Golem Project In Progress
A raindrop hit the pavement by Wessel’s knee, making a sharp ‘splat’ sound. Another followed, then another. The rain was returning. Wessel looked up. Should he go into the fast food station for cover from the rain? That would work, but then what? He’d be stuck in there. His mind was fuzzy, too distracted to deal with the decision in front of him.
Aizi was gone.
If he left, he might not get her back, right? But without power, he couldn’t get her back anyway.
She was gone.
He’d failed the one task given to him. “Take care of her.” What was he supposed to say? It was his fault she was stuck in the middle of the road, unable to act.
He couldn’t finish his project without her. Couldn’t fix things without her. In such a short time, he’d become dependent on her for travel, for coding, for study, for success. She’d shaped everything he’d done. He couldn’t just leave her here.
Wessel looked up. There was another kid standing in the rain. He was larger than Wessel. It took Wessel a moment to place him, distracted as he was. Then he wished he hadn’t.
The boy was standing to Wessel’s left, accompanied by the ‘power’ golem he’d chosen.
“What’re you doin’ out here, goofy-brain? Takin’ a shower?”
Wessel tightened his jaw, then sat back on the wet ground, looking up at Jakob. The ever-present smirk was there, the uneven teeth, the solid build with the short black hair.
“W-what do you want, Jakob?” Wessel asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” It didn’t fit that Jakob would be here. There was no plan left to ruin, with Aizi gone, but if there had been, Jakob’s presence would have thrown him off.
“Grid went down an hour ago,” Jakob said, then sniffed and wiped some rain from his face. “School’s out. E’rything’s out, in case ya hadn’t noticed. Doofus.”
The insult came harder, a little more strained. Wessel didn’t respond. There was no point. Jakob would get over his little stint of bullying, then he would leave.
“I asked what you was doin’, pea-brain.”
“I was going home,” Wessel said. “Now I am doing n-nothing.”
“Gettin’ rained on.” Jakob frowned.
“What of it?” Wessel asked. “What do you want?”
“I wanna leave you out here in the road, maybe laugh a bit,” Jakob said, then sighed. “Buuuut my dad sent me out with the school volunteers to get people off the streets.”
Wessel stared at him in disbelief. “How are you going to… move…”
Jakob’s golem was still active. How was that? It had been an hour, right? The golems should have shut down by now, unless… unless what? Wessel looked at Aizi, but she was still shut down.
“My dad’s a nutcase mechanic,” Jakob said. “He stores up food ‘n stuff, ranting ‘bout the end times. Guess it pays to be a looney sometime, neh?”
Jakob tossed a metal ball to Wessel, and he tried his best not to drop it on the pavement. The ball was constructed with winding wires and coiled tubes, with a flat magnetic surface on either end.
“What is this?” Wessel asked.
“Houseplant. One of the thingies country folk use when they got no power zone to help ‘em out. I guess we’re really headin’ back to the stone age, neh?” Jakob looked away, still frowning. “Put that’n on yer golem, and I’ll escort ya home.”
Wessel scrambled to his feet, and placed the ball against Aizi’s chest. The magnet stuck, and the coil whirred to life, spinning into a blur. Aizi’s eyes sparked up and took in the scene.
“C’mon,” Jakob said.
Wessel blinked. “Why?” he asked.
“Why help me? You hate me, Jakob.”
Jakob tipped his head to the side. “Well,” he said. “Dad told me to help the people stranded out here. You’re one of ‘em. That’s all. I’ll be needin’ that ball back, ‘less you can buy one off me.”
Wessel nodded and took his next step toward home, Aizi following. She said nothing, perhaps recharging by using as little effort as possible. She was moving again, that was the important thing.
“’Sides,” Jakob said. “I don’t hate you or anything. Just really don’t like you.”
What’s the difference? Wessel wanted to ask, but he kept his mouth shut. Jakob was helping him now. Anything he said could possibly change that. It was better to just go home while he could.
The two trudged silently through the light rain. Jakob looked at Wessel every once in a while. If Wessel met his eyes, he scowled and went back to facing forward.
“He seems bothered,” Aizi said.
Wessel felt a wash of relief on hearing her voice again, but he didn’t dare respond. Not right now.
“This is the boy that gives you problems. But he seems more upset than angry or malicious.”
Aizi wasn’t there for all the little things, Wessel thought. The harsh words, the elbow to the ribs, the insults. Putting me down every time I tried to rise up, to do something.
“He seems scared,” Aizi said.
Wessel looked up at her, narrowing his eyes. Aizi’s form and expression gave no indication that she noticed anything. She only walked along. But her voice continued to resonate within him.
“He is scared of you.”
Jakob would be scared of Aizi, not me.
“Scared of you, Wessel. He has been for a long time. Does that make sense to you?”
Wessel looked at the ground and shook his head. It didn’t make any sense at all. Maybe Aizi being on low power was making her sense things wrong. Or maybe she still was having trouble processing human emotions.
Well, no. She was good at seeing how people were feeling. Just bad at understanding why. Wessel shivered. Jakob, scared of him? Why? Jakob could easily take him down in sparring class before they got golems. Afterward, the golems would keep them from fighting. Why would Jakob be scared of him?
“I do not know why. You could ask him,” Aizi said.
As if he could ask that. Hey Jakob, why are you so scared of me? That question would definitely blow Jakob’s temper.
But maybe… well, they were getting close enough to home, and Aizi was charged. Things were looking up. His dad and mom would meet him there, and everything would be fine, even if Aizi shut down once they were inside. Maybe he could just ask Jakob—
Jakob stopped in place, not turning to face Wessel. “Why what?” he asked. “I already told you why I was helping. Dad said I got to.”
“No,” Wessel said. “Why hate me?”
Jakob turned around, lips curled into a sneer. “I told you, twit, I don’t—”
“You do not like me,” Wessel said, interrupting. He forced Jakob to meet his eyes. “Something about me is bad to you. What is it?”
“You’re freakin’ retarded,” Jakob huffed, hunching his shoulders against the rain.
Wessel set his jaw forward. “What is it?” he asked again.
“I jus’ answered you, peabrain. You don’ think right.”
Wessel opened his mouth, but paused before answering. That didn’t fit what he’d thought. Jakob didn’t like him because he didn’t think like other people did? Because he couldn’t adapt, or because he could plan better? Or was it something deeper, more pronounced?
“See that?” Jakob growled. “Sittin’ there with your mouth open, like a friggin’ ape. I ain’t got no idea what to do wit’ you. You ain’t smart, but you don’t do dumb like most people. Just weird. You don’t think like people. Not like old folk, and not like other kids. I ain’t got no idea what goes through your head, what you going to do, neh? G-Get it?” Jakob tried to hide the stutter in his sputtering rant, but Wessel heard it. He saw evidence.
Jakob was afraid of him. Afraid just because he thought differently. That didn’t make any sense.
Jakob hunched over and turned away, his snarl showing a glimpse of his sharp, uneven teeth. “Let’s get you home,” he snapped.
Wessel nodded and began walking again. Some small part of him, drawing away from the rain and the gloom and the powerless uncertainty of the city, was focused on Jakob. It was angry. Wessel clenched his jaw. He didn’t often have that feeling. Even when bullied by Jakob, he was able to compartmentalize it. The bullying was Jakob’s problem, he’d thought.
But Jakob was blaming it on him. As if Wessel was at fault for the way Jakob thought and felt. That wasn’t right.
Wessel clenched a fist and took a step forward, but Aizi placed a hand on his shoulder.
Right, the golems. They couldn’t hurt each other. If he tried to land a punch on Jakob, the ‘power’ golem would stop him. Wessel shook for a moment. Wasn’t this what he wanted to fix? The anger, the insults, the fighting? And now he was part of the problem.
“It’s not fair,” he said.
“Neh?” Jakob turned his head.
Wessel set his jaw. “You are a jerk, and I never do anything bad to you. I’m going home.”
With Aizi following him, he stormed off in the direction of his home.
“Hey, wait!” Jakob called.
No, Wessel wasn’t going to wait. He almost ran to the nearby parking deck, then up the sloped landings to his floor. Jakob was huffing and puffing behind him, trying to catch up before he got inside. It wasn’t like he could do anything to hurt Wessel anyway, but Wessel still felt angry. Hurt. Upset. He ran to the door of his house, Aizi hurrying to catch up.
“Wessel,” Aizi said, “You should stop for a moment.”
He shook his head, nearly out of breath. Upon reaching the door, he tried the handle, which was locked. Frowning, he fumbled the key from his pocket and swiped it in front of the door, then pushed it into the slot when the door didn’t buzz or react. He shoved with his shoulder, pushing the door open.
“Hey!” Jakob’s voice called from behind.
Wessel stopped on the other side of the doorway. He was ready to slam the door, he was going to, but something distracted him. He stopped. Wet, numb fingers fell away from the knob.
“I got to get my danged houseplant back,” Jakob said, wheezing. His silver gorilla-shaped golem lumbered up behind him. Jakob swallowed, then looked up. “You listenin, pea— um. Your window is broken.”
From the open door, they could both see straight into Wessel’s open room. The window to that room was broken. The room was a mess. Wessel’s neat belongings were strewn here and there and even out the door.
Nothing else moved in the dark apartment, but for the wind howling through the broken window. “Whoa, dang,” Jakob said. “Looks like you got robbed.”