You stood under the covered area listening for frogs. For all the fit winter had thrown, summer had come fast and summer had come hard. The frogs croaked in lulling hush tones having their own renaissance in the honeysuckle marsh. The dragonflies hovered sleepily over the fishing pond and every so often, one dipped into its green waters sending ripples through the glassy surface. The grass was still green, the gravel path had yet to kick up any exorbitant dust clouds, and all seemed well as You gazed out onto the slumbering park on this young summer night. Five hours until sunrise and there was nothing to do but wait. That’s what You had been commanded to do and You always followed orders. Even to a fault.
The new summer crew was starting tomorrow. If You had any reservations, they weren’t easily detectable through its round, hollow eyes. It was hard to imagine anything at all was stirring in it’s empty clay head. From a distance, You appeared to be nothing more than a statue and in its present state, that wasn’t entirely wrong. Its hollow body was lighter than it looked, fragile even, but the magic animating its frame also served to fortify its sturdiness. Still, a breathy panging noise rand out whenever You bumped into a hard object.
The passage of time meant little to You, but dawn broke regardless and with it came the city truck sputtering down the steep hill. The truck was not unlike You. It wasn’t living yet it could move. It was restricted to the same laws of obedience as far as You could tell, though that may not be true in light of its recent performance hiccups and the red face of Director whenever the truck struggled to start up. Similarities considered, the truck was also unlike You. Its current form denied any relation to the natural and if it had been comprised of anything living at one point, all resemblance had been fired away. You had nothing but the natural embedded into its figure. Not that it was proud- You did not feel the emotions of the living- but it was in-tuned with the park in a way the truck could never be as evident by the squeaking coming from the front suspension.
Director slammed his door with more effort than necessary. When You had first observed the action many years ago, it had made little sense. But after many such instances, You had eventually understood it had something to do with the emotions of the living. Director approached with a brisk walk, necklace grasped in his fist. You could barely see him out of its eye cutouts.
“Okay, you,” he said. “It’s time to get to work.” Standing on his tiptoes, Director looped the necklace over the rough neck of the golem and its hollow eyes lit up with a candle-light glow.
There is a vast array of complex methods to make a golem- each more intricate than the last- but all involve transcribed incantations. Of these, three stand out throughout the industry’s history. The first method is to carve one of many secret names of God, or even the word, “truth,” onto the golem’s forehead. Of course, the visibility of the inscription caused this method fall out of favor quickly for fear of intellectual theft and trivialization of the holiness of God. A less popular method involved inserting the written inscription into the golem’s arm or mouth. This method rose in popularity until the Devouring of Cesky Krumlov in 1778 in which a number of models violated their obedience imbuement and went on consumption rampages. Even though that particular instance was sparked by a fundamental flaw in the incantation process, future golem designs have since omitted mouths. The last method, and by far the most common after the dawn of the twentieth century, is to carve the inscription into a placard necklace and hang it around the golem’s neck. Words in the mouth and carved in stone are hard to remove but truth worn on a necklace is easily shed.
-Jaesa Bezalel’s book, “The Making of a Man”
It was odd that You did not work at night. Golems did not need sleep, after all, and it seemed counter-intuitive to manufacture a creature capable of circumventing living restraints only to restrict it to a living being’s schedule. But living beings were odd; that much You knew by working with them. The park workers kept their distance as they hauled their compost bins across the gravel path. The sky was deep blue gradient and it was clear today would be a scorcher. The shade from the nearby maples and evergreens provided some comfort for the workers’ soft skin. They were like plants, in that way. They needed the sun but too much dried them out like leather. The party came to a stop at a gated section. Knots of blackberry bushes piled on top of themselves until they poured through the chain link fence. You were aware of this sections’ neglect, but no one had commanded You to take care of it until today.
After letting the workers take it in, Director turned to face them. “We’re going to be clearing the thorn bushes out over the next few weeks. This patch is the worst of it but it’ll be nothing but grass at the end of all this.” He unlocked the gate and with a few yanks and a pepper of colorful mumbling, it was freed from the grasp of the thorns. “I’m going to need one of you here with the golem. Any volunteers?”
The workers shifted and the warm percussion of crickets filled the silence. Finally, a large, barrel-chested teenager stepped forward and raised his hand.
Director nodded seemingly pleased. “Okay, son. The golem will do all the hard work. You just need to gather up the branches.” He turned to You and said, “You’ve cleared fields before. Do it exactly the same way.”
Director and the other workers left and You were alone with Son. Director had referred to many workers by the name of Son but this boy was the latest. You did not know why so many living beings had the same name. That was another oddity of the living. They named with little regard to purpose. Perhaps there was something You did not see in the naming process but You was quite sure there was not.
“So,” Son said, grabbing the back of his neck. “Guess we’re gonna be coworkers then.” The tangles were so overgrown they obscured the ground completely. “Well, better get started.”
You trudged through the tangle straightening it out. The thorns grazed across its clay skin until You approached the edge of the fence. You grabbed a handful of brambles and ripped them out of the dirt. In a swift motion, You threw them over the fence where Son collected them. The dance continued for hours as the sun trekked up the stairway of the heavens. The teenage boy took his hat off and ran a hand through his slicked-down hair. Water ran down his face and soaked his blue work shirt. “Sure is getting hot out. ‘Course, that probably doesn’t matter to you.”
You faced Son with hollow eyes.
“You’re not really one much for conversation, are you? That’s okay though. To each their own, I guess. Well, this bin’s pretty full. We better take it back up so we can do this all over again. I wish I had some sunscreen in my car.”
Just a dozen steps down the path, You stopped in your tracks. A small bird chirped from the ground at a nest far out of reach for the bird, but just an arms’ length away for You. Son watched silently as You gingerly picked up the fledgling and placed it back in its nest.
Golems are hardly the most efficient model of Incantational Sentience (IS), but they are far more acceptable to the public. Creating homunculi and reanimating the dead may have been options throughout various wartimes, but the ethics of such entities always comes under fire once they are incorporated into the public sphere. Without any shortage of material insight, necromancy has the most potential for mass producing labor. However, it has consistently generated outcry from almost every corner of society including religious leaders, medical professionals, mortuaries, working class unions and the advocacy group, Mothers Against Black Magic. The possibility of mass producing homunculi is far less possible. Not only is the creation process overly complex, it, like necromancy, involves socially unacceptable practices. The golem, comprised of clay as opposed to bones or body fluids, is entirely uncontroversial in production. The bottleneck in production also limits quantities nullifying any major threat posed towards labor unions.
-Joshua Loew, “Dust to Dust: An Analysis of the Failing IS Industry”
Son had a habit of talking while he was working. It was about movies, mostly. As he folded up vines to fit the bin, he spoke vividly about costuming techniques used for silver screens and manipulating sounds to surprise the audience. While the golem was unfamiliar with the terminology, You had seen movies throughout being stationed at the park. On occasion, You had helped set up a white tarp on plastic sticks. A worker lit up the light box and the image reflected onto the screen like a clear pool. You usually left after the pictures started to report to the covered area, but there had been a handful of nights that required extra set up. The images on the screen were just that to You, but to Son they seemed to hold far greater importance.
“See, it’s all about the suspense in monster movies ‘cause at the end of the day, it’s just some guy in a costume stomping around a plaster city. You have to make the audience believe it, you know?” Son rubbed his nose on his bare arm. His sunburned skin had deepened to a brown over the past week. “They want to believe it, too. People watch scary movies because they want to be scared. They wouldn’t go through the whole hassle of it otherwise.”
The thorn-free corner was pockmarked and rumpled, but it was hardly empty. You ripped a rotting stump out of the ground, roots and all, and the dark divot in the earth trembled briefly with insects of ever kind.
“Geez, you’re strong. I don’t know why the city doesn’t just get more of you instead of hiring a bunch of people. Don’t get me wrong. I like working outdoors. I just wonder why the city wouldn’t take the leap and invest. It would save so much money in the long run. Maybe you guys are too expensive.”
Son scrunched up his face in thought. “They should make a monster movie about a golem. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those yet.”
Sentience alone does not sell models: consumers expect quality when purchasing an investment with as much longevity as a golem. It’s quite common for golems to serve multiple generations of upper-class families, though the largest sector to invest in golems has been the government, particularly city and county based departments. While the durability and shear strength of golems draw in customers, it is the unquestionable obedience imbued into golems that differentiates them from other IS models. Yet, that obedience can also be a nightmare for consumers and unlike modern devices, IS model behavior cannot be summed up by code. Rather, model behavior is influenced by the amalgamation of all preceding interactions and its memory cannot be wiped clean.
With continued improvements in modern technology, it is only a matter of time before IS models are replaced with artificial intelligence. Indeed, with the rise of smart devices, the fall of Incantational Sentience is already written in stone.
-Joshua Loew, “Dust to Dust: An Analysis of the Failing IS Industry”
“I wonder if you have a name.” Son leaned on the bin and fixated his eyes on You skeptically. The section was practically cleared of loose debris leaving nothing but heavy lifting.
Director had named You the first morning after Awakening. “Hey, You,” he said before barking orders. The name had stuck. Director may not have intended to name You, but You had accepted the name regardless.
“You can’t talk so it’s not like you can tell me either way and I sure don’t have the authority to give you a name.” You stared back at Son as he fiddled with his hat. “You know, when I first started here, I was stoked to be working with a golem. I thought you’d be this huge, terrifying beast but you’re kind of boring. No offense, of course.”
The afternoon ripened to fullness. As the golden lights streamed throughout the park, the leaves and the blades of grass glowed in lucid hues. The frogs, the crickets, even the birds conspired together in a rich symphony. Son took his hat off and squinted at the horizon. “I’m really going to miss this place when I go to college.”
He left soon after, waving as he walked away, and You reported to the covered area for the night to wait for Director. The sun fell behind the hill dragging the bruised sky down with it. After the first act finished, the veil of night draped over the park and the stars crept out from their hiding places. You stood patiently with the necklace still dangling.
Director never showed up that night.
“Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!”
Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s, “Frankenstein“
The next morning was different than most. In the nearby parking lot, two large vehicles (one boxy, one rectangular) with flashing lights lined up against the curb. The park workers, who were all huddled together near the covered area whispering, fell silent as a gurney came up the gravel path on the hill. Director was strapped down to the gurney sleeping. His pale complexion made the dark spot blooming on his forehead stand out all the more.
The whispering resumed more zealously as the Director was lifted into the boxier of the two vehicles. On occasion, the park workers stole glances at You and after a few minutes, the city workers did as well. Eventually, two city workers approached You. “It’s definitely not gonna fit in the back seat. You think it’ll fit in the firetruck?”
“Nah, let’s not scratch it up. Let’s just use the park department’s beater to move it. Reese found the keys in Gowers’ pockets when he was checking for other injuries.”
Turning to You, one said, “Please get into the truck.” They may not have been park employees, but the emblem on their shoulder commanded the same level of obedience. You walked towards the old truck.
Just a few steps out of the covered area, Son rushed to catch up. “What’s going on?”
“Listen,” said the other city workers with a hint of frustration. “Based on the level of bruising your boss has, he’s been laying out here for hours which means this golem was wandering around all night. This is just a precautionary measure until your boss wakes up.”
Son scrunched up his face with frustration, but he said nothing. You climbed into the bed of the truck. “Tuck your legs in, please” ordered the first worker and after You scrunched up, the force of the tailgate slamming rocked the truck.
“What if Mr. Gowers doesn’t wake up anytime soon? What if he doesn’t wake up at all?” asked Son. He rested his hand on the edge of the truck bed.
The workers glanced at each other. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said the second worker.
Something about the stern look on Son’s face made them stop. The first worker put a hand on Son’s shoulder and said, “Look. It’s just a tool. It’s not any different than this truck. If it’s malfunctioning and harming other people, we can’t have it roaming around public environment full of vulnerable people. What would happen if a child was hurt?”
Son locked eyes with You and squeezed the edge of the truck bed as the workers climbed in. Over by the covered area, the park workers remained in their huddle. They hadn’t moved an inch. The city workers turned the ignition, but instead of its usual misfire, the truck squealed in protest. The sound intensified as the engine grinded until eventually, the truck sputtered to a halt. The worker turned the ignition again. The truck wheezed pitifully before falling into dead silence.
“Tell Dany we’re going to need to load it in the firetruck.”
“Wait,” said a city worker from the boxier vehicles. “Gowers is coherent. He said he was trying to get a ball out of a tree and fell backwards. We’ll take him down just to be sure but I’m thinking he’ll be back at work on light duty within the next few days.”
The city workers inside the truck exchanged a look before stepping out of the vehicle and ordering You back to the covered area. The hum of the whispers faded into the sound of crickets and shortly after the city workers left, the park workers did as well. Director’s boss had given them the day off in light of the circumstances. Son was the last to leave that morning. He waved from his window as he drove off.
The afternoon sky radiated a calming warmth. The grass was just beginning to yellow, a a haze of dust hovered over the gravel path, and the birds’ nests in the nearby trees were all but empty of fledglings.
You stood under the covered area listening for frogs.