The Plague Golem

by Nicki Blake

The golem was born on the riverbank. Daniel dug his hands into the slick red clay which he piled into a mound as high as his waist. He tried to form it higher, to his own height, but the clay, heavy with water, only collapsed as its mass increased.

So Daniel built a mound short and squat as a beehive, scraping out chunks to fashion a round head on a squat neck, sectioning off stumpy arms with clubbed hands because making fingers was difficult. Finally, he poked in eyes with a stick, pinched a section outwards for a nose, and used his thumb to make a mouth-hole. The emerging thumb formed a rim where it exited, giving the golem an odd pucker so, when Daniel finished, he saw he’d created a childlike being with beady staring sockets and a permanent kiss on its lips.

To prevent the golem from dissolving back into the earth, Daniel built a fire using branches from a nearby grove. He ran to the cottage to get a pen and paper. The paper was a jagged scrap of vellum, torn from the book which had given Daniel the idea. As the weeks and the months of the plague passed, he’d read nearly all the books he owned, finally turning to the older volumes, the ones left to him by his father. There, in a language he hadn’t read for decades, he found the tale of the Golem of Prague and the rabbi who created it before animating it with a spell. The idea of a servant-companion appealed to him. Though he lived alone, he’d always enjoyed the weekly trip into the village to buy his meat and bread. One day, there’d been soldiers blocking the road, telling him to stay on his small farm.

“We’ll bring rations once we’ve got the situation under control,” their captain told Daniel. “Stay on your property. Don’t come out until we give permission.”

“When will that be?” asked Daniel, who grew vegetables and kept chickens, but had no way to get other provisions if not from the village.

“In a week or so,” said the captain.

After three weeks of eating only vegetable soup, Daniel once again ventured out, but this time, as he approached the barricade, he heard shouting. A musket-shot exploded in the road ahead of him. He ran all the way home.

Weeks became months. Daniel worked the garden during the day, and read by night. The tale of the Golem unfolded before him just as he started feeling the loneliness creep in. He had no one to talk to, nowhere to go, nothing to lose.

Following the book’s description, he formed Hebrew script on the vellum scrap, rolling it into a little tube before feeding it into the golem’s open mouth. As he went indoors, he turned to look at it again. Its hunched silhouette seemed to have moved closer to the flames. It looked very human, as if it was trying to warm itself.

In the morning, however, he saw the charred remains of the fire as he looked out of the window, but no golem. Cursing his failure, he opened the door, planning to start over, only to find the golem waiting there like a guard dog. As Daniel backed into the kitchen, the golem shuffled in after him, rocking from side to side, trailing clay. Holding his breath, Daniel crouched down to the golem’s level, extending his hand. The golem mirrored him until the rough earthen palm met the warm human one. Daniel breathed out.

He put it to work in the garden. It grasped vegetable stalks to harvest them and grubbed holes for planting. This labour in the damp soil made the golem flake and crumble, so each evening Daniel patched it up with fresh clay and then lit a new fire. Sometimes he sat with it for a while, talking while it stared at him with its unblinking eyes before leaving it to dry out overnight. By morning, the golem would be waiting on the threshold, ready for another day of work.

As winter came on, however, there were fewer vegetables. Daniel killed all but one of the chickens for meat, and he was worried for the months ahead. He wondered if it was worth trying the village again.

“You go,” he ordered the golem.

He pointed at the last chicken.

“Get meat. Come straight back.”

He pushed the golem out the gate thinking that, if the soldiers shot it, it would not be harmed. He watched it shuffle away into the distance.

When it returned late that evening, he’d readied the fire and was starting to worry. It swayed towards him in the twilight, something swinging from its clubbed hand. Daniel gratefully seized the proffered object then felt not feathers, but fur. A large rat dropped to the ground. It was dead, but its patchy skin was alive with fleas.


The soldiers found the man in his bed.

“Looks like he came straight in from the garden, then died,” one muttered, kicking the crumbled pile of clay beside the bed.

A tube of vellum rolled from the pile. The soldier picked it up, puzzling over the odd lettering upon it.

“Should we bury him?” asked another.

“No need. Just torch the place. ‘To dust you shall return’, as the good book says.”

They set the vellum alight and tossed it upon a pile of old books. It curled into blackness, hissing as if alive, before becoming part of the larger, growing blaze.

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