As always, remember this is a first draft. (Handy excuse, that.) If you see anything, let me know.
Mary walked away. The gargoyle yearned to fly after her, to beg her to return. He heard a grinding noise, almost as though he had really moved. An elm leaf, long adhered to his forehead, broke away as if disturbed and floated to the ground.
Mary turned the corner, and Peter was overwhelmed by sorrow, certain as always he’d never see her again. For centuries, life had passed by him on the street below, fleeting and insubstantial. He’d barely noticed. Then, unexpectedly, the soft light of a gentle soul had entered his life. He was deathly afraid it would be snuffed out, without a thought, without him knowing, and he’ll return to his nothingness, a creature as dull as his façade.
Time, which had passed unnoticed before, slowed like the raindrops falling on his head, dripping down his face, as slow as the erosion of his stone façade, as he waited for her return. Every windswept passing storm, every bright sunny day, seemed to last forever. An emptiness without Mary, meaningless except in anticipation.
He never knew when she left whether she would ever come back to the cathedral. Her faith was weak, almost non-existent, more a childhood memory of God than a real belief, a faith that had come from her parent’s certainty and which had nearly vanished when she’d finally broken away from them. Her visits to the cathedral were based on nostalgia and whim, and anything stronger that came into her life – another man, another job, anything substantial at all -- could easily replace that soft impulse.
She looked at me!
The gargoyle had tried over the centuries to reach the humans passing below. He stared at them – of course, he could do nothing else if they were in his line of sight, but in addition he concentrated furiously. “Look at me!” He’d think. “Look up!” Once in a great while, one would look up, as if bothered by a pesky fly. But the gargoyle had never been certain it wasn’t just coincidence.
She nodded to me!
“A falling leaf from the elm caught her attention,” the ghost of Margerie Marcette said, lightly in his ear.
“Go away,” he said.
“I wish only to save you from disappointment, dear Peter,” she said. Of all the ghosts, she was his most persistent tormentor. He’d watched her fall to her death, throwing herself and her unborn bastard child from the parapets, helpless to stop it, long before the elm tree had been planted. Indeed, the tree was a memorial to her, planted by her sisters.
The unborn child had passed on, a bright light shooting into the sky, into whatever heaven existed. But Margerie had stayed behind, unwilling to forgive herself, and even more unwilling to forgive the man who had betrayed her. That man was long dead, but any man served in his stead for her wrath. Even a man who’d been turned into a stone gargoyle, unable to ever tempt a woman again.
“Leave him alone!” Gregory McGwire shouted. The ghost of the old banker did nothing but shout. Peter wasn’t certain he could speak at any other volume. A cuckolded husband on the very steps of the cathedral had killed him. “In God’s house, as a witness, to be certain you go to Hell!” the man had exclaimed as he fired the fatal shot.
“Witless man,” Margerie said. “You have no idea what Peter is feeling. You never felt as he feels now.”
That seemed to surprise both Gregory and Peter. Had Margerie just defended the gargoyle?
“He’s lost in a pathetic illusion,” she continued. “I merely point out the truth.”
“Ah, thank God you’re here to tell us,” Gregory said. “Otherwise, how would we ever know the truth?”
“Thank God?” she sneered. “Are you finally willing to face his judgment?’
“A turn of phrase,” Gregory muttered.
Peter tried to ignore the bickering ghosts. Which was difficult, for they stood in the air before his eyes, as firmly as if standing on the sidewalk below. He saw them in human form, with the branches of the elm weaving seamlessly through their incorporeal bodies. Gregory McGwire was dressed in the height of early 1900’s fashion, top hat and black tie, while Margerie Marcette was dressed in a maid’s uniform from the same era.
It was doubtless no accident they had found each other. They were two extremes of the same unending battle. Their feud had probably kept them anchored as ghosts to the cathedral, whereas alone each might possibly have “given up the ghost” and moved on. Unfortunately for Peter, they tended to linger near his perch, as if asking him to be the judge of their arguments. He was careful to never express an opinion, but it didn’t seem to matter. They seemed to be able to read his thoughts anyway.
A human voice drifted down to them and Gregory and Marjerie disappeared. Ghosts weren’t really there. Most humans couldn’t see ghosts, but ghosts tended to avoid contact nevertheless. Peter suspected living humans reminded the ghosts too much of their past, and even more of their present, and worst of all, led to thoughts about their future they had long denied. Either way, an end to their hauntings.
He heard the humans coming down the side of the cathedral from above. It was too early for the cleaning, which cycled around to this part of the building every decade or so. The repairs were coming closer, but were probably still years away. Ropes came swinging down in front of his eyes, swaying from the motion of the men descending.
Peter felt a heavy boot scuff up against his right horn. Once upon a time, the point of the horn might have penetrated the leather sole, but erosion had long sime dulled the point, just as it had faded all his features. He had wide, glaring eyes, which once upon a time looked as though it was peering into onlooker’s souls, heavy brows, a gaping mouth with the tongue hanging down. The tongue had once been twice as long, tapering to a point, but it had broken off long ago, the victim of a careless cleaner. The gargoyles on the side of the building got little attention, and in earlier times had been avoided by most of the workers.
He was crouched over on massive, talon claws, and once it had looked as if he was preparing to leap into the air at any moment. Somehow, over the years, that predatory leap had slowly become less aggressive, as if he was exhausted by the eternal promise of flight. Now he didn’t so much look prepared to leap forward as to settle back onto his non-existent hindquarters. He was a blurred version of his once frightening self.
“Hey, boss,” the man directly above him shouted. “Come look at this!”
A second set of books descended next to him, and Peter could catch the dusty leather and frayed shoelaces out of the corner of his eyes.
“What?” the second voice said after a moment. “I don’t see anything.”
“Look at the base of this thing,” the first man said. “See all that broken concrete? It looks like the statue is coming loose.”
“Huh,” the boss said, sounding only half interested. “Wonder what caused that? Well, we better take it off, just to be on the safe side. The holy fathers have been wanting us to either clean or remove these buggers for a long time.” The man’s voice sounded disparaging when he used the words ‘holy fathers.’ “Got your chisel, Freddy?”
“Yeah, the man said.
“I’ll swing a basket down,” the boss said, his voice receding as he ascended back up the ropes.
The ‘basket’ was really a heavy canvas bag. An overwhelming sense of vertigo came over Peter as he was broken away from his long imprisonment. For the first time since his transformation his line of vision was upended. For centuries he’d seen only the part of the universe directly in front of him, now the blue sky tilted above him, the ground looked as if it was falling toward him, and the branches of the trees appeared to be trying to stab him.
The worker struggled to fit the gargoyle into the mouth of the bag, at one point shouting to the passersby below to go across the street. Men in overalls came from the side and put up ropes around the elm tree to keep pedestrians away. Bits of concrete showered down, and dust coated the base of the elm with a gray powder.
Peter didn’t so much feel the man’s touch as sense his nearness.
On overwhelming sense of loss overcame him. He’d wanted nothing more than to get away from his long captivity, and yet – it had been safe, predictable, and now as he was removed, he felt panic and uncertainty.
Then the canvas bag closed over him, and he was enclosed in darkness and his own thoughts.
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