picts of glass

The Glassblower and the Golem

by Elspeth Lachlan
* To contact Ms. Lachlan about this story, please e-mail AoW at wordings@hotmail.com

There was no denying it: the thing was hideous.

Though it had a roughly human shape with more or less proportioned head, neck, torso, and limbs, it was devoid of normal human features; it had a smooth, flat face with wide-set, opaque eyes, round nostrils where its nose should have been, a lipless slit of a mouth. It was fashioned naked yet had no navel, nor genitalia, and its surface was a sheen of sickly, milky gray. It ought to have been transparent, like all his other full-size glass sculptures. How had it turned out like this? What did it mean?

As Malcolm stood stooped and sweating in the cramped chamber of his annealing oven, the answer rippled across his consciousness like a pebble of truth thrown into a swamp of denial: he'd been too drunk this time, or too high on the new drug cocktail he'd used for ‘inspiration.' In fact, he barely remembered what he'd been doing in the studio. He'd woken from some kind of hazy nightmare knowing only that there was something awaiting him in the oven, and that he must see it: everything else pertaining to the last eight hours or so was a blank. Probably he was trying to get that damn commission finished so he could look Lorna in the face again, affirm her abiding faith in him and repay her for her tireless work booking exhibits, promoting his art, preserving his reputation. And for what? Her commission fee ammounted to peanuts compared to the effort she put in. The truth was she didn't manage him for the money. She managed him because she was a good friend who wanted him to succeed, wanted to keep him honest. And all he did was disappoint her.

He put on the canvas work gloves tucked into his apron and grabbed the thing by its shoulders, preparing to remove it from the oven--what did it matter now if it cracked from cooling too quickly? "It's back to the flames for you, my vile friend," he muttered into its misshapen ear as he heaved it though the low, steel-framed door of the annealing pod and picked his way through the mess of empty wine and beer bottles, open jars of enamel, and disheveled boxes of junk glass littering the floor of his studio. Then he nearly dropped it.

"Mother of God!"

The thing had moved. Not settled somehow as it cooled, not tilted over as a result of his movements or a random gust of air, but moved itself, of its own volition. He'd seen its fingers reaching, felt a quiver beneath his gloves like the slight flexing of muscle . . . but no, it couldn't be. Malcolm began shaking, as he did when he had to go too long without a drink, and nearly knocked the sculpture over as he set it down. It had to be stress--that combined with his imagination, which had been described by several art critics as astonishing. He had certainly astonished himself tonight!

"God, Malcolm, you need a brandy," he said aloud. The thought of it calmed him, then cheered him. He laughed at himself and his queer companion, parodied its bland expression.

"Why don't you make yourself useful and clean up this hellhole?" he taunted before flicking off the lights of the studio and ascending to the house above.

Next morning, despite a bad hangover, Malcolm kept his resolve and dragged himself down the stairs to his basement studio; much to his surprise, he found it neat and organized, with all his tools cleaned and hung in ordered fashion, the floor cleared of debris. The whole room smelled pleasantly of lemon disinfectant and ammonia. Malcolm crossed his arms and nodded approvingly. He couldn't quite remember having cleaned up, but congratulated himself anyway as he noted the newly mopped cement floor. If only the shelves weren't so bare! But he'd grown so weary of the silly little vases, plates, and other baubles he sold in the gift shop. They seemed so trivial, so banal compared with his gallery pieces. Yet, as Lorna took pains to remind him, they kept food on the table until the art pieces sold; or they had, when he'd been more productive. He should really pop off a few dozen vases and dinnerware sets before the tour bus season arrived, if only to please Lorna. But no, first he would see to that terrible sculpture. That's when he finally noticed: the thing was missing.

"Now where the devil did I put you?" he mumbled. Then he began remembering snatches of the hallucination he'd had when he'd moved the thing out of the oven, and felt the skin prickle and hair rise on the back of his neck. Surely it couldn't ... No, of course it couldn't! He must have destroyed it, broken it up for seed glass before sorting his shards and cleaning up ... now what was that? He looked at the puddle of water he'd stepped in, traced with wide eyes the trail of wet, deformed footprints.
The thing turned its dull, lidless eyes on him and made a muffled grunting sound as it hunched beside the concrete pillar, mopping the spotless floor in slow, meticulous circles.

Malcolm gathered the bubbling, molten glass on the end of the hollow metal blowpipe. He loved this moment perhaps more than any other, this moment of transformation. When he was focused like this it felt as if time formed a neat, static sphere around him as he saw in his mind the perfected statue, and used his body as and instrument of its creation. He felt like an alchemist, a magician; or perhaps a god.

"Perfection," he whispered. He gazed at the new sculpture, a full-size personification of female beauty. Only the right hand was left to fashion and then attach using his secret glass welding technique. He put his lips to the blowpipe, preparing to shape the final piece.

This was it. This was the masterpiece he'd been preparing to make his entire life. Lorna would be so proud of him. In fact, she'd be in awe. "I knew it the first time I saw you in class," she had told him once over coffee at the art school cafeteria, "I knew you had a gift, a kind of power. You don't create like the rest of us, with paint or clay or tools: you create though sheer will. Half of me thinks your sculptures pop straight out of your head, like Athena popped out of Zeus." He'd been only semi-aware of her words, given that he was desparately in love with her at the time, yet he recalled them now. Wait until she saw this latest sculpture. Perhaps he'd call it 'Athena.' He'd open a bottle of champagne, drink a toast to her. And Lorna.

"Huhhhh."

The thing appeared suddenly at his side, startling him, and as his body jerked in fright the half-formed glass hand dropped to the floor, shattering into a hundred glowing shards.

"Damn you, you stupid zombie," he hissed at it, "look what you've done!"

"Huhhhh," it repeated inanely.

Scolding it never did any good, Malcolm reminded himself.

"Load," he ordered it, pointing first to the bin of seed glass, then to the crucible. The thing looked at him blankly and then complied, mechanically dropping shards into the fire, one by one.

"Loooad," it parroted.

Malcolm watched the creature for a moment, disgusted. There was something disturbing in its dead expression and unblinking eyes. Yet it made his life easier, performed all the mundane tasks that no great artist should have to trouble with; cooking, cleaning, and so forth. It even learned how to make dinnerware for the giftshop, so that he could spend all his time in the studio, if he felt like it. Most of the time he simply watched it work while he flipped through his old portfolios and art school yearbooks, waiting the Muse to speak. All told, he had to admit that though the thing was ugly, it was eminently useful--as long as it was under control. He had to admit though, there were times when it scared him.

He was about to give it another order when the phone rang.

"Continue," he commanded it, just to be safe, and ran over to the desk to answer the phone. He was surprised to hear Lorna's boyfriend on the other end.

"Michell, is that you?"

"Yes Malcolm it's me. Listen, have you heard from Lorna?" His voice sounded slightly panicked, and Malcolm felt his own heartbeat double in response.

"No. I keep getting her machine when I call. Isn't she back from New York yet? What's going on?"
"She never arrived in New York, Malcolm. And I just found out she never even made it to the airport. She said she was going to stop at your place that night before catching her flight. Did you see her?"

Malcolm felt his knees buckle and steadied himself, leaning on the desk for support.

"What night was that?" he choked, fumbling to grab his calendar.

"The 10th, about four weeks ago."

It was the same night. The night of the creature. Had she been there? Had it done something to her? That night was still a big blank in his memory.

"Michell, I don't--"

A splintering crash sounded behind him, and he turned to see the creature stuffing his masterpiece into the crucible. He dropped the phone receiver, ran to the crucible, fell to his knees in front of the creature.
"What have you done to Lorna?!"

Then, in agonizing detail, he remembered. Lorna, with fear in her eyes as he ranted at her like a madman, waved his blowpipe like a weapon in her face, telling her she was nothing to him, no more than a lackey, a mindless flunky with no talent of her own. The awful vision of her as she backed away, tripped over an empty vodka bottle and hit her head on the iron crucible. Then--oh God--the insanity. The panic. She was dead! More panic. Then the sickening sizzle and stench of flesh as she burned to ashes in the crucible, ashes mingled with glass.

"Lorna, no! I killed her. Killed her," Malcolm wailed, collapsing on the floor.

"Keeeel," replied the creature, abandoning the sculpture and seizing Malcolm by the arms, dragging him toward the crucible.

Malcolm looked up at it, helpless. Stop, he needed to say: stop killing me. But he could no longer say it. For he knew what it was.

"Lorna?" he pleaded.

The creature paused, and a flash of what looked like puzzled recognition passed over its face, flared in its eyes. And its face--her face--was the last thing Malcolm ever saw.

The next morning two police investigators, accompanied by Mitchell Raskin, entered Malcolm's studio and discovered the glassblower's charred body lying at the foot of a hideous statue.