Monday, April 23, 2012

Heraclix & Pomp, Book 2, Chapter 1, Part 1

"And where," you ask, "might I find "Heraclix & Pomp" Book 1?

 Well, you can't . . . yet . . . unless you are one of the publishers to whom my agent has sent the manuscript.

Now, since I can't show you "Heraclix & Pomp" in their first adventure, I'll give a sneak peak, here, of their second adventure. I think I'll do this in three parts, since blogs tend to be rather droll when the entries are too long. Please note that this is first draft stuff, not the polished product. If you'd like to see more of my polished product, you can do so at Smashwords and Amazon, of course. While you're reading, I'll continue writing. I'm knee deep in this book and in the third misadventure of Italo and Vincenzo (tentatively entitled "Thieves of the Hidden God"), whom you can read about in Cloaks of Vermin and Fish and in The Doppelgänger's Shadow. But, without further ado, the rough and ready version of Part 1 of Chapter 1 of Book 2 of "Heraclix & Pomp":

Heraclix and Pomp
Book 2
Chapter 1

Gustav left the wedding party as drunk as the rest of them. But somewhere in the inebriated folds of his brain lingered the conversation he had earlier that night with his friend and sometimes-collaborator, Herr Ewers, a conversation that went something like this:

“Gustav, your stories are starting to create a stir back home,” Herr Ewers said.

“You flatter me, Hanns,” Gustav replied.

“No! Oh, no! Herr Thoma tells me that your little story there has gotten a lot of attention. 'One day,' he says, 'Herr Meyrink will spread his wings and write a novel of lasting significance.' That's what he said about you! 'A novel of lasting significance'!”

“Well,” Gustav said demurely – he was not quite drunk then - “to tell you the truth, I have had something in mind. My little lockup gave me plenty of time to think about the direction of my writing, and I've hit on the kernel of a tale that I'd like to pursue.”

“Do tell,” Herr Ewers implored. “I'd very much like to hear about it.”

“Alright, then,” Gustav's eyes narrowed and he hunched over, as if entering some kind of secret confederacy with his friend. “You know I've lived here, in Prague, for some time now.”

Ewers nodded.

“Well, I've been here long enough that some of the locals have come to trust me enough to share . . .” he paused, looking for the right words, “. . . to share some juicy rumors that would not typically be voiced around foreigners.”

“You are a sly devil, Herr Meyrink.”

“No, not sly, but friendly, friendly enough that the old Jewish ladies, when they're not going on and on about 'young people these days,' have dropped an intriguing crumb or two. One of these,” he narrowed his eyes and smiled with self-satisfaction, “I believe I can turn into an entire feast.”

Ewers, suddenly hungry, looked around, scanning the crowd for the waiter he had earlier seen carrying a plate of hors d'oeuvre's. Not seeing any nearby food, he subdued the hunger through sheer will-power. “You intrigue me, Gustav. Go on.”

“Well, the old ladies have let on about a story that some time ago an old rabbi had created a guardian, a magically-animated statue of some sort, they call it a 'golem,' that would protect the Jewish Quarter from outsiders.”

“Like a homunculus, or a construct!” Ewers said with childlike excitement, the wine obviously starting to take hold.

“Precisely,” Gustav said, nearly giddy. “It is said that the only preventative against the monster unleashing havoc is the tetragrammaton written on its forehead, by which the rabbi controls the beast. And now, they say, this golem is stored in the attic of the synagogue at Josefov, sleeping, awaiting the time when the rabbi should awake it to again defend the chosen people from some unspecified future threat.”

“Fascinating!” Ewers said.

“But more fascinating to me,” Gustav said, “is the ease with which the people believe the rumor. The peoples' conviction is astounding. They truly believe the story. To them it's no myth.”

“Well,” Ewers laughed, “I shall be careful, then, on my walk back home tonight. I wouldn't want to cross paths with such a creature.”

“Nor I!” Gustav agreed.

But he did want to do so.

Deep in his heart, he hoped to cross such a creature, to verify the power behind its creation. Gustav was a mystic, at heart. In fact, it was his study of mysticism that led him to be jailed in the first place. He wondered if, then though that, perhaps there was something to the old ladies' rumors.

And what if there wasn't? If he was to look in the attic of the synagogue and find nothing, that wouldn't prove that the golem never existed, only that it wasn't there at that time. Maybe it had moved on. Maybe it had never been there at all. In any case, he couldn't let the lack of present evidence undermine his faith.

Still, he had to know. So tonight, while the rabbi was drunk back at the wedding party, he would take a side trip on the way home in order to visit the synagogue, just to have a curiosity-satisfying peek. Just this one. What could it hurt? If he was caught, he would blame the wine. Such an offense would be forgiven in short order. Besides, it was easier to gain forgiveness than permission.

The synagogue stood apart from the other buildings of the Jewish Quarter. It was like a shiny new egg in the midst of the nest of surrounding apartment flats, each one decorated with girders and supports that indicated ongoing construction; the new, the mystical temple arising from the dust of the tired and the mundane. He was ashamed by the approaching trespass, embarrassed by events that had not yet even happened. But he was compelled by this profane urge to see inside that sacred space. It thrilled him! And it terrified him.
A cold air mass settled in, turning his breath to frost by the time he sighted the synagogue through the intervening wooden lattice of the perpetual construction framework that seemed to hold the quarter's buildings like so many bugs in a web. The place felt empty, though his eyes saw candlelight through a window and his ears heard the bang and clatter of a dropped pail, followed by the startled screech of an alley cat. Despite these evidences to the contrary, he would have sworn that he walked completely alone through the cold night, exploring the narrow streets, which were sandwiched between jealous walls that rose like canyons to prevent even the stars from peeking in on their private affairs. Windows crawled higher and higher the nearer he came to the synagogue, until he thought of himself as a prisoner trapped in some sort of dungeon labyrinth. A certain presence pressed on him from behind, as if he was being followed. He occasionally stopped to listen, but only heard his own footsteps echo off down the alleys, which caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end.

Just as the cold and his imagination was about to give him full excuse to abandon his foolish, drunken quest, the high walls gave way to the synagogue's courtyard. With renewed determination, he quickly, but clumsily, walked across the open ground and, pushing the front door open, entered. He knew that Rabbi Loew would not return for some time and that the rabbi's assistants were with the old man back at the party. Still, he feared that the synagogue's attendants might soon return. He was in such a rush that he dropped several matches as he fumbled around to light an oil lamp he had found inside, near the door.

Once lit, the lamp did nothing to assuage his fears. Vaporous phantoms seemed to flit and crawl about the place, tauntingly changing seats with one another in the pews or popping up from behind the podium to make a quick mockery of him before hiding again in the shadows. They deceived him with several false leads until he found a trapdoor in the ceiling that he decided was real, even through the mists of fatigue and alcohol.

This must be it, then, he thought. The attic of the synagogue.

As the flickering lamplight settled, he saw it for what it was: an ordinary door in the ceiling. He chuckled a the banality of it all, laughing with self-effacing humor at his own drunken folly. What an idiot I am, he thought. It's only an attic door. Thus emboldened, he took a nearby ladder, propped it up on the lip of the opening, ascended the rungs, and lifted the door up and aside to allow himself egress through the ceiling hole. He could smell burning spider webs as he placed the oil lamp on the attic floor above him before hoisting himself up and in. 
The attic was much larger than he had pictured in his mind, a man-and-a-half high and almost equal in height and width to the floor below, though without the walls, pews and pulpits that obstructed one's appreciation of the true breadth of the structure. Still, the lamp nearly illuminated the whole room, with the exception of the shadowed corners. There were small windows, almost hidden from outside view, along the walls. They seemed to be constructed only to allow one to look out of the synagogue, not to look into it. At this time of night, however, they served only to cast back his own reflection, distorted by the spider-web-laced glow of the lamp.

He startled at his own reflection, then laughed, though it was a forced laugh, a conscious attempt to calm his fears.

He picked his way through knee-high piles of junk and manuscripts. And old, bent menorah held vigil over a tidy pile of robes. Several bottles of wine, some of them, no doubt, of very old vintage, stood ready for feasts and such. Dusty fingerprints on the bottles showed evidence of a recent visitor, the rabbi or one of his assistants, having picked through the cache looking for a bottle or two with which to gift the newlyweds. A number of strange metal instruments reminiscent of compasses and squares were gathered together in a geometric zoo of unknown purpose.

There were several old furnishings in the room covered by white drop cloths, giving the illusion of some sort of ghostly conclave of antiques meeting to decide the fate of the synagogue beneath. One of these cloths, near the wall farthest from the attic's trap door, covered something long and low, perhaps eight feet long, four wide, and three high. On one end, something held the covering aloft even higher, a foot or two above the average height of the rest of the irregular mass beneath. The silhouette lacked the angularity of the other covered furniture. It seemed almost . . . “organic” was the word that came to mind.
Gustav felt drawn to the mass if for no other reason than the irregularity of its shape piqued his curiosity. He climbed past odds and ends, sending some items clattering to the floor as he drunkenly made his way toward the wall. He looked over one shoulder, then the other, as if he feared he was being observed. Then he smiled, shook his head at his own paranoia, and removed the cloth near the taller edge of the mass.

Underneath was an old hookah covered in dust, despite being protected by the cloth. He was disappointed by how unremarkable it was. It sat on a large wooden crate. He noted strange markings etched into the wood directly beneath and around the hookah's base, possibly Arabic or Hebrew or something in-between. These had been inked red, and formed a circle around the object.

He pulled back the drop cloth a little further, then jumped back when he saw a pair of immense feet, much larger than any man's that he had encountered in his life. He was afraid that he might have uncovered a corpse, but a corpse out of all proportion to human anatomy.

As a passing moment of sobriety caught him, he laughed. “A statue,” he said. “Probably the old ladies' golem!” He laughed again.

The moment passed and drunkenness, along with a growing fear, took hold again. He slowly removed the cloth, marveling at the statue.

“So lifelike,” he muttered aloud. “So . . . hideous.”

And, indeed, it was hideous: A melange of stitched together body parts, obviously not from the same person. The detail was impressive. Even sutures had been carved into the statue where the different body parts met. The face was even more detailed, so much so that Gustav momentarily thought that the two eyes, one “grafted” from another head, were two different colors; one red, one indigo. But this was surely a trick of the bad light, combined with the effects of the wine on his vision.

On the creature's forehead, for the statue was most definitely not meant to represent a human, symbols matching those beneath the hookah had been painted.

“The Tetragrammaton,” he said, fascinated by the letters. “This is, indeed, a representation of the golem.”

A tiny noise arose from inside the hookah's glass. A mouse, perhaps? Gustav stooped closer to investigate. No, no mouse. This tapping was more regular. Then what? He held his breath for a moment. Perhaps the sound was coming from somewhere else.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He exhaled slowly. It was definitely coming from inside the hookah.

With great trepidation, he reached over to wipe away a slash of dust with his finger, and layer of grime under the dust, and, beneath the grime, glass. Pressed up against the glass were two tiny balls of white that banged up against the walls of the hookah. A chill ran up his spine as he realized they were . . . fists!?

Then a face peered through the glass, a tiny face, beautiful and terrifying.

Gustav stumbled back a step. He wished, too late, that he had never drunk that last glass of wine. His heels caught on something, sending him sprawling backwards. He reached out a hand to steady himself, but to no avail. One foot involuntarily kicked up, knocking the hookah on its side. His arms flailed above him, one of them striking . . . flesh!?
Somehow, he righted himself. Looking down, he saw where his hand had struck the supine figure, on the forehead. The sacred, secret name of God had been smudged, desecrated. The statue's eyes turned in their sockets toward Gustav.

They were, indeed, red and blue. And very much alive.

Gustav Meyrink fled the synagogue, the idea for his next novel planted firmly in his brain.

1 comment: