Return of the Working Dead is a collection of short horror fiction stories and will be a five-part series starting Thursday, October 3rd, and ending on Halloween.
Content warning for blood, gore, and antisemitism.
Jackman’s was just a small deli owned by a Jewish man, Jack Weinberg. Because it was small, closing and opening duties only needed two people. Today, Corrine would get the front and Marco the back. Marco hated the back. Being a small deli was nice because he had a lot of regulars that did really nice things for them, people really appreciated them. Like Christine, she was a regular, always stopping by on her way home from work usually making her the last customer of the day. She always had the same order so he didn’t mind that it was so close to closing. She was sweet and if she was running late would always bring them some black and white cookies. If it was shabbat she’d bring them fresh-baked challah. They were also in a Jewish neighborhood and the only purely kosher deli for miles. But that also meant because they didn’t have any big orders and because the owner was intent on keeping things local and ensuring they were properly kosher, they also did their own slaughtering and dressing in the back.
Today was the day before Yom Kippur and a local Jewish congregation were coming to do their kapparot ceremony so Marco would have to come back later tonight afterward to clean up the back after they finished. He’d been to a kapparot ceremony at the deli, where they used live chickens, but his family preferred to do the ceremony with money. You know the saying, two Jews three opinions. The deli would be closed tomorrow for Yom Kippur which suited Marco just fine as he would be in shul all day atoning. In fact, he and Jack went to the same shul and that’s how he was able to get this job.
After he and Corrine finished closing up the shop, Marco rode his bike home. His mom had prepared the final meal before the 25-hour fast and as soon as Marco opened the door he could smell the kreplach, challah, and roast chicken. He set his backpack down by the door and went to the kitchen to wash his hands, passing his mom and giving her a kiss on the cheek when he went to the sink, “Oh man, this smells amazing Ma.”. He sat down with his family and they enjoyed their erev Yom Kippur feast.
Marco had just finished his last bottle of water and was reading the kol nidre when the Rabbi called Marco to let him know they were finished. Marco rode his bike back over to finish cleaning. As the congregation was leaving they all greeted Marco with a flurry of “gut yontiff” and “have an easy and meaningful fast” and “g’mar hatima tova”and told him what a mensch he was, pinched his cheeks and told him how much he’d grown since they’d last seen him. He and the Rabbi shook hands and left. Marco closed the door behind them and got to work.
Marco walked to where the cleaning supplies were stored and put on the wellies, rubber gloves, and rubber apron to protect his clothes from the blood and grabbed the long-handled squeegee. He hated this. His feet squelched in the blood and entrails on the floor. He started in one corner of the room and worked his way from the edges towards the drain, picking up any viscera too big to fit down the drain and tossing it in a bucket. It had only been about an hour since he started fasting and finished his water but his stomach still churned. He really hoped he didn’t ralph because that would only speed up dehydration.
Slowly and methodically he pushed the blood, water, and guts mixture towards the center of the room. A couple of hours later and he was mostly finished, just picking up the little pieces of connective tissue that were stuck on the drain before mopping. He stopped for a moment because he thought he saw something moving further down in the drain. He bent over to try to get a closer look but it was too dark and he didn’t see anything. It was probably just some maggots. He’ll tell Jack they need to do a deep clean of the pipes soon.
Another hour passed and Marco finished mopping and wiping down the surfaces. He rinsed the rubber boots, apron, and gloves off with a hose and hung them up to dry. He double-checked to make sure the front was still locked, locked up the back, and rode his bike home.
He spent the next morning with the rest of his family at their synagogue for Yom Kippur prayers. Marco’s family were back at home and preparing the break fast meal. When the fast was finally over and they sat down to eat the kids turned their phones back on. But instead of catching up on the latest memes or playing games they were met with terrible news. The deli had been vandalized with swastikas and other neo-nazi slogans and images, the windows had been smashed in, and the whole place was just a mess. Marco was surprised it hadn’t been set on fire like the Judaica shop a couple of years ago. Marco had missed a bunch of texts and calls from Corrine. It apparently happened in the afternoon which was very bold of the white supremacist scum but as the neighborhood was mostly Jewish the streets were pretty much empty because everyone was in shul. Plus the cops were all stationed at the synagogues as they beefed up their presence for the High Holidays.
“Hey ma, can I be excused? I need to call Jack,” he asked. His family had turned on the TV and were all glued to the news, “Huh? Oh sure, hon. Tell him we send him love and if he needs anything at all to let us know.” Marco nodded and walked into the other room.
Jack answered, his voice wavering. He thanked Marco and told him he didn’t need to come in and will pay him for his normal shift anyway. Marco refused and insisted he’d help clean up.
Over the next few days, the community came together to help clean up and repair the store. Marco continued to refuse payment. He was just a kid and didn’t need the money as it was just a side job to save up for college. Or as his dad had said when pushing him to get a job, “To learn a little responsibility and work ethic.”
A month later and the deli had a grand reopening ceremony with the Rabbi coming in to certify it as kosher. There was also going to be a speech by the mayor about how it’s an important cultural and community landmark and condemning antisemitism and everything else politicians are supposed to say when a hate crime happens.
In the back room, Marco was sitting with his friend Moshe who was home on high holiday break from Yeshiva. They were just chatting when they saw the Rabbi stop near the drain in the center of the room. He took out a piece of parchment paper that was carefully and tightly rolled up, tied with a piece of twine with a dark red wax seal over the knot. They thought it was weird but forgot about it when Corrine and Jane came back to talk to them. Marco had had a crush on Corrine ever since she first started working there but he was too chicken to ever say anything and Moshe and Jane were in a long-distance relationship while he was in school.
Hanukkah rolled around and they had been collecting the fat for frying. It was another closing shift and Christine was running late. She brought a plate of still sizzling latkes. Marco thought it strange how Christine always managed to bring such fresh food if she was on her way home from work but he stopped caring the second she shoved a forkful of latke with sour cream in his mouth. Christine actually worked at the Jewish day school and got home in the late afternoon so she had plenty of time to prepare food to bring to Marco and Christine. She liked coming near closing because it means the kids weren’t rushed and they could enjoy whatever she brought. Nothing gave her greater joy than how happy her food made people.
Marco was almost done pushing the blood into the drain when he heard a crash and some laughter. He froze. He dreaded this moment ever since the attack on Yom Kippur, that he’d be caught in the shop. So many thoughts started racing through his head. Would they kill him? Would they just destroy the store? Should he hide? Should he fight? Should he run? His hand instinctively went to the Magen David necklace he wore tucked under his shirt and felt a boost of courage. He grabbed a big butcher knife off the magnet block on the wall and stood his ground at the entrance of the backroom, waiting for them.
The laughing got louder, he heard a bunch of kids making Holocaust jokes and slurs and talking about how Jews are scum, the cause of the world’s ills, etc.. They started talking about what they would do to Jack. Mentioning him and his family by name. Marco started to tremble but still stood strong. “H-hey assholes!” He yelled. What was he doing? He was going to get himself killed!
The boys whooped and hollered, “We got a live one boys! Sounds like just a little rat, too. We’re gonna gut you like a fucking pig, kid. Good thing we’ve got all the tools right here!” They squealed like pigs and laughed.
They pushed open the swing doors. Four neo-Nazi skinheads stood there, busting their guts laughing at him. They were all taller and bigger than him. David and Goliaths, he thought. They wore black leather jackets with Skrewdriver and other nazi punk bands and swastikas and 1488 and SS bolt patches and pins on them. They all wore leather boots with red laces, which meant they’d spilled blood. He gulped. Hard.
“Aw, look he even got the butcher knife all warmed up for us. That ain’t a toy kid,” one of them said.
“I-I-I’m not afraid of you, you pieces of shit,” Marco yelled.
The skins laughed again. Marco started hyperventilating, his palms were sweaty. He was a total fucking goner.
“Let’s fucking get him!” the leader yelled and they rushed at him. Marco slipped in the blood around the drain and dropped the knife when he fell. He curled into a ball trying to protect his most vulnerable organs and head as they started walloping him. His head was right over the drain and he stared into the darkness. He felt a stinging in his eyes as something warm dripped down from the side of his head, across his eyes, and down into the drain. He saw that it was blood, a mix of his blood and tears were flowing into the drain.
He saw the paper the Rabbi had shoved down there. The twine had come undone and the seal had melted and dissolved from all the cleaning chemicals and animal byproducts that got pushed down there. He saw the word “emet.” Which meant “truth”. The blood suddenly started swirling around the paper and swallowed it whole. He could still see the words through a haze of deep red that grew more and more opaque. He started coughing and more blood went into the drain which made this weird mass go into a frenzy. It started to form tendrils that came up through the drain. These deep, blood red, strings snaked up past Marco’s face, brushing his cheek. They felt spongy but rough, like if a Twinkie had a sandpaper coating. It grew bigger and bigger, more tendrils came out of every hole in the drain and melded into a single, giant trunk.
“Yo, what the absolute fuck is that!”, the leader screamed. They moved away from Marco and the drain. Marco slid back under a prep table and watched as this creature formed into the shape of a man. Not just a man, a hulking giant. At least seven feet tall with literally rippling muscles. His flesh never stopped moving and reforming. He let out a deafening roar and the skinheads went running. More tendrils from the drain rushed out and blocked the door behind them. They cowered, huddled together. He reared back a fist and went to punch them but they ducked and scuttled under another table.
The creature yelled again and tentacles creeped out of his body to grab the leader by the ankles and drag him out from under the table. He screamed as he was flung against the wall, the tiles cracking as his head made a sickening thud and left a little splat of blood. He slid down and landed on top of a counter.
The other skins scrambled out from under the table, trying to find somewhere else safe to hide. The creature lumbered over and grabbed two of them by their skulls and clunked them together like they were Baoding balls and they fell in a heap on top of each other. The fourth one scrambled to get the butcher knife Marco dropped and swung it at the creature. It did cut into the creature’s flesh but the bloody mass just absorbed it. The flesh started moving, absorbing his hand, the rest of the knife and continued up his arm. It was up to his elbow now and he screamed. It was burning his flesh, sizzling. Marco realized it smelled like smoking pork and felt sick. The skinhead tried getting his arm back but when he pulled it free it was just a skeletal hand and wrist as his flesh had totally sloughed off, his pinky finger bones had started to blacken and there was steam coming off of him. He screamed a blood-curdling cry.
The leader got up off the table and jumped up onto the back of what Marco now realized was a real-life Golem. An actual Golem…here, to protect him! He couldn’t help but smile. He always daydreamed about a golem coming to save him and beat up his bullies whenever he was teased in school.
The other two, still dizzy, joined the leader and jumped up on the Golem’s back. They were trying to wrestle him to the ground. Marco thought they almost had him as the Golem dropped to his knees and started to collapse under their combined weight. Some tendrils tried to come up out of the drain but were so translucent and thin. Marco panicked, he did a home run slide that would have made Sandy Koufax proud and pushed blood across the floor into the drain. He found a switchblade one of the skinheads had dropped and put the blade into the palm of his hand and made a fist over the drain. He winced and hissed at the pain as blood started to steadily drop into the drain. The tendrils grew more solid, thicker, and stronger. The drain lid popped off as a huge mess of thick, bloody tentacles wooshed out of the drain splattering blood everywhere. They combined into four thick trunks, each one wrapping itself around the neck of the skinheads. The men fell off the Golem’s back as they grasped at their necks, trying to get some space to breathe. One of them grabbed a knife from his pocket and tried cutting at the limb. There was a hiss and the metal began to melt into his hand. The one with flesh missing was trying to claw at the one around his neck with his ruined hand. A bony finger punctured the stalk. The flesh of the tendril sucked his hand in and traveled up his arm, eating away at the rest of his arm. Marco could see pieces of flesh traveling through these tendrils, like a digestive system, before the bits dissolved into nothingness as they got closer to the drain.
The Golem stood up, and now, stronger than ever thanks to Marco, took his giant fist and put it around the top of the leader’s head as the tentacle released its grasp. The other tentacles dropped their prey as the Golem gathered all his strength. He closed his fist around the leader’s head, mustering all his power to break through the man’s skull. Marco could see blood starting to spill out of the skinhead leader’s ears and nose. His eyes were the first to pop, dribbling down his cheeks in little rivulets. Then came a loud crack as his skull broke apart and after that, the rest of his skull was just crushed in the Golem’s fist whole like he was crunching leaves on an autumn day. The body dropped, limp. Tendrils came out of the drain and wrapped around his whole body until his corpse was encased in a giant slab. Just like the bits of flesh, Marco watched as the leader’s corpse was dissolved, clothes and all.
The Golem grabbed the skinhead whose arm was now nothing but bone up to his shoulder by the waist in one hand. He ripped off the man’s other arm and dropped the skinhead down and started beating him with it before stabbing the humerus into his chest and piercing his heart.
The last two got on their knees and tried begging and pleading for their lives. The Golem picked them up again and slammed their heads repeatedly into each other until their faces were both pulpy messes. He dropped them to the ground. They were still alive, making horrible gurgling noises as drool trickled from their mouths. The Golem lifted up his foot and stomped down on their skulls like he was an elephant playing with pumpkins. The floor quaked and he left a crack in the concrete.
The tendrils had all eaten the bodies and clothing. Nothing was left. They had even sucked up every last drop of blood that Marco hadn’t finished cleaning. The only evidence remaining were some cracks that he could explain away to Jack as just tomfoolery with friends and he’ll buy the supplies to repair it out of his own pocket.
The Golem began to shrink back as the tentacles and tendrils all around him retreated back down the drain. The Golem opened his mouth and presented the parchment to Marco on his tongue, ready for him to erase the aleph to create “met”, or death. Marco shook his head. The Golem’s outer form suddenly shifted and changed. It hardened, it wasn’t slimy, it was more like marble. The Golem embraced Marco. It was cool and comforting. “Thanks,” he said, softly. The Golem made a grunt of affirmation and retreated back into the drain.
Marco rode his bike home. He hurt like hell but needed to get home and think about what had just happened. He walked in and his mom screamed, “What happened to you! To my baby boy!”
He tried shrugging her off, “I just got into a fight, ma. I’m fine.”
“Just a fight! Just a fight, he says! You’re covered in blood!”
“Ma, please. I just wanna take a shower and go to bed,” he weaseled out of her grasp and walked to his room.
The next morning at work he prepared his explanation to Jack. Jack was standing in the middle of the backroom, above the drain. His gaze drifting between the two cracked spots and the drain. Marco started his, “Mr. Weinberg, I’m really sorry we just-”
But Jack cut him off. “You know I got cameras back here, kid?” Marco turned bright red. The things he must have seen, all the lip-synching using the squeegee as a mic. And the blood Golem brutally murdering four skinheads. Jack walked over to Marco and hugged him, “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Y-you know? About…about…” Marco tried holding back tears, he hadn’t yet processed what had happened.
“The Golem? Oh fuck yeah. I asked the Rabbi the day after Yom Kippur. It took him a while because he had to search around for some Kaballah scholars and stuff and it was this whole ordeal but he got it. I’m just relieved you’re safe.” Jack ruffled Marco’s hair. “Now get the hell back to work. What do y’think I’m paying you for?” Marco laughed and got his apron on and walked to the front where he greeted Corrine and they started opening duties.