The Golem of Prague
Rabbi Lion, of the ancient city of Prague, sat in his study in the Ghetto. Through the window he could see the River Moldau with the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter clustered around the cemetery, which still stands today, and where is to be seen this famous man's tomb. Beyond the Ghetto rose the towers and spires of the city, he had a problem on his mind: He was unable to find a servant, even one to attend the fire on the Sabbath for him.
The truth was that the people were a little afraid of the rabbi. He was a very learned man, wise and studious, and a scientist; and because he did wonderful things, people called him a magician. His experiments in chemistry frightened them. Late at night they saw little spurts of blue and red flame shine from his window, and they said that demons and witches came at his beck and call - so nobody would enter his service.
"If, as they declare, I am truly a magician," he said to himself, "why should I not make for myself a servant, one that will tend the fire for me on the Sabbath?"
He set to work on his novel idea and in a few weeks had completed his mechanical creature, a woman. She looked like a big, strong, labouring woman, and the rabbi was greatly pleased with his handiwork. "Now to endow it with life," he said.
Carefully, in the silence of his mysterious study at midnight, he wrote out the unpronounceable sacred name of God on a piece of parchment. Then he rolled it up and placed it in the mouth of the creature.
Immediately it sprang up and began to move like a living thing. It rolled its eyes, waved its arms, and nearly walked through the window. In alarm, Rabbi Lion snatched the parchment from its mouth and the creature fell helpless to the floor.
"I must be careful," said the rabbi. "It is a wonderful machine with its many springs and screws and levers, and will be most useful to me as soon as I learn to control it properly."
All the people marvelled when they saw the Rabbi's machine-woman running errands and doing many duties, controlled only by his thoughts. She could do everything but speak, and Rabbi Lion discovered that he must take the name from her mouth before he went to sleep. Otherwise, she might do mischief.
One cold Sabbath afternoon, the rabbi was preaching in the synagogue and the little children stood outside his house looking at the machine-woman seated by the window. When they rolled their eyes she did too, and at last they shouted, "Come and play with us!"
She promptly jumped through the window and stood among the boys and girls.
"We are cold," said one. "Canst thou make a fire for us?"
The creature was made to obey orders, so she at once collected sticks and lit a fire in the street. Then, with the children, she danced round the blaze in great glee. She piled on all the sticks and old barrels she could find, and soon the fire spread and caught a house. The children ran away in fear while the fire blazed so furiously that the whole town became alarmed. Before the flames could be extinguished, a number of houses had been burned down and much damage done. The creature could not be found, and only when the parchment with the name, which could not burn, was discovered amid the ashes, was it known that she had been destroyed in the conflagration.
The council of the city was indignant when it learned of the strange occurrence, and Rabbi Lion was summoned to appear before King Rudolf himself.
"What is this I hear?" Asked his majesty. "Is it not a sin to make a living creature?"
"It had no life but that which the Sacred Name gave it," replied the rabbi.
"I understand it not," said the king. "Thou wilt be imprisoned and must make another creature, so that I may see it for myself. If it is as thou sayest, thy life shall be spared. If not - if, in truth, thou profanest God's sacred law and makest a living thing, thou shalt die and all thy people shall be expelled from this city."
Rabbi Lion at once set to work and made a man, much bigger than the woman that had been burned.
"As your Majesty sees," said the rabbi, when his task was completed, "it is but a creature of wood and glue with springs at the joints. Now observe," and he put the Sacred Name in its mouth.
Slowly the creature rose to its feet and saluted the monarch who was so delighted that he cried, "Give him to me, Rabbi."
"That cannot be," said Rabbi Lion, solemnly. "The Sacred Name must not pass from my possession. Otherwise the creature may do great damage again. This time I shall take care and will not use the man on the Sabbath."
The king saw the wisdom of this, set the rabbi at liberty and allowed him to take the creature to his house. The Jews looked on in wonderment when they saw the creature walking along the street by the side of Rabbi Lion, but the children ran away in fear, crying, "The bogey-man!"
The Rabbi exercised caution with his bogey-man this time, and every Friday, just before Sabbath commenced, he took the name from its mouth so as to render it powerless. It became more wonderful every day, and one evening it startled the rabbi from a doze by beginning to speak.
"I want to be a soldier," it said, "and fight for the king. I belong to the king. You made me for him."
"Silence," cried Rabbi Lion, and it had to obey. "I like this not," said the rabbi to himself. "This monster must not become my master, or it may destroy me and perhaps all the Jews."
He could not help but wonder whether the king was right and that it must be a sin to create a man. The creature not only spoke, but grew surly and disobedient, and yet the rabbi hesitated to break it up, for it was most useful to him. It did all his cooking, washing and cleaning, and three servants could not have performed the work so neatly and quickly.
One Friday afternoon when the rabbi was preparing to go to the synagogue, he heard a loud noise in the street.
"Come quickly," the people shouted at his door. "Your bogey-man is trying to get into the synagogue."
Rabbi Lion rushed out in a state of alarm. The monster had slipped from the house and was battering down the door of the synagogue.
"What art thou doing?" Demanded the rabbi, sternly.
"Trying to get into the synagogue to destroy the scrolls of the Holy Law," answered the monster. "Then thou wilt have no power over me, and I shall make a great army of bogey-men who shall fight for the king."
"I will kill thee first," exclaimed Rabbi Lion, and springing forward he snatched the parchment with the name so quickly from the creature's mouth that it collapsed at his feet a mass of broken springs and pieces of wood and glue. For many years afterward these pieces were shown to visitors in the attic of the synagogue when the story was told of the Rabbi's bogey-man.
Pliny's Ghost Story
There was in Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad reputation.
In the dead of the night a noise like the clanking of iron was often heard. And if you listened carefully, it sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer bit by bit.
Soon after, a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely thin and dirty appearance, with a long beard and messy hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands.
The people who then lived in the house, passed their nights wide awake in a state of the most dreadful terror imaginable.
The lack of sleep ruined their health and made them ill, to the point of scaring the life out of them. During the daytime, even when the spirit did not appear, they imagined seeing it before their eyes, and the ghost kept them in perpetual fear.
Eventually, they left the house entirely to the ghost, as they said no person in their right mind could live under that roof.
However, a wily real estate agent of Athens put out an advertisement offering the house up for sale or rent.
It happened that Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens at that time, and the advertisement for the house caught his eye.
The low price raised his suspicion. Nonetheless, when he heard the whole story about the ghost, he was far from put off. In fact, he all the more wanted to rent the house, which he did.
Towards evening, as darkness fell, he got ready to spend the night in the front part of the house. After calling for a candle, together with his pencil and writing tablets, he ordered his servants to go to bed.
He wanted to occupy his mind, so as to prevent his thoughts from turning to scary things, such as imaginary noises and spectres.
So he kept himself busy, writing with the utmost concentration. The first part of the darkness passed in complete silence. Nothing unusual happened.
But just after midnight, he heard a clanking of iron and a rattling of chains.
He neither lifted up his eyes nor laid down his pen, but in order to keep calm and collected, he tried to persuade himself that the sounds were anything but a ghost. The noise increased and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the room. He looked up and recognized the ghost exactly as it had been described to him: it stood before him, beckoning with its finger, like a person who summons another.
Athenodorus in reply made a sign with his hand that it should wait for a little, and turned his eyes again upon his papers; the ghost then rattled its chains over the head of the philosopher who, looking up and seeing it beckoning, immediately arose and, candle in hand, followed it. The ghost slowly stalked along, as if weighed down by its chains, and, turning into the courtyard of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, now being left alone, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he reported to the magistrates and advised them to order that spot to be dug up.
When this was done, the skeleton of a man in chains was found there. The bones were collected together and publicly buried, and the ghost, having been appeased by the proper ceremonies, haunted the house no more.
Halloween on the Pond
It was the day before Halloween. Bertie and his friends were splashing around, just as they do on any ordinary day, but it wasn't any ordinary day, and it certainly wasn't going to be any ordinary sort of night. But for now, Sadie was calmly admiring her reflection in the pond, and Colin the Carp was moaning about, well, just about anything and everything, so nothing out of the ordinary there. Bertie and Tim the Tadpole were playing a game of Twenty Questions, except that it wasn't going very well because the only thing that Bertie could think of was, "skateboard," and the only vegetable that Tim could think of was, "green slime," which made it a bit easy.
As they were playing, Tim saw Princess Beatrice and the children from the palace collecting giant pumpkins from the vegetable patch.
"What are those very large things, Bertie?" Said Tim.
"Those? They're vegetables."
"Oh. I didn't know that vegetables were so scary!"
"Well, my tiny friend," said Bertie. "That's because they are meant to be scary. The children are going to hollow them out and put candles inside them so that they light up for Halloween and look exactly like horrid scary monsters."
"Oh," said Tim. "I'm rather frightened." Because you see, Tim is only very small, even by the standard of tadpoles, and he gets frightened rather easily. Just then, Colin the Carp, who is a very grumpy fish, snapped his teeth loudly behind Tim's back, so loudly in fact, that Tim squeaked, "Yikes!" And tumbled back into the pond with a tiny little splash.
"Huh! Halloween's a good time for scaring small and silly creatures," growled Colin.
When Tim returned timidly to the surface, Bertie continued to explain all about Halloween:
"It's the most brilliant time of the year. When I was a prince I used to go Trick'r'Treating. I would knock on doors and say, "Royal Trick or Treat," and if people didn't give me sweeties or chocolate, I would play a trick on them. But most people were a bit scared, and they gave me a treat. So every Halloween I had the most yummy scrummy time."
"Fabulous!" Cried little Tim. "Can we go trick'r'treating Bertie? I promise to be really, really scary, and people will give us loads of green slime and other delicious things."
And so, Bertie decreed, that this year, the pond life would go Trick'r'Treating. Sadie, Bertie and Tim thought long and hard about what sort of costumes they should wear. Then Tim had a brilliant idea, which is rather unusual for him.
"Why don't we go as a swan, a frog, and a tadpole?" He said.
Sadie walked in front, and Tim hopped onto Bertie's back, and they wandered through the vegetable patch, and started down the street. Sadie tapped on the doors with her beak, and by the end of the evening they had collected loads and loads of sweets. They had jelly babies, and toffees, and biscuits, and chewy things, and well, it's making me a bit peckish just thinking about it. When they had as much as Sadie could carry in her wings, and Bertie could stuff in his mouth, they decided to go back to the pond. But as they drew close, a thick mist was hanging over the pond. Three human beings were taking a walk through the dark. But were they really human? After all, it was Halloween.
"Oh!" Said Tim, "What are those strange creatures? Are they... are they scary monsters?"
"Well," said Bertie. "I would say, based on my experience of magic and the supernatural, that, er, what we see there is a big witch and two baby witches."
Suddenly one of the little witches called out, "Tick or Treat?" And her friend said, "Trick or Treat?" At that very instant, Colin the Carp leaped up out of the water with a dead fly in his mouth, and he put it right down in front of the tall figure who, as it turned out, was the lovely Princess Beatrice who had dressed up as a witch for Halloween.
"Here's your treat!" Said Colin, "Now, buzz off!"
Princess Beatrice, who as well as being very lovely and sweet, is also very afraid of creepy crawlies, and besides, had never heard a carp speak before, so she jumped up in the air and shrieked,"Aaahhh! Ahhhh!"
She ran all the way back to the palace with the two little witches following her as fast as they could.
"Ha! That will teach her to come around here asking for treats," grumped Colin.
"If only," Bertie mused. "A real witch would come and put a spell on him. What's the use of all those pretend witches?"
Little did Bertie know, that just then, in front of the full moon, a wicked witch was flying past on her broom, and that the wicked witch was none other than Princess Beatrice's stepmother. Since it had been rather a dull Halloween, and she hadn't found anybody to turn into a frog or a toad, she was delighted to hear Bertie calling for the services of a real grade A, official, and fully certified, wicked witch!
She went flying low over the surface of the pond, leaving a huge wake of surf and green slime.
"Ah ha ha haaaa!" She screeched. "Let those who moan, turn to stone!"
When she was gone, and all was quiet again, little Tim said, "That was rather scary."
"Nonsense," said Bertie, "That wasn't frightening at all. I just hid behind this tree as a sensible precaution."
So the pond life went to bed, and I'm glad to say that none of them had any nightmares at all. But I'm sorry to say that Bertie felt just a little bit sick, as he had eaten so many scrummy sweeties. When the sun started to rise over the palace, and stretch her warm autumn rays over the pond, Sadie the swan was admiring a new fountain that she hadn't noticed before.
"My oh my," she said, "that stone fish with water coming out of his mouth looks just like Colin. I wonder who could have made it in his honour?"
"Yes," said Bertie, "I'd recognise that ugly mug anywhere. But wait, do you know what? I think it is Colin!"
"Don't be silly," said Sadie, "but then again, oh, I think you are right. You don't suppose that wicked stepmother could have turned Colin into stone?"
"I do suppose," said Bertie. "Look what she did to me. I used to be a handsome prince."
Although the little tadpoles had a lovely day, free from Colin's tricks and his moaning and groaning, Bertie started to feel just a little bit guilty. After all, it was he who had asked for the help of a wicked witch. But he hadn't meant it. Not really. We all say things we don't mean when we are a bit cross. So he thought of a plan, and that night he hopped over to pay a visit to the wicked stepmother. He was rather frightened because, after all, she is a very wicked witch indeed. He waited for a long time outside her door, feeling rather nervous. Eventually he called out, "Croak!" And when the wicked stepmother came out, he shouted, "Trick or Treat?" Before she could reply, he splattered her with green slime from his mouth, and hopped away as fast as his bendy legs could carry him.
"Grrrrr! Bertie!" She shouted.
Bertie waited until it was very late at night - past half seven - and then he knocked very loudly on the door again. Then he shouted, "Trick or Treat!" And pushed a skateboard under her feet so that she fell over and banged her head on the floor, and he hopped away.
"Grrr! Just you wait. I'll get you Bertie. You've gone too far my filthy little frog!"
He waited until the king came to say goodnight to the wicked stepmother. The king knocked on the door quite loudly. Suddenly the door opened and the queen leaned out shouting, "I'll turn you into a maggot, you stupid piece of green slime! Oh, oh sorry Your Royal Highness. I didn't mean to." But the king strutted down the corridor, muttering about how one of his wives had never been so really, really rude, and how the last one who was rather rude got her head chopped off. The wicked stepmother was rather afraid. Just then, Bertie hopped into view.
"Er, Trick or Treat?" He said mildly.
And even though the wicked stepmother was really cross, she realised that she had been outwitted, and she agreed to come down to the pond, and to turn Colin back into a fish again. All the pond life were very pleased to see Colin swimming around again, because even though he is a bit grumpy, he still is their friend, and friends are very important. They saved up for a couple of chocolate-coloured dead flies so that even Colin the Carp cheered up for a little bit.