Watch of the Gargoyle
I told myself I wasn’t ever doing this again, yet here I am walking home at quarter to midnight, down the long and dark city streets alone. The shadows loom overhead, almost caressing, perhaps teasing me as if they know something I don’t. Still, I’m fine with my ignorance and home isn’t that far away. Only two more blocks until the shortcut in the chain link fence, allowing access to the other side. Where I am is the city–on the other side of the field is where real civilization starts.
The cars are sparse, only interrupting every so often with bright headlights and the sound of rain splashing the tires, up into the wheel wells. The cars disappear as stealthily as they approach. I hardly notice because the next building is my favorite in a love-hate way; it’s an old cathedral. Unsure of its construction, I only know it’s probably the oldest building in the city. Never having been inside, I always imagine the beautiful glass of rainbow colors reflecting the sunlight during the daylight hours as it shines down on worshipping parishioners. The reason I’ve never gone to see for myself is I can’t stand the glass of my vivid imagination shattering into a million little pieces. Besides the beauty of the glass dulls to the mystery of the gargoyles perched on the ancient edifice as they glower down off the corners. Who knows what stories they would tell if only they could speak?
The doglike figures lean over, lips pulled back threatening with sharp teeth. Taught wings are eager to spread and ride the wind on a second’s notice. Their soulless pupils glare down piercing the dank night air. Watchful eyes observe thousands of people, as they guard their domain through the night.
A menacing stillness sweeps over the tall building in a cloak of anticipation, sweeping kind memories into the closet and locking the door. The leaves stop twirling, the rain subsides, and the wind settles as it dawns on me how truly alone I am. The only sound I can hear is my feet shuffling on the pock-marked sidewalks and my rasping breath. Tiny bellows of steam escape my throat in rhythm with my steps. It feels later than it is when the midnight bell tolls.
A devious-looking gargoyle on the nearest edge captures my attention. For a second, it appears to stealthily watch, a cat preparing to catch an unsuspecting butterfly.
“Don’t you fucking move!” a hand shoots out striking the front of my shoulders. The stranger jerks me toward him and drags me in reverse, my feet shuffling to keep from falling. I fight him, wiggling the best I can and his baseball cap topples from his head on the sidewalk.
“I warned you,” he shouts, pulling my chin up with his elbow clamping my throat.
The back of one shoe catches on the step and pulls from my foot as I try to scream. Although the shouts are reverberating through my head, nothing escapes my frozen lips and I hear the last sound I may ever hear–
Gong Gong The bell tolls.
We stop in the shadows against the cathedral wall. His coarse hands tighten around my throat, milking the last bit of air from my lungs, the last gasp of his filthy sweat inundating my nostrils. The cool night air chills me producing a tingling in my legs, as they grow limp.
I didn’t fight hard enough, and tomorrow morning little Catholic kids on their way to school will find my body in a crumpled heap against the door. The thought sickens me as my world continues to surrender to obscurity. My bowels churn and my esophagus reminds me of the medium-well cooked steak I’d eaten earlier.
An ear-shattering whoosh echoes through the night’s misty drizzle as my body tumbles to the wide steps. Pitch-blackness envelops the night, choking out anything that would normally gleam. The blurring shape of the man stands threatening a mammoth bat-like creature. Amidst a heart-stopping shriek, the air fills with eerie gongs drowning out the screeches of the battling entities. A man grunting as he jabs and spins, and the creature’s low rumbling growl.
Violence ensues as the man’s blade flashes through the night, slicing through shadows, but striking nothing. I hear a shriek of pain and his hefty body thuds on the ground. I find the strength to stand, thinking I will run. The nerves in my legs are frozen solid in fear and refuse to allow me to flee.
All exertion stops. Silence ensues with one tall, ominous shadow remaining. The bottomless eyes manage to flash before it turns away. Tall and life draining, it waits, unmoving. A gesture so deliberate I can see it’s the gargoyle. A new energy fills my body and I turn away, staggering like a drunk toward the sidewalk. Glancing back at the scene, the signs of a struggle are gone except for the remaining baseball cap, mashed and rolling across the lawn.
A large gust of wind picks up the hat, spinning it into the distance until it fades away. My eyes shift up the gray stone building to the markers at the top. I witness one of the gargoyles’ posts is void of its master, offsetting the structure.
Gong Gong the bell rings its final peal–midnight.
A dark cloud closing in with a calm flapping noise takes its spot on the corner of the building. The wings are so wide they smother the moon and most stars in the sky. Its claws dig into the gutter lining the rooftop, omitting the screech of a delivery truck’s brakes. Its wings pose angled behind it, sitting steadfast to ensure no sins can occur on its watch. After all, that’s what gargoyles do best.
Video: Jackson, K (2013, August 23)
Reverend Alan Birss, minister at Paisley Abbey, said most of the gargoyles were replaced during a refurbishment in the early 1990s. He thinks that one of the stonemasons must have been having a bit of fun.