NPR logo The Golem

The Golem

For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

A boy plays piano

Some people swore that the house was haunted even though my son and I were the first to live there. We moved from the old house exactly seven years from the day my wife disappeared in the Colombian rain forest where her fated plane went down. They found no trace of her, other than her carry-on bag and laptop. Several unaccounted for passengers were thought to have hiked away from the wreckage and were presumed lost. No remains were found.

For seven long years I watched my son's anxiety increase in the old house — Her house! She was everywhere, from the scent of her perfume lingering in some rooms, to her taste in wallpaper and furniture.

Her books, including her collection of Yiddish literature left to her by her Holocaust-surviving parents, gathered dust on the shelves. In good days she entertained the boy with stories her mother told her about the "Golem" created from clay from the banks of the Vitava River by the 16th Century Chief Rabbi of Prague, protecting the Jews in the Ghetto from pogroms incited by Emperor Rudolph II. Pronounced "Goylem" by Eastern European Jews, a golem was fashioned from clay and brought to "life" through Hebrew rituals and mystical incantations. Throughout the centuries golems were thought to do their creator's bidding, but in many stories they took on a "life" of their own — doing both good and evil. The Rabbi's golem grew into a monster killing many "gentiles" and terrorizing the population before Rudolph begged the Rabbi to stop it, promising to halt the persecution. Rabbi Loew deactivated his golem by erasing the "Aleph" from the Hebrew word "Emet" (truth) written on its

forehead, leaving "met" (dead). Legend says that the body of the golem was stored in the Rabbi's attic to be brought back to life if the Jews were again threatened.

Despite his weekly visits to the psychologist, my son's night terrors became more frequent. His recurring nightmare was of a golem his mother created from Amazonian clay, into which her soul was transplanted as she performed the ritual of bringing it to life, dying through her efforts. He imagined her golem coming for him, not knowing whether it would be good, or bad. My health suffered from sleepless nights trying to reassure him — giving him false hope — that she was still alive.

Reduced to one income and the economy in shambles, we could only afford to move when she was officially declared dead and the insurance money was released. At fourteen my son would start as a freshman at a new high school, and I prayed a total change in his environment would give us new hope and a chance to enjoy life.

The house was brand new, many miles from the old. Goodwill had taken her belongings. The Synagogue's library had gladly accepted the books. My son had a big smile on his face as he examined his new room. I truly believed we could start a new life.

Two weeks passed when I faintly heard the notes of Chopin's "Nocturne" lilting from the piano in the family room downstairs. It was her favorite and she played it beautifully. She tried teaching her son piano, but he had no ear for music.

I grabbed the baseball bat and slowly moved down the stairs. The music grew louder. As I turned the corner I found my son playing the piano — a body-shaped lump of red clay lay on the floor with the Hebrew letters "met" on its forehead. Nothing was ever the same again after that!