As she entered their apartment, Dahlia tossed her purse onto the coffee table, interrupting Rachel’s study binge and breaching the small fortress of books arranged on it. Gulliver squawked from inside his cage, startled by the noise. Rachel simply transferred the purse from her study area to the couch beside her and tried to find her place again.
“No, it’s Friday,” said Dahlia, “drinks happen.”
“Not if I want to graduate on time and on budget,” said Rachel.
Dahlia sighed and took a seat on the couch.
“Look,” she said, affecting a parental tone, “I understand that you’re still healing from the whole breakup with Kurt, but you’re letting yourself spiral into unhealthy habits here.” She picked up Rachel’s Theories of Cataloging & Classification textbook with thumb and forefinger, held it at arm’s length and crinkled her nose before dropping it back onto the table. “I’m your friend, I care about you, and I don’t like seeing you bury your sorrows in books about other books every single night. There are more productive methods of self-care.”
“More reproductive, you mean.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves — you’ll only have just met the guy!”
Rachel rolled her eyes at Dahlia’s flippantness and let herself sink back against the couch, but considered her underlying point. “It has been two weeks,” she said, “maybe that’s enough of a mourning period. You didn’t even wait a week after Chatterbox died to get Gully, and you’d had him for years.”
“I don’t think I have the same relationship with my parrots that you had with Kurt, but the same principle applies.”
It wasn’t really anything about Kurt as a person that she was hung up on, so much as it was the fact that he was from southern Connecticut, which meant he had been a blessedly normal guy in comparison to most of her fellow grad students at Miskatonic University. The worst thing she’d discovered about him was a Warhammer 40k rulebook hidden under his hamper. Other guys in the local dating pool gave off the impression that she’d find much worse things if she spent any amount of time in their dorms.
But she knew that was all based on superficial judgments on her part. It stood to reason that some Miskatonies might be perfectly pleasant people beneath their odd pallor and generally anxious body language. And just because she was studying to be a librarian didn’t mean she had to be a stuffy librarian.
“Can we at least go somewhere that isn’t too bro-y?”
There was a Sox game on when they got to the Old Arkham Alehouse, so Rachel’s hope for a broless evening began to wither. Nevertheless, Dahlia had gotten her psyched up to break out of her reclusive book-fort, so they pressed forward with their plan. Dahlia found two adjacent seats at the bar and ordered a couple Long Island Iced Teas, assuring Rachel that guys would know she was single if they saw her drinking one.
“So,” Dahlia said, “what kind of a suitor are we trying to find for you? Doctor? Necromancer? Temporalist?”
“That’s such a Mount Holyoke way to think about things,” said Rachel. She swiveled her seat so that she could observe the bar’s patrons. Most of the guys seated at the booths and tables were wearing some combination of Red Sox caps, jerseys, and temporary tattoos; and had their eyes fixed on one of the flatscreen TVs at either end of the bar. There were a handful of less sporty guys seated at the bar itself, one of whom was talking to the bartender in a wicked thick Boston accent which immediately ruled him out.
“I like the brainy type, I guess, but it doesn’t look like there’re any of those here tonight.” She jabbed at the ice in her drink with her straw and swiveled back towards Dahlia. “Miskie U doesn’t even have any sports teams! Where’d all these fans come from?”
“This crowd must have driven over from Doaahchestaah,” said Dahlia.
“I dunno, it doesn’t seem like this is the sort of place to go to meet my kind of guy.”
Dahlia began the first syllable of a response, then looked over Rachel’s shoulder and scrunched her mouth up onto one side of her face, which was her usual method of hiding an oncoming smirk.
“What?” Rachel said. She swiveled around again and came face-to-frontispiece with a golem.
It was about as tall as her — five and a half feet, rounding up — stockily built, and closer to a snowman than a mannequin in its level of detail. There were even two buttons for eyes pressed into its slab of a face, above a small trench that had been gouged through the clay to represent a mouth.
As Rachel processed what exactly she was looking at, one end of its mouth-line shifted upwards. It raised an arm up to its head and made a gesture of tipping an imaginary hat to her.
“Good evening, m’lady,” came from the golem’s face, though its mouth didn’t move.
Rachel heard a muffled chortle behind her.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the golem continued, “my name is Warren.”
“Um, hi,” Rachel said.
“Her name’s Rachel,” Dahlia added, earning a quick glare for doing so.
“Forgive me for imposing, Rachel, though I couldn’t help but notice that you appeared to be as disinterested in this plebeian sport as I.”
“That’s one way to phrase it.”
A ridge formed above one of the golem’s buttons — a raised eyebrow.
“May I then purchase you a drink and we could make conversation?” The golem lifted the arm it hadn’t hat-tipped with onto the bar. Its fingers weren’t opposable, just sculpted into a fist at the end of the forearm, but there was a credit card halfway-embedded into its surface. “Oooh bar wench!” the golem called.
“Beg yah fahkin’ paahdon?” said the bartender.
The golem regarded her blankly, then shook its card-holding arm up and down for emphasis. The bartender son-of-a-bitched at it, then snatched the card from its arm and flicked it out into the crowd.
“Whose is this fahkin’ thing?” she called out. Some people at the tables looked over, but none answered. “Fahkin’ nerd-ass witchboys in this town,” she muttered, then returned to cleaning glasses.
Rachel leaned over to Dahlia and said: “Did you put one of your necro friends up to this?”
Dahlia shook her head. “I have no idea who this guy is.”
The golem began chiding the bartender for her manners, and Rachel and Dahlia took that opportunity to slip away without finishing their drinks.
The following day, in the library, Rachel was brought out of a particularly deep focus on her coursework by the sound of another chair at her table scraping against the floor. She looked up from her laptop to see the bar golem maneuvering the chair out with its fingerless, graceless arms.
“Oh,” said the golem once she looked up, “fancy meeting you here. Is this seat taken, by chance?”
“Okay, Warren, where the hell are you and why can’t you just actually speak to me?” Rachel said. She looked around at the other students, but none appeared to be in control of the golem. Or what she assumed controlling a golem might look like — fingers of one hand pressed to their temple in concentration, maybe some sort of unearthly glow around them. Her degree didn’t require any credits in mysticism-focused courses, so she could only guess based on what little other necromancy she’d seen.
“I’m afraid I’m a bit socially averse, rather like in that Roxanne movie.” Having maneuvered the chair far enough out, the golem proceeded to sit with an uneasy slowness. “Though, fortunately, the process of sympathetic transmission allows me to emit my winsome intellect through my cumbersome construct here as easily as though I were sitting before you myself!”
“God, stop making your words fancy,” said Rachel, feeling slightly exhausted after parsing his sentence. “What is your plan with this whole thing? You just want to keep talking to me through your golem?”
“I presume things shall progress to a personal meeting once I’ve won your hand, though I would feel more comfortable becoming acquainted to you through this proxy at first. But fear not! In anticipation of a female who may expect a traditional relationship progression, I’m becoming quite skilled at making my construct perform all sorts of motions.” The golem’s eyebrow ridge reappeared. “All. Sorts. Of motions.”
At that, Rachel balked and shoved the golem with both hands hard enough to upset its chair, sending the sleazy occupant tumbling backwards. It landed flat on its back with a damp thud which drew glances from the other students in the library, though they were more curious than concerned.
The golem slowly flailed the limbs on one side of its body in an effort to shift its weight and turn over, but found the still-soft clay of its back had molded around the back of the chair when it landed, preventing it from righting itself.
Rachel closed her laptop and swept her things into her messenger bag as the golem struggled to right itself, two shallow palm prints on its chest. As she was making her way towards the exit, the librarian at the circulation desk waved her over.
“Hey, Rach, is that something we’ll need to unsummon?”
“No,” she said, “I didn’t call it up from the Outer Planes, it’s just… from here probably. Or maybe UMass Boston.”
When Rachel went to get dinner, she was brought to a halt on the walkway leading into the campus cafeteria. Through the cafeteria’s bay windows she could see the golem seated alone at a corner booth, its head slowly turning back and forth, apparently scanning the crowd. She didn’t feel like putting up with another confrontation, so she returned to her apartment and ordered in.
The following Monday, she was late for her first class — she’d seen the golem pacing about on the quad, and had to circle around campus in order to avoid it.
That evening, as Rachel was once again studying in her living room, Dahlia scampered through the door with a wry smile on her face.
“You’re not going to believe who just found me and Sara enjoying ourselves at MacHooligan’s,” she said.
Gulliver wolf-whistled as Dahlia hung up her coat, so she opened his cage door and held an arm out towards him. He hopped from the bars to her hand, then sidled up her arm and nuzzled her cheek.
“I still can’t believe that doesn’t hurt,” said Rachel.
“Well, some guys know how to treat a lady-” Gully whistled again and bobbed his head, “-but yeah, that golem from the other night. I thought maybe he only staked out the Alehouse, but nope!”
“I could have told you that,” Rachel said.
“Oh, God, you’ve seen him again?”
“Yeah, but go on.”
“So Sara and I were minding our own business when clayboy struts in, sets his eyes on us and makes a bee-line. Get this: the top of its head was sloped to one side and had wavy lines on it like he’d tried sculpting a frickin’ pompadour. Anyways, he must have been getting frustrated with the whole nice guy routine because the thing leaned on the table, looked right at Sara — who was wearing black like she always does — and said, ‘I don’t know why witches tits have such a bad reputation, baby, yours are pretty hot.'”
“Oh jeez. How’d she take it?”
“She sat there looking all calm and locked eyes with it as she picked up the pepper shaker, dumped a bunch into her palm, then lifted it in front of her face and blew.”
“Here’s the awesome part: after a couple seconds, a guy at the other end of the restaurant started hacking like the pepper had been blown into his face! He ran out the door wheezing and sputtering; when I realized what was happening I ran out after him but I was a little too slow and didn’t see where he went.”
“So it is an actual person controlling it?”
“Yep,” Dahlia said with a smirk, “now what are we going to do with-ACK STOP!” She cringed and swatted at Gulliver, who’d just then tried pulling on the shiny stud in her ear. He took off, flapped around the room and landed, defiantly, on top of his open cage. “Bastard.”
“Sara’s arcane track, right? She’s not just a deceptively fashionable STEM major?”
“Oh yeah, she knew what the deal was. She said that whatever technique he was using meant that the golem’s owner would feel whatever happened to it.”
Rachel steepled her fingers together in thought as her attention wandered to Gulliver, who was shifting from foot to foot on top of his cage and fanning his wings out in playful aggression.
“Does Sara freelance?”
The following Friday, Dahlia and Rachel returned to the Old Arkham Alehouse. Fortunately there wasn’t a Sox game that night so they were able to get a table, and the crowd had an appropriately lower bro quotient. They ordered Manhattans, hung their purses off the corners of their chairs, and waited.
After about thirty minutes of smalltalk, Warren’s golem arrived. It still had the vague pompadour sculpted on top of its head, but there was now a small peak on each of its shoulders that trailed down to meet in a V on its chest, in imitation of a shirt collar. The golem observed the room with its button eyes for a moment, fixed them on Rachel, then approached their table with the closest thing to swagger that its clumsy body could manage.
“Well, ladies, it would seem that we can’t help running into each other,” the golem said as it leaned an elbow on their table. “I know Professor Wrightby’s Causality 104 course usually begins by disproving fate as a concept, but I’m tempted to defy established wisdom on that front.” Its eyebrow ridge appeared, as though it has just been clever.
Rachel took a deep breath, bracing herself. “Look, Warren, I was thinking of leading you on a bit at first but let’s just do this,” she said, and slid one strap of her purse off of her chair.
There was a small clattering noise as the purse fell open, followed by the sound of fabric sliding against fabric as a dark shape burst out of her purse and flew up to the ceiling where it expanded quickly, streaks of white briefly becoming visible within the thing as it folded back into itself and plunged down onto the golem’s face. It almost looked as though it were nothing more than a bundle of old clothes, but then the shape flew back from the golem, hung briefly in the air as its claws unfolded, then landed on Rachel and Dahlia’s table.
The reanimated Chatterbox, flexing the shoelace tendons strung throughout its skeletal frame, spread its tattered t-shirt wings. Two buttons were clutched in its beak.
At the far end of the bar, a man dropped the book he was pretending to read and clutched at his eyes, screaming.
With its owner’s personal effects removed, the golem simply stood motionless, two fresh gouges on its face gazing vacantly towards the ceiling.
“Ha, bastaahd!” Dahlia shouted across the bar at Warren, who was curled on the floor, whimpering and covering his face.
“Do I need to call the paramedics for whatevah you just did to that guy?” said the bartender.
“No, he’ll be fine,” Dahlia said, “it’s just wicked painful. Maybe we should drag him out to the patio until he calms down.”
Chatterbox tilted its head up to swallow the buttons it had stolen, which tumbled down through its empty ribcage to clink against the tabletop. The noise caught its attention and it picked them up again, swallowed, saw them on the table again, then turned a hollow orbit towards Rachel.
“I think I’ll sew you together properly over the weekend,” she said to the reanimated bird. She admired the punk band logos she’d arranged on the back of one of its D.I.Y. wings, the black and white checkerboard pattern on the other, and the precarious knots that held most of it together.
Cautiously, curiously, she reached out to scratch its head as she would have in its previous life. It leaned towards her and rubbed the side of its bright skull against her hand.