It’s funny—because the first thing I noticed upon stepping into the garage wasn’t the fact that Old Man Moss was holding what appeared to be massive gray arm in his hands. Nor was it the fact that in the middle of the room stood an 8-foot-tall giant—a giant which appeared to have been fashioned from solid clay and resembled not so much a man but a hulking, naked ape. Nor was it even the thing’s frightful visage or stoic, lifeless, outsized eyes.
No, it was the fact that the room was illuminated by candles and candelabrums—as opposed to bulbs or work lights or sun seeping through windows (all of which had been covered with what appeared to be black sheets). It was the fact that the garage didn’t look like a garage. It looked—for all intents and purposes—like a temple.
“Ah, Thomas, by boy! Vus machs da! You are just in time.”
It was on the tips of my lips to ask him what for when he handed me the arm, which was surprisingly heavy. “I’ll need you and Aaron to hold this while I sculpt. Can you do that?”
The clay was tacky and moist beneath my fingers. I looked at Aaron, who looked back at me as if to say, Just go with it. Humor him.
“Sure, Mr. Moss. But—” I followed Aaron’s lead as he positioned the arm against the mock brute’s shoulder. “What on earth is it?”
His face beamed with pride as he worked the leaden clay. “Why, this is Yossele—but you may call him Josef. And he is what the rabbis of Chelm and Prague called a golem—a being created from inanimate matter. This one is devoted to tzedakah, or justice.”
At last he stepped back and appeared to scrutinize his work. “And justice is precisely what he will bring—once he is finished. Once the shem has been placed in his mouth.” He took a deep breath and exhaled, tentatively. “Okay, boys … you can let go. Slowly.”
I didn’t know what justice had to do with art, but we did so—the clammy clay wanting to stick to our fingers, its moist touch seeming hesitant to break contact. “Aaron, won’t you be a good boychick and bring me the shem. Easy does it, now. Don’t drop it.”
I watched as Aaron approached one of the workbenches and fetched an intricately-crafted gold box.
“Ah, yes. The shem, you see, is what gives the golem its power—thank you, son, a sheynem dank. It is what gives it the ability to move and become animated.”
I glanced at Aaron, who only looked back at me uncertainly, as his father approached the golem and opened the box, the gold plating of which gleamed like a fire before the candelabrums. “This one consists of only one word—one of the Names of God, which is too sacred to be uttered here.” He withdrew a slip of paper and placed it into the golem’s mouth. “I shall only say emet, which means ‘truth’ … and have done with it. And so it is finished. Tetelestai.” He turned and looked directly at me, I have no idea why. “The debt will be paid in full.”
Nobody said anything for a long time, even as the birds tweeted outside and a siren wailed somewhere in the distance. We just stood there and stared at his creation.
At last I said, “So are you going to enter in the Fair, Mr. Moss, or what? How will you even move it?”
At which Old Man Moss only smiled, ruffling my hair, and said, “No—it is only for this moment. That is the nature of Art. Tsaytvaylik. Tomorrow it will be gone. Now run along and finish your lawn. I’ve involved you enough.”
And the next day it was gone, at least according to Aaron, and both of us, I think, promptly forgot about it. At least until the first of the Benton Boys turned up dead, Sheriff Donner directing the recovery while his ashen-blue body bobbed listlessly against the Benedict A. Saltweather Dam.
It was June.
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Wayne Kyle Spitzer (born July 15, 1966) is an American author and low-budget horror filmmaker from Spokane, Washington. He is the writer/director of the short horror film, Shadows in the Garden, as well as the author of Flashback, an SF/horror novel published in 1993. Spitzer’s non-genre writing has appeared in subTerrain Magazine: Strong Words for a Polite Nation and Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History. His recent fiction includes The Ferryman Pentalogy, consisting of Comes a Ferryman, The Tempter and the Taker, The Pierced Veil, Black Hole, White Fountain, and To the End of Ursathrax, as well as The X-Ray Rider Trilogy and a screen adaptation of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.”