercifully." He slammed a fist against a wall where once a hexagonal mirror had hung. "What is wrong with me, wherefore this flaw?" Strange scuttling things shibbered and cheetled in the black drapes at the end of the room, and high in the gloomy oak beams and in the wainscoting, but they made no answer. He had expected none. He walked up the grand staircase and into the hall to enter his study. Someone, he suspected, had been tampering with his papers. He hoped that he would find out who, later that evening after the gathering. He sat down at this desk, dipped his quill pen in once more and continued to write. Six. Outside the room the ghoul lords howled with hunger and frustration and they threw themselves against the door in a ravenous fury, but the locks were stout and Amelia had every hope that they would hold. What had the woodcutter said to her? His words came back to her again in her time of need as if he were standing close to her, his manly frame near inches from her feminine curves. The very scent of his honest laboring body surrounding her like the headiest perfume and she heard his words as if he were at that moment whispering in her ear. "I was not always in the state you see me in now, Lassie," he had told her. "Once I had another name, and a destiny unconnected to the hewing of cords of firewood from fallen trees. But know you this, in the escritoire, there is a secret compartment, or so my great-uncle claimed." "The escritoire, of course!" She rushed to the old writing-desk. At first she could find no trace of a secret compartment. She pulled out the drawers, one after another, and then perceived that one of them was much shorter than the rest. She forced her white hand into the space where the drawer had formerly been and found in the back a button. Frantically she pressed it, something opened and she put her hand on a tightly rolled paper scroll. Amelia withdrew her hand, the scroll was tied with a dusty ribbon and with fumbling fingers she untied the knot and opened the paper. Then she read, trying to make sense of the antiquated handwriting of the ancient words. As she did so, a ghastly pallor suffused her handsome face, and even her violet eyes seemed clouded and distracted. The knockings and the scratchings redoubled, in but a short time they would burst through, she had no doubt. No door could hold them forever, they would burst through and she would be their prey unless...unless... "Stop!" she called, her voice trembling. "I adjure you, every one of you, and most of all O Prince of Carrion, in the name of the ancient compact between thy people and mine." The sounds stopped. It seemed to the girl that there was shock from that silence. Finally, a cracked voice said, "The compact?" And a double voices, as ghastly again, whispered, "The compact..." "Aye!" called Amelia, her voice unsteady, "the compact!" For the scroll, the long-hidden scroll, had been a compact, a perfect agreement between the lord of the house and the denizens of the crypt in ages past, it had described and enumerated the nightmarish rituals that had chained to them, one to another, over the centuries, rituals of blood and of salt. "If you have read the compact," said a deep voice from beyond the door, "then you know what we need, Hubert Ermshaw's daughter." "Brides," she said simply. "The brides!" came the whisper from beyond the door and it redoubled and resounded till it seemed to her that the very house itself throbbed and echoed with the syllables of those words, invested with longing and with love and with hunger. Amelia bit her lip. "Aye, the brides! I will bring thee brides! I shall bring brides for all!" She spoke quietly but they heard her, for there was only silence, a deep and velvet silence on the other side of the door and then one ghoul voice hissed, "Yesss...and do you think we could get her to throw in a side order of those little bread roll things?" Seven. Hot tears stung the young man's eyes. He pushed the papers from him and flung the quill pen across the room. It spattered its inky load across the bust of his great, great, great grandfather, the brown ink soiling the patient white marble. The occupant of the bust, a large and mournful raven startled, nearly fell off, and only kept its place by flapping several times. It turned then in an awkward step and hopped, its beady black eye looking at the young man. "Oh, this is intolerable!" exclaimed the young man, "I can't do it and I shall never do it, I swear now by--" and he hesitated, casting his mind about for a suitable curse from the extensive family archives. The raven looked unimpressed. "Before you start cursing and probably dragging peacefully dead and respectable ancestors back from their well-earned graves, just answer me one question." The voice of the bird was like stone striking against stone. The young man said nothing at first. It is not unknown for ravens to talk, but this one had not done so before, and the young man was not expecting it to. "Certainly, ask your question." The raven tipped its head to one side. "Do you...like...writing that stuff?" "Like?" "That life-as-it-is stuff that you do. I've looked over your shoulder sometimes, I've even read a little here and there, do you enjoy writing it?" The young man looked down at the bird. "It's literature," he explained, as if to a child. "Real literature, real life, real world, it's an artist's job to show people the world they live in. We hold up mirrors." Outside the room lightening cloved the sky. The young man glanced out the window, a jagged streak of blinding fire, the lightening created warped and bony silhouettes from the trees and the ruined abbey on the hill. The raven cleared its throat. "I said, do you enjoy it?" The young man looked at the bird and looked away and wordlessly he shook his head. "That's why you keep trying to pull it apart!" said the bird. "It's not the satirist in you that makes you lampoon the common place in the humdrum, merely boredom with the way things are. You see?" It paused to preen a stray windfeather back into place with its beak and it looked up at him once more. "Have you ever thought of writing fantasy?" it asked. The young man laughed. "Fantasy? Listen, I write literature. Fantasy isn't life...esoteric dreams written by a minority for a minority, it's.... "What you'd be writing if you knew what was good for you." "I'm a classicist," said the young man. He reached out his hand toward a shelf of the classics... "Nevermore," said the raven. It was the last word the young man ever heard it speak. It hopped from the bust, spread its wings and glided out of the study door into the waiting darkness. The young man shivered. He rolled the stock themes of fantasy over in his mind. Cars and stockbrokers and commuters, housewives and police, agony columns and commercials for soap, income tax and cheap restaurants, magazines and credit cards and street lights and computers. It is escapism, true, he said aloud, but is not the highest impulse in mankind the urge toward freedom? The drive to escape. The young man returned to his desk and he gathered together the unfinished pages of his novel and dropped them unceremoniously in the bottom drawer, among the yellowing maps and documents signed in blood. The dust, disturbed, made him cough. He took up a fresh quill, sliced at its tip with his penknife and five deft strokes of cuts, he had a pen. He dipped the tip of it into the glass inkwell. Once more, he began to write. Eight. Amelia Ermshaw placed the slices of whole wheat bread into the toaster and pushed it down. She set the timer to dark brown just as George liked it. Amelia preferred her toast barely singed, she liked white bread as well even if it didn't have the vitamins. She hadn't eaten white bread for a decade now. At the breakfast table, George read his paper. He did not look up. He never looked up. "I hate him," she thought, and simply putting the emotion into words surprised her. She said it again, in her head. "I hate him." It was like a song. "I hate him for his toast and for his bald head and for the way he chases the office crumpet girls barely out of school who laugh at him behind his back and for the way he ignores me whenever he doesn't want to be bothered with me and for the way he says 'what, love?' when I ask him a simple question, as if he's long ago forgotten my name, as if he's forgotten that I even have a name." "Scrambled or boiled?" she said aloud. "What, love?" George Ermshaw regarded his wife with fond affection and would have found her hatred of him astonishing. He thought of her in the same way and with the same emotions that he thought of anything which had been in the house for ten years and still worked well. The television, for example, or the lawnmower. He thought it was love. "You know, we ought to go on one of those marches," he said, tapping the newspaper editorial, "show we're committed. Eh, love?" The toaster made a noise to show that it was done. Only one dark brown slice had popped up. She took a knife and fished out the torn second slice with it, the toaster had been a wedding present from her Uncle John. Soon she'd have to buy another, or start cooking toast under the grill the way her mother had done. "George, do you want your eggs scrambled, or boiled?" she asked, quietly, and there was something in her voice that made him look up. "Any way you like it, love," he said amiably, and could not for the life of him, as he told everyone in the office later that morning, understand why she simply stood there holding her slice of toast, or why she started to cry. Nine. The quill pen went "scritch, scritch" across the paper, and the young man was engrossed in what he was doing. His face was strangely content, and a smile flickered between his eyes and his lips. He was rapt. Things scratched and scuttled in the wainscot, but he hardly heard them. High in her attic room Aunt Agatha howled and rattled her chains. A weird casternation came from the ruined abbey, it rent the night air, ascending into a peal of manic glee. In the dark woods beyond the great house, shapeless figures shuffled and loped, and raven-locked young women fled from them in fear. "Swear," said Tombs, the butler, down in the butler's pantry to the brave girl who was passing herself off as a chambermaid, "swear to me, Ethel, on your life, that you'll never reveal a word of what I tell you to a living soul." There were faces at the windows and words written in blood deep in the deep crypt a lonely ghoul crunched on something that once might have been alive. Forked lightening slashed the ebony night, the faceless were walking, all was right with the world. So, um, and it was printed and it won a Lotus Award for best story of the year. Which, I suppose, if I'd been mean and cruel and vindictive, I would've actually hunted down one of the people who told me not to publish it. And said, "just-won-a-lotus-award." But instead I think I learned a very valuable lesson about listening about other people. Which is...not really worth the effort. Different people like different things. This one was also a request, and it's a poem...it's actually the reason that there are poems in this book. When I did "Smoke and Mirrors" -- actually, the reviews for Smoke and Mirrors were very good, people seemed to like it, but every now and then I'd read a review or somebody would come up to me, and they'd say, "Love the book...but the poems. Just don't do poems." And I'd say, "Is it my poems, or just poems in general?" and they'd say, "Just look-- the stories were great, no poems." And I sort of took this on board, initially, I thought, "okay, I'll do a book and it won't have any poems." And then I wrote this one. And I really thought it seemed to go with the book. And I thought that I should put this poem in. And then I started thinking, "It's not like it's costing them any more because I've put poems in." And honestly, from there it's just one short step to, "And nobody's forcing them to read them." So this is a poem which you get free in this book-- poems all come free with the stories and it's about what to do if you find yourself inside a fairy tale. And it's called "Instructions." Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say please before you open the latch. Go through. Walk down the path. A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door, as a knocker. Do not touch it, it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house. Take nothing, eat nothing. However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it, if it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease its pain. From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood. The deep well you walk past leads down to winter's realm. There is another land at the bottom of it. If you turn around here, you can walk back safely. You will lose no face. I will think no less of you. Once through the garden you will be in the wood. The trees are old. Eyes peer from the undergrowth, beneath the twisted oak sits an old woman. She may ask for something. Give it to her. She will point the way to the castle, inside it are 3 princesses. Do not trust the youngest. Walk on. In a clearing beyond the castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet, exchanging tales. They may do favors for you, if you are polite. You may pick strawberries in December's frost. Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going. The river can be crossed by the ferry, the ferrymen will take you, and the answer to his question is this: if he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to leave the boat. Only tell him this from a safe distance. If an eagle gives you a feather keep it safe. Remember: the giants sleep too soundly, but witches are often betrayed by their appetites, dragons have one soft spot somewhere, always, hearts can be well-hidden when you betray them with your tongue. Do not be jealous of your sister. Know that diamonds and roses are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one's lips as toads and frogs. Colder too, and sharper, and they cut. Remember your name. Do not lose hope. What you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams, trust your heart, and trust your story. When you come back, return the way you came. Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid. Do not forget your manners. Do not look back. Ride the wise eagle, you shall not fall. Ride the silver fish, you will not drown. Ride the gray wolf, hold tightly to his fur. There is a worm at the heart of the tower, that is why it will not stand. When you reach the little house, the place your journey started, you will recognize it although it will seem much smaller than you remember. Walk up the path, and through the garden gate you never saw before but once, and then go home, or make a home, or rest.