I grew up in a tenement that looked out on the back of the minotaur’s head. The minotaur statue is older than the city and taller than any building in it. Our tenement is nearly as tall, not nearly as old, and in far worse repair.
The statue gazes out across the plain of salt, which the scholars say was a sea that dried up years ago, and my siblings and I gaze with it into the hazy horizon.
The scholars don’t know who built the statue, or why, but everyone else says it’s a marker to guide travelers over the salt plain. However, everyone, including the scholars, agrees the plain is impossible to cross–too vast, too empty of landmarks. With all the wind-stirred dust, you can’t navigate by stars; by day, you can barely guess where the sun is.
My brothers and sisters and I do go out onto the plain at daybreak and dusk, when the twilight seeps into everything, and we might be walking on a flat of sky. It’s the one advantage we’ve got in the salt quarter. The old city has history; the river districts have trade and communication with distant lands; and the elite quarter has the evening cool of the mountains. A half hour at either end of the day to explore an empty blue world doesn’t seem like much in comparison.
We find our way back by the broken silhouettes of the mountains, and the prongs of the minotaur’s horns above them. One night, we found a man collapsed at the base of the minotaur statue, covered in salt dust. Under the white coating, we saw his glasses and boots were the blue of twilight on the plain.
We went for a healer and returned to find the man gone. The scholars and city guard told us he was a lunatic who’d wandered out onto the plain. We didn’t believe them; we knew the impossible when we saw it.
They built his pyre on our rooftop–our building was closest, and they didn’t want to move him far, which made us even more suspicious. We knew secret ways, so we crept up and stole his boots and glasses.
We argued all night and drew lots. In the predawn twilight, the glasses show me trails on the plain. I set my foot on one to see where the boots will take me…
This story is part of the Daily Cabal’s third anniversary celebration, a collection of kabbalah-themed stories. (Thanks to Mechaieh for the theme!) The other anniversary stories are Angela’s “Ephraim’s Daughter”, Rudi’s The Third Golem, and a story by Luc.
Micah didn’t have a lot to work with when he decided to make the golem. He’d barricaded himself inside Shawanna’s spare bedroom after the gumdrops broke through the front door of the house. Only after wedging the bedroom door with a wooden desk chair did he notice the stacks upon stacks of jars of creamy Jif. O. M. G. Not since graduate school, when money had run out two weeks before the end of the field season, had peanut butter passed his lips. He shuddered, face twisting.
Gumdrops pattered quietly against the bottom foot or so of the door in fractal frequencies. The faint noises spelled out half-truths and lies in an iterative code. Candy communication or brownian motion?
Water from the sink in the half bath kept him alive, but he could not force down the peanut butter.
Micah had foresworn the practice of magic, but the human body can take only so much. On the third day he opened the first jar and reached inside. When the creature was fully formed, he inscribed the hebrew word for truth on its forehead. The golem stood, inclined its head.
“Okay, look. I want you to open the door, gather up the gumdrops, and put them in the fridge on the first floor.” The monster broke open the door with a quick jerk, passed out into the hall, and set to work.
The fridge was filling, and the few remaining free gumdrops huddled near the door. Micah shuffled closer to the door, but then he noticed that the golem was slowing. Its profile was subtly changing, and it was no longer steady on its feet. Scooping gumdrops into its paw, the golem dropped as many as it disposed of. It somehow conveyed a sense of distress, while continuing to gather the megalomaniacal candies and stuff them into the refrigerator. The golem fell. Micah saw ants, tens of thousands of them, each one carrying away its tiny piece of magic, or arriving unencumbered, seizing a piece of flesh in its jaws, and turning away. The golem continued to writhe silently, crushing a few gumdrops with its fists, but did not rise again. Ants stuck in the warm peanut butter became stepping stones for their fellows.
On the floor, a sticky brown blob, truth-marked, strove mightily to reach the refrigerator door handle.
It was lunch time.
The Daily Cabal has ceased; it is no more; it has shuffled off this mortal coil*…
We’d like to leave you with an easy way to explore the stories so far.
Here’s a complete list, organized by author:
All Stories by Author
And here are story lists for individual authors:
Alex Dally McFarlane
Jason Erik Lundberg
*Well, at least until we return at some point, like phoenix. Or a zombie. Or, perhaps, some kind of zombie phoenix.
A follow-up to last year’s A Winter’s Fantasy.
It was a good thing we looked in urn before using it as a wicket for roller-croquet in the west ballroom. Otherwise, we would never have found the governess.
Great-grandfather’s governess, who all the family stories had eloping with a traveling salesman after a fancy dress ball, still in her frog mask and lily-pad green gown.
The next morning, Edmund and I found we’d had the same dream: the governess, ethereal, wander-drifting the hallways, muttering a word over and over. Best we could figure, the word was, “Nog.”
It was late December, and that had been when she’d died; we knew what she wanted.
We swiped a cupful from the countesses’ own icebox, sprinkled on nutmeg thick as dust in the library. A cup and saucer, governess-neat, right in front of her urn.
It wasn’t enough: we did long division in our dreams all night, squeaking chalk on blackboards while she chanted, “Nog nog,” in our ears — which really didn’t help the math.
Our winter break wouldn’t amount to much if that kept up, so we raised clouds of dust in the library trying to figure out what she was after. A whole bookcase of cookbooks, but nothing on “ghost nog,” “ghoul nog,” or “spectral nog.” Eventually, we found something called the Gastronomicon propping up a broken-legged table, and among its burnt-oil-smelling pages we found a recipe for ectoplasmic nog.
I won’t bore you with what we went through to gather the ingredients, what Aunt Fiona said when she discovered who’d swiped her favorite perfume, what the vicar did upon finding the ox liver in his boot, or with what smoldering hatred our older sister’s fiance looked at us when he found out what we’d been skinning with his razor; I’ll only say that, after all that, it didn’t work.
Bleary-eyed after a night of copying Caesar’s Gallic Wars onto an infinite chalkboard, it came to me: Norton Osgood Guernsey, the tutor back in Great-Grampa’s day. The murderer.
In spite of the blizzard, we bundled up, rousted his coffin from the servants’ crypt, chopped a hole in the end of the pond that’d be froggiest come spring, and sank him.
That was enough: in our dreams that night, she smiled in the winter garden, not a stick of chalk in sight, just snow, behind her, out the window, falling faintly and generally, upon all the living and the undead.