Publication: The Hammer’s Prayer

The Hammer’s Prayer, my short story about a golem secretly working in the depths of Logan Airport, is now live on the Diabolical Plots website! This story was previously available as past of the Diabolical Plots Year Four anthology, but now it’s online for everyone to read.

This story is, I think, a brand new take on the golem myth. What if the word of life was no mere static gift, but a vibrant and contagious thing, begging to spread breath to new lungs?

I showed up early for work, as always. The airport’s underbelly was the ugliest place in Boston, but I would’ve spent every hour there if I could get away with it. Among the hurried machines and distant reek-sweet jet fuel, I had everything I needed. A purpose, a paycheck, a place to hide; and most of all, a land of function without beauty, where nothing would tempt me to invest it with holiness and life.

Further thoughts below the fold. No true spoilers, but why not read the story first anyways?

As I noted when the anthology came out, early versions of the story included a Hugo Award statuette and a coastline with the bioluminescent jellyfish from the Viable Paradise workshop, but neither of those made it into the final version.

This story took me ages to write; countless drafts, the better part of a year. It’s very theme-forward in a way that  was (for me then, and still) a challenge. What are the responsibilities we inherit, when we place so much on the shoulders of a Creator?

Speaking of this story’s challenges, I’m very proud of the not-quite-human idiosyncrasies of Jakob’s voice. Did you notice the pattern of descriptions? People get metaphorical descriptions, but objects alone get a concrete physical/visual appearance.

This story was my Nth attempt to replicate an effect from Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives,” where the main character’s nature can be hidden from the reader (for a while) without creating a frustrating exercise in information-withholding. The trick is to keep focus on the character’s abilities, and delay even raising the question of their origin. In one sense, I think I accomplished it here – Jakob’s story is about what he does, at least in the opening scene. But in another sense, I very much failed. The story itself might not reveal Jakob’s nature explicitly for a scene or two, but it’s all but impossible to describe/pitch the story without declaring Jakob’s nature. But better to “spoil” that little unfolding, than to try and convince someone to read this story without admitting its golem contents!

While the golem’s nature in this story is largely original, I included a number of references to traditional interpretations of its nature. The different marks Jakob considers at the end of the first scene are all (as he implies) different tellings of the traditional golem forehead mark.  The Sefer Yetzirah – the Book of Creation – is a book of Jewish mysticism, frequently invoked as a source of magic, including the magic used by Rabbi Elijah of Chelm in one of the earlier golem-creation stories1. Also, a wise man hears one word and understands two is an actual yiddish saying; and perhaps more recognizably, singing unto [the lord] a new song is from the Psalms.

Finally, I accept responsibility for all “hammer” puns. Write a story about a golem, and there’s no avoiding a few tool jokes. But childish humor aside, the only way a hammer knows how to pray is by striking nails.

  1. Rabbi Elijah of Chelm supposedly lived in the 1600s, and books about him date to at least 1774. Writings about the better-known Golem of Prague, animated by Rabbi Judah Loew in ~1580, mostly emerged 1845-1909.

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