Charlie and the Golem Pt. 1

Image by Esther Chilcutt from Pixabay

Charlie was spending a week with his grandparents while his mom and dad went on another one of their “trips”. They did this a lot, never taking Charlie with them because the trips were, as they told always told him, “boring, old work trips”. He knew better though. Oh, that story had worked well enough when he was a kid, but he was 13 now and could spot their bullshit a mile off. He didn’t care though. While his mom and dad didn’t seem to want him around, his grandparents were another story. They loved him. Even better, his granddad, a retired college professor and a collector of old books, had a massive library. And, Charlie loved books. And, a book is where he learned about golems

“Granddad, What’s a Golem?”

The thing about books was that they had always been there for him. They didn’t tease, bully, or make fun of him. They didn’t pretend to be his friend and then leave him high and dry when someone “better” came along. Instead, they took him on glamorous trips that made the ones his parents went on look ridiculous. Books were his refuge and his favorite place in the whole world was sitting in one of the big comfy chairs in his grandfather’s library buried deep in the pages of some volume of forgotten lore.

That was where he first read of golems. He wasn’t sure he understood what they were, so he thought he’d ask his grandfather. It was a good plan, he thought, because his granddad had always encouraged him to ask questions. Only, this time, it didn’t go quite like he’d thought it would. During lunch, as his grandmother placed steaming bowls of homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches right off the griddle in front of them, Charlie offhandedly asked about golems.

“Granddad,” he said, “What’s a golem?”

His grandmother was so surprised at his query that she spilled soup on the table. “Oh, look at me,” she said, as she blotted it up with a napkin. “I’m so clumsy.” After a moment, she said, “Well, that’s not going to get it all. Let me get some paper towels.” Charlie noticed her glance at his granddad as she headed for the kitchen. He also noticed his granddad hadn’t looked away from him since he’d asked about golems.

“Where did you hear that word, Charlie?”

“Golem?” he said. “It was in a book in the library.”

“Which one?” his granddad asked.

“It was called, ‘The Golem‘,” Charlie answered. “I can’t remember the author’s name, but it sounded Eastern European.”

His grandfather nodded saying, “Was it Gustav Meyrink?”

“That’s it,” Charlie answered.

“Mm-hmm,” his grandfather said. “What do you think a golem is?”

Charlie sat for a moment, trying to put his thoughts into words. Finally, he said, “It’s hard to say. I mean, it seems like the golem in the story is a. . ., not a person, but a thing. Only, you almost never see it.”

His granddad nodded again. “Very good, Charlie. In that story, Meyrink is using the golem as a representation of the spirit of the ghetto where it’s set. That’s a very advanced concept for someone of your age to pick up on.”

While Charlie swelled with pride at the compliment, he felt like his grandfather was dodging the question. “Thanks, Granddad,” he said. “But, what is a golem? That’s the part that I’m that struggling with.”

“Well,” his grandfather said, “According to Jewish legend, a golem is a creature made of something like dirt or mud that is brought to life by incantations and strings of Hebrew letters. They’re intended to be a helper, a companion, or even a protector of its creator. In some stories, the golem is bound to do its creator’s bidd—” He was cut off by a loud clatter of pans in the kitchen.

“Jacob,” Charlie’s grandmother called, “I need you.”

His grandfather laughed and rose from his chair. “Duty calls, Charlie. We’ll talk about this more after I clean up whatever mess your grandmother has made.”

Some Things Are Best Left Alone

Only, they didn’t talk about it anymore. When Charlie tried to bring it up, his grandfather brushed it off and changed the subject. When pressed, his grandfather told him that some things were best left alone. Especially things he didn’t understand. Besides, his grandfather added, it was all just an old wives tale and there was really nothing to it, so why bother? It was the first time his granddad had ever refused to answer one of his questions and that bothered him.

He suspected his grandfather’s reticence was connected to the hushed conversation he heard coming from the kitchen after his granddad walked through the door. His suspicion grew when he couldn’t find the book that had brought all this on. Other books were also missing, mostly ones about Jewish mysticism, a subject Charlie found fascinating. There was, however, one book left in the section where he’d found The Golem only it was in Hebrew and he didn’t read Hebrew. It was titled “סֵפֶר יְצִירָה‎” and his curiosity was piqued. Knowing better than to tempt fate by asking about it, he pulled out his phone and took a photo of the title. He’d google it later and see if he could find a translation.

It took everything he had not to look for it right away but he knew he had to wait so as not to get found out. Not that his grandparents might punish him, they’d just be disappointed and that was the last thing he wanted. That waiting was helped, however, when his grandparents wouldn’t leave him alone near the library for more than a minute or two the rest of the day. They also monitored his computer usage more closely than usual. His grandfather tried to play it off by acting like it was all spontaneous, but he knew. They tried to contain his knowledge but the downfall in their plan was their lack of technological savvy. Neither used a smartphone and it didn’t seem to occur to them that he had a computer in his pocket all the time. It was just a waiting game from then on.

That night, he waited for them to go to bed. Then, he waited even longer until he was sure they were asleep. Once he felt sure, he opened his camera app and did an image search. Almost instantly, it came back, informing him that he was looking at the Sefer Yetzirah, also known as The Book of Formation or The Book of Creation. He wanted to read more about it but he heard his grandparents’ bedroom door open and someone step out. Quickly, he cleared the screen and lay his phone on the nightstand, pretending to be asleep. Good thing, because he caught a glimpse of his grandmother looking in on him. He decided that just to be on the safe side, any further investigation should wait until tomorrow.

A Day in the Park

He spent the next morning doing his best to act as nonchalantly as possible, and not raise any suspicions in his grandparents. He still felt like they watched him more closely than usual but maybe not as tightly as the previous day. As he lay in bed the night before, he’d come up with a plan. Last year, his mom and dad had gotten him a bike to keep at his grandparents, so he could “get out, exercise, and have some fun.” It may have been more about their guilt at leaving him alone so much (if they felt any and Charlie wasn’t sure they did) than any genuine care for his well-being, but a bike was a bike in Charlie’s mind. He’d wait until after lunch before saying he was going for a bike ride. Once he was out of sight, it was research time.

By the time he’d eaten lunch and was ready to put his plan into action, Charlie was almost vibrating with excitement. So much so, that he was afraid he’d slip up and give away his plan. As cooly as he could, he told his grandmother, “I think I’m going ride my bike a little, Gran.”

She looked at him for a moment and he thought she was going to say no, but then, just as he was about to back out, she said, “All right, dear. Have fun.” As he headed out the door, she called, “Be back by 4 o’clock. Your granddad wants to go to the cafeteria for dinner tonight.”

“I will, Gran,” he said as he headed out.

A Disappointing Result

As Charlie pulled his bike out of the shed, he wanted nothing more than to jump on and fly down the driveway. Instead, he played it cool, taking it slow and stopping to look both ways before turning onto the street. He knew his grandmother often watched until he was out of site to make sure he was safe. In one of his father’s rare unguarded (and present) moments, he had told Charlie that she did the same when he was a kid. It was just a “mom” thing, his father had said. As soon as he turned the corner, all semblance of control and patience left him, and rode as hard and as fast as he could, making it to the park in record time.

For all the effort he put in, the Sefer Yetzirah was a bit disappointing. Not that it was bad, or didn’t contain what he was looking for. The problem was that he couldn’t understand it. A quick Google search had brought him an English translation, but even so, he still couldn’t make sense of it. He’d read a couple of similar things before, but always had his granddad to fall back on for help with the parts he didn’t understand. That wasn’t an option this time. Plus, it seemed to be more about math than a book on ancient Jewish mysticism and math just wasn’t his thing. He tried a little longer before finally giving up and googling “golem”. This is what I should have done from the beginning, he thought.

That night, he lay in bed, turning over all the information his search had turned up. Not only did he find out more about golems, he’d even found a site that told him how to make one of his own. It wouldn’t be easy and seemed to require a lot of knowledge, time, and meditation, but if he could pull it off, he might finally have a friend. A real friend, one who would always be there for him, unlike his parents or his classmates. That would be worth a lot of knowledge, time, and meditation.

Making the Golem

This time, it had to work, Charlie thought as he trudged out the back door. He’d waited until he got back home because he knew the perfect spot to conduct his “experiment”: the garden shed at the edge of their backyard. It was a good choice because his parents never went out to it; they were not the gardening type. His father was an investment banker who worked even when he was home. His mother, freed of the demands of work due to her husband’s substantial compensation package, spent most of her time enjoying lavish lunches at the country club with her friends. Between that and their frequent trips, neither had much time for gardening. Or Charlie, for that matter. Normally, it irked him that his parents were so absent, but this time, it worked in his favor. And, he was taking advantage of it.

As he stepped into the shed, he could see the pile of clay in the shape of a man laid out on the floor. Digging it from the clay bank by the creek and hauling it up to the shed had been some of the hardest work he’d ever done. If this worked, however, it would all be worth it. The problem was, it wasn’t working and he wasn’t sure why.

He tried several different things (who would have thought there would be so many methods?) but not one of them elicited even the tiniest glimmer of life from his golem. Of course, there were several he couldn’t try—the most famous one required multiple people chanting formulas and circling the figure, and that required friends he didn’t have—while others called for a deeper knowledge of Hebrew than he could muster. Today, he intended to go over his preparations closely and make sure they were correct. It was all he could think to do.

The Names of G-d

After about 30 minutes of poring over the Hebrew letters he’d used to write the various names of G-d necessary for the golem’s creation, he found the problem. The aleph in “אמת” he’d written on the figure’s forehead was wrong. Damn. He wet his thumb with his tongue and rubbed out the offending mark. Then, he picked up his stylus—a shaping tool he’d “liberated” from a sculpting kit his mother had forgotten about—and, holding a printout of an aleph, meticulously inscribed the letter into the clay.

It took several attempts, but he was finally satisfied with the result. Then, he sat back pulled a notebook out of his backpack, and began to chant the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in pairs. He’d watched multiple videos to learn how to say them correctly, then practiced for almost a week before he felt confident enough to try again. He shifted a bit to get comfortable. This was going to take a while.

He went through the 221 gates and then did each letter with a vowel sound. He completed the second stage, combining each letter with a letter from the Tetragrammaton (YHVH). Still, nothing. The clay just lay there like, well, a lump of clay. He realized it was getting late and decided to pack it in for the evening. He needed to get cleaned up before dinner. His parents wouldn’t notice if he was dirty, but Marta, the housekeeper would and he always tried to stay on her good side. If she was happy with him, he would get extra little treats like a larger serving of dessert or a later bedtime. If she wasn’t, well, he’d experienced that once and did not want to again.

Diving Deep

Charlie spent that night and the next morning practicing his pronunciation and scribing aleph after aleph to get it just right. He kept at it on the ride to school, going over the correct ways to say each name and combination and writing out that aggravating letter repeatedly. He was so intent that the family’s driver, Lewis, asked what he was working on so hard. Charlie made up a quick fib that seemed to satisfy the man and got back to it. He hated lying to Lewis since he was, aside from his grandparents, the only adult who was nice to him. But this was more important than a servant’s feelings.

He continued his deep dive even during school, paying just enough attention that his teachers wouldn’t notice what he was up to. It wasn’t hard, he seemed to blend into the background most places he went, which probably had something to do with his lack of friends. That usually bothered him but it worked in his favor now because it meant no interruptions. Or so he thought.

What a Fucking Asshole

At lunch, he went through the line and ate as quickly as possible, then proceeded outside to work on what he had taken to calling “his secret project”. Sitting on a bench in the courtyard, carefully scripting alephs, he didn’t hear Bradford Carrington and his crew approaching. In fact, he didn’t even realize they were there until Brad reached out and snatched his notebook away, saying, “What are you doing, nerd?” his followers dutifully laughing.

“Hey, give that back!” he snapped. Brad’s family was old money and looked down on Charlie’s, considering them “nouveau riche” as Charlie’s dad had an actual job. The adults would never say so out loud, but Brad lacked their sense of propriety and lorded his station over Charlie at every opportunity.

“Well, what have we got here?” Brad said, snidely. He turned the book several times, trying to make sense of the writing.

Garrett Parkinson, Brad’s number two, said, “That’s just marks on paper. What the hell?”

“It’s not ‘just marks on paper’,” Charlie said, “It’s a letter of the Hebrew alphabet called ‘aleph’.”

Garrett, wrinkled his nose like he’d smelled something awful. “Ugh, Jewish,” he said.

Charlie sighed. Once again, he would have to explain something to these wealthy, yet oh-so-closeminded boys. “It’s not ‘Jewish’. It’s Hebrew.”

“What’s the difference?” Garrett said. Even Brad rolled his eyes at his toady’s ignorance.

“Hebrew,” Charlie said, “Is a language. ‘Jewish’ is an ethnicity.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, trying his best to imply that Garrett was an idiot. He usually got away with it, but Brad, sensing an opportunity to make things worse for Charlie, spoke up.

“Did you hear how he said that Garrett?” he said with an evil grin. “I think he thinks you’re stupid.”

“Is that right, you little shrimp? You think I’m stupid?”

Charlie was a bit small for his age, but “shrimp” was overstating the case. Of course, it made a certain amount of sense that Garrett, being the biggest kid in their grade, would choose that insult. Charlie stood up but didn’t respond. He’d learned long ago that what was going to happen would happen and speaking would most likely just make it worse. Garrett reached out for him while drawing back a fist but Brad intervened.

“Don’t,” he said. “Too many teachers around. You can pound him some other time.” He turned his attention back to Charlie’s notebook. “Why are you writing Jewish letters over and over?”

Charlie resisted the temptation to roll his eyes at Brad’s deliberate mischaracterization. Instead, he said, “My granddad is teaching me to read and write Hebrew.” He’d come up with the lie in case an adult inquired but it worked here, too.

“Oh, that’s right. Your grandfather’s an academic,” Brad said, loading the word “academic” with all the condescension and venom he could. Charlie had to admit that he was talented that way. “You going to be an academic, too?”

“Maybe,” Charlie said.

“Hmmph,” Brad said. Then, “You should be a banker like your dad. My family needs a good clerk to look after our money,” he said. All his crew laughed, right on cue. He handed the notebook to Garrett. “Here, wreck this. I know it isn’t as satisfying as punching his face in, but trust me, it’ll hurt him more.” Garrett took it and began ripping pages out and tossing them around. The other boys began picking them up and shredding them. All the pages gone, Garrett then pulled the wire out and ripped the front and back covers in half, throwing them in Charlie’s face. Satisfied that he’d made Charlie sufficiently miserable, Brad turned to go, waving to his crew to follow him. He looked back over his shoulder at Charlie, saying, “Later loser.” Charlie watched him walk away and muttered under his breath, “Fucking asshole.”

Click here for Pt. 2