Archive for August 23rd, 2012

I feel it only fair to warn you:  this story is very strange. The seed idea came to me while watching one of my favorite movies, but it’s not exactly a sequel; perhaps we could call it a quasi-sequel, a story which could have taken place in the world of that movie had things gone just a little differently.  I think most of you will probably pick up on it pretty quickly, and if you don’t…well, that’s what comment threads are for.

Greta ground the butt of the cigarette into the ashtray, then opened her case for another.  Upon realizing that she only had four left and wasn’t sure when she would be able to get more, she decided to conserve them.  She didn’t normally smoke as much as she had tonight, but she was unusually nervous; her instincts told her something was very wrong, and they never lied.  Perhaps it was the way Klaus had behaved when he let her know this group was on the way last night; perhaps it was the unusually large size, more than twice as many as usual.  Maybe it was the one little girl who simply would not stop crying, or the heavy rain.

But most likely, it was the fact that Albert was an unprecedented three hours late.

Ignoring the silent question in the refugees’ eyes, she went back upstairs, put on her coat and hat and went onto the balcony with her binoculars.  It was a futile gesture, really; in this weather she wouldn’t be able to see anything outside her own grounds.  But it kept her occupied for at least a few minutes, and allowed her to avoid the frightened people downstairs who might be able to read the apprehension on her features.

After returning the wet things to the rack she went to Goliath’s room at the end of the hall, knocked and let herself in; she found him where she knew she would, seated in his massive wooden chair staring out at the storm with a strange look of fascination.  When she touched his hand he turned to her and smiled that silly grin of his, and perceiving his empty tray she asked, “Was your supper good?”

“Yes.  Very good,” he said.

“I’m glad.  It shouldn’t be much longer now, then we’ll have the house to ourselves again.”

“Good,”  he frowned.  “I hate crowds.”

“I know you do,” said Greta, “but what we’re doing is very important.  These people are trying to escape bad men who want to capture them, to lock them in chains and maybe even kill them.  The bad men hate them because they’re different, and you know what that’s like, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said quietly, with incredible sadness.  “I know.”

Greta was fairly sure he did.  Her father had taken him in over 20 years ago after his previous caretaker had died of influenza, and though he was simple and childlike, his great size and terribly ugly features frightened people so much the family kept him hidden as much as possible.  “I’m going to leave your door ajar, so you can hear if there’s trouble, all right?”  He didn’t answer, but she knew he understood.

She found the leader of the little group waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs.  “What can I do for you, Rabbi?”

“I wanted to thank you on behalf of my people, for endangering yourself to help us.”

“Greta is just a stage name, Rabbi; my mother called me Judith.”

“Ah.  Then you are in as much danger as we are should you be found out; why do you not escape to Switzerland yourself?”

“Guilt.  At first I was as happy to take their money as I was to take that of any other man, and even more so after the Nuremberg Laws made them all criminals for hiring me.  But after the war started and the usual hate turned into something monstrous, I knew what manner of men I had entertained and I feel I will never be clean of their foul touch.”

“Yet their money paid for our refuge, and your profession gave you the contacts you have used to help so many of your people, just as Rahab sheltered Joshua’s men in Jericho,” he said.  “Think about that.”

Before Greta could answer there was a squeal of brakes followed by the sounds of running feet and a pounding on her door; she saw shadows flitting past the windows and knew that disaster had come upon them.  The door flew open, and in strode a Gestapo officer, announcing that everyone was under arrest; in moments several of his men had entered the room.  There were not many but they were armed and organized, and thus more than a match for a group of panicked refugees, most of them women and children.

They were no match, however, for the nightmare that came lumbering down the stairs a moment later, ignoring their bullets as completely as he ignored the officer’s frantic orders to halt.  Goliath flung aside the first men he encountered as easily as an angry child might fling a doll, and both refugees and Gestapo alike screamed in terror when he put his right hand on the officer’s shoulder and in one quick motion tore his head off with the left.

Greta knew it was imperative she get the refugees away from the melee; in his berserk state Goliath might not be able to tell friend from foe, and might perceive screaming and panic as a threat.  “The back door!” she shouted. “Out the back door!”  The Nazis who had originally gone around to block that way had immediately returned to the front when the screaming started, though they would soon wish they hadn’t.  Once outside, she directed the fleeing group toward the barn and then made a wide circle around to the front herself, hoping to calm Goliath down once the battle came to its inevitable conclusion.

Only once before had Greta been directly exposed to her protector’s incredible capacity for violence; years ago a client had turned brutal and, summoned by her screams, Goliath had burst through the door and literally dismembered her assailant.  But that incident had been over before it started; this was carnage on a scale she had never even imagined.  Body parts lay strewn madly about, the windowpanes were opaque with blood and Goliath was stumbling around the front lawn in the pouring rain, growling and crying out incoherently and swinging a grisly club (which Greta took to be a human shin) at invisible, airborne opponents.

“I’m safe!” she shouted at him, “Look, it’s me, Judith!  Your friend!  The bad men didn’t hurt me!”  He heard, and turned toward her with a look of such implacable fury that for a moment she was terrified he could not recognize her.

But then his features softened abruptly; he dropped his grotesque weapon, reached out toward her with open hands and plaintively called out, “Friend?”

“Yes, it’s me, I’m all right!  You did good, you protected the people!  But the battle is over now, and you have to be calm again.”  But as she spoke, she realized he was looking past her and scowling, and she turned to discover that several of the men had come up behind her after arming themselves with the dead Nazis’ guns.  “He won’t hurt you!” she cried.  “He only attacks people who threaten him or me.”

“Do you know what that is?” one of the older men shouted.  “It’s…”

“It is a golem!” interrupted the Rabbi, in a voice that commanded attention.  “Do you not know the story of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, who created a man-like creature from inanimate matter in order to defend the Jews?  This is another like it.”

His authoritative declaration had the desired effect; the guns went down, albeit slowly, and Greta suggested it would be better for them to wait in the barn with their families while she tried to discover whether Albert had been captured or merely delayed.  In either case, they would have to leave soon, and this time she and Goliath would go with them; this place wasn’t safe for anyone now.

“Come on,” she said, as calmly as she could manage.  “We both need to get out of these wet things.”  And with that she took his huge hand in hers, and led him back into their home for the last time.

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