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The Monarch of the Glen

Neil Gaiman








  ANANSI BOYS (2005)

  American Gods tells the story of a man called Shadow, who, when the story begins, is in prison, having served out his sentence for a crime he did commit.

  He’s looking forward to getting out of prison, rejoining his wife, getting his old job back: but his wife’s tragic death in a car accident puts paid to that, and he soon finds himself working as a bodyguard and driver for an elderly grifter who calls himself Mr. Wednesday.

  Shadow learns that when people came to America they brought their gods with them. Some gods have done well; most of the gods and mythical creatures have had to eke out a bare living on what scraps of belief they could find. Working for Wednesday, Shadow meets many of them: Czernobog, the Slavic death god; Mr. Nancy, the African trickster-god Anansi; and sundry fates and mythical figures, some remembered and many forgotten.

  Wednesday is the American aspect of the old Norse god Odin, and he is apparently attempting to start a war between the old gods and the new ones who are taking up people’s minds and hearts—gods of television, of technology, of money.

  Shadow survives, although Wednesday does not. Shadow dies on a tree, and rises again. He even manages to end the war. And then, no longer entirely human, but not a god, he leaves America.

  Gaiman says, “I always conceived of American Gods as a backdrop to tell stories with. The next novel, the one I’m writing now, is called Anansi Boys, and is the story of Mr. Nancy and his sons, Spider and Fat Charley. Until Robert Silverberg called and asked about an American Gods novella, I had thought of Shadow as someone I would come back to a long time from now, someone I could use to tell a different story about America. But a story started twining in my head: something with Shadow in Northern Scotland, and various old stories and archaeological books I’d read started to twist and shape.

  “I wrote the story, and I realized as I wrote it that there were a number of other stories waiting to be told about Shadow in the United Kingdom and on his journey back to the United States. And I knew what the next American Gods book would be.”


  An American Gods Novella


  She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the window of her eyes and that is very frightening.


  “The Lady of the House of Love.”












  “If you ask me,” said the little man to Shadow, “you’re something of a monster. Am I right?” They were the only two people, apart from the barmaid, in the bar of a hotel in a town on the north coast of Scotland. Shadow had been sitting there on his own, drinking a lager, when the man came over and sat at his table. It was late summer, and it seemed to Shadow that everything was cold, and small, and damp. He had a small book of Pleasant Local Walks in front of him, and was studying the walk he planned to do tomorrow, along the coast, toward Cape Wrath.

  He closed the book.

  “I’m American,” said Shadow, “if that’s what you mean.”

  The little man cocked his head to one side, and he winked, theatrically. He had steel-gray hair, and a gray face, and a gray coat, and he looked like a small-town lawyer. “Well, perhaps that is what I mean, at that,” he said. Shadow had had problems understanding Scottish accents in his short time in the country, all rich burrs and strange words and trills, but he had no trouble understanding this man. Everything the little man said was small and crisp, each word so perfectly enunciated that it made Shadow feel like he himself was talking with a mouthful of oatmeal.

  The little man sipped his drink and said, “So you’re American. Oversexed, overpaid, and over here. Eh? D’you work on the rigs?”


  “An oilman? Out on the big metal platforms. We get oil people up here, from time to time.”

  “No. I’m not from the rigs.”

  The little man took out a pipe from his pocket, and a small penknife, and began to remove the dottle from the bowl. Then he tapped it out into the ashtray. “They have oil in Texas, you know,” he said, after a while, as if he were confiding a great secret. “That’s in America.”

  “Yes,” said Shadow.

  He thought about saying something about Texans believing that Texas was actually in Texas, but he suspected that he’d have to start explaining what he meant, so he said nothing.

  Shadow had been away from America for the better part of two years. He had been away when the towers fell. He told himself sometimes that he did not care if he ever went back, and sometimes he almost came close to believing himself. He had reached the Scottish mainland two days ago, landed in Thurso on the ferry from the Orkneys, and had traveled to the town he was staying in by bus.

  The little man was talking. “So there’s a Texas oilman, down in Aberdeen, he’s talking to an old fellow he meets in a pub, much like you and me meeting actually, and they get talking, and the Texan, he says, Back in Texas I get up in the morning, I get into my car—I won’t try to do the accent, if you don’t mind—I’ll turn the key in the ignition, and put my foot down on the accelerator, what you call the, the—”

  “Gas pedal,” said Shadow, helpfully.

  “Right. Put my foot down on the gas pedal at breakfast, and by lunchtime I still won’t have reached the edge of my property. And the canny old Scot, he just nods and says, Aye, well, I used to have a car like that myself.”

  The little man laughed raucously, to show that the joke was done. Shadow smiled, and nodded, to show that he knew it was a joke.

  “What are you drinking? Lager? Same again over here, Jennie love. Mine’s a Lagavulin.” The little man tamped tobacco from a pouch into his pipe. “Did you know that Scotland’s bigger than America?”

  There had been no one in the hotel bar when Shadow came downstairs that evening. Just the thin barmaid, reading a newspaper, and smoking her cigarette. He’d come down to sit by the open fire, as his bedroom was cold, and the metal radiators on the bedroom wall were colder than the room. He hadn’t expected company.

  “No,” said Shadow, always willing to play straight man. “I didn’t. How’d you reckon that?”

  “It’s all fractal,” said the little man. “The smaller you look, the more things unpack. It could take you as long to drive across America as it would to drive across Scotland, if you did it the right way. It’s like, you look on a map, and the coastlines are solid lines. But when you walk them, they’re all over the place. I saw a whole program on it on the telly the other night. Great stuff.”

  “Okay,” said Shadow.

  The little man’s pipe lighter flamed, and he sucked and puffed and sucked and puffed until he was satisfied that the pipe was burning well, then he put the lighter, the pouch, and the penknife back into his coat pocket.

  “Anyway, anyway,” said the little man. “I believe you’re planning on staying here through the weekend.”

  “Yes,” said Shadow. “Do you . . . are you with the hotel?”

  “No, no. Truth to tell, I was standing in the hall, when you arrived. I heard you talking to Gordon on the reception desk.”

  Shadow nodded. He had thought that he had been alone in the reception hall when he had registered, but it was possible that the little man had passed thr
ough. But still . . . there was a wrongness to this conversation. There was a wrongness to everything.

  Jennie the barmaid put their drinks onto the bar. “Five pounds twenty,” she said. She picked up her newspaper, and started to read once more. The little man went to the bar, paid, and brought back the drinks.

  “So how long are you in Scotland?” asked the little man.

  Shadow shrugged. “I wanted to see what it was like. Take some walks. See the sights. Maybe a week. Maybe a month.”

  Jennie put down her newspaper. “It’s the arse end of nowhere up here,” she said, cheerfully. “You should go somewhere interesting.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” said the little man. “It’s only the arse end of nowhere if you look at it wrong. See that map, laddie?” He pointed to a fly-specked map of Northern Scotland on the opposite wall of the bar. “You know what’s wrong with it?”


  “It’s upside down!” the man said, triumphantly. “North’s at the top. It’s saying to the world that this is where things stop. Go no further. The world ends here. But you see, that’s not how it was. This wasn’t the north of Scotland. This was the southernmost tip of the Viking world. You know what the second most northern county in Scotland is called?”

  Shadow glanced at the map, but it was too far away to read. He shook his head. “Sutherland!” said the little man. He showed his teeth. “The South Land. Not to anyone else in the world it wasn’t, but it was to the Vikings.”

  Jennie the barmaid walked over to them. “I won’t be gone long,” she said. “Call the front desk if you need anything before I get back.” She put a log on the fire, then she went out into the hall.

  “Are you a historian?” Shadow asked.

  “Good one,” said the little man. “You may be a monster, but you’re funny. I’ll give you that.”

  “I’m not a monster,” said Shadow.

  “Aye, that’s what monsters always say,” said the little man. “I was a specialist once. In Saint Andrews. Now I’m in general practice. Well, I was. I’m semiretired. Go in to the surgery a couple of days a week, just to keep my hand in.”

  “Why do you say I’m a monster?” asked Shadow.

  “Because,” said the little man, lifting his whiskey glass with the air of one making an irrefutable point, “I am something of a monster myself. Like calls to like. We are all monsters, are we not? Glorious monsters, shambling through the swamps of unreason . . .” He sipped his whiskey, then said, “Tell me, a big man like you, have you ever been a bouncer? ‘Sorry mate, I’m afraid you can’t come in here tonight, private function going on, sling your hook and get on out of it,’ all that?”

  “No,” said Shadow.

  “But you must have done something like that?”

  “Yes,” said Shadow, who had been a bodyguard once, to an old god; but that was in another country.

  “You, uh, you’ll pardon me for asking, don’t take this the wrong way, but do you need money?”

  “Everyone needs money. But I’m okay.” This was not entirely true; but it was a truth that, when Shadow needed money, the world seemed to go out of its way to provide it.

  “Would you like to make a wee bit of spending money? Being a bouncer? It’s a piece of piss. Money for old rope.”

  “At a disco?”

  “Not exactly. A private party. They rent a big old house near here, come in from all over at the end of the summer. So last year, everybody’s having a grand old time, champagne out of doors, all that, and there was some trouble. A bad lot. Out to ruin everybody’s weekend.”

  “These were locals?”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Was it political?” asked Shadow. He did not want to be drawn into local politics.

  “Not a bit of it. Yobs and hairies and idiots. Anyway. They probably won’t come back this year. Probably off in the wilds of nowhere demonstrating against international capitalism. But just to be on the safe side, the folk up at the house’ve asked me to look out for someone who could do a spot of intimidating. You’re a big lad, and that’s what they want.”

  “How much?” asked Shadow.

  “Can you handle yourself in a fight, if it came down to it?” asked the man.

  Shadow didn’t say anything. The little man looked Shadow up and down, and then he grinned again, showing tobacco-stained teeth.

  “Fifteen hundred pounds, for a long weekend’s work. That’s good money. And it’s cash. Nothing you’d ever need to report to the tax man.”

  “This weekend coming?” said Shadow.

  “Starting Friday morning. It’s a big old house. Part of it used to be a castle. West of Cape Wrath.”

  “I don’t know,” said Shadow.

  “If you do it,” said the little gray man, “you’ll get a fantastic weekend in a historical house, and I can guarantee you’ll get to meet with all kinds of interesting people. Perfect holiday job. I just wish I was younger. And, uh, a great deal taller, actually.”

  Shadow said, “Okay,” and as soon as he said it, wondered if he would regret it.

  “Good man. I’ll get you more details as to when.” The little gray man stood up, and gave Shadow’s shoulder a gentle pat as he walked past. Then he went out, leaving Shadow in the bar on his own.


  Shadow had been on the road for about eighteen months. He had backpacked across Europe and down into northern Africa. He had picked olives, and fished for sardines, and driven a truck, and sold wine from the side of a road. Finally, several months ago, he had hitchhiked his way back to Norway, to Oslo, where he had been born thirty-five years before.

  He was not sure what he had been looking for. He only knew that he had not found it, although there were moments, in the high ground, in the crags and waterfalls, when he was certain that whatever he needed was just around the corner: behind a jut of granite, or in the nearest pinewood.

  Still, it was a deeply unsatisfactory visit, and when, in Bergen, he was asked if he would be half of the crew of a motor yacht, on its way to meet its owner in Cannes, he said yes.

  They had sailed from Bergen to the Shetlands, and then to the Orkneys, where they spent the night in a bed-and-breakfast in Stromness. Next morning, leaving the harbor, the engines had failed, ultimately and irrevocably, and the boat had been towed back to port.

  Bjorn, who was the captain and the other half of the crew, stayed with the boat, to talk to the insurers and field the angry calls from the boat’s owner. Shadow saw no reason to stay: he took the ferry to Thurso, on the north coast of Scotland.

  He was restless. At night he dreamed of freeways, of entering the neon edges of a city where the people spoke English. Sometimes it was in the Midwest, sometimes it was in Florida, sometimes on the East Coast, sometimes on the West.

  When he got off the ferry he bought a book of scenic walks, and picked up a bus timetable, and he set off into the world.

  Jennie the barmaid came back, and started to wipe all the surfaces with a cloth. Her hair was so blond it was almost white, and it was tied up at the back in a bun.

  “So what is it people do around here for fun?” asked Shadow.

  “They drink. They wait to die,” she said. “Or they go south. That pretty much exhausts your options.”

  “You sure?”

  “Well, think about it. There’s nothing up here but sheep and hills. We feed off the tourists, of course, but there’s never really enough of you. Sad, isn’t it?”

  Shadow shrugged.

  “Are you from New York?” she asked.

  “Chicago, originally. But I came here from Norway.”

  “You speak Norwegian?”

  “A little.”

  “There’s somebody you should meet,” she said, suddenly. Then she looked at her watch. “Somebody who came here from Norway, a long time ago. Come on.”

  She put her cleaning cloth down, turned off the bar lights, and walked over to the door. “Come on,” she said, again.
/>   “Can you do that?” asked Shadow.

  “I can do whatever I want,” she said. “It’s a free country, isn’t it?”

  “I guess.”

  She locked the bar with a brass key. They walked into the reception hall. “Wait here,” she said. She went through a door marked private, and reappeared several minutes later, wearing a long brown coat. “Okay. Follow me.”

  They walked out into the street. “So, is this a village or a small town?” asked Shadow. “It’s a fucking graveyard,” she said. “Up this way. Come on.”

  They walked up a narrow road. The moon was huge and a yellowish brown. Shadow could hear the sea, although he could not yet see it.

  “You’re Jennie?” he said. “That’s right. And you?”


  “Is that your real name?”

  “It’s what they call me.”

  “Come on then, Shadow,” she said.

  At the top of the hill, they stopped. They were on the edge of the village, and there was a gray stone cottage. Jennie opened the gate, and led Shadow up a path to the front door. He brushed a small bush on the side of the path, and the air filled with the scent of sweet lavender. There were no lights on in the cottage.

  “Whose house is this?” asked Shadow. “It looks empty.”

  “Don’t worry,” said Jennie. “She’ll be home in a second.”

  She pushed open the unlocked front door, and they went inside. She turned on the light switch by the door. Most of the inside of the cottage was taken up by a kitchen sitting room. There was a tiny staircase leading up to what Shadow presumed was an attic bedroom. A CD player sat on the pine counter.

  “This is your house,” said Shadow.

  “Home sweet home,” she agreed. “You want coffee? Or something to drink?”

  “Neither,” said Shadow. He wondered what Jennie wanted. She had barely looked at him, hadn’t even smiled at him.

  “So did I hear right? Was Dr. Gaskell asking you to help look after a party on the weekend?”

  “I guess.”