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Authors: Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors

BOOK: Smoke and Mirrors
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For Ellen Datlow and Steve Jones

But where there’s a monster there’s a miracle.

— OGDEN NASH,
DRAGONS ARE TOO SELDOM

Contents
SMOKE AND MIRRORS

HARPERCOLLINS E-BOOK SPECIAL FEATURE:

Three stories not available in the print edition of this book

EPIGRAPH

But where there’s a monster there’s a miracle.

READING THE ENTRAILS: A RONDEL

They’ll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate…

AN INTRODUCTION

They do it with mirrors. It’s a cliché, of course, but it’s also…

CHIVALRY

Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.

NICHOLAS WAS…

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter.

THE PRICE

Tramps and vagabonds have marks they make on gate posts…

TROLL BRIDGE

They pulled up most of the railway tracks in the early sixties…

DON’T ASK JACK

Nobody knew where the toy had come from…

THE GOLDFISH POOL AND OTHER STORIES

It was raining when I arrived in L.A….

THE WHITE ROAD

“…I wish that you would visit me one day…”

QUEEN OF KNIVES

When I was a boy, from time to time…

CHANGES

Later, they would point to his sister’s death, the cancer…

THE DAUGHTER OF OWLS

I had this story from my friend Edmund Wyld Esq….

SHOGGOTH’S OLD PECULIAR

Benjamin Lassiter was coming to the unavoidable conclusion…

VIRUS

There was a computer game, I was given it…

LOOKING FOR THE GIRL

I was nineteen in 1965, in my drainpipe trousers…

ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD AGAIN

It was a bad day: I woke up naked in the bed with a cramp…

BAY WOLF

Listen, Talbot. Somebody’s killing my people…

WE CAN GET THEM FOR YOU WHOLESALE

Peter Pinter had never heard of Aristippus of the Cyrenaics…

ONE LIFE, FURNISHED IN EARLY MOORCOCK

The Pale albino prince lofted on high his great black sword…

COLD COLORS

Woken at nine o’clock by the postman…

THE SWEEPER OF DREAMS

After all the dreaming is over, after you wake, and leave…

FOREIGN PARTS

Simon Powers didn’t like sex. Not really…

VAMPIRE SESTINA

I wait here at the boundaries of dream…

MOUSE

They had a number of devices that would kill the mouse fast…

THE SEA CHANGE

Now is a good time to write this down…

WHEN WE WENT TO SEE THE END OF THE WORLD

BY DAWNIE MORNINGSIDE, AGE 11 ¼

What I did on the founders day holiday was, my dad said…

DESERT WIND

There was an old man with skin baked black by the desert sun…

TASTINGS

He had a tattoo on his upper arm, of a small heart…

BABYCAKES

A few years back all the animals went away.

MURDER MYSTERIES

This is true.

SNOW, GLASS, APPLES

I do not know what manner of things she is. None of us do.

BONUS STORIES

FIFTEEN PAINTED CARDS FROM A VAMPIRE TAROT

“What do you want?”

EATEN

INT. WEBSTER’S OFFICE. DAY

APPLE

In the end, the Lord gave Mankind the world.

 

About the Author

Credits

About the Publisher

R
EADING THE
E
NTRAILS
:
A R
ONDEL

“I mean,” she said, “that one can’t help growing older.”


One
can’t perhaps,” said Humpty Dumpty, “but
two
can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.”

— LEWIS CARROLL,
THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS

They’ll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate—

The cards and stars that tumble as they will.

Tomorrow manifests and brings the bill

For every kiss and kill, the small and great.

You want to know the future, love? Then wait:

I’ll answer your impatient questions. Still—

They’ll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate,

The cards and stars that tumble as they will.

 

I’ll come to you tonight, dear, when it’s late,

You will not see me; you may feel a chill.

I’ll wait until you sleep, then take my fill,

And that will be your future on a plate.

They’ll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate.

A
N
I
NTRODUCTION

Writing is flying in dreams.

When you remember. When you can. When it works.

It’s that easy.

— AUTHOR’S NOTEBOOK, FEBRUARY 1992

T
hey do it with mirrors. It’s a cliché, of course, but it’s also true. Magicians have been using mirrors, usually set at a forty-five-degree angle, ever since the Victorians began to manufacture reliable, clear mirrors in quantity, well over a hundred years ago. John Nevil Maskelyne began it, in 1862, with a wardrobe that, thanks to a cunningly placed mirror, concealed more than it revealed.

Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but set a mirror correctly and it will lie so convincingly you’ll believe that something has vanished into thin air, that a box filled with doves and flags and spiders is actually empty, that people hidden in the wings or the pit are floating ghosts upon the stage. Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can’t.

(The smoke blurs the edges of things.)

Stories are, in one way or another, mirrors. We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works or how it doesn’t work. Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from the things in the darkness.

Fantasy—and all fiction is fantasy of one kind or another—is a mirror. A distorting mirror, to be sure, and a concealing mirror, set at forty-five degrees to reality, but it’s a mirror nonetheless, which we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see. (Fairy tales, as G. K. Chesterton once said, are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.)

Winter started today. The sky turned gray and the snow began to fall and it did not stop falling until well after dark. I sat in the darkness and watched the snow falling, and the flakes glistened and glimmered as they spun into the light and out again, and I wondered about where stories came from.

This is the kind of thing that you wonder about when you make things up for a living. I remain unconvinced that it is the kind of activity that is a fit occupation for an adult, but it’s too late now: I seem to have a career that I enjoy which doesn’t involve getting up too early in the morning. (When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make things up, warning me of what would happen if I did. As far as I can tell so far it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning.) Most of the stories in this book were written to entertain the various editors who had asked me for tales for specific anthologies (“It’s for an anthology of stories about the Holy Grail,” “. . . about sex,” “ . . . of fairy stories retold for adults,” “. . . about sex and horror,” “. . . of revenge stories,” “. . . about superstition,” “. . . about more sex”). A few of them were written to amuse myself or, more precisely, to get an idea or an image out of my head and pinned safely down on paper; which is as good a reason for writing as I know: releasing demons, letting them fly. Some of the stories began in idleness: fancies and curiosities that got out of hand.

I once made up a story as a wedding present for some friends. It was about a couple who were given a story as a wedding present. It was not a reassuring story. Having made up the story, I decided that they’d probably prefer a toaster, so I got them a toaster, and to this day have not written the story down. It sits in the back of my head to this day, waiting for someone to get married who would appreciate it.

It occurs to me now (writing this introduction in blue-black fountain pen ink in a black-bound notebook, in case you were wondering) that, although one way or another most of the stories in this book are about love in some form or another, there aren’t enough happy stories, stories of properly requited love to balance out all the other kinds you’ll find in this book; and indeed, that there are people who don’t read introductions. For that matter, some of you out there may be having weddings one day, after all. So for all of you who
do
read introductions, here is the story I did not write. (And if I don’t like the story once it’s written, I can always cross out this paragraph, and you’ll never know that I stopped writing the introduction to start writing a story instead.)

T
HE
W
EDDING
P
RESENT

A
fter all the joys and the headaches of the wedding, after the madness and the magic of it all (not to mention the embarrassment of Belinda’s father’s after-dinner speech, complete with family slide show), after the honeymoon was literally (although not yet metaphorically) over and before their new suntans had a chance to fade in the English autumn, Belinda and Gordon got down to the business of unwrapping the wedding presents and writing their thank you letters—thank yous enough for every towel and every toaster, for the juicer and the breadmaker, for the cutlery and the crockery and the teasmade and the curtains.

“Right,” said Gordon. “That’s the large objects thank-you’d. What’ve we got left?”

“Things in envelopes,” said Belinda. “Checks, I hope.”

There were several checks, a number of gift tokens, and even a £10 book token from Gordon’s Aunt Marie, who was poor as a church mouse, Gordon told Belinda, but a dear, and who had sent him a book token every birthday as long as he could remember. And then, at the very bottom of the pile, there was a large brown businesslike envelope.

“What is it?” asked Belinda.

Gordon opened the flap and pulled out a sheet of paper the color of two-day-old cream, ragged at top and bottom, with typing on one side. The words had been typed with a manual typewriter, something Gordon had not seen in some years. He read the page slowly.

“What is it?” asked Belinda. “Who’s it from?”

“I don’t know,” said Gordon. “Someone who still owns a typewriter. It’s not signed.”

“Is it a letter?”

“Not exactly,” he said, and he scratched the side of his nose and read it again.

“Well,” she said in an exasperated voice (but she was not really exasperated; she was happy. She would wake in the morning and check to see if she were still as happy as she had been when she went to sleep the night before, or when Gordon had woken her in the night by brushing up against her, or when she had woken him. And she was). “Well, what is it?”

“It appears to be a description of our wedding,” he said. “It’s very nicely written. Here,” and he passed it to her.

She looked it over.

It was a crisp day in early October when Gordon Robert Johnson and Belinda Karen Abingdon swore that they would love each other, would support and honor each other as long as they both should live. The bride was radiant and lovely, the groom was nervous, but obviously proud and just as obviously pleased.

That was how it began. It went on to describe the service and the reception clearly, simply, and amusingly.

“How sweet,” she said. “What does it say on the envelope?”

“ ‘Gordon and Belinda’s Wedding,’ ” he read.

“No name? Nothing to indicate who sent it?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Well, it’s very sweet, and it’s very thoughtful,” she said. “Whoever it’s from.”

She looked inside the envelope to see if there was something else inside that they had overlooked, a note from whichever one of her friends (or his, or theirs) had written it, but there wasn’t, so, vaguely relieved that there was one less thank you note to write, she placed the cream sheet of paper back in its envelope, which she placed in a box file, along with a copy of the wedding banquet menu, and the invitations, and the contact sheets for the wedding photographs, and one white rose from the bridal bouquet.

Gordon was an architect, and Belinda was a vet. For each of them what they did was a vocation, not a job. They were in their early twenties. Neither of them had been married before, nor even seriously involved with anyone. They met when Gordon brought his thirteen-year-old golden retriever, Goldie, gray-muzzled and half-paralyzed, to Belinda’s surgery to be put down. He had had the dog since he was a boy and insisted on being with her at the end. Belinda held his hand as he cried, and then, suddenly and unprofessionally, she hugged him, tightly, as if she could squeeze away the pain and the loss and the grief. One of them asked the other if they could meet that evening in the local pub for a drink, and afterward neither of them was sure which of them had proposed it.

The most important thing to know about the first two years of their marriage was this: they were pretty happy. From time to time they would squabble, and every once in a while they would have a blazing row about nothing very much that would end in tearful reconciliations, and they would make love and kiss away the other’s tears and whisper heartfelt apologies into each other’s ears. At the end of the second year, six months after she came off the pill, Brenda found herself pregnant.

Gordon bought her a bracelet studded with tiny rubies, and he turned the spare bedroom into a nursery, hanging the wallpaper himself. The wallpaper was covered with nursery rhyme characters, with Little Bo Peep, and Humpty Dumpty, and the Dish Running Away with the Spoon, over and over and over again.

Belinda came home from the hospital, with little Melanie in her carry-cot, and Belinda’s mother came to stay with them for a week, sleeping on the sofa in the lounge.

It was on the third day that Belinda pulled out the box file to show her wedding souvenirs to her mother and to reminisce. Already their wedding seemed like such a long time ago. They smiled at the dried brown thing that had once been a white rose, and clucked over the menu and the invitation. At the bottom of the box was a large brown envelope.

“‘Gordon and Belinda’s Marriage,’ ” read Belinda’s mother.

“It’s a description of our wedding,” said Belinda. “It’s very sweet. It even has a bit in it about Daddy’s slide show.”

Belinda opened the envelope and pulled out the sheet of cream paper. She read what was typed upon the paper, and made a face. Then she put it away without saying anything.

“Can’t I see it, dear?” asked her mother.

BOOK: Smoke and Mirrors
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