The Rofe's Diary

Author’s Notes:

I began writing "The Rofe's Diary" back in November 2011, in response to a Flash Fiction challenge on Google+. It has since taken on a life of its own, having grown to just over 13,600 words thus far. I will not be posting any further updates to this blog because I intend to submit the finished work for publication, which will likely include modifications to the content shown below.

This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Part I
  1. Reflections
  2. 1933 January 30
  3. 1933 February 02
  4. 1933 March 10
  5. Memories
  6. 1938 November 15
  7. 1941 September 04
  8. 1945 April 13
  9. Translations
  10. 1950 January 01
  11. 1950 June 17
  12. 1950 December 19
Part II
  1. Cracked
  2. Upon Inspection

Part I

He turned casually to watch as men and women crowded onto the bus, and then scanned the faces of those inside. He was tempted to hop on and be amongst them, teasing himself with the scent of the warm-blooded humans standing so near to him. He was just about to turn towards the door when he noticed something that gave him pause, and made him waive the driver on. He stood there watching as all those faces drifted into the dark, including his own, reflected in the glass of the bus window.  It was a reflection he hadn't seen for nearly six thousand years.

He thought, such a lovely face. Young and vibrant, accompanied by a strong body with a purposeful stride. It made him feel a pang of regret even as he noticed the beginning effects of the serum he had injected into his arm just minutes ago.

"I should stop using myself as a guinea pig," he chuckled, turning away from the departed and looking in the opposite direction for the next bus to flag down. He was just blocks from the doctor's office and he wanted to be much farther away before the police were called and discovered the rofe laying dead in a pool of blood.


The memory of it made him feel both euphoric and queasy at the same time, which made him think that perhaps the good Doktor had gotten the formula right this time. Maybe he wouldn't suffer again through a terrible sickness that made his stomach curdle up and heave, long past the last ejection of a bad cocktail. Or made his skin crack and peel for weeks, forcing him to slink under cloak and darkness in order to find a rightful feast, and try to slake his still-unending thirst.

He had grown ever more disappointed each time he tried another version of the rofe's recipe, the mix adjusted ever so slightly so that he could test and retest the formula until he got it right. He could not bear yet another mistake, and he had sliced the neck of the old man in one swift move. As he stood over the dying human, he knew what the rofe saw, what they all saw: the mighty and fierce archangel upon whose sword their soul was ushered unto the gates of judgement.

As he waited at the bus stop, he wondered if he had been too hasty with his last fetch. He could feel something was different, something was happening within his body, within his mind. A slowing down, almost imperceptible but revealed in his hesitation at seeing his own reflection, and in the lumbering sensation now coursing through his limbs.

Perhaps, at last, when he caught the next bus and returned to his lowly dwelling, Samael could lay down and finally rest for an eternity.

For what was eternity to a thousands-year old being? The angel of death was ready to sleep.


I have begun a diary on this day when our adopted country named it's Chancellor, a name our family has long feared and whom we believe will be the destruction of our people. But it is not his name that causes me to take up the pen in this late hour. Rather it was the whisper of another name in my ear, and from whence it came was not but thin air.

I had turned to look around me, but I was alone in the back room where I had been sterilizing Herr Doktor's instruments before the first patient was to arrive this morning. I returned to my work, knowing that if I did not finish in time there would be punishment.

"Ishmael," it whispered again, and I was frightened. Only my family and our rabbi know me by this name. All others, including Herr Doktor, know me as "Misha" (a good name for my protection, my mother claims).

I put down the hot cloth, and tidied up the table to compose my mind and steady my own voice. "Reveal yourself to me, whomever it is who whispers my name," I spoke aloud, hoping my command would not summon the devil himself.

"You will not see me," came the reply from out of the air. "But you shall hear this message from Avinu Elyon El Shaddai Elohim Adonai, יהוה. 'Prepare yourself, my son. Sacrifice comes again to those of my covenant, and Ishmael is chosen to assist in their passing.'"

I trembled. The voice itself was upsetting, but accompanied by those words was made terrible. I beseeched the voice to explain, but already I had felt the air move and something heavy had passed from the room. My only comfort was to continue with my day's chores, and my faith in the blessings of my Lord to protect me should this devil receive me again.

I have not heard the voice since that moment, before the light of dawn. I could not forget such words even as I performed all my chores for Herr Doktor. I have come to my bed just now, having done as I was taught by the sofer, having prepared myself with the mikveh and citing the holy daven to sanctify the page that contains the written name of G-d.

I cannot sleep. I am truly frightened by this portentous event, particularly on this day. I am in danger, as is my family and our people. If the words of this devil are true, then I will be complicit in what comes of us all.

- Ishmael Agredeyiv, aged 16, Munich, Germany


Herr Doktor has been conscripted into the Schutz-Staffel. They came this afternoon with their satchels and delivered his papers. He quickly saluted and then requested I be assigned to him. He gave my name as “Michi”, and the officer wrote this name in his little black book, along with the details of my skills and tutelage as provided by the Doktor.

He said I was his ward and that he depends on me for many preparations, both in the surgical room and in the office. He held out his left arm and told the officer it had been partially disabled in the great war, nerve damage from the scalpel of the unskilled. Herr Doktor said I was his best student, and he would personally assure that no officer of the German Forces under my knife would suffer the same fate as he.

Horrified, I dared not move from where I stood, holding the tray of tea and butter cookies as if ready to serve these guests. They left without taking up his offer to sit, saying only that they will return tomorrow with my papers and I will be assigned to him at Dachau. We are to be ready to leave in two days.

After his evening meal, Herr Doktor bade me sit with him. This was an unusual invitation, and I was anxious to run to my parents home, to seek their safety and the counsel of our rabbi. He told me I should be appreciative for what he had done. I did not understand at first, but he said I must do nothing that would call attention to us. He reminded me of curfew and of the Sturmabtielung. I am not to leave his house, lest I and my family be caught and sent to the camp as prisoners.

Tomorrow I am to pack all his medical tools, supplies, and books. For myself, I am to pack only the things he has given me. No family photographs, no scriptures, no tallit nor kippah. Tonight I am to practice suturing a cadaver while he is burning those things I have brought into his home.

I must protect this diary. I will conceal it within my undershirt as I am taking my lessons. While he sleeps, I must develop a secret gemetria and then rewrite the two entries I have made thus far, to better disguise it amongst my study books.

I have re-read the words I wrote just three nights ago, and I am even more afraid now. It has begun.

- Ishmael “Michi” Agredeyiv, aged 16, Munich, Germany


I have the duty of transcribing Herr Doktor's notes on anatomy. A body lays on the table before me and I have been instructed to draw the placement of various internal organs within the female reproductive system. But I cannot.

I have been at camp for over a month now, and have seen many horrors. This is but one among them, and I despair there are more yet to come. Each day is worse than the previous. I cannot fathom yesterday, and yet I look into the future and consider that today will be far better than the next.

I do not know how we will survive, how I am to survive. I weep for the dead, I weep for the living, and I weep for myself. I cannot bare to be part of these actions, to participate in the abominations that I am asked to observe and record.

Adonai, I beseech thee. Let me take this scalpel and draw out my own blood. Let my life be fully drained so that I will no longer be required to know how many other lives will be taken here. In this filthy, disgusting, forsaken h...

"Ishmael," came the whisper. Startled, the young man dropped his pen in fear, leaving drops of ink on the page that blotted out the last words he had just written. "No", Ishmael argued, "you are not allowed to speak my name." But the voice he remembered so clearly, from that first and only day it had spoken to him, continued.

"You are called to gemilut chesed for the met, Ishmael. You shall perform taharot for her, whose body lays before you. You shall be shomer, and you must not partake of food nor drink until it is complete. Do as you are instructed. Cleanse the body from head to foot. Do not place the body face down during any part of your administrations. Prepare the tachrichim, and recite the three prayers that consecrate such preparations. When it is done, ask her forgiveness for the improprieties of your service."

The young man hung his head in admonishment. "As you command," he replied, and tears fell from his eyes as he stood to begin the work he had been told to perform. The room seemed to breathe a heavy sigh as he drew the water for the bath. He did not waiver from his tasks, even though it was early morning when he prayed the final stitch into the sheet that covered the body before him, and the heaviness in the room departed.

When the Doktor entered the examination room for his morning rounds, he noticed first the full plate and glass that sat undisturbed by the door. Then, he saw Ishmael sitting quietly by the dissection table.

"Michi?" The Doktor gently prodded at the shoulder of the weary, but unsleeping, young man. Ishmael looked up at the him with the most sorrowful expression the Doktor had ever seen.

"She must be buried," Ishmael whispered, and it was all he needed to say. The Doktor turned and flung open the door and called to the soldier who stood outside.

"Bury this body immediately," he ordered, "and tell me when it is done." The soldier saluted, then marched off to get another to help him. It didn't take long for his return, and the two soldiers carried the body out of the room. Ishmael did not look up when they entered, picked up the body in its shroud and left. Nor when the soldier returned an hour later and told the Doktor that his instructions had been followed to the letter.

When the soldier finished his duty and returned to his station outside the exam room, the Doktor pushed the tray of food towards the young man. "Eat, boy," he said. "You need your strength for the many hard tasks ahead of you." And Ishmael ate the food and drank the water, as he was instructed. The Doktor waited until Ishmael's fork had been laid to rest at last.

The Doktor placed a hand on Ishmael's arm. "Sleep now," he said. "We have far too many trials ahead of us, and you must be rested. Tomorrow, Herr Mengele arrives to review our work, and you will need to explain these... notes that you have prepared for me." The Doktor pressed a finger against Ishmael's diary, and then slowly flipped the pages backwards until he came to the first, wondering silently of the two missing pages.

Ishmael nodded and stood up. The Docktor closed the book and handed it to the young man. "I cannot help whatever it is that disturbs you, Michi. But we must consider our work, and record what happens here." And with that, the Doktor turned and led Ishmael back to his own quarters.


1933 March 11, 8:00 AM

The Lord's will be done. I will prepare the deserving as instructed, to ensure their sanctification. May our Father in Heaven forgive me for my sins this day and in the days to come. May the devil below never again return to whisper my name.

- Ishmael Agredeyiv, aged 16, Dachau, Germany


The procession of mourners took longer than Shelly expected, and dusk was wearing in. She recognized several who were patients from her grandfather’s medical practice. Yet so many more were unexpected strangers.

Her twin brother, Michael, leaned over to whisper and point out the young man who stood alone at the back of their living room, casually watching everyone and speaking to no one. He was dressed in a dark black suit and tie, even his shirt was black. He wore no jewelry, not even a watch. Nobody noticed him, and it was as if everyone avoided the space where he stood. Shelly had an odd feeling watching the young man, which her brother acknowledged too.

Their mother shushed their whispering, as an old man hobbled towards them. He was wearing the traditional garb of a Rabbi, and was accompanied by a boy with peyots and holding a small silver cup. The old man mumbled as he dipped a hand in the cup, and then sent small water droplets along the path behind and around them.

"My grandfather requests to join you?" asked the boy. Shelly's mother motioned to the chair beside the couch where the three sat. But the old man came forward, drew water from the cup and proceeded to wash her mother's hands.

While the boy followed, drying her mother's hands, the old man washed both Shelly's and Michael's hands, saying softly to each, "Shalom aleikhem". The young boy dried their hands and responded with "Aleikem Shalom", then put the cup and cloth on the side table, and helped his grandfather into the chair.

Shelly and Michael looked at each other quickly. They knew their grandfather had several patients of the Jewish faith, which was not unusual for a doctor in New York City. But they were both startled by the ceremony that had just taken place.

"My grandfather knew your father, your grandfather." The boy looked at Shelly's mother, and then at Shelly and her brother. "He would like me to share a story with you, if I may?"

With a nod from her mother, Shelly watched as the boy withdrew a small notebook from his jacket pocket.

"My grandfather wishes first to express his condolences for your loss," the boy said, "and I am to tell his story so that you may be comforted in knowing your loved one, the Rofe, shall be reunited with all those we loved and lost, in Olam Ha-Ba."

The boy opened the notebook and began to read.

"They called him 'Michi' when I met him for the first time. Later, I learned his real name was Ishmael Agredeyiv, and later still I found him having immigrated to America and become known as Doctor Day. He was a good and faithful Rofe, who served our Lord by healing so many, including those of us who were imprisoned at Dachau.

"I mistook him for a soldier when I was stood before him, frightened for such a young man with the task of inspecting my body upon entry into the camp. But his hands were gentle and he did not prod me to pain, like so many other inspections before. I turned away when he showed me the needle, but he pressed his thumb into my palm and drew for me the Hebrew symbol of Chai.

"I was assured, for in just such a place only a son of Abraham would have signed the symbol of life. I was careful not to show others in the room my understanding. I let him draw my blood, and he made sure to cleanse the skin before and after. I hoped that only he would recognize my gratefulness for his proper treatment of me then, and throughout the entire time in the camp.

"When he would call for those of us who wore the star, we came quietly and did not resist his administrations. Even under the watchful eye of the soldiers, he would pass us the food from his own plate, and deliver the messages from our wives and children, from whom we were separated by barbed wire and guards with rifles. From him, my eldest son received the attentions of Shomer and the proper dressings for the dead. And so from him, for so many..."

The boy stopped as the old man painfully raised both his hands, palms outward and middle fingers spread open. Shelly did not understand what was going on and stole a look at her brother, who seemed just as confused as Shelly felt.

"The blessings of a Kohen," the boy explained. "My grandfather is Rabbi to a large congregation, many of whom are here today to observe and to learn, and to pay our respects for the one who saved our parents, and our parents' parents."

The boy turned a page in the notebook, and continued to read.

"It is because of his gifts that I, my wife and our second son survived Dachau. For his many sacrifices it was I who called to the Americans, 'Juden', so that they would not mistake him for a German soldier and make him a prisoner of war. For having exposed him for what he truly was, it was I who used a kitchen knife provided by the Americans to stab the SS officer who attacked him and called him traitor. But it was he who washed the blood from my hands afterwards, and said the prayers to forgive my most unholy sin. It was then that he told me his name. A name I have blessed in prayers many times in the years that have passed.

"Where he traveled after our freedom was achieved, I know very little. We tried to find his own family in Munich, but they had all been lost amid the horrors of the Shoah. My wife and I begged of him to remain with us, but he said that he was commanded to leave Germany, and we parted paths. We learned of each other again only recently, and most unfortunately only days before his passing. He had appeared at synagogue and asked me to pray for the three of you. My son recognized him as the Rofe who healed our grandson of a grave illness at his birth. I, my wife and son, and this boy who reads you this story now, owe our lives to Ishmael Agredeyiv. And we will pray for you as he requested, until all our days are done."

The boy closed the notebook and laid it on the table. "We pray, El Maleh Rahamim."

Both the boy and the old man raised their hands and chanted for several minutes, in a language that Shelly only guessed was Hebrew, or perhaps Yiddish. Then, the boy knelt and kissed the hands of Shelly, her brother, and her mother, before helping his own grandfather up from the chair. Leaving the notebook, cup and cloth on the side table, the boy and old man walked out of the room, followed by all those who had remained this late into the evening. All but the young man in the black suit, who remained standing at the back of the room.

"That was weird," Michael whispered, "very weird." He picked up the notebook that the boy had left.

"Mom, I don't understand. What was all that about? What was he saying about Opa?" Shelly tried to ignore the young man but she kept looking towards him, wondering why he stayed behind.

"It's been a long day, kids," their mother said, "and I'm tired. Please, let's leave the cleanup and the talk for tomorrow." Shelly and Michael stood to help their mother up from the couch.

"What about him," Shelly said, pointing back in the direction of the young man. But when they turned to look, there was no one there.

"Shadows, hon," her mother patted her daughter's hand, "just shadows."


It has been two full days since I have been able to come to my bed. But I cannot sleep. My mind continues to think on recent events, and I am trying to understand all that has occurred.

Two days ago, late in the afternoon, I was called to the autopsy room. A child had died, and I was to determine if the cause was infectious. When I arrived, I realized the body was the son of a Rabbi who was a prisoner that would occasionally help out in the medical facility. I ordered a soldier to bring the prisoner, the boy’s father, to assist me with the examination.

I worked quickly to perform my exam and determined that the boy had died from starvation. I redressed the body before the Rabbi arrived. He was grieved to see his son, but grateful when I told him I would assist with the Tahara. He blessed us as hevra kadisha, and we began the rituals for the dead. While reciting the holy prayers and sewing the tachrichim, a Gestapo officer burst into the room and drew his pistol.

He whipped the Rabbi to the floor, then placed the barrel to my forehead and spat in my face. But for the sounding of the sirens and the shouting from guards of an escape, I believe he would have shot and killed us both. He ran from the room screaming he would see that I was hanged as a traitor to the fatherland.

In the stillness of my fear, it was only the Rabbi’s hand reaching up to me that had me return to my senses. I helped him up and would have dressed his wounds, but he insisted that we begin anew the ceremony for his son. We again drew water and washed the body. We did not need to whisper our prayers for our voices were drowned by the shouting of the guards outside, and the sounds of gunshots. No one returned to interrupt the Tahara.

When we had finished I allowed the Rabbi to stay with the body of his son while I cleaned up. It was well after dark when, during my work, Herr Doktor arrived. He did not speak of what he saw, but simply requested that I attend him into surgery, and noted to the guard outside to escort the prisoner back to the men’s barracks after he had finished cleaning the room and burying the body.

At the surgery room, I dressed in the gowns and sterilized my hands, and then was startled to see the same Gestapo officer laid out on the table. Herr Doktor explained that the man had taken a bullet to the chest during the escape, and it must have traveled into the heart during the last hour. If we were to save his life, Herr Doktor needed my two good hands while he instructed me in a procedure I had never done nor seen before, not even with a cadaver.

I began the scalpel cut as I was told. Start just below the clavicle and draw the blade down to just above the navel. Peel back the skin and muscle, then crack and spread the ribs from the sternum to reveal the pleural cavity. I could see the man’s still beating heart, and used large forceps to keep the chest open for our work. After clearing the blood, I found and removed the bullet, which had torn through the left ventricle and lodged in the tissue above the scapula. A heaviness entered the room while I prepared the needle and silk, and I froze at the soothing voice whispering in my ear.

“Ishmael. You can repair the body of the man, but you cannot repair his soul. Rather you shall leave out the last stitch, and you shall not suffer the sin of his death. He shall be brought into the hands of the Lord and there he shall be served his judgement."

Herr Doktor saw my hesitation and prodded me to continue, but I could not. He came to stand beside me, and guided my fingers through each stitch I made. On my very last, he slightly bumped my hand. Neither he nor I acknowledged what happened, and I do not know if he noted that the needle did not pass through the small portion of tear that remained, and exactly as described to me earlier.

I was mortified, but finished the work of closing up the chest by sewing the bones together, and suturing through the layers of muscle and skin. The patient was moved to the recovery room, and within an hour Herr Doktor notified me that the officer had died. Having seen and handled the dead here in camp, I thought I would not have been so disturbed at hearing this news. Herr Doktor comforted me by saying the death was no fault of his or mine, we had tried a new and experimental procedure in such poor conditions that the patient's chance of survival was very low. But, I could feel despair reaching deep into my own heart for having lost a life by my hand.

As I have been writing all of this, I have become confused. I know I was weary even as I stepped into the surgery room, and became more so as the surgery progressed. Yet my fascination with learning this new procedure, and for suturing a human heart for the first time, caused me to ignore my usual caution and care. I do not know. Perhaps I faltered because of the officer's earlier threat on my own life. Perhaps Herr Doktor bumped my hand by accident. Or, G-d forgive me, I let some other force cause me to lose the last stitch. I know only that a man has died, another life has been lost.

Although the voice said otherwise, I feel regret and pain for the death of the officer. I must discuss with the Rabbi to understand my responsibilities. Chet, and with acts of teshuva, perhaps I will be spared for the mortal sin I have committed.

- Ismael Agredeyiv, aged 21, Dachau, Germany


I have returned from two weeks at Auschwitz and am filled with such revulsion for the memory of those fourteen days. Herr Doktor and I were required of Herr Mengele to attend his cadre of specialists, and be trained in the methods we are to use here at Dachau:

The markings on the arm for the depersonalization of prisoners. Exposures to extreme temperatures, mustard gas, malaria, and other diseases and poisons, to prepare for what may be experienced on the battlefield. Forced injuries and surgeries that result in deformities and loss of limb, to better understand the effects and treatments of battlefield wounds. Sterilizations of men and women, to deter homosexuality and to prevent the progeny of inferior races. Abhorrent acts upon children, particularly twins, of which I will not write and can only pray for their souls.

I stood in silence and watched the initial "success" of the Final Solution. At first, I did not understand what was happening, but I was nearly brought to my knees when I saw so many of the prisoners - men, women and children, led into a building from which no one returned. Only a putrid smell was released from the blackened smokestacks. It hung in the air, surrounding me, invading my nostrils and filling my lungs. The acid of my own stomach was carried up into my mouth, and I was ready to crumble and wretch in absolute despair for the utter completeness of the insanity of man.

It was then I felt the steadying hand under my arm and heard the now familiar voice, whose whisper both accompanies me in the wilderness and commands my attention.  “Hold fast and bear witness. You will be called to Dinei Shamayim, and there you shall reveal the sins of those who will stand eternal in His judgement for their evil.”

When I turned towards where I heard the voice, I saw Herr Doktor beside me, wiping tears from his eyes. Upon noticing my observation, he became overly boisterous and loud such that all those around could hear his admiration for the furthering of Germany’s scientific and medical knowledge. I am disheartened to think of what would cause a man to speak such praise for that which makes him weep.

I remember the words of the Rabbi years ago, when I sought his consultation for my own forgiveness. He said, “When the sacred has been forsaken and we are surrounded by those who commit such unholy acts, our own actions must always be to assure the welfare of the Yidden.”

I pray Adonai will forgive the stillness of my voice during those fourteen days. I am fully committed to do all I can to prevent such abominations from being perpetrated on the prisoners of Dachau.

As I was commanded, I list here the names of the Doktors who commit such evil upon the innocent, and they shall be judged and receive the Lord’s retribution for their crimes. Middah k'neged middah.

  • Josef Mengele
  • Eduard Wirths
  • Carl Clauberg
  • Herta Oberheuser
  • Karl Brandt
  • Horst Schumann

I bear witness to mankind’s decline into the abyss, from which I know not how we are ever to return, and from which I fear we shall never be forgiven.

- Ismael Agredeyiv, aged 24, Dachau, Germany


Herr Doktor and I have been working day and night to combat the diseases that new arrivals have brought. Evacuees, they are called, having come here from other camps in advance of the enemy armies. They have arrived without food or water, nor medicines, and he worries our own supplies will run out within days.

He appears more weary than I have seen since we have been assigned to Dachau. He has grown old and sickly these past twelve years. Twelve years. It is hard to reconcile how much time has passed, and how long we have withstood the deplorable conditions of this war.

He has spent much of his personal time attending to my instruction. He has enabled me to be shamar for my people, and for many others, and this has caused him irreparable harm. Careful as I have been, he has suffered the harsh queries of the Gestapo, and we are subject to the growing belligerence of the soldiers. I fear that we may not survive long enough to see our freedom.

When I passed the barracks last night I heard the soldiers speak of rumors. At the camp that was captured yesterday, the enemy killed all of the guards. They say that perhaps we should exterminate all the prisoners, much as other camps have been doing. One by one I pleaded with the most reasonable to do no harm, that the foreigners will show the same mercy that the soldiers themselves have shown the prisoners.

Each argued that we must either leave, or disguise ourselves before the enemy arrives, and they threatened there should be no one remaining who will say otherwise. I told them where I have hung the clothes of prisoners who have recently died. I warn them not to take the garments until the disinfectant has been applied. I know they will not heed my warnings, and I am ashamed for my own gladness that their fear of capture is far greater than the scabies, dysentery, and typhus.

Even greater still, they fear the cruelty of the Kommandant and his officers, who will not sign orders for our retreat. A guard was caught leaving his post, and was brought to stand in the middle of the encampment. Decried for the depravity of his desertion of the fatherland, he was then shot in the head for his crime.

This evening I listened to the soldiers guess how much closer the enemy armies have come to our camp. Although I am filled with hope that they are near, I find myself questioning if the foreigners will arrive before the camp soldiers have given up the last of their humanity.

Why does the Lord persist in allowing His people to be preyed upon, imprisoned, and slaughtered near to extinction? Why have I been allowed to survive into manhood in this most deplorable place, hidden amongst such inhumane men?

Immediately I am filled with regret for the selfishness of my questioning. And for my impertinence, I feel the heaviness that has entered my room and now touches my mind. I am taunted by the voice of the one who whispers to me. I write the words as they are spoken.

"These are the messages of the Lord our G-d as delivered by the Malakhey Elohim to the one whom He has called, Ishmael.

This is basar. Thy will be free. Thou shall take a wife. Thou shall follow the gentiles to their country. Thy child shall be born for the journey. Thou shall be Rofe to those born unto man, and thus shall know a long and prosperous life.

This is mitzvot. Thou shall not stand idly by. Thou shall continue the work that has been set before thee. Heal the sick. Protect the weak. Sanctify the deserving. Assist the unrighteous to judgement."

I have read the words I have just written, and know I will obey. I can only conclude I am delivered into madness to believe them.

- Ismael Agredeyiv, aged 28, Dachau, Germany


His twin sister didn’t look up from the desk when Michael walked into the library. He had gone into the kitchen first, and found an empty table. He figured she’d be in here.

“I noticed you didn’t get any papers this morning,” he said. It was unusual for her to skip the Sunday ritual, but he supposed it was a consequence of their grandfather’s death. Ever since they were kids, Opa and Shelly were early birds and would be up long before Michael, off to the neighborhood newspaper stand and back at the kitchen table reading five or six different papers from all over the world, each in a native language that Opa was teaching them both.

“What’s all this?” He nudged at the pile of old notebooks strewn across the desk, and watched as his sister furiously scribbled on a yellow pad. There were more than a few crumpled papers thrown on the floor, and he realized why when he peered at the notebook she was working from and saw a page full of nothing but numbers.

“Journals, I think,” she said, “Opa’s journals. Found 'em locked in a box on one of the bottom shelves, key was in the desk drawer. They go all the way back to 1933 and lead up to just before..." She shook her head. "Everyone single one of them is filled with an effing code.”

That was a cue. His sister rarely cussed. He on the other hand had picked up the habit in high school, which had been reinforced as a cop in the city. Sometimes, it was a handy habit to use when working with combative low-lifes, but it was something he had to consciously manage when he was around their grandfather and mother.

“Explain," he said.

"It's a numerical code, like the one we use at the office. There's a number for every part of the human body, and the first number in the sequence identifies the anatomical word. And the remaining numbers... well, I've been trying to figure that out all morning.” Shelly paused and shook her head again.

“It seems like I should know this. But he's using some kind of pairing that I just can't figure out. I've tried several different physiological and language combinations, and made zero progress.” She dropped the pencil to rub her eyes. He could tell she was tired and frustrated, but he expected as much. His sister was having a hard time sleeping these days.

“So where’s mom?” she asked.

“I tried to talk her out of it, but she went out with Aunt Mina to find that Rabbi and his synagogue. I really don't like her mucking around in an ongoing investigation." But, he thought, at least she’s with her best and oldest friend whom their mother had worked with at the UN, back before Shelly and Michael had been born. He knew Mina would keep an eye out for their mom, and he hoped she'd make sure mom didn't get caught up in some wild goose chase. Or worse.

Michael was more worried for his sister. Shelly had been the one to find their grandfather's body. He remembered that morning. It was one of the few times he could recall his sister had been late to the office, all because Michael had asked her to stop by his apartment first. He had been bruised and banged up from an unusually rough arrest, and she had taken a few extra minutes to apply disinfectant and bandages, and schedule an AIDS test because some a-hole took a bite out of his neck. Even so, she was out his door before sunrise.

He was glad the dispatcher that morning just happened to be a friend who texted him "911 187", and then the address of their medical office. When he arrived on scene, the Officer on duty had already bagged the evidence and finished taking Shelly's statement. Shelly had told the officer that she'd gone into an exam room for the morning prep and found Opa laying on the floor. His blood had pooled under and around him, and she had slipped and accidentally kicked a syringe and scalpel when she tried to staunch the flow. She applied CPR, but she knew she was too late.

What Shelly told her brother later was that if she had been on time, she might have been able to save him. Michael knew his sister felt a strong sense of guilt for their grandfather's death, and he was worried that she wasn’t blaming him.

“How come we never knew Opa was Jewish, and a doctor in a concentration camp?” Shelly asked. Michael shook his head, he didn't like that there were secrets in his family.

“Dunno," he answered, "but look at this.” From his bathrobe pocket he pulled out the notebook left by the boy at their grandfather's service, and from between the pages took out an old photo and held it towards her. He pointed at a face in a grainy black and white. “Look familiar?”

Handwritten on the picture was "1945 - Dachau Bafrayung", but his finger was pressed against the image of that very odd young man whom they had talked about at the service just the night before. In the picture, he wore a doctor’s white lab coat and held a stethoscope in one hand. He was standing away and staring towards a group of German soldiers, dead and laid out in a line. There was a shadow, a processing smudge, which surrounded them but did not touch him.

“Gruesome photo. But that looks just like the guy we saw hovering in the back yesterday. A relative maybe?”

“Mom says she didn't even notice that guy," Michael tapped the face in the photo, "and she says this is Opa.” To Michael, the photo seemed to fit with the Rabbi's story, but the resemblance to the young man they saw yesterday disturbed him.

"Oh." Shelly took the picture and sat back down in the chair. She turned it over and read the same three names the boy had mentioned: "Michi", "Ishmael Agredyiv", and "Doctor Day". She felt a chill pass through her. She dropped the photo and stared down at her grandfather's journal full of numbers, then began scribbling on the yellow pad. Working on the translations made those strange feelings fade into the background.

Michael took the picture and put it back into the Rabbi's notebook. Though he had dusted the photo and the notebook for fingerprints last night, just in case, somehow he knew that the fingerprints they would find would be of no help. But there was something else about the notebook that made him need his sister's skills.

“There's some markings that I don’t recognize." He opened the pages to the middle. "And it looks to me like there’s more written here than what we were told. It's just not in English.”

He wasn't very good with written languages, Michael's gift was the spoken word. He could understand and talk the slang dialects of the streets of New York and imitate just about any accent he heard, which came in very handy at work and was one of the reasons for his recent promotion. But his sister's gift, well, that was something special. She could speak and read almost a dozen languages with ease, and translate new ones faster than anyone at the UN (or so their mother said).

Shelly took the notebook and slowly turned the pages. "I don't know this one," she said.

She got up and walked over to one of the bookshelves that lined the library walls, one finger tracing along several spines of reference books until she found the one she wanted. She pulled a rather large book from the shelf, flipped it open and compared it with the notebook.

“Yiddish," she said, "very old Yiddish." She returned to the desk and plopped down in the chair, engrossed in comparing the books and scribbling on the notepad.

"Great," Michael said. "The one language Opa didn't make us learn." Shelly didn't respond, and he knew he’d lost her to it.

“I’ll make some breakfast,” he said walking out of the room. Half an hour later he returned to the library, carrying a tray with glasses of orange juice and plates piled with scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” she said, finally looking up.

"Did you translate the rest of the Rabbi's story?"

"Not yet. But I’ve got a couple of Opa's newest journal entries translated and..." she hesitated, "well, it sounds kinda crazy.” She shoved the yellow pad in his hands as soon as he put down the tray.


2011 December 2, 1:30AM

I followed his dictates to the letter, even searching the goyim parts of the city to find the blacklisted tinctures he requested. He now suffers an intolerable side-effect to the serum I gave him last, and says it is odd to feel the physical pain of his human body. As if a thousand lashes were laid upon his soul. I lanced each boil using the methods of old, and recited the Asher Yatzer. But not for him. It is delicate work for my fingers.

Ishmael Agredeyiv, aged 94, New York City, USA


2011 December 17, 10:30PM

I have been to his dwelling and assisted him with the fallen. I administered the rites of passage, and consecrated the ground wherein we have lain the bodies to rest. I should not feel for the horrors of such work, it is the same as I have known before. I can only pray tomorrow will bring his last request of me, that my next ministrations will provide him the eternal sleep he so desires, and I will finally be released from his command.

Ishmael Agredeyiv, aged 94, New York City, USA


Michael looked at his sister. "Kinda? Makes him sound like, um...” He let his voice drop, not wanting to say that the translations made their grandfather sound like one of the loonies he had to occasionally deal with at the station. He grabbed a piece of bacon as he reread his sister’s translations.

“First off, it says he’s 94 and I didn't think Opa was a day over seventy-something. And more importantly, this last entry is the day before his death. And both read like he's being used by someone. Blackmail or extortion, by one of his patients maybe.” His cop instincts were churning his guts. “Is there more?"

"That's just the little bit I've been able to decode so far, and these two are the very last entries he made,” Shelly said. “It’ll take me a couple days just to finish the rest of that last journal. But I can cross reference these dates against our patient list tomorrow. He wasn't seeing that many anymore. Still..."

She frowned, and picked up a very old and faded notebook, which looked as if it would fall apart in her hands. To Michael, it gave off an odor of something rotten.

"We don't really know much about Opa's life before we were kids, and that story the Rabbi told got me thinking.” She gently opened the book she was holding. “This one is dated 1933, the beginning of World War II. It’s the oldest of them all, and he was sixteen when he wrote the very first entry. Sixteen,” she emphasized.

"Okay, that makes him 94. But Shelly, I need more clues," Michael said, "clues that will help me track down and catch whoever killed him."

"What about the syringe, and the scalpel? Are there fingerprints?"

Michael shook his head. "No. No fingerprints other than Opa's, and no DNA. The coroner's report said the syringe was pretty much emptied, but the residue shows it must have contained enough toxin to kill a bull. Several bulls in fact, and there was no trace of the poison in Opa's system.” He was glad to know his grandfather still had friends at the morgue who felt obligated to provide this information, even if it did make the Captain uncomfortable that Michael was poking around. He didn’t care, he wasn’t going to give up working on the case even if he had to sneak behind his Captain's back.

"You’ve got to translate that Rabbi's notebook, and Opa's last journal first," Michael said, pulling the old book from his sister’s hands and putting it on the desk. He wiped his hands on his pants and then he pointed to the plates, "but right now, breakfast.”

Shelly took a plate and started to eat, pushing the bacon off to the side. She parried his fork with her own when he tried to stab the slices from her plate.

"Get your cholesterol checked lately?" she pestered him.

"Shanda, a pig remains a pig." He bit into a slice of bacon with so much feigned gusto that she had to laugh. But it was one of the taunts their grandfather had said to him as a child, every time he got into trouble.

"When do you have to leave," she asked.

"I gotta go back tonight."

Shelly hung her head. She had been glad that he'd come to stay at the house since Opa passed, and now she was going to have to miss her brother all over again.

"You can move back here you know."

Michael nodded. "I know. Maybe sometime down the road."

They finished in silence, then Michael stood and picked up the plates.

"I'll clean up. You get back to translating," he said.

He took the tray and dishes back to the kitchen and left her to the translations. He knew she’d work on them all day and night, probably not even take a break to sleep. She was driven, just as much as he was, to find out who killed their grandfather and why.

Even if there were secrets that could embarrass them all, Michael knew those journals could solve the riddle of Opa’s death, and life.

As he rinsed the dishes he remembered a moment from his childhood, standing on a chair and doing the very same thing while listening and repeating as Opa spoke a foreign language. Michael felt a pang of regret, and realized that he desperately wished he could reconnect with the man who had raised him and his sister.

But now, it was too late.  


Two years ago today was the birth day of my child, as well as the day of my wife's passing. I have eaten the fruit and sung a prayer of life, and lit the candle and sung a prayer of mourning.

My little one lays asleep in bed, even through the loud revelry that is occurring outside our apartment. The city is awash in celebration, whilst I am awash in tears of joy and tears of grief.

The decision to save one and not the other was never mine to make. My child was saved from the tsalmavet, and upon the wings of the Mal'akhim my wife was released from her pain.

But not I of mine. Even now, as I hear the soft breathing of the living, I would argue with the angels of G-d. There was no reason for any of it. No reason at all.

- Ishmael Agredyiv, aged 33, New York City, USA


A young man stood at the ship's railing, breathing deeply and staring out at the moonlight bouncing on the waves. Ishmael had come up from the stifling hot cabin in which his wife slept. The chill air made his stomach settle and his mind clear. Though he had worried that the ocean journey would cause undue stress on her pregnancy, it was he who suffered a nauseousness from the constant motion of the ship.

The baby was not due for another month, and as he tightened his coat about him he felt a budding joy at the thought of their upcoming arrival in America. This would not be like the Exodus in July, he thought. Rather, he and his wife would be among the emigrates welcomed to America by the directive of its President Truman. Their child would be born on American soil, and automatically become a citizen of this new homeland.

He prayed a silent blessing for the soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division, whom he had befriended after his release from Dachau. He had become their medic when he miraculously saved the life of their own by removing a bullet from the man's chest. They had asked him to be one of their guides to Munich, and had comforted him there when he learned none of his relatives nor qahal survived Auschwitz. 

After marching to Salzburg and while at the DP Camp, they nudged him into proposing to an older woman whom he had been spending time with because she had been imprisoned with his mother. The soldiers insisted on a rather boisterous celebration once he and his bride solemnly stepped on the glasses set at their feet.

When one of them learned of the pregnancy, the medic asked the division's Captain to arrange for ship's passage. The soldiers gave as much of their paper money as they could muster, and the medic provided a list of doctors he knew in New York City who could help Ishmael find work.

He was still in awe of the soldiers' generosity and desire to see him and his new family safe in America. But as he leaned over the railing, his reverie was cut short by the familiar and foreboding sense of heaviness that descended upon him.

"Ishmael," urged the voice in the night air. "Save her." He felt a force on his shoulders that propelled him into motion.

He stumbled across the deck, rushing past a couple of soldiers out celebrating the new year. Bounding down the first flight of stairs and into the main hold, he slid down the railing of the inward stairs, not noticing the burning sensation on his hands. He weaved through the passage ways until he finally stood outside his cabin door, shaking and terrified at what he might find inside.

He opened the door and saw blood everywhere. His wife must have risen from the bed as the first pangs of childbirth began, and now she lay crumpled on the floor near where he stood. He knelt and was relieved to feel her pulse, and to see her eyes open to look up at him. So much blood, he thought. If she is to live he must find a way to stop the bleeding.

He started to reach under the bed for his medical bag, but froze at what he saw. In the corner of the room, the form of a baby was floating in mid air, held there by the merest trace of large and shadowy fingers that wrapped around the small body. He was up and snatching the baby away before he realized that he had even stood and crossed the room. He looked down to see the premature baby covered in his wife's blood and turning blue, the cord wrapped tightly around its tiny neck.

He took out his pocket knife and cut away the cord, then pressed his mouth against the baby's and gently exhaled. The baby fidgeted, flailing its arms and legs. Alive, he thanked the Lord. He placed the baby on the bed, wrapping it in a blanket, and then went to his wife and knelt beside her. He pressed his hand to her forehead, and felt her skin already turning cold. Her eyes were still open and she was staring towards that corner of the room, a look of horror on her face. He gently closed her eyelids and then held her hands in his own.

He was saying a prayer when he felt the heaviness in the room stir and shove him towards the bed. Ishmael was up and holding the baby in his arms, turning his back on the shadow that had been reaching out for it.

He looked down at the bundle in his arms and could see the blueish tint growing deeper across the skin. He gently pried open the little mouth and dipped a finger in and pulled out a bloody mass that had lodged in its throat. He turned the baby over and pressed against its chest and back, pushing out whatever else might be blocking the airway.

He was horrified to see blood dripping to the floor, but the baby gulped air and began to scream and struggle in his arms. A feeling of relief overwhelmed him, and he sank to the floor, holding the crying baby to his chest.

He watched the shadow shrink in on itself and disappear as a bright light came to hover over the body of his wife. A spark seemed to lift up from her and join with the light, which became brighter and brighter until it filled the room.

"El Shaddai Avinu welcomes her who is without sorrow."

As the light began to fade, Ishmael closed his eyes and held the sniffling baby in his arms, gently rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. When the baby grew silent, yet gracefully still breathing, he went to the small washroom and carefully bathed the little one until all the blood had been removed from the skin. As he saw the baby fully for the first time, he began whispering the Shehecheyanu, to finally welcome his daughter into the world.


I am relieved to learn that just yesterday the U.S. Congress has amended the Displaced Persons Act, and thus our Visas will not expire. Even though I know enough of this country's language to read and fill out the form for the Green Card, I must now disappoint my sponsor and withhold submission until I have moved my little one and I from Yorkville, for she has become noticed.

She repeats our secret words in the company of those who would wish us harm. Even here in America there are such men who would mock a young child to tears, and stand so close as to loom large and threatening even to me. But my little Grace, she does not notice such thugs for she simply smiles up at them as if they are her new friends.

I have been told there shall be Retribution for their chutzpah and that I must honor the mitzvot. But I have explained that such intervention is unnecessary, for in this country we are welcome. I have studied the Constitution and I believe the ideology and pogroms of Nationalsozialismus would not be allowed to take root and spread here, as they did in Germany and across Europe. Such are the words of the First Amendment, which I have studied again tonight.

Yet, I find that I am anxious for the selection of our new home in The Village. There, with so few Yidden, we will no longer encounter our language on the streets and in the stores, nor be bullied for speaking it. Even so, I must teach my Grace other languages with emphasis on English and ensuring she will have all the facilities to blend within this American "melting pot".

I shall refrain from speaking the ancient tongue whenever she is near. I do not know how I will commune with the malach when they come to visit, but I am determined. She must learn no more of their language for she must not be able to draw the attention and ire of monsters and men.

- Ishmael Agredyiv, aged 33, New York City, USA


Ishmael heard a voice coming from behind the curtain that separated the kitchen from the one room in the apartment, and he got up from his studies to check on his daughter. So late in the evening she should be sleeping. He had already packed all their belongings, but had made sure she had her stuffed plush bear when he had laid her down in her crib, and perhaps it was to this toy that she spoke.

When he entered the room, he saw the bear standing on the windowsill. Grace was sitting up and looking towards it, her head tilted as if she was listening to something. She did not notice her father as he stood there, anxiously watching her.

Ishmael saw a dimness that hovered near the toy. He felt the familiar heaviness of its presence, and was dismayed that he had not recognized its entry before now. He was dismayed even more to realize that it too seemed to take no notice of him.

Ishmael's daughter giggled, then made whooshing sounds that ended on an upswing.

"Yes, little one," answered the voice from the windowsill. "We will be with you again. Now we only request your leave, for your father seeks our council."

Grace turned and smiled at Ishmael and made another whooshing sound that turned into a gurgle. Ishmael didn't move.

"She has much love and forgiveness for you," said the voice, "and always Grace will be so. Even as others may turn away from you."

"They turn away only when I accompany you," Ishmael said. He felt an immediate sense of regret at his response. But the dimness lengthened and passed through the curtain, and he was finally able to move to his daughter.

She gurgled up at him, and he kissed her on the forehead and then pressed her to lay down. He snatched the bear from the windowsill and laid it beside her, then gently held her face in his hands and smiled. Gazing lovingly into those beautiful baby blue eyes, he slowly closed his own deep brown eyes in mock sleep. He counted ten seconds, then opened to see that she had closed her eyes too. It was their goodnight ritual, and with another kiss for tomorrow's promise, he stood up and went back to the kitchen.

The dimness hovered near the door. It was a shape that looked familiar yet strange at the same time. Appearing as if a shadow of an enormous human bathed in odd and eery lights that flickered about and within the form.

"You speak to her?" Ishmael whispered. He didn't know whether to be shocked or amazed.

"She speaks to us."

He shook his head. "Why?"

"We are Mal'akh. Protector. Guardian. We are Maggid. Teacher. Rabbi."

"Am I not any of these? I am her father."

"You are shomer."

Ishmael sighed and nodded. "Yes." He hesitated. He was not ashamed of what he was, only of what he wanted to ask.

"You are teaching her the ancient Yiddish," he said.

"That is how you interpret the language."

"It is what I hear when you speak."

"It is what we speak when you hear."

Riddles, Ishmael thought, always riddles. "I would ask..." He hesitated again, "I would request that you not speak with her."

"Grace is Tzadeikas," said the dimness, "and so it shall be. This is the message of El Shaddai Elohim."

Ishmael's fear for his daughter welled up in his chest and he wanted only to run to her, to sweep her up in his arms and save her from this proclamation. Instead, he bowed his head knowing he would comply.

"And so it shall be." As the words passed his lips, the presence in the room faded and Ishmael was alone, listening to the soft breathing of his sleeping daughter.


I arrived to our small flat after a full night's work, and have gathered my little Grace from our neighbor. I hope my offer of medical attention for their pregnancy is enough in repayment for such generosity in looking after my daughter during my shifts.

I see her sleeping now and am thankful for her presence in my life. Adonai has shown me much wonder through her serenity, her goodness, her innocence. It is for Grace that I must hide the paradoxes of our life in America.

This past evening has nearly revealed my secrets. I was attacked on my way to work and somehow the man was killed. I left the body to the cold and dark of the city. Near to the end of my shift, the man's body was brought into the morgue and the teacher had me perform the autopsy. When I had finished and he read my report, he was appreciative of my skills, saying that the speed of my work and my deductions as to time and cause of death were uncanny.

Uncanny, this is a new American word. I think it means that he considered my performance worthwhile, for he told me that he has decided on my application for the position of attendant. Although I will continue to work on the night shift, I am glad for the pay that will allow me to leave the job at the railway, and more importantly because my presence in just such a position could prove useful as it did this past night.

Had I not participated in the autopsy I would not have overheard the conversation between the police officer and the Medical Examiner. There is only one witness and it seems that she is older and of such poor sight that she could barely see what occurred. I believe she will not be able to identify me as taking part in the altercation.

However, I must proceed with utmost caution. I have incinerated the clothes I wore last night, and I will no longer walk the same route to work. There must be nothing that could incriminate me should the police investigation lead them here. I am not the murderer.

- Ishmael Agredeyiv, aged 33, New York City, USA


"Light?" asked a voice from behind. Ishmael turned to see an older gentleman standing very close, holding a cigarette up to his mouth. Something about the angle of nose and sharp features of face, easily visible by the light of the full moon, made Ishmael want to turn and run away.

"I am sorry sir," he said, "but I do not smoke." He hoped he sounded as near to American as possible.

The man waited a few moments, watching Ishmael, then lit the cigarette for himself. He held it between his thumb and index finger and took a deep drag, a gesture too familiar even now so long and far away from the camp.

"I know you," said the man in German. He paused to take another drag on the cigarette. "The child who is often with you, she is beautiful. Is she your child?"

"Excuse me?" Ishmael pretended he did not understand, but struggled to keep from shaking for what the man had asked.

"I do not think she can be your child," the man said, again in German. "No fine Aryan daughter should have a Jew traitor parade himself as her father."

Ishmael couldn't restrain himself. "She is my daughter. I am her father," he said in English.

The man flicked his cigarette away, then reached into his coat and pulled something from his pocket. He lunged at Ishmael, moonlight flickering off the long knife blade. Ishmael stumbled backwards, slipping in the icy sludge of the sidewalk, and fell to the ground. The man, moving too fast, tripped over Ishmael's feet and fell tumbling as well. Ishmael raised his hands to protect himself and caught the man by the shoulders. He pushed up as hard as he could.

Ishmael's eyes lingered on the man's face, who had a look of surprise that turned into terror as he was carried unnaturally high up into the air. A shadow seemed to swarm over him, and his arms bent awkwardly towards his own body as he started to come down. His hand still holding the knife, twisted until the blade pointed upwards.

Ishmael quickly rolled out of the way and heard the man slam down onto the brick road with a sharp slap. He turned to see the man laying face down in the street, blood flowing out from under him. Ishmael sat up and rolled the man over to see that the knife had embedded deep into the man's chest, even up to the eagle insignia on the handle. He quickly pulled out the knife and tried to stop the bleeding, applying pressure to the wound and looking around for something to help staunch the flow.

"Do not heed the rotskhem," said the shadow, "his life is forfeit."

Ishmael ignored the heavy presence, and continued to try to resuscitate the man. He pulled his own gloves from his hands and pressed them into the man's chest.

"This is not your purpose Ishmael," said the shadow, "you shall let this be an empty vessel."

"Damo bero'sho," Ishmael whispered, "my purpose cannot be to take the life of another."  But he stopped and crawled away to sit and stare at the man, then look back to his own bloodied hands. He could not believe the strength they possessed, to so easily throw the man away from him.

"Mot yumat damav bo," said the shadow, "the life taken here allows others to live."

Ishmael nodded, and watched as the shadow lowered over the dead man. A pale spark lifted up from the body and disappeared into the shadow, and then both were gone.

For a moment Ishmael felt relieved. Then he looked again at the body and saw that the blood had disappeared from the sidewalk, but not from his own hands. He sat there for a few moments, worrying that he had nothing to clean them with, until a newspaper caught on a cold breeze and found its way into his lap.


Part II

The man walked into the bathroom to stare at the medicine cabinet, wishing he had not removed the mirror the very first day he had moved into the house. So very many years ago. What did he look like now, in this final hour?

He could feel the host body aging fast. The heartbeat slowing and no longer able to pump the blood deep into the very ends of every capillary. The extremities tingling and growing numb. The lungs working harder as their capacity filled with something other than oxygen.

He raised his hands and turned them round and back, watching the wrinkles and spots spreading across the skin. The knuckles bulging and beginning to ache. He bent down to take off his footwear and caught sight of his once thick brown hair rapidly turning gray to white, as if the color was sucked up in a straw. When he finally slipped out of his shoes and socks, he could barely make out the sight of his feet. Everything was becoming a blur, as if a cloud was thickening over his eyes. Moment by moment.

Not long now, he thought. He knew he must hurry but he could only force a shuffle from the legs that once would run as fast as a gazelle. He hobbled into the kitchen and through a door, gingerly stepping down the flight of stairs that led to the basement. He bent over to open up a trap door and could feel every vertebrae cracking. He had to let the door drop to the other side, slamming itself onto the floor.

He stripped off his pants and underwear by simply letting them drape off the thinning body. His shoulders filled with pain as he pulled off his shirt. His knees wobbled as he stood there naked and numb, finally teetering into the dirt. It felt hard and cold, not at all like the warm softness he had imagined.

Death seemed to take an eternity. He was trapped inside the human body, forced to notice every little minutiae of its passing. He could feel the eyeballs and tongue shriveling up, the lungs collapsing after a last gasp, and moisture spilling out from every orifice. The bones cracked and settled apart, as if they had never been encompassed in the now rotted flesh.

Why did he not raise up to join his brethren? Why did they not sing to him, soothe him, caress him? Why did He not open His arms and welcome him home?

For a long long while, Samael felt panic. Long past the last decomposition of the host body. Long past the worms that had come up from and returned to the earth beneath. Long past a swirling of dust, the scattering of all that was once human.

And the screaming seemed to go on forever and ever.


Michael looked at his smartphone when it buzzed, read the text from his partner, and then stood up.

"Gotta go, sis," he said, pocketing his phone and pulling his coat from the back of the chair, "seems we got a bite on that name you gave me."

Shelly nodded, looked worriedly at her brother for a moment, then turned back to the books on the desk. She preferred him to hang around and read the journal entries as she was converting them into plain english. Even if it was painstakingly slow and tiresome, his presence always calmed her nerves as they uncovered the oddities of their grandfather's life.

"Let me know when you finish this latest translation," he said as he made his way out of the office den. He walked through the living room and out the front door, careful to lock it behind him. The night had a winter chill on the air, and he wondered when it would begin to snow. New York City under a fresh and fluffy white blanket was quite beautiful, but it made for horrible traffic.

He drove slowly through the uptown neighborhood, and then as he merged onto the parkway he positioned the portable pod, a flashing red light that fit onto his dashboard, and hit the gas. Even this late at night too many cars were slow to get out of his way, which gave him time to think over the few translations his sister had been able to complete so far. They were all still too cryptic, inferring something about a man who held a deadly power and control over his grandfather, forcing him to dig graves. This infuriated Michael, especially now that he knew his grandfather's true age, ninety-four based on the earliest entries in the journals Shelly had found. How could he and his sister never have realized just how old the guy really was. And digging graves?

He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, wary of his weaving through traffic to get out of Manhattan and down to the Carey Tunnel. Bay Ridge was 35 minutes at least, and he needed to get beyond that, to Gravesend. He was counting on his partner waiting for him to arrive, even if the Captain was against Michael's inclusion in the house search.

Tunnel traffic moved agonizingly slow, and he worked his way out and through the Brooklyn boroughs, finally able to race down the Belt Parkway. He took an exit and wound his way through several city blocks, turning down the dead end where the suspect's house was located. He switched off his lights and parked his car near the police barricade, then showed his badge so that the officer would allow him to walk on through. As he hiked down the dark, tree-lined street, a niggling sense of trepidation grew as he passed each brownstone. Something seemed oddly familiar about the row of houses, and particularly the aging facade of the address he was nearing. His partner flagged him down behind a big black van, and he shook off his coat to put on the flack jacket that was offered.

"Geezus Mikey," his partner said quietly, "I didn't think you were gonna make it. We're ready to go in." Michael nodded and checked the gun in his holster, making sure it would come out easily and that the safety was switched off.

"Ready," he said, tightening the last strap on the jacket. "And Tom? Thanks for waiting."

His partner gave him a curt nod and they moved out from behind the van and quickly towards the front door. Officers in uniform flanked them right and left, and Tom held out his gun as they walked up the front steps. The house was dark, and the porch light was off. Tom got to the door first and moving to the right side he leaned over to the window and tried to peek in. The curtains were drawn, and inside was pitch black. He straightened up and motioned at his partner. Michael pounded on the door.

"New York Police, open up," he said in a loud and commanding voice. They waited but no sounds came from the house. Tom moved his hand to the door knob, turning it slowly and quietly. It was unlocked, and the door shifted open an inch. Michael took a quick step back, reacting to an odor that wafted out the open doorway.

"You smell that?" he whispered at his partner. Tom shook his head no, a quizzical look on his face, then pointed an annoying finger at Michael's holster, reminding him to pull out his gun. Tom pushed the door open wide enough for him to slip quietly into the foyer, and Michael followed. The smell grew stronger and Michael suddenly felt dizzy. Images and sounds flashed through his brain. Memories of someone moving through the house contradicted the actual darkness that surrounded him. He knew these weren't his own memories, but he saw lights flickering on steel and white sheets, and heard a sorrowful moaning that echoed up the hallway. He bumped into his partner in the dark, who swore at him under his breath.

"Christ, Mikey."


Tom put out his arm to hold Michael from going further into the house and whispered, "something's not right here."

"It's empty," Michael pressed, somehow knowing there was no one in the house. He was still seeing images and listening to sounds that weren't real, frustrated by their ethereal distraction and making him antsy to move in.

Tom hesitated too long and Michael pushed past him. He reached out and turned on a light switch that his hand easily found. Tom looked at him in astonishment.

"No one is here," Michael said, trying to nullify his partner's annoyance, "and there won't be." Anyone alive, he added to himself, but he wasn't about to say so out loud. The unreal images and sounds he was experiencing made him feel crazy enough, and he didn't want his partner to have any inkling of what was going on inside his mind. Even with the foyer light, he was still seeing flashes of someone dragging something heavy down a stairway to the basement. He could hear the sounds of a shovel, digging in the dirt floor below. Michael knew exactly where to go.

Tom motioned for a pair of officers to begin a sweeping search of the rooms on the first floor, and another pair to make their way up to the second. Michael didn't bother to wait for instruction and he jogged his way down the hall and into the kitchen, not bothering to turn on any lights as he went. He seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of where everything was, the hall table, the kitchen door, the sharp corners of the cupboards and appliances. He heard his partner bump into something and swear, then the kitchen light was on and Michael found himself facing the basement door, his hand on the knob. For a moment, he was afraid to open it, the smell so strong now and seeping towards him from behind the door. Death was down there, and he was suddenly very angry because he knew exactly how many dead bodies they would find buried beneath them.

"What the fuck you doing?"

Tom's question pushed Michael into motion. He turned the knob, flung open the door and leapt down the staircase towards the bottom. He heard an officer tell his partner, "first floor, all clear", and then his partner's footsteps sounded behind him. Michael pressed on through the visions he was seeing, glimpses of something that made him flinch. When he got to the bottom he reached out, found the cord he knew would be there, and pulled it. As the bare light bulb turned on, the first thing Michael saw was the familiar back of an old man, shoveling dirt onto the ground and tamping it down. The mournful singing he heard was coming from the vision of his grandfather who was turning towards him. He blinked, and looked again. There was nothing but an empty room with an odd looking doorway that laid wide open on the wooden floor, revealing hard dirt beneath. The stench was overwhelming and he gagged, bent over and grabbed his mouth to keep from heaving.

"Damnit Mikey, you're going all commando weirdo on me. Get the hell outta here before you fuck something up," Tom said, trying to pull Michael back towards the stairs. But Michael wouldn't budge. He was fascinated by the floor opening, and he moved closer. There was a sudden commotion, and the officers at the top of the stairs stepped aside to let the Captain come in.

"You heard him, Mike," the Captain said, "get back up here." The Captain's words didn't penetrate Michael's intensity as he knelt down, wanting to get closer to inspect the fine layer of gray ash strewn atop the dirt.

"Michael, that's an order," the Captain bellowed, and pushed the two officers to go down and get the detective.

"Cap'n?" Tom asked, surprised as hell at what the Captain told the officers to do.

"Michael, get your ass back to the station and wait for me there."

Michael looked back at his partner and shook his head. He wanted to see, really see what his visions already told him would be there, under the dirt. But the two officers grabbed his arms and pulled him up and away. He violently shook them off and they let him alone, surprised by the force of their colleague and friend.

He looked up to the top of the staircase, knowing perfectly well the answer, but asked anyway. "Why?"

"Get back to the station, detective. Now." The Captain's hand rested on the gun in his holster.

Michael turned to his partner and whispered, "Thirty-five, starting just a few feet here under the dirt. Laid out in rows of three and six, layered atop each other and all heading towards the east wall." Then, he pointed to the ground that was revealed under the open door and said in a loud and distinct voice, "make sure you test that gray dust on top."

He walked up the stairs, ignoring the Captain's glare as he was escorted out of the house. The Captain finally looked back down at Tom.

"His grandfather has owned this place since the fifties," he said, before turning to leave. "The Forensics Team will be here in just a few minutes. Call me with what you got as soon as you got anything."


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