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.
“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.”
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.
“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.