But what if she didn't work properly? What if she didn't wake at all, but only lay there, a lump of clay in the shape of a woman? It struck him for the first time that he'd seen no proof that Schaalman could do what he'd promised. Panicked, he fished the envelope from his pocket, withdrew from it the scrap of paper. Gibberish, meaningless words, a jumble of Hebrew letters! What a fool he'd been!
He swung his legs over the side of his bunk, and fetched a kerosene lamp off its nail. Pressing a hand to his side, he hurried through the maze of bunks to the stairwell and down to the hold.
It took him nearly two hours to find the crate, two hours of picking his way through stacks of suitcases and boxes bound with twine. His stomach burned, and cold sweat dripped into his eyes. Finally he moved aside a rolled-up carpet, and there it was: his crate, and in it his bride.
He found a crowbar, pried the nails from the crate and yanked off the lid. Heart pounding, he pulled the paper from his pocket, and spoke the command labeled To Wake the Golem.
He held his breath, and waited.
* * *
Slowly the Golem came to life.
First to wake were her senses. She felt the roughness of wood under her fingertips, the cold, damp air on her skin. She sensed the movement of the boat. She smelled mildew, and the tang of seawater.
She woke a little more, and knew she had a body. The fingertips that felt the wood were her own. The skin that the air chilled was her skin. She moved a finger, to see if she could.
There was a man nearby, breathing. She knew his name and who he was. He was her master, her entire purpose; she was his golem, bound to his will. And right now he wanted her to open her eyes.
The Golem opened her eyes.
Her master was kneeling above her in the dim light. His face and hair were drenched with sweat. With one hand he braced himself on the edge of the crate; the other was pressed at his stomach.
"Hello," Rotfeld whispered. An absurd shyness had tightened his voice. "Do you know who I am?"
"You're my master. Your name is Otto Rotfeld." Her voice was clear and natural, if a bit deep.
"That's right," he said, as though to a child. "And do you know who you are?"
"A golem." She paused, considering. "I don't have a name."
"Not yet," Rotfeld said, smiling. "I'll have to think of one for you."
Suddenly he winced. The Golem didn't need to ask why, for she could feel it as well, a dull ache that echoed his. "You're in pain," she said, concerned.
"It's nothing," Rotfeld said. "Sit up."
She sat up in the crate, and looked about. The kerosene lamp cast a feeble light that roamed with the ship's rocking. Long shadows loomed and retreated across stacks of luggage and boxes. "Where are we?" she asked.
"On a ship, crossing the ocean," Rotfeld said. "We're on our way to America. But you must be very careful. There are many people on this ship, and they'd be frightened if they knew what you were. They might even try to harm you. You'll need to lie here very still, until we reach land."
The ship leaned sharply, and the Golem clutched at the edges of the crate.
"It's all right," Rotfeld whispered. He lifted a shaking hand to stroke her hair. "You're safe here, with me," he said. "My golem."
Suddenly he gasped, bent his head to the deck, and began to retch. The Golem watched with chagrin. "Your pain is growing worse," she said.
Rotfeld coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I told you," he said, "it's nothing." He tried to stand, but staggered, and fell to his knees. A wave of panic hit him as he began to realize that something was truly wrong.
Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 by Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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