Neil Gaiman’s Skin

This is a story I wrote this morn­ing, inspired by a con­ver­sa­tion with CJ Bower­bird. It is about Neil Gaiman’s skin and Neil Gai­man retweeted it so I am pretty happy with how this all turned out.

 


 

I’ve had enough of this,” growled Ed. “I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin and take over his life.”
I blinked. Sarah hid her face in her tea­cup.
“Come again?” I asked. Ed turned his nar­row eyes at me from where he was lying on the couch. He seemed to pos­sess too many knees.
“I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin,” Ed repeated, “and take over his life.”
“Okay,” I said, slowly. The thing about Ed that you should know is that he doesn’t make jokes. He’s the most humour­less per­son I know. Nev­er­the­less, I found this hard to deal with ser­i­ously.
“Ha ha?” I said, prob­ing the waters. Ed’s eyes nar­rowed.
“Did I say some­thing funny?” he asked.
“No?”
“Ed, man, what are you on?” asked Sarah.
“Noth­ing!” He threw his hands up into the air. He seemed to pos­sess too many elbows, too. “I’ve had enough of this life. Neil Gai­man is a superb writer. He has a per­fect life. He’s mar­ried to a rock­star. I want to be him.”
I thought about this for a moment. “See, Ed, when most people dis­cover someone they admire, they don’t try to steal their skin.”
Ed looked puzzled about this. “Why?”
“Because,” I began, then stopped.
“Because,” said Sarah, “it’s creepy. You’re sup­posed to get bet­ter through effort, not skin-stealing.”
“But why?”
Now it was Sarah’s turn to throw her hands in the air. “Shut up, Ed.”
“Alright. But I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin. I’m going to do it tomorrow.”

 

A few days later, Sarah came over again, look­ing per­plexed and wor­ried.
“Ed bought tick­ets to Eng­land and now he’s gone,” she said, hold­ing onto a cof­fee cup like it was a buoy.
“Ser­i­ously?”
“Yes. He was obsessed with this Neil Gai­man thing. I’m wor­ried he’s going to do some­thing stu­pid.”
“He already has done some­thing stu­pid.”
“I’m wor­ried he’s going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin.”
I laughed, or tried to. The sound got stuck some­where in my throat. It was absurd to think, but I was wor­ried too.
I didn’t see Ed until two weeks later. We weren’t close friends – I only really hung out with him when he tailed Sarah to my place – so he, and his strange ideas, soon passed out of my mind. But then, I came home one even­ing to find him sit­ting on my porch, smoking a cigar­ette.
“Hey, Ed. Long time no see. I didn’t know you smoked.”
Ed nod­ded curtly and crushed his cigar­ette into a corner. “We need to talk,” he said. “Call Sarah.”
“You okay, man?” He looked dif­fer­ent, strange some­how. His face seemed sal­lower. There was a dan­cing dark­ness behind his eyes.
“Just call Sarah,” he said.

 

Ed had taken up his usual pos­i­tion, sprawled across the couch. This even­ing, though, he seemed to take up less of it, as if he had been gently crushed over the last two weeks. He forked hun­grily at a plate of leftover stir fry like a giant bird. Sarah and I sat in chairs oppos­ite him, wait­ing.
When he had depos­ited the last of the plate into his sharp mouth, he let out a belch and sprawled more com­fort­ably across the couch. After half a minute, he closed his eyes.
“So,” I said, when the silence had become too long to be com­fort­able, “Looks like you didn’t end up steal­ing Neil Gaiman’s skin.”
Ed’s eyes shot open.
“What?” he said loudly. Sarah jumped.
“I said you’re still in your own skin.”
Ed looked at his hands as if he was see­ing them for the first time. A nar­row smile cracked his lips.
“I sup­pose I am,” he said. Then he sat bolt upright on the couch. “I need to tell you some­thing,” he said, his eyes rov­ing. “Some­thing.”
“Yeah, go on,” I said. I was get­ting annoyed and a little scared. Ed was eccent­ric, sure, but never crazy.
“You have to believe everything I say,” he pro­claimed, nib­bling at a stray grain of rice, “and not inter­rupt.”
Sarah and I nod­ded.
“Okay. So I went to Eng­land. It wasn’t hard to work out where Neil Gai­man lived. He’s blogged enough that any­one with access to the CIA data­bases can find his house eas­ily.”
“You have access to the CIA data­bases?” I scoffed.
“I said don’t inter­rupt!” yelled Ed. “Sorry. I’m sorry for shout­ing. Don’t inter­rupt. Okay, so there I was at Neil Gaiman’s house. It was snow­ing. It’s a nice house, dark stone, very nice. Big grounds, full of snow. I broke in. I may have killed someone, that’s not import­ant. I may have killed a dog.”
Sarah and I looked at each other. Ed didn’t seem to notice. He was star­ing at his empty plate.
“I had broken in, Neil Gai­man wasn’t there. I hid in his ward­robe. I waited three days. He was away some­where. I ate things. I ate clothes. Did I eat the dog?” He looked at us. His eyes were spark­ling and dark. He was twist­ing the hem of his shirt with his fin­gers.
“Ed, man,” said Sarah, gently, assum­ing she was per­mit­ted to speak. “I think you have really bad jet lag and maybe you should lie down.”
“No!” exclaimed Ed. “I need to tell you. Or I’ll for­get. I needed to tell someone for a week. Nobody listened. I’m not crazy! I ate the dog! Okay, so I was in the ward­robe. In comes Neil Gai­man. He’s going, here, boy, come on, where are you? He says, what is that awful stench? I jumped out of the ward­robe. He screamed and fell down on the floor. I grabbed a kit­chen knife I had pre­pared earlier. I said, Neil Gai­man, I’m going to steal your skin. He screamed some more and then he stopped when I cut him open. I cut him-” he stopped and drew one fin­ger from the top of his head to his stom­ach “-like that. I thought it’d scar less. I don’t know why I thought that.”
He stopped. He let go of his shirt. He sunk deeper into the couch. A minute passed.
“And then?” I asked, very quietly.
“Then? Oh. Yes. His skin fell open. Like raw puff pastry. There was very little blood. There was a man inside Neil Gaiman’s skin. He was short and had glasses. I said, who the hell are you? He said, my name’s Rob­bie, look what you’ve done, you’ve ruined it for good. He said, when I stole Neil Gaiman’s skin, I did it real care­fully while he slept. He was very unhappy. Then he left. He had a little suit­case all ready to go. I bur­ied Neil Gaiman’s skin in the garden under a tree, but I don’t know what the tree was called. I would’ve bur­ied the dog too, but there wasn’t very much of it left.”
He stopped again. The silence this time was much longer and much fuller.
“Ah,” I said.
“I don’t think he’s going to come back,” said Ed.

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