I

  • Believe

    Shadow was in a dark place, and the thing staring at him wore a buffalo’s head, rank and furry with huge wet eyes. Its body was a man’s body, oiled and slick.

    “Changes are coming,” said the buffalo without moving its lips. “There are certain decisions that will have to be made.”

     Firelight flickered from wet cave walls.

    “Where am I?” Shadow asked.

    “In the earth and under the earth,” said the buffalo man. “You are where the forgotten wait.” His eyes were liquid black marbles, and his voice was a rumble from beneath the world. He smelled like wet cow. “Believe,” said the rumbling voice. “If you are to survive, you must believe.”

    “Believe what?” asked Shadow. “What should I believe?”

    He stared at Shadow, the buffalo man, and he drew himself up huge, and his eyes filled with fire. He opened his spit-flecked buffalo mouth and it was red inside with the flames that burned inside him, under the earth.

    “Everything,” roared the buffalo man.

     

    A scent of compression and release, of heat and faith, of plunging through the jet-shadowed darkness of uncertainty. The heart of the land: roots plunging ever deeper into thrumming black soil through the graves of faith, disillusion, and skepticism.

     

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  • Black Hats

    “So who were the guys that grabbed me in the parking lot? Mister Wood and Mister Stone? Who were they?” The lights of the car illuminated the winter landscape. Wednesday had announced that they were not to take freeways because he didn’t know whose side the freeways were on, so Shadow was sticking to back roads. He didn’t mind. He wasn’t even sure that Wednesday was crazy.

    Wednesday grunted. “Just spooks. Members of the opposition. Black hats.”

    “I think,” said Shadow, “that they think they’re the white hats.”

    “Of course they do. There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”

    “And you?” asked Shadow. “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”

    “Because I want to,” said Wednesday. And then he grinned. “So that’s all right.”

     

    Gunpowder residue, patent leather, pomade, and aftershave.

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  • Coin Trick

    Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

    The best thing—in Shadow’s opinion, perhaps the only good thing—about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he’d plunged as low as he could plunge and he’d hit bottom. He didn’t worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

     

    Glittering gold and silver, rolling over knuckles – concealed in palms – and pulled from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

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  • Eostre of the Dawn

    There was a woman sitting on the grass, under a tree, with a paper tablecloth spread in front of her, and a variety of Tupperware dishes on the cloth.

    She was—not fat, no, far from fat: what she was, a word that Shadow had never had cause to use until now, was curvaceous. Her hair was so fair that it was white, the kind of platinum-blonde tresses that should have belonged to a long-dead movie starlet, her lips were painted crimson, and she looked to be somewhere between twenty-five and fifty.

    As they reached her she was selecting from a plate of deviled eggs. She looked up as Wednesday approached her, put down the egg she had chosen, and wiped her hand. “Hello, you old fraud,” she said, but she smiled as she said it, and Wednesday bowed low, took her hand, and raised it to his lips.

    He said, “You look divine.”

    “How the hell else should I look?” she demanded, sweetly. “Anyway, you’re a liar. New Orleans was such a mistake—I put on, what, thirty pounds there? I swear. I knew I had to leave when I started to waddle. The tops of my thighs rub together when I walk now, can you believe that?” This last was addressed to Shadow. He had no idea what to say in reply, and felt a hot flush suffuse his face. The woman laughed delightedly. “He’s blushing! Wednesday, my sweet, you brought me a blusher. How perfectly wonderful of you. What’s he called?”

    “This is Shadow,” said Wednesday. He seemed to be enjoying Shadow’s discomfort. “Shadow, say hello to Easter.”

     

    Jasmine and honeysuckle, sweet milk and female skin.

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  • For the Joy of It

    In prison Shadow had learned there were two kinds of fights: don’t fuck with me fights, where you made it as showy and impressive as you could, and private fights, real fights, which were fast and hard and nasty, and always over in seconds.

    “Hey, Sweeney,” said Shadow, breathless, “why are we fighting?”

    “For the joy of it,” said Sweeney, sober now, or at least, no longer visibly drunk. “For the sheer unholy fucken delight of it. Can’t you feel the joy in your own veins, rising like the sap in the springtime?” His lip was bleeding. So was Shadow’s knuckle.

    Whiskey, mead, honey, gold, sweat, and blood.

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  • Glass Eye

    “How’d you lose your eye?”

    Wednesday shoveled half a dozen pieces of bacon into his mouth, chewed, wiped the fat from his lips with the back of his hand. “Didn’t lose it,” he said. “I still know exactly where it is.”

     

    The depths of Mímisbrunnr: mugwort and frankincense, grey amber and ash.

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  • Laura

    There was something he wanted to say to Laura, and he was prepared to wait until he knew what it was. The world slowly began to lose light and color. Shadow’s feet were going numb, while his hands and face hurt from the cold. He burrowed his hands into his pockets for warmth, and his fingers closed about the gold coin.

    He walked over to the grave.

    “This is for you,” he said.

    Several shovels of earth had been emptied onto the casket, but the hole was far from full. He threw the gold coin into the grave with Laura, then he pushed more earth into the hole, to hide the coin from acquisitive grave diggers. He brushed the earth from his hands and said, “Good night, Laura.” Then he said, “I’m sorry.”

    Violets, upturned earth, mothballs, formaldehyde (mixed with glycerin and lanolin), and the memory of the taste of strawberry daiquiris suspended in twilight.

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  • Low Key Lyesmith

    “Cigarette, sir?”

    “No, thank you.”

    “You don’t mind if I do?”

    “Go right ahead.”

    The driver used a Bic disposable lighter, and it was in the yellow light of the flame that Shadow saw the man’s face, actually saw it for the first time, and recognized him, and began to understand.

    Shadow knew that thin face. He knew that there would be close-cropped orange hair beneath the black driver’s cap, cut close to the scalp. He knew that when the man’s lips smiled they would crease into a network of rough scars.

    “You’re looking good, big guy,” said the driver.

    “Low Key?” Shadow stared at his old cellmate warily.

    Prison friendships are good things: they get you through bad places and through dark times. But a prison friendship ends at the prison gates, and a prison friend who reappears in your life is at best a mixed blessing.

    “Jesus. Low Key Lyesmith,” said Shadow, and then he heard what he was saying and he understood. “Loki,” he said. “Loki Lie-Smith.”

    “You’re slow,” said Loki, “but you get there in the end.” And his lips twisted into a scarred smile and embers danced in the shadows of his eyes.

     

    Black clove and cassia flung onto glowing cinders and mingled with slow-dripping poisons.

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  • Media

    Waiting for them in front of the motel was a woman Shadow did not recognize. She was perfectly made-up, perfectly coiffed. She reminded him of every newscaster he’d ever seen on morning television sitting in a studio that didn’t really resemble a living room.

    “Lovely to see you,” she said. “Now, you must be Czernobog. I’ve heard a lot about you. And you’re Anansi, always up to mischief, eh? You jolly old man. And you, you must be Shadow. You’ve certainly led us a merry chase, haven’t you?” A hand took his, pressed it firmly, looked him straight in the eye. “I’m Media. Good to meet you. I hope we can get this evening’s business done as pleasantly as possible.”

     

    A news anchor’s cologne, a soap star’s perfume: perfect, pixelated, and glamorous; aglow with cathodes and anodes, coated with phosphor. “I offered you the world,” she said. “When you’re dying in a gutter, you remember that.”

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  • Mister Wednesday

    His hair was a reddish gray; his beard, little more than stubble, was grayish red. A craggy, square face with pale gray eyes. The suit looked expensive, and was the color of melted vanilla ice cream. His tie was dark gray silk, and the tie pin was a tree, worked in silver: trunk, branches, and deep roots.

    He held his glass of Jack Daniel’s as they took off, and did not spill a drop.

     

    Sleek cologne, the memory of a Nine Herbs Charm, gallows wood, and a splash of whiskey.

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  • Mr. Czernobog

    Shadow saw a gray-haired old Eastern-European immigrant, with a shabby raincoat and one iron-colored tooth, true. But he also saw a squat black thing, darker than the darkness that surrounded them, its eyes two burning coals; and he saw a prince, with long flowing black hair and a long black mustache, blood on his hands and his face, riding, naked but for a bear skin over his shoulder, on a creature half-man, half-beast, his face and torso blue-tattooed with swirls and spirals.


    Unfiltered cigarettes, the leather and metal of sledgehammers, aortal blood slowly drying, and black incense.

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  • Shadow

    “How the hell did you find me here?” he asked his dead wife.

    She shook her head slowly, amused. “You shine like a beacon in a dark world,” she told him. “It wasn’t that hard…”

    Grey oudh and bay rum luminous with amber.

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  • Technical Boy

    The fat young man at the other end of the stretch limo took a can of diet Coke from the cocktail bar and popped it open. He wore a long black coat, made of some silky material, and he appeared barely out of his teens: a spattering of acne glistened on one cheek. He smiled when he saw that Shadow was awake.

    “Hello, Shadow,” he said. “Don’t fuck with me.”

     

    It’s all about the dominant fucking paradigm, Shadow. Nothing else is important: vape smoke and burning electrical parts.

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  • Zorya Polunochnaya

    Her hair was pale and colorless in the moon’s thin light. She wore a white cotton nightgown, with a high lace neck and a hem that swept the ground. Shadow sat up, entirely awake. “You are Zorya Polu . . . ,” he hesitated. “The sister who was asleep.”

    “I am Zorya Polunochnaya, yes. And you are called Shadow, yes? That was what Zorya Vechernyaya told me, when I woke.”

    “Yes. What were you looking at, out there?”

    She looked at him, then she beckoned him to join her by the window. She turned her back while he pulled on his jeans. He walked over to her. It seemed a long walk, for such a small room.

    He could not tell her age. Her skin was unlined, her eyes were dark, her lashes were long, her hair was to her waist and white. The moonlight drained colors into ghosts of themselves. She was taller than either of her sisters.

    She pointed up into the night sky. “I was looking at that,” she said, pointing to the Big Dipper. “See?”

    “Ursa Major,” he said. “The Great Bear.”

    “That is one way of looking at it,” she said. “But it is not the way from where I come from. I am going to sit on the roof. Would you like to come with me?”

     

    Pale amber and ambergris, gossamer vanilla, moonflower, and white tobacco petals.

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  • Zorya Utrennyaya

    “Why you are standing at the door?” asked a woman’s voice. Shadow looked over Czernobog’s shoulder, at the old woman standing behind him. She was smaller and frailer than her sister, but her hair was long and still golden. “I am Zorya Utrennyaya,” she said. “You must not stand there in the hall. You must go in, sit down. I will bring you coffee.”

     

    Sweet black coffee and a touch of ambrette seed.

     

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  • Zorya Vechernyaya

    “You see, I am the only one of us who brings in any money. The other two cannot make money fortune-telling. This is because they only tell the truth, and the truth is not what people want to hear. It is a bad thing, and it troubles people, so they do not come back. But I can lie to them, tell them what they want to hear. So I bring home the bread.”

    Red musk and wild plum, orange blossom and jasmine, juniper berries, sweet incense and vetiver-laced sandalwood.

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