Read A Box of Gargoyles Online
Authors: Anne Nesbet
Dad took that laboratory job in Paris. .Â .Â .
That much would make sense to the old, out-of-date Maya. That was the kind of thing that happens sometimes to people, when their wonderful, beloved, misguided mothers (who have always wanted to live in France, who have always,
, so very much dreamed of spending time in that
magical old city
âwhat an opportunity for the
!) are finally getting better after having been so sick for way too long. Maya's father did take the job in Paris. It really happened. Paris, by the way, is very far from California, and when you are dragged six thousand miles from home and plonked into the local school, you notice pretty fast that in Paris, everyone in school speaks French.
So that was hard.
But not as hard as you think it's going to be
, said Maya-in-October to old-Maya-from-June.
You'll do okay. It's the other things that happenâ
Because it turns out that Paris really
an old and magical city, and sometimes the magic sneaks up and holds you tight and will not let you go.
Sometimes an evil, beautiful uncle will show up out of nowhere and try to trap you in some terrible spell, just so that he can go on in his wicked ways forever and ever.
What uncle? And did you just say “spell,” like in old fairy tales about princesses and frogs and stuff? Are you nuts?
I know it sounds weird
, said new-Maya-from-Now.
So this Henri de Fourcroy, who was sort of their uncle, had even had the gall to kidnap Maya's impossibly likable baby brother, James, so that he could drain him of his charm.
said Maya-from-Then to Maya-from-Now.
JAMES? You let that happen? You're the one who's supposed to TAKE CARE of Jamesâ
That made Maya stop in her tracks for a moment, remembering how it had felt that horrible, awful, terrible day, which wasn't, when you thought about it, very many days ago. Last Saturday! It took her smile right away, remembering that. Because Maya-from-Then was right: it was always Maya who was supposed to take care of Jamesâ
take care of him
, said Maya to herself, finding her footing again.
I found him. I rescued him. I saved him. I did. But of course it got pretty strangeâ
It was the fairy-tale stuff again, only for real: she, Maya, had had to foil the plans of that wicked old Henri de Fourcroy.
She herself had reached through the glass into the Cabinet of Earths and pulled out that bottle of his, where everything that had been mortal in him had been hidden so safely for so many long years, and time had caught up with him again and made him old. So now he was withered away and gone.
The Cabinet of WHATS?
Maya-from-Then was saying, somewhere in the background now.
What was that you just said?
Maya-from-Now waved her earlier self away, though she tried to be nice about it.
, she said.
The point is, it all worked out. You're okay. You're going to be okay! Really!
Because she knew, better than anyone else could ever possibly know, about the knot of worry that Maya-from-Then was carrying around in her, always. How much it ached, that worry. How hard it was, sometimes, to be that Maya. But finally it was October, and life was back to normal, if you could ever call living half the world away from your home “normal.” At least the French schools believed in a lot of vacation. Maya's school had just let out for ten full daysâyes! It was true! She had survived the whole first quarter of the school year.
What's more, she had made a real, actual friend here in Paris, a dark-haired, quick-smiling boy named Valko Nikolov, who had lived for years in New Yorkâ
âand when she had just run up to her apartment for a moment after school to drop off her books, she had found a small stack of letters for her on the table in the dining room, so her friends in California had not forgotten her, after allâ
âand then when she had stopped at the bakery to get something to share with Valko as they went walking across the bridge or along the Seine, the chocolate croissants had been
All in all, what Maya, the former champion worrier of the world, was feeling at the moment was something she hadn't felt much of in the last few weeks (or months, or years): the tingling, hopeful feeling that is the
Was there a single, perfect word to describe this particular feeling? She wasn't sure. If there were, it might have to be spelled like this:
Maya had to put a hand to her mouth to keep her smile from breaking loose as she crossed the last little street before the block where Valko lived.
At that point she paused for a moment to admire the interesting new hole, outlined in jagged scorch marks, that had appeared in the high garden wall of the Bulgarian embassy last Saturday night. A transformer must have blown, Valko had said with some relish as he showed off the flashlight he now carried everywhere. Medium-sized chaos! Embassies apparently didn't like their walls exploding, even if only partially, and they didn't much care for power outages, either.
There were lines of police tape marking off the part of the sidewalk directly under the hole, and an exceedingly bored policeman, whose job was to stand there all day in case some acrobat decided to spider-walk up the wall to the hole and then scramble through into the Bulgarians' private garden. Through the hole you could see bits of branches and greenery, and embassy windows that would ordinarily have been invisible. And what was that? Craning her neck to get a better look, Maya put her hand on the wall to steady herselfâ
and the wall JUMPED.
Well, not jumped, exactly: twitched; flinched;
. It was Maya who did the actual jumping, as she snatched her hand away from the stone.
Could a stone wall have some kind of electricity coiled up in it? A secret internal alarm system trained to yell when fingers touched it? Sensitive stone nerves?
None of that seemed remotely likely, but then her head was still ringing from the silent
that had come shooting up through her fingers. It wasn't exactly like getting a shock from a doorknob after you've shuffled around a bit on the living-room carpet. No. That kind of jolt is, at least, impersonal. The thing about this one wasâthe wall hadâokay, it was crazy to think like this, but this was what it felt like: the wall had
Her heart began to skitter under her ribs.
, she told herself.
Slow way, way down
She surveyed the scene. The policeman was still poking away at a rough spot on his fingernail. The wallâshe moved another inch away, just to be safeâwas pretending to be a normal wall, if she ignored that sooty hole looking down at her from up there.
Really looking at her.
Not just looking, in fact, but
The little hairs on the back of Maya's neck were prickling in alarm long before she realized what had caught her attentionâcaught it the way a hook might catch a fish.
was gazing at her from that wall. The strangest eye in the world, an eye made up of gaps and stone and other even more peculiar things, all falling together into
if you stood just where Maya was standing and looked up just so.
All right, all right, it was an illusion: the hole in the wall was a sooty-edged oval turned on its side; an eye-shaped gap where stone wall used to be.
But then it got stranger, because framed by that gap the way a person's brown-green-blue-or-sometimes-purple iris is framed by eyelid and eyelash was a stone figure. It was far off and high up, hunched over itself in a round-iris way as it perched on its narrow, high embassy ledge, centered (if you were standing just where Maya happened at that moment to be standing) within the eye-shaped hole in the wall.
Maya squinted. Could that really be what she thought it was? Yes. The iris of the wall's impossible eye was a
. You didn't expect to see a stone gargoyle clinging to the side of the Bulgarian embassy, but there it was.
The gargoyle-iris looked directly down at Maya through the eye-shaped hole of the garden wall. The gargoyle's own eyes were piercing, shadow-black dots, and they were the pupil of the wall's eye, and it was all like one of those sets of Russian nesting dolls (eyes within eyes within eyes), only worse, because this eye was also a trap, and Maya was caught in it.
“Oh!” she said aloud, startled all over again.
She really must have touched a nerve or something in that wall. The gargoyle was staring at her as if it had been doing nothing since the day it was carved but waiting for her,
, to walk by. The air was still twanging in silent alarm all around her. In fact, a wave of strangeness was nowâhow to describe this?ârippling out from the eye in the wall, just as the church bells a few blocks away tolled four.
Maya had grown up in California, where there are earthquakes from time to time, so she automatically scanned the sidewalk for a nice solid table to hide under, but the sidewalk had no tables. And in any case, although her stomach pitched about a little as the wave of strangeness rolled through her, the ground was not actually moving, so this was weirder than an earthquake, whatever was going on now.
Something was ever so slightly wrong. But at first she could not see anything out of place. People were still walking along, still laughing and chatting or hurrying by in silence, as if nothing at all were the matter. It was like the sidewalk had turned into the deck of a very large ship, and a wave had just pitched that ship over onto its side, almost, and nobody but Maya even felt the slightest bit out of kilter.
And no railing to hang on to, not anywhere.
“Help,” she said, in the tiniest of voices, because it is disconcerting to feel like the universe has just bent a little out of its ordinary shape when nobody else seems to notice. She was actually putting her hand against her forehead to see if maybe she might be out-of-the-blue feverish or something, when right in the sidewalk in front of her there appeared the slenderest vein of sand, a twisting miniature wriggle of sand, meandering out from the wall in a lazy curlicue.
She tested it with her toe, and it was really truly sandâdark sand, like lava ground down into grains of black salt. Not just a curlicue. No. It was zigzags and circles now, opening up in the pavement; she had to hop out of its way, it was scrawling about so fast, and when she hopped she collided with something that made a very displeased sound: the French policeman.
” he said, his lips curled into a frown, but Maya was distracted by his pillbox hat, which was sprouting a small pair of blue canvas wings.
They were the tiniest of wings. The policeman didn't seem bothered by them at all. His hat lurched upward, almost free from his head, and he gave it a smart tap to settle it back down again, as if he had been having to deal firmly with this particular hat for years and years.
Maya moved well out of his way, and he strode on by, the policeman and his fluttering pillbox hat. Her own heart was still going tappity-tap, as if it had little wings, too.
She could see now that other odd things were happening in small doses all around:
The antenna of the car parked nearest to her had, for example, quietly shredded itself into a frothy spray of metal and was now waving its thin stalks gracefully about in the air, like a skinny metallic sea creature. One single branch of the nearest sidewalk tree swelled up into a million little warty bumps, as if the bark had shivered itself into goose pimples, and out of those bumps burst the tiniest fuzz of new green leaves, completely out of place on that gray street.
Even the warm, buttery smell of the chocolate croissants was remaking itself right under her nose, becoming darker and mintier.
It was confusing, yes. The very air was confused; there was a bewildered hum running through it.
“Hey, Maya, listen,” said someone very close by. “Something's gone wrongâoh,
âit's so stupid. Listenâ”
” said Maya, but she could feel the smile (!!!) jumping back onto her face even before she had finished turning her head, because it was pretty much impossible not to smile when Valko showed up. If they ever invented a human-shaped cure for a world gone sideways, it would probably look a lot like Valko Nikolov. It would have tousled black hair and the friendliest possible gray eyes and a comfortable sort of voice.
But then she looked again and saw that even comfortable Valko was clearly bothered by something. The little lines that usually crinkled where much younger kids might have actual dimples were gone, for instance. And his eyes weren't really smiling either.
“Hi, there,” she said, feeling the (!!!) fade slightly away. “It all started happening, like, maybe five minutes ago. Everything got weird. Did you really say
Valko did, on occasion, like to make up words. Or new uses for underappreciated words. But something was definitely, just now, not quite right.
“Everything got weird?” said Valko. He didn't sound like himself. He sounded distracted. “What got weird? Sorry I'm lateâthe power just went off again in there. Chaos. Bumping around. People looking for headlamps. But listen .Â .Â .”
Maya already was listening, but Valko let the sentence trail off instead of finishing it and then made the toe of his shoe stub itself pretty hard on the sidewalk.
“The power went off?” she said, finally, because it's hard to wait around as long as that for the rest of a sentence.
,” said Valko with feeling. “Who cares about the power? There's a backup generator. The lights pop right back on again in a few minutes anyway. That's not the thing. The thing is, my grandmother called. Not the nice, sweet grandmother. The other one.