Night Passage
by Fritz Leiber

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Gnostica, July 1975

included in —
The Worlds of Fritz Leiber

Day Dark, Night Bright

October 2010

At the edge in the desert

This is a single night's journey impinging on the edge of the absolute elsewhere — like a small flying creature dipping in the hot desert air to touch the cool wet surface of a hidden rocky pool, and then again. Fritz Leiber's fantasy short story "Night Passage" is entirely straightforward and matter-of-fact on the surface. Its narrator is a regular sort of fellow, combining imagination with a clear head, who is doing some casual gambling in Las Vegas. The story begins concisely with our narrator looking across a roulette table:

The large gold coin rang and settled on the green felt where the newly arriving young lady crying out "Eight!" had pitched it and the ivory marble clicked against the diamond-shaped silvery point in the darkly gleaming mahogany bowl while a voice called, "No more bets. Game closed." The golden coin's worn face faintly revealed to my glance a circle that was horned and had a pendant cross. Then the ivory ball clattered into a slowly revolving metal square.

A little later he spots the young lady in a small bar in the casino and joins her, asking if her distinctive coin isn't marked with "... a sign of Mercury?"

"I think so," she replied, wrinkling her neat, straight, rather short nose a little as the dark eyes studied me. "But that's not so strange. We're on the edge of Astrological Territory." She said it with capitals just like that, as one would say Western Reserve or Hopi Reservation ... or Eldorado.

What makes "Night Passage" stand out is the consistent solidity in which Leiber firmly maintains his naturalistic story, letting the strangeness just brush us, and touch again more oddly but still briefly, and then disturbingly weirder again, without disarranging the crowded bustle of a Las Vegas casino and subsequently the lonesome open desert of the American Southwest.

Quite a little story. It can't be real. Not all of it. You don't need to consider seriously those delicate touches that reach across the boundary of Astrological Territory into our everyday world. It's just a night passage, past —


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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