Everything was fine until the gargoyle gave birth. Then all hell broke loose. How were we to know it was a she? And that she would produce such a large litter? One gargoyle in the garden was bad enough, but seven? That was about six too many.
“If I had known those things were eggs, I would have gotten rid of them weeks ago,” Phillip said testily. “Those little monsters have ruined my pansies.”
I surveyed the damage, kicking at the shattered remains of what we had believed to be geodes of some sort; an offering from the gargoyle in exchange for letting her live in the rafters above the shed. “I know, baby, but what do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, for starters, you can help me think of a way to get rid of them!”
I watched him, stomping around in his beloved faux English garden, but couldn’t think of anything comforting to say. Instead I let my gaze wander over to the rustic shed, wherein lay the culprits of the destruction. As if on cue, two of the gargoyle hatchlings tumbled through the opening above the door and landed on the ground with successive thuds. Unhurt, they scampered into the rose hedges, continuing their game of pounce and tackle. I smiled, in spite of myself. They were kind of cute, in a weirdly monstrous kind of way.
“Are you listening to me?”
I turned back to Phillip and blinked. “Huh? Oh... of course I am. I just can’t think of anything... helpful...”
Phillip stood with his hands on his hips, tapping his birkenstocked right foot in exasperation. “Charles, this is all your fault.”
“My fault? How is it my fault? I didn’t get her pregnant!”
“Oh, ha ha ha... very funny. I know you didn’t get her pregnant, you bitch. But you are the one who talked me into letting her stay when she showed up here last month!”
“If I recall correctly,” I said defensively. “You thought it was a good idea too, at the time.”
Phillip’s eyes narrowed and his lips pinched into a tight little sphincter. “I thought it was a good idea? Only because you made it sound so... so...” He pitched his voice an octave higher and said in a nasal tone that sounded nothing like me, “What would an English garden be without a real gargoyle living in it. It lends an air of authenticity to everything you’ve done here. It VALIDATES your work!”
I rolled my eyes and looked away. Just in time to see the romping hatchlings plow into Phillip’s potting table, sending it, and the contents upon it, crashing to the ground mere inches from where he stood. Phillip let out a horrified yelp and jumped sideways, then turned and, emitting a ululating howl, snatched up a garden hoe and bounded after the startled hatchlings. He had taken one, two, three swipes into the rose hedge when an earsplitting scream rent the air and the hatchlings mother, Pebbles, burst through the opening above the shed door and swooped down on Phillip.
Fending her off with the hoe, Phillip backed away, spewing expletives, then launched the hoe in the gargoyle’s direction like a makeshift javelin and made a beeline for the back porch. “Charles! Do something!”
I was. I was laughing. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the wisest course of action I could have taken.
“That monster tried to kill me and you stood there laughing like a hyena!” Phillip said, wincing as I flattened out blond hair and applied Bactine to the scratch on the crown of his scalp.
“Oh, stop being such a drama queen, and hold still,” I replied. “I told you I was sorry about that. You would have laughed too, had you seen yourself...”
“We’ve got to do something about those creatures, Charles. I’m not kidding!”
I heaved a heavy sigh. “I know you’re not kidding, but what, exactly, do you propose we do about them?”
I stopped swabbing and looked at him in the bathroom mirror. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. We’ve got to find a way to exterminate those little... beasts!”
“That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?”
Phillip waved me away, a demented light playing in his moss green eyes. “Don’t talk to me about extreme. That bitch tired to rip my head off!”
“Phillip,” I tsked, “it’s just a scratch. Pebbles was only protecting her young, as any mother would do...”
He snorted in response. “And since when have you become such an expert on motherhood? No, I’ve had it. As of now, this is WAR!”
I smiled. “Okay, Bugs, what do you suggest?”
“I’ll gas them out. Or poison them!”
“Uh huh,” I said sarcastically. “With what? Gargoyles are made of stone, Einstein. We don’t even know if they breathe, much less eat.”
“Well, they have to do something to sustain themselves.”
“Says who? Gargoyles aren’t exactly listed in the Field Guide To North American Birds. They’re mythological beings, Phillip. Technically, they don’t exist.”
He blinked at me in the mirror. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say, Charles. If gargoyles didn’t exist, they wouldn’t be making a shambles of my garden. Now, are you going to help me figure out some way to get rid of them, or not?”
I sighed. “Of course I’ll help you, baby. I just think there’s got to be a better way than killing them. Think about it. They may be the last ones of their kind. If we succeed in killing them, we could be responsible for wiping out an entire species.”
“Didn’t you just say that they don’t exist?”
I threw up my hands. “Do whatever you want, but if you’re dead set on harming them, I won’t be a part of it.”
And that was the end of the conversation. Little did I realize to what lengths Phillip would go in waging his “war” on Pebbles and her progeny.
“What on earth made you think a blowtorch would have any effect?”
Phillip glared at me from beneath singed eyebrows. Smoke was still rising from his blackened, all but melted, scalp. I spritzed him again with the spray bottle, just to be sure no embers were left.
“It worked on The Wizard Of Oz...”
I stepped back to look at him. “The Wizard Of Oz? That was a witch, Phillip.”
“I wasn’t talking about her! I meant the witch’s flying minions.”
I closed my eyes. “Those were flying monkeys, Phillip, not gargoyles.”
He turned to look sideways at me. “Are you sure?”
That was all I could stand. “Of course I’m sure, you idiot!” I said, reaching for a pack of recently purchased cigarettes. “Everybody knows that! Honestly, Phillip, sometimes I don’t know what I ever saw in you! You’re just damn lucky that shed is made of stone! Light me.”
I leaned forward with a cigarette in my mouth. Phillip sheepishly brought the still glowing tip of the blowtorch up for me to fire up. I puffed angrily at the cancer stick.
“I’ve tried everything else,” Phillip whined. “The capture cages were mangled, the traps were unsprung and none of the pesticides or poisons I tried worked...”
“Uh huh. Tell that to old lady McGuinty and her fourteen dead cats.”
“There’s no way she can pin that on me!”
“I warned you, didn’t I? I told you pesticides and poisons wouldn’t work against mythological beings.”
“Okay, Mr. Smartass!” Phillip countered. “Then you think of something! What, in your opinion, will get rid of mythological beings?”
I shrugged. “How should I know? I’m a history professor, not an exterminator. And neither, I might add, are you!”
“Well, at least I’m trying to do something about this problem! Those little monsters have destroyed what was left of our tomato plants and the cucumbers will never be the same again.”
I sighed an exasperated cloud of smoke. “Phillip, they’re just babies. Haven’t you ever seen the mess kittens or puppies make when they’re young?”
“These are not kittens or puppies, Charles. These are gargoyles. Six of them, each weighing at least a hundred pounds apiece. Did you see the crack they put in the bedroom wall? I swear I can see daylight from the inside!”
“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen! Give it time, Phillip. How long can it take for a gargoyle to grow up? Look at the bright side.”
“What bright side?”
“At least we don’t have to feed them.”
He didn’t look convinced. I stubbed out the cigarette and regarded him with what I hope looked like decisiveness. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll do some research and see what I can find on gargoyles. Will you stop trying to out-destroy the little buggers until then?”
Phillip looked petulantly at me. “How long will it take?”
“A day or two at most. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a way to get rid of them without bringing the house down around our ears.” I leaned forward and cocked my head. “Please?”
Phillip sighed and nodded. “Fine. See what you can find. I’m going to go take a shower.”
“Thanks doll!” I said happily. “And don’t put those smoky clothes in the hamper. I think they’ll have to be thrown out...”
There wasn’t a lot of information on gargoyles on the Internet or at the local library. What I did find, mostly, was a history of Medieval waterspouts and ecclesiastical texts about the incorporation of pagan idolatry into Christian service in order to keep the barbarians in line. Nothing about the care and feeding of real gargoyles. If “real” was the proper term.
I was just about to give up when I found an obscure reference to a book written by an overzealous demon-hunting Monk in the late 14th century. Making a call to my friend in the antiquities department at the University library yielded yet another book, which had drawn heavily from the first. Now I was getting somewhere. Or so I thought.
When I pulled the 22-page Xeroxed copy from its envelope three days later, Phillip reached for it impatiently. I held it away from him. “My research,” I said archly. “I get first look.”
He mumbled darkly and ran a hand across his shaved head before crossing his arms across his chest. The hair was just beginning to grow back on his forearms in the form of golden stubble. I doubted the eyebrows would ever be the same again.
“Well?” He asked impatiently.
I scanned through the pages quickly, stopping only when something interesting jumped out. “Did you know that a gargoyle’s most despised enemy is the common pigeon?”
“Next to me, you mean.”
I ignored him and kept reading. “They’re related to chimeras.”
“What’s a chimera?”
“A creature from Greek mythology... see, I told you they were mythological.”
“Never mind the history lesson, does it tell how to get rid of them?”
I flipped through several more pages as Phillip grew more and more agitated. Then I saw something which made me stop. I re-read the passage, then looked up at Phillip with what could only have been a look of horror, judging from his response.
“What? What is it? What does it say?”
“Oh, Phil, you are not going to like this...”
“What?” He grabbed me by the shoulders and leaned in close. “Tell me!” he hissed.
“According to this, gargoyles live for centuries...”
“And... they mature slowly.”
Phillip’s eyes narrowed and his breathing became shallow. “How slowly?”
I swallowed hard. “It takes one hundred and fifty years for them to reach adolescence, then another hundred before they can be considered mature.”
Phillip’s mouth dropped open and his eyes bugged out. “You mean... those destructive little monsters...”
I nodded, finishing his sentence for him. “...are going to be babies for a long, long time.”
“Maybe we can train them.” I said absently, around a mouthful of dry toast.
“To do what?” Phillip asked, glaring over the shredded morning newspaper. “Fetch? What a wonderful idea. ‘Here gargoyle, fetch me that steel girder, wouldja?’” He snorted and brought the paper back up with a snap. “Don’t be stupid, Charles. Next thing you know you’ll be wanting to name them.”
My silence caused him to drop the paper again, just low enough to fix me with a withering, moss green stare. “You didn’t...”
I smiled sheepishly. “Not all of them, just the one with a taste for peppers and the two who seem to have adopted the rose bushes.”
“Adopted? Is that what we’re calling wanton destruction of property now? Adopted!?! Those roses were prize winners, Charles!”
“They’re just flowers, Phillip...” The words had tumbled out before I could catch them and I was immediately sorry I’d uttered them.
“Just... FLOWERS!” He sputtered, his face reddening and his eyes popping out unattractively.
“Phillip, now, stop...”
“DON”T YOU TELL ME TO STOP!!! Who’s side are you on, anyway!?!”
“I’m not taking sides...”
“Not taking sides? I ask you to help me get rid of those petrified pests and instead you name them? And now you’re making excuses for them? I’d call that taking sides!”
“Phillip, you’re being ridiculous!” I snapped back, picking up my napkin and wiping spittle from my cheek. “You’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion. And would you please stop making with the Peter Lorre imitation! You’re going to give yourself a stroke.”
He sat back as though I’d slapped him, his mouth flapping spasmodically, but emitting no sounds. Without waiting for him to recover his composure, I continued. “Just because I’ve begun naming the cute little things, does not mean I’ve adopted them. They’re just names to help identify them. There are seven of them, after all. For your information, while you’ve been busy trying to commit genocide, I’ve been studying them...”
“Don’t interrupt. Yes, studying them. Watching them. They’re actually quite fascinating once you stop hurling heavy machinery at them...”
“Crowbars are not heavy machinery...”
“Jackhammers are! Honey, all I’m saying is maybe you should take another look at the situation. History shows us that no battle is truly won until you know your enemy. These creatures aren’t rats, they’re... different. They’re intelligent. I’m sure of it. They’ve even begun developing their own personalities which are...”
“Unbelievable.” Phillip stood slowly, his eyes closed and his breathing shallow. “You are too much. I have been risking life and limb to rid our home of these pests and you are out there... studying them, behind my back.” His eyes opened, but refused to focus on me. Instead he turned and lurched from the table. “I need a drink.”
“You don’t like the taste of alcohol.”
“Piss off, Chaz.” And with that he pushed his way through the screen door, letting it slam shut behind him.
Given Phillip's mood, I probably should have anticipated what happened next. But, even if I had, there's no way I could have known the form his new madness would take. When I opened the front door, it was to find him grinning like a demented Cheshire cat, accompanied by a gnarled old mummy in tattered priest's vestments who stood maybe four feet tall. Peering up at me through smudged coke-bottle glasses, he was a dusty old relic, reeking of stale body odor and booze.
"Charles, this is Father Murphy," Phillip said excitedly. "Father Murphy, my housemate, Charles." Then, to me again, "Father Murphy and I met at the Gilded Lily."
I smiled and shook the ancient priest's dry hand. "Pleased to meet you, Father Murphy. Can I get you something to drink?"
The priest squinted at me myopically. "I am feeling a bit parched," he said, sounding all the world like a cartoon leprechaun and running a yellowed handkerchief over liver-spotted forehead.
"Perhaps some iced tea, or lemonade?"
The withered old gnome grimaced. "Have you anything a bit... stronger, perhaps?"
I turned to fix Phillip with my best 'oh, I can't wait to hear THIS one,' look and nodded at the priest. "We've got a fully stocked bar inside. What's your preference?"
The priest's wrinkled face came alive with a hungry grin, which would have made Hannibal Lecter blanch. "Whiskey, straight up."
"Alright," I said, trying to sound cheerful. "I'll be right back. Phillip, can I speak to you in the kitchen?"
Phillip nodded, the demented smile still plastered on his face. "Sure, I'll be right in. First I'd like to take Father Murphy to the back, so he can check things out."
Needless to say, I was waiting for Phillip when he finally walked through the back door and into the kitchen. "A priest, Phillip? You're going to trust a priest you met in a gay bar?"
"He's almost blind, Charles. He's been going there for years. Way before it was a gay bar. I don't think he even knows it is one..."
"That's not the point! You're not even Catholic. What's he going to do, exorcise them?"
"No, Mr. Smartass. Listen, I reread that stack of papers your friend at the university sent you and that led me to do a little research of my own. It's amazing what you can find in New Age bookstores these days. Do you know how gargoyles were finally defeated in medieval times?"
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. "No, but I have a feeling you're going to tell me..."
"That's right, the Church did it. And do you know how?"
"By siccing rabid nuns on them?"
"No, by consecrating the grounds where they were nesting. It petrifies them. Get it?"
"Phillip, they're already made of stone."
"Not entirely. Being magical creatures, they're sort of a cross between living tissue and mineral..."
I shook my head in exasperation. "You learned all this at a bookstore?"
"It took a while, but with a little friendly coercion I was able to convince one of the clerks to help me and, voila! A book called Flesh And Stone, by some hack who got hold of the same book your 14th century Monk wrote. It was all there! The old whackadoo came up with the method that was ultimately used to defeat the damned things. Apparently blessing the grounds leeches the life out of them. They become permanently immobilized. Statues! That's why there are so many gargoyles on churches and cathedrals in Europe. It all makes sense doesn't it?"
I opened my mouth to protest, but couldn't think of anything to say. I had to admit, the explanation, though far-fetched, sounded reasonable. In a weirdly medieval kind of way. And, as sorry as I would be to see the little creatures go, Phillip's sanity was at stake. It was him, or them. So, with a resigned sigh, and pushing the loud little voice in the back of my head further into the shadows, I shrugged and said, "Well, let's hope Father Murphy has more luck than you've had."
I had to admit the old priest seemed to know what he was doing. Three hours, several gallons of holy water and two bottles of Jack Daniels later, he chanted out the last of his invocations and closed his leather encased bible.
"That should just about do it," Father Murphy said with satisfaction. "Now, would you mind telling me why you were looking to have your grounds blessed? You're not planning on putting in a graveyard or anything, are you?" He wheezed out an unhealthy sounding laugh.
"A graveyard?" Phillip asked.
The priest nodded. "Just a little joke. I saw the lovely little statues in your shed and thought of gravestones. Too many years at the rectory, I'm afraid. Are one of you the artist?"
Phillip looked at me expectantly, while I made a beeline for the shed. "Uh... yes... and no," he replied, watching as I pulled the door open and stepped inside. He didn't finish until I emerged holding one of the gargoyle babies in my arms like a treasured heirloom. It was hard as proverbial stone and completely immobile.
With a smile, Phillip turned back to address the priest. "I purchased them for the garden. I'll be putting them out now that you'd done such a wonderful job blessing it. I just wanted to put any unhappy spirits to rest, so that my garden will be as peaceful to others as it is to me."
The gnarled old priest peered up at him and, for a moment, I thought he might call Phillip on his bullshit. Instead, he just smiled and nodded. "That's very thoughtful of you, lad. I know for myself that I wouldn't mind coming back to enjoy both your lovely garden and your hospitality..."
"Uh... yeah..." I said stepping forward with my treasure. "Actually, Father, Phillip and I will be taking an extended trip here in the next few days. A long overdue vacation. In fact, I really should get to making those last minute arrangements..."
Phillip picked up the thread. "Right! So, Father, let me give you a ride back into town."
"Alright..." the priest said hesitantly. "But there's also the matter of payment..."
"Of course! I'll swing by the bank on our way and withdraw the cash."
That seemed to please the old priest. "Mind if I use the facilities before we go?"
"Not at all," Phillip replied. They're just up those stairs and through the door. Let me show you." As the priest hobbled in the direction of the stairs, Phillip turned back to me. "A vacation, huh?"
"Sure, why not?" I replied. "I think we both could use it, don't you? Someplace tropical and relaxing."
Phillip nodded, patting the gargoyle. "And as far away from any ancient European legend as we can get." Then, with a wink, he turned to follow the old priest up the stairs and into the house.
"I've never felt more relaxed," Phillip said, squeezing my hand as the taxi pulled up to the curb before our house. "I never knew two people could have so much fun on an island."
I squeezed back. "You're welcome. We both needed it after that ordeal." I disentangled my hand and ran it across the half inch blonde bristles growing on his scalp. "It's all just a dim memory now. Soon it will be nothing more than a bad dream and we can get on with our lives."
Phillip nodded and opened his door, stepping out with a smile. The cab driver had already unloaded our bags when I came around to the back of the car and handed him his fare and a sizable tip.
"Thank you, gentlemen," he said happily. "And welcome back. I just hope that smell doesn't mean you're coming home to backed up toilets."
Phillip laughed. "Yeah, I smell it, too. At least it'll be something we can deal with."
The driver looked confused. "It's a long story," I said. "We're just glad to be home."
We watched as the cab pulled away, then picked up our bags and started up the walk.
"You know," I said, wrinkling my nose. "I hate to say it, hon, but that smell really does seem to be coming from the house."
"Damn plumbing," Phillip said lightheartedly. "It's probably because we haven't flushed in a couple of weeks. The water becomes stale in these old houses. I'll just grab a few lemons from the garden and it should take care of everything."
I nodded and unlocked the door. Oddly enough, the smell didn't get any worse. Instead, it seemed somewhat lessened when we stepped inside. We looked at one another and shrugged, then, while I dragged the suitcases to the bedroom, Phillip went in search of the mysterious smell.
My first stop, after dropping the suitcases on the bed, was the master bathroom. No bad smells there. Hm. On my way out, I stopped by the guest bathroom. Again, nothing. It wasn't until I rounded the corner into the kitchen that the stench hit me full force. I looked around, my eyes stopping on the open door to the back garden. I could see Phillip standing on the landing, his head cocked back as though he were looking at something up in the sky. Curious, I approached him.
"No, no, no, no, no..." he moaned, his mouth hanging open in shock.
I stepped quickly through the doorway behind him, not at all prepared for the surreal reality I was about to enter. The telephone lines, which ran from the back of the house to the pole behind the shed, were crowded with filthy winged creatures. But these weren't birds. These were horrifying abominations, unlike anything I'd ever imagined.
About the size of a small human child, they were pasty white, with lank yellow hair and wings where arms should have been. Their legs were shorter than a man's and bent backwards at the knee. Their feet were claw-like and their pendulous genitalia dangled like rotting fruit below the wire. Sitting side by side, and chirping in high-pitched squeaks and screeches, were row upon row of these misshapen creatures.
And below them, scattered throughout Phillip's beloved garden, was the source of the horrible stench. Everywhere we looked were crusted over piles of watery excrement, decorating bushes and plastering flowers to the ground. The walls of both the house and the shed were striped with runny yellow filth.
"What are they?" Phillip wailed. "What in the hell are they?"
I closed my eyes. The loud little voice in the back of my head was shouting again. "Not from hell, Phillip," I said quietly. "You had the ground consecrated, remember?"
Phillip turned to me, his eyes so wide his dilated pupils looked like holes bored into ping pong balls. "What are you saying? That these monsters are from..."
"Heaven." I said, finishing the sentence and completing the thought his numbed mind couldn't comprehend. "They're from heaven, Phillip. By consecrating the grounds of our garden, you've created a sanctuary... for angels..."
© David Salcido, 2003. Registered with the Library of Congress and the Writers Guild of America. All rights reserved.