I sat on the floor and buried my head in my hands as uncontrollable sobs shook my body. To have my family apparently back and whole, then to see them snatched suddenly away again was more than my mind could bear. I could still hear the children as they continued to jabber at one another, and the woman who was not Susan began humming to herself, unconcerned that her question remained unanswered.
I felt, rather than saw, the preacher kneel beside me. He grasped my arm with a grip that was as cold and hard as iron, then leaned in close. His breath was fetid; it stank of rancid meat and sulfur. I peeked through my fingers, hoping he would be gone, and looked right into his dark, soulless eyes.
"Don't be rude, Mister Knox," he said, as he pulled me to my feet "the floor is no place to eat. Please, sit down at the table."
He lead me to the table as if I were a marionette that was missing a few strings. I sat down mechanically and he pulled over a chair to sit beside me. The woman continued to cook and the kids continued to play, apparently oblivious to us.
"Do you like what you see?" he asked me, and then delivered a twisted smile and a wink "Have you not wanted your family back?"
"This is not my family," I replied woodenly. My voice sounded detached, as if it came from a great depth.
"Oh but it is, . . . in a sense," he said. His eyes pierced mine; I looked away.
"I ... I don't understand," I said. It was the truth, these people bore only a passing resemblance to my own family. The more I watched them, the stranger they somehow seemed.
"Do you know what a golem is, Mister Knox?"
"No," I answered truthfully. I didn't like the sound of the word and though I'd heard it sometime in my life I couldn't remember what it signified.
He smiled broadly, sending a chill down my spine. He turned toward the woman and children, then called them over. He gestured with an open hand.
"These are golems, Mister Knox. Not much really, a very simple trick. Just a bit of mud, some sticks, and some twine. Of course, to animate them I needed to do a little prospecting. The key ingredient is some powdered bone; I found what I needed over at Lawndale," his eyes flashed and danced when he saw the glint of recognition in my own.
Lawndale Cemetery was where my wife and children were buried. Suddenly, from deep inside, a bellow forced its way out of my mouth. I roared and leaped at him, clutching for his throat. He batted me away without effort and rose from his own chair. Then he stood over me, a menacing figure. The woman and children stood by passively, taking no notice of the violence which had unfolded before them.
"If you do that again, it will be my turn to get angry," he said. His voice was not raised, but it flowed over me like honey. My body sagged; my short rebellion was quelled.
"What do you want from me?" I asked, and my voice faltered as he lifted me once again to my feet.
"I want to help you get you family back. These are merely constructs; they have no souls," he gestured again and the woman came over. He reached out and grabbed her arm. His thumb dug into her flesh and he peeled it back to reveal a gray, dusty interior. I could just make out the semblance of sinews and stringy veins. He casually dropped the chunk of 'flesh' to the floor. The woman smiled and knelt down.
"Oh, I'll get that," she said pleasantly as she scooped it up and headed for the trash can.
"You're no preacher," I murmured. I tried to sound defiant, but it came out thin and weak.
"Oh, but I am. I am in the business of saving souls. Well . . . collecting them actually," he said. "Which brings me to my proposition. I'm offering you a deal. Kind of a two-for-one deal."
"What do mean?" I asked in a small voice. I was horrified, but there was a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind which rose unbidden. I felt ashamed and intrigued at the same time.
"Simply this: You will collect six souls for me on Halloween night, and I in turn will place the souls of your family into these representations. They will be golems no more; you will have your family back, whole and sound," he paused and licked his lips. "Do we have a deal?"