“Knew what?” a third voice, that of a man, but as if spoken from the far side of a long tunnel, interrupted their conversation. The voice was squeaky, nervous, and grating to Heraclix's little ears (and Pomp's very little ears).
“Who's there?” Heraclix spun around in the direction of the voice. Pomp went invisible, which was her natural state, truth be told. She preferred to stay visible around her friend, since she knew it helped him to know that she was there. But the sudden voice threw her into a defensive posture.
“An interested observer,” came the voice.
It seemed familiar to Pomp. She was sure that she had heard the voice before.
“And what do you observe?” Heraclix asked, “seeing that we cannot observe you?” He searched in vain for the source of the voice, which seemed just beyond the lamp light.
“I observe a giant, a monster, accompanied by a little winged spirit, or, should I say, sprite?”
“I don't know what you're talking about. There's only me here,” Heraclix lied.
“That's because it, no, she, is hovering in the air just above and behind your head.”
Heraclix turned to look, but did not see anything.
“I still don't see anything,” he said, telling the truth while still trying to defend his friend.
“She's right there!” the voice said. “Up in the air, making obscene gestures at me and pulling faces.”
“Ghost,” Pomp said with a touch of disappointment. “You can see me when the living can't. You're a ghost. Or a devil!”
“No devil,” the voice came closer. “Just an old resident of these parts.”
From the gloom, near the edge of the flickering light, Heraclix could see the specter materialize. He, or it, more properly (since gender didn't do you any good without a body, and Pomp knew that if this being ended up in hell, he would become an “it”), was old, bearded, dressed in moth-eaten rabbinical robes that were embroidered with strange symbols and letters that carried sinister undertones. The ghost's eyes drooped over triple-folded bags, as if the spirit had kept vigil for some long-sought miracle, sacrificing sleep so as to not miss the epiphanic moment. The smile that creased the thing's face held a hint of perversity in its corners, an unnatural glee that bespoke fanaticism of some type. The face made Pomp weary and Heraclix uncomfortable.
“You!” Pomp said. “You want Heraclix . . . and me . . . to be your slaves! You tried for a long . . . time is the word . . . to wake Heraclix up so you could make him do what you wanted.”
“Too late for all that,” the ghost admitted. “Or I am late, if you catch my drift.”
“I saw you . . . die.” Even after all her experiences, Pomp found the concept of death difficult to comprehend.
“And now, I get to see you live,” the ghost said with barely disguised pride, as if it had been the cause of the pair's liberty from their magical bindings. “I have watched and waited for this moment for such a long time. You,” it pointed to Heraclix, “are even more terrifying awake than you were asleep. That's saying something! And you,” he turned to Pomp, clearly seeing her, though she would be invisible to living eyes, “you are nothing like what I imagined. I was led to believe that you were a fiery efreet, a bottled genie who would grant me my wishes if I freed you.”
“Who told you this?” Heraclix asked.
“The man who wanted you stored here: Gerhart Storm.”
“And what became of Storm?”
“I'm not altogether sure,” the ghost said. “But something tells me I'm about to find out.”
“Speak plain,” Pomp demanded. “No games. What do you mean?”
“I'm being drawn somewhere,” the ghost said. Already, its glowing figure was beginning to stretch toward the trapdoor, as if an invisible hand was pulling him by a stray ectoplasmic thread to another destination.
“I've got a bad feeling about where I'm going.” Any hint of self-assuredness had left the ghost, replaced by a deep fear that manifested itself in those tired eyes, growing like tulips out of the winter dirt. “But I think I might find Storm there, if you'll follow meeee!”
The ghost's body attenuated, pulled like taffy down through the trapdoor.
Pomp bolted, following the ghost at full speed. Heraclix clambered over the floor and leaped down after, crashing through the ladder and landing on the synagogue floor. He saw Pomp zip through an open door. He sprang to the doorway with an agility that seemed impossible to one of his size, then sprinted off into the night, careful to keep Pomp, who had made herself fully visible to aid her friend, in his sights. The full moon had crested overhead, making her wings shine, even in the dark architectural canyons of Josefov. She flew so fast that it seemed like she left a white blur behind her. Whether the trace of her movement was real or the after-effects of 150 years of slumber on his vision, Heraclix could not be sure. All he knew was that, as he followe it, he could see her, ofttimes only seeing her feet disappearing around a corner ahead, just as he emerged from a corner behind.
Heraclix became heedless of direction, careening through alleyways, over piles of junk and tomcats, and down Prague's cobblestone streets.
Gustav Meyrink, fresh from his drunken vomit (never, ever eat sweetcakes after that much wine!), emerged from a darkened alleyway into the shadow-cut moonlight. It had been a rough night, full of inebriated visions both miraculous and terrifying, all of them unbelievable and seemingly silly when moments of lucidity cleared the alcohol fumes from his brain. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a skull-splitting headache lurked. He knew it was there, waiting for morning to dig its claws into his head. But he welcomed the prospect of pain, of something that would cut through his soul-numbed phantasmagorical dreams, something real.
Something like the man that he now saw running down the street, the man dressed in rags that had fallen out of fashion over a century ago. The man who became impossibly large, the closer he got. The man with one glaring rd eye and a tattoo on his forehead.
Only that was no tattoo. It was a smudged word, a word written in Hebrew letters, from his strangest dreams, which would only mean . . .
The giant stopped in the street long enough to cast a glance of Gustav the drunk. The monster seemed to recognize the writer.
Gustav passed out, his body hitting the street just as the golem rejoined the chase.
Heraclix ducked through a doorway, entering a derelict building. It was in even worse condition than the surrounding block of cracked-wall, teetering flats.
He recognized the place at once.
“No!” he said aloud.
Pomp stepped out from a hole in what appeared to be a bricked up doorway.
“Yes,” Pomp said. “The ghost goes down there,” she pointed to the area through the hole, beyond the bricked-up wall.
“Where else?” Heraclix said in resignation. He sighed heavily. “Well, friend Pomp, once more into the breech!”