"Five days," said Shadow.
"A hundred and twenty hours, and then you come home," she said.
"Everything okay there? Nothing wrong?"
"Everything's fine. I'm seeing Robbie tonight. We're planning your surprise welcome-home party."
"Of course. You don't know anything about it, do you?"
"Not a thing."
"That's my husband," she said. Shadow realized that he was smiling. He had been inside for three years, but she could still make him smile.
"Love you, babes," said Shadow.
"Love you, puppy," said Laura.
Shadow put down the phone.
When they got married Laura told Shadow that she wanted a puppy, but their landlord had pointed out they weren't allowed pets under the terms of their lease. "Hey," Shadow had said, "I'll be your puppy. What do you want me to do? Chew your slippers? Piss on the kitchen floor? Lick your nose? Sniff your crotch? I bet there's nothing a puppy can do I can't do!" And he picked her up as if she weighed nothing at all and began to lick her nose while she giggled and shrieked, and then he carried her to the bed.
In the food hall Sam Fetisher sidled over to Shadow and smiled, showing his old teeth. He sat down beside Shadow and began to eat his macaroni and cheese.
"We got to talk," said Sam Fetisher.
Sam Fetisher was one of the blackest men that Shadow had ever seen. He might have been sixty. He might have been eighty. Then again, Shadow had met thirty-year-old crackheads who looked older than Sam Fetisher.
"Mm?" said Shadow.
"Storm's on the way," said Sam.
"Feels like it," said Shadow. "Maybe it'll snow soon."
"Not that kind of storm. Bigger storm than that coming. I tell you, boy, you're better off in here than out on the street when the big storm comes.
"Done my time," said Shadow. "Friday, I'm gone."
Sam Fetisher stared at Shadow. "Where you from?" he asked.
"Eagle Point. Indiana."
"You're a lying fuck," said Sam Fetisher. "I mean originally. Where are your folks from?"
"Chicago," said Shadow. His mother had lived in Chicago as a girl, and she had died there, half a lifetime ago.
"Like I said. Big storm coming. Keep your head down, Shadow-boy. It's like ... what do they call those things continents ride around on? Some kind of plates?"
"Tectonic plates?" Shadow hazarded.
"That's it. Tectonic plates. It's like when they go riding, when North America goes skidding into South America, you don't want to be in the middle. You dig me?"
"Not even a little."
One brown eye closed in a slow wink. "Hell, don't say I didn't warn you," said Sam Fetisher, and he spooned a trembling lump of orange Jell-O into his mouth.
Shadow spent the night half-awake, drifting in and out of sleep, listening to his new cellmate grunt and snore in the bunk below him. Several cells away a man whined and howled and sobbed like an animal, and from time to time someone would scream at him to shut the fuck tip. Shadow tried not to hear. He let the empty minutes wash over him, lonely and slow.
Two days to go. Forty-eight hours, starting with oatmeal and prison coffee, and a guard named Wilson who tapped Shadow harder than he had to on the shoulder and said, "Shadow? This way."
Shadow checked his conscience. It was quiet, which did not, he had observed, in a prison, mean that he was not in deep shit. The two men walked more or less side by side, feet echoing on metal and concrete.
Shadow tasted fear in the back of his throat, bitter as old coffee. The bad thing was happening....
There was a voice in the back of his head whispering that they were going to slap another year onto his sentence, drop him into solitary, cut off his hands, cut off his head. He told himself he was being stupid, but his heart was pounding fit to burst out of his chest.
From American Gods by Neil Gaiman. © 2001. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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