That all belonged to me.
As I trickled out of Adamina’s memories, the awareness that I was still Kezia filled me with relief and not a little dizziness. I became conscious of my cold limbs again, the erratic beat of my heart, the heavy, comforting solidity of my flesh. Being a golem was so… numb. I had forgotten, or never realized, how dull the senses felt when manufactured through clay.
I felt Adamina’s presence there, too, though faintly; she had pulled away from me. We were still connected, though I did not know how she had managed it. When I had felt the other golem’s mind long ago, it had been through touch, clay to clay, the connection of two hollow spaces. Adamina must have got inside me somehow…
I felt my body contract and shiver, as much as it could in the tight tomb of clay she held me in. My mouth tasted like earth. In truth, Adamina’s memories had not just made my senses feel dulled. When we had been one- or rather, we had been her– I had felt the dullest, flattest sense of being. It was as though everything had shrunk down to a point of cold and calm, and I watched events unfold like a visitor in my own head- her own head, rather. The sense of my own lack of worth had permeated my whole being, but it had not caused me anxiety; indeed, I- she- was strangely comforted by the knowledge. A monster, yes, that was what we- no, I was not!
Having flesh has corrupted you, came Adamina’s voice to my mind. A golem knows better.
In spite of myself, I became somewhat confused. Had I felt differently about things when I had been a golem? Had my feelings, too, been dulled the way hers were? Had I thought myself worthless?
A memory flashed into my thoughts: one of my own, this time. Gabi hissing and spitting at me in the cave. You’re dirt! And I had felt something hot and sharp, and-
The memory of how I had grabbed her and squeezed shamed me, and I pulled back from it. I sensed Adamina watching with interest.
You were angry?
Her puzzlement tickled at me. She did not understand why I should be angry about being called dirt. It was what I was- no, it was not!
Again she withdrew, retracting away into the darkness of her own mind like an eel. It made her thoughts harder to read, but I got the sense that she was frustrated; I was not responding as she had anticipated. Perhaps I had been meant to stay merged with her after we shared the memory; perhaps that had been supposed to overwhelm me. But I had seen my share of terrible things through Kezia’s eyes, too.
She was still eavesdropping on my thoughts, of course, and I felt a question forming in her: why willingly use that name? It was the name of the ghost that had possessed me, used me as a vessel. It could not be my name. I had no name, because I was merely a shell.
I pushed back at this, an angry spark flaring in me; I could choose any name I pleased for myself, including that one, and besides, it had been given to me! I pulled the memory up, triumphant: my farewell to ghost-Kezia in Sorina’s house, her final gifts to me- bones, a name.
Adamina recoiled more swiftly than before, and for a moment I thought she had broken our connection. My awareness of her dwindled to a pinprick, and abruptly I was much more aware of the freezing ache in my stiff limbs, the thin, dry breaths rattling between my lips. The darkness over my eyes. I tried to stretch my legs, and was reminded of how tightly the clay encased me, how helpless I was in her grasp. How long had I already been trapped here…?
It was almost a relief when Adamina trickled back into me, and I was drawn back into her own consciousness, which felt neither stiffness, nor hurt, nor concern for the slow passage of time. The sense of freedom was seductive. I kept myself cautious; gripped tightly on to the fact that I was Kezia, and no other. I would not lose myself to her.
Like a vulture, she circled thoughtfully around my stalwart identity, prodding at it. She still did not understand why I used it. It could not be given. It was not really mine. A golem did not-
I shut her out, fiercely, with another memory- a dozen memories- my name being called, by many mouths: Kezia Kezia KEZIA! Of Gabi prodding at me with her bloody finger and growling, “I’ll have my golem back,” choosing me over the ghost. It was me whom she knew! I WAS KEZIA!
Adamina flickered, for a moment, like a candle flame.
I buried the rabbi’s body in the forest, amongst the roots. I put out the dying lantern and walked back to our home in the darkness, by the moonlight. I felt so very calm and sure of myself; I had done the right thing. I was not to be destroyed. He had given me the order, after all.
These are not my memories-
I went back into the house, shut the door silently behind myself, surveyed the dark, empty room. The stove, the little bed, the meager possessions we had owned. It occurred to me that the rabbi could have used me to make himself a rich man- I could have travelled to faraway places, never needing rest, food, or shelter, and stolen him whatever he liked. I could still shower gifts like that on the village, if I so chose, and make them wealthy and powerful. Safe. Why had he not used me in that way? I would have done it gladly, and it would have been more interesting than playing his wife.
Now that he was gone, though, I could decide for myself how to protect the village. I walked to the little table and concocted a story while I lit a candle. He wasn’t there when I woke up. I searched and searched! Did he go to the forest for some reason? O, God, here is a bloody piece of his shirt!
It took me a few strikes to light the match, and when I did, I saw that the table still had our dishes on it, not yet cleared away before our nighttime walk. I did not need to eat, of course, but the rabbi always poured me a cup of wine, so I could tilt it down my hollow throat and pretend with him.
I took my empty cup, turned it slowly in my hands. The wine had long since seeped into the inner lining of my clay, becoming yet more lubrication for my movement. Across from me the rabbi’s cup was full. He hadn’t drunk a sip tonight. I suppose he had not wanted his nerves dulled when he went to kill his wife.
I replaced my cup, and then picked up my candle and went to the shelf, upon which the rabbi’s holy books and writings lay. Adamina could not read, for she was a woman, and even the rabbi’s wife wasn’t permitted to learn letters. But the golem had many long nights to while away in boredom, and the golem had picked up the pieces of dry parchment that the rabbi had compiled and slowly taught itself to understand the characters there.
אמת. Emet. Truth. The existence of a golem, in one word. It had given me the strangest thrill to read it, for it seemed so forbidden, so sacred. But I also learned that if you took one letter away, the word changed: מת, met, death. The death- or destruction- of a golem. The rabbi had not told me that part.
I learned more, by reading closely, fascinated in a morbid way by the secrets of my own creation. Words themselves had shaped me, and the words could always be changed, by rearranging the letters. There was not just truth and death in my forehead. There was also אמ, em, which meant uncertainty, which could be used to bring a golem under the thrall of a new master. And there was finally את, et, you. This combination, as far as the parchment was concerned, did nothing.
Now for the first time- for I had never dared turn the page before, as it was too much, too disobedient even for me- I looked at the back of the parchment, where the rabbi had scratched his own crude notes, and read his secret words.
Ocher of the earth- drawn in to make colors on the clay. She can pick it up from riverbanks, or the walls of caves…
I paused, touched the word she with one finger.
Perhaps horsehair if she cannot imitate real hair. Clothes I shall have to purchase-
These were old notes, very old. They must have been from before I even returned to the village, when the rabbi and I were perfecting my disguise. He had sorely underestimated me, it seems. I had imitated real hair; I had formed my own clothes from clay, and the people never knew I walked naked among them. I skimmed ahead. There were mainly stray words, blots and scribbles, nothing terribly new to me. At one point he wrote,
Where does earth end and golem begin?
Which was mildly interesting, but nothing followed that thought. Instead he wrote more on pigment, on the coloration of minerals; again I let my eyes buzz over the words until I read the word דבק.
Dybbuk. Malicious ghost. A clinging spirit which refused to fade.
The sentence read, I fear she is a dybbuk.
Her memory is faulty. Her joys are few. There seems to be a silent rage inside of her, which I cannot soothe; I tell her, the soldiers are dead, more have not come back. We are freed. But she cannot grasp this- again and again I find her searching for some danger, looking at her fingers with an expression of horror. She says she smells smoke when there is no smoke.
A few more asinine notes on the lasting properties of silver, of keeping polished letters in his pocket as a safeguard, and then he had written more on the subject of Adamina:
Is her soul still whole? At times it seems she is not my wife at all. I look upon her and see a stranger, a flat-eyed creature who mimics her and smiles at me. She will be haunted, raving, and then in an instant she is calm and mild, gentle and obedient. More and more I fear I do not know who she is…
I had to stop reading, ease my grip, for it had tightened so much it was crumpling the delicate paper. He had- he had known I was there? But my imitation had been flawless! Should I have raged and raved more? But he- he had sensed me there? A strange emotion filled me; I think that it was hope. I read on.
Is a dybbuk a substitute for the real soul? What have I pulled back into this world? Now I suspect that it is not Adamina at all, or if it ever was, the parts of Adamina that were there are now fading away…
Yes, yes, it was me, it was me, I existed! I existed!
…And I am left with a faceless monster. It holds no passion or sympathy. I have watched as it finds mice under the baseboards and crushes them with its hands. It waters the garden Adamina so loved with mechanical indifference. Always, always, it seems to look to me for my reaction, and then it copies what I do, but a moment too slow. I fear what dark purpose may lurk in its thoughts. I feel no love for it. Am I going mad? Is this not my wife? Or was I mad to ever think it was so in the first place?
No, I am mad for making a golem, for it is an affront to God, an insult, a blasphemy. I wrestled with fate when I raised the creature, and this Adamina must be my punishment. As a golem is a wretched imitation of life, so is this thing a wretched imitation of the woman I loved. Yet knowing this, I am still not strong enough to destroy her…
No, it seemed he had been strong enough after all. At least to attempt it.
A faceless monster. An affront to God. A creature that should never have been made.
I existed, but I should not have.
I felt my fingers around the rabbi’s warm neck: yes, I was indeed a monster. He ought to have destroyed me immediately. Because I had gotten free will. Yes, a monster with free will- what could be worse!
YOU ARE ADAMINA!
With a jolt, she was she and I was I again, with my feeling flesh and beating heart. I tried to curl inside my clay tomb, and felt her reeling as well. I had cut through her memory.
That is not my name. Her voice floated up from the depths of my mind, dull-seeming.
What, then, was her name?
I ought to have known already that she had none, with those memories to explain things.
But she existed- she had just admitted it herself. She existed, she had substance. So how was I to refer to her if not by name?
No name. None given, none necessary. No name for a faceless monster.
Again I remembered the curl and stench of my burning fingers, the throb of the rabbi’s pulse as I squeezed.
Did you stay to protect the others? The ones you loved?
No, no, I had never loved; it had all been from Adamina, all left over from her tangled emotions. After I had finished reading the rabbi’s notes I had burned them. And then, for fear that there was something else incriminating hidden in the house, I had burned that, too, and stood within the flames and watched my hands, which did not burn no matter how the flames and the heat licked at them.
And then when I heard the cries of others, of those who saw the house afire, it came to me that I must not stay here, or I might kill them all: for suspicion, you see. I could not be discovered and destroyed. I remembered the rabbi’s note- Where does earth end and golem begin? And I fell back into the earth, and crept beneath the burning house and the feet of the people who watched, and felt the singing of ancient roots within the nearby forest. And I went to them, for I felt a soothing connection with them. The forest was deep, dark, and safe. Humans did not venture there. I would not be found.
You left because you were frightened you might kill them, too.
I left so that I would not be found. It was imperative that I not be discovered and destroyed. This thought soon became all-consuming. Indeed, it was the only true order that the rabbi had left me with, the only one I had ever obeyed. I must not destroy myself. I endeavored to obey it with a monster’s feverish dedication.
Men never walked as deep into the forest as I did. Deep, deep. A sea of trees, with leaves that covered the sky. Beasts no human eyes have seen or will ever see. Soil that is thick with decay; sprouts that emerge from fresh death. Do you not love the forest, Kezia?
I… I do love it.
I loved it as well. I loved it now as I did then.
A tree has no beating heart, after all. A tree is voiceless, nameless. Yet life creeps in every layer of its inanimate flesh, drawing energy from the world.
Trees are not made by men, though.
No… So even trees must have more of a right to exist…
With a sharp tug, I grasped the edge of myself again, peeled back from Adamina. My physical heart was racing. This time I had been perilously close to losing who I was. It had seemed, for a moment, that I was looking at myself through her eyes. A terrible thing was occurring: I was starting to feel sympathy for her.
I pushed back at it, wrestling it away like some persistent attacker. I had worked long and hard to harden my heart entirely against her- I would not let it go to waste! She had done bad things, terrible things, and if I let myself pity her…
Pity me. Her amusement bubbled up into my senses, and I wanted to cringe. It was unavoidable, with us connected like this. Of course I should begin to empathize with her when I had relived her darkest memories, the core of her being. I had to resist it as much as I possibly could if I did not want to be bent into her will.
Bend to me. I am your creator and your destroyer.
What arrogance! When she, herself, had been created by a man- first she said she was less than human, now she was a god?
I am YOUR god.
The declaration was sickly, pervasive; feverishly I searched my head for memories of individuality to buffer myself with. I remembered the time I had stood against a dragon’s fire- meeting Kazimir in the lake- watching Gabi drink the blood of the man I now knew had been Elan, the donor of my first heart- Kezia’s brother. Our brother.
HE IS NOT YOURS!
He was mine, from all the memories she shared with me, mine, from the kindness in his eyes, mine, from the weariness of his heart. I remembered the way he had turned from me in sorrow, the way his spirit had clutched hands with Kezia when they had buried the dead cat on the hill. That all belonged to me! And everything else- the dowdy face of Zakhar, Pascha’s coppery smile, Kazimir’s trails of morose green; all mine. The scent of Sorina’s fresh scones and the smoke that curled from the pipe of Muma Balaur: mine! Noroc’s single eye, filled with ancient remorse, his fragile body, threatening to fall to pieces in my hands- the sight of him, covered with flowers, falling upon Baba Yaga. Even her terrible black eyes were mine! And Gabi-
How could my love for her not be my own? How, Adamina? What could it be imitating?
Silence. Absolute silence. I felt myself start to shiver, my encased legs throbbing and prickling from disuse. It was so very cold, and the taste of dirt still filled my mouth, the smell of it invading my nose. I experienced a most confusing sense of loss, and searched- and searched- and realized that she had finally withdrawn from me entirely.
Falling dirt tickled my elbow, and it twitched. I felt the dry clay crumble apart at my touch. Fresh air teased at my skin, and suddenly I was squirming, kicking, fighting off the grip of the earth. My tomb fell away in plates and pieces, and I clawed with my fingers until they curled into the surface of the earth, upon which I dragged myself, coughing and gasping, leaving a shallow grave behind.
I took a moment to breathe, sucking in the air greedily on my knees, my chest heaving to expand, finally, to its full circumference. My heart thudded in my chest like a blacksmith’s hammer. Not a patch of my skin was not caked with reddish dirt, and my hair trailed it in showers of crumbs with every movement I made. But I was alive. I existed, I was myself, I was Kezia.
A sound made me finally raise my head, after I had crouched there for a very long time. The thin mewl of a cat.