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This is a land of dreams and fire

In the earth, and under the earth. The marks on the wall were the red of wet clay: handprints, fingermarks, and, here and there, crude representations of animals and people and birds.

The fire still burned and the buffalo man still sat on the other side of the fire, staring at Shadow with huge eyes, eyes like pools of dark mud. The buffalo lips, fringed with matted brown hair, did not move as the buffalo voice said, "Well, Shadow? Do you believe yet?"

"I don't know," said Shadow. His mouth had not moved either, he observed. Whatever words were passing between the two of them were not being spoken, not in any way that Shadow understood speech. "Are you real?"

"Believe," said the buffalo man.

"Are you..." Shadow hesitated, and then he asked, "Are you a god too?"

The buffalo man reached one hand into the flames of the fire and he pulled out a burning brand. He held the brand in the middle. Blue and yellow flames licked his red hand, but they did not burn.

"This is not a land for gods," said the buffalo man. But it was not the buffalo man talking anymore, Shadow knew, in his dream: it was the fire speaking, the crackling and the burning of the flame itself that spoke to Shadow in the dark place under the earth.

"This land was brought up from the depths of the ocean by a diver," said the fire. "It was spun from its own substance by a spider. It was shat by a raven. It is the body of a fallen father, whose bones are mountains, whose eyes are lakes.

The buffalo man put the brand back on the fire.

"Why are you telling me this stuff?" said Shadow. "I'm not important. I'm not anything. I was an okay physical trainer, a really lousy small-time crook, and maybe not so good a husband as I thought I was..." He trailed off.

"How do I help Laura?" Shadow asked the buffalo man. "She wants to be alive again. I said I'd help her. I owe her that."

The buffalo man said nothing. He pointed up toward the roof of the cave. Shadow's eyes followed. There was a thin, wintery light coming from a tiny opening far above.

"Up there?" asked Shadow, wishing that one of his questions would be answered. "I'm supposed to go up there?"

The dream took him then, the idea becoming the thing itself, and Shadow was crushed into the rock and earth. He was like a mole, trying to push through the earth, like a badger, climbing through the earth, like a groundhog, pushing the earth out of his way, like a bear, but the earth was too hard, too dense, and his breath was coming in gasps, and soon he could go no farther, dig and climb no more, and he knew then that he would die somewhere in the deep place beneath the world.

His own strength was not enough. His efforts became weaker. He knew that though his body was riding in a hot bus through cold woods if he stopped breathing here, beneath the world, he would stop breathing there as well, that even now his breath was coming in shallow panting gasps.