The chapter begins by quoting the song “The Midnight Special.” Shadow and Wednesday eat breakfast at a Country Kitchen across the street from the motel. As they eat breakfast, Wednesday heaping his plate with meat, Wednesday comments on Shadow’s strange “dream.” Shadow agrees, thinking to himself that he still saw Laura’s muddy footprints on the hotel carpet when they left that morning. Wednesday asks Shadow how he got his name, but Shadow just shrugs and asks Wednesday how he lost his eye. Wednesday grumbles that it isn’t lost—he knows exactly where it is.
“The Midnight Special” is a traditional Southern folksong, possibly originating amongst prisoners in the American South hoping to catch the midnight train out of town—appropriate for this chapter where Shadow is violating his parole by leaving the state with Wednesday. Shadow thinks that Wednesday is referring to Laura as the dream, but Wednesday actually knows that Shadow had an odd dream about the gods. In the myth, Odin actually lost his eye in exchange for specific pieces of wisdom. As such, Gaiman jokes that of course Odin would “know” where his eye is.
Wednesday fills Shadow in on the plan: they will meet some of his associates in one of the most important places in the country so that Wednesday can persuade them to join his “current enterprise.” But first, they need to stop in Chicago to make some money. They pay at the restaurant and leave, with Shadow driving and Wednesday looking at a folder of maps.
Wednesday does not yet say what his current enterprise is, though it seems reasonable to assume that it has something to do with fighting against people like Technical Boy. Wednesday and Shadow’s places in the car reflect their places in this plan: Shadow does the physical work while Wednesday points the directions.
Wednesday asks if Shadow will miss the town, but Shadow responds that he has too many memories of Laura here. Wednesday says he hopes that Laura stays there, and then asks if Shadow and Laura had sex last night. Shadow tells Wednesday to mind his own business. Wednesday laughs and says that the best part about the Midwestern states is that they have the kind of girls he loves, with blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. Shadow asks if Wednesday had anything to do with what happened to Laura, and Wednesday denies any involvement. Shadow wonders if Wednesday is lying.
Wednesday clearly knows that Laura was really there, and not just some dream. Wednesday clearly objectifies women, describing his “type” purely on looks. As his type sounds suspiciously like Laura, at least in terms of blue eyes, Shadow is right to be wary. Gaiman continually points out places where Wednesday is less than trustworthy.
Shadow and Wednesday arrive in Chicago and park in front of a black brownstone building. They go into the lobby and meet a gaunt old woman coming down the stairs. Wednesday greets her and then introduces Shadow to her, calling her Zorya Verchernyaya. Zorya Verchernyaya is initially suspicious of Shadow’s appearance, but perks up when she hears his name. She leaves to buy groceries, muttering that her two sisters cannot bring in any money for food because they cannot lie like she can when people come to hear their fortunes. Zorya Verchernyaya asks Wednesday for money for dinner if they are staying, and Wednesday gives her $40.
Zorya Verchernyaya (Russian for Evening Star) seemingly takes a liking to Shadow because of the association of shadows with twilight. Zorya Verchernyaya’s appearance is as foreboding as Shadow’s, in its own way, but like Shadow, Zorya Verchernyaya has a surprising personality. Her habit of asking for money becomes a running gag in the novel, but also represents the way that gods are forced to beg or steal in order to survive when they are no longer worshipped.
Shadow and Wednesday go upstairs to a door painted red. A grizzled older man opens the door a crack and gruffly asks what “Grimnir” wants. Wednesday promises information to his old friend Czernobog, and the man (Czernobog himself) opens the door, smoking an unfiltered cigarette, but does not let Wednesday and Shadow in. A woman then comes to the door as well, introduces herself as Zorya Utrennyaya, and fusses at the men to go through to the sitting room where she will bring them coffee. Finally, Czernobog allows them to come in and sit. Shadow asks if Zorya Utrennyaya is Czernobog’s wife, but Czernobog says that they are all relatives who came to America together long ago.
Grimnir is another old name for Odin, showing that Wednesday and Czernobog have a long history together. The Slavic gods probably came to America with Russian immigrants during the Industrial Revolution, when massive waves of people from Eastern Europe came to America looking for jobs. Czernobog says they are relatives simply because they are from the same Slavic pantheon, as most myths do not consider Czernobog and the Zorya sisters siblings.
When Czernobog first came to America, he says, he settled in New York with all his countrymen, and then came to Chicago. He got a job in the meat business, dealing death blows to cows with a sledgehammer. Czernobog revels in the “art” to this blow, and laments that meat factories now use bolt guns that anyone can operate. Zorya Utrennyaya comes in with black coffee and comments that her sister Zorya Verchernyaya is out shopping. Shadow mentions that Zorya Verchernyaya tells fortunes, and Zorya Utrennyaya nods, saying that twilight is the only good time for lies, so Zorya Verchernyaya is the only good fortune teller.
Czernobog’s arrival story parallels that of the expansion of Eastern European immigrants to America, settling in urban centers near the coast and then spreading to cities further inland. Yet Czernobog seems unable to let go of his past glory, continuing to talk about the rush of killing cattle, though that is no longer part of his life. Zorya Utrennyaya (Russian for the Morning Star) is the dawn sister, and cannot hide things in shadow as well as her twilight sister can.
Shadow goes out to the bathroom and returns to find Czernobog yelling at Wednesday that they want his brother instead. Another old woman peeks out from another door in the hallway, asking if everything is okay, and Czernobog tells her, his third sister, to go back to sleep. Wednesday asks Czernobog if he has heard anything from his brother Bielebog, but Bielebog has been missing for years. Czernobog comments that they are now so old that both Bielebog’s golden hair and his own black hair have turned grey.
Czernobog, Russian for “the Black God,” is assumed to have a light brother, simply because most gods associated with light and dark come in pairs. Gaiman pokes fun at this expectation by having the light god, Bielebog, be “missing,” since no one knows if he actually exists or not. Little is known about Czernobog except that he was associated with darkness, winter, and a hammer for sacrificial purposes. With the passage of time, Czernobog suggests that both he and Bielebog have become so diluted that they are practically the same person.
Czernobog then challenges Shadow to a game of checkers. Shadow, having played a lot of checkers in prison, has a strategy of never planning ahead, but picking the perfect move for the moment. Czernobog adds a bet to raise the stakes: if Shadow wins, Czernobog will join Mr. Wednesday’s cause. If Czernobog wins, Czernobog gets to deal one blow with his hammer to Shadow’s head. Unafraid of death, Shadow agrees. They play, and after a flurry of moves, Czernobog wins the first game with the black pieces. Shadow then persuades Czernobog to play again for the same terms, offering him two blows to the head if Czernobog wins this time. Czernobog agrees. Shadow realizes that Czernobog will try to repeat the same game he just won, and uses that knowledge to beat Czernobog this time.
Shadow’s checkers strategy matches his philosophy on life. He does not often make choices with a long-term goal in sight, but just does what is easiest at the moment. However, Shadow’s risky offer to play Czernobog again does have far-reaching consequences through winning Czernobog’s loyalty. Shadow is able to be reckless because he really does not care if he lives or dies by Czernobog’s hammer. Meanwhile, Czernobog is so frightened of losing that he reuses the same moves that worked the first time. This inability to adapt and change makes Czernobog (and indeed many of the Old Gods) easy to predict and easy to beat.
Zorya Verchernyaya brings supper into the sitting room, serving five bowls of borscht, leathery pot roast, and tough stuffed cabbage rolls. Shadow inquires after the third sister, but Zorya Verchernyaya says that Zorya Polunochnaya is still asleep. As they eat, Czernobog tells his sisters that Shadow’s checkers victory means that Czernobog has to accompany Wednesday on his journey, but Czernobog’s victory means that Czernobog gets to kill Shadow when the journey is over. Zorya Verchernyaya clucks that she would have given Shadow a much better fortune if he were her client.
Zorya Verchernaya makes traditional recipes, but they don’t taste good, another example of how sticking to the old ways does not necessarily yield good results. Her comment about giving Shadow a better fortune also reflects the ways that the gods now have to pander to humans in order to keep their belief. Zorya Verchernyaya only tells people good fortunes, whether they are true or not, in order to keep herself and her siblings well-fed and sheltered.
Zorya Verchernyaya insists that Wednesday and Shadow spend the night at their house, though they have to pay the same as they would at a hotel. Zorya Utrennyaya goes to bed while Czernobog, Zorya Verchernyaya, Wednesday, and Shadow eat a delicious store-bought apple pie. Wednesday compliments Shadow on his quick thinking with the checkers game wager, then goes to the guest room while Shadow goes to sleep on the sofa bed in the sitting room.
Zorya Verchernyaya again demands money, showing how poorly these Slavic siblings are doing. Yet the apple pie, an American staple that is also the one thing in the meal that Shadow enjoys, shows that the Zorya siblings could succeed if they included some more modern American elements in their lives. Wednesday, ever the con man, obviously appreciates Shadow’s trick, as the honest Shadow succeeds where the untrustworthy Wednesday could not.
Shadow dreams that he is a soldier, driving a truck through gunfire over a minefield. He dies in his dream, then wakes, wondering if that means he has died in real life. A woman stands at the window in the sitting room, and Shadow realizes that this is the third sister, Zorya Polunochnaya. Zorya Polunochnaya looks younger than her sisters, with an unlined face and waist-long white hair. Zorya Polunochnaya points out the constellation Ursa Major out the window, and then invites Shadow to come to the roof with her.
Shadow’s dream, like his vision of the oubliette, again takes him back to a time and place that represents his present life. Shadow is now a “soldier” in Wednesday’s army, putting his very life on the line. Zorya Polunochnaya, Russian for “midnight star,” is referenced in some legends about the Zorya sisters, but Gaiman admits that the character in American Gods is mostly his own invention.
Zorya Polunochnaya climbs out the window onto the fire escape. Shadow reluctantly follows her into the freezing wind. Zorya Polunochnaya says that the cold does not bother her for she is always comfortable at night, just as Zorya Utrennyaya is always comfortable at dawn and Zorya Verchernyaya is always comfortable at dusk. Shadow asks if Zorya Polunochnaya’s nocturnal life is a medical condition, but Zorya Polunochnaya ignores him and explains that her people used to call Ursa Major “Odin’s Wain” and the “Great Bear.” In the old country, she says, they believed that these stars chain up a horrible god who will eat the world if the three sisters who watch the sky ever let him out.
Zorya Polunochnaya explains that she and her sisters dominate different times of day, following the Slavic legend of the morning star and evening star watching the sun leave and then welcoming the sun home. Shadow still seems to be seeking reasonable and non-supernatural explanations for the things he’s experiencing. That Zorya Polunochnaya is especially wary of a monster behind a constellation named for Odin suggests that Shadow should also keep a careful eye on what Wednesday is doing.
Shadow decides that he is dreaming, and decides to tell Zorya Polunochnaya about his dead wife’s visit last night. Zorya Polunochnaya counsels Shadow to ask what his wife wants the next time she comes back. Zorya Polunochnaya then brings up the checkers game and Czernobog’s prize, explaining that people in the old days would sacrifice people to Czernobog by smashing the back of their skulls with rocks. Shadow wonders about all the strange rules he’s been learning about in the past few days. Zorya Polunochnaya agrees that Shadow does not know how to keep hold of protection that he needs, saying cryptically that Shadow had the sun in his hand but gave it away. Zorya Polunochnaya then gives Shadow a weaker protection by plucking a silver Liberty-head dollar coin from the moon. When Shadow wakes the next morning, he finds the silver coin still in his hand.
Shadow expresses a desire to be rational, and continues to act as though all of these crazy experiences are dreams – though his actual dreams are even weirder. Even as he says otherwise, Shadow is slowly coming to terms with the supernatural world he has stumbled into and the odd, but consistent rules that govern these mythical people. Zorya Polunochnaya, a goddess of the night, would also have some affinity for the dead, who are said to come out more easily at night. Zorya Polunochnaya also has ties to the moon, granting Shadow the protection of a silver coin that carries both the imagery of freedom in Lady Liberty’s face, and protection, in the fact that Zorya Polunochnaya gave it as a gift. The “sun” that Zorya Polunochnaya refers to is the golden coin that Shadow gave to Laura.