Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

It’s hard writing a story for a writer. It’s hard writing stories for friends. Imagine how much harder it was for me to write stories for Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn. Both writers. Both friends.

Here are the results.

Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.
Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost twenty years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for a decade or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.
Title: The Impossible Box
Word: saturnalia
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The sun had set on Christmas Day hours ago, but she had merely noted it as a sign that her time was running out. Later, her brain had filled with plans, schemes and plots. And an hour after that, they’d all evaporated into the what might have been.

She’d been walking for hours, consciously blocking out the sounds of revelry from every house she’d passed, each one a veritable saturnalia of festivities and laughter.

At midnight, she opened the door to her apartment, and poured two stiff drinks, set out a mince pie. He liked traditions.

And then he was there, holding out The Box to her.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but then she always did.

Once it had been too difficult for her. Once she’d had no support, no relief.

And then he’d offered: one day a year without it. One day a year of freedom. His Christmas present to someone who once had been a very naughty girl. “Professional courtesy,” he’d called it.

Now, with a tender kiss on her cheek, he was gone.

Pandora lifted The Box, determined not to cry.

And she didn’t. Not straight away. She didn’t start weeping until February.
© Lee Barnett, 2012

Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.
Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

With more details about the tv adaptation of The Sandman, and having listened to an interview with Neil about how it’s planned to bring it to the small screen, it seems as good a time as any to do this.

I’d always planned to redo this at some point, as – as I’ve mentioned before – we all change through our lives, and it’s never a bad idea to revisit opinions you’ve expressed to see whether or how you’ve changed, and whether or how your views and answers have.

It started when I was reminded of a question I was asked when I did an #askbudgie hashtag on Twitter. Possibly knowing of my friendship with Neil Gaiman, I was asked

If you were one of The Endless, which one would you be?

My answer at the time was, as far as I recall, entirely truthful.

I think like most people, I feel like different aspects of each of The Endless at different times… As a general rule though, I don’t ever really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

I think it still applies, in the main. But only in the main, self-deprecation and all.

But, just for fun, why not, budgie…?

So, what do each of The Endless mean to me? What elements of them do I recognise in my own character? Or at least, do I have anything to say about the concepts?

(At this point it occurs to me that some reading may not have the slightest clue what I’m talking about. OK, very quick explanation. Neil Gaiman wrote a book entitled Sandman, in which he created The Endless, seven characters that embody universal aspects. So, Destruction does not represent destruction; Destruction is destruction. Dream is the concept of dream, and rules over a realm of dreams, which is where we go when we sleep.)

OK then.

I actively dislike the idea of people having a ‘destiny’ or a ‘destined fate’, set in stone long ago, and with an unchanging end, even if the journey isn’t planned. And no, this isn’t a claim for ‘free will’, unfettered and unreserved. I’m a product of my own life and experiences. I’m the sum of my own experiences, for good or ill. I could, I suppose, choose to do lots of things that I wouldn’t normally do, that would astonish poeple who know me. That I don’t do them, because ‘that’s not me’… is that a conscious decision not to do it? Or am I merely acting on social and life learned programming? A bit of both, surely.

I once heard some philosophy students discussing ‘free will’, and when learned habit supersedes it. Is it truly an expression of free will to, say, flush the toilet, or to turn off the light when you leave a room?

If it’s inconceivable to you to do Thing X, can you ever claim that you’re exercising free will when you don’t do Thing X?

So, individuals have some say in their own decisions, but habits and societal constructs restrain many from actions which other societies might encourage. And freedom of action does not mean freedom from the consequences of those actions, anyway. But no, I’ve never thought that my life, nor my eventual end, was destined to be whatever it ends up.

Fiction enjoys the concept of a couple being destined to meet, or there being a ‘soulmate’ for everyone. Given the above, it won’t surprise you that I have nothing but mockery for such concepts.

Ashkenazi Jews are traditionally named after those who have died, so you grow up knowing that you were named for someone who’d died.

So, yeah, I was aware of the concept of death from a very, very early age. (In my case, I was named after my mother’s maternal grandmother, Leah.)

On the other hand, I can’t remember the first person I heard of who’d died; not celebrities, but someone I knew, or a relative of a friend. Certainly – while I was still very young – I learned that this friend or that friend had ‘lost’ a grandparent.

And while I never knew my dad’s parents, my maternal grandfather died when I was 17, my grandmother when I was 19. On neither occasion, though, was death was a foreign concept by then; I’d already been to ‘the grounds’ (a colloquialism for a Jewish cemetery), and had attended funerals or stonesettings from the age of about 14 or 15.

There used to be a convention in Judaism, by the way, that you didn’t go to the grounds while your parents were alive; largely, that’s been abandoned now, for the better I’d argue. No one’s first funeral should be for your parent.

As for what happens after death… I have no idea. Not a clue what happens to you ‘after you die’; to you, I mean. Not your body, not your remains, but to you, as a concept. If I had to guess, I’d say… nothing. My own preferred option is, also… nothing. Your body stops, you stop, you.. end, and the world goes on without you, goes on quite well in almost all cases.

It’s one of the things I do like about my religion. Yes, ok, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but basically it comes down to ‘we don’t know what happens after you die… and what’s more, we can’t ever know what happens.’

I like that.

I choose to think nothing at all happens. I can’t know, obviously, but that’s what I choose to believe. Nothing happens. To you, again. Your relatives, and friends and loved ones will miss you, of course. Of course.

But life goes on.

Your work might continue to matter, especially creative works, but you? Nope. You’re gone. And life goes on.

As it should do.

I rarely remember dreams; nightmares, yes, but dreams of the less unpleasant, less horrifying, less nightmare-y, type, no.

Occasionally, yes, of course. But only very rarely. And even then, they’re the ‘puzzling’, mystifying type, not the genuinely ‘nice’ kind of dreams.

I have no idea whether I never have nice dreams, or whether I merely never remember them. I’n not sure which would be better, and which worse.

However, I wish I did remember nice dreams. I wish I did occasionally wake up, and think ‘oh, that was nice…’

Instead of waking up covered in sweat, heart racing, suddenly shocked back to reality. (Why yes, I do sleep alone, why do you ask?)

It’s the nightmares I remember, clearly and in detail. Yeah, I’d rather not, to be honest. 

While nature destroys tangibly on a daily basis, the destruction of intangibles, like hope, and wishes, and rights, and democracy around the world, does far more damage in every time frame (short-, medium- and long-term).

It’s a constant amazement and continually impressive to me just how people survive such destructions, and what’s more some thrive in resistance to it. Their bravery and determination is a never ending source of inspiration to others. I use the word ‘others’ advisedly; their bravery doesn’t inspire me, which says more about me than them, and nothing good.

What has struck me more and more over the years is that destruction doesn’t have to be complete to achieve its aim. What’s almost worse to me – as a concept – than unfettered destruction is when destruction stops short of absolute, when something is permanently maimed, damaged for all time without complete extermination.

Complete destruction at least allows for the cauterisation of a wound, perhaps. Stopping short, allowing a faint ember of hope that will forever be denied? That’s when destruction becomes malicious; that’s when destruction becomes… cruel.

And that can move me to tears.

I read some beautiful writings about desire earlier today and it reminded me once again that it’s something I don’t understand properly, and never will. Desire is overwhelming. It’s neither a want nor a wish, but a need.

I’m genuinely in awe of people who are that open, that honest, and that authentic, to admit their desire for a person (or people), or a lifestyle. And equally in awe of people who admit to others, especially to those who desire them, that they are both desireable and desired.

I don’t understand it properly.

I can, just about, understand the desire for others, both physically and otherwise. But a desire for me? Again, either physically or otherwise, but especially physically? No. I not only don’t understand it, but I’m always mistrustful when I’m told it exists. And that mistrust is seldom wrong, in my experience.

Oh, I understand it in theory, how it’s written about, how it’s overwhelming, and more than once have written about it in a story convincingly enough to fool people. Or at least they’ve been kind enough to say that it has, that I nailed it.

But the true idea, the concept of being desired, properly…. physically or otherwise? The idea of being desired to the point of monopolising someone’s thoughts and dreams and wants, and needs?

That must be wonderful to experience. It must be fantastic to be a part of. It must be great to enjoy and revel in.

I bet.

The flip side of desire, and I’m equally in awe of people who are that open about Despair as well.

Again, I don’t think I truly understand it. But in a wholly different way than when it comes to desire. For what others describe as ‘despair’, true despair, I regard as… Tuesday.

And that’s not wholly an exaggeration. A small one, maybe, but not really. It’s not the despair of thinking nothing can ever get better, but the certain knowledge that it won’t, the utter and complete knowledge based on life experiences and your own past. I’d never suggest that what people go through isn’t despair, merely that from the outside, you never, never, know the truth about someone else’s despair.

What was once delight is now delirium, at least in The Endless. The latter is more appropriate for the 21st century. It’s impossible not to be at least slightly delirious if you’re attempting to truly understand global politics nowadays. Global politics? Hell, any politics. I mentioned on Twitter the other day the old line about “if you’re not confused, you don’t understand the situation.”

The comedian Mark Watson chipped in with a suggestion that surely that applies to the entire human condition; it’s a fair observation. Politics was never simple, but, now, too many regard you as delirious if you try to acknowledge complexity, let alone highlight it.

Here are The Endless, drawn by Bevis Musson, in the order they’re written about above.

Something else tomorrow..

I was lucky enough to get to see Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer last night, along with their guests (including Mitch Benn, the extra-ordinarily talented and lovely Andrew O’Neil, and Hayley Campbell, whose writing impresses me more every time I get to read it.) They’re guest-editing the current edition of New Statesman, and NS put on an evening’s entertainment which, as I say, I was fortunate enough to attend. I’ve known Neil for longer than my son’s been alive and it was so nice to catch up with him, Amanda and others after the show.

Backstage, Neil was embarrassingly nice about my own writing and it reminded me this morning about the following.

Way back when (well, about three years ago) I had another blog, hosted on Livejournal. For various reasons, all of which are too boring to relate here, I ceased that blog and started one here. But the old one’s still around, and it’s useful to be occcaisionally link to it. You can read all the fast fiction challenges in 2010 and the 150 stories I wrote for them in 150 days here, for example. There’s an entry I keep bookmarked for whenever anyone tries to tell me that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; here’s why he isn’t, if you’re interested.

Some of the entries have been cross-posted to this blog; on occasion, when there’s something I want to add to whatever I wrote, or simply just to repost it to a new audience.

Like this post.

About four and years ago, Neil was fifty years’ old. Well, to be fair, for the next 365 days as well, he was fifty, but upon the occasion of Neil fiftieth birthday I couldn’t think what to get him as a birthday present. But seeing as he’s encouraged me and encouraged me and… well, nagged me on occasion, frankly… to write more, I wrote him the following.

I hadn’t ever intended to put it up on the blog, but Neil said I should, so… enjoy.

There Once Was A Child…

There once was a child who did not read.

It was not that he couldn’t read; he had read in the past. However, he told his parents, his friends and all who asked that he no longer read. And yet, the bookshelves of his bedroom were filled to overflowing with volumes of all kinds: hardback novels, paperback collections of long out of print stories, the occasional biography, and comic books by the hundred. And few of them did not show signs of use.

Nonetheless, contrary to the apparent evidence, he responded to all enquiries with the simple declaration that he did not read. And the child became angry when this assertion was challenged, despite many having seen him with an open book.

His parents, while puzzled at the fervour with which he maintained that He Did Not Read the books, were content to allow the child his eccentricity. After all, his father commented, he’ll grow out of it. His mother, however, worried.

His teachers were far less understanding and punished the child by assigning additional books to him. Within days, the child would return the book, commenting knowledgeably upon the contents, but insisting that he hadn’t read the book.

One day, it happened that an author was visiting the school, and in despair teachers begged him to meet the child.

So he sat with the child. And they talked.

“What is the word for when you lose yourself in wonder?” the child asked the writer. “It cannot be ‘reading’, for that is such a small word. And inside a book is so big. When I open a book, I am no longer myself. I am a sailor. Or a spy. Or a magical beast. Or…”

The child paused, and the writer was touched to see the child blush. “Or I am a boy wizard,” the child finished, quietly.

The writer was careful not to laugh, for he did not wish either to offend the child, or to patronise him.

And then he explained to the child something they both knew, but only the adult understood: that any word or phrase had only the weight and importance given to it by the one experiencing it at that moment.

“Do you believe reading is an end, of and for itself?” he asked the boy.

“No,” replied the child, “but everyone else seems to.”

“But we know they’re wrong, do we not?”

And then the child understood – reading was freedom to decide for yourself how much of yourself you gave to the experience; reading was the gateway to the world, to every world.

Reading was experience of everything.

There was once a child who did not read… or at least did not read for reading’s sake.

Let us hope there are many, many more.

I was reminded of it last night and again this morning, so even though Neil’s four and a half years older than fifty now and my own fifty-first birthday is rapidly approaching… I get to say a belated happy birthday again and again and again. 

Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.

Title: Glorious Concatenation
Word: holly
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Behind the factory, far from the sleeping quarters of the elves, was a small wooden hut, wherein a light shone. None of Santa’s little helpers went to the small wooden hut voluntarily, for the detective was working; the detective was investigating her first murder, and all feared her scrutiny.

The body had been discovered at dusk, and she had been called forth, from her comfy office with her fire and her books. She spent many hours interviewing witnesses and suspects, learning motive from one, opportunity from another, and means from yet another. Still more hours were spent buried deep in her case files, reviewing past ‘accidents’, linking nine ice cold cases, each to the others. She started her incident chart at midnight, and spent a full day linking red threads and white threads, using holly leaves in place of pins, before, in a moment of utter clarity, she put it all together.

When she told Santa, she feared his reaction, but he just sadly nodded. That night the elves ate well, and afterwards, five new reindeer were named. Rudolph, of course, was spared, and only Santa knew why, but the detective suspected… The detective always suspected Santa’s motives regarding Rudolph.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And apart from being my friend for close to twenty years, he’s incredibly supportive, offering advice when I want it, help when I need it, and sometimes a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for all of it.

Asgardians tell their children stories about Neil Gaiman.

Title: Living Happily Ever After
Word: glutinous
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

The newcomers always kept themselves to themselves at first, wary at the unfamiliar dialects and words surrounding them. After a decade or two, one or two of those that had survived would approach some of the older Traditions and introduce themselves. Inevitably, new friendships would form, some embarrassingly glutinous and obvious; hero worship towards the long lived. But they celebrated births together, and would then mourn together when an older Tradition died from neglect or apathy, or a more recent one passed on far too young.

Then came the day when the Traditions of Christmas Past petitioned for immortality.

The Yule Log was the first to propose this; his voice high-pitched and shrill. The Silver Sixpence tried to speak next, but she was a small thing and terribly shy and was spoken over by The Television Special before the Gold Star interjected.

The Tree was the final speaker, and even the youngest Traditions fell silent in respect. He spoke slowly and mercifully briefly, for he was very old.

Then This Year’s Must Have Game cracked an off-colour joke and they all laughed uneasily.

And the very old Traditions sighed, and smiled in contentment; once more, they had endured.

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Day 11: It Lived Under Monday – Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

I’m sticking birthdays in quotes in the title of this blog entry because usually when you – or at least I – mention someone’s birthday, it’s to wish them a happy birthday.

And – not to put too fine a point on it – you can only do that when they’re… you know… alive.

Alfred Cooke was born 105 years ago today. You probably don’t recognise the name, because when he was 22 he changed his first name to what he became known as, literally worldwide: Alistair Cooke. Cooke died in 2004, weeks after he recorded his final Letter From America, and I still miss tuning in every week to hear his voice. Yes, I have the CDs, yes, I have the books (his collections, his histories, his America, and his biography by Nick Clarke, also sadly gone) but it’s not the same. It really isn’t.

I was introduced to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America by a college tutor named John Ramm. He taught me a subject entitled “Government and Comparative Political Studies”, and as part of that we spent a year on British Government and politics, and another year spent 2/3 on America and 1/3 on China. Of course, the final exam was designed to get the student to compare and contrast the different ways different countries did things, whether it was how to get legislation passed, or the history of politics in that country.

Tuesday morning, we had ‘double politics’, and John would always start of the lesson by playing us a recording of that week’s Letter from America. This was in 1982, so the show had already been broadcast for the BBC for almost forty years. From then until 2004, I doubt there were more than half a dozen editions I didn’t hear, either on broadcast or within a few days afterwards.

One of the pleasures of listening to them now is undoubtedly the strange way that his own recollections of fifty or sixty years past triggers similar memories of mine. It’s not going too far to say that I’ve had memories sparked by a listen to the show that I’d genuinely forgotten happened. I still miss the show.

As far as I know, Cooke had no great love of comic books, but he was a fan of the comic strip, as anyone who heard his tribute to Charles Schulz could not have missed.

The other man? He was born 51 years after Cooke, on 20th November 1959; he also died before Cooke did, on 9th January 1998. He’d have been 54 today. As far as I know, he was never a huge fan of Cooke’s; I have no idea whether or not he knew of the coincidence of their birthdays – I never asked him. He’d probably have just shrugged and said something like “well, there you are – just shows to go, doesn’t it?”

Moreover, to be honest, he never had much interest in comics, commenting more than once that he just didn’t ‘get’ them. Not once though, in the thirty-three years I knew him did he even once denigrate comic books or those who read them. He just regarded reading and understanding them as skills he lacked.

248His name, as you’ll probably have guessed by now, was Michael Barnett and he was my brother.

As people who have been readers of this (and the previous) blog will know, I don’t tend to have a good 9th January; people steer clear of me, and I’m grateful for it. In my day job, when I had one, people communicated with me by email that day, and my staff went above and beyond by keeping everyone else away.

But unlike my parents, I have no problem at all with his birthday. It’s a day I relish, revelling in good memories (there aren’t that many bad ones) of the years I was privileged to have him as my “big bruvver”.

I often regret that he never got to know Phil, who was a shade over two years old when Mike died; he’d have enjoyed Philip’s bar mitzvah, and would have further enjoyed watching Phil grow up into the young man he’s become.

But since I’ve already mentioned comics, it seems fitting to mention that there’s a comic book that I cannot read without thinking of my brother.

Small digression: the very first published story I wrote was in the first issue of a short lived anthology entitled Trailer Park of Terror. The story, entitled, It’s Murder Out There had in the final panel, in the gutter, the single lettered line “For Mike, LB”.

Michael may not have ‘gotten’ comics, but he was never anything other than wholly supportive of my writing efforts, and took great satisfaction and pleasure in any success I had.)

Digression over. It’s Sandman #43, the third book in the Brief Lives arc.

An explanation is required, methinks.

Shortly after Mike died, at the tragically young age of 38, I really wasn’t much in the mood for comics. The family were still trying to make sense of what had just happened, and were still saying, in response to those who those who said “we don’t know what to say”, “no, we don’t know what to say to each other either”. Sure I read some comics, some old favourites, but I was just getting through the day.

At around this time, my closest friend, who’d emigrated to America three years earlier, invited me to visit, just to get out of the UK for a few days. It was with genuine gratitude that I accepted the invitation, and went over to stay with Ian and his family in Forest Hills.

Well, that gave me a problem of a different sort. Although I usually have no problem sleeping on airplanes, I knew that this flight would likely be different. I wanted to take something that I could enjoy reading, but was something I’d read before, but something that would take my mind away from the dreadful events of the previous couple of weeks. Sandman seemed perfect. I picked up the first collection and put it in my bag. Then I took it out… remembering the final story in the collection: The Sound of Her Wings, a nicely crafted tale, but one in which the character of Death shows her necessity in the cosmos. During the story, you see the deaths of several characters, characters that you only met for a couple of pages, but with Gaiman’s and Dringenberg’s skills, you actually cared about.


Even in the state I was in, I knew that was too close to home. Which wiped out The Doll’s House as well, since the story was included there as well, for some reason.

So I grabbed my copy of Brief Lives (the meaning of the words completely slipped past me, I’m afraid) from the bookshelf and packed that, as well as some others.

A few hours later, I’m on the aircraft, we’re pulling away from the terminal, then we’re in the air… and after reading the newspaper, I pull out the first of the books to read.

No, it wasn’t Brief Lives. As I recall (and for reasons you’ll understand in a paragraph or two, I remember this flight very well), it was my collection of Howard Chaykin’s Twilight. I finished it, and then picked up Brief Lives.

I’d forgotten how #43 starts, and I’d forgotten the character of Bernie Capax, a man of some 15,000 years of age. And how he dies in what he thinks is an accident, buried under a collapsed wall. His spirit, however, doesn’t realise he’s dead and he stands by the remains of the wall, in delighted surprise: “Not even a scratch.” When Death arrives, he’s, you’ll forgive the word, crushed. Then, in an attempt to convince himself that he didn’t do too badly, the following happens:

And you know…?

It helped. I have no idea why. No idea at all… but it helped.

I thought of what my brother had achieved in his thirty-eight years, and for a moment, just for a moment at that time, but later for longer, I was comforted by the line.

Mike lived what everyone gets: a lifetime.

Neil Gaiman was a friend back then, but not as close a friend as he became. It’s been one of the pleasures of our friendship that I’ve been able to tell him about this over the years, and how it mattered, when it mattered that something mattered.

So, on Mike’s birthday, raise a glass with me to his memory, eh? And if you have good memories of your family, or of friends who’ve passed on, then take a minute, and revel in them.

The Queue

Posted: 15 July 2013 in fiction, writing
Tags: ,

I wrote this several years ago, but it turns out it’s still relevant – it’s always still relevant.

It’s particularly silly. I make no apologies for it.


I looked up. The queue had barely moved. I looked ahead of me, then behind me. The same people were there. Looking, no doubt, the same as I did. Tired.

I couldn’t remember any more when I’d joined the queue. I couldn’t even remember what I was queuing for. Both had disappeared into the long ago. The rain had stopped at least. But now the wind cut through my clothes and I was cold.

A movement ahead of me penetrated the woolliness of my mind and something approaching surprise struck me. Was the view the same as it had been a few moments ago? I wasn’t sure. There was a sudden rush of adrenaline that just as quickly disappeared. Nothing was happening.

I looked down again. My feet were unchanged.


I glanced up from my feet. They had seemed to be moving of their own accord.

There was something new ahead of me. It took me some time to realise what was different.

There was no-one ahead of me.

My eyes filled with tears.

A man came over to me. He looked official. He handed me a piece of card, smiled broadly at me and shook my hand. I moved away and for the first time I could recall, my feet moved in a direction other than straight forward. I stopped. Then walked again. Then stopped. Then walked again. The joy of being able to choose when I stopped and when I started was overwhelming.

Then I looked at the card. It had the following legend written upon it:

Congratulations. You are now qualified to queue up to meet Neil Gaiman.

© Lee Barnett, 2002