Awaken From Your Granite Slumber by K.J. Watson

I rapped a tumbler on the mantel above the fireplace. The crowd in the hotel bar fell quiet.

“We’ve had three months of rain,” I said. “The foundations of our homes and businesses are sinking into the saturated earth. We need to lighten the load our properties bear. We must remove the granite gargoyles from them without delay.”

The barkeeper scowled. “Listen, Bridie, I don’t intend to disfigure our Gothic architecture on a winter’s night.”

People murmured their agreement. I shrugged and said, “Would you rather wake up tomorrow to a town that’s collapsed into the mud?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, I returned to my shop of curios and antiques on the other side of the square. Fifteen minutes later, through the noise of the rain, I heard the chink chink chink of steel chisels driven into stone.

They’ve taken my advice. It seems my status as the town’s oldest person commands respect after all.

I donned my rubberized cloak and left the shop. On every side, the residents of Glenbeck perched on ladders and hacked the gargoyles from the roofs and sandstone facades of the buildings.

“They’re heavy, Bridie,” a man said to me as he lowered a gargoyle from where it had jutted. “You could be right. If we jettison them, we might save our buildings.”

Another man waved to attract my attention. “Where should we put these things once we’ve taken them down?”

“In the square,” I said.

Within an hour, a heap of gargoyles had accumulated. The townsfolk congratulated each other and returned to the hotel bar to dry off by the log fire.

I didn’t join them. I wanted to study the gargoyles. Their features didn’t vary. They possessed identical taloned paws and part-opened wings. Each snarling face had its lips drawn back to reveal pointed teeth.

The crack of rupturing masonry interrupted my contemplation. I looked across at my shop and the apartment above it. The subsiding foundations had opened a vertical fissure down the front.

An abandoned ladder lay alongside an adjacent building. I dragged it along the sidewalk and heaved it up against my broken wall. Taking care not to slip on the wet rungs, I climbed to the edge of the roof. Here, a gargoyle protruded from beneath the gutter. Larger than those piled in the square, the beast flaunted swollen muscles across its body. Moreover, rather than snarl as the others did, it wore a malicious smile.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

The gargoyle didn’t move or speak.

I realized I’d forgotten how to proceed. I cursed my inefficient memory and hurried down the ladder. With one rung to go, I slipped and fell.

Bruised and bewildered, I staggered across the square to the hotel bar and thrust open the door. My distraught appearance, and the influx of cold into the snug atmosphere, disconcerted the drinkers.

The barkeeper stared at me. “Need something to warm you, Bridie? A port and brandy?”

I shook my head and peered behind the flushed faces of the townsfolk at the room’s paneled walls. The wood’s color and sheen reminded me of the coffin in which I’d buried my grandmother.

Of course—I must consult her book.

 “Have a drink, Bridie,” a woman said. “Help celebrate our salvation from subsidence.”

“No, I’ve something to do.”

I strode back to my shop and tried to switch on the light. Nothing happened. The collapse that had damaged the wall had cut off the electricity. I groped my way in the dark to a bureau and fumbled for a candle and matches. Lighting the candle, I went to a safe at the back of the shop. From inside, I produced a slim book.

I balanced the candle on a table and sat in a nearby armchair. With the book on my lap, I read aloud the embossed lettering on the cover: “The Glenbeck Gargoyles: Justified Retribution by Edith Wreak.”

Inside the book, on the first page, I read the words “Private Edition.” To my certain knowledge, they meant I held the only copy ever printed.

The second page had the following paragraph: “This book is an execration for your eyes only, Bridie Wreak. Its sentences are your guide. Through them, you can repay the town of Glenbeck for the way its residents reviled my thaumaturgic skills.”

I turned the pages that followed and scanned the predictions of the ceaseless rain, the descent into the ground of Glenbeck’s buildings, and the proposal for the removal of the gargoyles. I nodded and stared beyond the candlelight into the darkness of the shop.

“We’ve waited a long while for all this to happen, grandmother,” I said. “And because I don’t have your memory and resilience, I’ve failed to recollect what I must do next. But your words will instruct me.”

I continued reading. Once I’d finished, I parted my cloak and slipped the book into a pocket. By the light of the candle, I wended my way through the shop’s furniture and display cabinets. Easing behind a desk, I pushed aside a faded tapestry that hung on the wall and opened the door behind it.

Ice-cold air enveloped me. Gripping a rickety handrail, I went down a flight of wooden stairs to a cellar. At the bottom, I bent over and examined the floor. The concrete that formed part of the building’s foundations had split. Jagged openings zigzagged across it.

Setting the candle down, I picked up a crowbar from a shelf and hit the concrete. I struck blow after blow. Eventually, the floor succumbed and broke into pieces. Lifting these to one side, I exposed a trench in which a coffin lay. I raised the crowbar and hit the lid. It disintegrated.

I dropped the crowbar and knelt. Wincing from my exertion, I reached into the gloom of the coffin’s interior. My hands found what I sought. With a wrench, I freed the object and held it up. In the glimmering light, I saw my grandmother’s head.

She’s almost the same as the day she passed sixty years ago.

Gripping the head and the candle, I ascended the stairs to the shop and went outside. The rain extinguished the candle. I dropped it and, with one hand clamped on my grandmother’s head, scaled the ladder. Leaning against the rungs to steady myself, I placed the head in the concave space between the gargoyle’s talons and chin.

“You are Torva,” I whispered, “companion of my grandmother and leader of the town’s gargoyles. Awaken from your granite slumber.”

Torva’s eyes closed. When they opened a moment later, they shone like garnets lit from within. Torva then tossed my grandmother’s head into the square below. It fell just short of the heap of discarded gargoyles.

I turned toward the hotel bar. The patrons had stumbled into the wet night. Some held umbrellas; others had torches. The barkeeper emerged behind them.

“Time to go home,” she said and squinted in my direction. “Is a person on that ladder?”

I remained still. The barkeeper shielded her eyes against the rain and moved clumsily forward.

“You up there, Bridie?”

Torva placed a restraining paw on my shoulder.

“What’s going on?” the barkeeper said. “Did I see that gargoyle move?”

The townsfolk in the square looked in my direction.

“Yes,” I said.

The barkeeper took another step and hit her foot against a sphere the size of a child’s football. She directed a torch at it and gasped.

Even the most inebriated among the crowd stood still and gawked at the object caught in the torch’s light: my grandmother’s battered head.

“Place it on the pile of gargoyles,” I said.

Taken aback by my harsh tone, the barkeeper scooped up the head and threw it onto the mound of inanimate beasts. Immediately, each pair of gray eyes blinked and revealed red orbs of startling brightness.

“We’re in trouble,” someone said in a drunken slur.

Such were the last words I heard any Glenbeck resident speak. Torva ripped herself from the mortar that had kept her in place and jumped down onto the barkeeper. This violence prompted the other gargoyles to leap up and hurl themselves at the other townsfolk.

From the ladder, I witnessed a murderous scene that my grandmother had wished for in her book. At the same time, the rain grew in ferocity. The rate at which the town’s buildings sank into the ground increased. My ladder jolted and slipped. I lost my hold. As I tumbled off, I felt talons seize my arms before I lost consciousness.

I came to the next morning. Struggling to my feet, I became aware of the silence. For the first time in three months, the rain had ceased. I gazed at the scene around me. The town had gone, apart from a weathervane that rose from the mud at an oblique angle.

Patting the book beneath my cloak, I said, “So be it.”

A dove landed on the weathervane and shook itself. While I watched the bird, Torva approached and led me away from the site of the town into the countryside. The Glenbeck gargoyles followed. I didn’t know where Torva would lead us—my grandmother had written nothing about the aftermath of the town’s disappearance—but I noticed that the features of every gargoyle had softened into a shared expression of glee.

Picture of K.J. Watson

K.J. Watson

K. J. Watson’s fiction and poetry has appeared on the radio, in comics, magazines, anthologies, and online.

Leave a Reply