Wrapped up tight, mind hazy, it took me a little while to remember that the sensation I was feeling was cold. Not very cold, just not the warmth of living flesh. Sticky, clinging mud was on my skin, along with a strange weight. My eyes did not open when I asked them to.
I gathered that what was all around me was earth, heavy, cool earth. Like a second golem’s skin over my new flesh. How strange. Once hollowness had been a part of my being, and I had been frightened at the full sensation of inner organs, blood, muscle. But now the stuff inside me was a comforting weight, keeping me grounded close to the earth; it seemed like if I became a hollow golem again I might just float away into the sky from my emptiness. I had grown addicted to the feeling of being alive.
Yet- wrapped in earth- there was still that longing to connect with it again. I strained to feel it, that web; I imagined the worms, the minute white insects crawling through tunnels, the fine roots of plants and the fibrous nets extending below mushrooms, curling and connecting through all. That steady beat of the earth’s heart. It was winter, but nearly warm as spring in the heart of the Starving Forest. It was the warmth of perpetual decay.
There is still some earth in you yet, Kezia.
The silent words came to me, not through my ears but through my skin, and with a jolt I realized that they had come from Adamina. The sticky cocoon of mud I was encased in- was that her doing? Suddenly I sloughed off the confused calmness that had lain over me, traded it for rising panic: where was I? Why couldn’t I move? Was she going to suffocate me? I focused on my breathing, which had long since become automatic for me: no, I was still able to take shallow breaths. There was just enough room for my chest to rise and fall.
Don’t be frightened.
It was a laughable thing for her to say. Again I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids were glued tightly down with mud, my ears stopped with it, my mouth sealed.
Stop reaching for your senses, I heard her whisper, into my skin. They have distracted you from what you really are. But your connection to the earth was never sundered.
I could not speak with my sealed lips, so I could not reply. But she seemed to sense my frantic thoughts.
There is no need for fear; I won’t harm you. My mistress has forbidden it, and in any case, I do not wish to. I am keeping you safe. You were abandoned, my daughter.
Left alone. Left behind. A tool, now no longer needed. A tool, become too broken to be used safely any longer. All that can be done is to discard it.
I could not laugh, but I tried to convey the sentiment. She was trying to convince me that Gabi had willfully left me behind! She underestimated the strength of our feelings, greatly; the strength of my trust for Gabi. I could sense her growing anger when she realized I’d reacted to her words not with distress, but with contempt.
Fool! You don’t know what you are. You don’t know what a golem is.
A golem was something made out of the earth. A golem was a piece of the earth, separated, that began to have its own thoughts.
A golem is a servant, a slave, a tool.
A golem could think, worry, sorrow, imagine things that had not yet come to pass. A golem could learn how to laugh. Adamina should have known all these things. She was a golem too. What other people wanted a golem to be did not change what a golem was.
Now it was she who laughed, a tickle against my skin, and I thought I felt some greater movement, something stirring. Was she doing something? Or was it all in my head? Robbed of all my senses except for touch, I prickled all over..
Who can define you, she asked, besides your creator?
You cannot define me, I tried to think back, defiant.
For some reason, as I waited tersely for her reply, a strange vision flashed into my mind’s eye, like a burst of light. I was looking down into a room filled with people, huddling people, dusty, dirty people, tear tracks on the filthy faces of children, a man prostrate before me, saying words.
The scene ended as abruptly as it had started, and I was left back in the bewildering, senseless darkness, feeling only that distant, dangerous movement.
Ahh, said Adamina. You saw.
Saw what…? What had I seen? The way the vision had come over me was like how the memories of the other Kezia used to assault me- abrupt, intrusive, not mine at all- but the other Kezia was gone, and her memories now part of me.
I’ve found it, said Adamina. Your hollow part. You are still a golem, in the end. Do you know what happens when two golems touch?
At first I could make no sense of her words, but then a memory pricked at me- my own this time- a memory from long ago, when another golem had caught Gabi and I had tried to pull it off… The space inside of me had brushed the space inside of it then. I could recall very keenly the sudden horror of that brush of the other mind, the other golem’s mind, the danger of losing myself to that furious, slavish desire to please Adamina. Please, Mother.
You were made from part of me, daughter, said Adamina. Even this shell you wear now bows to this fact… I think I could take it for myself, if I chose to. Unmake you, take you back where you came from.
I recoiled- hopelessly, my body was caught so tight in the earth- but still I recoiled, best I could, from her foreign presence in my inner self. When two golems touched, they ceased to be individual beings. She was going to devour me.
Now you’re frightened. I felt the buzz of her amusement against my arms and down my spine. But you wouldn’t be, if you knew what I knew. If you felt what I felt. So let me show you.
She surged against me, and I was helpless to prevent those bursts and flashes of foreign memories. Dusty people, praying in a dusty synagogue in a dusty language I knew-did-not-know. Walking into the night, into the trees. Lips against my clay. A man saying, in a weary voice, “I’m sorry.”
I pushed back. I had gone through this before. These were not mine! They did not belong to me! I did not want them!
But I was standing before the dusty congregation again, huddled together as banging and thudding shook the rafters and spilled swirling golden motes upon the air. They looked at me with wide eyes, all of them. And I looked back. Looked back? I had never looked before. I had never known was looking was, that one could look; that so many strange shapes and colors could fill my eyes. I had eyes! And more- a head, hands, legs- I was- I was-
“Golem,” said the man before me, prostrate upon the dirt floor, scooping the dry stuff between his palms. He stood, patted the handful into my shoulder, shaping it, finishing it. I thrilled at the mere idea of it. I had a shape! What was a shape? Oh well, I had one! And this man- I knew, all at once, that he had given me that shape! This man was my- this man was my-
But before I could speak the word, could use my voice- my voice!- to send out a line, a rope, a connection between the man and me, my father and me, something brutally clamped down on my excitement.
He was not my father.
I was bewildered at this strange change, at these strange feelings- surely the man was my father? I could not quite describe what a father was, but I knew that this man would fit the description, for me; and I wanted to please him, to give him joy for the gift of creating me; I wanted to follow him wherever he went and do whatever he asked.
A cold surge in my head, a cold presence: He was not my father. He was my- my-
He was speaking. He said, “Golem. There are men outside, trying to break into this synagogue and kill us. You must go out and drive them away, and if they will not be driven, you must kill them so that we may live. This is my order.”
He touched my forehead with one finger and I felt a haziness come over me. The cold presence lurking in my thoughts seemed to retreat. Now I was certain of one thing: I had to protect the people in that synagogue. My people. It was a surge that came through me from the man’s touch: I had been just born, and only just met them, but I loved them all. I would not let anyone harm them, no matter what.
I turned and went to the door, which was blocked with slats of wood and chairs and an iron menorah and everything that had not been nailed down, and walked through it. Straight through it all. Wood and iron and porcelain ground into dust by my feet. The people behind me cried out in shock and fear; but they had nothing to fear. I had laid my eyes upon those who were going to do them harm. Men. Soldiers. Leather armor. They had hoisted a plank to try and batter the synagogue doors down with, but I had done that for them. My people did not need to shut their doors when I was there to protect them.
The men looked at me in slack-jawed awe. I wondered what they saw. I looked down at one hand: it was formless, fingerless, just a stub of crumbling earth. Dirt tumbled from my shoulders with every move I made. I was not quite solid. If I moved too quickly, would I fall apart?
One of the armored men- soldiers, they were soldiers- made a noise: it was an incredulous laugh. He stared up at me and said something in a language I did not speak.
Drive them away or kill them. This soldier was not backing away; a threat to my people. How did one drive a soldier away? I was not sure- my mind had vague images of driving chickens and sheep, but those were not soldiers, and I did not think the principle would be the same. But I needed to get them to move, and quickly. Their surprise at the sight of me was wearing off. Now one took a hesitant step forward, lowering something in his hands- a long spear- and prodded me lightly in the side with it. When I did not move, he said something in that strange language in a jocular tone.
I grasped the head of the spear and pulled it out of his grasp. It was easy, even with my stumplike hands- my dirt curled around the shaft, just under the point. The soldier, gaping, looked down at his own, empty, five-fingered hands, as if he could not believe it.
I turned the spear upside-down, so that the sharp part faced the earth, and swung the shaft and struck the soldier on the side. I did not mean for it to be a hard blow, just a tap, like the way I could imagine tapping sheep when they began to wander from the herd. But the man cried out and went sprawling on the ground.
At once his companions began to shout, and several of them rushed at me, jumping over the writhing body of their fallen companion, spears angled at me. Dirt flew as the spearheads pierced my chest in several places. I was surprised by the lack of sensation. The men, too, seemed surprised: it seemed that they had expected to hit something inside of me, instead of hollow space, and many fell forwards from the force of their own lunges.
That was foolish of them. Now the barbed heads of their spears were stuck in my chest, at least five of them. I took a step forward, and the men holding the spears staggered back, still connected me. They were still shouting, and I still could not understand the words, but I understood the tones of their voices: anger, confusion, fear.
One man dropped the edge of his spear and tried to scramble past me, pointing at one of my people and yelling. Instantly I put an arm out and knocked him flat on the ground. He had been going for my father! (Not my father.) My father!
I was still holding a spear in one hand. I dropped it, and covered the man’s face with my bare dirt. He would not be driven. If they would not be driven away, there was a second part to the order I had been given. I would have to kill him.
The man gurgled and struggled under my pressure, writhing, pale hands grabbing at my arm. His fingernails dug furrows into my clay. The other soldiers were rushing at me, stabbing me again and again- some took swords and tried to slice at me. When they became an annoyance, I swept my other arm out and pushed them back. Veins popped out of the neck of the man under my hand. His body began to jerk, not a coordinated struggle any longer. My hand covered his eyes, his nose, his mouth- which was open, and filled with my earth. Through his wet tongue, I could feel the pulse of his heart. It beat in time with the tremors that now ran through his body. And one- two- three- four- four- four-
I lifted my hand, the end dark with spittle, from the man’s face. It was slack, his eyes half-lidded, his jaw askew. It looked like I might have broken it when I pushed down. I felt a little sorry about that.
The other soldiers took a little time to even notice that I had let go of their companion, since they were so focused on attacking me. Only when I stood and began to wrench the spears out of my chest, one by one, did they notice something was amiss. One looked down and saw what I had done and cried out, a great, sad, wordless noise.
A man rushed me, howling, swinging a sword. I pushed him back by his head, and again I pushed too hard: there was a loud snap. Another tried to pass me into the gaping opening in the synagogue, and I caught him by the head as well, raising him up and slamming him down. Something warm splashed against my chest and face.
At this, the anger seemed to dissolve from the soldiers into the hot air. They huddled together, backed away. One man said something- and then they all turned and ran from me.
I watched them retreating, some limping, supported by their fellows. It seemed that I should have felt something more, for my order had been fulfilled. Or did this not count as driving them away? Did I have to do more than this?
Behind me, I could hear a ragged cheer rising up from the people huddled together in the synagogue. They were chanting: “Golem! Golem! Golem!”
Was my name Golem?
I started to turn back to them, and then hesitated. Something was not right. Something had happened. I should have felt something, for completing my task.
Your task is not complete.
Was it not? Had I not driven them away?
These soldiers, whispered a cold voice in my mind, will come back with more. We must not let them tell the others what has happened, if we want to protect our people.
That was no good! Then, that was why I felt like this. I was not yet finished. My problem was not solved. How would I keep them from bringing back others?
We know what we must do.
I began to move forward- slowly, at first, then more quickly, moving to match the pace of the struggling, stumbling soldiers. The cheers behind me faltered.
“Where are you going?”
“Come back! Don’t follow them!”
Then I heard him speak:
“Turn and walk back to me,” he said, my father-not-father. “I order you.”
An order. I knew that I must obey him. And yet, for some reason, my body did not move to do so. I looked down on my chest and saw warm, red drops of blood arranged in an arc. I felt it on my face, my forehead.
Don’t let them escape.
These were my people, and I needed to protect them. Of course. I began to move again, ignoring the cries behind me- the fear, the confusion, the anger; again. One of the soldiers, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of his companion, looked back and saw me. His face went white as the blood drained away.
I killed them all. It was easy.
And yet- when I stood over the bodies, all of them dead, all of them silenced- I still did not feel the relief I had been looking for. What now? Still not enough? Who else did I need to destroy to protect them? I looked around, searching for any enemy on the horizon. There had to be some danger left, something I needed to do. And as I looked around, I realized…
Outside the synagogue, there were many more things that I had not yet seen. A dirt path, crossing towards other houses. Some of them were charred and burned, others had splintered doorframes. Along the dirt path grew yellow and white flowers, and beyond the path grew grass, and more flowers. There were sheep on a nearby hill. Some of them were dead, but the others were moving around, eating grass. Around the sheep was a wooden fence. Beyond the fence, there were many trees. Trees! I had never seen them before, but I knew them as soon as I looked at them: dark strong trunks with wrinkled bark, branches splitting into branches into twigs and into leaves! And wound around the trees, where they stood like living pillars, were other things: little vines and bits of moss and beetles and the bright eyes of birds between flickering leaves.
Oh! I stepped over the pile of bodies, towards the trees. Their branches waved in the breeze, as though they were welcoming me. There were so many trees, all pressed up close together, so that the further I looked the more they seemed to merge into one great wooly green being covering the land. The ground sloped down, and at the edge of the trees I saw gleaming blue water. A lake. The breeze ruffled the surface into little wavelets. I was entranced. How could there be so much to see? I raised my eyes to look beyond the trees and beyond the lake, beyond the mountains that rose in the distance, and saw the blue- the blue- sky, that was what it was. There were white clouds that reminded me of the sheep on the hill in front of me, but much, much bigger. How far did the sky go? I tried to look beyond it, to see what else there was to see, tilting my head back and back, until I looked up, and saw only blue.
I heard the footsteps coming up behind me, and turned to see the man who had created me walking rapidly along the path, panting harshly. His dark, bearded face was lined with sweat, his eyes fearful. The yarmulke on his head told me (reminded me) that he was a rabbi. He was a stout man, but not fat, but not muscular either; a man of middling height, not tall, not short; an older man, not aged, but growing closer to it. As he stopped walking, a few feet away, and stared at me, I was struck with such a fierce feeling that it nearly made me stagger. I loved this man. I wanted to run to him and hold him in my arms, kiss his cheeks, weep into him. But I did not do any of those things. I stood still, and stared back.
The rabbi caught his breath, one hand on his heart, and swallowed. Sweat dripped off his beard, and he leaned away from the bodies of the soldiers on the ground, as though he did not like to be near them. I wondered why that was- had he not ordered me to do what I had done? Should he not be pleased with me? A wave of sadness washed over me, and I sagged, shedding particles of reddish dirt onto the dry, dusty path between us.
He twitched in surprise at this motion, and cleared his throat.
“Golem,” he said, “I am still your master. Kneel down before me.”
How strange. Again I did not feel compelled to obey the order, not ecstatic to do as he pleased. But I was supposed to, I knew; and then I began to feel sorry for not listening to him when he had asked me to stop before. Maybe that was why he seemed unhappy. Well, I had done what I needed to do to protect my people, so I could not regret it. But maybe if I knelt down now, he would be pleased with me.
I crouched slowly, lowered one leg at a time, and bent them- I did not have knees, really- to kneel before him, my head lowered. From this position I could not see his face, but I could hear the air escaping his lips, a long sigh. He was relieved.
“You have done well,” he said, and the words seemed to float into my hollow chest and expand there, filling me with joy. But he was not done speaking.
“You have fulfilled your purpose. I gave you the word of truth, but I will not fool myself to think I have created life. Only God can do so. So I must take away your truth now, Golem.”
I followed along with his words, but I was not sure I understood them. He was going to take away my truth? Would I have to lie to him? And I had fulfilled my purpose? Already?
The rabbi hesitated for a moment, and I turned my head up, to look into his face. He swallowed, and reached towards my forehead.
“I love you,” I said.
…No, I had not said it. A voice had come out of me, but it was not mine. The first words I had spoken, and they were not mine. A coldness seemed to seep through my thoughts. I tried to move my arm, to touch my whirling head, but it would not move.
The rabbi’s expression splintered and cracked behind his beard. His eyes grew dark and wet.
“No!” he cried. “No, do not speak! It’s not- it’s impossible!”
“I know what you must do,” said my voice. “I won’t stop you. But I never got to say it before they killed me, Moshe. I want you to hear it before my soul is gone. I love you.”
My head bowed, but it was not under my control.
“Now destroy me.”
No! What was I- they- she saying? Destroy me? I did not want to be destroyed! I had only just been made! I had only just learned that sheep and the sky and trees and people to protect existed in the world! What would happen to me when I was destroyed? Would I become like the men whose bodies lay beside us in the dirt- frozen and empty? Or- or- or what, I did not know, but I did know that I did not want to stop being!
But she swept over me with her cold, cold thoughts, pushing me aside, taking my hollow space for her own.
“Adamina,” said the rabbi, and he fell to his knees before me, covering his face with his hands. “Adamina! It can’t- it can’t be true! What have I done?” For a moment he stayed silent, shuddering behind his hands. Then, slowly: “Is it really you in there?”
“I’m not alive again,” my voice said. “Don’t be deceived. Perhaps God is testing you- or us both. But I died. I remember dying.”
I did, too. Her death. So sudden. Smoke- choking- burning- terrible pain. A cowardly attack in the middle of the night. She rolled out of bed, but never made it to the door. Everything burned to ash.
The rabbi was weeping.
“How can I destroy you, Adamina? How can you ask this of me?” He looked to the sky. “How can this be!”
“I know what I am,” my voice said. “You must do it.”
I know what I am. She knew who she was? Was she the golem- me- myself? Then what was I? Why could I not- move, or speak? What was I- caught here as these two spoke, unknowing, uncaring for my presence?
The rabbi was shaking his head, looking away, looking everywhere but at me. He looked at the bodies of the men on the ground. Flies had already began to land on their eyelids.
“You killed the soldiers,” he said.
No. I had killed the soldiers.
“I did,” said Adamina. “They were going to kill you, and everyone else.”
I did it! I did!
“But they were running away. They were running away!”
“They would have come back, with help. And we would all be slaughtered like pigs. You know this.”
Finally he looked at me, searching my hollow eyes with his own.
“I don’t know this, Adamina. I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe they would have been too frightened to come back. Maybe they would have prayed to their gods and come to their senses.”
At these words, I felt a stab of anger- not hers, mine.
“They killed me!” she shouted, and smacked my chest with my arm. “And now I am this! This monster!”
The rabbi moved- reached out and grasped my arm, that thick shapeless stub, his fingers gentle against the earth.
“You are no monster,” he said. “Never let me hear those words. I love you too. I love you still. Please… don’t leave me again.”
He said he loved me. But he did not mean me. I felt the anger- her anger- drain away, replaced by sadness, and that aching love. Not my love. Her love, for her husband. All along it had been her love. All along it had been her desire to protect the congregation. All along- it had all been hers.
It was not mine, I realized then. None of it was mine.
Adamina was hesitating, my- her- arm in his grasp. I felt a trickle of warmth seep through that cold. She had been hiding it. From the moment she first spoke, she had been hiding it: she did not want to be destroyed, either. Otherwise, she would have never spoken up at all, and we both would have perished.
She had told the rabbi, “Don’t be deceived.” But he was deceived. And I had been, too.
“You can’t keep a golem around,” she said, though her voice was weaker. “They don’t last. They grow destructive.”
“But you’re Adamina,” said the rabbi. “Not just some golem. You’re my wife.”
“I am,” said Adamina, in a soft voice.
I am. I am what? What am I?
“I can barely feel your touch,” she said, still soft. “I can’t cry. How can I…”
He squeezed my- our- her arm.
“I will search the old books,” he said. “I’ll read everything on golems. I’ll keep you safe. Promise me Adamina, promise me you won’t try to destroy yourself again.”
“I won’t,” she whispered, as though he still had us under his command. And it was so.
How strange. Once I realized that everything had come from Adamina- everything: the love, the anger, the names for trees, what the sky was, everything– once I realized that, I felt nothing at all. How could I? Things were not mine to feel. Adamina’s memories told me what a golem was, what it was meant for. She had spoken of it often with the rabbi, when they realized the growing danger that they and their people were in. Spoken of creating something for protection, a mighty knight, one who did not feel hunger, thirst, pain, fear. But a dangerous creation, from the stories. Only as a last resort, and never kept animated for long.
So I was only that. I understood, and I stopped trying to move. The rabbi was right. My purpose had been fulfilled. My voice, my body- they had never belonged to me in the first place. There was no need to struggle!
How strange. The rabbi told Adamina to hide herself in the forest, and there we stayed, silent, alone with her thoughts. They circled around themselves, but always came back to the same places, like a window shutter flapping in the wind. Adamina thought about her death. Vividly, she remembered everything: the pain, the sight of her own blackening fingernails, the quilt her mother had sewn as a wedding present shriveling and going up in flames around her waist. But somehow it was so vivid that maybe it had not happened at all, like a fever dream. Maybe Adamina was not dead. If she was here, how could she be dead?
I could not have my own thoughts on the matter, so I merely stayed silent and observed.
The rabbi pored over the ancient texts, the darker ones, the deeper ones. He found more things about golems. Not ways to make them feel touch, or cry, but ways to make them appear more human. He brought this knowledge back to Adamina, and soon a new woman came to the little village. Many murmured that she looked nearly identical to the rabbi’s deceased wife. But it was not as though anyone had seen what she looked like recently to refresh their minds. It was probably a coincidence. And who could blame the rabbi for growing so interested in the new, strange woman, and choosing to make her his wife, after all? Every man has looks he prefers in a woman.
How strange. It seemed like sometimes the rabbi’s new wife would mention something to the villagers that she should not have known, something from the past. It seemed like the rabbi sometimes slipped up and called her by his dead wife’s name. It seemed like nobody ever saw the rabbi’s new wife sleeping, or eating. It seemed like if you looked close enough into her eyes, you could see the back of her hollow head.
And Adamina grew restless. The shutter banged unceasingly against the windowsill. Now that she had a body that looked like her own, she was nearly certain she was not dead. How could she have died, and come back to life? Why was she pretending to be someone she was not, to know nothing about her friends and family? It was frustrating. She could remember everything about the past, everything- but when new babies were born in the village, she struggled to recall their names, asked their mothers each time, until the mothers all looked at her strangely. When the old well dried out and a new one was dug, she kept walking to the old spot for water, drawing up the empty bucket over and over again, miming the action of pouring it over the garden.
And more and more, the rabbi frustrated her too. “Don’t touch me,” she said, more and more insistently, whenever he reached for her. “I can’t feel it. I can’t feel you. I hate it.” And she would look up at the blue sky and find it pale and dull, like everything else.
How strange. After a few years, there came stretches of time where Adamina was not there at all.
It was startling, the first time that it happened. We were waiting for the sun to rise, and for the rabbi to wake up, so we could begin our day. As usual, Adamina was impatient. She paced endlessly on the dirt floor, around and around the cold stove, which she could not light too early. Everyone was already suspicious of her- she could not cook the rabbi’s breakfast until it was a reasonable hour for smoke to rise from the chimney. It drove her mad. Why were they so nosy and interfering?
And then, midstep, we toppled over with a crash, knocking the cast-iron pot down from its hook on the chimney.
At first I did not understand. Our body had stopped moving. I waited for her to pick herself up. But it was as though- it seemed- I could not feel her anxious, buzzing thoughts, ever spinning in place like a fly with one wing- I could not feel her at all.
The rabbi leapt up from the bed at the sound of the crash.
“Adamina! Are you all right? What happened?!”
I did not answer, did not move: his face grew steadily more concerned. I waited for Adamina, but she did not appear. Slowly it occurred to me- could I move for her?
“A-” began the rabbi, but stopped. I was pushing myself back up, slowly, getting to my feet. Yes. My feet. I could do it. I could move this body.
I picked up the fallen pot and placed it back on the hook.
“Say something,” urged the rabbi, gazing into my eyes.
I had never spoken, in my entire existence. She had always done the speaking. I did not even know if I could speak at all. But I did know Adamina, far better than anyone, and I knew just what she would say.
“I am- I’m fine. Are you awake now? Shall I make breakfast?”
The rabbi’s expression changed, from panic back to its usual weariness. Grey had crept into his beard over these past years, and he was no longer stout, but growing gaunt.
“The sun hasn’t yet risen,” he said. “But I’ll stay awake with you.”
“Don’t bother,” I said- Adamina’s voice, her words, but it was me saying them. “Get your rest. I can wait; I’m used to it.”
And I was. I was very used to it.
Adamina returned soon after the rabbi went back to bed, her anxious thoughts picking up abruptly where they had left off. She had not even noticed anything had happened to her, to us; she didn’t seem to realize that she had lost several minutes of time. But I did. And I remembered it.
It happened again, and again. I grew quicker at making the transition, so that we did not shudder to a stop when buying eggs, or tending the garden, or watching the children while the congregation prayed. I remembered where the new well was, and the names of the new infants. I knew the words which best soothed the anxious rabbi, and I pretended I did not know the stories that the other wives told me already when they gossiped while waiting for the men to return from prayer. I was better at being Adamina than she was. And by the time she began to realize it, it was too late.
She had grown weak. I could take control of our body even while she was still there. When it finally dawned on her, she collapsed into bewildered rage, a prisoner banging on the walls and shouting at a jailor she didn’t even know the name of. She didn’t know me at all. If there had been a few moments where she had known I existed- back when I was first created, and she spoke to me- she had swept that aside, and now thought I was some foreign intruder, taking over her body. She raged, and raged, and forgot why she was raging, only to try to move and scream soundlessly when I didn’t let her. Endlessly, like an infant.
I found myself amused by it. How could I possibly let this fading ghost move our body again? She was making a mess of things, and I was putting a great deal of work in trying to fix them. The rabbi was soothed, and sleeping better. The wives now treated me as a friend instead of some madwoman. The men didn’t mutter as I passed. I was fulfilling her duties- her purpose- perfectly.
It would have been nice, I reflected, as my prisoner moaned and whimpered in the back of my head, if the rabbi would notice, and tell me once again that I had done well. But of course he did not know I existed at all.
How strange. Things were always changing. All things must come to an end. I was perfect in the role of Adamina, without any mistakes, until I made one. Just one. One of the neighbor’s children, playing with a scythe behind the barn, pretending to be a soldier. I reached to take it from him, scolding, and the blade sliced off my finger. The boy turned around and gaped at the hollow stump it left behind: no blood, no bone, just a ring of earth.
Quickly, in a swift motion, I broke his neck.
The rabbi, running towards me. Oh dear. I’d forgotten that he’d been out here, watering his cabbages. He’d seen everything, and his face was a mask of horror.
I tried to explain. “He cut off my finger- he saw what I am. He would have told the others. They would have come back, with help.”
“Adamina,” he repeated, as though too stunned to say anything else. “Adamina.”
“If they know I’m a golem, things won’t go well,” I tried to remind him. “We can say the boy fell from the roof of our barn. I was still holding the body in my arms; hastily, I dropped it on the ground. “It’s happened to children before.”
The rabbi’s face slackened, then smoothed, and he said, “Yes, I suppose that’s what we must say.”
Murderer, whispered Adamina, from the mostly-forgotten corner of my mind. Monster.
I ignored her. She didn’t exist, as far as I was concerned. No, what concerned me now was the rabbi. He was staring down at the little boy’s body.
“Adamina,” he said. “After it gets dark, let’s go on one of our walks. Like we used to.”
We had used to go on walks. Only, that was when Adamina had still been in control, fretting about how she couldn’t sleep. She would walk through the dark woods with the rabbi until soothed, or until he grew too exhausted and she had to carry him home.
“I would like that,” I said, looking into his eyes. But I did not like what I saw there.
After sunset, the rabbi led me into the trees, along our old path: one of the many thin deer trails that snaked through the trees. Woodcutters sometimes used this trail, as evidenced by the many stumps we passed along the way. I hated the sight of the exposed, naked wood, the empty space left behind in the canopy. I hated watching them strip the branches away from the trunks and slice them up.
“Let’s rest here,” said the rabbi, placing the lantern down on a stump. “Sit with me for a moment. I want to speak with you.”
He kissed me on the cheek. It was sudden; he had not done so in such a long time that I froze. As though he’d done nothing out of the ordinary, the rabbi sat down, patted the ground beside him.
But I did not sit. I looked around. I did not recognize this part of the forest. It couldn’t be too far from the village, since there were still stumps, but we had certainly walked quite far in. I was beginning to grow suspicious. The rabbi might not let the death of the child go so easily. Well, he ought to know that it was the only thing I could have done. The little boy would have told the others. They would have come back to destroy me. I had to stop him before that happened. The rabbi should have realized that I was protecting him, too.
When we had given the boy’s mother the body, she had cried terribly hard. Her wails had echoed through the village. It had been quite irritating, for it made the rabbi keep looking at me with an ashen face.
“Adamina,” he said now. “Please. Sit.”
I looked down at him, and did not sit.
“Why have you brought me out here? Is it about that boy?”
The rabbi swallowed. It was a cold night, but I saw a drop of sweat fall from his beard.
“Yes- some of it. But that’s not the only thing… There have been other… moments. I feel as though you’ve… changed.”
He looked away. I was stunned. Me, changed? How so? I had been perfect. I had done everything right. I had worked to make every bit of his life a happy, peaceful one. I had taken care of everything.
“It might… be time,” said the rabbi. “I- I’m sorry.”
And then I knew. Of course. Of course. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done well. I had forgotten just what I was. Not human. Just earth. And I must have finally fulfilled my purpose. It was time for disposal.
I waited for some snide comment from the real Adamina, but she was silent. She had been so for a long time.
“I understand,” I said.
He looked up at me, surprised, as I took his hand, and drew him back to his feet.
“Of course.” I smiled at him. I did understand. “But, Moshe- do you remember what you made me promise, a long time ago?” I put one hand on his cheek, slid it down to his neck. “You made me promise not to let myself get destroyed.”
His face went white.
“That is not my name,” I said, and then I killed him.