Plugs

“You’ve never been up to my apartment before, have you?” Matilda asked, unlocking the modern lock on the door with a worn brass key. Juliet followed the old woman into the sunniest apartment she’d ever seen. The windows stood wide open. Juliet, from her place across the street, often saw Matilda leave without bothering to close them, a mad choice in a neighborhood full of dealers and thieves, let alone Juliet’s two baseball-crazed sons. Matilda just pitched the balls back.

A bird flew in, chirping at Matilda.

“Thank you,” said Matilda; Juliet realized she was speaking to the bird. It flew off. “You can put the groceries on the counter,” Matilda said to Juliet. “Thank you for lending a hand. I’ve gone and gotten old.”

Juliet found herself staring at the countertop. She could see coiled shells in it, and, impossibly, tiny spirals of writing.
“Are those fossils?” she asked, and Matilda nodded. “And the writing… What language is that?”

“Hah! I knew I was right,” said Matilda.

“What do you mean?” asked Juliet.

“I’ve been watching you. I’m retiring, my dear,” said the old woman, “and I’ve chosen you to take over.”

“Take over what?” Juliet stared.

“The world,” said Matilda, laughing. “Sorry, my awful joke.”

She gestured at the rug in the living room and suddenly Juliet could see that it was the ocean, with the chairs and couches as continents riding on it, clouds tugging and forming in the sunlight pouring in from the window.

“It all takes a while to figure out, like the writing on the counter,” Matilda went on briskly. “My advice is to get your kids launched before you try anything serious. There are some books around the house, and a few rules, but it’s all pretty much learn as you go.”

“Learn what as I go?” asked Juliet.

“Being God,” said Matilda.

Juliet only stared.

Matilda smiled and asked, “Who did you think was in charge?”

“I don’t know,” said Juliet, adding, “And if I don’t want to?”

“Believe me, there are days when you don’t want to. It’s like being a parent,” sighed Matilda. “But once you’ve been chosen, that’s that. I’m quite sure I’ve chosen a worthy successor.”

She chucked Juliet under the chin.

“It’s a compliment,” she prompted.

“Thank you,” Juliet replied. Matilda laughed, pressed the worn brass key into her hand, and walked out the door.

I stood at the top of Zhezh Mountain. Below me lay the fires of the city, littering the plain like fallen stars, and the Palace the brightest of them all. In there, somewhere, slept the Overlord. I clenched my fist around the hilt of my sky dagger.  The memory of him burned in my heart: asprawl on his throne, his fingers waving dismissively at my master as they dragged him off to meet the axe and then for me, the coal to my left eye. Mercy, he called it.

Beside me the goat gave a low bleat, and I came back. “Tonight,” I whispered.

I led the goat to my makeshift altar, a simple flat rock the length of me. On the goat’s side I painted the constellations with elderberry juice: The Archer. The Dragon. The Dagger. Each of them circled the star-shaped blackness in the white of the goat’s chest. Then I readied the dagger.

If I fled afterwards, they might not catch me, but it would not be enough.

Chanting quietly, I slit the goat’s throat and let the blood pour out on the altar. I drew the forbidden patterns with trembling fingers. Then I flung up my hand with a cry, facing the night for the first time.

The stars wheeled overhead as I waited and despaired. Then I saw it, faint at first, then stronger: the hairy star, the star of ill omen, the falling star, its tail pointing down at the palace like a dagger. All would see and know the Overlord’s end writ large in the stars, and though he might thrash and rage as I did when they took my eye, it would do him no good. Soon he would sleep forever in the crypts.

I sat on the cold ground and waited for them to find me.

A proud and knowing forestpeople, we dwell near a clearing used for fertility festivals. The forest is all of the world, except for the sky. We see the sky and know it. Our home is parallel to the home of the sky, so we are parallel to the starpeople, their equals. But we are earthy compared to those lofty ones, who uphold their torches nightly, so far off they hear not our calls.
The forest is the world, the world the forest; the forest inscribes the world; the forest flows beyond what the eye can see. There are no words for these things. We do not write but only speak them. Some urge us to transcribe history for the next generation. Foolish conceit! People should live in the now, not the past.
Rumor spreads that our world shrinks, tree by tree. One claims to have marked a tree with his sharp stone, and on the morrow, it was leveled to a stump. This we find difficult to believe because this one often cannot find his own sleeptree at night, which he should know, blindfolded, like his wife’s form. Besides, what are we and what is the world without forest? If a tree disappears, does the world disappear with it? The notion’s nonsense.
Rumor also claims a grassland surrounds our home, the forest. This we also find difficult to believe. Grass is for walking on and softening your nest. It cannot shield you from the tusk beast. A people need only forest and juicy beige fruits that dangle off limbs. We know this, but we also smell smoke from foreign fires–smoke flavored with wild game and fragrant wood. Do we believe what we know or what we sense?
Some of us desire to descend from the trees, to lope to grasslands to see what strange beings these may be, if such truly exist. The starpeople we know. We see them every night. They are silent and persevering if aloof in their nightly searches by torchlight. But the grasspeople must indeed be strange–grazing their world upon all fours.
Others of us doubt the sense of leaving the safety of our world. Can these grasspeople be found? Would they want to be found? If they wanted to meet us, wouldn’t they have attempted to talk already? This assumes that we can find our way out of the forest, the world.

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 Davids’s Has He Thoughts Within His Head?, Rudi’s The Third Golem, and Luc’s Before Exile.

I waited outside what was, until recently, my father’s house. I could feel the eyes of Rahab, his second wife, and her sons watching from inside the white-washed walls.

I had not changed, my flame-coloured hair marked me out. Perhaps they didn’t think I would return.

Laban, the eldest, came out and asked, ‘What do you want, Mariamne?’

 ‘My portion of the inheritance.’

But they refused. As if I had no right, as if I did not carry my mother’s blood, as if I wasn’t Mechaieh’s daughter.

‘Tell you mother that she will lose each of you if I am not given my due.’

For three mornings they found a corpse. Every evening I was in a tavern with witnesses while my stepbrothers died.

Now, in a cave outside Shechem, I wait again. Torches light the rough path down. I can hear Laban’s footsteps.

‘I have it. I have it all outside.’ His voice rasps. ‘You will leave us alone?’

‘As promised. It could have been easy, now you have three brothers to bury.’

His rage seemed to surge and bubble over. Fury overcomes fear and he leaps. I Don’t move, simply speak one word before his hands close around my throat.

Behind his back I see the creature coalescing, motes of dust, clay, any material from the ground it can muster to its call. All rush together to form a giant man, features rude but definite. It lifts Laban turns him so he can stare into its empty sockets.

‘They call it a golem, brother. We make it by mirroring God. It does the bidding of the one who breathes life into it. You see the word on its forehead – emet, means truth. It couldn’t have harmed you if you hadn’t wronged me.’

I watch as the light goes out of Laban’s eyes and foam collects around his swollen lips. The golem drops and faces me. It bows and I lick my thumb. I rub the wetness across the first of the letters etched on its brow. The word now reads met – dead. My lips meet those of the golem and I taste the rich ferment of the cave earth as I draw its breath away.

For a few moments we stand like lovers then the magic flees, and the man of clay crumbles to motes that swirl around like a lost love. Mechaieh’s blood serves me well.

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