Authors: Philippa Dowding
Tags: #Ages 9 & Up
The Gargoyle in my Yard
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
For Sarah and Ben,
who have a gargoyle of their own
The year is 1604. It is a long time before our story takes place.
A tall, thin man wearing a long, dusty cloak stands up from his work and surveys the green English countryside before him. It is not his country, but he appreciates that it is a beautiful place nonetheless. He brushes his hands upon his cloak, trying to remove some of the dust. He is covered in dust. Dust is everywhere. In his hair. In his nose and mouth. In the creases of his hands and eyes. This is because he is a stonemason; he works all day long fitting stone together to make buildings and bridges and churches.
Today he is putting the last touches on the restoration of a very old English church. He has been working here for five years, and he will miss this lovely place. There are rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, beautiful old chestnut trees everywhere, and a very pretty little river running beside the church courtyard. The river runs past an ancient statue of a lion, with a regal mane and fierce stone eyes.
As the stonemason stands looking over the small church parapet onto the peaceful countryside he will soon be leaving, he strokes a small statue. He has just created this little statue, something he does at the end of every job he completes. It is his signature. And this statue is his new favourite of all the many, many statues he has carved in his long and illustrious career.
It is a little gargoyle with folded wings and a pouch at its side, perched freely and looking over the churchyard and fields below. As the stonemason pats the gargoyle one last time and turns his back to the church forever, the gargoyle gives a small shudder. And breathes at last.
A New Statue
Katherine looked at her homework piled up on the kitchen table.
“Too much to do,” she thought and took another bite of her apple. She munched slowly looking out the kitchen window.
A beautiful fall day was happening outside, without her.
The maple tree against the back fence was glorious with orange, yellow and red leaves gently fluttering to the ground. The warm sun shone on the still-green grass. The fall flowers were in full bloom, and her favourite flowers of all, her mother’s award-winning New England Asters, were showing their pretty purple faces to the world.
Her mother and father were really proud of their fall flowers and had the awards to prove how beautiful they were. Katherine had grown up around flowers and knew many of their Latin names: the New England Asters were called “symphyotrichum novae-angliae”.
She sighed, tapping her pencil on the table, and took another stab at math problem #6. She read: “Mr. Henry has 3,335 nails and 170 boards to nail onto the fence. If he uses 16 nails for every two boards, how many nails will he use in all? Bonus: How many nails remain unused?”
“Uggh,” she said out loud and decided to walk outside to clear her head. She grabbed her apple and said “Come on, Milly,” to the pretty calico cat. She let the screen door slam behind her as she escaped the dull world of Mr. Henry and his nails and boards.
Katherine went and sat on the backyard swing, slowly dragging her feet in the grass, the maple leaves falling on her long hair. Her green eyes took in a little statue sitting nearby.
The new garden gargoyle had his back to her a few feet away, with his head in his hands and his wings folded tightly behind his back. He was one of the many garden ornaments Katherine’s parents kept in their tiny backyard.
He looked as though he was thinking hard about something. He was sitting on a small pedestal made of stone which had once belonged to a goddess statue, now long gone. This little gargoyle was brand new to their garden, and he was now her favourite.
There were plenty of statues to choose from. Even though their backyard was small, it was definitely full of interesting things to look at. You might say her parents, well, her mother really, were statue-freaks. And they gardened constantly. For such a small piece of land, her father liked to say their backyard got more attention than Casa Loma.
Their garden already had six statues: a little faun with the body and face of a man and the legs of a goat; a small cherub with an angelic, baby face, perfect wings and a little harp; three bearded, pointy-hatted dwarves; and a water fountain with a unicorn in the middle. The water splashed out of the unicorn’s long, curly horn.
But she liked the gargoyle the best. He had a thoughtful sort of face (for a gargoyle) and folded wings that looked leathery and real. He also had a small pouch at his side, bulging with something she couldn’t make out.
Katherine wondered what a gargoyle would keep in a pouch like that?
“What do you have in that pouch, Mr. Gargoyle?” she asked. Katherine was reading
in school and wondered if the gargoyle was anything like a goblin. “Do you have some snails, and wet string and a sharp stone to gnaw? Why I bet ...” she was going to go on, but stopped when she heard her mother call from the kitchen.
“Hi, Katherine! I’m home...”
“Hi Mom!” she yelled back and hopped off the swing. She ran past the gargoyle, dropped her half-eaten apple in the grass, stroked Milly, who was sunning herself on the porch, and disappeared back into the house with a slam of the screen door.
Katherine didn’t see what happened next, but Milly did.
Slowly, a small, leathery claw reached out and closed around the apple Katherine had dropped. The gargoyle was hungry.
The Sign of
the Broken Dwarf
That night when Katherine was brushing her teeth, she remembered to ask her dad something.
“Hey Dad, when did we get that new gargoyle?” she yelled down the hall, through foamy toothbrush spit. She spat it out.
“Gargoyle? What gargoyle?” he asked, sounding puzzled as he walked into the bathroom. Her dad was really tall and skinny, with frizzy white hair that made him look kind of like a clown, especially when he was wearing his pajamas as he was now. Her dad was a high school science teacher, and his students liked to call him “Einstein” because he looked a little like that famous scientist.
“Don’t tell me your mother bought another garden statue?” he moaned. “What is it this time?”
“A gargoyle. He’s really cute, too. For a gargoyle, I mean. And he’s real-looking. You know? I mean, you can tell the faun, and the cherub and the dwarves aren’t real. And the unicorn is really pretty fake-looking. But the gargoyle has this look on his face, like he’s thinking about something really hard. Or maybe he’s a little sad. And he’s got a pouch bulging with something, but you can’t see inside.”
Katherine got quiet. “Yeah. He really does look sad about something.”
Her dad laughed. “You must have been looking at him pretty hard. I hope he doesn’t get into any fights with the dwarves! Gargoyles and dwarves are sworn enemies, you know. They’ll fight over nothing and hold grudges for ever. Or almost for ever.”
He smiled, leaned down and kissed her on the top of her head.
“G’night, honey. Sleep tight, sweet dreams, don’t let the gargoyles bite!” he teased.
“G’night Dad.” Katherine yawned as she headed down the hall.
Katherine’s bedroom was at the back of the house, closest to the backyard. The tree branches outside her window played a slow game of tag with each other in the gentle night breeze. Katherine sighed and snuggled deep under her covers, glad to be cozy in her own bed, drowsy and happy, ready for sleep.
But she didn’t sleep well that night at all. Katherine had fitful dreams of something, or someone, screaming and fighting outside her window. At one point it was as though a lost night creature was banging the tops of the garbage cans together and yowling at the moon.
A few times she dug her head deeper into her pillow and fell back to sleep. Once she rolled over and mumbled “stupid raccoons” before jamming her favourite stuffed bear over her ear to block out the noise.
Milly spent all night sitting in Katherine’s bedroom window, looking out into the backyard and growling gently to herself. Once in a while her tail twitched slightly, but otherwise she looked still as a statue. She was watching something very intently.
The next morning, Katherine woke up late for school, tired from a bad night’s sleep. When she ran downstairs to grab some breakfast before dashing out the door to school, she didn’t even think twice when her mom asked her, “Do you know how the garbage can lids got all over the backyard? Or how one of the dwarves got his nose broken off?”
“Stupid raccoons, they were fighting all night long. Bye!” And Katherine was gone.
After such a bad sleep, it wasn’t a great day for Katherine.
She misplaced her math book and got in trouble with Mrs. Glean three times, which meant her name went up on the board with a frowning face above it. No matter how hard Katherine tried to get her name and frowny face erased, they stayed there all day.
At three thirty, Mrs. Glean asked her to stay for a few moments to “chat”. Katherine had never been asked to stay after school before, except for good things like band practice or to help the little kids get their snowsuits on.
It wasn’t that Mrs. Glean was a terrible teacher; in fact, she could be quite helpful and knew a lot about important things, but she always had a cup of coffee in her hands. There was nothing Katherine liked less than stale coffee-breath.
“Katherine,” she started, “are you having problems concentrating today for some reason?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, if there is some problem you want to talk about, please feel free to discuss it with me. Your math book will probably turn up, so don’t worry about that. But you weren’t really yourself today... Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine,” Katherine said. “We just had a loud raccoon fight going on in the backyard last night, and it was hard to sleep, so I’m a little tired today.”
“Okay,” Mrs. Glean smiled, “that’s fine. Let me know if you need extra help with anything.”
That was that. Katherine breathed out and slipped out behind the teacher while she was talking to someone’s mother.
Katherine’s own mother was waiting for her in the car outside the school.
“Hey, Mom,” Katherine said as she slid into the back seat and slammed the door.
“Hello, Katherine.” Her mother looked in the rear-view mirror at her daughter as she eased the car out on to Bloor Street.
It was Friday night, and they were heading to the shopping mall to buy Katherine some new runners and jeans. She’d had a sudden growth spurt, and all the new fall clothes they had bought for her just last month were already too small.
“You’re kind of late. Is everything okay?”
You’re the second adult to ask me that today
, thought Katherine. She said to her mom, “Yeah. I had to stay a little late because I lost my math book and was a bit scattered today. I didn’t sleep too well last night.”
“Well, because of the raccoon fight in the backyard, of course. It was so loud, I couldn’t sleep at all.”
Katherine’s mother was quiet for a minute.
“Raccoon fight? In the backyard? Oh...” Her mother’s voice suddenly grew cold.
She paused a moment, then demanded, “Katherine, are you sure that’s what it was? Did you actually see raccoons? Something dragged the garbage lids everywhere and broke the dwarf’s nose right off... I’m not sure raccoons...” her voice trailed off. She turned quickly to look at her daughter, and her eyes left the road a second too long.
“Mom, look out!” Katherine yelled. Her mother veered to miss the car coming toward them.
“Mom—what’s wrong?” she was worried now.
“Nothing,” her mother snapped. “I just don’t want to talk about the backyard right now. Let’s not discuss it.”
“Okay, okay. Sorry.”
They didn’t get a chance to discuss it again anyway, since at that moment they pulled into the mall parking lot and went shopping.
This is what they bought for Katherine:
1 new hooded sweatshirt, blue
2 new pairs of pants, one cord, one jean
1 new pair of running shoes, red with white stripes
It took forever to shop for Katherine. Everything had to be tried on and tried on again. Katherine knew her mother would have been just as happy to grab the first thing she saw that even remotely fit her then get out. But Katherine was more like her dad when it came to shopping. She had to find the right shoes, the right pants, the right sweatshirt. It took awhile.
That night at home, Katherine tried everything on again, then settled on her new cords and her cool red runners with the white stripes.
After dinner, she sat outside with Milly on the back porch for a little while to get used to her new clothes. Her mom and dad had their coffee out there too. It was a really warm night for mid-October, probably the last night of the year that they’d be able to sit outside together. It was really pretty, with the little Christmas lights running all around the back fence, and the moon-candles lit up here and there among the statues.
Flickering candlelight bounced off the deep chin of the cherub statue and made him look like he was laughing. The light made the unicorn look as though he was flashing his horn back and forth. The water falling from his horn into the pool around him made a gentle lapping sound.
It was very peaceful and serene.
Katherine took her new shoes off and felt the cooling grass between her toes. They chatted and her dad played some quiet guitar. When her parents went in, her mother said, “Five more minutes, Kath, then you come in too. Bring Milly in with you, I don’t want her out all night.” If Katherine didn’t know better, she’d have said her mother gave the backyard a quick, dark look.
“Sure, Mom,” she said and moved off the porch to the back of the yard to swing a little. Milly followed her.
She sat in the swing and listened to the sound of the city around her.
Someone was smoking a pipe nearby. Katherine wrinkled up her nose at the hot, strange smell. Nobody around here smoked. It was probably someone visiting a neighbour in another small backyard one or two houses away, but she didn’t like it.
A fire truck was screaming somewhere off in the distance. There was a police car too. The neighbour’s dog was barking. Katherine had to concentrate to hear him. She was so used to the sound of him barking that she didn’t really hear him any more. It was just background noise.
Suddenly something moved beside her. She jumped right off the swing onto her feet with her fists clenched.
Milly had disappeared into the bushes and came out growling.
“Milly, don’t scare me like that!” Katherine said.
As she said it, she thought she heard another noise, very quiet but distinct. It was like a little chuckle.
Who would be laughing at her? Everything was quiet now. Even the neighbour’s dog stopped barking.
“What the heck? What’s going on in there?” Katherine, who was a brave twelve-year-old, didn’t think twice about going into the bushes to check out the noise. She crept up to the bushes and quickly pulled them apart.
Her face broke into a smile. The gargoyle was sitting there.
“What are you doing in there?” she asked, surprised. “You shouldn’t be in the bushes. I wonder why Mom put you in there?”
She reached in and picked up the little gargoyle, heaving him high. She was expecting him to be much heavier than he was and was surprised when he weighed only a little more than Milly. Sometimes she helped her mom move the dwarves around, and they were much heavier than the gargoyle, although they were about his size.
Katherine noticed something else, too. The gargoyle was oddly warm. She wondered if he was made of something other than clay or stone.
“What are you made of, little gargoyle? Plastic or something?”
She placed him back on his pedestal beside the swing. Milly watched from a distance with disgust on her cat face, growling softly and twitching her tail.
“What is it, Mil? Don’t you like Mr. Gargoyle? Hmmm?”
Katherine tried to catch Milly and take her over to see the gargoyle, but the cat was too quick for her and darted up the garden toward the house, spitting all the way.
Katherine laughed, patted the gargoyle’s head and walked toward the house.
Milly never took her big cat eyes off the gargoyle, which is why she was the only one to see him stick his tongue out at Katherine’s back as she walked away.
Cats are very wise, aren’t they?