Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

We open October 25th with some action.

"Snuff, I'm going after that damned bird," Graymalk said.
"I don't know that it's good form, Gray, doing something like that right now."

"I don't care," she said, and she disappeared.

I waited and watched, for a long while. Suddenly, there was a flurry on the roof. There came a rattle of claws, a burst of feathers, and Tekela took off across the night, cawing obscenities.
Graymalk descended at the corner and returned.

"Nice try," I said.

"No, it wasn't. I was clumsy. She was fast. Damn."

We headed back.

"Maybe you'll give her a few nightmares, anyway."

"That'd be nice," she said.
Growing moon. Angry cat. Feather on the wind. Autumn comes. The grass dies.

Yay! A haiku! (Though you'd have to split Autumn across two lines if you want to get 5/7/5) As long-time readers of the blog know, I love Zelazny haiku, either those by the man or about his work.

The interesting part of this is that the first time I read this passage, I thought that Snuff was merely hidebound, and didn't want to violate the standards of the the Game. However, I think there is more to it than that. He's recognized that the odds are against him and Jack, and that they're probably not going to win. I think his affection for Graymalk is such that he doesn't want her to scuttle her chances in the new order through a satisfying but petty act of vengeance.

The morning dealt us a hand in which last night's small irony was seen and raised. Graymalk came scratching on the door and when I went out she said, "Better come with me."

So I did.

"What's it about?" I asked.

"The constable and his assistants are at Owen's place, investigating last night's burnings."

"Thanks for getting me," I said. "Let's go and watch. It should be fun."

"Maybe," she said.

When we got there I understood the intimation in her word. The constable and his men paced and measured and poked. The remains of the baskets and the remains which had been in the baskets were now on the ground. There were, however, the remains of four baskets and their contents rather than the three I remembered so well.

It sounds like Owen only noticed a party consisting of a man, a woman, a cat, a very large dog and three dead ogres when the ogres had been stuffed in his wicker baskets, hoisted up a tree and set on fire? Forget any kind of magical defenses for a moment. Isn't that the kind of thing you you should see by looking out your window? Owen, you suck.

(All right, he was probably sleeping at the time, but really, the fact that they were able to get away with it suggests that Owen was no A-Lister.)

Snuff cracks wise and is overheard by Cheeter, who offers to trade a favor for a favor.
"I was a pretty dumb nut-chaser until Owen found me," he said. "Most squirrels are. We know what we have to do to stay in business, but that's about it. Not like you guys. He made me smarter. He gave me special things I can do, too, like that glide. But I lost something for it. I want to trade all this in and go back to being what I was, a happy nut-chaser who doesn't care about opening and closing."

"What all's involved?" I asked.

"I gave up something for all this, and I want it back."


"Look down at the ground around me. What do you see?"

"Nothing special," Graymalk said.

"My shadow's gone. He took it. And he can't give it back now, because he's dead."

Snuff and Gray are not certain they'll be able to break the spell.

"Cheeter, there are all kinds of magical systems," I said. "They're just shapes into which the power is poured. We can't know them all. I've no idea what Owen did to your shadow or your, intuition, I guess, and the feelings that go with it. Unless we had some idea where it is and how to go about returning it and restoring it to you, I'm afraid we can't be of help."

I really like that, because it's so precisely what I love about Zelazny's work, the thoughtfulness and the thoroughness with which he approached his fiction. The Dilvish stories were Zelazny's well-written but ultimately forgettable (Sorry Dilvish fans) take on the old sword and sorcery pulps, but I really liked the attention to detail in the magical operations in both the Changing Land and the Dilvish, the Damned collection.

Cheeter's shadow is pinned, Peter Pan-like, to the wall, with seven silver nails. There is a longish passage of Snuff working a number of them free, and it has a lot of the little details that remind the reader that Snuff is a a dog.

I did not like the taste of the plaster and the pigment used in the design. I was not sure what lay beneath the plaster, holding the nails in place. Not enough of that covering had chipped away for me to distinguish the surface it covered, only enough for grit with a damp basement taste to come into my mouth.

I stepped back. The design looked slobbered-upon, and I wondered how dog spit would affect its subtle functions.

"Please don't quit," Cheeter said. "Try again."

"I'm just catching my breath," I told him. "I've been using my front teeth so far, because it was easier. I'm going to switch to the side now."

So I leaned again and took a grip with my back teeth, right side, upon the nail which seemed to have responded slightly to my suasions. I had it moving, then loosening, before too long.

Finally, I dropped it and listened. Silver makes a pleasant sound when it's struck.

Gray knows how to reverse the process.

"Blood," she said. "You must scratch a wound on the back of each paw, one atop your head, one at the middle of your tail, one midback, the seven places the shadow was pierced. When Snuff removes the final nail he must take care not simply to draw it straight out but to drag it downward, snagging the shadow, pulling it to cover you. You will then be standing with a foot on each of the four nails which held the paws, your tail resting upon that of the tail, your head extended and down to touch the sixth..."

"I don't know which nail is which now," he said.

"I do," she replied. "I've been watching.

That seems like a very cat statement to make. Snuff wasn't the only one who got good characterization. They complete the process, Cheeter gets his shadow and intuition back, and thanks them and runs off.


  1. Perhaps Owen didn't do anything because he was already dead... or in the process of dying.

    1. I'll try to be somewhat vague, as it's possible that someone is reading along with these while reading the book for the first time, but we know from later events that the murder probably didn't happen in the house, so it seems likely that Owen was killed when he came outside to deal with the fire.