But was I not Kezia?
I ought to have started moving right away after the golem vanished down the tunnel, as it wasn’t as though I had suffered more than a few bruises, but I stayed on the ground, curled up with my eyes closed, like a small child.
It was true that I could feel a sense of thick, clotted despair just then: I had lost the golem without really knowing why, and without it I had no chance of catching the horsemen. Thus my fate was sealed.
Yet, even over that, my mind had filled with hazy images, whirling and floating like soft down. For the first time in a very long time, I recalled my mother’s face (not my mother, hers) or maybe it was only the face of a Moorish woman; but I had not seen another Moor in so many years that they were all my (not mine) mother and father now.
I did feel, somehow, that my- that the woman was likely dead now. It did not disturb me terribly much; I only hoped that she had been buried in a grave with a stone altar on top, or at the very least a pile of stones. And that she had been buried in some other earth than this.
I curled up tighter against the cold dirt, feeling soft roots tear from my movements, thinking of that lovely warm face. Presently I heard footsteps approaching me from the tunnel, and I tensed- but the tread was far too light to be the golem’s. I opened my eyes and raised my head, squinting, feeling far more exhausted than I had any reason to.
A man was walking down the tunnel towards me, a naked man who gave off a pale, delicate light. He carried with him a strange scent; a kind of muffled smell of damp grass, and of a dead bird- the kind that you would turn over with your toe to see ants and beetles crawl out.
Of all things. From down in the dirt, I could not help but smile – a broad, lazy smile.
“Well, then. I haven’t seen you for a long time, sir.”
The man stopped a few feet away from me and clasped his hands together behind his back. He was a large man, broad and fleshy, and every inch of that flesh was snowy, gleaming white. Only his eyes and short beard were blue; his head was bald, and his genitals tucked away under his doughy, folded belly.
“So it is, Gabi.”
“I don’t remember telling you my name,” I pointed out. “And aren’t you cold? Your red companion had at least the decency to wear trousers.”
The white man gave a magnanimous blink at this.
“A strange accusation, coming from yourself.”
Belatedly, I recalled that I was still naked. Well, I had good reason to be, at least.
“I presume you’ve come here to gloat? To dance out of reach when I make a grab at you?”
“Not at all,” said the horseman. He had small, deep-set eyes, and they gleamed with unnerving blueness out of his folds. “I spoke with your friend just earlier, and I have decided to let myself be captured.”
I did not at all know what to do with this statement, so I barked out a laugh.
“I do not jest,” said the horseman. “In fact, if you do not bind me, I may return of my own accord. I am only coming to you as a favor to the golem.”
“A favor to the golem?” I repeated, the smile tumbling straight off my face. “Why would you- you met the golem?”
“It spoke quite charmingly on your behalf,” said the horseman. “It seems to hold a great deal of affection for you. I wonder why? It belongs to Mother Forest, does it not?”
I scowled, still internalizing all this.
“It imprinted on me, like a baby bird; that’s all. The last I saw of it, it seemed to have lost that adoration.”
“Oh, well,” said the horseman, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet. “I pity it greatly, more than I pity you, so I am doing what it asked of me.”
The golem had asked the horseman to give itself up to me? My scowl deepened. Why? And furthermore, why had it worked?
“You really mean to let me chain you?” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“If you do it soon,” said the horseman, his voice going dry. “Or at the very least if you behave a bit more pleasantly. I am doing you a very large favor.”
“Oh, certainly,” I said, curling my lip. “Such a favor. If that’s the case, would you mind rounding up your other brethren for me to save time? I’m sure they’d all be just as eager as you to bend their necks for the yoke again.”
“I can smell that you have been near Pascha,” pointed out the horseman. “And if you capture him, I have no doubt you will be able to find Kazimir. Though you will never take him.”
“So you say; so why not gather him for me yourself? Unless you think I can go down the tunnel and fetch my golem back.” The prospect was beginning to look a little better; perhaps the attack had only been a temporary bit of confusion on the golem’s part after all. It was certainly hard to recall any other instance where it had been the slightest bit aggressive.
“I could not get Kazimir to obey, and neither could the golem,” said the horseman. “But I doubt you will see it again either way.”
I pushed myself up fully, feeling a strange prickle of anxiety. “And why is that?”
“Because the scent of Mother Forest is in these tunnels,” said the horseman. “It is one reason I was eager to leave. It was foolish of you to bring the golem back into her territory.”
I sat silently for a few moments, my eyes flicking towards the dark, empty length of tunnel behind him.
“It’s already gone?”
“I should say it has certainly been recaptured by now.” The horseman stroked his triangular blue beard. “I did try to get it to come with me, but it seemed too sorrowful for that.”
“I see,” I said.
“Why, Gabi, you seem quite soured.”
“Shut up,” I snapped. “Hurry up and bend your fat head for me so I can send you back to your mistress.”
The horseman smiled, and his teeth were just slightly yellower than his skin.
“You are certainly not thinking of trying to steal it back- are you?”
“I’m not an idiot,” I said, but I couldn’t bring myself to say much more. The horseman gave a rich chuckle, and then bent down on one knee.
“You say that,” he said. “Well, this was worth it, after all. I, Zakhar, will allow you to bridle me once more.”
“I never asked for your name, or your permission,” I said, but his amusement seemed unshakable now. His eyes glittered across at me, like small insects.
“Who has imprinted- you or the golem? From what I know of the creatures, they are merely a reflection of what you provide for them. They have no souls.”
“I haven’t one either,” I replied, finally getting to my feet. I was still feeling tired, and his attitude was not making it any better. “I should turn to dust if I set foot in a church again. Jesus Christ weeps for what I have become.”
“But the devil rejoices,” said Zakhar. “And we all know that there is no god without his devil.”
“And no horseman without his mouth, apparently,” I said, putting one hand to my neck. I could not help but feel a stirring of excitement. The ribbon there felt slightly warm.
Zakhar stayed put, his pudgy fingers loosely clasped over his knee. I tugged on the ribbon, and now- with a kind of strange shiver against my skin- it came loose, slipping away and down as though it were just an ordinary bit of fabric.
Zakhar bowed his great head, so I could see the faintly bluish liver spots on his scalp. My hands were actually trembling a little as I raised the ribbon. I half-expected it all to be another trick- either the witch’s, or Zakhar’s. Or maybe the golem’s.
I reached out and carefully wrapped the ribbon around his neck. The edges connected seamlessly, and then the whole thing seemed to vanish against his skin: white on white.
As soon as it connected, I felt the change, and jumped back. Zakhar’s form was twisting, losing its definition, and then with a kind of snap in the air it remolded itself. Where he had knelt was now a white horse- not just a white horse but a large white stallion, pawing the ground, arching its mighty neck. I thought I could just barely see a ghostly pale figure on its back, but even as I noticed it the stallion turned, champing at the air, and bunched its great muscles to spring upwards and away straight through the earthen wall of the tunnel.
I flinched as a spray of dirt particles rained against my face. When I blinked my eyes clear, Zakhar had entirely vanished, with nothing left to prove he’d ever been there at all.
I stood there for a moment, almost dizzy, and reached for my neck. My fingers felt the cloth of a ribbon, but I had no mirror, so I could not see what color it was. But it must have been red. It had to be.
“You hoary old crone,” I whispered, to nothing, to the air. “You set me an impossible task, but I may yet do it after all. What will you do then?”
The air, of course, made no more answer, and nothing changed. I hissed softly in the dimness. Oh, to think of that young woman the witch had taken from me- to think of the taste of her blood. No doubt the witch had some plan for her, and I itched to disrupt it. I wanted that shriveled hag to squirm and suffer as she had made me suffer; I wanted her to burn.
But of course I could do none of that, at least not at the moment, at least not if I was wise. My fingers found the ribbon again, running over its supple surface. Pascha I would have to catch now, and I doubted he would ever have a change of heart and approach me willingly.
I looked down the tunnel, where Zakhar had come from, and the golem had gone. The border of Mother Forest’s territory was just a little ways away- I could sense it- but surely her senses would be somewhat dulled underneath the earth. I had to go and see if Zakhar’s words had been honest; I had to see what had become of the golem.
I sprang upwards and became a bat, fluttering hard in the still, cool air, twirling madly before I got my bearings. Then I sent myself swiftly down the tunnel.
Zakhar’s scent was strong, and I could see scrape marks he’d left behind here and there, so I did not get lost. Soon enough I came to a great chamber where many other tunnels branched off- I wondered if Zakhar had dug them, or someone else? Either way it was easy enough to tell which one he had been in most recently, and I flew that way, glad for my shrill bat voice and my sharp bat ears which made everything around me perfectly visible in the utter darkness.
Yet the darkness was not complete, for when I came around a curve in the tunnel I was nearly struck down by a sudden burst of light. I backwinged hard and blinked my pinprick eyes. The top of the tunnel had a great hole in it, and sunlight spilled down in a column, highlighting several small objects on the ground.
My bat eyes were too overwhelmed, so I changed back, skulking and slinking around the little pool of light, glancing upwards with extreme distaste. Why had somebody ruined a perfectly good tunnel like this?
The sunlight washed all the little objects in white, making them hard to discern, but soon I had puzzled them out. Three were rocks, small ones that glittered with chips of mica, and another was a large yellow flower, just starting to wilt. Beside those were a neatly folded set of clothes.
I stared at it all for a long time, and then I reached an arm out- hissing when the sunlight brushed over my skin- and snatched the clothes.
I retreated to stand against the wall and turned them over in my hands, brushing crumbling mud off of the cloth. It felt very strange. Something felt terribly strange. Surely these had come from the golem- why had it given them up? It must have been captured, as Zakhar had said… the stones and flower, I knew, were probably precious to it.
I swallowed, then glanced upwards, trying to peer out through the hole. All I could make out was a blue sky intersected by leaves. It was daylight, but the late afternoon. If I merely squatted here for a few hours, I would have cover of darkness… And then…
And then what? I was not so certain. I looked down at the clothes in my hands. It was true, I did not think I could capture Pascha myself; I needed the golem for that. But was there no other way? Did I really need this golem, from a witch who would now be wary of me?
I felt decidedly uneasily, and paced around the sunlight again. Yes, I thought, finally, yes, this is the most logical course of action; there isn’t much time left after all. I was not being unreasonable. Mother Forest had not yet shown herself to be a dangerous and vengeful witch- she had not even attempted to pursue us; in any case a golem was not irreplaceable. If she had asked it to, it might even have gone back with her of its own accord, being the impressionable creature that it was.
A certain odor struck me, and I bent my head down and sniffed the clothes. At once I drew back- they smelled, just faintly, of that black cat.
Well. I had no reason to wait here, within the witch’s territory, and risk rousing more of her ire. I put the little bundle of clothes in my mouth and changed into a red dog, one with a tight-curled tail. Then I was away down the tunnel, fast away, leaving the little pool of sunlight behind.
A plump, smiling girl with fair hair; a glinting gold coin suspended over a well; a man coming out of a church, holding something in his arms.
I was in the water, oh, I was in the mud, oh, my mouth, my nose, my lungs, all filling up, all filling up, all filling up with mud and water, I am killed, I am killed, I am killed…
But did he know it was me?
“They pushed them all in,” the man said. “The well was dry. They pushed them all in, and down they fell, all crushed on top of each other. And I never knew why they all chuckled when they came by the well, why they motioned towards me and smiled, why the children laughed at the man with the fishing rod. They pushed them in.”
I once loved a beautiful Christian girl with round hips and fair hair.
Elan teased me about it mercilessly.
“Will you leave any girl to me?” he’d murmur, making me blush, for somehow we were always outside, just out of other people’s earshot. “Will you not stop taking all the good ones? And a goye, too! For shame, Kezia, for shame!”
I would elbow him in the ribs and pretend not to take any notice, all at the same time, but it only egged him on. He loved to see me sweat.
“Why is it,” he’d whisper, as I’d rearrange whatever I was holding to try and make it a barrier between us, “why is it that we have just the same face, and yet the pretty girls only want to kiss you?”
“Because I am the better kisser,” I’d finally whisper back, which would make him snort and hoot and draw all kinds of attention with the strange faces he was making.
Of the two of us, he was supposed to have been born first, but you would never know it. He was shorter than me, and half the time acted like an ape in clothing. I loved him so dearly.
My sisters, Hadassah and Ayla, also knew about my discreet love affair, but they were more retiring about it. Ayla did not bat an eye or care; she was too busy with her own love affairs and dramatic foibles; Hadassah might have disapproved in a vague sense, but I was never sure if it was over the fact that I loved another girl or if it was the fact that she was a Christian. Either way, she said nothing about it, though I was certain she knew.
I was not certain my father knew. He might have, or he might not have. I did not think he would care terribly much- I think that he would have only been glad that it was not a Christian man, so I would be having no Christian babies.
“They think the Jews are like the pigs that they send out to fatten on acorns,” he had said, once. “They fatten us up, and then when we start to get too big, they slaughter us and eat us and keep just enough left to farrow the next year.”
It had sounded so strange to me then that I had laughed, but his face had been very solemn, and he had said, “They want to use us, but not to repay us; they say the Jew is a skinflint, but I have yet to see a Christian who did not mutter and scowl when repaying his debts.”
I am afraid I had paid very little attention to his words then, and that I may even have rolled my eyes. Muttering and scowling were some of my father’s greatest talents, in fact, especially over his goyim clientele. Sometimes when they left he would spit in the doorway.
It was true that even then I could feel a kind of pressure on us- on our little street, downwind of the butcher’s, so that it often stank of tripes and blood; where the cobblestones were always turned up so that you stumbled, and where half the houses were always empty. Jews did not often stay long in one place. Not then.
But I did not feel the real danger until Selig told me the tale of the fishing coin.
“Who is Selig?”
There I was, standing, staring at the wall. My wall. The wooden wall, with the gaps between the slats of wood. My hut. My home.
I was a golem. I was Mother’s golem.
Whose memories were these?
Were they mine?
They played out in my mind like whispers, tantalizing, fascinating. I wanted to reach out and grasp them with my hands, they felt so tangible. But they were already fading away, and there I was standing, staring at the wall.
Kezia’s memories, I thought.
But was I not Kezia?
I was so confused. Gentle sunlight was coming in through the gaps in my wall, making stripes on my clay belly. The sun was long since up. Mother or Noroc had not come to rouse me.
There was not just light on my belly. There were also leaves. Leaves on vines, I realized. Snaking round and round my chest. They clung tightly to my dry, crumbling skin.
I realized I could not remember how I had come back to the hut. I could not remember much of anything. Well, except for those soft, warm memories that were not possibly mine. I recalled them hesitantly, as if just thinking of them would throw me back into a dream. It had felt like a dream. I had never dreamt.
I could not move, either. Mother must have told me to stay still.
I missed my mother. Would she not come?
Would she not come for me again?
I felt so strange, confused, so lost. I was not sure if I was really awake or not, or if I, Kezia…
I could remember her hair, fair and soft, her lips, warm and inviting; the feel of grass underneath my bare back. The feel of her heavy head, tucked between by neck and shoulder, so that wispy strands of hair tickled my nose.
She tasted like ordinary sweat, and sometimes like bitterness, but I didn’t care. She tasted like a person, and that was all I wanted.
Her father was a client of my father’s, one of the rare men who would smile openly upon entering our home, who did not cast furtive glances around at our simple furnishings, at my father’s tallit, carefully folded on a shelf. He had his daughter with him, that first day he came to borrow, though she stayed outside, humming and tucking her hair behind her ears, looking all around at our street.
There was not very much too it. It was near the evening, and there was a lone child fiddling with something in the cobblestones, scratching at it with a stick, and there was a skinny cat hunched in the eaves of one of the houses. I only saw it because the sun was going down behind it, giving its grey, rounded form a backdrop of brilliant orange.
I was outside as well, waiting for Elan to get back from some errand, and the girl seemed to notice me all at once, blinking at me. Her eyelashes were gold. I had been staring; I couldn’t help it. She smiled at me.
Inside the house, I heard my father laugh; such a rare sound.
“Hello,” said the Christian girl.
The cat got to its feet, walked to the other side of the roof, and disappeared.
She came back after that, though not so far down the street; we met halfway, at the market. Before I saw her one of the old crones plucked the hem of my sleeve and whispered that some fair-haired girl had been asking about me. She said it like a warning, but I felt it like a warmth cascading down my chest. She had been asking about me.
Girls do not usually seek out other girls to kiss them in the grass behind the cowshed, this was perfectly clear. But there I was, kissing her, because on that first day I had looked at her and she had looked at me, and a cat had jumped off a roof.
It was not, so to say, my first cat; but it was the loveliest one and the longest.
“When did it end?” came a voice, a lonely, curious voice, and I tried to hush it, push it away, out of my memories. It never ended.
“It must have ended,” I said, but just in my own head.
The memories faded away again. There was my wall, with the golden light coming between the boards. It looked as though the sun would go down soon, just like it had behind the grey cat. But I could not see the sunset from inside the hut, and I could not move.
It never ended, whispered a voice, and it had to have been my own, because who else could be inside my head?
All the same, I hoped that the memories did stay just there, just at that happy, warm moment. I was afraid of endings. I was afraid of this ending.
The first chance I got, I crept out of that tunnel, up through the little gap where the cliffs curved together, squeezing out with my clothes still clenched in my teeth. The sun had just gone down, and the moon had not yet risen. I rolled my shoulders and, for a change of pace, fumbled at the clothes and managed to put them on.
I hadn’t worn clothes for a good long time- several months, at least. The cloth felt so strange against my skin, stiff and scratchy; and what was worse, it smelled of another person. Someone I had never met.
It also smelled like mud.
I prowled around in the darkness, wearing my new clothes and feeling foolish. They made me feel more human, and that was not really how I needed to feel just now. I needed to feel stealthy and sleek and lithe; I needed to feel clever, like I could manage the task of stealing a golem for a second time.
I rubbed my fingers under the neckline of my shirt. What was the point of being a deathless savage when things still made you itch? It made no sense at all.
I was wanting for a bit of blood, but I still had enough in me that I did not feel so weary. If the golem did not force me to wait for sunrise again- and it had lost those dratted bats, so surely it would not- I had more than enough energy for the task.
Once I got the golem back, it could steal me someone else. Someone that, perhaps, the village wouldn’t miss, or at least wouldn’t care so much if they returned as a body on the streets. I’d have to teach the golem the signs of drunkenness and venereal diseases. The thought gave me a bit of perverse pleasure. Teach the thing all about human sin and licentiousness! Perhaps this was how a witch felt when she found a new victim to corrupt.
And indeed, why stop at using the golem to catch the horsemen? If we could gather up the red and the black and finish the whole business, why, it would still be a useful creature to have around. On standby, as it were. It might even like that. The poor creature acted so starved for attention, after all.
I realized I had come to a halt, crouched just before the forest passed out of Muma Balaur’s hands and into Mother Forest’s. It was easy to tell, not just from the feel of the air, but because the tree trunks were so much thicker and the undergrowth so much denser on Mother Forest’s side. I supposed she had her name for a reason.
I chewed a nail, still uncomfortably aware of my clothes. Perhaps it would have been wiser to fold them and leave them, to give myself more room to change, but for some reason I wanted them on me now. Perhaps to spite the golem for leaving them behind.
There was no sense just squatting there like an anxious child. It was not as if my time limit had gone away.
Steeling myself- though I was not quite sure for what- I stepped back into Mother Forest’s territory.
Nothing happened, aside from my leg getting pricked by brambles as I set it down. Right through the skirt. Wearing clothes had been a terrible idea after all. I wrenched the fabric free from where it was caught on the thorns, hissing under my breath.
Somewhere above me, an owl hooted, and the wind swirled through the leaves in the canopy. I glanced up. The stars were less visible here, where the sky was so dense with foliage.
I had a rough idea of the direction of the golem’s hut- when the black cat had scared me off after I saw the golem’s birth, it had taken some time to regroup, and I had spent that time scouting out the place. So at the very least I was somewhat familiar with the terrain. I got out of the bushes and pointed myself in what I hoped was the right way.
There was a sharp scent of flowers on the wind, and soon I came across them: vines, winding around the trees, with great white night-flowers turned outwards. I felt a soft flutter of wings near my ear and ducked reflexively, but it was only a bat, hovering to dip its nose into the center of the flower. It came away streaked with pollen. As it flew it disturbed a cadre of moths resting under a leaf, so that they flapped and shimmered and swirled outwards to seek a better asylum.
With all that, and with a chorus of frogs and crickets starting up in the background, the nighttime seemed to be quite lively. I suppose that it was more comforting than if it had been silent, but moths kept battering up against my face, and the strong perfume of the night-flowers was giving me a headache.
Luckily I soon came into a small clearing, where several tumbled logs lay, covered in dense moss and mushrooms that looked like sets of tiny stairs. I could see the stars again, and that the moon had come out, too, its pale light making the leaves around me shine silver. I took a whiff of the air; it was clearer here, and I could hear quiet water-sounds nearby. Some sort of brook. It seemed that I had gotten turned slightly off course, or else I had started out farther down the dividing line of Muma Balaur’s territory than I had realized. I had no memory of this place.
I fixed my gaze on the stars, altered my course, and set out again, towards the sound of water. Soon I came to a small brook, gleaming with reflected moonlight, its surface dancing with insects. I hiked up my skirts to cross- then froze.
In the air, a sound was drifting: a kind of mournful sound, like an infant’s cry. The noisy chorus of frogs and crickets at once went silent. For a moment the only sound or movement came from the wind.
The cry did not repeat, and slowly the night creatures began to move again, including myself. I stepped over the brook, slapping at mosquitos and midges. I had no idea what to make of the sound, but it had not seemed menacing, only terribly sad. None of my business.
I soon came to another clearing, a much larger one. At first I thought that the dim shapes I saw were more fallen logs, but I quickly realized that this could not be. No- as I stepped forward and squinted in the moonlight- no, I had come across something entirely unexpected.
What I had found were a collection of houses, in what looked like it could have been a village. But I knew that no one had lived in this village for some time. There were trees growing through the houses.
I walked down the slight slope, kicking at the ground. Yes, under a thick mat of dead, slimy leaves, there was a cobblestone path, and farther ahead was a crooked wooden structure with as many gaps as a child’s teeth. It had likely been a church at some point.
It seemed odd to find all of this here, as I was quite deep within the forest. And the buildings did not look terribly old. They were certainly in decay, no doubt about that- the glass in every window was shattered, the roofs falling in and wound in thick ivy, some buildings little more than a single, moss-stained stone wall. But I could see flecks of white paint still clinging to some boards. And the buildings themselves looked just like the ones that I could have seen in any modern village. But for the trees growing through the roofs, I could have imagined this place being peopled only a few years ago.
It was curious, that was for certain, and I was just bending down to peer through a doorway when my ears caught that mournful cry again.
Quick as a mouse, I darted into the rotted house, crouching in the damp leaves on the floor. The cry had sounded quite near this time.
I crouched underneath a broken window, digging my toes into the loam. Several long, black salamanders, disturbed by my movements, came slithering out from underneath the leaves. I flicked one away as it crawled over my bare foot, straining my ears. I thought I could hear something moving, but it was very faint, barely rustling the leaves.
Again came that drawn-out wail, and I jumped, for it was very close now. It was right outside the house.
I grappled with my curiosity for a moment, then gave in and carefully peeped over the edge of the rotten windowsill.
There, standing in the leaves, was the black cat.
I ducked back down at once, hearts hammering. The cat had had his back towards me, tail raised. But if I knew the canny thing, he would soon smell me…
After several frozen seconds, I could not help but peek out again, squinting between shards of filmy glass. The cat was just sanding there, only his tail slowly snaking from side to side. Suddenly he let out another terrible cry.
I swallowed, for the sound now sparked a strange memory in me. Once I had known a cat- it was a very long time ago, I must have been a child in life. It was an old cat. I could not remember what color it was. All I remembered was that one day, as I leaned down to pet it, my fingers had felt a lump on its side, a hard knot. From then on that lump grew, as the cat itself shrank, spine and ribs rising out of its flesh, as though some great, engorged parasite was feeding on its life force: and the cat cried. It cried, and cried, with such terrible pain that I remembered that my child self had wept too, and tried to block it out, turned away…
The black cat wailed again. He turned slightly, so that I could just glimpse the petals of his white flower. They quivered as he called into the night.
What reason, I wondered, could this creature possibly have to make such a racket?
He seemed to be not quite there, for when he took a step forward he wobbled, head swinging, before staggering towards one of the houses. He raised himself and rubbed against the closed door, uttering a little feline whimper, and then darted to the next house. This one had no door left- it had fallen in- and the cat went inside. I saw his little silhouette standing there, and then he mewled softly.
He stood there perfectly still for a moment, something expectant about his silence, and then turned away, stumbling back outside as though drunk.
I slid down from the window and carefully crawled to the doorway. The cat was further on his way, bumping his head against doorposts, occasionally giving another miserable wail. I slipped out of the house and went swiftly in the opposite direction, out of the ruined village and into the trees once more. There was no sign that I was pursued- or noticed.
That had been odd, and no mistake, but all I could make of it was that it was good the cat was preoccupied on the night of my second theft. He worried me more than the witch herself.
I sniffed my way back to the muddy river meadow after that, and then made for the golem’s hut. Not far, I kept thinking, feeling almost gleeful. I was looking forward to seeing the big lump again.
There- the beaten-down clearing, with the roughly-made fence. I cast a sharp glance at the woodpile, but all seemed quiet. The door to the golem’s hovel was closed. I crept across the space and pushed it gingerly in with my fingertips.
It was dark inside, and the moon was at the wrong angle to shed much light through the gaps in the walls. I tugged the door silently shut behind myself and prowled along the back wall. Yes- oh, yes, I had not been wrong. There was that large, looming shape I had been looking for.
And there was another beside it.
This took me entirely by surprise, and I had to stay still a few moments to really be sure I was seeing what I thought I was. There were indeed two golems, side by side, still as statues. One was slightly taller and thinner than the other, and had a different mouth shape- a black O instead of a frown.
The other was most definitely my golem, for it had ten fingers on its hands, and what could have passed as toes on its feet.
I clicked my tongue, looking at the new golem. So she had gone and made another one, had she? Well, it only proved that she didn’t need mine at all. Really, how greedy of her to have taken it back when she had lost it fair and square! I clucked softly, shaking my head, and then bit my thumb hard.
“Don’t mark me.”
I paused, thumb in my mouth.
“Don’t mark me, Gabi.”
It sounded just like the golem’s voice.
“Please,” said the voice, and I felt even more certain that though this sounded like the golem, it was not. Something was different, or changed about it…
I glanced at the second golem, standing there with its clay mouth in a silent gasp, and shivered.
“Why shouldn’t I mark you?”
“Because I must speak with you,” said the voice. Ah, I knew what was different. Where the golem’s voice only had echoes of sadness- of wistfulness- this voice was sadness.
“And who am I speaking to?” I asked, turning back to stare into my golem’s empty eyes.
“Kezia,” said the thing inside the golem. “I am Kezia.”