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In the Attic

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ladder leading to the attic of the Old New Synagogue in Prague

Ladder leading to the attic of the Old New Synagogue in Prague,
where Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel is sometimes said to have hidden
the body of the golem he created
Photo source

Annie was tidying up in the attic when she saw it, a movement, a shadow, out of the corner of her eye, and dropped the rag and the wood polish she'd been carrying.

"Oh!" she screamed, wheeling around to face a large man, with stocky limbs and coarse features, ruddy skin and a mud-brown mop of hair.

"Oh!" she said again, trying to put a cheerful note in it this time. "Hello, didn't see you there!"

The man stepped back and lowered his eyes. "You startled me," she explained. "Not that there's anything scary about you, in particular," except that there was something terribly frightening about that blank face, not to mention that, if she still had a body, he could easily crush it with his hands. She smiled determinedly. "It's just, we rented this place, my friends and me, and we weren't expecting anybody else to be hiding out in the attic."

He lifted his eyes to stare at her again but otherwise didn't move. "And you can see me? So, are you dead too then?" He shook his head. "Vampire? Werewolf? It's all right, you know, nothing to be embarrassed about! Not with this group." She paused. "Which is not to say that you'd necessarily be able to be part of our group and stay here – or that you'd want to! I just mean, the others sometimes get nervous, about who could find out about us, that kind of thing, but it's nothing against you, personally, or what you are, in case that's what's got your tongue."

He pointed to his mouth and shook his head again.

"You can't speak at all?"

No.

"Okay, that's fine. Could you write, do you think?"

The man shrugged while Annie glanced around looking for a pen and paper.

"Right, you stay here, don't move a muscle, back in a tick."

She popped down to the lobby and grabbed the old Honolulu Heights guestbook from the counter.

(It didn't make sense that they should hold onto it, but Annie didn't have it in her to throw it away, not with the memories people had left there. The newlyweds who couldn't afford a real island getaway. The lonely business traveller who wished the newlyweds wouldn't make so much bloody noise. The teenager who wished he could have his own job and be done travelling with his parents.)

"Here you are," she said brightly as she reappeared in the attic, and the man's face startled but the rest of him kept still, as if he were restraining himself with great effort. "I brought –" Annie started. "Say, you…you can move if you want. When I said…" She laid a hand on his broad shoulder and only felt it tense more. "It's all right, go ahead and relax," she said, and finally he slumped and breathed a deep sigh.

"Look," she said, "here's the guestbook, and it seems you're our guest, at least for the moment. Try writing your name. That is –" she was starting to realise she needed to be careful with the instructions she issued – "if you don't think it'll harm you, try writing your name."

He gripped the pen clumsily and made some marks on the page.

"No, other way round, see? Start on the left…" She took the pen from him and wrote her name neatly underneath what he'd done. "I'm Annie, and you are?"

But he made the same three marks again – they weren't just a random scrawl. Peering more closely Annie realised that the symbol on the right looked familiar. "Oh, but that's – hold on, I'll get George."

She stopped herself and added, "Hold on, or sit down, or lie down on the bed, whatever's comfortable, that's all I meant. Make yourself at home."

*

George's mouth and face twisted up as he tried out different sounds, complaining that he hadn't practiced this since his bar mitzvah, that he'd have a much easier time with French or Croatian, before he finally came up with Emmett as a name and their guest smiled and nodded in recognition. He parted the fringe on his forehead and Annie gasped to see the same three letters marked on his skin.

*

The next day Annie asked Emmett to wash the dishes and he kept on washing, clean ones as well as dirty, for two hours, before Nina finally noticed there was no hot water, and Annie went back to the kitchen, turned off the tap, and led him by the hand back to the attic.

He also took making himself at home to mean defending the house against anyone he thought didn't belong there, including Adam, Tom, a pair of missionaries, the gasman, and even Mitchell.

They took to locking the door to the attic.

George sat on the sofa with the guestbook and a book of folktales from the library open on his lap. He covered up the aleph with his thumb and said, "Take it away and you get met. Dead."

"This doesn't even make any sense," said Mitchell. "It's just a mark, it's not even –"

"If it worked for the Maharal of Prague –"

"We can't kill him though," said Annie. "That's not us, that's not what we do."

And Mitchell and Nina looked at the floor, but George said, "He was never alive. The golem was created just to be someone's slave, and that person's abandoned him already. Keeping him like this is what's cruel."

Annie had never seen Emmett look so calm and relieved as when she told him they were going out for a picnic at the seaside. Annie wrapped her arms around his great torso, leaned against his chest, and listened to the waves. Emmet gently guided George's hand as George rubbed the aleph off his forehead, and there was no scream of pain, no door, no static and no forms to sign. Just a mound of sand and clay among so much other sand on the beach. The tide was starting to rise.

Porthkerry Beach near Barry, Wales
Porthkerry Beach near Barry, Wales
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