II

  • America’s New Gods

    “Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.”

    Scorched wires, silicone, tar, chlorine, wax, rubber, and exhaust.

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  • Becoming Thunder

    “You got to understand the god thing. It’s not magic. It’s about being you, but the you that people believe in. It’s about being the concentrated, magnified, essence of you. It’s about becoming thunder, or the power of a running horse, or wisdom. You take all the belief and become bigger, cooler, more than human. You crystallize.”

    This is the scent of the absolute: this is the perfected manifestation of the absolute essence of not who you are, but what you represent to others. This is You as Symbol, your spirit separated and combined, distilled and condensed into one archetype. Skin musk and 20-year aged frankincense, a sprig of asphodel, a splash of soma, a lightning-streak of sharp ozone, and a stream of ambrosia.

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  • Cigarettes and Offerings

    “I think,” he pronounced, gloomily, “that our kind, we like the cigarettes so much because they remind us of the offerings that once they burned for us, the smoke rising up as they sought our approval or our favor.”

    Cigarette smoke overlapping with the resonance of long-forgotten incenses.

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  • Search Engine

    “What the hell is that?” asked Shadow, but Wednesday touched his finger to his lips, shook his head sharply. Silence.

    It looked like a mechanical spider, blue metal, glittering LED lights, and it was the size of a tractor. It squatted at the bottom of the hill. Beyond it were an assortment of bones, each with a flame beside it little bigger than a candle-flame, flickering.

    Dark metal and sour grapefruit creeping over a field of bones.

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  • Take the Moon

    She held his hand, with a hand that was icy cold. “You were given protection once. You were given the sun itself. But you lost it already. You gave it away. All I can give you is much weaker protection. The daughter, not the father. But all helps. Yes?” Her white hair blew about her face in the chilly wind.

    “Do I have to fight you? Or play checkers?” he asked.

    “You do not even have to kiss me,” she told him. “Just take the moon from me.”

    “How?”

    “Take the moon.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Watch,” said Zorya Polunochnaya. She raised her left hand and held it in front of the moon, so that her forefinger and thumb seemed to be grasping it. Then, in one smooth movement, she plucked at it. For a moment, it looked like she had taken the moon from the sky, but then Shadow saw that the moon shone still, and Zorya Polunochnaya opened her hand to display a silver Liberty-head dollar resting between finger and thumb.

    “That was beautifully done,” said Shadow. “I didn’t see you palm it. And I don’t know how you did that last bit.”

    “I did not palm it,” she said. “I took it. And now I give it you, to keep safe. Here. Don’t give this one away.”

    Silvered musk and lemon peel, white fir needle, frosted apple blossom, and mugwort.

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  • The Best Lies

    “Such a pity,” Zorya Vechernyaya told Shadow. “In my fortune for you, I should have said you would have a long life and a happy one, with many children.”

    “That is why you are a good fortune-teller,” said Zorya Utrennyaya. She looked sleepy, as if it were an effort for her to be up so late. “You tell the best lies.”

    The melodious sweetness of false fortunes: sugar-swept honey and rose.

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  • The Buffalo Man

    Darkness; a sensation of falling—as if he were tumbling down a great hole, like Alice. He fell for a hundred years into darkness. Faces passed him, swimming out of the black, then each face was ripped up and away before he could touch it . . .

    Abruptly, and without transition, he was not falling. Now he was in a cave, and he was no longer alone. Shadow stared into familiar eyes: huge, liquid black eyes. They blinked.

    Under the earth: yes. He remembered this place. The stink of wet cow. Firelight flickered on the wet cave walls, illuminating the buffalo head, the man’s body, skin the color of brick clay.

    “Can’t you people leave me be?” asked Shadow. “I just want to sleep.”

    The buffalo man nodded, slowly. His lips did not move, but a voice in Shadow’s head said, “Where are you going, Shadow?”

    “Cairo.”

    “Why?”

    “Where else have I got to go? It’s where Wednesday wants me to go. I drank his mead.” In Shadow’s dream, with the power of dream logic behind it, the obligation seemed unarguable: he drank Wednesday’s mead three times, and sealed the pact—what other choice of action did he have?

    The buffalo-headed man reached a hand into the fire, stirring the embers and the broken branches into a blaze. “The storm is coming,” he said. Now there was ash on his hands, and he wiped it onto his hairless chest, leaving soot-black streaks.

    “So you people keep telling me. Can I ask you a question?”

    There was a pause. A fly settled on the furry forehead. The buffalo man flicked it away. “Ask.”

    “Is this true? Are these people really gods? It’s all so . . .” He paused. Then he said, “impossible,” which was not exactly the word he had been going for but seemed to be the best he could do.

    “What are gods?” asked the buffalo man.

    “I don’t know,” said Shadow.

    Warm dark brown musk, woodsmoke, and deep pools of labdanum.

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  • The Jeweled Spider

    He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil mustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast’s mane; and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with blackflies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ocher leaf.

    Shadow saw all these things, and he knew they were the same thing.

    “If you don’t close your mouth,” said the many things that were Mr. Nancy, “somethin’s goin’ to fly in there.”

    Cigarillo smoke, spatters of ice cream sundae, a supersized mug of coffee, a pile of fruit, and a little bit of curried goat.

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