Puck’s

by Kellen C. Parr

 

There is something unusual about Puck’s. Its façade is wholly unremarkable, not unlike those of half a dozen other bars and clubs on Ionia Street, or a thousand other establishments in a thousand other cities across America. The selection of spirits is respectable, while twenty varieties of beer flow from its taps. Puck’s clientele is ordinary, the expected mix of the young and the faded, beauty new-minted and tarnished, the pompously naïve and the casualties of a thousand concessions. It is neither the latest thing nor the proverbial dive.

Nonetheless, there is something unusual about Puck’s.

Since it lies not on the surface, nobody talks about it, few even acknowledge it. It is on the tips of tongues, the edge of awareness. If you step through its doors, you can sense the difference, but only as an indefinable thing best left ignored. Even the most obvious is often overlooked when it makes people uncomfortable, and the secret of Puck’s is nothing so glaring.

Thus, the patrons go about the timeless business of drowning sorrow and concern without reservation, ignorant and unafraid. Pints vanish over the course of the night, taking inhibitions with them. The people are happy, if only for the dark hours, and usually nothing happens that does not happen every night countless times the world over.

But, now and again, something occurs.

Somewhere in the fugue, people are lost. Never many, not terribly often, but it does happen. Patrons simply… vanish. It is nothing dramatic, nothing you can watch with your eyes of flesh and blood. Still, it happens all the same, as surely as the sun rises. Sometimes, people who go into Puck’s never come back out.

When it happens, it goes like this…

*****

Greta was twenty, though her driver’s license declared her almost twenty-two. Unlike most photographic IDs, it did not lie about her appearance—she really did look like the girl in the picture, who was lightly freckled, strawberry blonde, and wholesomely pretty, if not beautiful. More than once, she had worried that it was too good a photo for a license, a giveaway that it was counterfeit.

But she was cute, and disarmingly coy besides, so few doormen ever questioned the ID.

The burly guard at Puck’s scarcely glanced at it before admitting her, along with three friends (two of them legal) to the bar. They wound their way through the dark, warm press of strangers to the counter and ordered drinks. Greta got an appletini, and a wink from the thirtyish bartender.

The girls—for girls they were still, only pretending to be young women—drank and chattered, laughing and growing steadily drunker as the night deepened. They accepted the tithes of the men and boys who approached, full of hope and swagger and clichés. One of them was nice enough, and handsome enough, that Greta agreed to dance with him, although she knew it would go no further. Her friends took to the floor as well, a few paces off, close enough to keep an eye on her. They didn’t do so, because they were drunk, but they could have.

Soon enough, Greta lost the boy in the confusion, the tangle of limbs and swirling hair. She thought about sitting down for a bit, having a breather and maybe another cocktail, something vivid, tropical. But still she felt the lure of the dance floor, the energy generated by all those people, so she stayed. Through the flash and haze, she made her way over to her trio of friends. After a few seconds of shouting and futile gesticulating they abandoned communication, surrendering to the music. It pulsed and throbbed, in ears, chests, veins, compelling movement, urging all who heard it to let go, be free, live.

So, Greta let go.

She swayed and spun, stomped and thrust to the beat. Some time later, she noticed she was no longer amongst her friends, but it did not occur to her to worry. She danced. Before that night, prior to that moment, she had not believed people could be so moved by music. It resonated within her, intoxicating and wonderful. Reveling in the sound and color, Greta barely noticed that most of the faces around her were unfamiliar. She was not dancing with those who had walked into Puck’s that evening. There were faces from a myriad of ages, souls who had danced since first the music played. They moved with her, every dancer knowing the next footfall, the next twirl, the next gyration as intimately as she knew the curves of her own body.

And so Greta was lost.

Her friends left Puck’s with vague memories of her stepping out with that boy, or saying she didn’t feel well and would find her own way home, not to worry. It was all confusing, muddled in their minds. Then, gradually, they forgot. Even though they were truly her friends, one of them for near a decade, they forgot Greta. So did the world. She had slipped through the cracks, evanesced from a real person, to a memory, to nothing at all.

In the old days, the times when belief was as strong as anything, people spoke of fairy rings. Children were warned against such snares, told how they could become caught up in a reel not of the waking world. Back then, folk knew the danger of the music, the peril of such delight.

Today, they simply forget.

 

Letters

by Liz Milner

 

Look out for the big guy with the Hebrew letters tattooed on his forehead. Mr. G.—I’d rather not call him by his real name, that could be trouble—came here from Prague a long, long time ago. Big, hulkin’ sonofabitch. You gotta wonder what Rabbi Loew was thinking.

What do ya mean, “Who was Rabbi Loew?” Rabbi Loew of Prague was the holiest rabbi of the 16th century and perhaps of all time. Anyway, he got tired of all those Czech goys spitting on his gabardine, trashing his schul and defenestrating his congregation. So he goes down to the Vltava and out of river mud he builds a giant clay doll. It’s huge, with muscles the size of beer barrels. Okay, so he’s there on the riverbank with his live action super hero doll, but the one thing he hasn’t got is action. So he takes a stick and inscribes Hebrew letters into the clay doll’s forehead. The letters form a word: the secret name of God. A person who knows the true name of God can command the primal energies of the universe.

Sure enough, the doll gets up, stretches, and immediately sets about his work of defending the synagogue. Not only does he defend it with zeal, but he also fetches wood to heat the building and does chores. He doesn’t even mind when the local housewives use him as a convenient place to hang their laundry and gossip.

Rabbi Loew, however, found the creature’s zeal a problem. The golem (for that is what he is) didn’t just deter Czech ruffians, he destroyed them.

So, Rabbi Loew sat the golem down—the vibration of the golem’s bottom hitting the floor shook the building and caused some damage to the masonry—and read him the text from the Talmud, which tells Jews to be twice as merciful to goyim as they would be to each other.

But because the golem was created by a man, not by God, he was fundamentally flawed. He had no mercy in him. In the midst of the rabbi’s reading he sensed that a goy was pissing against the wall of the synagogue. He leaped up, raced outside and literally liquidated the poor goy before the rabbi’s eyes.

The rabbi pondered what to do. He could not let the golem continue defending the schul, but he didn’t know how to stop him. He couldn’t kill him, for murder is an abomination in the eyes of God, and since he created the golem, he was in a sense, the creature’s father. What kind of father kills his son? Also, the rabbi had used the holy name of God to travel through time and he knew of the horrors that awaited his people in the future. Perhaps a rabbi holier than he could teach the golem to defend the Jews without unnecessary bloodshed.

Finally the rabbi went back to the Vltava and gathered more mud. He returned to the schul and he and the golem went to the attic store room. The rabbi had the golem lie down and then he took the mud and smeared it over the golem’s forehead until the name of God was totally obliterated. The golem froze. Its eyes glazed over. Its breathing ceased. It became nothing more than a large clay doll.

The rabbi covered the golem with blankets. He’d visit regularly because he worried about its comfort. The secret of the golem was passed from chief rabbi to chief rabbi for generations.

Secrets, however, have a way of getting out. It was during the Holocaust that the chief rabbi of Prague got an offer he couldn’t refuse. A boatload of Jewish refugees would be guaranteed passage to New York City if the golem was included in the ship’s cargo.

“A Mafia don who likes to play with dolls,” the rabbi thought. “Many lives can be saved and what harm can it do? The holy name of God was lost to mankind in the fires of Auschwitz, so it can never be reanimated.”

And that is how the golem came to America. From New York it was trucked to Chicago where it was the centerpiece at many secret Mafia meetings.

The golem would have remained as an over-the-top decorative accent had it not been for a story by science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke. In “The Nine Billion Names of God,” scientists used computers to list every possible combination of the alphabet so as to discover the secret name of God.

An imaginative don saw the potential in Clarke’s story and made a deal with the U.S. government. After an impressive payoff, the golem became the property of the U.S. Army. First on mainframes and then on PCs and then in the cloud, every letter in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages was combined and recombined in every possible permutation. This project was folded into a super secret cyber program.

The prototype came off the assembly line a couple months ago. This sucker is made of steel not clay, and the name of God is etched onto the solid metal of his forehead. You’d need a blowtorch to stop him. And he’s not being run by a sweet old rabbi who just wants to be left in peace. He’s in the army now.

So, as I said before, look out for the big guy with the Hebrew letters tattooed on his forehead.