It was overcast and blustery and the snow
was coming down as hard as a year’s accumulation of overdue bills. Within the
laboratory, Stein made the final adjustments, checked the readouts, and
inspected the critical circuit breakers one last, final time. There was no
going back now. The success or failure of his life’s work hinged on what
happened in the next few moments.
He knew there were those who if given the
chance would try to steal his success, but if everything worked he would take
care of them first. Them with their primitive, futile notions and dead-end
ideas! All subterfuge and smoke, behind which they doubtless intended to claim
his triumph as their own. Let them scheme and plot while they could. Soon they
would be out of the way, and he would be able to bask in his due glory without
fear of theft or accusation.
He began throwing the switches, turning
the dials. Fitful bursts of necrotic light threw the strange shapes that
occupied the vast room in the old warehouse into stark relief. Outside, the
snow filled up the streets, sifting into dirty gutters, softening the outlines
of the city. Not many citizens out walking in his section of town, he reflected.
It was as well. Though the laboratory was shuttered and soundproofed, there was
no telling what unforeseen sights and sounds might result when he finally
pushed his efforts of many years to a final conclusion.
The dials swung while the readings on the
gauges mounted steadily higher. Nearing the threshold now. The two huge Van de
Graff generators throbbed with power. Errant orbs of ball lightning burst free,
to spend themselves against the insulated ceiling in showers of coruscating
sparks. It was almost time.
He threw the final, critical switch.
Gradually the crackling faded and the
light in the laboratory returned to normal. With the smell of ozone sharp in
his nostrils, Stein approached the table. For an instant, there was nothing
more than disappointment brokered by uncertainty. And then—a twitch. Slight,
but unmistakable. Stein stepped back, eyes wide and alert. A second twitch,
this time in the arms. Then the legs, and finally the torso itself.
With a profound grinding sound, the
creature sat up, snapping the two-inch wide leather restraining straps as if
they were so much cotton thread.
“It’s alive!” Stein heard himself shouting.
“It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive!”
He advanced cautiously until he was
standing next to the now seated Monster. The bolts in its neck had been singed
black from the force of the charge which had raced through it, but there were
no signs of serious damage. Tentatively, Stein reached out and put a hand on
the creature’s arm. The massive, blocky skull swiveled slowly to look down at
Stein was delighted. “You and I, we are
destined to conquer the world. At last, the work of my great-grandfather is
brought to completion.” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “But
there are those who would thwart us, who would stand in our way. I know who
they are, and they must be—dealt with. Listen closely, and obey....”
Outside, the snow continued to fall.
In the dark cellar Rheinberg carefully
enunciated the ancient words. Only a little light seeped through the
street-level window, between the heavy bars. Seated in the center of the room,
in middle of the pentagram, was the sculpture. Rheinberg was as talented as he
was resourceful, and the details of his creation were remarkable for their
depth and precision.
An eerie green glow began to suffuse the
carefully crafted clay figure as the ancient words echoed through the studio. Rheinberg
read carefully from the copy of the ancient manuscript in a steady, unvarying
monotone. With each word, each sentence, the glow intensified, until softly
pulsing green shadows filled every corner of the basement studio.
Almost, but not quite, he halted in the
middle of the final sentence, at the point when the eyes of the figure began to
open. That would have been dangerous, he knew. And so, fully committed now, he
read on. Only when he’d finished did he dare allow himself to step forward for
a closer look.
The eyes of the Golem were fully open now,
unblinking, staring straight ahead. Then they shifted slowly to their left,
taking notice of the slight, anxious man who was approaching.
“It works. It worked! The old legends were
true.” Unbeknownst to Rheinberg, the parchment sheet containing the words had
crumpled beneath his clenching fingers. “The world is ours, my animate friend!
Ours, as soon as certain others are stopped. You’ll take care of that little
matter for me, won’t you? You’ll do anything I ask. You must. That’s what the
“Ooooyyyyyyyy!” Moaning darkly, the
massive figure rose. Its gray head nearly scraped the ceiling.
Within the charmed circle something was
rising. A pillar of smoke, black shot through with flashes of bright yellow,
coiling and twisting like some giant serpent awakened from an ancient sleep. Al-Nomani
recited the litany and watched, determined to maintain the steady sing-song of
the nefarious quatrain no matter what happened.
The fumes began to thicken, to coalesce. Limbs
appeared, emerging from the roiling hell of the tornadic spiral. The whirlwind
itself began to change shape and color, growing more man-like with each verse,
until a horrid humanoid figure stood where smoke had once swirled. It had two
rings in its oversized left ear, a huge nose, and well-developed fangs growing
upward from its lower jaw. For all that, the fiery yellow eyes that glared out
at the historian from beneath the massive, low-slung brow reeked of
“By the beard of the Prophet!” Al-Nomani
breathed tensely, “it worked!” He put
down the battered, weathered tome from which he had been reading. The giant
regarded him silently, awaiting. As it was supposed to do.
Al-Nomani took a step forward. “You will
do my bidding. There is much that needs be done. First and foremost there is
the matter of those who would challenge my knowledge, and my supremacy. They
must be shown the error of their ways. I commit you to deal with them.”
“Eeeehhhhzzzzz!” Within the circle the
Afreet bowed solemnly. Its arms were as big around as tree trunks.
Stillman was cruising the run-down
commercial area just outside the industrial park when he noticed movement up
the side street. At this hour everything was closed up tight, and the weather
had reduced traffic even further. He picked up the cruiser’s mike, then set it
back in its holder. Might be nothing more than some poor old rhummy looking for
a warm place to sleep.
Still, the vagrants and the homeless tended
to congregate downtown. It was rare to encounter one this far out. Which meant
that the figure might be looking to help itself to something more readily
convertible than an empty park bench. Stillman flicked on the heavy flashlight
and slid out of the car, drawing his service revolver as he did so. The red and
yellows atop the cruiser revolved steadily, lighting up the otherwise dark
Cautiously, he advanced on the narrow
roadway. He had no intention of entering, of course. If the figure ran, that
would be indication enough something was wrong, and that’s when he’d call for
Hey, you in there! Kinda late for a stroll, especially in this weather,
ain’t it?” The only reply was a strange
shuffling. The officer blinked away falling snow as something shifted in the
shadows. He probed with his flashlight.
“Come on out, man. I know you’re back
there. I don’t want any trouble from you and you really don’t want any from me.
Don’t make me come in there after you.” He took a challenging step forward.
Something vast and monstrous loomed up
with shocking suddenness, so big his light could not illuminate it all. Officer
Corey Stillman gaped at the apparition. His finger contracted reflexively on
the trigger of his service revolver, and a sharp crack echoed down the alley. The
creature flinched, then reached for him with astounding speed.
His head throbbed like his brother’s
Evenrude when he finally came around. Groaning, he reached for the back of his
skull as he straightened up in the snow. Memories came flooding back and he
looked around wildly, but the Monster was gone, having shambled off down the
street. Eleven years on the force and that was without question the ugliest
dude he’d ever encountered. Quick for his size, too. Too damn quick. He was
sure his single shot had hit home, but it hadn’t even slowed the big guy down. Wincing,
he climbed to his feet and surveyed his surroundings. His cruiser sat where he’d
left it in the street, lights still revolving patiently.
His gun lay in the snow nearby. Slowly he
picked up the .38, marveling at the power which had crushed it to a metal pulp.
What had he encountered, and how could he report it? Nobody’d believe him.
A figure stepped into view from behind the
building. He tensed, but big as the pedestrian was, he was utterly different in
outline from Stillman’s departed assailant. Seeking help, the officer took a
couple of steps toward it—and pulled up short.
The enormous stranger was the color of
damp clay, save for vacant black eyes that stared straight through him.
Startled by the exclamation, the creature
whirled and struck.
This time when Stillman regained
consciousness he didn’t move, just lay in the snow and considered his situation.
His second attacker had been nothing like the first, yet no less terrifying in
appearance. He no longer cared if everyone back at the station thought him
crazy; he needed back-up.
Too much overtime, he told himself. That
had to be it. Too many hours rounding up too many hookers and junkies and sneak
thieves. Mary was right. He needed to use some of that vacation time he’d been
Body aching, head still throbbing, he
struggled to his feet. The cruiser beckoned, its heater pounding away
persistently despite the open door on the driver’s side. Recovering his hat and
clutching the flashlight, he staggered around the front, pausing at the door to
lean on it for support. The heat from the interior refreshed him, made him feel
better. He started to slide in behind the wheel.
The seat was already occupied by something
with burning yellow eyes and a bloated, distorted face straight out of the
worst nightmares of childhood. It was playing with the police radio scanner, mouthing
it like a big rectangular cookie.
He’d surprised it, and of course it
“Oh no!” Stillman moaned as he
staggered backward and an unnaturally long arm reached for him. “Not again!”
The wonderful profusion of brightly
colored street and store lights slowed the Monster’s progress, mysteriously
diluted its intent. The lights were festive and cheerful. Even as it kept to
the shadows, it could see the faces of smiling adults and laughing children. There
were the decorations, too: in the stores, above the streets, on the houses. Laughter
reached him through the falling snow; childish giggles, booming affirmations of
good humor, deep chuckles of pleasure. Invariably, it all had a cumulative
Memories stirred: memories buried deep
within the brain he’d been given. The lights, the snow, the laughter and
ebullient chatter of toys and candy: it all meant something. He just wasn’t
sure what. Confused, he turned and lurched off down the dark alley between two
tall buildings, trying to reconcile his orders with these disturbing new
He paused suddenly, senses alert. Someone
else was coming up the alley. The figure was big, much bigger than any human he’d
observed so far that night. Not that he was afraid of any human, or for that
matter, any thing. Teeth and joints grinding, arms extended, he started
There was just enough light for the two
figures to make each other out. When they could do so with confidence, they
hesitated in mutual confusion. Something strange was abroad this night, and
both figures thought it most peculiar.
“Who—what—you?” the Monster declaimed in a
voice like a rusty mine cart rolling down long-neglected track. Speech was
“I vaz going ask you the same qvestion.”
The other figure’s black eyes scrutinized the slow-speaking shape standing
opposite. “You one revolting looking schlemiel, I can tell you.”
“You not—no raving beauty yourself.”
“So tell me zumthing I don’t know.” The
Golem’s massive shoulders heaved, a muscular gesture of tectonic proportions.
“What be this, pbuh?” Both massive shapes
turned sharply, to espy a third figure hovering close behind them. Despite its
size it had made not a sound during its approach.
“Und I thought you vaz ugly,” the Golem
murmured to the Monster as it contemplated the newcomer.
“Speak not ill of others lest the wrath of
Allah befall thee.” The Afreet approached, its baleful yellow eyes flicking
from one shape to the next. “What manner of mischief is afoot this night?”
“Ask you—the same,” the Monster rumbled.
The Afreet bowed slightly. “I am but
recently brought fresh into the world, and am abroad on a mission for my mortal
master of the moment.” It glanced back toward the main street, with its
twinkling lights and window-shopping pedestrians blissfully unaware of the
astonishing conclave that was taking place just down the alley. “Yet I fear the
atmosphere not conducive to my command, for what I see and hear troubles my
mind like a prattling harim.”
“You too?” The Golem rubbed its chin. Clay
flakes fell to the pavement. “I vaz thinking the same.”
“I think I know—what is wrong.” The other
two eyed the Monster.
“Nu? So don’t keep it to yourself,” said
“I have been pondering.” Eyes squinted
tight with the stress of the activity. “Pondering hard. What I think is that
the season,” the creature declared slowly, “is the reason.”
“Pray tell, explain thyself.” The Afreet
was demanding, but polite.
The Monster’s square forehead turned
slowly. “The brain I was given—remembers. This time of year—the sights I
see—make me remember. The time is wrong—for the command I was given. All—wrong.
Wrong to kill—at the time of Christmas.”
“Kill,” echoed the Afreet. “Strange are
the ways of the Prophet, for such was the order I was given. To kill this night
two men; one of art and one of learning. Felix Stein and Joseph Rheinberg.”
The Monster and the Golem started and
exchanged a look. “I vaz to stamp out Stein alzo,” muttered the Golem, “as vell
as a historian name of Al-Nomani. Rheinberg is my master.”
“And Stein—mine,” added the Monster.
“Fascinating it be,” confessed the Afreet.
“For Al-Nomani is the one who called me forth.”
“He is one whom I was to—slay,” announced
the Monster. “And this Rheinberg—too.”
The formidable, and formidably bemused,
trio pondered this arresting coincidence in silence, while cheerful music and
the sound of caroling drifted back to them from the street beyond. Though least
verbal of the three, it was again the Monster who articulated first.
“Something—wrong—here. Wrong notion. Wrong
time of—the year. Everything—wrong.”
“Go on, say it again,” growled the Golem.
“Not just Christmas it is, but Chanukah also. Not a time for inimical spirits
to be stirring. Not even a mouse.”
“The spirit of Ramadan moves within me,”
declared the Afreet. “I know not what manner of life or believers you be, but I
sense that in this I am of similar mind with you.”
“Then what—we—do?” the Monster wondered
Stillman blinked snow from his eyes. By
now there wasn’t much left of his cap, or his winter coat. He fumbled for the
flashlight, somehow wasn’t surprised to find that the supposedly impregnable
cylinder of aircraft grade aluminum had been twisted into a neat pretzel shape.
He saw the cruiser and crawled slowly
towards it. Nothing inside him seemed to be broken, but every muscle in his
bruised body protested at the forced movement. The rotating lights atop the car
were beginning to weaken as the battery ran down.
He was a foot from the door when he sensed
a presence and looked to his right.
Three immense forms stood staring down at
him, each all too familiar from a previous recent encounter. It was impossible
to say which of the trio was the most terrifying. A clawed hand reached for
“Please,” he whispered through
snow-benumbed lips, “no more. Just kill me and get it over with.”
The powerful fingers clutched his jacket
front and lifted him as easily as if he were a blank arrest report, setting him
gently on his feet. Another huge hand, dark and even-toned as the play clay his
little girl made mudpies with, helped keep him upright. Trembling in spite of
himself, he looked from one fearsome face to the next.
“I don’t get it. What is this? What are you setting me up for?”
“We need—your help,” the Monster mumbled,
like a reluctant clog in a main city sewer line.
Stillman hesitated. “You need my help? That’s
a switch.” He brushed dirty snow from his waist and thighs. “What kind of help?
To be your punching bag?” He blinked at the Monster. “Uh, sorry about shooting
you. You startled me. Heck, you still startle me.”
“I—forgive,” the Monster declaimed,
sounding exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger on a bad shooting day.
“Yeah—okay then. Well—what did
you—boys—have in mind?”
The Afreet’s eyes burned brightly. “In
this Time, praise be, is it still among men a crime to set another to commit
Stillman stiffened slightly. “Damn
straight it is. Why do you ask?”
The Afreet glanced at its companions. “We
know of several who have done this thing. Should they not, by your mortal laws,
be punished for this?”
“You bet they should. You know where these
guys are?” All three creatures nodded. Stillman hesitated. “You have proof?”
The Golem dug a fist the size and
consistency of a small boulder into its open palm. “You shouldn’t vorry,
policeman. I promise each one a full confession vill sign.”
“If you’re sure....” Stillman eyed the
stony figure warily. “You’re not talking about obtaining a confession under
duress, are you?”
The Golem spread tree-like arms wide. “My friends and I vill chust a little
friendly visit pay them. Each of them.”
Stillman delivered the three badly shaken
men to the station by himself. There was no need to call for backup. Not after
his hefty acquaintances warned the three outraged but nonetheless compliant
tamperers-with-the-laws-of-nature that if any of them so much as ventured an
indecent suggestion in the officer’s direction, the improvident speaker would
sooner or later find himself on the receiving end of a midnight visit from all
three of the—visitants. In the face of that monumentally understated threat,
the would-be masters of the world proved themselves only too eager to cooperate
with the police.
Stillman presented the thoroughly
disgruntled experimenters to the duty officer, together with their signed
confessions attesting to their respective intentions to murder one another, a
collar which was sure to gain him a commendation at the least, and possibly
even a promotion. It was worth the aches and pains to see the look on the
lieutenant’s face when each prisoner meekly handed over his confession. It
further developed that all three men were additionally wanted on various minor
charges, from theft of scientific equipment and art supplies to failing to
return an overdue book from the University’s Special Collections library.
The members of the unnatural trio who had
propitiated this notable sequence of events waited behind the station to
congratulate Stillman when he clocked off duty. He winced as he stretched,
studying each of them in turn.
“So—what’re you guys gonna do now?” he
asked curiously. “If you’d like to hang around the city, I know for a fact you
could probably each get a tryout with the Bears.”
“Bears?” the Monster rumbled. “I like to
“No, no. It’s a professional sports team. You
know? Pro football? No,” he reflected quietly, “maybe you don’t know.”
“If it be His will, we shall each of us
make our way to a place of solitude and contentment. For such as we be, there
is a special path for doing so. But we must wait for the coming of day to find
the true passageways.”
Stillman nodded. “Seems a shame after what
you’ve done tonight to have to hang out here, by yourselves, in this crappy
Mary Stillman came out of the kitchen to
greet her returning husband. She was drying a large serving dish with a beige
towel spotted with orange flowers.
“Mary,” Stillman called out, “I’m home!
And I’ve brought some friends over for a little late supper. Do we have any of
that Christmas turkey left?”
“Urrrrr—Christmas!” the Monster growled
like a runaway eighteen-wheeler locking up its brakes at seventy per, and his
sentiment if not his words were echoed by his companions.
While the Golem skillfully caught the dish
before it struck the floor, the well-mannered Afreet performed the same service
for a falling Mary Stillman. When she recovered consciousness and her husband
hastily explained matters to her, she nodded slowly and went to see what she
could find in the kitchen, whereupon they all shared a very nice late-night
snack indeed, wholly in keeping with the spirit of the Seasons.