The synagogue burns so red that the night sky is dyed in all the colors of blood a human body can produce. I stand amidst the flames feeling lashing igneous whips against my body. I stare at what has been done unto us yet again and I long for the violence that will follow. The guilty of Prague await my retribution, unaware they are already dead.
The remnants of the evening worshipers caught in the inferno no longer resemble anything human. They are burnt so dark, the bodies now pass more for charcoal than the soft flesh of the living. I stare at them, seeing the symbols of their heritage and faith clutched in blackened and ashen hands, their grips so powerful that not even death can loosen them.
I set myself upon the flames, stamping them out and ensuring the blaze is gone before I walk from this burnt mausoleum. I find the sooty, black footprints on the ground near the remains of the building, soon uncovering the shreds of cloth and the remnants of flint. I find the trail of my prey; all that remains is to follow it.
I feel rage, sorrow, the need to avenge. It is what I was created to feel, whence first my father drew me from clay, stone, and dirt. My face was never graced with the tenderness of a mother’s eyes, my lips never weaned on the milk of a provider. I am rock and earth. I am justice and vengeance, incarnated and animated.
This night, I am unleashed upon the city and already I can feel the instinctive quiver of those who believe their crimes are hidden. I am excited, anticipatory. These are emotions I was never meant to know, but feel all the same. People think me unfeeling and devoid of mercy. I am indeed without mercy, but a total lack of feeling would make my existence so much simpler.
There is no brain within my head of clay. I have no lungs to suck and expel the same air my father breathes. I lack the necessary components that signify a living being. I know all of this.
But I move, animated by purpose.
The synagogue is remote, already scorched to its foundations. My father’s people will rebuild it, for they are a resilient group. They are despised and hated, persecuted.
To defend them is why I was made. They say defense, but I know it is to kill. Deception has no place in my soul; my animation is made possible by the word ‘Emeth’ written upon my forehead. Hebrew for ‘truth.’
I cannot deny I savor this purpose, relish it as my father might savor the sweet Shabbat wine. I have wrenched the life from vandals and malcontents, twisted the necks of thieves and assailants. I have ground the skulls of would-be murderers into reddened dust upon the cobblestones.
I cannot stretch my lips to smile, for my father granted me no function that does not serve the purpose of violence. I content myself with grinning in my heart. I am made for death and I enjoy my purpose. I am a silent shadow through these streets, people cowering in their homes as I stalk the night. No breath rattles from my mouth, no anticipatory hiss of air announces my hunger.
I find the footprints. One might mistake the substance as dirt, but I know it is ash. I am close now, the wolf uncaged. Humans are blessed with the gift of expression to communicate their feelings, but none know at first glance just what dwells within my soul. None could look at my face and know the thrill.
They are in a tavern, an inn open even in this late hour. I am far from the burning synagogue, the only visible fires being the candles that cast their pallid glows upon the walls. Men and women babble amidst themselves, discussing drinks or crops, politics and games of chance. I hold myself at the door.
Inside my breast, there is nothing but clay and dirt. There is no heart to race, but the exultation is mine even so. As I have done before, I let the moment linger, their final seconds of peace and security. I picture every face, seal this memory within my mind, perfectly preserved as a dragonfly in amber.
I wrench the door from its hinges and throw it aside. The inside of the tavern goes silent, words freezing in every throat. I am too tall to fit through the doorway, so I simply rip my way through the stone. Their fear lends a spice to the act of killing, like adding the perfect amount of seasoning to a stew.
None in this city know my name. No man or woman will ever understand the loving moniker my father bestowed upon me. They whisper of me as a fable, something that appears somewhere in the space between myth and nightmare. They laugh into their cups and say I am not real.
I let them see me; tall, powerful, and so inhuman. I step forth slowly so that my feet crunch at the wooden floor of the tavern. Faces turn the color of starlight-bathed milk and tongues flap like limp, pink flags. A man is still sat on a bench by the door. A mug of ale rests in his hand, hanging loose so the amber liquid trickles to stain his breeches.
I reach out, one hand covering his head. I am as gentle as a lover, celebrating my covenant with my people. To kill with it as my accomplice is a joy as vast as it is ineffable.
My hand tightens and the silence ends. A chorus of screams fills the air, from the throats of men and women in this tavern, drowning out the crunch of the skull in my grip. They howl desperately, shrieking for help. But this is a scene I have acted out many times before. There are none who might help them and none brave enough to try. Any who hear will curl into the illusion of security that their beds provide and tell themselves it is only the wind. They will lie to themselves that I am myth.
But in the dead of night, they shall whisper the name that is now screamed forth from myriad throats. “Golem!”
I have tracked perhaps three men to this tavern. There are ten human beings within. I do not know which of them set the fire, nor do I care. Collective punishment is often the most effective. If they are guilty, then I have tipped the scales to their proper positioning. If they are not, then they shall serve as a warning to any who think my people are their lambs to slaughter.
They scream. They plead. Some fall to their knees before me, hands clasped and prayers tumbling forth from their mouths. Mercy is not my domain, nor my wish. My hand closes about one slender neck and I squeeze until all breath has departed.
I make sure none of them can run, positioning myself in front of the doorway. I take my time with them, employing the strength of my body. The murderers required fire for their deeds, but I need nothing but my limbs, to crush and rip.
I come into a tavern and I turn it into an abattoir. My soul sings in the bliss of butchery. My father, his people and mine would balk at such violence. They are strong, resilient, but rarely cruel. Oh, they are content to send me forth and pretend they do not know what acts I commit. Their involvement ends with their words. They do not experience what I do, they could never love it like I.
The world shows my people no clemency, so I grant none in turn. I judge them and the verdict is always guilty. In the pain and death, I find a happiness that borders on celestial. In their screams, I exult. It is indescribable, the intoxication that subsumes me. Guilt or innocence have no meaning; they are lambs and I am the shochet, the slaughterer, with naught but pride in my work.
When it ends, I take the time to savor my efforts before my exit. I leave an anarchy in the tangle of flesh and bone, a message that will be discovered in the morning.
The meaning will be clear: the Jews of Prague shall not be touched again, lest I be unchained anew. My face is nothing more than hollow earth, chiseled in the barest facsimile of a woman’s, so no smile can stretch my lips at a job well done.
My father shaped me from earth and drew the sacred words upon my forehead. He whispered a name within my ear: “Tzeidel,” he said. “They have killed us tonight. The synagogue is in flames. Go forth and do what you must. Save those who still live. Avenge those who do not.”
Tzeidel, he calls me. “Princess,” in his mother tongue. It is a private name, one unshared with the rest of his community, only between a father and his daughter. They know of me, the dark secret hidden away in the Rabbi’s cellar. Even my father’s people balk from that room, knowing I am there. I am a wolf and slumber is my cage. To awaken me is to unlock and swing loose the door to unleash me upon the world.
My sojourn is nearly at its end. The Jewish quarter will mourn, pretend they do not see me. The people of Prague will shudder at the sight of my good work. They despair and they will know the price of persecution.
Until some are hateful and foolish enough to attempt worse deeds and I am sent again. Until I have bathed in blood enough to force the capitulation and vows from those in power to my father and his community. Prague will beg to be freed of the scourge that is I. The authorities will offer anything, even their protection.
I will be the price offered for peace, my death will be my father’s bargaining chip. He will undo my creation and I will return to oblivion, unmourned. But not yet. First, there will be more blood to shed and every drop shall be my joy.
They will remember me in whispers of legend, Jew and Gentile alike. They will tell themselves I will come for them. They will watch the shadows and hug themselves tighter in the night. I do not mourn my inevitable demise. For I am Tzeidel.
I am the Golem of the Jews and my immortality is assured.
Zachary Rosenberg is a horror writer living in Florida. He crafts horrifying tales by night and by day he practices law, which is even more frightening. His forthcoming debut novella “Hungers as Old As This Land.” will be published by Brigids Gate press and his first novel “The Devils and the Deep Blue Sea” shall be published by Darklit Press. You may find his works released or forthcoming at Air and Nothingness Press, Dead Sea Press and Nosetouch Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZachRoseWriter