The Golders Green Golem
Who is more powerful - the creator, or the created?
Mordecai couldn't believe his eyes. His daughter had brought his grandson Hugo home crying and bloodied after being beaten by bullies in school. Hugo was besides himself and was adamant that he would never be going to school again.
'This is not the same country I escaped to all those years ago,' Mordecai said sadly, 'we were supposed to be safe here, not persecuted.'
'It's not persecution Dad,' his daughter Gilda said, somewhat defensively, 'he's just been roughed up a bit. I'll go down to the school in the morning and sort it out.'
Mordecai shook his head. 'That's how it started in Czechoslovakia. With the children. You poison a child's mind, and eventually you have a sick adult. My parents sent me to England before the Nazis invaded the Sudetenland - they thought I would be safe here.'
'We know the story, Dad,' Gilda said, whilst cleaning a cut on Hugo's forehead, 'but it's not going to help here, is it?'
Hugo had stopped crying, sniffing back tears, fearing a family argument. He'd had his fill of angry outbursts for the day.
'Your mother needs help in the kitchen,' Mordecai said, 'I'll finish cleaning up the boy.'
Gilda handed over the damp cloth to her father and left the room with any complaint. Mordecai beckoned his grandson to him.
'Come and sit with me, Hugo. You remind me of myself when I was your age - perhaps younger still. I had my fair share of troubles as a boy, just for being who I was. It was a dark time for us Jews, and although it doesn't seem as dark at the moment, I'm afraid I can see the same clouds circling. How old are you now?'
'Ten.' Hugo sniffed.
'And these boys who attacked you - were they your age or older?'
'So sad that your peers would be behave that way. So many gave their lives - or had them taken - so that we might live in a better, safer world. How sad that it has come to this. Do me a favour will you? Walk over to my bureau and bring me back the book that sits in the bottom drawer.'
Hugo did as he was told - the bureau was bigger than he was, and had always been out of bounds as he had grown up. Hugo had often wondered what his grandparents kept inside it, and had long hoped to steal a look one day.
He pulled open a bottom drawer and found a brown volume sitting on a silken cloth.
'Quickly, boy.' Mordecai whispered, with an urgent glance towards the doorway into the kitchen.
Hugo picked up the book - a very old volume by the looks of it. The cover was brown leather and held a clasp that no longer fastened it together properly. There were markings burned into the leather - Hugo recognised the Star of David and some Hebrew lettering, but the rest of the symbols were alien to him.
'What is it?' He asked, as he gave the book to his grandfather, and squeezed in beside him on the chair.
'This, my boy, was a book given to me by our Rabbi back in Czechoslovakia before my parents sent me here. Out of all the people leaving, he thought that I was the most honest and trustworthy. He told me to keep it safe from the enemy, who was looking for it.'
Mordecai opened the book, causing the spine to crack. The pages of the book were made of a parchment that spoke of centuries past. They were brittle and dry, but had been well looked after.
'Our Rabbi told me that this book once belonged to Rabbi Loew, the Maharal of Prague. With it, he created the Golem - a man made of mud - to do his bidding and protect the Jews of Prague during the sixteenth century. Just as the Lord created Adam from clay, so the Rabbi created the Golem from the mud of the Vltava, and carving a Hebrew spell into its skin, brought it to life.'
'Dad can you come here and carve the meat?' Gilda called from the kitchen.
'Wow,' Hugo gasped as his grandfather turned the pages, revealing the ancient spells and diagrams associated with the rite of bringing the clay creature to life. 'Why did the Nazis want the book?'
'If they had been able to get a hold of these incantations, our Rabbi felt that they would use them to create a golem army at Hitler's command - strong creatures that couldn't be shot or killed like men can. It would have spelled disaster.'
'Dad!' Gilda shouted.
'Yes! Yes, I'm coming.' he ruffled Hugo's hair and got out of the chair with difficulty, stretching his stiff legs and shuffling out of the room.
Hugo flicked through the pages, looking at the symbols that he had no chance of understanding. An idea dawned on him, and he pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and began taking the pictures of each page, including the covers. As his mother came into the room to call him for dinner, he closed the book shut guiltily, and left it on the chair.
Later that night, he sat up in bed awake, looking over the images on his phone. He couldn't read any of the words or understand any of the diagrams, so he managed to find a free translation app and downloaded it. What came out of the translation was a garbled string of words, some in English, some in the original language he assumed was Hebrew.
Hugo eventually fell asleep and dreamed of mud-men, some big, some small, all following his orders. He would show the bullies who was boss. There was a strange shadow over his shoulder in his dream, a shape that could have been a man or something else. When he tried to look at it he found he couldn't focus on it - the shadow was somehow always behind his shoulder.
Over the course of the weekend Hugo spent his time translating the Hebrew and trying to make out what the symbols and diagrams meant. He did a little research into the creation of golems, and found that, with the correct incantations, it was an absurdly-simple process. In the waking hours of Sunday, when the town was quiet, he made his way down to the riverbank with a small trowel and began to dig in the mud.
Hugo's plan was to create a full-size golem, but the sheer amount of time spent labouring in the mud and the cold river water made him abandon that idea for something smaller and easier. He ended up creating a man-shape just a little taller than himself, and stood back to admire his creation. The creation didn't look much like the diagrams in the pages of his grandfather's book, but it would have to do.
Hugo carved some Hebrew letters into the creation's forehead, and then began the incantations he had translated into English. He had no way of knowing if the magic would translate too, and when he was done, he sat on the riverbank feeling defeated. Nothing happened. The hours rolled by, his family would be wondering where he was. With great reluctance, Hugo left the creation on the riverbank. He walked home with the foreboding feeling that he would have to face the bullies some time the next day.
Sunday ran into Monday all too quickly, and Hugo kept himself to himself. At half past three in the afternoon, he bolted to the school gates, where the bullies were already waiting for him. He decided to push on and managed to rush past them, but they caught up with him in an alleyway between the houses. Jonathan, the outright leader of the gang, held Hugo in one hand whilst making a fist with the other.
Hugo closed his eyes tight and prepared for himself for the inevitable pain that would accompany the punch. Nothing happened, not to Hugo anyway. He heard Jonathan scream, and opened his eyes to see a small boy pulling the bully's head back by his hair. The other boys backed away.
'What is it?' one of them shouted.
Through his delirious tears, Hugo saw the golem he had created. It was small, indeed, but had a seemingly huge strength. Jonathan screamed and cried whilst wriggling himself free of the golem's grasp. The creature just stood there, waiting, and Hugo suddenly realised the power that he had over it. He pointed at the bullies and shouted 'Get them! Get them all!'
The golem went to work, chasing the bullies away. Hugo followed at a distance, pleased and proud of his work. The bullies scattered, but not before the golem had a chance to bloody two of their noses and rain blows down upon their heads. Now that he had had his revenge, Hugo shouted for the golem to stop.
The golem didn't stop.
It just simply carried on looking for its next victim, and found a homeless man outside the local supermarket. The man was dazed and detached, only noticing the golem when it started to attack him. Hugo shouted at the creature to stop, but it continued ignore him. Other people ran to the homeless man's aid, but they, too were attacked by the insatiably angry creature. Horrified by what he had done, Hugo backed away, and once at a safe distance he broke into a run.
He meant to run home, but his feet and guilt led him to his grandparents' house. He knocked on the door and was in years by the time his grandfather opened it.
Mordecai couldn't understand the babble of words that came out of his grandson's mouth. Something about the bullies and people being attacked in the high street.
'Perhaps we should call the police,' he mused to his wife, 'sounds like something serious is happening.'
'Are you hurt at all, Hugo?' She asked, examining him closely.
He shook his head.
'Did you fight those boys?' Mordecai demanded.
Hugo shook his head again and thought it best to come clean. Whilst staring at his feet he mumbled that he had made a golem and set it on the bullies.
'A golem?' His grandmother shrieked, 'Where did you get such an idea?'
Hugo looked up into her eyes, trying not to cry. His grandfather had paced over to the bureau and opened the bottom drawer.
'The book is still here,' Mordecai said to his wife, holding the book up for her to see.
'I took pictures on my phone. I tried translating the pages, but I didn't think it worked, until the golem came to my rescue earlier.'
'I blame myself for showing you the book. Why didn't you command the golem to stop?'
'I didn't know how to,' Hugo cried, 'I don't think that I got all the pages in the book.'
'So you didn't complete the spell?' Mordecai asked as he stowed the book back in the bureau.
'The Golem will only listen to you. We have to track it down and stop it.'
'And then what?' His wife asked, 'What will you do about it?'
'I shall call on the Rabbi,' Mordecai responded, 'and you're coming with me boy.'
'How will we find the creature? It could be anywhere by now.'
'I guess we'll just follow the screams. But first - to the synagogue.'
A quick look at the television saw a news report of a "localised incident" that the police were looking into, and asked the public to stay at home or else stay vigilant whilst they were out and about. Mordecai marched Hugo to the synagogue a few streets away, and made him tell the Rabbi everything that had happened.
The Rabbi was understandably shocked, and skeptical of Hugo's story until Mordecai told his part in the story, explaining how the Rabbi in Czechoslovakia had entrusted the book to him as a young child.
'Three things you must do,' the Rabbi told them, 'find the golem, bring it here, and then shut it down.'
'How do we do that?' Hugo asked, 'what if it won't listen to me?'
'Have faith, child,' the Rabbi said with a pat on his head, 'just bring the creature here.'
Mordecai and Hugo left, making their way to Golders Green Road, where they found people running in their direction.
'I think we're in the right place,' Mordecai said grimly.
There were bloodstains splattered on the pavement, and as they approached the supermarket there were bodies in the road. Mordecai shook his head and uttered quick prayers for those they stepped over on the way.
'This is all my fault,' Hugo said, and began to cry again.
'It's our fault, boy,' Mordecai said, looking down on his grandson, 'their blood is on both our hands. Dry those tears. You must command the creature. You must be forceful. Otherwise it might not listen to you.'
Hugo nodded, and sniffed back his tears. He pointed ahead of them.
'There it is.'
The creature was stamping on the head of someone lying prone in the street. Hugo shivered as they approached it.
'What did you tell it to do, Hugo?'
'I just told it to get them all. But I didn't mean everyone!'
'As the old saying goes, "be careful what you wish for."'
They approached the creature cautiously. As they got within a few feet, the creature stopped what it was doing, straightened up, and looked at them with glowing eyes.
'Look at its eyes!' Hugo shouted, 'I didn't make them like that!'
'No, boy - those are the eyes of the golem. They burn with a holy fire, and only one can create that. Now, we must be quick in our task before the police arrive.'
They approached the golem slowly, deliberately, with Hugo in front of his grandfather. The creature seemed to have grown taller, and as Hugo stepped up to it, it loomed over him.
'Now,' Mordecai whispered by his side, 'be forceful. Tell it to stop, and order it to follow us to the synagogue. Quick as you can.'
'Golem!' Hugo shouted, 'I command you to stop! You are to follow us to the synagogue!'
The golem's eyes burned brighter, and it opened a crack where a mouth would have been - a mouth that Hugo hadn't given him. It hissed like a kettle boiling, and closed its mouth again. It walked forward and stopped in front of Hugo. The little boy trembled before it, but he didn't falter.
'Come with us,' he said and began to walk away.
Mordecai watched as the golem followed his grandson down the street. He had heard of the fire in a golem's eyes all of his life, had read about them in the book that had been entrusted to him. He had always wanted to see what they looked like, and now that he had faced them he felt rooted to the spot.
His legs felt heavy, and a cold chill rippled through him as the golem looked at him. He couldn't move, his lungs seemed frozen, and his breath gave out. Even after the creature had passed him by, he could still see those eyes.
'Grandpa?' Hugo turned just in time to see Mordecai fall. The golem stopped and waited, but nothing could be done. People didn't come to help, as they were afraid of the golem. Hugo cradled his grandfather's head in his lap and cried. The golem stood over him and dropped an arm over the boy's shoulder. Hugo looked up into the burning eyes of his creation.
'Will you help me?' He asked.
The golem nodded, and stooped down to pick up Mordecai's body. Hugo walked meekly by its side, holding on to his grandfather's cold hand. They retraced their steps down Golders Green Road, and Hugo led the way to the synagogue.
Time passed too quickly. Mordecai was buried quietly and privately. The golem was made to stop by erasing the Hebrew spell that had been etched into its forehead. The Rabbi promised that the creature would be held and looked after in the synagogue. Hugo begged and pleaded with his mother to let him switch schools, or even try homeschooling, but the day came for him to return to school.
On that day he stood on the street opposite the synagogue. The golem was in there somewhere - he had seen it, and could feel it even now. It was sleeping, not dead. What was done could not be undone.
'Why did my grandfather have to die?' Hugo had asked the Rabbi.
'Because you had created life,' was the answer, 'in a way that only the Lord is allowed. So a life was taken to right the balance.'
Hugo's grandmother had handed over the golem spell book to the Rabbi. Neither she nor Hugo's mother wanted to be reminded of the circumstances in which his grandfather had died. His family didn't talk about it, and no-one wanted to discuss it in school. The Rabbi assured them that the police had been satisfied in their enquiries, but didn't go into further detail.
One day after school, he returned to the river where he had dug enough mud to make the golem. He stared down into the murky water and was shocked to see two glowing eyes staring back at him - staring through him. Hugo dropped a stone in the water, but when the ripples subsided, the eyes were still there, in place of his own. He was tarnished somehow, inextricably linked with his creation, and the awful things that it had done.