This one, well, truthfully I was expecting something else. I was hoping for an Arya and Faceless Man prototype story based on the title using the word “Needle”, as well as the little (to no) information about this story available online. The most I knew when ordering this story was it had to do with shady organ harvesters… and a needle of some sort. Again I thought, “Yeah, totes Faceless Man goodness.”
So, with fingers crossed for an Arya story, to my equal delight I ended up reading a story about an ice-figure author who lives in Chicago named Jerry that meets a charming girl named Kris as an urban legend unfolds around them. There are many themes and possible additional straight connections to a various aspects of ASOIAF that I will comment on as we go. Such themes as fiery hands, icy men, fiery hands tricking icy men, the stealing of children (possibly the Others/Craster’s boys?), the needle hands, etc.
For this story I will do my usual posting of the text in its entirety with my comments bullet-noted throughout. Skip my notes of you prefer. I did not hit every single shared point, but I did touch on many. I hope to read your thoughts in the comments after you give this a read.
This story took me about an hour to read (without the added notes). Do not read the notes if you want to avoid minor build-up spoilers.
I have not “cleaned up” any spelling, syntax, or other editing issues.
The Needle Men- by George R.R. Martin, 1981
Living in Uptown, Jerry had seen a lot of things he never dreamt of in places like Forest Park and Wilmette. But he had learned to mind his own business as well. So it was no wonder that he hardly thought twice about the guy with the needle until he bumped into the cops on the steps of his building.
- Right off the bat we get a similar setting like that of The Skin Trade, including the upper mid-western town setting, and the mysterious villain with needle or knife (Skinner) hands that invades the main protagonists residence. Additionally, in the story Fevre Dream, George has the fiery vampires use blades or needles to slice open the victim’s neck so that they may drink the blood. These hands also dispense venom, much in line with the same “fiery hands” throughout near all of Marin’s work. I discussed venom in ASOIAF in this Lilith page.
- Fevre Dream
…but he had a firm grip on her and he was fast, very fast. The blade had scarcely come into view and suddenly it was wet; a single swift slash across the inside of her wrist, where Julian had planted his lips. Blood welled from the wound and began to drip onto the floor, the patters loud in the stillness of the ballroom.
- Jerry bumped into a guy with a needle outside his building. Could be a first twinkle of the ASOIAF plotline of the catspaw and Bran, that I have speculated about on this page.
He hadn’t really seen anything suspicious, after all. It was a Friday night when it happened, and Jerry had been down on Rush Street, checking out the action at some singles bars, with a notable lack of success. He’d had a few Michelobs too many and was close to getting sloshed. So when the cute brunette he’d been talking to went off with someone else, he made up his mind to call it a night. He rode the el back to Argyle, staring pensively out at the weathered sooty brick and grey windows of the building near the tracks, blinking whenever blue-white sparks came crackling off the third rail to etch hard, intense shadows on the tenement walls.
- Again, more of the same visual symbolism for the icy people in the story; the mix of blue and white or blue and silver in a story. This is not restricted to A Song of Ice and Fire by any means.
- The third rail “crackling” is often used to describe the sound of ice, the sound of the true tongue.
A Game of Thrones – Prologue
Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red.
The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon VI
“Every man who walks the earth casts a shadow on the world. Some are thin and weak, others long and dark. You should look behind you, Lord Snow. The moon has kissed you and etched your shadow upon the ice twenty feet tall.”
Jon glanced over his shoulder. The shadow was there, just as she had said, etched in moonlight against the Wall.
From the Argyle el stop it was a short walk to the six-flat where Jerry shard an apartment with three roommates. Even at midnight, Argyle was lively: country music blasted out the open doors of redneck bars; dim female silhouettes writhed in the windows of strip joints; the 24-hour coffee shops were open and crowded. Jerry had to step over one derelict passed out in front if a grocery store. A second sidled up to him by the drugstore, mumbling something in a rasping boozy voice, but he shied off when Jerry threw him a look. It was that kind of neighborhood. “Yeasty,” Jerry liked to call it; hillbillies and Hispanics and blacks and a lot of Orientals, pushed together cheek-to-jowel and hating every minute of it. On the other side of Sheridan, along Marine Drive, the high-rises stood, full of young marrieds and singles. Respectability was kind of nibbling at the edges of the area, chewing up the old overcrowded tenements and spitting out renovated condos, but Jerry figured the process of digestion would take a long, long time.
- Uptown here is reminiscent of many port cities in ASOIAF, but also of the cramped quarters at Castle Black and Mole’s Town, a main focal point in ASOIAF.
- There is a Marine Drive in Chicago. This is not something invented by Martin, however, the wall is also a salty (marine) dividing line or barrier. To go above the wall and into the trees is to be “drowned” in the greensea. More on Marine Drive later.
In the meantime, rents were cheap, at least by Chicago standards. Jerry was a struggling free-lance journalist. so cheap mattered. Besides, he figured he needed to see the steamy side of life, seething and bubbling, and Uptown had plenty of that.
The shortest way from the el to his building cut through an alley just on the far side of Sheridan and brought him up the back stairs. The alley was dark, but that had long since stopped bothering him; you only had to look at him to know Jerry wasn’t worth mugging. So that Friday night he ducked into the alley, as he had a thousand times before, and that was where he saw the guy with the hypo.
- A thousand eyes in one.
There wasn’t much to it. The guy was shutting the trunk of his car, a battered old black Javelin, just as Jerry came around the corner and started towards the rickety wooden staircase at the back of his six-flat. Jerry didn’t see him very well and didn’t try. Just a white guy, youngish, with a little dark mustache, wearing one of those sports coats with the leather patches at the elbows. He and Jerry traded a brief wary, glance, the way two strangers will when they meet in an alley in Uptown, and then the guy started around the car to the river’s side. As he did, he slid something into his jacket pocket, and Jerry glimpsed it briefly; hypodermic needle. He thought nothing of it. The neighborhood was full of junkies.
As he climbed wearily up the stairs to the back door of his third-floor apartment, he heard the car growl and turn over below him, and the headlights speared out and lit up the alley for a few moments. Jerry was pleased. He was just drunk enough so that he was having difficulty getting his key into the lock, and the light helped. “A-ha,” he said, pushing it in and turning. By the time the door was closed behind him, the Javelin was gone.
- A little bit of Dunk of Dunk and Egg tales in this scene. Getting just drunk enough that you can observe the funny business, but also too drunk for it to register or act upon until later. Keep reading…
Jerry didn’t give the incident another thought until the night the cops arrived.
It was near dusk. He’d eaten at a Siamese restaurant down south of Lawrence and was walking back, savoring the coolness of the evening. Coming up from the south like he was brought him to the front of the building, but long before he got there he saw there was commotion. A cop car was sitting right outside his door, a crowd gathered around the steps, and two cops were trying to calm down some crazy lady. When he got closer, he saw that the crazy lady was Mrs. Monroe, the black woman who lived in 2-East with an army of kids.
- Here we see the usual style of establishing the main character as an “icy” person in addition to the setting. The Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa locations are what GRRM has said in Dreamsongs was the setting he had in mind for the north/the wall in ASOIAF. This combo setting is often re-purposed to help establish the icy characters.
- We also see the setup of a mother that is assumed a hysterical type for no good reason. Trope building…
Jerry pushed through the crowd and walked right up. Mrs. Monroe was crying and trying to say something, but nothing sensible was coming out. One of the cops, a fat one with a red face, scowled at Jerry when he approached. “Hey,” he barked.
- *Hellhounds- wink, wink, nudge, nudge. They are the front line enforcers.
‘I live here,” Jerry said. “What’s going on?”
“It’s none of your concern,” said the beer-bellied cop. “Her kid run off, is all. Now get on by if you’re going in. We’ll handle her.”
- Craster’s boys situation similarity?
Jerry shrugged, looked curiously at the sobbing Mrs. Monroe, and went on through the front door. Like all the other six-flats on the block, his had a tiled entry hall, mailboxes, and door bells on the walls, a second door barring the way to the stairs. You needed a key or buzz from upstairs to get past that one. Between the two doors, watching the scene on the steps, were a couple of his neighbors. The Gumbo Granny was in her rocker. She and the old wicker-chair with its faded flowered cushion came crawling out of 1-East every morning, and she sat there until dark, ricking and watching the street and rocking and smoking her pipe and rocking and holding incoherent conversations with whoever entered or left the building. Jerry nodded, but he knew better than to try to talk to her.
- “By Gumbo!” is a favorite line Martin tells us he used often when he was younger. It was meant as a term of excitement, but the word “gumbo” he knew was always out of place for the setting. He discussed the term while in New Jersey for the Fire & Blood release. Read and watch here.
- The Gumbo Granny is also the same type of wise old crone GRRM favors. They appear to speak jibberish, but they are the truth tellers. We have Ghost of High Heart, Maggy the Frog, and even Patchface.
- The wicker rocker should remind one of the wicker basket that Bran is carried in, as well as the flowers of the cushions being associated with nature and even the names of Free Folk females.
But the girl from 2-West was also standing there, and that was a different matter. She was a short, attractive blonde, about 25 or so. She’d only moved in about a month ago with a couple of female roommates. He had the vague impression they were grad students at Northwestern, or something like that. The rest of them were pretty plain, but the blonde had a cute smile and a nice ass. She was standing casually by the door , wearing a white turtleneck sweater and pair of tight jeans, listening to the argument outside. Jerry took out his key and hesitated. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get to know her.
- Look how cute this girl is…
“Do you know what happened?” he asked her, nodding towards Mrs. Monroe and the cops.
She turned and brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. Her hair was very long and very straight and very blonde, just the way Jerry liked it. “One of her kids is missing,” she said. “The oldest one, I think.”
“Chollie,” Jerry said. That was what everyone called him. He was a slight, well-mannered kid, always dribbling a basketball around the block, though Jerry had never seen him actually play the game. He was about sixteen, he thought; shy and maybe a little simple-minded. “Do they know what happened to him?”
- “Chollie”? Like a dog? Hmm, that seems familiar.
“The police think it’s just a runaway,” she said. “That’s what the fat one said, anyway. That was what set her off. They aren’t very concerned. He hasn’t been gone very long, I guess.”
“How long is that?”
“She said she sent him out eleven last Friday, to get some milk. No one has seen him since.”
“Tough,” said Jerry, shaking his head. “Chollie didn’t strike me like the sort to run away. He was always so quiet. I hope nothing happened to him.”
“Well, the police told her that no bodies of that description have turned up, anyway.”
“Thank god for that much,” Jerry said.
“Dey ain’t gon be no body,” said the Gumbo Granny, rocking back and forth and sucking her pipe.
“Excuse me?” the blonde said.
Jerry had to stifle a groan. It was a mistake to speak to the Gumbo Granny. Once you acknowledged her, she got going, and once she got going she didn’t stop. She was an old, old black woman, a tiny little monkey of a woman with dry, wrinkled brown skin and pink palms. She was nearly bald, and had a pink spot around her left eye, a patch of pinkness in the middle of that wizened old face. It made her look a little bit like the dog Jerry remembered from the Our Gang comedies he’d watched as a kid, only with the colors switched around. She was half senile and didn’t make sense most of the time, and even when she did, you couldn’t always understand her, since she talked funny. Evidently she’d come up from New Orleans at some point, though she’d lived in the building as long as anyone could remember. It was on account of New Orleans that the younger people in the building started calling her the Gumbo Granny. There was no name on her mailbox, but she never got any mail.
- The lines, “It was a mistake to speak to the Gumbo Granny. Once you acknowledged her, she got going, and once she got going she didn’t stop.” remind me of the literary device that once you acknowledge something, you give it life. To give something a name is to give it existence. Somewhat in the same vein as Meera telling Bran to remember Old Nan, because when you remember her she isn’t gone, but rather she is still alive.
- The fact that the Gumbo Granny has a patch over her eye is reminiscent of Bloodraven and his birthmark on his face and missing eye. This also could maybe connect to the Odin sacrifice for knowledge idea that GRRM has worked in to his own stories. Basically, this physical feature is another recurring theme of Martin’s.
- In addition to the eye patch, the rest of Gumbo Granny is described as if a Child of the Forest (CotF) existed in real life. Which thematically, is very similar to how GRRM describes the Jaenshi in his story And Seven Times Never Kill Man. The thematic cycle goes on and on…
When the blonde spoke to her, the Gumbo Granny took the pipe out of her mouth and rocked slowly back and forth, nodding to herself. “He’s gone, lawdy, lawdy. He’s gone. I tells ’em and I tells ’em, but they don’t lissen.” She shook her small head and rocked.
“Did you see something?” the blonde asked, frowning. “Do you know where the boy’s gone?”
- So the beautiful pale blonde wants to know if Gumbo saw (sees) anything. Gotcha.
Jerry started to tell her not to pay any attention to the old woman, that she was crazy as a loon, but before he could, the Gumbo Granny was off again. “Yessum, I knows, I knows. I tells ’em, yessum. Won’t get me out in dem streets at night, no, no, lawdy. Ain’t findin’ nobody, no, no.” She nodded to herself, her tired eyes all wrinkled up and wise. “Dey got him, yessum, dey got ol’Chollie. I tells ’em, but dey don’t lissen. Dey got him.”
“Who?” said the blonde.
The Gumbo Granny peered around warily, as if to make sure there was no one lurking in the shadows beneath the stairs, and then she leaned forward in her rocker and whispered, “Dem needle men got him.” She nodded, satisfied, and settled back in her chair again, sucking on her pipe and rocked and creaked. Outside, the police had finally stopped the flow of Mrs. Monroe’s tears, and they were talking quietly now. The crowd of spectators on the sidewalk had begun to drift away in search of other, livelier diversions. It was clear that not much was going to come of this one.
“The needle men,” said Jerry, curious despite himself. He’d probably regret asking, but he heard himself say, “Who are the needle men?”
The Gumbo Granny smiled conspiratorially. “We had’um down in New Orleans, yessuh, yessuh. Dey’s tricky, dem needle mens, I know all dey ways, you don’t see me goin’ out at night, nosuh, nosuh. Dey’s hidin’ out dere, awaitin’, and dey got needles, dem big loooooong kind long as you arm, and all sharp, with stuffs on ’em, yessuh, stuffs. Dey jump out at you, dey do, and poke you with dem needles, and you’s done, lawdy, you’s never seen again. Ain’t findin’ no body, not when dem needle mens gets you.” She cackled.
- The Ghost of High Heart gorged on grief at Summerhall.
The blonde from 2-West smiled. “A morbid thought,” she said drily.
“Needle men,” said Jerry. “She’s crazy.” The Gumbo Granny rocked away as if she never heard him. He and the blonde traded sympathetic smiles, the kind that say let’s-indulge-the-pitiful-old-thing. “Why would these needle men stab Mrs. Monroe’s boy?” the blonde asked. “Are they ghosts?”
“Lawdy, no. No, no, no. Don’t you know nothin’?” The old woman rocked and clucked. “You so young, don’t know nothing’, though. Nothin’. I tells ’em, but dey don’t lissen. Dem needle mens no ha’nts. Dey’s from Charity.”
“Hospital, yessum, yessum. Charity Hospital. It’s bodies dey wants, bodies, fo’de students to cut up on, so dey creeps out with dem loooooong neeldes with de stuffs on de end, and dey stabs, the black folks and drags ’em back. Nobody misses no po’ black folks, nosuh. I seen ’em hidin’ in de bushes, hidin’ in de alleys, dem needle mens with dem needles, but dey ain’t a-gettin’ me. My daddy learned me, yessuh, and I knows ’em, yes I do. Chollie wouldn’t lissen, but I tells ’em, I knows. Knowed ’em down in New Orleans when I was just a littlest girl, knowed how to spy ’em then. Knows ’em up here too, yes I do. Ain’t gone get ol’ me with dem needles, drag me off fo’ dem practice doctuhs to cut up on.” She rocked and smoked away. Outside, the fat policeman was questioning Mrs. Monroe and filling out a form.
- Charity is one to keep an eye on. Nothing in any world comes for free.
- Kris, the blonde, is also noted as being young. Keep reading…
“He’ll come back, I bet,” Jerry said, with a glance through the door. “Maybe there was a fight or something, but Chollie was a good kid.”
The blonde shrugged.
“My name is Jerry McCulloch, by the way,” he said, smiling. “I’m a writer. Live in 3-West.”
“Hi,” she said, returning his smile. She was awful pretty. He loved her hair. “I’m Kris. Kris Shelby.”
“You’re downstairs of us, right? With a couple of other girls?”
She nodded. “It’s a long way from school, but the rent is low enough to make up for the el fares, and the apartment is bigger than anything we could have gotten near campus. Tuition is so high these days, you have to do all sorts of things to make ends meet.” She wrinkled her nose. “Like living in this neighborhood, even.”
Jerry nodded with sympathy.
“What do you write?” Kris asked.
She had nice green eyes, he noticed. Very cool and alert.
“Anything they’ll pay me for,” he said with practiced modesty. “I sold a piece to the Tribune magazine once, on the abandoned coal tunnels beneath the loop. There’s a whole honeycomb of them, haven’t been used for years. Maybe you read it?” Kris shook her head. “Well, it’s not important. I do just odds and ends, really. Right now I’m working on a piece I’m hoping to sell to the Reader. Who knows?” He shrugged. “What about you?”
“What about me?” Kris said, lightly. She smiled.
Jerry stammered and restrained an urge to ask her about her hometown or major. That was the kind of inane talk that always got him spurned down on Rush Street. He decided not to come on too strong. He looked at his watch. “Hey, I got to go,” he said. “Glad we met. Now if it gets too loud upstairs, you’ll know who to bitch at.”
She nodded. “See you around,” she said, turning her attention back to the street.
Jerry started up the stairs. At the first landing, he turned back and called down to her. “Hey Kris.” When she looked up, he said, “Watch out for them needle men!” She smiled and nodded, and Jerry was feeling very good as he bounded up the stairs to the third floor. Harold and his latest true love were in the living room, listening to the stereo and making out on the couch. Alan was watching some old movie on the tube in his room. “How was that restaurant?” he called out when Jerry passed.
“Not bad.” Jerry leaned through the open door. “I Met the blonde from downstairs. Kris.”
“Nice,” said Alan.
“Yeah,” Jerry said, grinning. He went back to the kitchen to get himself a beer. The light in the fridge was burned out, and he hadn’t bothered flicking the overhead. So he found himself fumbling around in back. Finally, he found a Bud.
He yanked off the tab there in the darkened kitchen and was just lifting the can to his lips when a car past in the alley down below. All Jerry could see was the wash of its lights against the back of the building across the way, a dim, moving reflection.
That was when he finally remembered the guy with the needle.
He had a restless night. It was all so silly. The junkie in the leather-patched sports coat and the Gumbo Granny’s needle men and Chollie Monroe had nothing to do with one another, that was obvious. Even so, it made Jerry feel strange. It had been Friday night, after all. He frowned and drank another Bud and went to bed.
He tossed and turned for more than an hour, his water bed sloshing softly underneath him every time he moved. Finally, he drifted off to sleep. When eh woke again, it was the middle of the night, and the apartment was dark and dead and quiet. A cool breeze was blowing in the open window, and the rippling curtains threw long shadows across his bed. Jerry stirred groggily and moved to shut the window a bit. A cool breeze was blowing in the open window, and the rippling curtains threw long shadows across his bed. Jerry stirred groggily and moved to shut the window a bit, and there he was, standing outside the window, a man in a sports coat with leather patches at the elbows. He had a dead white face, and was smiling a terrible thin smile. As Jerry watched, his arm came through the open window. He was holding a long slender needle.
Jerry screamed and wrenched away, and all of a sudden he was tangled in his sheets on the floor, and Harold was standing in the doorway in his jockey shorts, saying, “Hey, you okay?”
“He’s coming in the window,” Jerry said breathlessly, from the floor.
- This idea that something is coming for you in your dreams is used with Jon in ASOIAF, as well as Willie Flambeaux in The Skin Trade, Josh York in Fevre Dream, This Tower of Ashes, Dying of the Light, A Song for Lya, etc.
Harold glanced at the open window, where the curtains twisted lazily in the breeze. “You moron,” he said. “We’re on the third floor.”
Everybody has a big laugh about Jerry’s nightmare the next morning, when they were all bumping into one another trying to make breakfast. Everybody but Jerry, that is. He just scowled at them and drank his coffee, and then went to the post office to check his box. You had to have a post box in this neighborhood, the way the mail was always getting ripped off.
He went down the front stairs, expecting that he’d have to listen to Gumbo Granny spin more wild stories about deranged needle men. Fortunately, she wasn’t there; her rocker was in the entry way, but she wasn’t in it. Jerry blessed his good fortune and went on by.
He was sitting in the booth at the coffee shop on Lawrence, sorting through his mail and waiting for a cheese omelet, when it suddenly hit him how odd that was. All the years he’d lived in that building, he’d never seen the Gumbo Granny rocker without Gumbo Granny. In the morning she brought it out with her. In the evening she took it in with her. In between they were always there, always rocking. Always.
- This is like the watching Weirwood tree without its greenseer in place. Who is watching now? Or when the weirwoods were chopped down during one of the waves of first men before the peace, then the Andals, chopped down and burned the trees because they knew they were being watched.
- Could a similar situation have happened between the Blackwooods and Brackens during the Age of Heroes? Is that why the Blackwood weirwood has died? Did the Blackwood weirwood lose its greenseer?
A kind of shiver went through him. “No,’ he said aloud.
“What do you mean no?” the waitress said. She was standing there with his cheese omelet in hand. “This is what you ordered, buster.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Jerry, abashed. “I didn’t mean you.”
The waitress looked at him strangely, set down his order, and walked off.
“No,” Jerry repeated, picking up his fork.
But that evening, when he returned to the apartment, the rocker was still there. Empty. Jerry ignored it.
The next day he came and went by the back stairs. He tried not to think about the rocker, the Gumbo Granny, needle men, or anything like that. He as down in the Loop all day, and after dark he went drinking for a couple of hours, but it was no use. He couldn’t even concentrate on the women around him. He kept staring into his beer and seeing that empty rocker.
When he came up the alley near to midnight, he saw something even more chilling. Parked in the shadows across from his building was an old, battered black Javelin. Half drunk he was, it startled him. He stopped in his tracks and stared at it. It was empty. Jerry looked around warily. Seeing no one, he approached the car. The trunk was locked.
- A Black Javelin vehicle. GRRM often uses cars in contemporary settings in place of aircars or dragons/skin change animals in his other story settings. In his story The Armageddon Rag, the car in that story (that was like a character unto itself) was a bronze Mazda RX7 named Daydream. This video here shows George mentioning he had a Mazda RX7 back in the day. Watch here. The Mazda driver was another icy man, Sandy Blair, who was “burnt” by a fiery woman, Ananda- this is probably GRRM’s most commonly used theme.
He retreated upstairs and went to bed. “No,” he said loudly to himself, in the privacy of his bedroom. But before he went to sleep, he closed and locked his window.
The following morning, he had to force himself to go out at all. He felt ridiculously nervous, with the rocker in the front and the Javelin in back, but finally he laughed and said, “This is absurd,” and went down the front way.
The Gumbo Granny’s rocker was still in the entryway, vacant. And now Jerry noticed something else as well. The old lady’s pipe was lying on the tiles next to the rocker, in a smear of black ash.
He was standing there by the mailboxes looking at it, when Kris came down. “Hi, Jerry,” she said. “You’re leaning against my mailbox.”
He moved aside. “Uh,” he said, as Kris got out her mail, “have you seen her lately? In the last couple of days?”
- Jerry is starting down his investigative route like Eddard Stark did when trying to uncover the riddles of King’s Landing and the Lannister incest. The ice-man puts himself in a fiery situation.
“Who?’ said Kris.
“Her. The old lady. The Gumbo Granny.”
Kris looked at the rocker and wrinkled her nose. “No, I don’t think so. Why?”
“She never leaves her rocker there like that. Never. She’s always in it. But now it’s been there for three days now. I haven’t seen her once in all that time.”
Kris brushed back a fallen strand of hair and smiled mischievously. “Maybe the needle men got her,” she said. She opened the inner door and started back upstairs, but when Jerry did not move, she looked back at him. “Jerry,” she asked, “is anything wrong?”
“No,” he said quickly. “No, nothing.” If her told her half of the crazy stuff going through his head, he knew he’d never get anywhere with her.
Kris shrugged and went upstairs.
The police made him hold for ten minutes and transferred him four times before he finally got connected with someone willing to talk to him. “I’m trying to get some information, officer,” Jerry said. “I’m a reporter, and I need some figures on the number of disappearances from the Uptown area. Not killings, just cases where the somebody vanished, with no body or anything, you understand?”
“What kind of time period you asking about? This week? This month? All year? You’ll have to be more precise.”
“Oh, hell, I don’t know. This month, say. Can you get me the figures?”
“A lot of people vanish. Kids run off to New York or L.A. or God knows where, men skip out on alimony and child support, people duck collection agencies. We can’t begin to keep track of ’em all. let alone find ’em. Not if they don’t want to be found. What do you want this for, anyway?”
“It’s a story I’m working on,” Jerry said. “I’m a reporter.”
“Yeah?” The voice sounded suspicious. “Who you with?”
“I’m kind of free-lancing.”
“I see,” the policeman said. “Well, you better come downtown to talk to someone else. You got to be accredited, you know. We don’t give out information to every joker who calls up and says he’s from the press.”
“A kid vanished earlier this week. Charlie Monroe, Chollie they called him. Can you tell me if he’s been found?”
“What business is it of yours? You family or something?”
Jerry didn’t reply.
“Look, I can’t help you. You better come downtown.” Click.
Jerry hung up, frowning.
- So, Jerry goes to the authorities for help, but is shut down. This is just like when Jon has Sam write a letter to King’s Landing asking for help with the common foe, and Cersei rejects his request and in turn plots to have Jon assassinated. *Hellhounds.
The rocker and the pipe were gone the next morning, but somehow that failed to make Jerry feel any better. He knocked on the door of 1-East, a little warily, but still hoping that the Gumbo Granny herself would come scuffling to the door to tell him she’d been sick. He would have settled for a relative, telling him that she’d died. But there was no answer.
He spent the day at his typewriter, working on an assignment he’d pulled from the features editor of a neighborhood weekly, but he wasn’t able to work up much enthusiasm about the gyro-pizza war for the stomachs of North Side singles. It was such a stupid story, anyway. Now if these damned needle men were only real, and he could prove it, expose them- that would be a story worth doing. Better even than his tunnels under the Loop. It could even get him a staff-writer job someplace. At the very least it was a certain sale.
Jerry pushed his typewriter away from him and sat thinking. The typewriter was an electric. It kept humming, like it was impatient, rushing him. He turned it off.
The he found his notebook and took the el up to Evanston, to check out the library at Northwestern.
- Incredibly positive, without a doubt link to Jerry being an icy/tree character and now he is going to the libraries for knowledge. This is something I have been saying is linked for a long time; Tree-Towers-Libraries-History-Knowledge. I started to discuss it in the Worldbuilding page here.
That night Jerry returned in a fever. He’d filled twelve pages in his close, careful manuscript. He was so full with the story he felt he just had to talk to someone before he went nuts. But Alan was off somewhere, no telling when he’d be back, and Steve was still out of town. Harold was in his bedroom, but the door was closed, and when Jerry put his ear to it, he heard thumping and low moans. Harold wouldn’t like being interrupted. Besides, he was still giving Jerry a hard time over that nightmare. No sense giving him more ammunition.
“Damn,” he said. He glanced at his notebook again. Then he said, “What the hell,” and went down to the second floor.
One of the roommates answered the door, a heavy, bovine sort with mousy brown hair and acne. “Kris is studying for a big test,” she told him. “She won’t want to be disturbed.” She sniffed. “Her class standing is low enough as it is.”
“Never mind that,” Jerry said, “I have to talk to her.” HE insisted until he was let in the apartment. The other roommate was in a corner of the darkened living room, studying under a tensor lamp. She looked up at him vaguely from behind coke-bottle glasses while the pudgy one went to fetch Kris.
- A tensor ring or pendant is used as a symbol of an infinite source of energy.
- A Tensor lamp is usually used in medical facilities.
“Hi,” Kris said. “What’s the matter?”
“I want to tell you something,” he said. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
Across Sheridan was a small bar patronized by the Marine Drive crowd, about the only place in the immediate vicinity where you could drink without listening to country music or worrying about knife fights. A bouncer kept out the derelicts, the rednecks, and other undesirables. He gave Jerry a long glance, but finally passed them when Kris smiled at him. Jerry led her to a small table by the window, ordered a pitcher of dark beer and a couple of shrimp cocktails, and opened his notebook.
“They were real,” he said in an excited whisper.
“Who?” Kris asked. “No, wait. I bet I know. The needle men.”
Jerry nodded. “I was working all day, reading old books about life in New Orleans, folklore, looking over some newspaper microfilms. Nothing was ever proved about these needle men, but there were stories. For years and years, from the turn of the century or earlier well into the twenties. It was a black superstition, especially. If it was a superstition. They preyed on blacks, you see, because they were all so poor, and nobody cared much whether a few of them vanished or not. The police just laughed at the needle men stories, but the blacks passed the warnings along, word of mouth. It was like the Gumbo Granny said. They were supposed to be medical students. They carried these long needles tipped with poison or anesthetic, something like that, and they skulked around in alleys and parks and such. Just a scratch from one of those needles was supposed to be enough. The victim would go under in seconds, and other needle men would come and cart him off to Charity hospital or the medical schools, wherever cadavers were needed for demonstration and dissection. Later on, a lot of blacks wouldn’t go to movies, because the needle men liked to operate inside of theaters. They’d come and sit behind you, you see, and push the needle through the back of your seat. A little prick in the small of the back, that’s all it would take. They’d carry you out like you were drunk or sick, and you’d never be seen again. No bodies to be found, of course.”
- GRRM notes regarding “Good” Queen Alysanne:
She was a fine archer and hunter in her youth, and loved to fly atop her dragon to all the distant parts of the realm. Alysanne was slim of waist and small of breast, with a long neck, a fair complexion, a high forehead. In old age her hair turned white as snow. She wore it in a bun, pulled back and pinned behind her hear.
Her relationship with King Jaehaerys was always very close. She was his most trusted counselor and his right hand, and often wore a slimmer, more feminine version of his crown at court. Beloved by the common people of Westeros, she loved them in return, and was renowned for her charities.
Kris speared a tiny shrimp with her toothpick, dipped it in the cocktail sauce and nibbled at it delicately, a pinky stuck out. Her hair fell around her shoulders in a gorgeous honey-colored cascade, lit by dim reflections from the lights above the bar. But her green eyes regarded him skeptically, and for a moment Jerry thought he’d blown it for good with his talk of needle men. She was going to laugh, or shrug him off as a crackpot, or… he wasn’t sure.
- I have searched as many written works of GRRM that I have available to me, and I can say two things: One, he rarely uses the term “nibbled” when someone eats; Two, that when someone, specifically a major character, does nibble food, they are always associated with the fiery people of the story.
A Storm of Swords – Davos V
At the top of the steps Davos heard a soft jingle of bells that could only herald Patchface. The princess’s fool was waiting outside the maester’s door for her like a faithful hound. Dough-soft and slump-shouldered, his broad face tattooed in a motley pattern of red and green squares, Patchface wore a helm made of a rack of deer antlers strapped to a tin bucket. A dozen bells hung from the tines and rang when he moved . . . which meant constantly, since the fool seldom stood still. He jingled and jangled his way everywhere he went; small wonder that Pylos had exiled him from Shireen’s lessons. “Under the sea the old fish eat the young fish,” the fool muttered at Davos. He bobbed his head, and his bells clanged and chimed and sang. “I know, I know, oh oh oh.”
A Storm of Swords – Bran IV
When the flames were blazing nicely Meera put the fish on. At least it’s not a meat pie. The Rat Cook had cooked the son of the Andal king in a big pie with onions, carrots, mushrooms, lots of pepper and salt, a rasher of bacon, and a dark red Dornish wine. Then he served him to his father, who praised the taste and had a second slice. Afterward the gods transformed the cook into a monstrous white rat who could only eat his own young. He had roamed the Nightfort ever since, devouring his children, but still his hunger was not sated. “It was not for murder that the gods cursed him,” Old Nan said, “nor for serving the Andal king his son in a pie. A man has a right to vengeance. But he slew a guest beneath his roof, and that the gods cannot forgive.”
Instead she finished the shrimp, drank a bit of beer, and said, “Well, it’s an interesting story. Colorful. You can probably make an article out of it.”
Exactly what I’m going to do!” Jerry said.
“It’ll have to be a kind of historical feature for some New Orleans magazine, though,” she said. “You know, quaint old boogeyman.”
“No, no,” Jerry said. “You don’t understand. That’s just the background. I’m going to bring it all up to date, work the modern stuff in. Here and now. In Chicago.”
Kris ate another shrimp and smiled. “That kind of story you might sell to the Enquirer, but nowhere else. Don’t you think you’re being silly?”
“No!” Jerry said stoutly.
“You really think these needle men exist? Not only in New Orleans around the turn of the century, but here and now, today, in Chicago? Is that what you think? And they carried off Chollie Monroe to provide some medical school with an experimental cadaver?” She shook her head, smiling. “You don;’t look like the sort of person to go off the deep end.”
Jerry flushed. “It’s not just Chollie,” he insisted. “They got Gumbo Granny, too. They had to. She knows all about them, you see. Ans there’s more. Listen to me.” He told her all about the guy with the hypodermic needle, and the black Javelin.
Kris listened to him politely enough, sipping her beer and nibbling on shrimp, but when he had finished, she did not look convinced. “A sports coat with leather patches, you say? I think I’ve seen him in the alley too. I know I’ve seen the car. But that doesn’t mean anything. He probably lives in one of the other buildings around here. What’s so mysterious about that? There’s a white Mustang back there a lot too. It belongs to my roommate.” SHe wrinkled her nose. “The hypodermic- well, maybe he is a junkie. Or a doctor. I don’t know. Either one is more likely than being a needle man, don’t you think?”
“Even so,” Jerry said, confused, “what about the Gumbo Granny?”
“Ah,” Kris said, smiling, “that I happen to know about. I mentioned it to my roommate, Sheila, after I saw you by the mailboxes. The old lady had a stroke, Jerry. That’s all. Just a stroke. The day after the fuss with the Monroe boy. She was out there in the morning, rocking, and she had her attack. Someone found her, called the hospital, the ambulance came and carted her away. Of course they wouldn’t think to remove the rocker, so it stayed there, for days and days.”
“It’s gone now.”
Kris smiled. “You know this neighborhood as well as I do. It finally got stolen, obviously. You put a perfectly good piece of furniture down there, and see how long it stays around.”
Jerry say back and shut his notebook. Suddenly he felt very confused. Kris was making a lot of sense, and his story was disintegrating around him. “What hospital is she in?” he asked.
“How should I know?” Kris said.
“Well,” said Jerry, “Maybe you’re right. I ought to check it out, though. This story could really make me.” He brightened. ” I know, I can call around to all the hospitals, until I find her.”
“Asking for the Gumbo Granny?” Kris said. “The staffs will love you. And won’t you feel foolish when you find her?”
“Yes,” Jerry admitted, ruefully. He tasted his beer. The head was gone, faded while they’d talked. “Still, it’s worth doing. I mean, what if she isn’t in a hospital? Then I’d be right, maybe.” He scratched his head. “Your roommate saw an ambulance take the old lady away, right? They said she’d had a stroke?”
“Well, what if one of these needle men came in, gave her an injection. She was too old to resist. She’d go under like that.” Ha snapped his fingers. “And, then, what would be simpler than to pull right up with an ambulance and carry out the old lady in broad daylight. She had no relatives, like poor Chollie. Who could object? If the needle men are med students, the ambulance drivers are probably with them, right? Certainly they could get an ambulance easy enough.”
Kris laughed and shook her head. “Oh, come one. Listen to yourself, Jerry. You’re kind of cute, and I thought you were bright, but you’re talking like a real paranoid. The Gumbo Granny had nothing on you!” She leaned across the table and took his hand. “Listen to me,” she said, giving him a small, affectionate squeeze. “All this theorizing is bad enough, but your whole motive is crazy. Contraband corpses for medical schools? Body snatching? Come on. That stuff might have been great in the days of Burke and Hare, maybe even in 19th-century New Orleans, but today? Are these needle men part of the faculties of the med schools, or do they just drive up, lift the bodies out of the trunks of their car, and dicker with the professors? I’m sure medical schools can get bodies in simpler ways, don’t you think?”
Jerry grinned at her. “It so happens,” he said, squeezing her hand back and delighted by the warmth of it, “that I thought of that. It puzzled me for a bit too, but finally I figured it out. It will be in my article.”
- The warmth of her hand. Place your bets now.
“Yes?” Kris said, patiently.
“Transplants,” Jerry said proudly.
She raised an eyebrow.
“No, really,” he said. “Think about it. The old needle men, they just wanted bodies, just like the old lady said. For teaching hospitals and med schools. They need ’em for dissection and weren’t too choosy about how they got them. Today, of course, that demand isn’t there, and there are channels and procedures and such. But still, the needle men are out there. Why. I asked myself. Why, for transplants. Just watch late-night TV sometime, you’ll see all those public service spots, donate your kidneys here, leave your eyes there. You go get a driver’s license, and they try to sign you up as an organ donor. Really, the demand is there. A lot of people really need kidneys and livers and stuff, and there aren’t enough to go around. You figure some rich people would be willing to pay almost anything to live, right? So there’s got to be a black market in body parts, even if no one writes about it. The needle men. Only now they just put their victim to sleep instead of killing them, you see. The bodies get taken somewhere, still alive, and cut up for transplants. I bet there’s money in it. A lot of money.”
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys V
They found the huge brown eunuch sitting in the shade of her pavilion, eating a sausage. He finished it in three bites, wiped his greasy hands clean on his trousers, and sent Arstan Whitebeard to fetch him his steel. The aged squire honed Belwas’s arakh every evening and rubbed it down with bright red oil.
When Whitebeard brought the sword, Strong Belwas squinted down the edge, grunted, slid the blade back into its leather sheath, and tied the swordbelt about his vast waist. Arstan had brought his shield as well: a round steel disk no larger than a pie plate, which the eunuch grasped with his off hand rather than strapping to his forearm in the manner of Westeros. “Find liver and onions, Whitebeard,” Belwas said. “Not for now, for after. Killing makes Strong Belwas hungry.” He did not wait for a reply, but lumbered from the olive grove toward Oznak zo Pahl.
A Storm of Swords – Jon XII
When the count was done, Jon found himself surrounded. Some clapped him on the back, whilst others bent the knee to him as if he were a lord in truth. Satin, Owen the Oaf, Halder, Toad, Spare Boot, Giant, Mully, Ulmer of the Kingswood, Sweet Donnel Hill, and half a hundred more pressed around him. Dywen clacked his wooden teeth and said, “Gods be good, our Lord Commander’s still in swaddling clothes.” Iron Emmett said, “I hope this don’t mean I can’t beat the bloody piss out of you next time we train, my lord.” Three-Finger Hobb wanted to know if he’d still be eating with the men, or if he’d want his meals sent up to his solar. Even Bowen Marsh came up to say he would be glad to continue as Lord Steward if that was Lord Snow’s wish.
“Lord Snow,” said Cotter Pyke, “if you muck this up, I’m going to rip your liver out and eat it raw with onions.”
- However, this does also call attention to the idea that “Jojen paste” could be a true theory. For those who are not familiar, the basic idea is that the weirwood paste Bran eats that opens his third eye while down in the sunless cave includes the blood (or bits?) of Jojen Reed, who has not been seen in a while.
A Dance with Dragons – Bran III
“A paste of weirwood seeds.”
Something about the look of it made Bran feel ill. The red veins were only weirwood sap, he supposed, but in the torchlight they looked remarkably like blood. He dipped the spoon into the paste, then hesitated. “Will this make me a greenseer?”
“Your blood makes you a greenseer,” said Lord Brynden. “This will help awaken your gifts and wed you to the trees.”
“And Uptown is full of these needle men?” Kris said.
“What better place? Today when I got off the el, a guy was passed out on the stairs. If some other guy had been helping him off, I never would have looked twice. We got so many runaways and such the police don’t even count ’em. I know, I called them. There’s gang wars, there’s racial trouble between the Orientals and the hillbillies and the blacks, there’s fights in the bars most nights. Illegal aliens are working everywhere, nobody’s got any records of them but their employers, and if one of them vanishes- well, he just caught by immigration or skipped town. Down in the all black ghettos, maybe a white needle man would stand out, like they used to in New Orleans. But Uptown is so damned mixed that nobody stands out. Think about it. This is prime territory.”
Kris let go of his hand and poured them both more beer. “Drink up,” she said, “I’ve got to get back to study. I can see there is no dissuading you from this. You’ve got every crazy detail worked out, don’t you?”
“It’s not crazy,” Jerry said. “At least I don’t think it is.”
“You can’t prove any word of it, Jerry.”
“Not now,” Jerry said, “but I’ll get proof, one way or another. This story will make a real name for me; I’m not about to let it slip through my fingers. The needle men don’t know I’m on to them. I’m starting to check up on runaways and disappearances, that kind of thing. And I’m going to watch that damn Javelin real carefully. From my back stairs, I can see the whole alley. I’ll buy binoculars. And s gun. Yes. I’d better start carrying a gun.”
“You start wandering the alley with binoculars and a gun, and the police will be locking you up, not your needle men. Don’t you think you’re taking this folk tale a little too…” She stopped. “Oh my god,” she said, look out the window.
Jerry looked out too. Across the street was another tavern, a rough, noisy place Jerry had never dared enter. Two men had just come out of it. A white man in a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows was helping a black youth into a waiting car. The black seemed to be drunk or unconscious. The car, Jerry noted, was a black Javelin.
- Damn black Javelin.
“Oh, it’s just coincidence,” Kris said, but her voice sounded as if she no longer believed it. She licked her lips. “He’s just drunk. There are a thousand explanations.”
“We’d better get back,” Jerry said. “The needle men are out tonight.” He paid the bill and ushered Kris out of there. In the alley, every shadow seemed to hold a smiling shape with a long, long needle, but they hurried past and up the back stairs, and nothing leaped out at them. Both of them were breathing hard when they reached Kris’s landing. From the stairs, Jerry tried to tell himself.
He put his arms around her and bent to kiss her, hoping she’d permit it. Her enthusiasm took him by surprise. When they finally broke apart, Kris was studying him from those wide, green eyes. “Oh, damn you,” she said. “It’s silly, but now you’ve got me seeing needle men everywhere.” She wrinkled her nose. “I hate to admit it, but I’m frightened.”
- Aww, isn’t her wrinkled nose and feigned little girl scaredness so cute?
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys IV
“Khaleesi,” said Jhogo, “I will deal with these scouts. They are no riders, only slavers on horses.”
“Just so,” she agreed. “I think we should attack from three sides. Grey Worm, your Unsullied shall strike at them from right and left, while my kos lead my horse in wedge for a thrust through their center. Slave soldiers will never stand before mounted Dothraki.” She smiled. “To be sure, I am only a young girl and know little of war. What do you think, my lords?”
“I think you are Rhaegar Targaryen’s sister,” Ser Jorah said with a rueful half smile.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys I
Cleon the self-styled Great was no better, however. The Butcher King had restored slavery to Astapor, the only change being that the former slaves were now the masters and the former masters were now the slaves.
“I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of war,” she told Lord Ghael, “but we have heard that Astapor is starving. Let King Cleon feed his people before he leads them out to battle.” She made a gesture of dismissal. Ghael withdrew.
Jerry stood dumbfounded, not knowing what to say.
“I don’t know how to ask you this,” Kris said. “Will you stay the night? WIth me? It’d make me sleep easier.
Jerry tried to keep from grinning. “Oh, sure,” he said. “Me too.”
“Thanks,” Kris said. She turned and unlocked the door. Her apartment had the same layout as his own, but it was a lot neater. Better furnished, too. She and her roommates did a lot better than he. Kris didn’t let him admire the decor, however. She led him straight to the bedroom, oddly enough the one right below his own.
Books were strewn all over the bed. She gathered them up and set them on a nightstand, and then turned and touched the light switch. A dimmer. Illumination went down to a soft glow, and Kris turned to him with a smile. “Naked fear makes me horny,” she said. “What are you waiting for?”
“Uh,” said Jerry. He grinned. “Sure.” Then it was a race to get undressed, and they tumbled into bed together laughing.
Afterwards, Jerry felt better than he had for years; a girl like Kris, a story like the needle men. Things were really coming together for him. He said as much to her, as she nestled up against him and he stroked her soft, fine hair.
“Ummmm,” she said, raising her head. “The needle men. Did you have to mention them again? I’d managed to forget about them for a few moments.” She laughed. “It all seems silly now. Are you really going through with it?”
“Of course,” he said, wounded.
She sighed. “Good luck,” she said. She kissed his chest lightly, and her hand started doing interesting things lower down. “Can you stay the whole night, or will your roommates call the police? Maybe you should go up and tell them where you are. We don’t them thinking you’ve been carried off by the needle men.” She giggled.
“They don’t know anything about the needle men,” Jerry said, “and they don’t care where I spend my nights. We’re not that close. You know ho wit is sometimes.” He smiled. “I’ll stay. Hell, I’ll move in if you want me.”
“I’ll have to think about that one,” Kris said. She sat up suddenly and climbed out of bed. “Excuse me,” she said.
“Hey, where you going?” Jerry asked.
“The little girl’s room,” she said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”She padded to the door, nude. Even in the vague dim light, she was lovely. Her long hair moved behind her as she walked.
She was gone along time. Jerry got restless. For a moment, he even felt afraid. He thought he heard a door open and close somewhere, and he had a sudden vision of the needle man, creeping up the back stairs with his long, sharp needle in hand, jimmying the lock, stealing down the hall, slowly, quietly. He could be out there right now, white-faced, grinning, needle poised and ready for Kris to emerge from the bathroom. Or maybe he’d already gotten her, maybe she was lying at his feet even now, and he was about to open the door and come in for Jerry too.
“God,” Jerry said. He was giving himself the shivers. He shifted in bed, saw Kris’s books stacked up on the nightstand, picked one up on impulse. It was hard to read anything in the dim light, but if it would take his mind off the needle men, it was worth the eye strain.
He flipped through a few pages, frowned, flipped, stared. “Oh,” he said in a small whimper. “Oh, no. No.”
- Oh yes! Books are trees and trees provide history and knowledge.
That was when the door opened. They were standing there, all of them, Kris and her roommates, smiling. Kris had the needle. “You never asked me my major, Jerry,” she said. “I’m in med school, second year. You’d be amazed at how expensive it is.” She shrugged and came towards him.
- And this is it. This is once again GRRM showing the reader that the fiery hand burns/destroys the icy-tree people of the story.
- And a reminder of you want to peek, I discussed venom in ASOIAF in this Lilith page.
- Also to note, the story is called Needle Men, and the protag is in the lookout for a male/men, but in his blindness by Kris he misses the obvious- the threat comes from a female. Just as I speculate will be the case with Jon and the fiery women Melisandre then Daenerys, just as happened between Alaric Stark and Queen Alysanne Targaryen. Fire-woman Cersei tries to teach Sansa about her “weapon” as well:
A Clash of Kings – Sansa VI
[Cersei] “Try not to sound so like a mouse, Sansa. You’re a woman now, remember? And betrothed to my firstborn.” The queen sipped at her wine. “Were it anyone else outside the gates, I might hope to beguile him. But this is Stannis Baratheon. I’d have a better chance of seducing his horse.” She noticed the look on Sansa’s face, and laughed. “Have I shocked you, my lady?” She leaned close. “You little fool. Tears are not a woman’s only weapon. You’ve got another one between your legs, and you’d best learn to use it. You’ll find men use their swords freely enough. Both kinds of swords.“
All written material of The Needle Man created by George R.R. Martin.
Copyright: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (ISSN: 0024-984X), Volume 61, No. 4, Whole No. 365, October 1981 by Mercury Press Inc.
Thank you for reading along with the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire.