There was a time before we lived in Graylake, I think. Before we lived in our little house on the end of Marble Boulevard. But that was so long ago all memories I have are pale and almost gone.
My life becomes clear the moment we pulled up to our brand new house and seeing a distorted stone monster perched on the top of the roof.
I screamed and clung to my mother’s leg, pointing at the monster and asking mom what it was. My mom patted my shoulder and told me it was just a statue, that it wasn’t going to hurt me and that everything was okay. She pointed down the street and showed me that there was a statue at every house. Some were crouched on the lawn, others hanging off the gutter, some were big, some were small.
Each one was as hideous as the last.
I heard my dad say that they’d pull it down as soon as we had time, we had to unpack, get settled into our new house. I felt better hearing that and ran indoors, clutching my teddy and running up to my brand new bedroom. This one had its own closet, where I could hang up my clothes.
I was less pleased with that bedroom when I found yet another statue, curled up in the corner of the closet like it was asleep. It was no bigger than my teddy but was impossible for me to so much as budge, it was so damn heavy. I called for my mom but she could push it maybe an inch before she gave up.
“Just keep your closet closed, buddy,” She said, patting my shoulder, “It can’t hurt you.”
I hated that statue so much that I threw a blanket over it. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen and I wanted to never see it again. I couldn’t wait until my dad had the time to throw it away.
The following memories are better though. The neighbors came to visit, the Pattersons. They had a son my age and a daughter three years older- Tyler and Jodi. Their mom brought a homemade pizza topped with pepperoni, the dad brought a giant cookie and Tyler brought his best toys. We played in the living room while the adults talked.
My parents were having a great time, so were we. Jodi was quiet but she was incredibly sweet, not too bossy and she had a great imagination. Tyler was more outgoing but he made sure Jodi had her chances to speak up. You couldn’t find more polite children.
It wasn’t until Dad brought up how he was going to tear down that ugly statue on the roof that Jodi’s quiet nature suddenly vanished.
“No! You can’t!” She got to her feet before her hands flew to her mouth. “… I’m sorry, Mr. Sykes, I didn’t mean to use my outside voice.”
My dad raised an eyebrow before Mr. Patterson cleared his throat. “I know you didn’t mean anything poorly by that, but I’ll be the bearer of bad news- you won’t be allowed to take down the gargoyle. Notice how every single house on the street has one?” He spread out an arm. “It’s part of Graylake. You won’t find a building that doesn’t have at least one gargoyle either on or in it. It’s tradition, you understand- besides, you won’t be able to remove it anyway. Those things are practically carved into the place with how long they’ve been up there, and they’re impossible to break. People have tried and nothing good’s come of it. Trust me- you’re best off just leaving it up there. I hope we’ll see you on church on Sunday?”
“We don’t go to church, but thank you for the invitation.”
There was a certain tenseness in the air after my dad said that. The Pattersons quickly excused themselves. Mrs. Patterson wiped the remainder of pizza sauce off my lips and reminded me to mind my manners and to ask to be excused from the table.
Manners are important in Graylake, I learned, when I went to school the following week. There was yet another gargoyle in the classroom, this one was taller than the teacher Mr. Thompson. Its twisted horns nearly brushed the ceiling, yet Mr. Thompson hardly paid it mind and instead asked us questions about manners- how you should say excuse me after you burp, how to say please and thank you, and how to ask to leave the table.
There was a whole segment of the class dedicated to manners and how to be nice to others. I didn’t think the last part needed to be taught, but Mr. Thompson took it very seriously. For every day you minded your manners, you got a gold star on the chart. If you got ten gold stars in a row you got to pick something from the prize box, a small plastic toy or a book. If you didn’t mind your manners, you got a gold star taken off the chart. If you lost all your stars, there would be a parent-teacher conference.
I was pretty obedient but even I lost a star every now and then because I pushed myself to the front of the line or started talking in class. I never had a parent-teacher conference, which was apparently a big deal to the kids. How could you be so naughty to get one of those, they wondered.
I was never told why we were so careful about how we behaved, but I learned about two weeks in that we had someone to keep us responsible for our behavior.
I suppose letting my room be cluttered after so long was inexcusable as I came home and it looked like a tornado hit my bedroom.
I stumbled over a pile of dirty clothes and nearly fell on my face. I popped back up and my jaw dropped. My toys were thrown off the shelves, the blankets were ripped off the bed, and the half empty cup of fruit juice on the nightstand had been tipped over.
I yelled for my mom and she came in, her face went white and she looked ready to call the cops.
Then Jodi knocked on the door and asked if she could help clean my room.
Of course she didn’t mess up my room, she’d been at piano lessons and my mom hadn’t let anyone come in all day, but my mom kept an eye on Jodi as we cleaned up the disaster my room had became. Jodi was perfect at keeping things neat, she lined up the books on the shelf, the toys were either put in the box or on my bed, and she knew how to make a bed so nicely it looked like it belonged in a hotel.
“You have to do better at cleaning, you could get hurt if you let your stuff stay everywhere. At least you know better now,” Jodi said as she picked up the last blanket. “Oh! Hello, I didn’t know they came so small! Aren’t you precious?”
I turned to see Jodi bending over to see that tiny gargoyle now in the center of my room, sitting up straight with its spiky tail curled around it like a cat.
I had no idea how that thing got out of the closet and I was terrified.
I tried to blame the gargoyle on the mess to my mom, but she just smiled and patted my shoulder. It was just a statue, after all. Jodi had already gone so I couldn’t ask her how the statue was moved.
When I got back up to my room, once again, the gargoyle had moved. This time it was sitting on my toybox, its hollow eyes staring at my bed.
It became clear to me that even if I didn’t know how the gargoyle was moving, it was. And for some reason, it got angry when my room wasn’t clean.
So I learned pretty quickly how to keep it not angry. Clean my room.
I struggled to make my bed at first, I was small and the blankets were heavy. However, if my bed was not to the gargoyle’s standards, I’d come back and the sheets were ripped off the bed. I’d have to do it all over again.
I got angry at the gargoyle many times. I kicked it, I yelled at it, I once poured a glass of water on it. Childish, but I had no other idea how to deal with it. My mother didn’t believe me, but she was distracted at the time as her and my father had been arguing. I didn’t know why at the time, but I think the move was a way to ignore the real problem- that they were in a struggling, unhappy relationship.
I did know that my parents didn’t kiss each other on the cheek anymore and that my dad slept on the couch more nights than not. That when I saw Jodi’s and Tyler’s mom and dad interact that I knew that they had what my parents didn’t. Happiness.
One cold Sunday morning Jodi showed up on the front porch with Tyler. Both were wearing their finest, Jodi in a dark blue dress with black shoes and Tyler was wearing a green tie and his wild hair was combed into place.
Tyler beamed when he saw that I answered the door. “Are you ready for church?” He chirped, grinning from ear to ear.
I was still in my pajamas and had only woke up when I heard the doorbell. I was in no way ready for church, I might’ve not gone before but you don’t go out in public in your pajamas.
Tyler loaned me some of his clothing, the shirt was too small but the pants fit all right, and Mrs. Patterson combed my hair as we drove to church. I told my mom I was going to play with my friends and she waved me off. She’d been in sour spirits lately as several of her wine bottles had turned up smashed in the backyard and probably wasn’t in the mood to deal with me today.
The pastor was a woman, much to my surprise, I’d only thought men could be pastors. Jodi called her Minister Sandoval, and the woman beamed when she saw me. She bent over and shook my hand. Her eyes were as dark gray as the stone of the many gargoyles perched upon the roof of the church.
“And you must be Nicolas. I’ve heard so much about you. You’ve gotten very good at making your bed, but you need to remember not to sneak snacks into bed. Cracker crumbs are not fun to sleep on either.”
Minister Sandoval knew things about me, about everyone, that no one else could know. But she was kind and her sermons were about treating others with respect and how important it was to be conscious of your actions. Always think about others and never speak behind other’s backs.
Behind the pulpit was a stained glass window, not of a cross or a scene from the Bible, but of a twisted, gray face with scarlet eyes.
I returned home and headed back to my room, finding the gargoyle curled up at the foot of my bed. Like a cat. A stoned, spiky cat.
I sat in front of it and I remember exactly what I said.
“I’m sorry for being mean to you. You just want me to be better. I’ll do better, I promise.”
I swear I heard a quiet sigh, saw that disfigured face beginning to smile.
That is when I made peace with the gargoyles. I’m not sure exactly when my mother did, but sometime after that she was the one to drive me to church instead of the Pattersons. The nightly glass of wine turned into a weekly glass, then a monthly glass. Nowadays you never catch her with a bottle of anything but sparkling grape juice.
Jodi told me one night during a sleepover that the gargoyles are just here to make sure we are good people to ourselves and each other. That’s why no one has their doors locked, why we can feel safe walking down the street. There is always someone to keep you accountable.
My father couldn’t take that.
I don’t know all that happened. I do know how the street would be so quiet on Sunday mornings and that he never went to church with us. I know that he attempted to cover the gargoyle, that he asked just about every construction place he could to help him take it down. No one would accept the job.
My mom won’t tell me everything, but I do know Dad had the meltdown a week before Christmas.
I woke up, it was late. I heard my dad yelling. My mom was calling for him to come inside, that he was crazy. My dad said things that I will not repeat and continued yelling at the gargoyle. Told it to stop watching him, told it to stop judging his life, calling him a liar and lazy, just losing his mind.
The statues did nothing until he threw a rock at it.
For the first time, I truly saw the gargoyle in my room come to life. It was a smooth movement, the statue moved as gracefully as a feline, sitting up and cocking its head to the side. Its eyes started flickering like coals as it leaped to the window and pried it open with its claws. With a strange growly sound, it climbed out.
I saw the statue on the Pattersons’ roof leap down and start padding over to our yard. I saw a dark shape in the sky with wingspan longer than some cars gliding in our direction.
Then I heard my dad scream. It was so fast if I’d blink I’d miss it, two gargoyles dragged him up into the sky, I caught a glimpse of his terrified face and the angered sneers of the statues.
I heard a wet tearing sound, a snap and the next thing I saw was a rain of blood splattering against my window.
I screamed for my mom and she ran into my room to drag me out, her face white with fear as she attempted to cover my ears, but it was too late. I could hear more cracking and snaps as the gargoyles tore my father to shreds, and those memories are some of the clearest ones I have of my childhood.
The next morning, the entire street came to help clean up the mess. Hoses washed away the blood, men picked up what remained of my dad’s flesh off the ground. I remember seeing a black garbage bag that was almost bursting before I was shooed back indoors.
My mom and I didn’t have to do anything to take care of my dad. Funeral arrangements, burial costs, everyone pitched in. This hadn’t been the first time someone had tried to attack the gargoyles, and according to Jodi it wouldn’t be the last. Minister Sandoval preached that next week how that willfully attacking a sentient being was the worst crime, and that it would never be accepted in our little village of Graylake.
It’s been many years since this all happened. I actually moved out of my mother’s house into a small place, all for myself. There’s an older gargoyle on the roof, covered in moss. I’m gonna give him a bath as soon as I can.
The lil shithead that had been living in my childhood bedroom snuck along in a box. I still can’t pick him up but he’s made himself cozy on my desk.
It’s not an ideal existence, always being watched, but I’ve lived that way for so long… I can’t imagine life without observation from a stone guardian.