The chapter starts with song lyrics about secrets and lies of the past, from Tom Waits’ song “Tango Til They’re Sore.” During his first night in Lakeside, Shadow dreams that he is a child who has been kept in darkness and away from humans his entire life. A woman comes to get him from his cage and takes him out to a bonfire, where the child laughs with the happy crowd that has gathered. The woman then sacrifices the child. Shadow wakes up hungry and cold, unable to remember details about his dream except a sense of misery and darkness.
The Tom Waits lyrics call attention to the fact that there are secrets and lies in Lakeside’s past, no matter how nice it seems on the surface. Shadow’s dream is also a dark omen, an later suggested to be a vision of Hinzelmann’s origins. Yet Shadow does not remember, and so is not on guard in Lakeside.
Shadow decides to walk in to the town center, knowing that it will be cold but hoping he can walk fast enough to keep himself warm. He goes outside, thinking of Low Key’s stories about winter in Minnesota where it was cold enough that a man’s urine would freeze before it hit the ground. Shadow thought it was only ten minutes to the town center, but he keeps walking without seeming to get any closer to the bridge over the lake that leads into town. He is so cold that he has lost all feeling in his hands and feet, but has no choice but to keep walking. A cop car passes and asks if Shadow needs help, and all Shadow can do is shiver.
Low Key had been almost entirely absent from the novel since Shadow left prison. His reappearance in Shadow’s thoughts here is a subtle reminder to not forget about this character. Lakeside has already proven to be dangerous, as it is cold enough to kill Shadow if he walks much further. It is only the help of a person that saves Shadow. Clearly, it is the people that make Lakeside such a good place, not the location.
The cop pulls over and tells Shadow to get in and get warm. Shadow climbs in the back, trying not to think about the last time he was in the back of a cop car. The cop chatters about how cold it is, then introduces himself as Chad Mulligan. Chad offers to drive Shadow anywhere he needs to go today, starting with breakfast. Shadow notes the stark beauty of Lakeside in winter, wishing that he could see it in its summer glory. At breakfast Shadow eats a pasty, a meat pie originally brought to Michigan by Cornishmen, while Chad arranges for Shadow to buy a car from one of the families in town. As Chad outlines the plan for getting Shadow groceries, warm clothes, and the keys to the car, Shadow asks why the police aren’t busy with crime. Chad answers that Lakeside is such a good town that there are rarely any issues that require police intervention.
Shadow still has an interesting relationship with the law, not always doing the right thing legally but usually doing the right thing by his moral code. Yet Chad treats Shadow with nothing but kindness, not the suspicion that Shadow usually receives. This, and the fact that Chad is completely free to act as chauffeur for Shadow, are another reminder that Lakeside is not a normal place. Shadow notices its stark beauty, a reminder that the majority of Shadow’s story so far has taken place in winter – a “dead” season where very few things grow. In order for Shadow to grow as a person, he must reach spring.
Chad takes Shadow to get clothes and groceries, introducing Shadow to everyone they meet as Mike Ainsel. Shadow explains that he works for his “uncle,” naming Wednesday as Emerson Borson and pretending that he has a normal life. Chad and Shadow go to pick up a car for Shadow from Mrs. Gunther, a used Toyota 4Runner that the Gunthers’ son had painted a horrific shade of purple. Shadow drives back to his apartment, deciding that he likes living here where everyone is so nice.
Living as Mike Ainsel gives Shadow the chance to pretend at the normalcy that he craves. Aside from the fact that Laura is not here, this town and its kind and caring residents are almost exactly what Shadow pictured when he daydreamed about his release from prison and swore to keep himself out of trouble. Yet the novel has already shown that things that seem too good to be true usually are, as when Sam outlined the tragedy that happened to her family in a “nice town” like this.
At 2 that afternoon, Shadow is unpleasantly surprised by a knock on his door, but it’s just Hinzelmann. Hinzelmann has brought some things for Shadow, explaining that Shadow can pay him back by buying a raffle ticket for the “klunker,” a charity raffle where people bet on what day the frozen lake will thaw enough to let an old beat-up car that has been pushed out onto the ice fall through into the water.
Even in such a nice town, Shadow is still paranoid about any knocks on his door, retaining the sense of urgency and suspense that has followed him in the novel. The klunker appears again and again in the novel, functioning as a count-down to the spring and the new life that spring will usher in. The car is a sort of sacrifice to make sure that the winter will actually end, but it also has more significance that Shadow does not yet know.
Hinzelmann cracks jokes about how this cold is nothing compared to how cold it used to be in the old days, then sadly explains that the winters here are bad enough that they sometimes drive the kids a bit crazy. Lakeside teenagers sometimes run away in the winter, presumably looking for somewhere warm. But Hinzelmann emphasizes that Lakeside is better off than most towns in this area, now that the mining, logging, and tourism industries are dying. Hinzelmann passionately points out how hard everyone in Lakeside works to make sure it is a good town. Hinzelmann leaves, telling Shadow to visit him any time.
Hinzelmann longs for the old days, unwilling or unable to accept the good things about modern times. He also presents a story that tries to explain why kids might want to leave a town as good as Lakeside, if the surrounding country is so nice. Given that Hinzelmann is prone to hyperbole and tall tales, it is hard to know whether he is serious about kids running away.
Shadow’s apartment gets colder and colder, though he has the heater on. Finally Shadow goes to the apartment next door, hoping to find out how to make it warm. A tired-looking woman with black hair answers warily and explains that Shadow has to heatproof his windows and buy a space heater, then introduces herself as Marguerite Olsen. Shadow comments that most Olsens he has met are blonde, and Marguerite explains that the name comes from her ex-husband. Shadow tries to chitchat about Marguerite’s job on the local paper, which he heard about from the woman who sold him a car, but Marguerite just clucks about Mrs. Gunther’s constant gossip. Shadow has the odd feeling that he has met Marguerite before.
Marguerite is the first person in Lakeside who has not been oddly nice to Shadow, a sign that she is actually a real person and not faking her personality for some other agenda. The mismatch between her last name and her looks is another reminder that American families and American populations include more diversity and cultural mixing than many other places. Marguerite’s no-nonsense demeanor and black hair are reminiscent of Sam Black Crow, possibly explaining why Shadow feels as though he has already met her.
A couple of days later, Wednesday shows up at Shadow’s apartment. Wednesday explains that Shadow has to stay in Lakeside so that he will be out of sight from the New Gods, commenting that no one can really accomplish anything in the dead winter months anyway. In the meantime, Wednesday and Shadow will be taking trips to rally the troops. Their first stop is in Las Vegas, where they will visit a god who Shadow knows that he has met before, but can never seem to remember.
The war between the Old and New Gods is put on hold for the winter, as the symbolism of death in winter is so important for gods who depend so deeply on stories and symbols. Lakeside acts as their home base while Wednesday and Shadow visit more exotic locales such as Las Vegas, allowing Gaiman to include more parts of America while maintaining focus on the Midwest. Shadow’s inability to remember The Unknown God is one of the most identifying features of this mysterious god.
Gaiman describes the entrance to a casino, reveling in the sights and sounds of the money and the worship that humans offer when they give up their money freely, not really expecting anything in return. A man in a charcoal suit (The Unknown God) oversees everything, walking down the Vegas strip, soaking up the beauty of the money changing hands with frightening speed, then settling himself at a bar.
Casinos offer another alternative place of worship for modern Americans. The Unknown God seems to have adapted to this, though it’s hard to tell because his identity is left so vague. He has a connection to money and chance, and is possibly the god of Chance itself, but Gaiman has refused to reveal the Unknown God’s inspiration in interviews.
Another man in a light grey suit (Wednesday) follows the man in the charcoal suit (The Unknown God), sitting down at the bar next to him. The man in the light grey suit apologizes for “what happened in Wisconsin,” then answers the man in the charcoal suit’s question about a woman who hasn’t been seen for two hundred years. The man in the charcoal suit says something else, making the man in the light grey suit offer a bottle of “soma” if the man in the charcoal joins his rigged game – after all, he says, it’s the only game in town. The man in the grey suit leaves, and the man in the charcoal suit takes pity on a bar waitress, telling her where to find a man who has just won $400,000 and needs help spending it. The waitress listens, but is unable to remember the advice afterwards.
Wednesday’s apology for what happened in Wisconsin refers to the incident at the House on the Rock, meaning that Shadow has definitely seen this god before, even if he can’t remember him. Given that they are in a Vegas casino, the “woman” could be Lady Luck, but, as with everything about The Unknown God, this is left a mystery. Even The Unknown God’s dialogue is not shared with the reader, as Gaiman does not even give speech patterns to help identify who this god actually is. The Unknown God seems to guess that Wednesday has rigged the fight between the Old and New Gods. It becomes ever clearer that Wednesday is manipulating the coming battle in some way.
As they walk through the Vegas airport afterwards, Shadow asks who Wednesday came to visit. Wednesday explains, but Shadow doesn’t hear the name. Wednesday says that getting this mystery man on their side will cost Wednesday a bottle of soma, a drink made from distilled prayer and belief. Shadow and Wednesday board their plane, and Shadow asks if there is any way he can bring Laura back to life. Wednesday names the many charms he learned as his prize for hanging from the tree, but explains that he cannot bring people back to life. Shadow confesses his fear that it is his own fault that Laura is half-alive, as he gave Laura the gold coin. Wednesday asks Shadow not to look for “eagle stones” and “thunderbirds” to bring Laura back, but just to keep his head own in Lakeside. Wednesday looks so sad that Shadow wants to comfort him, but Shadow hesitates and the moment passes.
The connection between The Unknown God and soma, a divine drink of Hindu mythology, suggests that the Unknown God might be of Hindu origin, but it also shows another way that gods ingest the prayers (worship) and belief that sustain them. Wednesday again shows his roots as Odin, naming all the charms that Odin learned while hanging on the tree as a sacrifice to himself. Again, the constant reminders of sacrifice suggest that Shadow will have to sacrifice something in order to save Laura. Ever the con man, Wednesday doesn’t help Shadow outright, but he does indirectly give him the information he needs. Wednesday’s help and Shadow’s urge to comfort Wednesday show that Shadow and Wednesday are also getting closer, despite all the people who have warned Shadow about Wednesday.