Read A Box of Gargoyles Online
Authors: Anne Nesbet
But even while she said these things, she wasn't moving safely away from the gargoyle, or closing the window, or anything like that. No, what she was actually doing was noticing that each letter of the word
was growing larger and larger in its own right, as if the ink were still spreading across the paper. And now she could see that the letter
, for instance, actually contained (how clever!) whole microscopic sentences. Not lines of ink: lines of
. She couldn't help tipping her head a little to see what they said:
Once on the clockwork path, no foot can stray. .Â .Â .
Oh, good grief, what was she doing? Her eyes felt as if they had just been scorched. Was she really being that stupid, all over again? She snatched the letter away from the gargoyle's chest and crumpled it in her hand.
“NO,” said Maya, outglaring the gargoyle as best she could. “I said no. No way. Stop it. I quit. And you know what?”
She ducked back into her room for a moment and came out again brandishing the button in her hand.
“It's all going away now,” she said to the gargoyles. “Watch this!”
And she broke one of her father's cardinal rules about life in tall buildings: she threw the button and scrunched-up letter right out of that window, right over the gargoyles' heads and down into the debris of the courtyard below.
“Done,” said Maya, and she slammed the window shut and walked away.
Had it been her imagination? Possibly. But it seemed to her that as the button had gone whistling out over his head, the gargoyle on the fire escape had looked for a momentâstrikingly so, for a monstrous stone creatureânot so much threatening as
There was a secret about Maya's birthdays. It went back to a night long ago, the thirtieth of October in the year she was turning seven. She had fallen asleep after the usual stories and teddy-bear kisses and tuckings in, and then, right in the smack-dab middle of the night, suddenly there her parents were again, waking her up with whispers and laughter.
“Mischief Night, Maya!” they said, and wrapped a blanket around her to keep the chill away. “We're going to watch your birthday come in this year: what do you think about that?”
Maya thought that made birthdays sound like a wonderful, silvery tide flooding in across the world; maybe it was the moonlight spilling over the lawn outside that made her think that. She sat on the front step with her parents, watching her birthday come in, and then when it was after midnight and her birthday was all safely arrived, her father carried her back to bed and pulled the quilt up around her and kissed her on the top of the head, and that was a magical birthday, for sure. In the years after that her parents were too busy with little baby James to do crazy things like wake up a birthday girl in the middle of the night, but what they didn't know was this:
Maya had always remembered. She had gotten up in the middle of the quiet night before every single Halloween since that first one long ago, and she had watched her birthday come in, every year.
Even in France, even with gargoyles parked outside her window, Maya was determined to be up in the dark middle of Mischief Night to watch her birthday roll in. She set her alarm before going to sleep, and then had the traditional hard time actually falling asleep (since knowing an alarm is going to ring soon makes even a very tired person jumpy), but when the bell did go off, a muffled jangle from underneath her pillow, she woke up in a flash, remembering right away who she was, and where she was, and what she was waking up for.
It wasn't like being at home, where there was that front yard she could go out into for a few minutes. Paris is a big city, and she didn't want the trouble of going all the way downstairs and past the door of the concierge and out onto the chilly sidewalks of the rue de Grenelle. No, she figured it was less trouble to face those gargoyles for a moment, and the third of a moon that was hanging about somewhere in the sky above the back courtyard.
So she took a deep breath and opened the window. Sure enough, the nearest gargoyle glittered dimly in the little bit of moonlight.
“Hey there, Beak-Face,” she said under her breath. It made her feel braver. “Don't mind me. My birthday's on its way in.”
She could feel how cold the air was, but she was still warm enough, with the blanket pulled around her shoulders. It must be just about time. She had set the clock for 11:55, not wanting a long wait.
There were scattered windows with lights on, far away across the courtyard, but their shades were drawn. Everything was chilly and still. Hard to believe a whole city was out there, beyond these quiet windowed cliffs of buildings.
And then the universe turned some tiny corner, and the fire escape exploded into clattering, chattering motion.
It caught Maya so much by surprise that she froze instead of flinching, her hands just clenching the blanket, her jaw trembling, her eyes stuck wide-open in disbelief.
A whirlwind of gargoyles!
Stony, cacophonous blur!
She had an impression of wings, claws, motion: something happening over on the other side of the fire escape. The blur was deepest there.
The whole world on fast-forward, that's what it was like. The gargoyles, who had been unmoving statues all day long, had suddenly jumped into life at racing speed.
To catch up with the rest of us
, thought Maya, and she leaned a little forward on the windowsill to get a better view of exactly what they were doing. This must be the clatter she had been waking up to the last few nights.
After all, it made some kind of sense. If you were a gargoyle and moved at normal human speed, you'd be caught pretty soon at it, wouldn't you? And people would fuss? So doing your living all at once, maybe that was a good way to go about things, if you were a gargoyle. Or maybe gargoyles didn't like moving around, since they were made of stone and all, so they tried to do all their motion in one quick burst, just to get it over with. (See how logical she could be at midnight? Maya felt almost smug, and then noticed the cold beginning to get under her skin.)
“Guess I'm really truly thirteen now,” she said to the stony blur that was the gargoyles at work on whatever they were working on. “Hey, there! You hear me?”
To her surprise, they turned around and actually looked at her for the tiniest fraction of a second; they bobbed their stone heads, spread their wings, jumped up in the air (the sound was a cross between sticks breaking and a small avalanche)âand vanished.
She waited another minute, which must be worth an hour or more of gargoyle time.
They were gone. A pile of debris on the far side of the fire escapeâthat was all that the gargoyles had left behind.
And the quick staccato of her heart (because the whole thing had been quite a show, to tell the truth) was the only sound left.
“Well, happy birthday, me,” she said to herself. She hardly knew how she felt: Relieved? Abandoned? Both?
She decided, since it was her birthday, to stick with
. And then she closed the window and went to bed again.
The next morning, with end-of-October sunlight filtering in, like weak tea, through the mottled glass of her window, it was hard to believe she had been watching a pair of statues race about and then fly away only a few hours earlier. But when she opened the window and looked out across the fire escape, the gargoyles were still gone. Just that mess in the corner of the fire escapeâa pile of sticks and rubbish, that was all that was left.
Then she leaned out of the window to take a closer look at the mess, because really, why would a pair of stone gargoyles leave little piles of trash?
Already, now that her attention was focused on it, the trash looked distinctly less trashy. There was organization to it. The sticks piled up in a roughly doughnutish heap, and thereâ
There was something rounded and shiny, there in the middle. She could see that now. It would mean climbing out through the window onto the fire escape, though, if she wanted to take a closer look.
It's my birthday
, thought Maya, and she brought the chair over to the window and climbed out over the windowsill, keeping her eyes on the shiny thing (she was not the sort of person who enjoys looking down through metal grids at the hard ground four stories below).
With one hand carefully gripping the metal railingâand not looking downâshe bent her knees and leaned forwardânot looking downâand stretched her right hand out, out, out, until she felt that smooth shininess under her palm.
She was doing fine, not looking down, and then a voice came from deep inside the apartment and broke right into that spell:
“Maya, good morning! Are you up?”
Oh, her mother would not be pleased to see her clambering around on the wrong side of the window! Forgetting all the rules, Maya
through the grating she was perched on, yipped with fear, and rebounded into her room like a yo-yo. In fact, she backed up over the sill so fast that she tripped and hit the floor of her room with a rolling splat.
Her mother looked in through the bedroom doorway. A familiar, loving, worried face.
“Did you fall
? Happy birthday, sweetheart! Or is that some kind of violent yoga you've taken up? Close the window, don't you think?”
Maya got up off the floor to close the window; that was when she realized her hand was full of rounded, shiny stone.
“Birthday breakfast in five minutes,” said her mother. Her face was especially pale today, Maya couldn't help but notice. “And what have you got there?”
“A rock?” said Maya, still somewhat dazed.
“How nice,” said her mother. “Come as fast as you can.”
And she was gone again.
Maya hardly noticed, however. As soon as she had opened her mouth, she had realized what it really was, the thing in her hand.
That hadn't been a pile of twigs and trash, after all, out there on the fire escape: it was a
Of course! How obvious!
Which meant, if you thought about the thing logically, that in her hands at this very moment was something pretty rare, something Maya had never heard of before, something rather incredible: a gargoyles' egg.
And the egg was large, for an egg. Not quite as big as an emu egg, but almost (Maya's science teacher back in California had kept an actual emu egg on her desk, next to the frog skeleton and the plaster model of a cell, so Maya knew what emu eggs looked like: gargantuan dark-green avocados). It was heavy, too, but then again, ordinary eggs weren't made of stone, and certainly not made of stone that warmed up so eagerly in your hand that you thought you might have to put it back down in a minute, or risk getting singed.
Like it's coming to life
, thought Maya, and the surprise of it almost made her drop the poor egg on her toes. It was disconcerting to feel rock growing warm and shifting about under your own fingertips. She looked closer and saw it was the surface that was changing, in response to her touch. The stone the egg was made of had white, gray, and black flecks in it, and those flecks actually seemed to be shifting around from place to place, recombining, feeling their way toward new patterns of some kind.
Like an inside-out kaleidoscope
, thought Maya.
It was beautiful.
It was lovely.
It was the most perfect birthday present anyone could ever hope to have.
“Wait,” said Valko, when she called him on the phone to explain (in half whispers, so the family wouldn't come nosing in) how gorgeous this egg was, how special and unprecedented and unique. “Wait, excuse me, Maya, but are you sure this is something you should be handling? Do you think it's safe?”
“Safe?” said Maya. Sometimes Valko had no spirit of adventure at all. “It's got
on it! It just spelled out something in
! Only I can't read what they say. I think they're maybe Greek.”
“That doesn't sound normal at all, not for a rock,” said Valko. “It's not ticking or anything, is it?”
“Tuck it away somewhere, and I'll look at it when I get there.”
Valko was coming to what Maya's mother kept referring to as
Maya's birthday party
There were plenty of good reasons for Maya to be worried about this particular party.
For one thing, can you really have a birthday party in a part of the world where you have at most one friend? Her mother kept wanting her to invite all sorts of “people from school,” but it wasn't as if “people from school” were a real category in Maya's life, except, of course, for Valko. So who was going to be there? Her family, and Valko, and her family's somewhat eccentric Cousin Louise, all of them pretending this was just as much fun as it would have been if it had been a real party, with lots of real friends, in California. Ugh.
She wrapped the egg up tenderly in her other sweater, hid it away in her closet, and (her mind full of birthday) resolved to hope for the best.