Beltane or Samhain - it depends on where in the world you live?
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
And today it is one of those - May day in the north and the spooky Samhain in the southern latitudes.
To celebrate here's a short story about unlikely friendships, flying on a rescue mission with an unusual ally and graveyards - I hope you enjoy - Monsieur
The lock was old and rusty, she carefully inserted the iron key, its edges were jagged, they scraped her fingers as she gently twisted it into the latch. She listened intently to the mechanism clicking, the sound was almost inaudible and then the door opened. She slipped in and began climbing the spiralling staircase, up and up, she could feel the rough stone against her arm. Finally she was at the top, she moved the handle of the door and stepped onto the rooftop. It had been a while since she had been here and visited her old friend.
She walked carefully to the edge of the balustrade and around the corner she saw him sitting in his usual position overlooking the university, it was late afternoon and the western sun illuminated his back. The stones and the roof tiles reflected a golden hue. She walked over and stood quietly beside him, putting her bag down near her feet. The university was nearing the end of the day and most of the students, the staff and lecturers were leaving the campus. He didn’t turn his head but she knew he was aware of her presence.
“It’s been a while.” His voice was low, gravelly.
“Yes, I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you,” she replied quietly.
“You’ve been busy I’ve noticed, a new boyfriend or two.” She detected a slight tone of humour in his pebbly vocals.
“No boyfriend, just friends and classes and lots of essays.” She looked at his face, stone-like and without expression. “They have also locked the door and it took me a while to find where the key was kept. It’s different these days, not so easy to come up here anymore. There’s more security now.”
He turned his head and looked at her. His hooded eyes twinkled and he almost smiled, his brown face catching the slanting sunbeams glowed like warm sandstone.
“I have missed you, Monsieur, I would have come sooner if I could.”
“I have all the time in the world, but I did enjoy our talks. Was there any particular reason that you have come today?”
Naomi looked over the edge. From above the grounds had a planned geometry to them, the lawns and the pathways radiated out from the great hall like spokes of a wheel. The people seemed so small and insignificant, the cars tiny like toys, the trees like green candles on a cake. Naomi turned and looked at her friend, his hands clasped the stonework, the feathery sandstone of his wings quivered in the breeze, his large ears twitched.
“I have a sister, Monsieur, she is younger then me, sixteen. We fight like all sisters do; she steals my clothes and uses my perfume. Two days ago she took a necklace that was really special to me, it belonged to my grandmother and she knows that I treasure it more than anything. I caught her wearing it and we had this huge argument. I said things to her which I shouldn’t have said but I was so angry.”
“She has run away. My parents are upset. We have looked everywhere but it’s like she has disappeared. It’s all my fault Monsieur.” Naomi’s voice cracked and her eyes welled with tears.
Monsieur Marbledark turned to Naomi and contemplated her, noting the changes on her face since he had last seen her. A breeze caught her curly red hair blowing it around her face, obscuring her features like a flag curling around its pole.
“There will be a price. Are you willing to pay that price?” The gargoyle’s mouth became serious.
Naomi reached down into her bag.
“I haven’t forgotten,” she said, pulling out the packet of honey soy chicken chips, “the first payment.”
“Oh yes, my favourite,” Monsieur reached the packet and immediately opened it and began eating the chips loudly and with relish. “I forgot how good these taste. Manna of heaven indeed.”
Naomi smiled for the first time in days watching her friend so obviously enjoying his snack.
“Tell me about your sister. Do you have a portrait of her?”
“Her name is Lucy. I printed a photo that was taken a few weeks ago.” Naomi passed it over.
“She doesn’t look much like you does she?” The gargoyle observed. “Straight dark hair and her features are much prettier.”
“Thanks.” Naomi said, recalling his bluntness, but he was the way he was and at least he always spoke the truth.
The sun had sunk further and now the rooftop was in shadows. A raven flew past, its inky wings flapping loudly; it was so close Naomi could see its sharp eye amidst the ebony plumage, observing her and her strange companion. Monsieur Marbledark finished the snack and snarled at the raven, enjoying startling the big bird.
“Tonight I’ll fly. It’s been a while, but these old creaky wings should get some exercise at least once in a century. I’ll visit some old friends, put the word out. See what information I can find.”
“Come back tomorrow afternoon, same time.”
“You’ve already thanked me.” The stone creature looked over at Naomi and for a brief moment smiled. His ugly face looking even more distorted.
“Now go. I need to plan my night.”
Naomi shut the bedroom door and crawled on her bed, burying herself in the pillow and wanting to cry. The evening had been tense; the whole house seemed to radiate unspoken fears and accusations. The policewoman assigned to the case was talking to her parents when she had arrived home, her mother had snapped at her for being later than usual. There was no new information. Her mother sat crumpled and silent in the lounge chair with the phone lying beside her, her father made some toasted sandwiches which no-one ate, they sat on the table, cold and hard like forgotten cheese.
Naomi pulled aside the curtains and unlatched the window, letting the breezes swirl in. She could hear a frog croaking and the swish of wings, she could almost make out the shape, large and batlike, a flying fox looking for some nectar. She wondered if Monsieur Marbledark looked like a bat when he flew, is that what people would think he was, a large bat?
She wondered if his wings swished, she wondered where he was and where Lucy was. Her heart and stomach ached; anxiety crawled around her body like a caterpillar creeping under her skin leaving her feeling edgy.
Think of happier times, she thought, think about anything else but Lucy. She remembered when they had first moved here and she had started spending afternoons in her father’s office at the University, his rooms were located in the older buildings and she had begun exploring the halls and forgotten staircases.
One afternoon she had found herself on the roof and chosen a spot where she could easily see over the edge and watch the world underneath her, it was peaceful and although the afternoon was crisp, she was wearing a coat and she half fell asleep into a fantasy of being a princess in her tower.
She was awakened from her reverie by a deep voice, got you now, it said and a strange laugh chuckled over the balustrade sounding like rocks rolling down a tin roof. She looked around but there was no one.
Then she noticed something at the edge of roof, a stone hand clutched a rigid pigeon, the bird’s eyes blinked in terror, and as she followed its gaze, she looked at the profile of a strange stature. She stood up and walked closer, the head swivelled, and she looked into the ugliest face she had ever seen; large pointy ears, a round forehead, deep-set eyes that were almost human, a large animal-like snout with a predator’s sharp teeth.
A demon face.
What are you doing with that bird; she had managed to ask even though she had felt as scared as it was possible. He had laughed, giving it a lesson, he had murmured, and then he had opened his hand and the bird had flown away in a flurry of feathers.
He looked her over, interesting he had said, you can hear me, you must be a little bit special, what is your name human child?
So began the strange friendship of Monsieur Marbledark, an ancient creature of carved rock, and Naomi, a teenage girl. She fell asleep remembering his droll jokes.
She quietly closed the rooftop door and approached the gargoyle, he turned and nodded, she stood expectantly.
“I have news. She is with the angels.”
Naomi felt fear climbing up her torso. “I don’t understand.”
“She is at the cemetery.”
Naomi felt herself falling and the weirdest sound came out of her mouth, a keening sob.
“She’s dead,” she rocked on her knees, tears streaming down her face.
Monsieur Marbledark looked at her astonished. “Why would she be dead?”
“She’s not dead.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She’s with the Stone Angels, at the cemetery.” He said softly. “She is being recruited.”
“The Stone Angels recruit young girls to join their ranks. That is how they increase in number. I don’t know the details but it seems she is with them and is undergoing some sort of initiation.”
“Let me get this straight,” Naomi stood up glaring at the gargoyle, “she is with statues, angel statues and she is being recruited, why?”
“So she can become one of them. So she can become an angel.”
“She must have your gift of being able to communicate with the Atacamites, she must seem like a perfect candidate, alone, sad, feeling unwanted, ready for a change. We need to bring her home before it’s too late.”
“She will become as they are if she stays with them any longer. She will become stone and there is no way to bring her back then.”
“They are evil?”
“Not particularly, no worse than you or I.” His crystalline eyes twinkled. “Good and bad exist in all creatures, flesh or stone. Tonight we must get her back, time is limited.”
“Return here when it is dark and you will fly with me to the cemetery.”
Naomi gasped. “Fly with you?”
“Will you stop repeating everything I say!” He snapped. “You will need to bring some objects that Lucy will identify with, things that will make her remember home and reignite the desire to return.”
“What sort of objects?”
He looked at her enigmatically. “I’m sure you can decide what is best.” His voice was kind.
Naomi climbed up the staircase feeling her way; outside there was lighting from the campus and a quarter moon. She approached the gargoyle. He wasn’t in the usual position, he had moved onto the roof.
“Hurry,” he called, “climb on, we must leave.”
Naomi clambered onto the roof and then awkwardly onto his back, he felt rough and grainy but surprisingly warm, like sunbaked bricks, she hadn’t expected that. She wrapped her arms around his thick neck and then he pushed himself off and his wings began to flap, slowly, languidly and soundlessly.
She felt the inside of her stomach drop; she closed her eyes and hung on. His body rolled slightly with each beat of his wings and as she began to get used to the motion she opened her eyes. She could see rooftops shimmering below her, she was glad it was dark, and there wasn’t much detail, Sydney spread out below her like glittering diamonds on black velvet. She felt she might be sick if she continued to look down so she stared ahead, concentrating on one bright star.
On they flew, once a plane came suddenly above them, it was descending and Naomi could see its underbelly and the wheels beginning to drop, it was so huge, seemed so close but it passed on.
Suddenly the gargoyle began dropping and Naomi could see the tree canopies and shadowy mausoleums, they landed with a thud on a gravel road and Naomi realised they had arrived in the cemetery.
She climbed down, it was strangely peaceful, Monsieur shook himself and to her surprise stood on his back legs and began walking along the path. He strode as he flew with a rollicking movement, he walked so fast Naomi had to run to catch up. He was tall, almost as tall as her but broader, stockier, she realised she had only ever seen him in his sitting position.
He led her along the path before heading around some old vaults, Naomi stared, there seemed to be something missing, empty pedestals stood lonely, with a chill she realised there were no statues anywhere. Dwelling-like crypts stood in rows looking like small terrace houses, the gargoyle led her along till they reached one very large crypt and then he stopped.
A shape stood before the doorway, very tall and stately, womanly. Long hair cascaded down her back. She turned as they approached.
“Well if it isn’t Socrates’ pet,” her voice was like liquid marble, treacly and opulent, streaky with malice. “It’s been a millennium or two since we last met.”
“Medusa, I didn’t realise you were in town,” The gargoyle spoke very softly,
There was a sharp intake of something like a breath.
“I always wondered what he thought you were, did he think you were just a large dog perhaps?” Spite and scorn swirled together in her marble voice.
Her face was marvellously cold and extremely lovely.
“There was nothing wrong with his perception, he knew exactly what I was. As a descendant of Daedalus, his family understood the essence of stone well.”
Naomi looked at Monsieur and wondered how old he really was, ancient it seemed. She looked at Medusa and shivered, surely she wasn’t really Medusa, no snakes coiled around her head but Naomi felt she was extremely dangerous.
Medusa turned and climbed the steps and entered the crypt, Monsieur and Naomi followed, two stern angels with swords guarded the entrance but allowed them to pass. Inside the room was crowded with beautiful young girls holding candles, long hair streamed down their backs, most wore long gowns, some had large creamy wings, all were deathly, stony white. Their faces were exquisite, unearthly, and strangely similar. They parted letting Medusa pass, a queen among her acolytes, and as they did Naomi could see Lucy sitting on a tomb.
“Lucy.” She screamed.
A hundred stony eyes turned in her direction. Medusa smiled.
Lucy stared blankly into the distance. Naomi pushed past and ran to her sister. Lucy was wearing a long white robe and her hair was plaited with flowers. She looked fragile and vulnerable.
“Lucy it’s me, Naomi. Your sister.”
She grabbed Lucy’s hand; it was cold and as smooth as glass.
The gargoyle was behind her, like some bodyguard. “Talk to her, show her the things you brought, make her remember.” He murmured.
Naomi pulled the bag off her shoulder and began rummaging in it, pulling out trinkets, objects, some of them falling onto the tomb in her haste. Behind her she could hear Medusa laughing, the sound as chilly as a polar night.
“Foolish girl. Foolish beast.”
Monsieur Marbledark snarled at the room. “Leave her be, vacant empty vessels, so jealous of life, of warmth that you need to drain every last drop of it away. Heartless stone creatures.”
“What are you then, beast of the earth?” Medusa sneered.
“Of the earth yes, but not as you are, I have fire in my veins not ice. I was forged deep in the womb of the mother, created with magma, I can feel unlike you.”
“How enlightened you have become, ugly misshapen monster, did your master teach you that?”
“He knew beauty didn’t equate with goodness. He knew what you really were; he was always able to see through you, fallen muse. That’s why you hated him so, why you hated his humanity. Hate all humanity.”
Naomi was stroking Lucy; she thrust a dirty brown teddy bear into Lucy’s arms, along with a framed photograph. Draped a red velvet jacket over Lucy’s shoulders all the while muttering. She pinned a brooch onto Lucy’s dress, the fabric felt strange, hard and stiff. The fragrant scent of vanilla and mandarin floated up from the fine mist she sprayed. Finally she pulled a gold necklace with a dainty heart rimmed with tiny opals that twinkled green fire. She fastened it around Lucy’s neck.
“You know this necklace, Luce, its Granny’s, it’s special but I want you to have it. I thought it was important but it’s not. It’s not as important as my sister, that I love, that I miss, that I want back.” Naomi began crying, her tears falling onto Lucy’s neck, hot wet drops like monsoon rain.
There was a tinkling sound like icicles falling, and Lucy turned. “Naomi. Naomi is that you?” Naomi hugged Lucy and pulled her to her feet. She seemed dazed, disorientated.
“Time to go.” Monsieur said. “Let us pass. She can choose to leave and you cannot stop her. That is the law.”
Medusa lifted her arm, her face stretched into a grimace of loathing, and a path formed between the angels.
“You never understood the power of the heart. The power of love to tip the balance.” Monsieur said.
The two statues stared at each other, one beautiful, one ugly, one hot, one cold. Who would have thought stone could be so different?
Outside Naomi helped Lucy climb onto the gargoyle’s back. She held her as they lifted up into the night sky. Lucy lay against Monsieur’s head and seemed to sleep. Naomi was glad to feel her sister’s body warm and soft again and relieved to be leaving the cemetery and the sinister angels who had gathered to watch their departure.
She leaned closer and whispered into Monsieur Marbledark’s ear.
“Is she really Medusa?”
The gargoyle chuckled warmly. “No just a wannabee.”
originally published Three Crows Press - Morrigan eZine Issue 1 - December 2008