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Fragile Things.

Short Fictions and Wonders

by Neil Gaiman

For Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison,

and the late Robert Sheckley,

masters of the craft

Contents

Introduction

A Study in Emerald

The Fairy Reel

October in the Chair

The Hidden Chamber

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire

The Flints of Memory Lane

Closing Time

Going Wodwo

Bitter Grounds

Other People

Keepsakes and Treasures

Good Boys Deserve Favors

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch

Strange Little Girls

Harlequin Valentine

Locks

The Problem of Susan

Instructions

How Do You Think It Feels?

My Life

Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot

Feeders and Eaters

Diseasemaker's Croup

In the End

Goliath

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

The Day the Saucers Came

Sunbird

Inventing Aladdin

The Monarch of the Glen

About the Author

Other Books by Neil Gaiman

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

“I think…that I would rather recollect a life misspent on fragile things than spent avoiding moral debt.” The words turned up in a dream and I wrote them down upon waking, uncertain what they meant or to whom they applied.

My original plan for this book of tales and imaginings, some eight years ago, was to create a short story collection that I would call These People Ought to Know Who We Are and Tell That We Were Here, after a word balloon in a panel from a Little Nemo Sunday page (you can now find a beautiful color reproduction of the page in Art Spiegelman’s book In the Shadow of No Towers), and every story would be told by one of a variety of dodgy and unreliable narrators as each explained their life, told us who they were and that, once, they too were here. A dozen people, a dozen stories. That was the idea; and then real life came along and spoiled it, as I began to write the short stories you’ll find in here, and they took on the form they needed to be told in, and while some were told in the first person and were slices of lives, others simply weren’t. One story refused to take shape until I gave it to the months of the year to tell, while another did small, efficient things with identity that meant it had to be told in the third person.

Eventually I began to gather together the material of this book, puzzling over what I should call it now that the previous title seemed no longer to apply. It was then that the One Ring Zero CD As Smart as We Are arrived, and I heard them sing the lines I had brought back from a dream, and I wondered just what I had meant by “fragile things.”

It seemed like a fine title for a book of short stories. There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.

“A STUDY IN EMERALD”

This was written for the anthology my friend Michael Reaves edited with John Pelan, Shadows Over Baker Street. The brief from Michael was “I want a story in which Sherlock Holmes meets the world of H. P. Lovecraft.” I agreed to write a story but suspected there was something deeply unpromising about the setup: the world of Sherlock Holmes is so utterly rational, after all, celebrating solutions, while Lovecraft’s fictional creations were deeply, utterly irrational, and mysteries were vital to keep humanity sane. If I was going to tell a story that combined both elements there had to be an interesting way to do it that played fair with both Lovecraft and with the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

As a boy I had loved Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton stories, in which dozens of characters from fiction were incorporated into one coherent world, and I had greatly enjoyed watching my friends Kim Newman and Alan Moore build their own Wold Newton-descended worlds in the Anno Dracula sequence and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, respectively. It looked like fun. I wondered if I could try something like that.

The ingredients of the story I had in the back of my head combined in ways that were better than I had hoped when I began. (Writing’s a lot like cooking. Sometimes the cake won’t rise, no matter what you do, and every now and again the cake tastes better than you ever could have dreamed it would.)

“A Study in Emerald” won the Hugo Award in August 2004 as Best Short Story, something that still makes me intensely proud. It also played its part in my finding myself, the following year, mysteriously inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars.

“THE FAIRY REEL”

Not much of a poem, really, but enormous fun to read aloud.

“OCTOBER IN THE CHAIR”

Written for Peter Straub, for the remarkable volume of Conjunctions that he guest-edited. It began some years earlier, at a convention in Madison, Wisconsin, at which Harlan Ellison had asked me to collaborate with him

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