“Istanbul? That makes sense. But how the fuck do I get to Istanbul?” Mirsky stops muttering to himself and looks up from the letter. In his mind, he’s already on the way. “I’ll get Bing and Bob and we’re on the road to Istanbul.” Deserting the Army is just an obstacle to be overcome. Sure, it’s been nice to be given the opportunity to kill Nazis, but this is his sister and she’s more important than anything. He starts figuring angles, scams, different ways to make it happen.
Thoughts, memories of Leah keep intruding. What she must be going through. Memories of how scared he was, the first times he had to do what needed to be done. She was always the tough one. Fearless. Anyone could stand up to the Russians, they were just thugs, but she stood up to their father, stood up to the Rabbi, stood up to all the scary old women who looked and judged. She stood up and never backed down. All alone. He always had his gang at his back.
He carefully smooths out the letter, folds it, and puts it back into the envelope. He tucks the letter away safe into an inside pocket. Each movement is precise and controlled. Those who knew him, back then, back in the cities, they would have recognized that style of moving. Benny Mirsky getting ready to do what needed to be done.
The plans he’s making, the possibilities unfolding in his mind, they all keep coming back to one person, the one person who might be able to help him, the one person who might have the juice to get him out, the one person who might understand what he’s going through. “Yeah, but he killed Simco. Put him down like a dog. But do I give a runny shit? This is Leah. Leah’s in danger. So, no, I don’t care. Not now. The monsters exist. I know. I saw them. Do I care? No. Leah’s in danger. Deal with it, move on. And remember, I saw them go down, those monsters, if they’re shot in the head enough. And I know how to shoot things in the head. Anything that gets between me and Leah.”
He gets up and heads towards the tent’s exit. He doesn’t feel his exhaustion any more. Doesn’t care that he’s still wearing the dirty bloody fatigues from the night before. He’s got his rifle and the letter.
Fisher calls out to him. “Was it good news, in the letter?”
Mirsky just shrugs and keeps going. “Good and bad.”
“Where you off to?”
“Gonna go see if I can cut a deal with a rabbi.”
“Huh?” On the sound of Fisher’s puzzlement, Mirsky exits into the cold Tunisian morning and into the bustle of the camp. He looks around, spots Iron Joe, the walking tank, looming over the tents some distance away. He squares his shoulders and heads in that direction. A blast of dark humor shivers through him and he starts to hum “We’re Off To See The Wizard” to himself.
Maccabbee is exhausted. Drained. He’s slumped back in the passenger seat of the Jeep, and is barely aware of jolting and the noise as Malkuth drives them into Camp Cuckoo. He can feel the big golem’s concern and that makes him even more tired. It’s not just the pressures of combat and command that have made him so tired. The fatigue is part of the price that he paid, part of the price that he’s still paying. No action without sacrifice. Without even concentrating, in the blackness behind his eyelids, he’s aware of all the golems, even the three of them in Jeep behind them.
These days, he’s not even safe behind his eyelids. The visions are becoming more frequent. Instead of blackness, he sees The Tree. He sees the golems placed on The Tree, signifying their Sephiroth. He sees himself, suspended in the midst of The Tree, all the pathways running through him, all of the power flowing from Kether, through him, to the golems. No power from him, he had been so stupid, so completely misunderstanding when he’d started, he’s just the focus, a prism splitting the light. And he’s on fire.
Malkuth glances at the man next to him every once in awhile, concerned. The Rabbi needs to sleep. The golem doesn’t know much, being only almost two years old, but he does know that the man needs to rest and that this twitching and crying out isn’t it. His broad flat featured face creases in worry and he flexes his hands. He stops that when the steering wheel starts to bend and twist. He’s ruined more than one Jeep before he learned his strength. He concentrates on his driving, weaving the vehicle through the Army camp.
“He doesn’t look good.” The voice is low, something like a woman’s voice, pitched just right to be heard over the sound of the Jeep’s engine but not loud enough to disturb Maccabbee.
Malkuth takes a quick look back at Binah, who’s hanging onto the .30 cal machine gun. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of him. He’ll be fine.” He whips his head back to pay attention to the road before the Jeep slides into a muddy crater, but not so quick that he can’t see the doubt on her finely crafted features.
As always, Malkuth feels especially lumpy and ill formed around Binah. And jealous. The questions that he’s had ever since he saw for the first time, saw her clay flesh move for the first time, life ripple through it as she lay on the slab in the Temple. Why did he have to be created first? Why does he have to be the lumpy ugly one? Why couldn’t the Rabbi have gotten his shit together before making him. The last thought is painfully blasphemous, literally so. His scroll of creation, the one buried inside his forehead, just behind the Hebrew word EMETH, burns and twitches. A toad of fire, buried in clay, muttering at him to behave.
As he’s done every time, he drops those thoughts. Concentrates on the task at hand. Concentrates on being a servant, created to serve. His thick stubby fingers shed clay dust as he strangles the steering wheel. This time, he doesn’t care that his fingers leave dents in the metal.
The Jeep, carrying the two golems, loaded down so far its springs groan in protest, wallows through the mud. In the back, Binah keeps her balance, hanging onto the .30 cal. She looks down at the back of Malkuth’s head. Understanding, and through that, compassion is written into her very being and she feels pity for the big lug. Created to protect. Created to care. Created to serve. And now it’s becoming more and more difficult to follow those orders as they get further into this war. So many different orders, so many different directives, all grinding against their primal orders. Those old kabbalists, creating the first golems all those centuries ago, had no way of foreseeing golems going to war in an army, had no way of foreseeing golems having to take orders from anyone else but their creator. She senses possibilities in this conflict. Under her fingers, each with a delicately etched fingernail, the grips of the .30 cal deform.
The closer they get to the camp, the worse the road gets. Malkuth doesn’t talk again, just concentrates on the driving, tries to avoid the worst of the ruts and rocks for the Rabbi’s sake. Maccabbee rouses to a patchy wakefulness after a patch of ruts that Malkuth can’t avoid no matter how much he tries. “We about back?”
Malkuth doesn’t speak, just grunts and gestures with his head to sprawling Army camp that’s just becoming visible as they come around a curve and start heading down a hill.
Finally, the Jeeps come to the camp’s entrance and the guards wave them through, not afraid, exactly, they’ve seen them before, but they’re made uneasy by the otherworldliness of the Golems. In this arena of buzzing, screaming modernity, internal combustion engines, fighter planes, mass produced death, electric lights, and total war, the Golems give off a scent, an aura, that is ancient and strange. Dust and magic, mud and the ineffable name of God. Moving, living statues that embody the Other. And they carry machine guns and kill Nazis and Nazi monsters like nobody’s business. Admiration mixed with the heebie-jeebies, the heebie-jeebies mixed with admiration, depending on how recently the American soldier has seen combat. Those feelings aren’t made any more definite by Geburah grinning at them and then saluting with two of its arms. The uniforms that the golems wear are tattered, slashed by vampire claws and pierced with bullet holes, showing damage that would have killed any human soldier many times over.
Driving through the camp, the golems attract all sorts of eyes: side eyes, evil eyes, wondering eyes, admiring eyes. They suffer the scrutiny without comment, even Geburah decides not to fuck with the humans. Eventually, they come to a section that’s fenced off from the rest. The gate to this section has a sign hanging above it: Camp Cuckoo. The sign is topped by the skull of some sort of monster, all tusks and ripping teeth, and framed by flame blackened remnants of a Nazi super weapon.
“Home sweet home.” Hesod’s tone is so flat that you could cut the irony with a knife.
The two jeeps come to a stop in front of a large tent. They all get out of the jeeps. Geburah’s still twitchy, excited from the combat with the vampires. A twitchy golem is never a pleasant thing to see. Its fingers, all its fingers, all twenty of them on all four hands, drum on the hood of the Jeep. Rapid syncopation with odd backfills, picked up from Berber drummers in the Djemaa el-Fna in Marakech.
Maccabbee moves slower than any of the golems, levers himself out of the passenger seat. “We did good. Killed a lot of vampires, drove off that attack.” His attempt at enthusiasm fails underneath the weight of his weariness.
“Not enough.” Geburah punctuates each words with an ominous marching drumbeat.
“It was a good night’s work. Thank you.” A flickering expression that’s more of a grimace than a smile. A hand waves vaguely in their direction. “I’m going to write some reports, get some sleep. You’re all free to do what you want, but stay close, we might get word of another mission at any time.” Without waiting for any response, Maccabbee goes into the tent, Malkuth following. The remaining golems all look at each other. The silence made by Geburah stopping drumming on the hood of the Jeep says all that needs to be said.
It’s a large tent, room for a cot and a small table and chair. Cold and damp. A floor made out of shipping pallets keeps away the worst of the mud and water. A metal trunk at the foot of the cot, stack of old battered books on top of the closed lid. Battered typewriter on the table. Maccabbee dumps his gear at the foot of his cot and slumps tiredly on it. He stares fixedly at his hands, watching them tremble. Malkuth stands by the tent’s entrance, a concerned expression furrows his face.
“You get some sleep, Rabbi.”
For a minute, it’s as if he doesn’t hear the golem. Then he sighs deeply, straightens, and looks up at Malkuth with a wry grin on his face. “What are you, my mother?” His fake Yiddish accent is pretty good. “Such a worrier, you are.”
Malkuth’s Yiddish accent isn’t as good. “Go ahead and break your mother’s heart, you little pisher. I made brisket.”
Maccabbee snorts out a laugh. “Now I know you’re not my mother. She never made brisket in her life.” He gets up off the cot, sways, and stops to get his balance. He waves a hand towards Malkuth, stopping the golem’s abortive movement of help. Gathering his strength, he goes to the table and sits down. Sets up the typewriter with a form from a small pile on the table and starts typing an after action report. Hunt and peck. He speaks without looking up. “Soon as I finish these reports, Malkuth, I promise that I’ll rest. You go, be with the other golems. I’ll be fine.”
Malkuth hesitates. Hard for a large animated stone statue to look indecisive, but he manages. Shifts in one direction, then the other.
At the sound of creaking boards, Maccabbee looks up from the typewriter. His face and voice harden. “Go. I’ll. Be. Fine.”
Malkuth nods deferentially and his voice is monotone. “If you say so. But please get some sleep, if you can.” He turns and lumbers out of the tent.
Maccabbee continues to type, occasionally blots the blood that drips from his nose.
The golems are clustered around the entrance, sitting on ammo boxes, except for Geburah, who is pacing. They all look at Malkuth as he comes out of the tent.. His shrug sends a patter of dust and grit off his shoulders, visible through rips in his uniform.
Tipareth’s bearded features show frustration. “Is he going to rest? He’s not doing well, we can all see it.” His deep voice slows for emphasis. “I can FEEL it.”
Malkuth spreads his hands, the blunt powerful fingers. “What can I do? I’m not going to sit on him until he sleeps.” He tries a grin, a wretched failure. “I’d squash him flat.”
The attempt at humor is completely ignored. Binah stands, almost as restless as Geburah. “We’ve got to do something. We all know what’ll happen to us if he pushes himself too hard and dies.” She stops and looks at the ground. Her voice softens as she brings up what they’re all not trying to think about. “Or if he gets shot in the head. We’re in the middle of a war, after all, going toe to toe with Nazis and vampires every chance we get.”
And now they’re all silent, exchanging glances that acknowledge that none of them has a suggestion of what to do.
The silence holds until Malkuth, as he was created to do, brings them back to The World, the Here and Now. He claps his hands together, a brisk cracking sound. “I’m going to stay here and keep an eye on him, maybe try to get him to eat something.” He keeps his voice strong and confident. “The rest of you go walk around, find out if there’s anything going on. If we’re to protect the Rabbi, we need to know when and what we’ll be going up against. So, go! Get!”
The other four golems look at each other and find nothing to say. Reluctantly, with backward glances towards Malkuth and the tent, Tipareth, Geburah, Binah, and Hesod walk away.