Friday Flash: Gargoyle
Will it be this year?
I thought it would be last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Every year I think it is the year; every year I am disappointed.
Not for myself. It’s for them: my children who adorn this monolith, their young lives frozen in stone before they had properly begun.
Crowds are gathering below. They come every year in their numbers, offering praise to whatever deity it is they believe in, by singing their hearts out. Bells ring, orchestrating the harmony and with each toll of those bells, each note of the hymns, I feel the stone carapace that has trapped me for over five hundred years, crack a little more. One day it will split completely and I shall be free.
Many years ago, they fought amongst themselves. During the six years of that conflict, bombs fell from the sky, and I prayed that one of the missiles would strike the spire where we are entombed, free us, let us feed on them. They consider themselves the lords of creation, yet they are mortal. They squabble amongst themselves. They fight and kill each other for no good reason. They are food for immortals like me and my babies.
And yet, it was one of their number, one skilled in the mystic arts, who sentenced us to an eternity trapped in stone. Of them all, he probably deserved immortality … until that night when he turned his practised skills on us and perpetrated this obscenity.
What was our crime? What had we done to deserve such punishment?
Nothing. We ate. That is the truth of it.
Unlike most sentient beings, we do not eat to survive. We are immortal. But what use is immortality if you can develop wisdom to go with it? And for that wisdom, we need food.
We lived on such as we could find: small mammals, rodents, and when we hunted in flocks, larger mammals such as cattle or horses. The finest delicacy were humans, but relatives from other parts of the world had advised caution.
“If you must hunt man, do so discreetly. Take them one at a time, when they’re alone, away from their breeding grounds, those vast areas they call cities.”
It was advice we accepted for many a century. We would come across the occasional traveller or maid working the fields far from her home, and we would enjoy the feast. Food to excite even the most jaded palette. And they were never missed other than by a few of their kind.
They begin to sing now. Glory to their god. And those appointed to the task, begin to pull on the ropes. The clappers strike, the bells ring, the vibrations emanate through the vast cathedral. I can feel my stone surround shivering in the oscillations. Tonight, my children, your patience may be rewarded.
I recall that terrible year 1503 (as they count the years). A poor summer followed by bitter winter drove the mammals and rodents underground, safe away from us. Humans did not stray far from their homes. Food was scarce. Hunger gnawed at our bellies. I had babies to feed. I could find no food for them. They whined, growled, chirped at me, pleading for a meal. In desperation I took them to the heart of the humans’ main settlement, and there we found rich pickings: hundreds and hundreds of people revelling in the coming of another new year.
Casting caution to winds, disregarding the long held counsel of my distant cousins, I led my sons and daughters to the feast.
Oh the joy of eating after such a barren season. My children gorged themselves on the hapless humans in that square. We were deaf to the screams (all animals scream when they are on the point of death by mastication, it is only humans who put it into words.) So frenzied was my own feasting that I forget to tell my children to avoid the head. Not that there is anything wrong with the head, but it is mostly useless bone with little in the way of meat.
My beak dripping blood, I watched in satisfaction while two of my daughters cut a woman down and took out her entire chest in a matter of seconds.
It was only when he appeared that I felt the first trickle of fear. I knew the moment I laid eyes upon him that we would never get to him in time. He spoke his magic words. Stone came, as if from nowhere, to surround and encase me. Squawking with impotent rage, I watched through the eyelets while my babies were wrapped in the same impenetrable armour. Over the coming days, we were hoisted one by one to perch on the spire of this great church, where we would watch over the centuries while men gave thanks to their deity.
The bells ring, I feel the stone coat trembling. It is going to crack! It is tonight! I will be free and even if my children are not, once I am flying, feeding again, I will use every ounce of my energy to peck them free of their stone sarcophagi.
No. It cannot be.
The bells have fallen silent. The faithful file from the cathedral. But I am not free. I am still entombed.
How much longer? How many more years, how many centuries must I endure before I feel the wind in my face, enjoy the freedom of the skies and salivate at the thought of food?
I stare down at the crowds leaving the cathedral and bury my useless anger. Enjoy your New Year, unworthy ones. It may be your last.