I can believe things that are true and things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen - I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind's destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there's a cat in a box somewhere who's alive and dead at the same time (although if they don't ever open the box to feed it it'll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know that I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn't done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman's right to choose, a baby's right to live, that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.
People believe, thought Shadow. It's what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.
At the end of the street was a large glass box with a female mannequin inside it, dressed as a gypsy fortune teller. Now, said Wednesday, at the start of any quest or enterprise it behooves us to consult the Norns. He dropped a coin into the slot. With jagged, mechanical motions, the gypsy lifted her arm and lowered it once more. A slip of paper chunked out of the slot. Wednesday took it, read it, grunted, folded it up and put it in his pocket. Aren’t you going to show it to me? I’ll show you mine, said Shadow. A man’s fortune is his own affair, said Wednesday, stiffly. I would not ask to see yours. Shadow put his own coin into the slot. He took his slip of paper. He read it. EVERY ENDING IS A NEW BEGINNING. YOUR LUCKY NUMBER IS NONE. YOUR LUCKY COLOUR IS DEAD. Motto: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON. Shadow made a face. He folded the fortune up and put it inside his pocket.
Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true.
There was a girl, and her uncle sold her. Put like that it seems so simple. No man, proclaimed Donne, is an island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived and then by some means or other, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes- forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'll mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection) but still unique. Without individuals we see only numbers, a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, "casualties may rise to a million." With individual stories, the statistics become people- but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child's swollen, swollen belly and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, this skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies' own myriad squirming children? We draw our lines around these moments of pain, remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain. Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives. A life that is, like any other, unlike any other. And the simple truth is this: There was a girl, and her uncle sold her.
All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.
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 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.
Laura looked up at him with dead blue eyes. I want to be alive again," she said. "Not in this half-life. I want to be really alive. I want to feel my heart pumping in my chest again. I want to feel blood moving through me — hot, and salty, and real. It's weird, you don't think you can feel it, the blood, but believe me, when it stops flowing, you'll know." She rubbed her eyes, smudging her face with red from the mess on her hands. Look, it's hard. You know why dead people only go out at night, puppy? Because it's easier to pass for real, in the dark. And I don't want to have to pass. I want to be alive.
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 the embers danced in the shadows of his eyes.
This is the only country in the world," said Wednesday, into the stillness, "that worries about what it is." "What?" "The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.
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.
He tugged on an imaginary rope,somewhere on the level of his ear, and then jerked his neck to one side, tongue protruding, eyes bulging. As quick pantomimes went, it was disturbing. And then he let go of the rope and smiled his familiar grin. Would you like some potato salad?
I only met Mad Sweeney twice, alive," he said. "The first time I thought he was a world-class jerk with the devil in him. The second time I thought he was a major fuckup and I gave him the money to kill himself. He showed me a coin trick I don't remember how to do, gave me some bruises, and claimed he was a leprechaun. Rest in peace, Mad Sweeney.
Fuck you," said Czernobog. "Fuck you and fuck your mother and fuck the fucking horse you fucking rode in on. You will not even die in battle. No warrior will taste your blood. No one alive will take your life. You will die a soft, poor death. You will die with a kiss on your lips and a lie in your heart.
Shadow had heard too many people telling each other not to repress their feelings, to let their emotions out, let the pain go. Shadow thought there was a lot to be said for bottling up emotions. If you did it long enough and deep enough, he suspected, pretty soon you wouldn't feel anything at all.
The black bird cocked its head to one side, and then said, in a voice like stones being struck, 'You shadow man.' 'I'm Shadow,' said Shadow. The bird hopped up onto the fawn's rump, raised its head, ruffled its crown and neck feathers. It was enormous and its eyes were black beads. There was something intimidating about a bird that size, this close. 'Says he will see you in Kay-ro.' tokked the raven. Shadow wondered which of Odin's ravens this was: Huginn or Munnin, Memory or Thought. 'Kay-ro?' he asked. 'In Egypt.' 'How am I going to go to Egypt?' 'Follow Mississippi. Go south. Find Jackal.' 'Look,' said Shadow, 'I don't want to seem like I'm-- Jesus, look...' he paused. Regrouped. He was cold, standing in a wood, talking to a big black bird who was currently brunching on Bambi. 'Okay. What I'm trying to say is I don't want mysteries.' 'Mysteries,' agreed the bird helpfully. 'What I want is explanations. Jackal in Kay-ro. This does not help me. It's a line from a bad spy thriller.
I'm the idiot box. I'm the TV. I'm the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I'm the boob tube. I'm the little shrine the family gathers to adore.' 'You're the television? Or someone in the television?' 'The TV's the altar. I'm what people are sacrificing to.' 'What do they sacrifice?' asked Shadow. 'Their time, mostly,' said Lucy. 'Sometimes each other.' She raised two fingers, blew imaginary gunsmoke from the tips. Then she winked, a big old I Love Lucy wink. 'You're a God?' said Shadow. Lucy smirked, and took a ladylike puff of her cigarette. 'You could say that,' she said.
It's certainly not too late to change to the winning side. But you know, you also have the freedom to stay just where you are. That's what it means to be an American. That's the miracle of America. Freedom to believe means the freedom to believe the wrong thing, after all. Just as freedom of speech gives you the right to stay silent.
No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes—forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'd mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection), but still unique.
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. The story had never made sense to him as a boy. It did now.
Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
He left the drapes open, watched the lights of the cars and of the fast food joints through the window glass, comforted to know there was another world out there, one he could walk to anytime he wanted.