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Authors: Philippa Dowding

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BOOK: The Gargoyle in My Yard
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Chapter Eight

Gargoth of Tallus

Over breakfast, they came up with a plan.

They decided that Katherine’s mom probably shouldn’t try to talk to the gargoyle. They felt it was best if Katherine talked to him, with her parents in the background standing guard.

They wanted Katherine to find out three things:

1. Why the gargoyle followed Katherine’s mother

home.

2. Why he wouldn’t go away.

3. Why he was so rude and destructive.

After breakfast, and after several false starts, the three of them plucked up their courage and carefully opened the back door a crack, peering out into the yard. Katherine’s dad had his fishing net over his shoulder, just in case. Milly peered out from between their legs.

There were the other statues, minus the broken dwarf who had been taken to the garden store to get his nose fixed.

But there was no gargoyle.

They stood on the back porch and looked carefully over the whole yard. He wasn’t on his pedestal. He wasn’t lurking among the remaining dwarves. He wasn’t dancing in the flowers. He just wasn’t there.

Then Katherine smelled a familiar odour. “Some-body is smoking a pipe again,” she thought. “I wonder...” She made a “SHHH” sign at her parents.

She stepped gingerly off the back porch and tip-toed quietly across the backyard to the bushes beside the swing. She sniffed. Sure enough, there was the pipe smell again, only stronger this time.
Just like the other night
, Katherine thought. She looked back at her parents, then pointed to the bushes.

“He’s in there!” she mouthed silently. She hoped they understood her. They both nodded, and looked worried.

“Be careful!” her mother mouthed back.

Katherine took a deep breath then approached the bushes. She was just about to part them, when a whispery voice said, “Gargol snarthen felamont.”

Katherine heard the voice say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, little girl.”

Katherine jumped back. Her mother gasped.

As she and her parents watched, the bushes parted and out stepped the gargoyle.

He had a small pipe stuck between his teeth and looked just like a fine gentleman out for a morning stroll, with a great inheritance and all the time in the world to enjoy it.

“Frahot bello northen gamet.” Katherine and her mother heard, “Hello, to you all. You’ve found me!”

He stood by the bushes, his wings folded tightly behind him, and tapped his pipe out on the bottom of his scaly foot. Then he opened the little pouch at his side and placed his pipe carefully inside.

“Well, that explains the tobacco smell and the pouch,” thought Katherine, pleased with herself for a moment.

The gargoyle took them all in for what seemed a very long time. Then he spoke again in his strange and wavery language: “I suppose you’d like me to introduce myself?”

Katherine and her mother nodded slowly at him. Katherine’s dad just stared.

“Very well,” he continued in gargoyle. “My name is Gargoth of Tallus. You may call me Gargoth. I’m just over four hundred years old, which is rather young for a gargoyle, and I’m afraid I’ve lost my way. I’ve been on a very long and dangerous journey, which, temporarily I hope, has stranded me in your ridiculous backyard.”

At this point, the gargoyle waved his hand to take in the backyard and sighed deeply. He trudged slowly past Katherine and hopped up onto his pedestal beside the swing, every inch of him now looking dejected and sad.

Katherine had said nothing and felt at this point that she should speak back to him. She cast a backward glance at her mom and dad, who hadn’t moved from the porch, then spoke.

She had an odd feeling that it was important to be as polite and grandiose as possible when addressing a gargoyle this close up, so she spoke like this: “Oh Gargoth of Tallus, I am Katherine, and this is my mother Marie and my father Hank. We are the Newberrys. We are sad to hear you are now stranded in our backyard among the other mythical creatures. To speak honestly, we are confused by your presence here as well. Why have you chosen to follow my mother? And why have you not left our backyard?”

She thought she might leave out the question about being so rude for a bit. Now that she was so close to him, knowing he was alive and not just a lump of plaster, she was remembering the sharp, shiny teeth from his smile in the moonlight the night before. She was fighting the rise of the unpleasant memory of being bitten by a small dog when she was a little girl. It was all too easy to imagine Gargoth’s sharp little teeth snapping at her in anger.

She gulped and was going to continue, when her father spoke up in a quavery voice.

“Uhhh, what’s that noise he’s making?” he asked. He looked kind of pale and watery-eyed.

“Shhh, he’s talking, Hank. Can’t you hear him?” her mother said.

“Talking? You call that noise talking? It’s more like sandpaper running over the inside of my head. It’s just gibberish.”

“You mean you can’t understand him?” Katherine asked, suddenly a little panicky. “Mom, you can understand him, right?”

“Yes, yes, I can understand him just fine.” Her mother looked confused.

“Allow me to explain,” Gargoth broke in. “Only clever children and very special adults, indeed only one or two that I know of,” at this he shot Katherine’s mother a significant look, “can understand the ancient and sacred tongue of my race. Which is an answer to your first question: why did I follow your mother home? Because she could hear me. Because she could see me. And because she expected nothing from me in return.”

At this, Gargoth cast his dark eyes to the grass and didn’t look up again for a long while.

Katherine shot a glance at her mother, who was clearly very relieved to hear this explanation, such as it was. But Katherine thought she’d better do a little translating for her father, who looked completely lost.

“Uh, Dad, he says you can’t understand him because only a very few adults can.” She looked at her mother for help.

“Yes, Hank, it seems for some peculiar reason I can understand him, and you can’t. He says children can hear gargoyles and understand them, but most adults, well, almost all adults I guess, can’t for some reason. Except for me. I love statues...maybe that’s it?” she finished, looking kind of lost herself. But still very relieved.

“Well, okay then. What’s he doing here?” her father asked, determined to go on.

“He said Mom is the first adult to talk to him in a long time. I guess he’s lonely? And when Mom could hear him and understand him, he followed her home. Is that it, Gargoth?” Katherine asked.

“His name is Gargoth?” her dad whispered.

“Yes, Hank, shush!” her mother said, nudging her husband to be quiet, because Gargoth was speaking again.

“You are right, Katherine,” Gargoth said, his whispery voice even sadder. He pronounced her name KAY-THAR-EEN. “There have been a few who can see me, who have spoken to me, but most often they were my enemies.” As he said these last words, Gargoth’s voice grew bitter.

“Your mother is different. She spoke to me and addressed me without fear. I have been terribly alone. I hoped she could help.”

Thinking of their second question, Katherine started in: “Well, isn’t there someone else who could help you? I mean,” she corrected herself quickly, “oh Gargoth, is there not another who could help you find your way again?”

Gargoth smiled at this. For the first time, a genuine smile. “Don’t worry, human child, I am not offended. I know that you do not wish me here. I know that in your world, I am but a plaything or an object of curiosity, long forgotten and misplaced. Captured on the roofs of buildings or churches for amusement or to spout water into dark alleys. Stuck in backyards among the dwarves.”

He paused a long time and turned to look at Milly, who had joined the family on the back porch, sitting at her owners’ feet. She kept her distance.

“No, sadly Katherine, there is no other who can help me. I have waited. I have watched. Your mother spoke to me without greed or malice in her heart, and so I believe only she can help me find my way again.”

Katherine was thinking hard. “Do you mean, because Mom said “Hi there” to you that day on the street, that you are somehow connected to her? Like a servant, or something?”

At the word “servant”, Gargoth flinched and hunched his little shoulders even more deeply. A dark frown was upon his face. “No, not a servant as you know it. But I am indebted to her in a way you may not ever understand. She saw me. She spoke to me. I am hers until I find my way again.”

With that, Gargoth turned his head away and would speak no further despite Katherine’s attempt to continue their conversation.

Katherine’s mother walked slowly across the yard. She stopped in front of the little gargoyle, who had his back to her, and reached out to him. Gently she stroked Gargoth’s leathery wings with one hand. Gargoth turned his face to her.

Hot gargoyle tears were streaming down his cheeks and splashing with a “hiss” onto the cold stone pedestal beneath his feet.

Chapter Nine

House Guest

After that, Katherine and her parents left Gargoth alone for the rest of the day. He seemed content to sit on his pedestal and stare gloomily at the tree.

Katherine and her mother spent most of the rest of the morning sitting at the kitchen table, trying to explain to Katherine’s father what the gargoyle had said.

As far as they could figure out, they explained, Katherine’s mother had been the first adult to speak “without malice” to Gargoth in ages, maybe hundreds of years.

This made Gargoth want to speak to her. This also somehow made him “hers”, but not in a servant-like way. Her father wanted to know everything that was said at this point, particularly about being “hers”, but this had them as lost as he was.

Clearly Gargoth was very sad and had talked about being “lost”, but in this first conversation they didn’t really have the chance to clear that up. How was he lost? Who had lost him? Were there other gargoyles like him somewhere in the world? Was there any way to help him? He didn’t seem to think anyone could help but Katherine’s mother.

And he didn’t seem very interested in going away.

On the plus side, he hadn’t stuck his tongue out at them since they had started talking to him, so maybe they had won a very slight victory on that count. Katherine’s mother still thought the gargoyle stuck his tongue out as a kind of downspout reflex, but Katherine wasn’t totally convinced; she thought he was just being rude.

Rude or not, they decided that he was going to have to stay in the backyard until Monday, then they would make a clear plan about what to do with him.

Katherine caught her mother stealing glances out the back window at the gargoyle all day. Finally, at dinner time, her mother went out to the backyard alone and talked once more to Gargoth, then returned and started putting apples into a basket.

“What are you doing, Mom?” Katherine asked.

“He’s hungry,” she said simply, and with that emptied the fridge of all the apples they owned and slipped back outside.

She didn’t come back in for a long time.

Chapter Ten

The Golden Nautilus

Katherine and her parents spent that weekend trying hard to act as though nothing odd or unusual was going on. They had decided not to mention Gargoth again until Monday, so the rest of the weekend came and went as normally as possible, considering the events of Saturday morning. Katherine found she didn’t even want to look out the back window, and she and her parents were really, really polite with each other.

Her dad was quiet all weekend, but her mother seemed unnaturally chatty and perky, doing the talking for all three of them at every meal. She got like that when she was especially nervous about something.

Milly didn’t want to go out the back door.

Oddly, Katherine found she didn’t want to leave the house either. When her friend Rubie invited her over on Saturday night for a sleepover, she didn’t want to go anywhere. She made up an excuse and stayed in.

The only tricky bit of the weekend came on Sunday night. The family was invited to the neighbours’ house for Sunday night dinner, and her mom and dad couldn’t think of a good enough reason to say “no” on such short notice.

The McDonalds were probably the best neighbours anyone ever had, anywhere, in the history of neighbourly kindness. They were quite a bit older than Katherine’s parents, and they had no children of their own, so Katherine was always terribly spoiled when she went to their house. Mr. McDonald always gave her a special treat, and often Mrs. McDonald had rented a new movie or game for her to play while the adults were talking over dinner. It was always a highlight of the week for Katherine. They had babysat her often when she was little. She got to stay up late, snuggled warmly on the couch between these two fine people, and watch late night TV, which was strictly forbidden when her parents were home.

They were the kind of neighbours who watched the house when Katherine and her parents went away on holiday. The kind of neighbours who took Milly into their home on short notice. They were, in fact, the kind of neighbours you could call on any time of the day or night, and they’d be happy to help.

They were her second family.

But for the first time in her life, Katherine found herself being shy when Mr. McDonald asked if the asters were still in bloom.

Later, when Mrs. McDonald asked if she could come and see the flowers because she liked them best in their final blaze of glory, both of Katherine’s parents yelled, “No! It’s not a good time right now.” Then they had to apologize and explain they were just a little on edge because it hadn’t been a good growing season for them, and they had been hoping to win another “Small Garden” award this year.

Katherine caught her dad mopping his brow with a napkin after that little lie.

They left early, as their good neighbours stood bewildered in their doorway, waving goodbye.

For his part, Gargoth had stayed motionless on his pedestal almost the entire weekend, occasionally discarding apple cores, which slowly piled up around his feet.

Finally, Monday came, and the family was able to get back to some degree of normal life. At breakfast, Katherine’s mother said she was going to visit The Golden Nautilus after work and see if she could find out anything about Gargoth, such as where he came from. It was the first time in two days that any of them had mentioned him.

“And Katherine, I want you to come. When I get you from school, we’ll go straight there.”

Katherine’s dad shot her an “I’m sorry” look, then bolted for work, clearly glad to be out of the world of gargoyles and back into the world of science and students. This was likely because there was little risk of anything inanimate coming to life in the safe, predictable world of his classroom (with the possible exception of some senior students at the back of the room who hadn’t said a word all term).

It was possibly Katherine’s longest day in school ever. It seemed like it would never end. In history class, the last period of the day, Mrs. Glean droned on so long about the prairies and pioneer life, that Katherine decided it must have been the most boring time in Canadian history. She jumped when the boy sitting next to her hit his head on the desk with a loud “thud”. Asleep.

After what seemed like years, the three-thirty bell rang and Katherine dashed for the door, but unfortunately not before Mrs. Glean could corner her, once again wearing a worried expression.

“Katherine,” she smiled nicely, “you’re still not concentrating very well. Are you able to see the board okay, dear?”

Great
, thought Katherine,
now my teacher thinks I’m blind.

“Oh, yes, everything is just fine, really Mrs. Glean. We did a lot of...um, gardening this weekend, and I’m a little tired. You know, with my parents’ award-winning flowers and everything...” Katherine feigned a smile then dashed past the teacher before she could say anything else. She hoped this rather lame excuse would satisfy her teacher for now. She was getting awfully snoopy.

“How persistent can you be?” Katherine wondered as she trudged out into the street, looking for her mother’s car. She frowned. Her mother wasn’t there. She stood in the cold for a few minutes, biting her lip.

Suddenly her mother’s car appeared from around the corner, lurching and careening down the street toward her. The car looked out of control. Students ran for cover, screaming. The car slammed to a stop in front of Katherine, then the back door burst open. Her mother leaned into the back seat from the front, and yelled at her, “GET IN!”

Katherine was too shocked to do anything but obey. She jumped into the car, and they sped off. She noticed her mother’s hair was loose and messy, jumbled all over her face, and she was breathing in a funny, jagged way. She looked flustered and a little crazy. Katherine was worried.

“Mom, what’s wrong...” Katherine started, then stopped. That was when she noticed the large cloth bag in the seat beside her. It wiggled slightly.

Katherine clasped her hand to her mouth. “MOM! You didn’t bring
him?!
” she shouted. But she knew the answer. Her heart sank. What was her mother doing, bringing the gargoyle in the car
to school?
At that moment, Gargoth popped his head out of the bag and glared at her.

She tried not to look too horrified. She even managed a weak smile at Gargoth. He stuck his tongue out at her and dived back into the bag.
So much for no more rudeness,
she thought.

“Mom, what’s going on?” she asked. “Why did you bring him? This can’t be a wise thing to do. Mom?”

Her mother was staring at the traffic, apparently not listening.

“Mom,” she started again, “why is your hair all messy?”

“Gargoth has never been inside a car before,” she said simply. That was all the explanation Katherine was going to get. They drove in silence until her mother pulled the car into a parking spot in front of The Golden Nautilus.

“Bring him,” her mother said to her as she got out of the car, attempting to fix her mussed hair. Katherine could see it was useless to argue, since her mother was already clopping unsteadily across the sidewalk toward the store. Katherine looked toward the bag, then moved closer and peered in.

Gargoth was huddled, cowering and shivering, in the bottom of the bag. Clearly, he was very frightened. Katherine suddenly felt a tiny bolt of sympathy for him. He glared at her, then shut his eyes, just like she had seen Milly do once when she had hurt her tail and was going to the vet.

“It’s okay, Gargoth. We’re just going to look in the store. Nothing will happen to you,” she found herself saying gently.

He looked up at her again, then closed his eyes once more and stopped shivering. He drew his wings tightly around himself and sat still as a statue in the bottom of the bag.

Katherine picked up the bag and left the car. She entered the store behind her mother. It was a dark dungeon of a store, full of strange and delightful things. Books, comics, unusual toys and strange knick-knacks, candles, skulls and superheroes. There were dragons, monsters and other magical creatures. She and her mother nosed around the shelves but could find nothing resembling a gargoyle.

“May I help you?” A young salesman finally appeared, looking bored.

“Yes, yes, we’re looking for a gargoyle? Do you have any?” Katherine’s mother asked.

The young man was looking at her mother closely. “No, no, we don’t,” he said. “We had one last week, but it disappeared.” Katherine’s mother started to look uncomfortable. “But hold on, I’ll check if there are any new gargoyles in stock in the back.” He left them for what seemed like ages.

When he returned, he was carrying a gargoyle. It was the perfect twin of Gargoth. He placed it on the shelf in front of them.

“We just got this one in, but that’s it. The supplier doesn’t make them any more,” he panted. The store room must have been a long way off.

“Thank you,” her mother said. “Where did you order them from?” she asked as nonchalantly as possible.

“This one came from New York somewhere,” he said, then walked away to help another customer.

When they were alone, Katherine’s mother bent down and whispered to Gargoth. “There’s another gargoyle here, he looks just like you. Look...”

She held the bag up close to the shelf, and Gargoth popped his head out, face to face with the little gargoyle. In an instant, he was out of the bag, with his hands clasped tightly around the statue’s neck, snarling and snapping his teeth together like a possessed demon. Then things really got interesting.

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