Short Stories

The Return Of The Thin White Duke

The wind was bitter and mean. The frozen air declared war on my blood and bones, invading my lungs and stealing what precious little oxygen was in them, outraged that I had dared step outside. My mother and I climbed the concrete steps towards an expanse of glass doors, and were greeted with a gust of warm air and white walls and bright lights, which I thought was fitting for heaven. Or rather, a museum.

I tried not to be too excited as we made our way downstairs to the ticket booth. I tried to keep in mind there was a chance I might not see him as we asked about obtaining tickets to the sold-out show. Yet my heart was in my throat, filling my mouth with words that tumbled eagerly from me, directed at my mother as we stood in the bright white lobby that was already crowded.

Ten minutes before the show started, a lady who clucked and tutted like a fussy hen began calling out the extra ticket numbers — one of which was clenched tightly in my hand. After nearly tripping over my foot in my eagerness to claim my place, I stepped into the amphitheater.

It was a small room set up not unlike a lecture hall. The seats were simple and black, the stage was black, and in the center sat an understated podium in a spotlight, also black. Behind the podium was a projected image of a thin man with a bony face pulling back the string of a bow. The room was mostly full, and the air had a muted charge to it as strangers around me buzzed among themselves. I didn’t stop myself from grinning as I stared at the podium: soon, he would be standing there, speaking in person!

The lights dimmed and a woman stepped on stage, the woman who had organized the David Bowie exhibit in the museum, who had asked the speaker to come tonight, and who could not introduce him without crying for joy. Honestly, I couldn’t blame her; I was doing the same thing.

From the curtains he appeared. He looked exactly like I had seen in pictures: square jaw, a black blazer over a lighter-black shirt, his hair standing every which way, also black. Anticipation devoured me as I waited for him to make a sound, something, anything.

“I just wanted to say…” and I was hooked. I had never heard him speak before, never watched an interview or video clip, and I had never bothered to imagine what he would sound like, but somehow I knew he would sound exactly the way he did. He spoke gently and softly, his faint accent making his words sound musical.

He confided in us, his captivated audience, that only his editors had read the story he was going to share with us. “Who knows?” he said. “It might be terrible.” He smiled when we laughed at the absurdity. Then, he began to read.

And I was stolen, kidnapped from the world of frigid temperatures and warm museums, taken from my earthly life with measured time and transported to a place haunting and beautiful and mysterious, where I met a monarch with amber eyes and a monster without a heart.

As he uttered the last syllable, gracefully returning me to my body of flesh and bone, I could feel the audience hold its collective breath. Give us more, the room said without saying. Give us more, tell us more, tell us everything! When he strolled off stage with the unhurried ease of a man who has done this countless times before, the room exploded in roaring applause.

Neil Gaiman is not just a writer. He is a true storyteller.

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