Short Story: A Death of Stone

As promised, the response to the 24-hour story challenge from New Year’s Eve.  I began writing at 10 pm, stopped at 1:45 am, and have made several finishing touches since.  I’m pleased with it.  I managed to incorporate some new techniques (which will be featured in upcoming blog posts), and I think the story works.  I look forward to seeing your thoughts, so critiques welcome.  Thanks for joining me.


A date in a haunted cathedral is not as fun as it sounds.  I still think someone should have told me that sooner.

Considering the date alone, nothing could be better.  Julie Brennan was the one girl who had recognized my clay statuette of Hades and matched it with a slavering Cerberus (no one else from the Greek mythos deserved Hades’ affection quite as much, she claimed).   Sculpture and mythology would have been enough for me, but then she had to go and be pretty.  Some people are like that.

As for the cathedral, neither of us could complain.  I liked the doors best.  From the entryway to the alcoves to the little door behind the altar where one could potentially access the bowels of the pipe organ— each one, no matter how tiny or hidden, held crenellations and statues to satisfy the greatest of admirers.  I sometimes imagined some tiny person, shrunk by the cathedral’s magic, crawling their whole life and never seeing the end of one of those crevices.  I pitied that depressed little cathedral-man.  But, someone had to be that guy, and I’m glad I got to stick with Julie.

But the haunted part…  Okay, it’s not really haunted.  The cathedral does things, and I can’t figure out if it’s supernatural because it’s holy or supernatural because it failed its How-To-Resist-Weird-Stuff class.  In any case, it seems less religious than most churches I’ve seen.  Most of that comes from its tendency to resurrect gargoyles.

Yes, I knew this before I brought Julie.

We stood side by side between the weary pillars of the nave.  In front of us, an army of the cathedral’s creations stood, badly proportioned and granite.  Behind us, the metal-rimmed wooden doors shuddered as the priest locked them from outside.  He hadn’t meant to lock us in— we had slipped into one of the back pews before he had gone.  I had done it many times before.

“Is this a prank or something?” asked Julie.  “Did the priest do this?”  The gargoyles were still, as if lifeless.  Usually they were much livelier.

“No prank,” I said.

Julie looked over her shoulder and squeaked.  “They’re behind us too.  The priest just— how did he not see them?”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “These are my friends.”

She blinked at me.  “Your friends?”

I stepped forward.  “It’s okay, everyone.  I brought a friend.  She’s like me.”

Grond raised an eyebrow.  Tall and winged, he impressed people with his long, angled face even as a statue.  And unlike many of his friends, he enjoyed the attention.  “If you think she’s like you, I think we need to have a long conversation about biology.”

“Oh god.  Oh godohgod.”  Julie’s eyes were wide, her hand pressed to her mouth.  “What’s it doing?”

I am speaking,” Grond replied.  He bowed to her, stretching out his wings to either side.  Viter, Grond’s aide and makeup artist, had to duck to avoid them, pressing his belly to the dusty floorstones to keep from destroying his own work.  “Welcome to our home.”

Julie turned in a slow circle, knuckles pressed to her chin as if to keep her teeth from chattering.  She took in all of them.  Eyepatch, so-called because of his knack for getting pigeon guano in his left eye; Amest, the cheese connoisseur, despite her inability to swallow; Just-Add-Water, who managed to burst into tears at the slightest provocation.  I named him that, and he seemed proud of the name— at least, I think that’s what the weeping meant.

Julie completed her circle, eyes landing on me again.  She blinked, seeming to realize I wasn’t a gargoyle, but also that I wasn’t quite normal, either.  Perhaps this wasn’t the best place to take her.  But after the movies and the deep-dish pizza parlor, this seemed like the only thrilling, adventurous place left.

“Sorry,” I said.

She bolted.  First she ran for the door, tugging at the handle, but it was locked from the outside.  She pounded on it.  No one answered— the priest was gone.  She whirled, catching sight of me again, and ran for the balcony stairs, hidden in the shadows to one side of the door.  I heard her footsteps echoing between her choking sobs.

“Thanks, Grond.”

“I don’t understand— I was magnificent.  Viter brushed my wings earlier.”  Grond gave a sniff to his under-wing as Viter sniffed the other side.

Just-Add-Water burst into tears.

***

I found Julie sitting on a windowsill, in a hidden balcony high above the pipe organ.  It had taken me months to find it when Eyepatch and the others decided to play hide-and-seek.

“My family comes here for mass,” said Julie.  The windowsill was wide enough for her, but she still huddled close to the glass, forehead pressed against it.  All was dark outside the cathedral, or she would have looked a lovely shade of blue.  “I’ve seen those… things every time I come.  I admire their sculpting, the time the artist must have spent on them, and what a pity it is that weather keeps destroying them.  Except they can come inside whenever they want.”  She looked at me.  “How long have you known?”  She didn’t look rational— if she was rational, she would have still been screaming.

“I got locked inside once,” I said quietly.  “A friend told me the holy water had magic powers if you got it after dark, except that the priest locked the doors before I could leave.  I was afraid to shout for help, so I slept on a pew, and Grond found me.  He’s the big one with wings.”

“The glorious one with magnificent wings,” said a voice from the shadows.

“Grond, buzz off,” I snapped.  Something flapped away into the darkness.  Moments later, the pipe organ played a rude noise.

“Why do they exist?” asked Julie.  “Stone can’t live.”

“Something about the cathedral, I think,” I said.  “I haven’t looked into it at other places, but I don’t think it’s too common.”

Julie’s laugh was frozen, falling out and lying there.  “I think someone would have noticed.  God, it’s cold.”  It didn’t sound like a statement of fact as much as a complaint.  Her jacket seemed thin, but outside the night had been balmy.  I couldn’t help myself; I shivered too.

“Listen, I’m sorry for bringing you here.”

“It’s okay, I just…”  She pulled her head away from the window and blinked.  “Talking gargoyles.  Talking— oh, god.  Why would you bring me here?”  She swung her legs off the windowsill and stood.  I stepped back, but stopped against the rail of the balcony.

“No new movies?” I suggested.

She turned away, walking to the window.  “I’m dreaming.  Hallucinating.  Did you drug me?”  She whirled on me and I started, almost falling backward over the railing.

“I didn’t,” I protested.  “I’m sorry, Julie, but these things are real.”

Neither of us had been speaking softly.  We had an audience, climbing up the pipe organ and down the stained-glass windows.  Stone grated as Eyepatch tried to wipe his left eye clean.

“I don’t think my dad warned me quite enough about dating weird guys,” muttered Julie.

***

“I shouldn’t have brought her here,” I said, pacing back and forth in front of the pipe organ.  Julie was still on the balcony— she could be listening, but I didn’t care.  I had already failed enough tonight that anything more might make it better, not worse.

“Probably not,” said Grond.  He sat on the organ bench, facing the wrong way if he was going to play anything.  His wings were stretched out at least fifteen feet from end to end.  Viter stood on the organ, preening for him.  The little gargoyle had a weird enthusiasm for the job that I wasn’t sure Grond even understood.  He expected it, but he didn’t understand it.

“She’s a really great person.  I’ve asked her out a couple times before, and she’s always liked architecture, and sculptures, and legends and stuff— I thought she’d love you.”

“That’s the usual reaction,” said Grond.

“I guess she isn’t ready for something like this,” I said, sighing.

“Who is ever ready?”

I blinked at him.  “I was.  You showed yourselves to me almost immediately that first night.”

“And you spent about three hours screaming once I did,” said Grond.  “But you were also a child then, and children do not remain frightened for long when faced with beauty.”

“I still think you’re stretching the definition, calling it beauty,” I said.

“The point remains,” said Grond.  “You’re trying to introduce this girl to something she’s never seen before— something the world tells her cannot exist.  For a child, unlearning and relearning your knowledge is simple.  She is not much of a child.”

I chewed my lip.  Viter slipped on the organ and accidentally sat on one of the keys, shattering the serenity of the cathedral.  It echoed and died eventually, but in a place like this, sounds lasted longer than old gods.

“If you’re not convinced, I suggest we have that biology talk,” said Grond.

“Okay, okay, she’s not a child,” I said, face flushing.  I hoped Julie hadn’t heard that.  “That explains her reaction, but what do I do about it?  The doors are locked.  We can’t go home until the priest opens up in the morning.”  I rubbed my forehead.  “I really didn’t think this through.”

“Do you want her to go home?”

I shook my head, but shrugged as well.  “I can’t tell.  I wanted her to see all of you, but I think she should.  Go, I mean.  But…”  I sighed.  What could I do?

“I can get her home.”

“There’s a way out?”  I had only ever used the doors, but the cathedral was old.  It could hide any number of crypts or secret tunnels.

“Grond, no,” said Viter.  Hearing him speak against anything Grond said almost shocked me more than Julie’s reaction.  “You’ll harden.  You’ll never make it.”

I can get her home.  As if Grond was the only one who could.  I looked at him again, with his fifteen-foot wingspan, his powerful hind legs, his wide front claws.  He could get her home.

“You won’t make it,” repeated Viter.  He shook his preening brush at Grond.  “You’ll fall out of the sky!”

Grond met my gaze without flinching.  He knew what he was doing.  I swallowed, but nodded.  Julie had made it clear.

“I won’t make it back,” said Grond.  He snapped his wings closed, the bottom tips pressing an ominous chord on the foot pedals of the organ.  “But I can get her home.”

***

We used Divot’s head to break the window.  Because of time constraints and the sheer height of Divot’s placement in the cathedral, the sculptor had never finished carving him, giving him a beautifully proportioned body with a block of stone for a head.  Blind and mute, he nevertheless had the skills necessary to smash through the stained glass and metal frame.  Through the open space, I showed Grond the general direction of Julie’s house, far down the hill from the cathedral.  It would be a long flight.

I apologized to Julie again.  Once she knew it was the only way to get home, she clamped her mouth shut and let Grond wrap his talon-hands around her.  Shrugging his wings loose of Viter, who as a last effort tried to pin them shut, he stepped onto the windowsill.  Julie squeaked as he adjusted his grip.

Then he jumped and was just a black speck in the night, silhouetted once or twice against the lights of the city below.  I could already see his hind legs stiffening as he flew away from the cathedral.

Just-Add-Water wasn’t the only one sobbing, and he certainly wasn’t the loudest.

***

“I think you know what happens now,” said Julie.

I nodded.  Nothing for it.  “It was fun while it lasted.”

“Your gargoyle is still in my front yard.  Everyone thinks we were sculpting all night.”

“Would they believe anything else?”

She smiled, but I could tell she envied them.  Everyone else, that is.

“I think the school will put it in the art room, if I ask,” I said.  That would get it off her lawn, at least— help to erase some of the memories.

“You know,” she said after a while, “I understand why you brought me there.”

“That makes one of us,” I said.

“You wanted to test me,” she continued.  “You liked me, but you weren’t sure, so you wanted to see how I measured up to the people you loved.”

Oh.  “I—”

“It’s okay,” she said, leaning close to me.  “Cerberus was more family to Hades than Persephone ever could be.”

I pressed my knuckles against my lips, trying to hold it in.  “I think the others want to kill me,” I said at last.  “Grond was—”  Grond was everything he always claimed: he was magnificent.  Just, less in stonework and sculpture than in spirit and mind.

“Grond was family,” said Julie softly.  “The family you don’t have anymore.”  Still terribly close to me, she whispered, her breath hot against my ear.  “I think you know what happens now,” she repeated.

I blinked back the tingling in my eyes as she took my hand.

“This time, introduce me before anyone dies.”

Advertisements

30 thoughts on “Short Story: A Death of Stone

  1. Well done.
    You had me hooked from the first line. I enjoyed the humor and how you named all the gargoyles and gave them unique personalities, even the ones that didn’t really do anything in the story. I enjoyed the setting. I liked Julie and your MC-narrator. It was sad when Grond died, but not tearing up sad.

    The only a few things bugged me. The ‘oh god’-s (which is just personal preference and I do think the story needed that somewhat), and the ending, which I didn’t really understand. From “Grond was family” to the end, I was trying to figure out what you were actually saying between the lines. Basically, what was really going on. I have kind of an idea, but it’s fuzzy.

    Excellent work.

    1. Thank you.

      The ending was a tricky part, and I rewrote it a couple times, but I agree— I didn’t get it quite right. In a perfect world, I’d work on it some more, but I’m content with it for now. As for the ‘oh god’s, I kind of agree— it’s against my instincts to even have a character say that, but it was actually part of her character, so I felt it necessary. I didn’t really bring that part of it out, but still.

      Thanks!

  2. Great story! Love the humor (your humor always makes me laugh) and the gargoyles and the MC. The mirroring of the Hades/Cerberus thing at the beginning and the end was cool.

    And I didn’t see the end coming. I thought Julie would be freaked out and that would be the end of that. But she passed the test. That was cute.

    Nice work! I really enjoyed this.

    1. Okay, so I was thinking about this, and I pinpointed the exact sentence that made me like the MC at the start: “Sculpture and mythology would have been enough for me, but then she had to go and be pretty.”

      This line spoke to me because that is exactly the kind of thing I’d like a guy to say about me. “She’s awesome for this and this, and she’s pretty to boot.”

      Not sure if this feedback is at all useful, but I thought I’d say it anyway.

      1. I actually have a deep theory to prove why that resonated so much with you, but I have to post something I already have written before you’ll understand what I’m saying, so I’ll wait until then. (Just remember acronyms, and ask me when I mention them next.) Without that theory, however, I did have trouble with that line because it almost felt sexist. It sounds like Michael (that’s his name, although it doesn’t come up) feels entitled to a girlfriend. I’m not sure if that’s just me walking on eggshells or if that was something real.

        Thanks— that was indeed useful.

      2. Acronyms, okey doke. Lookin’ forward to it.

        Speaking as a girl (as opposed to, you know, an armadillo) who doesn’t know what your theory is yet, that line does NOT seem sexist. At all. I didn’t get a sense of entitlement, just that he values what’s in her head over what’s on her face, which I for one think is awesome.

        You’re welcome.

      3. Agreeing with Lily, I don’t think that line was sexist, either. It’s okay for a boy to think a girl is pretty (and under certain circumstances, he can even say it out loud). And I don’t see any entitlement in that, either. Except maybe… I think what you are thinking is sounding entitled is actually the thoughts of a boy who has considered what he would like in a girlfriend/potential wife. Which isn’t entitlement either. It’s just “you know, if I were going to have a girlfriend, I’d like her to be like this…” or “I already have this great friend who I’ve gone out with a couple of times. What do I like about her so much?” (not in a regretful way) and then he answers that question to himself. The latter half of that is a lot like when you read something that really clicks with you and then you try and figure out why… just not so you can replicate it.
        I’m rambling now. Going to post this…

  3. Great job! I thought Julie was going to break up with him at the end and was pleasantly surprised. And I really liked the imagery with the cathedral and gargoyles. The only thing I would say is that some parts were a little confusing and I had to reread them a few times to understand what you were saying, and it took me a few seconds to understand what happened after the last ***. But I can see how that part would be really difficult to put any differently, and I think the opener for that part went well. Overall it’s an awesome story and a really interesting idea, Quirk.

  4. *cries*
    Ouch… That was so sad. Yet another example of how Liam is brilliant… In less than 500 words, I already liked Grond, so I cried over him. Oh no… what if Grond is still mentally aware, just trapped in stone? I would like to see a sequel, of sorts, where the viewpoint character goes to the art gallery or whatever after it’s closed, just to talk to Grond, even though Grond can’t answer.

  5. Impressive work in 24 hours, Liam! I will say that I did write a story during the period (actually finished the draft right as 2015 began), but I wasn’t sure I liked it, so I didn’t post it. :/ Maybe that’s just an excuse for fear… I’m not exactly sure.

    Anyway, your story is great, though there are some places that could use a little work. First of all, the beginning was brilliant, but I had to read it a couple of times to make sense of it. Once I realize you were talking about an actual boy-girl date, I was immediately intrigued.

    I loved your characterization of the gargoyles; you explained so much about them in so few words, in part because of excellent names. 🙂 Grond was awesome. “I am speaking.” The parts about biology were great, too. *grins*

    There are a few places where the dialogue could be smoothed out, but those can be found easily enough, so I’ll let you do that. That being said, you have some excellent turns of phrase in this story. For example: “Sculpture and mythology would have been enough for me, but then she had to go and be pretty. Some people are like that.” I quite enjoy your writing style. 🙂

    The part that was hardest for me to believe was Grond’s choice to fly Julie out of the cathedral. I think it was consistent with what I know of Grond’s character, but I didn’t really feel the urgency that compelled him to take her home, sacrificing himself. Yes, I realize Julie was freaked out. But she couldn’t last until morning? No one really seemed to consider the possibility of making her as comfortable as possible for the night. Instead, they jumped to the most dramatic alternative. And the main character didn’t put up much of a fight. That just struck me as wrong, if he’s really as close to the gargoyles as he seems to be.

    One other note: Julie says at the end, “This time, introduce me before anyone dies.” He did introduce her to the gargoyles before Grond died, so that statement didn’t totally make sense to me.

    Nonetheless, this is an excellent story, Liam! It made me sad, but that proves you had me engaged. Your characters and setting were fabulous and intriguing, and your subtle use of humor is excellent. Good job!

    1. The challenge was meant to conquer that fear (and I’d accept a late submission), but I don’t mind. Thanks for trying.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. You bring up good points— there were definitely choppy places, since I didn’t get to do much of a micro-edit before publishing, but they’re easily fixed. I went through Grond’s choice a couple times to add that urgency, but I guess it didn’t quite stick. And the main character’s lack of refusal comes from his lack of knowledge of how much he actually cared for the gargoyles. And the ending was difficult and not as clear as it could have been. I really shouldn’t be explaining myself here, because I won’t have this chance for most readers. It’s something I need to fix, not something I need to explain. Unfortunately, it’s a short story and I won’t be spending the time to edit it further. Thanks for the input, though.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for reading.

      1. *laughs* I vaguely thought that myself when I saw all the italics. 😀

        The challenge was a great exercise, since I don’t write short stories nearly enough. And it was a lot of fun to be writing into the New Year, especially since my story ended with a countdown that was unintentionally timed almost perfectly to the actual countdown of 2014. Hehe.

        I can understand what you mean about not spending much more time on it. Short stories can be difficult to make yourself go back and make better, especially when there are other projects to work on. 🙂 I’m glad it was good feedback, though.

  6. Wow, I feel like I’ve abandoned WordPress for a while…But I come back to not only read a fantastic story by the Head Phil, but an icon change as well! Love the dramatic lighting, but I digress. This was a very well-written short story! I love that you gave all the characters depth and unique personalities in only a couple thousand words.

    1. I can’t blame you, about the icon. My face has nice metaphoric taste.

      Thanks. I have a post about that coming soon, if you care to stick around— if not, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Comment! I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s