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Neil Gaiman "American Gods", Chapter 5 (p.6)

Czernobog grasped Shadow’s arm. “Quickly, come here,” he said, pulling him over to a large glass box by a wall. It contained a diorama of a tramp asleep in a churchyard in front of a church door. THE DRUNKARD’S DREAM said the label, which explained that it was a nineteenth-century penny-in-the-slot machine, originally from an English railway station. The coin slot had been modified to take the brass House on the Rock coins.

“Put in the money,” said Czernobog.

“Why?” asked Shadow.

“You must see. I show you.”

Shadow inserted his coin. 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 bird-like 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.

“No.”

“That is the world as it is. That is the real world. It is there, in that box.”

They wandered through a blood-colored room filled with old theatrical organs, huge organ pipes, and what appeared to be enormous copper brewing vats, liberated from a brewery.

“Where are we going?” asked Shadow.

“The carousel,” said Czernobog.

“But we’ve passed signs to the carousel a dozen times already.”

“He goes his way. We travel a spiral. The quickest way is sometimes the longest.”

Shadow’s feet were beginning to hurt, and he found this sentiment to be extremely unlikely.

A mechanical machine played “Octopus’s Garden” in a room that went up for many stories, the center of which was filled entirely with a replica of a great black whale-like beast, with a life-sized replica of a boat in its vast fiberglass mouth. They passed on from there to a Travel Hall, where they saw the car covered with tiles, and the functioning Rube Goldberg chicken device and the rusting Burma Shave ads on the wall.

Life is Hard

It’s Toil and Trouble

Keep your Jawline

Free from Stubble

Burma Shave

read one, and

He undertook to overtake

The road was on a bend

From now on the Undertaker

Is his only friend

Burma Shave

and they were at the bottom of a ramp now, with an ice-cream shop in front of them. It was nominally open, but the girl washing down the surfaces had a closed look on her face, so they walked past it into the pizzeria-cafeteria, empty but for an elderly black man wearing a bright check suit and canary-yellow gloves. He was a small man, the kind of little old man who looked as if the passing of the years had shrunk him, eating an enormous, many-scooped ice-cream sundae, drinking a supersized mug of coffee. A black cigarillo was burning in the ashtray in front of him.

“Three coffees,” said Wednesday to Shadow. He went to the restroom.

Shadow bought the coffees and took them over to Czernobog, who was sitting with the old black man, and was smoking a cigarette surreptitiously, as if he were scared of being caught. The other man, happily toying with his sundae, mostly ignored his cigarillo, but as Shadow approached he picked it up, inhaled deeply, and blew two smoke rings—first one large one, then another, smaller one, which passed neatly through the first—and he grinned, as if he were astonishingly pleased with himself.

“Shadow, this is Mister Nancy,” said Czernobog.

The old man got to his feet, and thrust out his yellow-gloved right hand. “Good to meet you,” he said with a dazzling smile. “I know who you must be. You’re working for the old one-eye bastard, aren’t you?” There was a faint twang in his voice, a hint of a patois that might have been West Indian.

“I work for Mister Wednesday,” said Shadow. “Yes. Please, sit down.”

Czernobog inhaled on his cigarette.

“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.”

“They never gave me nothin' like that,” said Nancy. “Best I could hope for was a pile of fruit to eat, maybe curry goat, something slow and cold and tall to drink, and a big old high-titty woman to keep me company.” He grinned white teeth, and winked at Shadow.

“These days,” said Czernobog, his expression unchanged, “we have nothing.”

“Well, I don’t get anywhere near as much fruit as I used to,” said Mr. Nancy, his eyes shining. “But there still ain’t nothing out there in the world for my money that can beat a big old high-titty woman. Some folk you talk to, they say it’s the booty you got to inspect at first, but I’m here to tell you that it’s the titties that still crank my engine on a cold morning.” Nancy began to laugh, a wheezing, rattling, good-natured laugh, and Shadow found himself liking the old man despite himself.

Wednesday returned from the restroom, and shook hands with Nancy. “Shadow, you want something to eat? A slice of pizza? Or a sandwich?”

“I’m not hungry,” said Shadow.

“Let me tell you somethin',” said Mr. Nancy. “It can be a long time between meals. Someone offers you food, you say yes. I’m no longer young as I was, but I can tell you this, you never say no to the opportunity to piss, to eat, or to get half an hour’s shut-eye. You follow me?”

“Yes. But I’m really not hungry.”

“You’re a big one,” said Nancy, staring into Shadow’s light-gray eyes with old eyes the color of mahogany, “a tall drink of water, but I got to tell you, you don’t look too bright. I got a son, stupid as a man who bought his stupid at a two-for-one sale, and you remind me of him.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Shadow.

“Being called dumb as a man who slept late the mornin' they handed out brains?”

“Being compared to a member of your family.”

Mr. Nancy stubbed out his cigarillo, then he flicked an imaginary speck of ash off his yellow gloves. “You may not be the worst choice old one-eye could have made, come to that.” He looked up at Wednesday. “You got any idea how many of us there’s goin' to be here tonight?”

“I sent the message out to everyone I could find,” said Wednesday. “Obviously not everyone is going to be able to come. And some of them,” he said with a pointed look at Czernobog, “might not want to. But I think we can confidently expect several dozen of us. And the word will travel.”



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Czernobog grasped Shadow’s arm. “Quickly, come here,” he said, pulling him over to a large glass box by a wall. It contained a diorama of a tramp asleep in a churchyard in front of a church door. THE DRUNKARD’S DREAM said the label, which explained that it was a nineteenth-century penny-in-the-slot machine, originally from an English railway station. The coin slot had been modified to take the brass House on the Rock coins.

“Put in the money,” said Czernobog.

“Why?” asked Shadow.

“You must see. I show you.”

Shadow inserted his coin. 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 bird-like 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.

“No.”

“That is the world as it is. That is the real world. It is there, in that box.”

They wandered through a blood-colored room filled with old theatrical organs, huge organ pipes, and what appeared to be enormous copper brewing vats, liberated from a brewery.

“Where are we going?” asked Shadow.

“The carousel,” said Czernobog.

“But we’ve passed signs to the carousel a dozen times already.”

“He goes his way. We travel a spiral. The quickest way is sometimes the longest.”

Shadow’s feet were beginning to hurt, and he found this sentiment to be extremely unlikely.

A mechanical machine played “Octopus’s Garden” in a room that went up for many stories, the center of which was filled entirely with a replica of a great black whale-like beast, with a life-sized replica of a boat in its vast fiberglass mouth. They passed on from there to a Travel Hall, where they saw the car covered with tiles, and the functioning Rube Goldberg chicken device and the rusting Burma Shave ads on the wall.

Life is Hard

It’s Toil and Trouble

Keep your Jawline

Free from Stubble

Burma Shave

read one, and

He undertook to overtake

The road was on a bend

From now on the Undertaker

Is his only friend

Burma Shave

and they were at the bottom of a ramp now, with an ice-cream shop in front of them. It was nominally open, but the girl washing down the surfaces had a closed look on her face, so they walked past it into the pizzeria-cafeteria, empty but for an elderly black man wearing a bright check suit and canary-yellow gloves. He was a small man, the kind of little old man who looked as if the passing of the years had shrunk him, eating an enormous, many-scooped ice-cream sundae, drinking a supersized mug of coffee. A black cigarillo was burning in the ashtray in front of him.

“Three coffees,” said Wednesday to Shadow. He went to the restroom.

Shadow bought the coffees and took them over to Czernobog, who was sitting with the old black man, and was smoking a cigarette surreptitiously, as if he were scared of being caught. The other man, happily toying with his sundae, mostly ignored his cigarillo, but as Shadow approached he picked it up, inhaled deeply, and blew two smoke rings—first one large one, then another, smaller one, which passed neatly through the first—and he grinned, as if he were astonishingly pleased with himself.

“Shadow, this is Mister Nancy,” said Czernobog.

The old man got to his feet, and thrust out his yellow-gloved right hand. “Good to meet you,” he said with a dazzling smile. “I know who you must be. You’re working for the old one-eye bastard, aren’t you?” There was a faint twang in his voice, a hint of a patois that might have been West Indian.

“I work for Mister Wednesday,” said Shadow. “Yes. Please, sit down.”

Czernobog inhaled on his cigarette.

“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.”

“They never gave me nothin' like that,” said Nancy. “Best I could hope for was a pile of fruit to eat, maybe curry goat, something slow and cold and tall to drink, and a big old high-titty woman to keep me company.” He grinned white teeth, and winked at Shadow.

“These days,” said Czernobog, his expression unchanged, “we have nothing.”

“Well, I don’t get anywhere near as much fruit as I used to,” said Mr. Nancy, his eyes shining. “But there still ain’t nothing out there in the world for my money that can beat a big old high-titty woman. Some folk you talk to, they say it’s the booty you got to inspect at first, but I’m here to tell you that it’s the titties that still crank my engine on a cold morning.” Nancy began to laugh, a wheezing, rattling, good-natured laugh, and Shadow found himself liking the old man despite himself.

Wednesday returned from the restroom, and shook hands with Nancy. “Shadow, you want something to eat? A slice of pizza? Or a sandwich?”

“I’m not hungry,” said Shadow.

“Let me tell you somethin',” said Mr. Nancy. “It can be a long time between meals. Someone offers you food, you say yes. I’m no longer young as I was, but I can tell you this, you never say no to the opportunity to piss, to eat, or to get half an hour’s shut-eye. You follow me?”

“Yes. But I’m really not hungry.”

“You’re a big one,” said Nancy, staring into Shadow’s light-gray eyes with old eyes the color of mahogany, “a tall drink of water, but I got to tell you, you don’t look too bright. I got a son, stupid as a man who bought his stupid at a two-for-one sale, and you remind me of him.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Shadow.

“Being called dumb as a man who slept late the mornin' they handed out brains?”

“Being compared to a member of your family.”

Mr. Nancy stubbed out his cigarillo, then he flicked an imaginary speck of ash off his yellow gloves. “You may not be the worst choice old one-eye could have made, come to that.” He looked up at Wednesday. “You got any idea how many of us there’s goin' to be here tonight?”

“I sent the message out to everyone I could find,” said Wednesday. “Obviously not everyone is going to be able to come. And some of them,” he said with a pointed look at Czernobog, “might not want to. But I think we can confidently expect several dozen of us. And the word will travel.”

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