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Authors: Philippa Dowding

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BOOK: The Gargoyle in My Yard
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Chapter Eleven

Near Escape

Several things happened at once.

Katherine’s mother was quicker than Gargoth, and she grabbed him, but only managed to grab him by a wing. This made him angry, and he snatched up his statue twin and started to swing it over his head at her.

Katherine was trying desperately to get the bag back over Gargoth’s head, but with his wing spread out and swinging the other statue with all his might, he was too big and cumbersome to fit.

A teenager wearing a black T-shirt and black lipstick had been watching Katherine and her mother over the nearest comic book rack. Now she was running back toward the counter and the young salesman yelling, “Hey! Come see this!” at the top of her lungs.

A second later, Katherine and her mother saw the store owner running towards them, waving a broom.

“What’s he going to do with
that?
” Katherine wondered. Before she knew what was happening, her mother grabbed her, the bag, and the struggling gargoyle, who was still clutching the statue, and was pushing them towards the door.

“Drop it! Please, Gargoth, drop the statue!” her mother was pleading, as they ran down the sidewalk, Katherine in the rear. Katherine looked behind her for a moment, then back at her mother just in time to see the gargoyle statue fly into the air—Gargoth had thrown it in his rage. Katherine rushed forward to catch the statue and was nearly knocked over by its weight. She placed it gingerly on the sidewalk before tearing off after her mother.

As they sped off in the car down Queen Street, Katherine saw several employees burst out of the store, with the owner at the head, still brandishing his broom. The young salesman bent to pick up the statue that Katherine had caught and placed, unharmed, on the sidewalk.

“At least we didn’t steal anything,” her mother gasped, breathless, her eyes on the road. “So we didn’t do anything wrong...”

Katherine sank back into her seat, taking time to breathe. Then she looked over at the bag, now containing Gargoth. It was shaking. Expecting him to be cowering and frightened, she looked in the top to say something calming.

There in the bottom of the bag was a strange sight. Gargoth of Tallus was laughing.

And if you’ve ever seen a gargoyle laugh, you know it’s not a pretty sight.

Chapter Twelve

The Flightless Bird

That night at dinner, Katherine’s mother was trying to explain to her father what had happened at The Golden Nautilus that afternoon.

“He GRABBED the other statue?” he was asking in disbelief. “Marie, why did you take him there? What was the point?”

“I was hoping that he would see the other gargoyle and want to stay, that’s all. I mean, if it had been alive, he would have wanted to stay, wouldn’t he? I don’t know...or maybe we could have found out where he was from, then return him there. It didn’t seem like a bad idea at first...” She trailed off, upset.

Her father sighed, then leaned over and spoke gently to his wife. “It’s okay, I guess. Clearly, they aren’t going to arrest you for anything, and at least we know a few things now.”

“What?” asked Katherine, looking up from her pasta.

“Well, we know that Gargoth is the only real gargoyle at The Golden Nautilus, that he was made in New York, and that the supplier isn’t making them any more.”

“If he is alive, there must be other gargoyles that are alive, don’t you think?” Katherine asked. “Maybe there are some others like him in other stores in Toronto. It might be worth trying to visit some of them to see.”

“I’ll look on the Internet to see if I can find out who supplied them to Canada,” her mother said.

For his part, Gargoth wasn’t very helpful. After they’d arrived home from The Golden Nautilus, Katherine’s mother spent a full hour trying to get more information out of him. She sat in the backyard on a lawn chair beside his pedestal and questioned him about everything that had happened to him.

He was sulky from his misadventure and still frightened. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very helpful and tended to talk in riddles, and even outright lies. Finally Katherine’s mother gave up and left him with a fresh bag of apples to keep him company.

“I don’t know what to do with him. One thing’s for sure,” she said with a smile at Katherine, “no more car trips, and no more trips to The Golden Nautilus.”

“Mom, why was he so mad at the other statue?” Katherine asked.

Her mother looked sadly at her. “It’s hard to say exactly. It seems that someone stole his image somehow, without his permission. I think he finds it terribly insulting to see himself recreated in a statue. He says he was kept against his will in an awful place for a long time.”

“Couldn’t he fly away?” Katherine asked, surprised.

“Oh, he can’t fly!” her mother said.

“He can’t? How come?” Katherine asked.

“I guess he never learned,” her mother said mildly and went back to her dinner.

Throughout the evening, Katherine found herself wandering to the back window to check on Gargoth, who was pacing sulkily back and forth among the dwarves.

Chapter Thirteen

Gargoth's Request

The rest of the week went by quietly with no further adventures.

Gargoth lived peacefully enough in their backyard, eating bags of apples and dropping the cores here and there among the statues. Once or twice Katherine caught him lobbing apple cores, using the mended dwarf for target practice, but her mother scolded him, and he sheepishly promised he wouldn’t do it again.

In fact, he promised to be still and quiet during the days, and only move around at night, so the neighbours wouldn’t become suspicious of him. Indeed, he was as good as gold, and as still as a statue most of the time.

He seemed content just to be himself, known finally to the family as a living, breathing thing. He was no longer so rude and surly, although if you caught him napping, he was apt to snap at you if you disturbed him.

After the near disaster at The Golden Nautilus, Katherine’s parents decided it would be best to leave Gargoth in the backyard, where he couldn’t cause any more trouble. This meant that any research they were going to do to track down his origins would be done from the comfort and safety of their computer, on the Internet. After a few short days, it began to seem almost normal to have a gargoyle living among the dwarves in their yard.

Even Milly asked to be let out at the back door, although she still refused to go anywhere near the gargoyle.

Katherine only talked to him once during that first week. She went back to his pedestal one chilly night after dinner, wearing her warmest coat, and took up a place on the swing. The leaves were falling from the tree now, and the evening was chilly enough for snow. Halloween was in one week.

“Gargoth,” she started, “have you ever tried to fly?”

He looked at her mournfully. “Perhaps. A long time ago.”

“But…did you learn?”

He sighed deeply. “No, Katherine. It can take a lifetime to learn to fly, and only another gargoyle can teach me. Otherwise I am doomed to fail.”

Katherine thought about this for a moment. “Why does it have to be another gargoyle?” she asked.

Another sigh from Gargoth. “Because you must be taught by another who...” he hesitated, “who cares for you.” He sunk his head into his leathery claws. “And I have no one.”

He cast his eyes up to the sky. “It will snow soon, Katherine. I will be covered with a chilly winter blanket tonight.”

For the first time it occurred to Katherine that he might be uncomfortable living outside, especially now that the cold weather was coming.

“Gargoth, do you feel the cold? When it snows, I mean, will you be chilly?” she asked.

“Chilly? No, Katherine. I feel neither heat nor cold, only hunger and thirst, and your kind mother has seen that I do not suffer there.” He waved toward a bag nearby, bursting with apples and a full jug of water.

They were quiet for a while, listening to the sounds of the city. Gargoth stirred on his pedestal, then he spoke again. “There is one thing I would like, though.” He looked almost shyly at her, his heavy eyelids drooping slightly.

“Yes?”

“I would like to visit more gargoyles, in more stores in this city.” He glanced at her sideways with a tiny curl of his lip.

She hesitated. “But you know my mom and dad want you to stay here, in the backyard. You’re not supposed to go anywhere.”

He didn’t seem to hear her. “You know how to use the underground locomotion machine? Don’t you?” Katherine thought for a moment and realized he must mean the subway.

“Yes, I do,” she answered.

“Then, you can take me,” he said slyly.

“Oh sure, Gargoth! You want me to smuggle you onto the subway and travel around the city with you looking at gargoyles. I really don’t think so! Not after the way you acted at The Golden Nautilus! I don’t want to get arrested!”

“I promise to behave,” he said quietly, “and a gargoyle never breaks a promise.”

“No way,” she said simply.

There was a long pause, then Gargoth spoke again. “I would not ask you to do this for me, Katherine, but I believe there may be one among the gargoyles in a certain store in this city who can teach me to fly. We may be able to find her.”

With the word “her”, Katherine jumped off the swing and walked toward Gargoth. “What do you mean, ‘her’?” she asked him. He turned his face away and would not answer.

She tried again. “What do you mean, Gargoth? Is there another gargoyle like you in Toronto? Do you know her? Where do you think she is? Tell me!” she insisted, impatient now.

Gargoth spoke quietly. “You do not need to shout, Katherine. I am unsure how much to tell you. I did not tell your mother, because I know she will not take me to find her. But I am telling you because you are a child, and you still think and believe like a child. You may be able to help me. But we will have to do it together, alone.”

Katherine was just about to answer when her father opened the back door and called her in for bed.

“Coming, Dad,” she yelled. She turned back to Gargoth, who reached out and took her hand. It was the first time he had touched her. His claw was leathery and cool. “Please think about it, Katherine,” he said in his gargoyle voice, then dropped her hand and looked away.

“Okay, I’ll think about it,” she said then walked slowly back to the house.

What else could she say?

Chapter Fourteen

Hallowe'en

Halloween fell on a Saturday, and the day dawned cool and sunny.

It was a glorious day for carving pumpkins and getting the house ready for trick-or-treaters. Kather-ine had arranged to go trick-or-treating with her best friend Sarah, who lived just down the street, and Sarah’s little brother Benjamin.

Katherine and her parents spent the day decorating the front yard and front porch of the house. Their usual trick was to fill a garbage bag with leaves and poke a single jean leg stuffed with newspapers and an old work boot out of the bottom of the bag. They also hung a skeleton from the front tree and swathed the house in fake spider webs. Every year, Katherine’s dad said it was the last time they were going to use the awful sticky stuff because it was almost impossible to get rid of, but every year they used it anyway. Shreds of fluffy web puffed from every corner of the house all year long, as a constant reminder of Halloweens past.

At lunch time, Katherine looked into the backyard and noticed Gargoth looking very agitated. He was pacing quickly (as quickly as a short-legged gargoyle can) back and forth between his pedestal and the maple tree, all the while looking up into the sky. When he reached the tree, he looked quickly behind him, then started back to his pedestal. After she’d finished her soup and sandwich, Katherine went out to talk to him.

“What’s the matter, Gargoth?” she asked.

He stopped his pacing and slumped to the grass. He looked very worried.

“Katherine, I feel that something terrible is going to happen.”

“Why?”

“Because there are strange smells and noises in the air. There are strange creatures flying above me and stranger creatures still wandering by on the street.”

At that moment, a noisy flock of Canada geese flew low overhead, heading for a landing in Lake Ontario to the south. It was not the first flock that had passed overhead that day, since the geese were beginning to migrate south for the winter in the last days of fall.

Gargoth dove into the bushes beside his pedestal, quaking with fear. Katherine parted the bushes and pulled him gently to standing.

“Gargoth, get a hold of yourself. They’re just geese. See?” she said, pointing up as the familiar V-shape disappeared south of them. He refused to look up but continued staring steadfastly at the ground.

She decided to continue gently. “What else did you see that scared you?” she asked.

Gargoth looked up at her, clearly struggling with a great fear welling up inside him.

He finally spoke and said, “There were strange beings with long black hair and ugly, frightening faces marching down the street. One carried a broom stick and the other a dead black cat.”

Katherine laughed. “Gargoth, they were dressed up! It’s Halloween! They were dressed like witches or something. Haven’t you ever seen people dressed up for Halloween before?”

“No,” he said simply. He was suddenly indignant with her because she had laughed at him.

“Where have you been? Halloween happens every October 31, and it’s a festival of the dead. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen it or heard of it before?”

Gargoth looked extremely hurt. “No, I have not seen it or heard of it before. It sounds terrifying. Why do people dress up like creatures of the dead?”

Katherine thought for a moment. He really seemed frightened by what he had seen.

“I’m sorry, Gargoth,” she apologized. “I guess I’d be scared too. But you don’t need to be. It’s just for fun. People dress up in funny clothes like clowns, or scary clothes like monsters and witches and things. Then they go around the neighbourhood and collect candy from everyone, or they do something bad if you don’t give them candy. Got it?”

At this point, Gargoth’s eyes were as huge as half-moons, his face a mask of pure disbelief.

“Surely, Katherine,” he said in his most dignified voice, “you do not expect me to believe such a childish, made-up story? In my past, when humans appeared in masks, it was usually the beginning of a terrible night of death. Almost always, someone was...” Here Gargoth stopped, apparently struggling with his memory, deciding whether or not to tell Katherine what was in his mind. He had no desire to frighten her.

He started again, more gently, “Katherine, do not forget that I have lived more than four hundred years. There was a time in my country when women who looked like those women I saw just now...”

“You mean the witches?” Katherine asked.

Gargoth nodded solemnly and took a deep breath to continue. “Yes, when women looked like that, they would be hunted and,” here he dropped his voice to a whisper so Katherine had to move her head very close to his, “burned at the stake!”

Katherine stared at Gargoth. Her smile slowly died, as it occurred to her for the first time that Gargoth’s experience of the world was very old indeed. And some of the things he must have seen were really scary and awful.

“Do you mean you saw witches burned at the stake?” she barely whispered.

Gargoth nodded again, his dark eyes solemn and very sad. “I saw more death than I cared to, Katherine. And the poor souls often looked like your Halloween witches...”

Despite his best efforts not to, Gargoth was remembering a terrible night in England, during the Burning Time. Black smoke and shouts of “Witch! Witch!” filled the air as he hid behind a church parapet, looking down into the burning field below him.
No
, thought Gargoth.
I cannot tell Katherine what I have seen.

Gargoth took a deep breath, cleared his mind and looked up at Katherine. He managed a weak half-smile. “It was truly terrible, Katherine. An awful, sad time when people turned against their neighbours and could accuse them and have them killed as witches with no reason, no proof. If a man said a woman was a witch, she was tried and very likely killed.”

They sat silently for some time. Katherine thought Gargoth’s world must have been very ugly, dangerous and dark for much of his life. She also realized that he didn’t know very much about her world at all.

She finally spoke. “There’s nothing to fear, Gargoth. We don’t burn people at the stake any more. I don’t think we ever did that in Canada. Here people are put in prison if they do something really bad. They can even get out of prison later on. I’m sorry you saw something awful and frightening like that. You’re safe here. Just stay in the backyard and you’ll be fine. I’ll tell Mom to come back to talk to you, okay?” She smiled what she hoped would be a reassuring smile and turned away.

She went back into the house to get ready for her night out with Sarah and Benjamin. For a while she couldn’t help feeling sad that Gargoth had been so frightened and upset by what he had seen. But Halloween was Halloween, and in the excitement she eventually forgot about the gargoyle and his fear. But it might have been better for everyone if she had remembered to mention to her mother that Gargoth was worried about witches and didn’t really know what Halloween was all about.

Around dinner time, Katherine’s mother walked her down to Sarah’s house and went over the rules with her.

“I know, Mom! No going into a house, no splitting up from Sarah and Benjamin, no eating anything until I bring it back and you check it out. I’ll be careful! ’Bye!” And with that, she sprinted up to Sarah’s door, waved to her mother, and vanished inside Sarah’s house.

Katherine’s mom walked slowly back down the street. As she glanced toward her own home, she thought she caught something out of the corner of her eye, vanishing around the side of her house.

“Must be Milly,” she thought and forgot about it. But she probably shouldn’t have.

Katherine and Sarah had decided to dress like rock stars, and Benjamin was going as a ghost. Around seven o’clock, Sarah’s mom couldn’t hold them back any longer and released the three kids to the street. They rushed down to the sidewalk, barely waving goodbye over their shoulders.

Their neighbourhood, being downtown with lots of houses and people, was the place to be! Almost every house had a pumpkin, and the candy was the best you could get. Chocolate bars, twizzlers, fat lollipops, chip bags, gum. No creepy caramels or cheap rockets in this neighbourhood!

The threesome set off down the street, jostling among the crowds of happy trick-or-treaters, grabbing their soon-to-be-bulging sacks at their sides.

Everything was ready to go at Katherine’s house. Her mom and dad always set up lawn chairs on the front porch, turned on creepy music inside the house, and opened the front window so it would lure trick-or-treaters up their street.

You should probably know that her parents also dressed up and sat perfectly still in the lawn chairs until kids came up the porch stairs. They usually waited until someone was reaching into the candy bowl on the table in front of them before they spoke, which of course usually got a scream or at the very least, a jump.

In fact, most kids in the neighbourhood grew up knowing that the Newberrys were sitting together behind the candy bowl and that the scarecrows or witches, or whatever was sitting there, were really them ready to pounce. Indeed, for most kids, it just wouldn’t be Halloween without the Newberrys giving them a good scare.

This year her parents had dressed as witches. They were pretty convincing, too. And they were also very good at sitting completely still, looking like statues.

The first children were beginning to come up the street, and the littlest ones, the bunnies and bees and adorable three-year-old clowns, were always first. Katherine’s parents stood up to welcome the first of the youngest kids (not wanting to scare anyone so young). A young dad, mom and baby angel were just starting up their walkway with happy, expectant looks when the baby screamed. The parents looked horrified and rushed past their house, shooting angry backward glances at Katherine’s parents.

“What did we do, Hank?” her mother asked her dad.

“I don’t know. Maybe we’re just too scary this year?” he answered. “Let’s tone it down a little.”

So they decided that for the littlest kids, they would take off their scary witch masks. They sat without their ghoulish faces, smiling and waving at their neighbours, encouraging everyone to come and take some candy.

But it made no difference. Even with them sitting there, plainly not witches or scary people, not one single child would come to their door. In fact, quite the opposite. People would begin walking up their path then suddenly screech to a halt and bolt back on to the sidewalk, to disappear back up the street.

Katherine’s parents were at a loss.

“I don’t get it. What’s wrong Marie?” Hank Newberry finally asked his wife.

“I don’t know. We turned off the scary music. We got rid of the scary costumes. We look normal enough, don’t we?” his wife answered.

With that, Katherine’s dad walked off the porch and headed down to the street to look at his house from the sidewalk. “Maybe it’s the skeleton,” he was saying as he turned to look at his house from the street. But then he stopped dead in his tracks.

It wasn’t the skeleton. It was Gargoth.

He was perched on the roof of the porch like a small eagle, squatting right above the lawn chairs where Katherine’s parents were sitting, and out of their sight, but he was plain enough to those on the sidewalk. When he saw Katherine’s dad, he spread his wings and flapped them lightly like a large, black bird might to straighten its feathers.

Hank’s jaw fell open. He looked quickly up and down the street. Luckily it was empty for the moment.

“Gargoth! What are you doing up there? Get down!” he yelled.

Marie rushed off the porch to stand on the sidewalk beside her husband. She covered her gasp with her hand. Then she said as calmly as she could, “Gargoth, you are supposed to stay in the backyard, remember? It’s really not okay for you to be frightening our neighbours like this. Please come down.”

Sulkily, Gargoth looked at Marie and said, “No. I must protect your home from the creatures which besiege it. This is what gargoyles do.”

“Please, Gargoth. You can’t stay up there,” her father continued. Just at that moment, some trick-or-treaters swung into sight around the corner of the street, happily laughing and swinging their candy bags. When they saw Katherine’s parents out on the sidewalk, they ran towards them.

“Hey, Mr. Newberry!” said one of Katherine’s school friends. Katherine’s parents were frozen to the spot. They didn’t know what to say. Katherine’s mother shot a quick glance up at Gargoth, who was glowering down at the children standing around her.

“Uh, we just ran out of candy kids, sorry,” said her father, thinking quickly. The children moaned and headed off down the street. While they were talking, Gargoth stood up as high as he could, and flapped his wings hard, in a threatening gesture, like an angry goose. Luckily, the children didn’t notice him.

“Gargoth, please come down,” Marie started again. “We won’t hand out any more candy, or anything. We’ll all go into the backyard where we’ll be safe, okay?”

Slowly, Gargoth nodded. “Yes, I will come down, if I do not need to protect your house any longer.” He waddled to the side of the porch and climbed carefully down the ivy to the ground, where he waited quietly. Katherine’s parents were quickly closing up the front of the house so it wouldn’t attract any more trick-or-treaters. They took down the skeleton and picked up the leg-in-a-bag, removed the pumpkin and candy, and untied as much of the spider web thread as they could. Then they all traipsed into the backyard, the garden gate clicking behind them.

That was why her house was dark and empty-looking when Katherine arrived home with Sarah’s mother an hour later. Usually her house was the last one to run out of candy, and the last pumpkin to go out for another year.

As she walked in the door, Katherine heard her mother saying, “He was protecting us, Hank. That’s what gargoyles do. They ward off evil and danger. He was doing what he thought he was supposed to do.”

“We could do that with a dog, Marie,” her father answered sourly.

Katherine let the door click shut behind her.

BOOK: The Gargoyle in My Yard
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