I was surrounded by mimes.
The Estervale Civic Center was packed to the walls with mimes from all over the world. There were booths set up to display the latest in mime costuming, props, and makeup; mimes of international renown selling autographed head shots for twenty bucks a pop, and hundreds of people – mimes and mime wanna-bes alike – wandering through the convention center, toting giant bags full of stuff that they’d probably throw away the moment they got home. People came dressed as their favorite mimes and posed for pictures to put up on the Internet, and a couple of guys were done up to look like birthday clowns, just for the shock value.
I didn’t care about any of that. I was there to catch a killer.
People were filing in to the Great Hall for the convention’s keynote panel entitled “The Sad Clown: Emotional Perspectives on Post-Modern Mimery,” whatever all that meant. Three of the world’s greatest mimes were going to lead a discussion on the main stage.
Yes, mimes can, in fact, talk. They just choose not to.
Raul Jiminez-Péron from Spain was slated to lead the discussion, along with his colleagues Michel LeMarch from France and Hiroyuki Hasugawa from Japan. The talk was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes, and there were hundreds of suspects filing in as I watched. Any one of them could have been the Mime Killer, a man who harbored such a hatred of mimes that he had embarked on a killing spree. Ten performers had died in the last year, and the city was getting tired of taking the blame.
The police presence at the conference was strong. There were uniformed officers patrolling the building, outside and in, and plenty of plainclothes guys like me. If anyone made a move, we’d know about it. This place was going to be our honeypot. No one with a need to kill mimes would be able to pass this up.
But what really gave us the advantage was my golem. I gave it a fresh coat of face paint and a change of costume and put it backstage to watch the crowd. So far, the golem had been useful. True, the police department had already received dozens of complaints from all kinds of official magical organizations, who were affronted and appalled that I would “create life,” as they saw it. Fortunately, the mayor’s office had promised to shield us from the worst of it if the golem worked out, and I honestly didn’t care what they thought anymore. I watched people walk in, and then I ducked in through the backstage door to join the golem and the chief.
For once, he didn’t have his mouth full of gum. I took a sniff to see if he’d been smoking again. “This had better work,” he said. “We’re taking a big chance with this many people.”
I nodded. “He’ll be here, chief. We just have to wait for him to make his move.”
The chief tapped the golem’s chest, and it made a dull thumping sound. “Can’t your flowerpot here find him?”
I shook my head. The golem had brought me to the killer’s house, which brought us here. But no matter how I commanded it, the golem didn’t seem to be able to bring me to the killer himself. Honestly, after all the time I’d spent with it so far, I don’t think I understand how it works any better than I did when I made it. And if I had known what it would be when I made it, I might have agreed with those people who thought it was an abomination.
The golem just kept getting more… real. Maybe it was just obeying the Words I’d put in its head as far as it could, maybe there was something else going on. I really had no idea, but I was already starting to worry about what we’d do with the thing when this case was over.
The lights in the hall dimmed, and the audience quieted down right away. The emcee, a well-known TV mime named Lucas Allbridge, took the stage to eager and polite applause. He thanked the audience for coming, made a few jokes about how he really shouldn’t run off at the mouth, and then introduced the panelists. I watched the golem, and it watched the crowd.
I didn’t really follow the discussion. The bits I did hear didn’t make much sense to me – the meta-re-imagining of the role of the negative in anthro-centric performance modes and all that. The peace and quiet were beginning to bother me, though. Everything said that the killer should be there. Everything pointed right to this place, this time.
That sinking feeling hit me again. Was this guy really this clever? That he’d send us on some crazy chase while he runs around free as a bird? I imagined him coming home to find the door smashed, a dent in his desk and the convention flyer missing. He probably put two and two together and figured out that we knew what he was up to, so he stayed away. Stayed at home to plan his next hit while we twiddled our thumbs and watched mimes discuss mimery.
But could he really do it? That bedroom wasn’t the den of someone interested in killing mimes – it was the den of someone obsessed with killing mimes. And here was the mother lode, the greatest concentration of mimes for hundreds of miles around. Would the man who owned that room really be able to stay away?
A tiny red light answered my question.
I saw it about a second before he golem did. The darkness underneath the Spanish mime’s chair turned a dim, pulsing red. I bent down to get a better view, but the golem was already on its way. The audience murmured as it walked on stage and then started shouting as it lifted Raul Jiminez-Péron bodily from his chair and pushed him away. The other two mimes stood – Hasugawa moved to help his colleague while LeMarch started shouting at the golem in rapid French.
He stopped, however, when the golem turned the chair over and ripped the tape off a small radio receiver that was stuck into what looked like half a pound of modeling clay. A small red light was blinking on the receiver.
“All right,” I shouted, holding my badge as high in the air as I could. The men on the stage were already starting to scramble off, and the people in the first few rows were just beginning to guess what it was the golem held. “I need everyone to move away from the stage in an orderly -”
The explosion was deafening.
I was thrown twenty feet, skidding on my back. My ears hurt like hell, and everything sounded like I had my head wrapped in layers and layers of wet wool. I could hear shouting, and something that sounded like drumbeats, like strong hits on a snare drum. I opened my eyes and staggered to my feet, gun drawn. My vision was bleary, but what I saw was impossible to mistake. A man in a mime outfit was standing over the fallen golem, shooting it and screaming.
I pointed my gun at him and fired. I missed, but got his attention. “Police!” I wondered absently where the other officers were.
He responded by lifting his gun and taking a shot at me, yelling something as he did so. He would have had me dead if the golem hadn’t saved my life.
Its hand – cracked and broken and missing two fingers – darted out and grabbed the gunman’s leg, pulling him off-balance. The gunman fell to the ground and emptied his weapon into he golem’s face, sending little chips flying and tiny clouds of white dust into the air. Still, the golem wasn’t stopped. It stood up, still holding the killer by the ankle, and I got my first good look at the damage that had been done.
The golem had used its body as a shield and absorbed as much of the blast as it could. From its collar to its groin, half its torso was just… gone. The only thing holding it up was the clay of its back, and yet it stood as tall as it ever had. It lifted the gunman high in the air and squeezed its hand. The gunman screamed, and I knew my hearing was coming back because I heard that just fine. With its other hand, the golem took the gun. Casually, without even looking at it, the golem crushed the gun one-handed and threw it over its shoulder. It looked at the screaming gunman, and then it turned its ruined face towards me.
The paint was gone. A jagged crack ran across its face, from jaw to ear, and the remaining eye was shattered and crumbling. But still, it looked at me. It looked at me as if to ask what I wanted to do with this man. This thing. This living being that had less regard for life and law than a creature made from dust and clay only a week ago. The golem looked at me. And waited.
The other officers were pouring into the auditorium, shouting orders and all-clears, but the golem heard me anyway. “Golem,” I said. “Put him down. Gently.”
The golem didn’t have eyebrows – not unless I painted them back on – but I’m pretty sure it cocked one at me before it let the gunman down to the splintered stage floor. The guy was crying and holding his ankle, and begging for mercy in between promises to destroy the abomination. And I wasn’t sure if he meant the golem or me.
Mercy. I was too tired to banter with a crazy man. I let one of the other officers do the litany this time and I watched them take him away, struggling and screaming. “Golem,” I said. “You did good work.”
I was answered by a great, shattering thud behind me and I spun around.
The golem’s body had finally given in to the damage done, and I cursed myself for not seeing it coming. I had used cheap clay, and that much C4 is not something you can shrug off, golem or no. I ran to its side, and a groan escaped me when I saw it.
The head had cracked open and lay shattered on the boards, leaving only a small piece that would be recognizable as its face. There, in the dust and pottery shards, were the Words that I had put into its head. The paper I had written them on was fragile and brittle, the sigils were faded and gray. Great power had come through those words somehow, and they crumbled to dust in my fingers.
I knelt in the shattered remnants of my golem until the chief came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s over, Zoltaire,” he said quietly. “Your golem worked. No one died.” He patted me and I shrugged has hand off with a wordless grunt. “Whatever,” he said. “Back to the station. There’s paperwork to do.” I smelled spearmint and I wanted to stand up and punch him.
Before I left the convention center, I made sure that every last speck of dust, every tiny piece of clay was collected from that stage. I brought it all back to the station and shut myself in my workshop for days. I reconstituted the clay, dug into my my bank account to pay for some of the good stuff to mix it in with, and didn’t sleep until I had built it a new body. Then I went back to the library and cursed out those harpy librarians again to re-build the sigils. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t want to admit what I wanted. It felt stupid, getting this upset about a golem, a made thing, for crying out loud! It was no more alive than a car or a cell phone or a chair. I knew that.
But I didn’t care. I just wanted it – him – back.
The chief came down and offered to let me go on leave for a while, but I didn’t listen. I shut him and all the other officers out of my workshop while I kept at it.
Finally, after days, I was done. I was exhausted, I was starving, and I stank, but I was done. I had the body. I had the Words. I knew what I wanted.
I was ready.
The ritual was the same as before. I had to cleanse. I took a quick shower with that herbal soap, then came back to the office and dropped onto the sofa to meditate. I tried every visualization technique I could think of to calm my mind – ocean waves, a flower bud opening, a mountain stream gurgling past me – but nothing worked. So I got up, went to the golem, and started the ritual. I threw the Words into its head, rubbed my hands together and started walking around it. I chanted, quickly, quietly, through teeth clenched in frustration at how long this was taking. I chanted the Words and tried to pour everything I had into them. I lost track of time and who I was and what I was doing.
And then I passed out.
When I woke up and got off the floor, I looked at the table.
The golem lay there, inert. Not moving, not wanting to move. There was nothing there but clay.
I slumped down in the corner and wept. Part of me was astounded, amazed that I would be crying over a golem. A golem, of all things. The rest of me just wheeled around and punched that part of me in the mouth until it shut up. I stayed there for a while, at least until the pain broke and I could stand up again. I didn’t look at it as I left.
The chief gave me two weeks. He told me that the International Mime Union would be willing to take the failed replacement off our hands. They wanted to display it as a sign of their gratitude for saving so many of their members’ lives. They said that they didn’t know how to repay me or the department for all that we had done, and that they would honor the memory of the golem forever.
I didn’t care.
I took the two weeks and spent most of them indoors, in bed, with the lights off.
After a while, though, I couldn’t stand to be cooped up inside anymore. I put on a jacket and headed out, squinting into the sunlight. The air smelled fresh, but that was probably just because I’d been indoors for days on end. The people looked happy, but that was probably just because I was a miserable sad sack.
The park nearby was quiet, as always. I bought some bread at the corner store, found a bench by the tiny duck pond, and went to feed some ducks.
While I sat there, I noticed motion out of the corner of my eye. A white flash. I glanced over, and my breath caught for a moment. It was a mime. A little guy, walking smoothly through the park, soon followed by another, who was pretending to be tied to the first by an invisible rope. I heard something from my other side and turned around – three more mimes, making their way towards me and the pond. Soon, there were ten. And then twenty, all coming towards me, and my heart was beating to break through my chest. The only thing I could think of was how I had given up my gun at the police station, and that after all this time, this was how it would end.
They stopped some ways from me, and lined up around the pond. There were enough of them that they went all the way around it and off to the sides. All of them, staring at me with white, unreadable faces and graceful, unpredictable poses.
Then, in a wave as fluid and as perfect as any on water, they bowed. The one closest to my left started it, and the bow traveled through the crowd, passing from one mime to another, all the way around the duck pond until it reached the mime to my right. They had their floppy hats and berets off, heads hanging low to the ground. And then, left to right, they stood again, one after the other.
Without a word, the mimes left. Each by his or her own way, as though there had never been a group there, but that they had all come there by random, unknowable coincidence. In moments, they were gone, and I was once again alone with the ducks.
The sadness was gone, though. Something in the mimes had taken it from me and replaced it with warmth. With… gratitude.
I sat back on the bench and turned my face towards the sun, breathing easy for the first time in days. There would be work to do tomorrow.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Seriously, I had no idea this would go on as long as it did. I meant it to be a nice, tight 1,500 word piece for Worth1000.com, and it just… didn’t want to stop. So thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.
There was a crowd by the fountain in the middle of Blue River Park, watching a mime. Every now and then they would applaud or laugh, and there was the occasional tinkle of coins as people showed their appreciation in a more tangible way. The mime would walk against the wind or pretend to climb a rope or stumble and fall and roll around, and the people just ate it up.
I stood at the edge of the crowd, glaring at each and every one of them.
The plug in my ear vibrated and I tapped it with a finger. “Yeah?”
I could hear him chewing gum as he spoke, and my stomach turned. “Nothing yet, chief. I think we’re making enough money that we can buy some better coffee for the station, though.”
“Dammit, Zoltaire, it’s been a week! I thought your golem-mime-thing was supposed to lure the killer out of the woodwork!”
I looked over at it. The mime was pretending to pull flowers from a little girl’s hair, and the child was shrieking with laughter. I don’t know how it knew how to do that, to be honest. I just wanted to make something that looked like a mime to solve some murders. A little clay, some Words, and a week later, it was entertaining small children left and right. Whatever I had made, it was starting to creep me out, and I hoped that the Mime Killer would strike so that we could put all this behind us.
“I’m sure it’ll happen, Chief. Just make sure the boys are ready when it does.” I tapped the plug again and disconnected. I sat and watched my mime perform for a crowd that was slowly growing bigger. They clapped at all of his – its – antics and moves, and I even found myself chuckling once or twice. Then I reminded myself: that thing wasn’t human and never would be. It would keep walking against the wind until I told it to stop, and if I wanted it to perform until the end of time then it would.
The sun was dropping towards the trees and I sighed. I tapped the plug in the other ear and said, “Golem. Finish your act and return to base.”
It pulled one more rose out of the little girl’s hair and mocked bone-deep sorrow at their tragic yet inevitable parting, then turned to the rest of the crowd and took a bow. Everyone applauded heartily, throwing more coins into its hat. With luck I’d be able to treat the guys in my department to donuts in the morning.
Suddenly, the golem stood straight upright, it’s expression hard and cold, and quickly started scanning the crowd. The people who had been applauding stopped instantly and started to back away. This wasn’t the friendly mime that they had come to see – this was clearly something else, and whatever it was it scared the hell out of them.
I made my way through the crowd to the golem and tried to look where it was looking. As I did, I noticed a hole that had been made in its head, near the temple. Flakes of clay still fell out when it moved. The killer had finally taken his shot.
My eyes hit on a man who was walking swiftly away from the scene, trying his best to look inconspicuous. “Golem!” I yelled. “Get him!”
The golem burst into a run, its heavy clay feet pounding on the pavement. It ran like a freight train – unstoppable and deceptively fast. The man he was chasing heard the thunder of its footsteps and took off in a run of his own, but there was no contest. Within seconds, the golem had him on the ground, hands clamped together in an unbreakable grip.
I caught up a few moments later, breathing heavy and holding my side.
Hey, I’m a thaumaturge. We’re not famous for our physical fitness.
“You have the right,” I wheezed, “to remain silent.” My heart was pounding in my ears, and it took a few breaths before I was able to say the litany all the way through. “You say anything, you better damn well believe we’ll use it, so if you have a lawyer, get one,” I swallowed hard. “Got it?”
The man’s eyes were pinned to the golem’s cold, unchanging face. “I didn’t do anything,” he said. “Get this… this thing off me!”
“Sure you didn’t,” I said. “Golem. Let him up.” The golem stood, hauling the man to his feet. I started to pat the guy down, and right away I had a sinking feeling. There was no weapon. “Where’d you throw it?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as I could.
“Throw what? What are you talking about?”
I wanted to smack him. “The gun! Where did you throw the gun?”
“I don’t have a gun,” he babbled. “I hate guns, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
That sinking feeling was getting deeper. Just looking at the golem’s damage, I knew a couple of things. The shooter had to be using a heavy caliber weapon, probably from close range – there weren’t a lot of good spots for a sniper to sit. And secondly, if they did, then they’d be using a silencer, so as to blend in with the applause of the crowd. That meant I was looking for a pretty sizable weapon, and I didn’t see anything like that on the run over.
And there sure as hell wasn’t anything like that on his person.
“Why did you run?” I asked him. The man didn’t answer, but just looked at the golem. It lifted the guy off his feet, and a large wet stain spread across the front of his pants. I sighed. “Golem. Put him down.”
The golem hesitated. Just for a moment, and no one else would have noticed. But I did.
Slowly, it set the man on his feet. He promptly fell to the pavement. I handed him a business card. “Here,” I said. “For the cleaning. My apologies, sir.” I reached out to help him up, but he shrank back. “Fine,” I said. “Golem. Come with me.” I walked away without looking back, and a moment later I heard its heavy footsteps behind me.
I brought it back to the station, pulled out the bullet and patched up the damage. Then the chief spent a good half hour hauling my ass over the coals for the screw-up in the park. His main concern was that we’d blown our cover, which I thought was nonsense. The thing was a mime, for gods’ sake – a quick paint job, new clothes, and no one would ever know.
But I did agree that what we were doing wasn’t working out. If the golem had been a real mime, it would have been dead and the killer would have escaped scot free. We needed a new plan.
It was right there that I had my idea. I almost didn’t want to think about it at first, it was that weird. If I thought about it at all, there was a chance that I’d actually think it could work, and if I really thought it could work, then there would probably be nothing but disappointment when it didn’t. But it felt like inspiration, a bolt from the blue.
So what did I have to lose?
I went back to my office and got the bullet that I’d pulled from the golem’s head. “Golem,” I said. It sat up from the table where I had left it. “Hand.” It reached its hand out and I dropped the bullet into it. The golem looked down at the bullet and then back at me. “Find the person who shot this,” I said.
There was no real reason it should have worked. Golems aren’t bloodhounds. They don’t work by sympathetic magic the way a voodoo doll does. They operate on a whole different plane of thaumaturgy, one of life forces and animation and intention. Nevertheless, the golem got to its feet and immediately started walking, bullet in hand. I grabbed my jacket and followed it. I wanted to yell as I passed the chief’s office – tell him I had a lead and I was going to finish the job once and for all. But if the golem decided to walk me straight into the middle of the Blue River Pond, well… I can only stand so much humiliation in one day.
The golem took a relentless course due east from the station. It navigated streets without a pause, stopping at crosswalks and only crossing on the green. “Who told you to do that?” I wheezed as I followed it. I wanted to tell it to slow the hell down, but for all I knew that might have ruined the whole thing. Anybody in its way moved to the side right quick – a tall, slender mime, with footsteps that thundered and a concentrated stare that made it look like it could walk through a brick wall. Which it may very well have.
I followed it for nearly an hour as we made our way to one of the more residential neighborhoods. Oak Hollow had been the preferred borough for grandparents and young yuppie couples from time immemorial, and the neat lawns and well-trimmed shrubbery made the whole place look more like the set for a TV show than a place where people actually lived. The golem strode through the neighborhood, setting more than a few curtains a-twitching, and then finally, blessedly, stopped.
The house it was staring at was a small blue one-story, with some dead flower beds and peeling paint. It was the worst-maintained house on its street, and it looked like the owner had just given up. I looked over at the golem. “This is it?” I asked. It didn’t reply. “You sure?”
This time the golem did reply – by walking right up to the front door and smacking it with the flat of its hand. The door flew off its hinges, spinning back into the dim recesses of the living room, and landed halfway in the kitchen. “Oh, that’s not good,” I said as the golem walked straight into the house, the bullet still gripped in its hand. “We’re supposed to get a warrant, you stupid pile of -” I finished my sentence with an inarticulate growl and followed it into the house, drawing my gun as I did so. I felt goosebumps when I entered the house and hollered “POLICE!” There wasn’t anything magical involved – just years and years of police procedure. The thought of investigating a place without a warrant was just… wrong.
I suppose I could say I was following lost property. Yeah, that would have to do.
There was no answer to my shout, so I called it again. Still, silence. The golem went upstairs, and I followed with my gun at the ready. It stopped a few steps into a small bedroom, and I felt the blood drain from my face when I went in.
The walls were covered with photographs, paintings, drawings, sketches – of mimes. Hundreds of black and white faces stared out at me from all directions, and it was all I could do not to run from the room screaming in terror. There were newspaper articles stuck to the wall, in classic serial-killer fashion, and they were all meticulously highlighted and underlined. Each one, as near as I could tell, was a story about a mime. New mimes debuting on the circuit. Veteran mimes retiring. Avant-garde mimes trying out new and controversial material.
Walking with the wind or something. Damned if I know.
In one special section of this Wall of Mimery, there was a corkboard with several glossy photographs pinned to it. The photos had clearly been taken from a stealth location, but they all showed the faces of the mimes clearly and distinctly. Except for the large red X that covered them. Upon closer inspection, I was pretty sure that these were the mimes that he had killed. The rest of them surrounded me, covering the walls nearly completely. I scanned the faces, and sure enough – there was the golem. It was a photo from a few days ago, when it had been performing in front of city hall. The golem almost looked like it was smiling in this picture, as it reached out a hand to a young woman.
A loud THUD behind me shook me back to attention, and I spun around. The golem had slammed its hand down on the desk, leaving the bullet sitting there on top of some scattered papers. It stood there, staring down at the desk, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was excited. There had been no change in the way it moved or stood – it was stock-still, without any of those countless unconscious movements that humans make. But the way it was staring, it seemed to be ready to dash off again.
I looked at the papers on the desk. Most of them were handwritten notes, varying from simple reminders to buy bread and ammunition, all the way to tightly-scrawled screeds about mimes and the horrors they inflicted on society. I picked one up and started to read it:
By their very actions, the mimes are simulacra of reality, fakers and frauds who deny the reality of our reality, a world in which we must all live. They paint their faces a dead white, for they are the dead, the haunted, the living ghosts of our subconscious desire for simplicity and for a way to face the world in a way that makes sense to our simple, sheeplike minds. Those of us who protest, who fight, who see the world for what it is, we are the ones they mock. They mock us with their invisible boxes and their walking against the wind and vanishing down stairs that aren’t there – YOU’RE JUST CROUCHING DOWN YOU FRAUDS WE KNOW HOW IT’S DONE! They see us and they know how we struggle. But they are the agents of the Absurd, the carriers of the cosmic joke of which we are all the punchlines, and until they are gone, until the mimes are wiped from the earth, I cannot have peace, fight the fight against the forces that truly control our world and enslave us all.
I looked up at the golem, which was still staring down at the desk. “This guy’s nuts,” I said.
The golem stabbed a finger down onto the desktop, nearly punching a hole through the wood. It had pinned down a printed flyer, one that was done up on nice glossy paper. When I saw the title, I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or throw up. Instead, I clapped the golem on its rock-hard arm. “Good police work,” I said. The golem didn’t reply, of course, but it did seem to stand a little straighter.
I took out my phone and dialed the station. The chief answered, and I started talking before he could take a breath. “There’s a convention,” I said. “All mimes, all the time.” I looked down at the glossy flyer, which was advertising the first ever Estervale International Mime Conference. Mimes from all over the world, all in one place to talk about the craft. “I guarantee he’ll be there.”
I closed the phone and looked up at the golem. “Think you can find him?” I asked.
The golem turned its head with deliberate slowness and looked at me. Its white, ceramic expression and its glassy, dead eyes never changed. But I was pretty sure it smiled.
TO BE CONCLUDED! (I hope)
The chief himself came down to my basement office to get me to make an indestructible mime.
“You want me to what?” I asked him.
“You heard me,” he said.
“Yeah, I heard you. I just thought maybe I heard you wrong, is all. You want me to make, what – a mime golem?”
“An indestructible one, that’s right.” He stood there with his hands on his hips and his jaw furiously working over a wad of gum.
Someone had been killing mimes, you see.
The newspapers were having good fun with it, of course, and even the head of the Estervale city council was caught cracking a “silent but deadly” joke when he thought the microphones were off. But mimes or not, they were still citizens, and it was the job of the police to find and stop this killer.
All the evidence thus far had been that the killer liked to work up close. Several mimes had been stabbed, a few poisoned – two had been shot, presumably with a silencer. So what we needed was a decoy, someone that could be a target without being vulnerable. We could set it up to attract the killer’s attention and then nab him in the act.
And so the job of creating the indestructible mime fell to me, the department’s resident thaumaturge. I tried to hold on to my temper by shuffling some papers around, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work. I dropped a packet of intra-departmental forms into a drawer and slammed it shut.
“So we can flush out some criminal mime-murderer? That’s why you want me to create an abomination in the eye of God?”
“That’s right,” he said, switching the wad of gum from right cheek to left.
“You realize I could lose my license over this.”
He waved my objection away. “You’re doing this under the authority of the mayor. You’ll be fine.”
“But what if -”
“Gripe all you like, Zoltaire,” he said, pulling yet another piece of gum from the package in his pocket. “I’m not about to let the media keep using my department as its butt-boy.” He jammed it into his cheek. “Get to work.”
So. I made a golem out of clay, and I painted it to look like a mime.
Creating life technically falls under the heading of “forbidden” uses of magic and other eldrich energies, and I suppose if you were being really liberal with your definition of “life” then you’d be right. I’d be a monster. The regional bureau would be within their rights to revoke my license to practice thaumaturgy. They might even tar and feather me, for old times’ sake. But look: a golem? I don’t know if I’d exactly call that “life.”
Golems are usually made of clay – not even good clay, in this instance. The good clay is expensive, and I’m just trying to make it by on a police department budget which, as the chief will tell you often and at great length, is never enough. This was stuff I managed to beg, borrow and steal from wherever I could. This was slag clay, elementary art-school clay. Wednesday night at the senior center clay. So if I was really trying to create a living thing, I sure as hell would have splurged on the good stuff. Marble or granite or something.
I will say this for clay, though – it’s easy to work with. All I had to do was make a plaster mold of some mannequin parts and then just go from there. Before I knew it, I had my golem, and it looked human.
Well, human-ish. Close enough, anyway. Not the Uncanny Valley, but I could see it from there.
After that, it was just a matter of making sure he’d fit in. The problem with that was that it was a kind of dull grey-brown color, something you don’t usually see on people who aren’t zombies. Fortunately, however, the problem I was trying to solve also presented me with its solution.
We contacted the local union of mimes and clowns and told them that we needed a costume as part of our investigations. They were so happy to finally be taken seriously that they sent over boxes of old mime gear – half a hundred striped shirts and pairs of stretchy black pants. Lots of floppy hats and dance shoes and just buckets of face paint and makeup. It was enough to make a good man cry.
I asked the folks up at Records to send me pictures of the dead mimes, so I could use their faces as reference. As it turned out, I didn’t really need to. The picture that my brain provided when I thought “Mime” was almost preternaturally accurate: white face, black-rimmed eyes, and black lipstick done up in a frowny-face. I even put in a teardrop coming from its left eye to sell the illusion.
A floppy hat and some white gloves and it was all ready. Looking at it, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t human. Except for the fact that it wasn’t breathing, and probably would’ve cracked into a hundred pieces if you hit it real good with a hammer. It was good to go, except for that one last thing.
Or, as my lawyers would rather I say, “The thaumaturgically-inspired simulacrum of life.”
Animating a golem hasn’t changed since the first golem was made. In the beginning, God made a little clay doll, said the Word, and there was Adam, ready to get up and start naming things. Every golem since Adam has been made on pretty much the same principle, except that our Words aren’t nearly as powerful as God’s Word. Human Words are annoyingly vague, and you have to choose them very, very carefully or bad things will result.
I had the clay. All I needed now were the Words.
If I could have, I would have just written, “Oy. Wake up and fight crime,” but that wouldn’t have worked. You need Words, not words, and the only way to get those is to make them yourself. So I headed on out to the Barrowmill Academy library and started pulling everything I could find on sigilcraft. There were some really heavy-duty texts there, the ones that all the graduate students at the school use, and a few that were more popular reading, for the serious amateur who wants to make his pretty doodles actually do something.
Then there are the books for the pros. These are the ones that you can’t check out. They’re in a special room all by themselves, dark and quiet and lit by softly glowing crystals, and guarded by three ancient librarians who never sleep. The book I wanted was the Liber Sermonium Potentibus, and it looked just as scary as the title made it sound. A heavy black cover, bound in the skin of something that probably never saw daylight. The pages were brittle and old, the writing a blood-brown that skipped and leaked across the page. I flipped to the index and took out my notebook and pen.
Well, my notebook, anyway. The pen flew through the air and smacked into the withered paw of one of the unsleeping Librarians, who opened her beaklike mouth and said, “NO WRITING!” Her voice crawled up and down my spine.
I took out my badge. Yeah, I’m not a beat cop or anything like that, but I still get a badge, which is more useful than you’d think. It’s a sigil in and of itself, and a pretty powerful one. “I’m with the police,” I said, holding it in front of her watery white eyes. “I need that book for a case I’m working on.” The Librarian studied the badge for a good long while, time I could have been using to figure out how to animate the golem. She whispered under her breath and I had to fight the urge to scratch every square inch of skin. Finally she looked at me and said, “Mark not the book.”
Slowly, carefully, I took the pen from her hand. “No worries,” I said. “Your book is perfectly safe.” And I meant it, too. I heard that someone went over one of their books – from the general catalog, mind you, not one of these down here – with a highlighter pen, and the next time anyone saw him again it was eight months later and he was screaming at subway trains in his underwear.
To make the sigils, I had to know exactly what I wanted the golem to do and why I wanted it to do it. That alone took a couple of hours. Then I needed to know who the golem had to think it was, and that was even harder. There are no ancient sigils for “mime artist,” after all. For good reason.
After hours of work and nearly every page in my notebook, I had them. Seven complicated little sigils that, when put into the golem’s head, would make it what we needed it to be. An indestructible mime-slash-cop.
I went back to my office. By now, it was getting late. I stashed the Words in my safe and crashed out on the sofa in the break room.
The next day I awoke to crappy coffee and stale donuts from the day before. I went up to the cafe on the corner for a real breakfast, and caught the morning headline: another mime had been killed. His delicate scarf had been twisted around his neck until he asphyxiated. I shook my head and took a bite of a cherry danish. Hell of a way to go. But all it meant that it was more important than before to get this thing wrapped up and done.
I brought my coffee back to work with me, got the Words out of the safe, and settled in for another long day.
Since nothing in magic can ever be simple, it’s not enough to just pop the top off and drop the Words in. You have to prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for the process. I brought my white robe to the showers, scrubbed down with an herbal soap that was made with the fat of sacrificial lambs, and anointed myself with oil that had been blessed by a magus I knew from back in college. My colleagues tried not to laugh, but I knew what they were all thinking, the jerks.
Back in my office, I sat on the floor and meditated for a while, trying to keep my mind focused on what I was about to do. Laws or no laws, I was bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before, and that took some concentration and, of course, a little bit of humility. Deep breaths in and out, repeat as necessary.
Finally, it was time. I took the top off the golem’s head and very gingerly placed the Words inside. I felt a kind of electric charge building up in there, and pulled my hand out as quickly as I could. I replaced its cranium and started walking around the golem in a clockwise direction, chanting over and over again the Words that I had put in its head. I soon began to sweat and to lose sight of where I was and what I was doing. The golem was the only thing in the world that I could see right now, the only thing that even came close to being real. I wasn’t sure how long I walked, or even who I was anymore.
Suddenly, without a noise, the golem sat up.
I nearly crapped my robe. I rolled to the ground, the Words still coming out of my mouth, and I had to force myself to stop talking. My legs still wanted to move, and I grabbed them and curled into a ball for a few minutes until I was sure I could stand up and stand still. I was breathing heavily and had to mop my brow dry a few times.
It was downright eerie. It sat there, staring at me with these unblinking glass eyes. With its makeup and costume and that stupid floppy hat, it should have looked funny, but there was nothing funny about the still, unmoving form. I moved to walk around it, and its head followed me, the neck making a slight scraping noise as it turned. I continued around the table, and its head continued to follow, three hundred and sixty degrees. I shuddered when I stopped. “You’re gonna have to not do that,” I muttered. The golem didn’t respond. It just watched me as I went to my phone and called the chief down to my office.
When he came in, the golem’s attention snapped to him. I swear I saw him jump, but he’ll never admit to it. “Good gods,” he said through a mouthful of gum. “Is that it?”
I nodded. “That’s it,” I said. “Our very own golem mime.”
We both stared at it for a while, and the golem tried to watch us both. Then the chief said, “Make it do something. It’s starting to annoy me, just sitting there. Watching us.”
“Okay,” I said. I cleared my throat. “Golem. Stand up.”
Without hesitation, the golem stood. It was taller than I thought it would be, having a good eight inches on both of us. “Golem,” I said. “Invisible box.”
The golem reached up and placed its hands flat out in front of it. It started to feel around the edges of an invisible box, trying to see where the walls ended, where the ceiling came down. It patted the walls and even bounced its shoulder off, which got a chuckle from the chief. As it performed, something weird seemed to happen.
It seemed to gain a bit of life. The frozen clay face began to look more panicky, more frantic as it realized that it was trapped inside a prison it couldn’t see. Now, I know I was probably just projecting onto the thing, like I do when I think my dog looks guilty for having stolen food. But for that moment, it really looked like it was a real, living thing.
I wasn’t sure how to deal with that.
“Golem. Stop.” The golem froze in mid-panic and stood up straight. Any semblance of life or emotion vanished from its face in a flash.
“Hell,” the chief said. He walked around it as I had done, but the golem kept its dull, lifeless eyes on me. “Does it do anything else?” the chief asked.
“As long as it’s within the parameters of the Words, sure,” I said. “Anything relating to being a mime or stopping a killer. After that, you’re outta luck.”
The chief grunted as he returned to my side. “All right,” he said. “Looks good.” He took the pack of gum from his pocket and shook out another stick. “Get it prepped. We’ll plant an article in the paper advertising an up-and-coming new mime, and see if we can catch a murderer.” He patted the golem on the shoulder, stuck the gum in his mouth, and walked out of my office.
I sighed. “Looks like you’re going right into action,” I said. “Golem. Lie down.” It did as I instructed, but didn’t close its eyes. It just watched me. I could have ordered it to close its eyes, but I had a feeling like it would still be watching me anyway. Somehow.
I sat down at my desk to do paperwork – creating life or not, there was always paperwork – and thought about what we’d do with the golem once it was out in the world.
Somehow, I didn’t think it would end well.