Unnatural Acts - By Kevin J Anderson


I never thought a golem could make me cry, but hearing the big clay guy’s sad story brought a tear to my normally bloodshot eyes. My business partner Robin, a lawyer (but don’t hold it against her), was weeping openly.

“It’s so tragic!” she sniffled.

“Well, I certainly thought so,” the golem said, lowering his sculpted head, “but I’m biased.”

He had lurched into the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations with the ponderous and inexorable gait that all golems have. “Please,” he said, “you’ve got to help me!”

In my business, most clients introduce themselves like that. It’s not that they don’t have any manners, but a person doesn’t engage the services of a private investigator, or a lawyer, as an ordinary social activity. Our visitors generally come pre-loaded with problems. Robin and I were used to it.

Then, swaying on his thick feet, the golem added, “And you’ve got to help my people.”

Now, that was something new.

Golems are man-sized creatures fashioned out of clay and brought to life by an animation spell. Tailor-made for menial labor, they serve their masters and don’t complain about minimum wage (or less, no tips). Traditionally, the creatures are statuesque and bulky, their appearance ranging from store-mannequin smooth to early Claymation, depending on the skill of the sculptor-magician who created them. I’ve seen do-it-yourself kits on the market, complete with facial molds and step-by-step instructions.

This golem was in bad shape: dried and flaking, his gray skin fissured with cracks. His features were rounded, generic, and less distinctive than a bargain-store dummy’s. His brow was furrowed, his chapped gray lips pressed down in a frown. He tottered, and I feared he would crumble right there in the lobby area.

Robin hurried out of her office. “Please, come in, sir. We can see you right away.”

Robin Deyer is a young African American woman with anime-worthy brown eyes, a big heart, and a feisty disposition. She and I had formed a loose partnership in the Unnatural Quarter, sharing office space and cooperating on cases. We have plenty of clients, plenty of job security, plenty of headaches. Unnaturals have problems just like anyone else, but zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches, ghouls, and the gamut of monsters are underrepresented in the legal system. That’s more than enough cases, if you can handle the odd clientele and the unusual problems.

Since I’m a zombie myself, I fit right in.

I stepped toward the golem and shook his hand. His grip was firm but powdery. “My partner and I would be happy to listen to your case, Mr. . . . ?”

“I don’t actually know my name. Sorry.” His frown deepened like a character in a cartoon special. “Could you read it for me?” He slowly turned around. In standard magical manufacturing, a golem’s name is etched in the soft clay on the back of his neck, where he can never see it for himself. “None of my fellow golems could read. We’re budget models.”

There it was, in block letters. “It says your name is Bill.”

“Oh. I like that name.” His frown softened, although the clay face was too stiff to be overly expressive. He stepped forward, disoriented. “Could I have some water, please?”

Sheyenne, the beautiful blond ghost who served as our receptionist, office manager, paralegal, business advisor, and whatever other titles she wanted to come up with, flitted to the kitchenette and returned with some sparkling water that Robin kept in the office refrigerator. The golem took the bottle from Sheyenne’s translucent hands and unceremoniously poured it over his skin. “Oh, bubbly! That tingles.”

It wasn’t what I’d expected him to do, but we were used to unusual clients.

When I’d first hung out my shingle as a PI, I’d still been human, albeit jaded—not quite down-and-out, but willing to consider a nontraditional client base. Robin and I worked together for years in the Quarter, garnering a decent reputation with our work . . . and then I got shot in the back of the head during a case gone wrong. Fortunately, being killed didn’t end my career. Ever since the Big Uneasy, staying dead isn’t as common as it used to be. I returned from the grave, cleaned myself up, changed clothes, and got back to work. The cases don’t solve themselves.

Thanks to high-quality embalming and meticulous personal care, I’m well preserved, not one of those rotting shamblers that give the undead such a bad name. Even with my pallid skin, the shadows under my eyes aren’t too bad, and mortician’s putty covers up the bullet’s entry and exit