All-FatherAdd to cart
Wednesday guided his wolf—now a huge and charcoal-gray beast with green eyes—over to Shadow. Shadow’s mount caracoled away from it, and Shadow stroked its neck and told it not to be afraid. Its tiger tail swished, aggressively. It occurred to Shadow that there was another wolf, a twin to the one that Wednesday was riding, keeping pace with them in the sand dunes, just a moment out of sight.
“Do you know me, Shadow?” said Wednesday. He rode his wolf with his head high. His right eye glittered and flashed, his left eye was dull. He wore a cloak with a deep, monklike cowl, and his face stared out from the shadows. “I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me. I am called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-Bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.” Two ghostly-gray ravens, like transparent skins of birds, landed on Wednesday’s shoulders, pushed their beaks into the side of Wednesday’s head as if tasting his mind, and flapped out into the world once more.
Oak leaves and ash, honey mead, wolf musk, a flutter of black feathers, and bronze fennel.
AlvissAdd to cart
The peculiar-looking man was of average height, but of an odd shape: Shadow had heard of men who were barrel-chested before, but had no image to accompany the metaphor. This man was barrel-chested, and he had legs like, yes, like tree trunks, and hands like, exactly, ham hocks. He wore a black parka with a hood, several sweaters, thick dungarees, and, incongruously, in the winter and with those clothes, a pair of white tennis shoes, which were the same size and shape as shoeboxes. His fingers resembled sausages, with flat, squared-off fingertips.
“That’s some hum you got,” said Shadow from the driver’s seat.
“Sorry,” said the peculiar young man, in a deep, deep voice, embarrassed. He stopped humming.
“No, I enjoyed it,” said Shadow. “Don’t stop.”
The peculiar young man hesitated, then commenced to hum once more, his voice as deep and reverberant as before. This time there were words interspersed in the humming. “Down down down,” he sang, so deeply that the windows rattled. “Down down down, down down, down down.”
Thick, tangled, and strong: ash and oak, elm and pine, reaching down, down, and deeper down into earth.
BastAdd to cart
There was a girl. He had met her somewhere, and now they were walking across a bridge. It spanned a small lake, in the middle of a town. The wind was ruffling the surface of the lake, making waves tipped with whitecaps, which seemed to Shadow to be tiny hands reaching for him.
— Down there, said the woman. She was wearing a leopard-print skirt, which flapped and tossed in the wind, and the flesh between the top of her stockings and her skirt was creamy and soft and in his dream, on the bridge, before God and the world, Shadow went down to his knees in front of her, burying his head in her crotch, drinking in the intoxicating jungle female scent of her. He became aware, in his dream, of his erection in real life, a rigid, pounding, monstrous thing as painful in its hardness as the erections he’d had as a boy, when he was crashing into puberty.
He pulled away and looked upward, and still he could not see her face. But his mouth was seeking hers and her lips were soft against his, and his hands were cupping her breasts, and then they were running across the satin smoothness of her skin, pushing into and parting the furs that hid her waist, sliding into the wonderful cleft of her, which warmed and wetted and parted for him, opening to his hand like a flower.
The woman purred against him ecstatically, her hand moving down to the hardness of him and squeezing it. He pushed the bedsheets away and rolled on top of her, his hand parting her thighs, her hand guiding him between her legs, where one thrust, one magical push . . .
Now he was back in his old prison cell with her, and he was kissing her deeply. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, clamped her legs about his legs to hold him tight, so he could not pull out, not even if he wanted to.
Never had he kissed lips so soft. He had not known that there were lips so soft in the whole world. Her tongue, though, was sandpaper-rough as it slipped against his.
—Who are you? he asked.
She made no answer, just pushed him onto his back and, in one lithe movement, straddled him and began to ride him. No, not to ride him: to insinuate herself against him in series of silken-smooth waves, each more powerful than the one before, strokes and beats and rhythms that crashed against his mind and his body just as the wind-waves on the lake splashed against the shore. Her nails were needle-sharp and they pierced his sides, raking them, but he felt no pain, only pleasure, everything was transmuted by some alchemy into moments of utter pleasure.
He struggled to find himself, struggled to talk, his head now filled with sand dunes and desert winds.
—Who are you? he asked again, gasping for the words.
She stared at him with eyes the color of dark amber, then lowered her mouth to his and kissed him with a passion, kissed him so completely and so deeply that there, on the bridge over the lake, in his prison cell, in the bed in the Cairo funeral home, he almost came. He rode the sensation like a kite riding a hurricane, willing it not to crest, not to explode, wanting it never to end.
A desert wind alight with myrrh and golden amber, cardamom and honey, bourbon vanilla and cacao.
ChadAdd to cart
“Everything okay here?” said a cop inside.
Shadow’s first, automatic instinct was to say Yup, everything’s just fine and jimdandy thank you officer. But it was too late for that, and he started to say, “I think I’m freezing. I was walking into Lakeside to buy food and clothes, but I underestimated the length of the walk”—he was that far through the sentence in his head, when he realized that all that had came out was “F-f-freezing,” and a chattering noise, and he said, “So s-sorry. Cold. Sorry.”
The cop pulled open the back door of the car and said, “You get in there this moment and warm yourself up, okay?” Shadow climbed in gratefully, and he sat in the back and rubbed his hands together, trying not to worry about frostbitten toes. The cop got back in the driver’s seat. Shadow stared at him through the metal grille. Shadow tried not to think about the last time he’d been in the back of a police car, or to notice that there were no door handles in the back, and to concentrate instead on rubbing life back into his hands. His face hurt and his red fingers hurt, and now, in the warmth, his toes were starting to hurt once more. That was, Shadow figured, a good sign.
The cop put the car in drive and moved off. “You know, that was,” he said, not turning to look at Shadow, just talking a little louder, “if you’ll pardon me saying so, a real stupid thing to do. You didn’t hear any of the weather advisories? It’s minus thirty out there. God alone knows what the windchill is, minus sixty, minus seventy, although I figure when you’re down at minus thirty, windchill’s the least of your worries.”
“Thanks,” said Shadow. “Thanks for stopping. Very, very grateful.”
“Woman in Rhinelander went out this morning to fill her bird feeder in her robe and carpet slippers and she froze, literally froze, to the sidewalk. She’s in intensive care now. It was on the TV this morning. You’re new in town.” It was almost a question, but the man knew the answer already.
“I came in on the Greyhound last night. Figured today I’d buy myself some warm clothes, food, and a car. Wasn’t expecting this cold.”
“Yeah,” said the cop. “It took me by surprise as well. I was too busy worrying about global warming. I’m Chad Mulligan. I’m the chief of police here in Lakeside.”
The scent of a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
Dead Words on a Dead FrequencyAdd to cart
“You’re dead, Mad Sweeney,” said Shadow. “You take what you’re given when you’re dead.”
“Aye, that I shall,” sighed the dead man sitting in the back of the hearse. The junkie whine had vanished from his voice now, replaced with a resigned flatness, as if the words were being broadcast from a long, long way away, dead words being sent out on a dead frequency.
Tinny eucalyptus and elemi against a flat black backdrop of opoponax.
Eat the StrawberriesAdd to cart
Still, there was a tale he had read once, long ago, as a small boy: the story of a traveler who had slipped down a cliff, with man-eating tigers above him and a lethal fall below him, who managed to stop his fall halfway down the side of the cliff, holding on for dear life. There was a clump of strawberries beside him, and certain death above him and below. What should he do? went the question.
And the reply was, Eat the strawberries.
Fuck You, Said the RavenAdd to cart
“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.
“Fuck you,” said the raven.”
Glossy black, rough, and gravelly: violet-gilded opoponax, black patchouli, myrrh, and oak leaf.
God’s Own CountryAdd to cart
“Yes, it’s still God’s Own Country,” said the announcer, a news reporter pronouncing the final tag line. “The only question is, which gods?”
Circuit boards, cathode rays, and exhaust ramming against frankincense, myrrh, soil, and blood.
HinzelmannAdd to cart
Where Hinzelmann had been standing stood a male child, no more than five years old. His hair was dark brown, and long. He was perfectly naked, save for a worn leather band around his neck. He was pierced with two swords, one of them going through his chest, the other entering at his shoulder, with the point coming out beneath the rib-cage. Blood flowed through the wounds without stopping and ran down the child’s body to pool and puddle on the floor. The swords looked unimaginably old.
The little boy stared up at Shadow with eyes that held only pain.
And Shadow thought to himself, of course. That’s as good a way as any other of making a tribal god. He did not have to be told. He knew.
You take a baby and you bring it up in the darkness, letting it see no one, touch no one, and you feed it well as the years pass, feed it better than any of the village’s other children, and then, five winters on, when the night is at its longest, you drag the terrified child out of its hut and into the circle of bonfires, and you pierce it with blades of iron and of bronze. Then you smoke the small body over charcoal fires until it is properly dried, and you wrap it in furs and carry it with you from encampment to encampment, deep in the Black Forest, sacrificing animals and children to it, making it the luck of the tribe. When, eventually, the thing falls apart from age, you place its fragile bones in a box, and you worship the box; until one day the bones are scattered and forgotten, and the tribes who worshipped the child-god of the box are long gone; and the child-god, the luck of the village, will be barely remembered, save as a ghost or a brownie: a kobold.
Shadow wondered which of the people who had come to northern Wisconsin 150 years ago, a woodcutter, perhaps, or a mapmaker, had crossed the Atlantic with Hinzelmann living in his head.
And then the bloody child was gone, and the blood, and there was only an old man with a fluff of white hair and a goblin smile, his sweater-sleeves still soaked from putting Shadow into the bath that had saved his life.
The luck of the tribe: black pine pitch and gouts of blood, darkness and bonfires that cast long shadows.
MithrasAdd to cart
“…You run into Mithras yet? Red cap. Nice kid.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well . . . I’ve never seen Mithras around here. He was an army brat. Maybe he’s back in the Middle East, taking it easy, but I expect he’s probably gone by now. It happens. One day every soldier in the empire has to shower in the blood of your sacrificial bull. The next they don’t even remember your birthday.”
Oblations of milk, oil, honey, and blood.
Murder for Murder, Blood for BloodAdd to cart
“So. I got to say it, because nobody else here will. We are at the center of this place: a land that has no time for gods, and here at the center it has less time for us than anywhere. It is a no-man’s-land, a place of truce, and we observe our truces, here. We have no choice. So. You give us the body of our friend. We accept it. You will pay for this, murder for murder, blood for blood.”
Black oudh, patchouli, opoponax, black pepper, and blackened cacao.
Only a SipAdd to cart
Shadow began to feel headachy. There was a pounding quality to the starlight, something that resonated with the pulse in his temples and his chest. At the bottom of the next hill he stumbled, opened his mouth to say something and, without warning, he vomited.
Wednesday reached into an inside pocket, and produced a small hip flask. “Take a sip of this,” he said. “Only a sip.”
The liquid was pungent, and it evaporated in his mouth like a good brandy, although it did not taste like alcohol. Wednesday took the flask away, and pocketed it. “It’s not good for the audience to find themselves walking about backstage. That’s why you’re feeling sick. We need to hurry to get you out of here.”
Orange peel, rosemary oil, peppermint, and cloves.
Roadside AttractionsAdd to cart
“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or . . . well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
Plaster, paint, glass, and plastic surrounding a thrumming core of sacred frankincense.
SamAdd to cart
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Shadow opened his eyes, and, groggily, sat up. He was freezing, and the sky outside the car was the deep luminescent purple that divides the dusk from the night.
Tap. Tap. Someone said, “Hey, mister,” and Shadow turned his head. The someone was standing beside the car, no more than a darker shape against the darkling sky. Shadow reached out a hand and cranked down the window a few inches. He made some waking-up noises, and then he said, “Hi.”
“You all right? You sick? You been drinking?” The voice was high—a woman’s or a boy’s.
“I’m fine,” said Shadow. “Hold on.” He opened the door, and got out, stretching his aching limbs and neck as he did so. Then he rubbed his hands together, to get the blood circulating and to warm them up.
“Whoa. You’re pretty big.”
“That’s what they tell me,” said Shadow.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Sam,” said the voice.
“Boy Sam or girl Sam?”
“Girl Sam. I used to be Sammi with an i, and I’d do a smiley face over the i, but then I got completely sick of it because like absolutely everybody was doing it, so I stopped.”
“Okay, girl Sam. You go over there, and look out at the road.”
“Why? Are you a crazed killer or something?”
“No,” said Shadow, “I need to take a leak and I’d like just the smallest amount of privacy.”
“Oh. Right. Okay. Got it. No problem. I am so with you. I can’t even pee if there’s someone in the next stall. Major shy bladder syndrome.”
Nag champa incense, patchouli, and freshly-soaped skin.
The Blood Must FlowAdd to cart
“It is only a gesture,” he said, turning back to Shadow. “But gestures mean everything. The death of one dog symbolizes the death of all dogs. Nine men they gave to me, but they stood for all the men, all the blood, all the power. It just wasn’t enough. One day, the blood stopped flowing. Belief without blood only takes us so far. The blood must flow.”
“I saw you die,” said Shadow.
“In the god business,” said the figure—and now Shadow was certain it was Wednesday, nobody else had that rasp, that deep cynical joy in words, “it’s not the death that matters. It’s the opportunity for resurrection. And when the blood flows . . .”
Three days on the tree, three days in the underworld, three days to find your way back: ash, oak, and elm; vetiver, dragon’s blood resin, and cypress; frankincense, copal, and chamomile.
The CarouselAdd to cart
Calliope music played: a Strauss waltz, stirring and occasionally discordant. The wall as they entered was hung with antique carousel horses, hundreds of them, some in need of a lick of paint, others in need of a good dusting; above them hung dozens of winged angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.
And then there was the carousel.
A sign proclaimed it was the largest in the world, said how much it weighed, how many thousand lightbulbs were to be found in the chandeliers that hung from it in Gothic profusion, and forbade anyone from climbing on it or from riding on the animals.
And such animals! Shadow stared, impressed in spite of himself, at the hundreds of full-sized creatures who circled on the platform of the carousel. Real creatures, imaginary creatures, and transformations of the two: each creature was different. He saw mermaid and merman, centaur and unicorn, elephants (one huge, one tiny), bulldog, frog and phoenix, zebra, tiger, manticore and basilisk, swans pulling a carriage, a white ox, a fox, twin walruses, even a sea serpent, all of them brightly colored and more than real: each rode the platform as the waltz came to an end and a new waltz began. The carousel did not even slow down.
“What’s it for?” asked Shadow. “I mean, okay, world’s biggest, hundreds of animals, thousands of lightbulbs, and it goes around all the time, and no one ever rides it.”
“It’s not there to be ridden, not by people,” said Wednesday. “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be.”
A place of power and possibility, of gods diabolical and celestial: glowing amber and heady cinnamon, the green of growing things and the white of thunderclaps, sweet myrrh and sacred styrax, forest moss and blood-soaked battlefields, papyrus and clay, rose petals, wildflowers, abbatoirs, and honey.
The CenterAdd to cart
“What is the word for it? The opposite of sacred?”
“Profane,” said Shadow, without thinking.
“No,” said Czernobog. “I mean, when a place is less sacred than any other place. Of negative sacredness. Places where they can build no temples. Places where people will not come, and will leave as soon as they can. Places where gods only walk if they are forced to.”
“I don’t know,” said Shadow. “I don’t think there is a word for it.”
“All of America has it, a little,” said Czernobog. “That is why we are not welcome here. But the center,” said Czernobog. “The center is worst. Is like a minefield. We all tread too carefully there to dare break the truce.”
Peeling paint, faded wallpaper and threadbare carpets, flickering neon, candlewax, and a fading whiff of Jack Daniels.
The Drink of Heroes, the Drink of the GodsAdd to cart
The drink was a tawny golden color. Shadow took a sip, tasting an odd blend of sour and sweet on his tongue. He could taste the alcohol underneath, and a strange blend of flavors. It reminded him a little of prison hooch, brewed in a garbage bag from rotten fruit and bread and sugar and water, but it was sweeter, and far stranger.
“Okay,” said Shadow. “I tasted it. What was it?”
“Mead,” said Wednesday. “Honey wine. The drink of heroes. The drink of the gods.”
Shadow took another tentative sip. Yes, he could taste the honey, he decided. That was one of the tastes. “Tastes kinda like pickle juice,” he said. “Sweet pickle-juice wine.”
“Tastes like a drunken diabetic’s piss,” agreed Wednesday. “I hate the stuff.”
Nine glory-twigs dipped in golden mead.
The Drunkard’s DreamAdd to cart
The drunk in the graveyard raised his bottle to his lips. One of the gravestones flipped over, revealing a grasping corpse; a headstone turned around, flowers replaced by a grinning skull. A wraith appeared on the right of the church, while on the left of the church something with a half-glimpsed, pointed, unsettlingly birdlike face, a pale, Boschian nightmare, glided smoothly from a headstone into the shadows and was gone. Then the church door opened, a priest came out, and the ghosts, haunts, and corpses vanished, and only the priest and the drunk were left alone in the graveyard. The priest looked down at the drunk disdainfully, and backed through the open door, which closed behind him, leaving the drunk on his own.
The clockwork story was deeply unsettling. Much more unsettling, thought Shadow, than clockwork has any right to be.
“You know why I show that to you?” asked Czernobog.
“That is the world as it is. That is the real world. It is there, in that box.”
Red currant and labdanum with opoponax, vetiver, grave moss, white sandalwood, and khus.
The Forgettable GodAdd to cart
He had stood beside the man as he got into the car, had opened and closed the door for him, and was unable to remember anything about him. He turned around in the driver’s seat and looked at him, carefully noting his face, his hair, his clothes, making certain he would know him if he met him again, and turned back to start the car, to find that the man had slipped from his mind. An impression of wealth was left behind, but nothing more.
A faint impression of scent, a memory slipping like water through a sieve.
The IntangiblesAdd to cart
“You’ve been troubled?”
“Yes. Good word. Troubled. Yes. Like a home for troubled teens. Funny. Yes.”
“And what exactly is troubling you?”
“Well, we fight, we win.”
“And that is a source of trouble? I find it a matter of triumph and delight, myself.”
“But. They’ll die out anyway. They are passenger pigeons and thylacines. Yes? Who cares? This way, it’s going to be a bloodbath.”
“Ah.” Mr. World nodded.
He was following. That was good. The fat kid said, “Look, I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve checked with the crew at Radio Modern, and they’re all for settling this peacefully; and the intangibles are pretty much in favor of letting market forces take care of it. I’m being. You know. The voice of reason here.”
“You are indeed. Unfortunately, there is information you do not have.” The smile that followed was twisted and scarred.
Gods of the Stock Market, of securities and trades, of trade and upheaval, debt, fortune, and risk: chaotic synthetic notes, bubbling aldehydes, and the electric green of market euphoria.
The Silver DollarAdd to cart
His fingers closed around the Liberty dollar in his pocket, and he remembered Zorya Polunochnaya, and the way she had looked at him in the moonlight. Did you ask her what she wanted? It is the wisest thing to ask the dead. Sometimes they will tell you.
Gilded iris and Siamese benzoin, silvery-white musk, white tea leaf, and bergamot.
The Small Brown CatAdd to cart
The small brown cat opened her eyes and stretched to her feet. She padded across the kitchen floor and pushed at Shadow’s boot with her head. He put down his left hand and scratched her forehead and the back of her ears and the scruff of her neck. She arched, ecstatically, then sprang into his lap, pushed herself up against his chest, and touched her cold nose to his. Then she curled up in his lap and went back to sleep. He put his hand down to stroke her: her fur was soft, and she was warm and pleasant in his lap; she acted like she was in the safest place in the world, and Shadow felt comforted.
Warm brown fur, cardamom-infused bourbon vanilla, and a touch of cedarwood.
The Sun’s TreasureAdd to cart
“Have you remembered how I do my little coin trick?” he asked Shadow with a grin.
“I have not.”
“If you can guess how I did it,” said Mad Sweeney, his lips purple, his blue eyes beclouded, “I’ll tell you if you get warm.”
“It’s not a palm is it?” asked Shadow.
“It is not.”
“Is it a gadget of some kind? Something up your sleeve or elsewhere that shoots the coins up for you to catch?”
“It is not that neither. More whiskey, anybody?”
“I read in a book about a way of doing the miser’s dream with latex covering the palm of your hand, making a skin-colored pouch for the coins to hide behind.”
“This is a sad wake for Great Sweeney who flew like a bird across all of Ireland and ate watercress in his madness: to be dead and unmourned save for a bird, a dog, and an idiot. No, it is not a pouch.”
“Well, that’s pretty much it for ideas,” said Shadow. “I expect you just take them out of nowhere.” It was meant to be sarcasm, but then he saw the expression on Sweeney’s face. “You do,” he said. “You do take them from nowhere.”
“Well, not exactly nowhere,” said Mad Sweeney. “But now you’re getting the idea. You take them from the hoard.”
“The hoard,” said Shadow, starting to remember.
“You just have to hold it in your mind, and it’s yours to take from. The sun’s treasure. It’s there in those moments when the world makes a rainbow. It’s there in the moment of eclipse and the moment of the storm.” And he showed Shadow how to do the thing. This time Shadow got it.
Radiant amber and orange blossom, golden oudh, and saffron-threaded honey.
These Shabby DaysAdd to cart
“…Our kind of people, we are…” He waved the cigarillo about, as if using it to hunt for a word, then stabbing forward with it. “…exclusive. We’re not social. Not even me. Not even Bacchus. Not for long. We walk by ourselves or we stay in our own little groups. We do not play well with others. We like to be adored and respected and worshiped—me, I like them to be tellin’ tales about me, tales showing my cleverness. It’s a fault, I know, but it’s the way I am. We like to be big. Now, in these shabby days, we are small. The new gods rise and fall and rise again. But this is not a country that tolerates gods for long. Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves, Shiva destroys, and the ground is clear for Brahma to create once more.”
Memories of myrrh and gold, and the dying smoke of a snuffed cigarillo.
We Cared About Such Different ThingsAdd to cart
“I have a brother. They say, you put us together, we are like one person, you know? When we are young, his hair, it is very blond, very light, his eyes are blue, and people say, he is the good one. And my hair it is very dark, darker than yours even, and people say I am the rogue, you know? I am the bad one. And now time passes, and my hair is gray. His hair, too, I think, is gray. And you look at us, you would not know who was light, who was dark.”
“Were you close?” asked Shadow.
“Close?” asked Czernobog. “No. How could we be? We cared about such different things.”
You would not know who was light, who was dark: iron and amber, gold-limned white musk and ink-gloomed dark musk.