The question of whether Mara and Rolly wanted to walk closer to this provocatively terrifying apparition of a girl, let alone would like to go into the shadowy house behind her, was a moot one. Their feet were moving them while they clutched at each other, struck mute either from fear or some undoing, until they reached the bottom step. Mara’s foot shook with the effort of stopping its rise, but it landed where it was supposed to land, and she dragged Rolly with her as she climbed up to the porch.
From a slight distance, the girl had had a freakish yet human appearance. Up close, the case for a remnant of humanity was lost. The grey pallor of her skin was a translucent overlay to flesh of dead green matte. There were little flays in her neck, her arms, tiny little wisps of skin peeling up to reveal dark blue mottling underneath. Her eyes fired at them, pupils shaped like diamonds, flashing as she gestured them in.
They walked, and she followed. Through the oversized doorway, into a dank hallway that didn’t smell so much as permeate, down a hallway carpeted with a runner that probably would have been an amazing piece of artwork if there were time to really study it. Rolly studied the pattern as they traversed the narrow expanse towards an archway; there was a rendering of Death worked into the weave there, a bent and wracked naked man on his knees, a smiling woman clutching a baby to her chest, a child with a fiddle tucked up under his chin.
“It’s the Danse Macabre,” he said loudly. “Are you taking us to meet our Judge, then, Rowan?” He turned his head backwards as the rest of him was fairly insistent on moving forwards. “Are we to meet Death himself?”
She pirouetted, a knee bent at an unnatural angle, and let loose her crackling laugh again. “No, you’re not so important as that, Mr. Rolly, you’re only going to meet Rufus.” Her eyes darted over, watching Mara, who had gotten a few paces ahead of them.
“Rufus?” It sounded like the name of some vampire lordling in a badly written romance novel set in the Victorian era. “Who’s Rufus?”
“Wellll…” she drawled. “He’s my father.” Again her gaze drifted toward Mara, and the corners of her lips quirked into a sarcastic flash of a smile, there and gone in a flash.
“Uh, your father? Like, your natural biological father?”
“I’m an organic creature, you know, it isn’t as if I’m made of granite, now is it?” She laughed as if they had shared a joke, but if they had then Rolly wasn’t in on it, and he didn’t think it would have a pleasant punch line regardless.
At that, a granite hand shot out from a niche in the wall and clutched Mara by the throat. “Not so far as that, woman.”
She struggled to scream but had to be satisfied with mewling and clawing desperately as the fingers tightened around her neck. A fingernail snapped off, which hurt like a son of a bitch and made her angry, and it also brought tears brimming, and that made her angrier still. She stopped scrabbling at the rock and let herself go limp and dangling. There was a jerk, a ripping sound, a puff of dust, a noise like a plaster wall crumbling, and she dropped to her knees, although the fingers still gripped.
“You bitch!” said an angry voice as the gargoyle disengaged himself from the remains of his pedestal. “I have not climbed off that perch in almost a hundred years, and you, you upstart little asshole, you think you can just drag me out of it at your whim?” His voice unfolded decibels as his height unfolded feet, until he stood at least twice the height of a man, pulling her back to her feet, and past, up to her tiptoes, lifting until they were face to face and she dangled from boulders.
Rowan’s black-nailed fingers grabbed Rolly’s jacket and held him place with no apparent effort. “Don’t,” she said. “He won’t kill her, he’s not allowed. You he’ll hurt, he’ll hurt you til you wish he was allowed to. So. You know. Just don’t.”
“I’m not made of granite, am I,” he mimicked viciously. “What are you playing at? You obviously knew that was gonna happen. Is this some stupid tableau, is this your entertainment for the evening? Get your fucking hands off me.” He yanked her hands free and threw them back at her, turning back to the horrors in front of him. Mara’s face was getting more pissed off by the second, but it was also getting redder.
The gargoyle wouldn’t stop shaking her, punctuating every hurled insult with a neck snapping jolt. His stone face was nearly immobile except for his mouth, wide open, fleshless and fang-full. He berated her in a manner she could only call old-fashioned, except he left out most of the sexist bits since his main issue seemed to be her human nature and not her gender. Flakes from the curled horns carved into his forehead and wrapped around bat-like ears continually fell, a mini avalanche of floating motes in the air.
“You walk into my home, you walk in to my home and you breathe your stupid breath and contaminate my world, and then you pull me from my wall, force me to touch this ridiculous flesh that you call home!” Her head bobbed backward and forward; she bit her tongue, tasted blood, and wanted to cry maybe more than she’d ever wanted to let loose before.
“Stop, Galbreith. No more.” A sepulchral voice of authority that brooked no dissent. This was not a request.
Mara was immediately released, gasping and cursing and scrabbling backwards, away from the large granite legs carved with rounded muscles that turned and ground towards Rowan. He stopped in front of her, and Rolly, whose entire being itched to smash it to nothingness with a sledgehammer. While its head inclined ever so slightly in what was supposed to be a show of deference, grinding slabs of stone loosened from his shoulders and his back, a stop-motion unfurling of wings that was as grandiose a gesture as could be imagined. They were huge, six feet to the tip at least, and it took some time before the last feather slotted into place. The effect was so overwhelming that for a moment, Rolly forgot completely about Mara, wheezing in shaky breaths, still on the floor.
“Rowan,” it said. “I was doing nothing but my duty.”
“Who’s home is this, Galbreith? Is it yours?”
“It is not my home.”
“Where are we, Galbreith?”
“The manse of Rufus.”
“I thought that I heard you say that this is your home. Did you say that?”
“No, Rowan. This is Rufus’s home.”
She nodded. “Yes, this is Rufus’s home. If you would step aside, then, as we’re here to see him at any rate.”
If gargoyles could be said to smile, than this is what Galbreith did. “You are taking these two to Rufus, here in his home? Then I shall gladly step aside, and let him have at them. Good riddance,” he tossed at Mara as started to step away.
“Galbreith?” She waited until he looked back. “Go and find some cement somewhere and repair your pedestal. Sweep up the bits of yourself you so delicately shed all over the carpet, too. Do you understand me?”
“Oh, aye, I understand you Rowan. Now begone from my hallway before I decide that I no longer care what Rufus believes my duty to be.”
There was a discreet cough from the archway behind them all, the kind of discreet cough that is pointedly making a point about being a discreet cough but was in fact the opposite.
“Disloyalty and disobedience, Galbreith, really? I would not have expected this from you.” The rotund man with a bald head and a funeral director’s demeanor turned towards the rather motley crew before him, hands clasped over his belly. “I do apologize for Galbreith’s overzealous defense of my sanctuary, but it is his job, after all.” He threw a pointed glance at Rowan, who shrugged.
“Well, good evening, I suppose. I am Rufus, your Rowan’s father.”
Thank you Lindsey Stirling, for some otherworldly musical accompaniment tonight. Here, have a gargoyle 🙂
*updated to hopefully clarify some confusion*