THE SOUTH TOWER • by Samantha Lee

The sun is setting over the spires of Notre Dame. People hurry past in the square below, stragglers from the evening Mass. Their folded umbrellas look like bats.

I stretch my wings. It’s good to move again.

“Jacques!” Beside me, Pascal springs to life, his goaty face a perpetual mix of apprehension and surprise. He draws automatically back from the edge. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Spreading my wings wider, I shake, deliberately knocking Pascal off balance. He squeaks and falls back further.

I set off down the ledge. Pascal gibbers for a moment’s indecision, then scrabbles after me.

“There are people still out!” he hisses.

“So?” I spare barely a glance for the figures below, now gleaming black circles of canvas. The rain has started again.

“So they’ll see you.”

“I don’t care. It’s no secret we’re up here.”

“But—” Pascal drops his voice, as if whispering lessens our offense. “It’s against the Rules to be up before dark.”

“How am I expected to defend the Cathedral if I’m cramped and hungry all night? Besides—” With a spring, I ascend to the rooftop, landing heavily and digging my claws in. A few tiles clatter to the gutter. “—the juiciest bats are only out at dusk.”

From the darkening tower, squeaks, mutters, and growls arise as the gargoyles stir to life.

“Is it time to get up already?”

“But it’s not dark yet!”

“Pascal and Jacques are up.”

“Where’s the Guardian?”

“I don’t think he’s awake.”

“Shame, Jacques,” tolls the Great Bell. “You forget your duty.”

“Duty!” I say fiercely. “What do you know about duty, Immanuel? All you do is hang there and toll the hours. Bats in your belfry, that’s all you’re good for. And not even that sometimes,” I add bitterly, as I clamber onto the windowsill and scan the bell’s wooden room. Pascal appears next to me, upside down, like a fat, horned bat himself. I resist the urge to bite his face.

“Peace, Jacques,” Immanuel booms.

“What’s going on?” The growl is low and rasping. Guillaume has joined us, rain dripping from his jaws in ropes. Despite the dog-like head, his overlong arms and neck give him a reptilian aspect. “Are we eating Pascal?”

I consider, head to one side.

“Not tonight,” I say at last, regretfully. “I’m looking for bats.”

“Bats? Where?” A goblin-monkey pushes between us. The windowsill is getting crowded.

“Maybe in the rafters,” I say. “Pascal, flush them out.”

“You have wings,” he squeaks. “You do it!”

“Time!” a gryphon calls from outside. “To your posts!”

“We could eat Pascal,” the monkey suggests.

Pascal turns with a snarl, and in doing so, inadvertently catches Guillaume’s nose with his tail. In a flash, Guillaume is after him. Instantly frenzied, the rest of us streak behind them like knots on the same string as they whip up the belfry wall.

Bats burst from the rafters, squeaking and fluttering in every direction. Winged gargoyles take to flight, snatching at the tasty morsels, while others sink their teeth into anything that will stand still long enough. A demon-lizard bites the monkey in the leg. Above, Guillaume and Pascal are still streaking circles up the highest spire.

“STOP!” Immanuel thunders.

While we have been preoccupied, night has fallen. A black mist rises softly around the tower, caressing the stones with shadowy tendrils. Darkness has come for the Cathedral.

Evil. Its acrid scent fills my nostrils like smoke from the slow-burning fire that we were born of so long ago. Already it is wrapping the closest spire in a cocoon of shadow. Darkness settles on my scales like ash, in my nostrils, in my mind. The Cathedral is a ship sailing forever on a sea of fog. The other gargoyles have disappeared in the mist.

Let it go, the mist whispers.

What’s the use of fighting it? Sooner or later, our resolve will slip, and everything will be lost in formless fog. Sooner or later, we will fail. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and we to the darkness that bore us. The Cathedral will be overcome, and the silly, soft humans will wander helplessly beneath their umbrellas like so many wet ants, with no sanctuary to draw strength from.

No.

“You can’t have it,” I say.

My brethren’s minds wink on in my head like lamps.

It’s not for you, the mist hisses.

“I know,” I say. “But I was charged to keep it.”

The mist writhes, swirling and coiling. Features appear in its depths — misshapen wings, hunched shoulders, flaring nostrils. A hideous caricature whose lumpish form mocks the grace of life.

Me.

Monster, the mist whispers.

“Yes,” I say sternly. “But monster or no, you will not take this cathedral tonight.”

The mist twists. I stand my ground. My brethren’s minds are with me, and I draw strength from them. We are bent on the same goal, pushing outward against the black. Together, our combined wills form a barrier which even the darkness cannot penetrate.

Slowly, the mist fades.

Exhausted, I loosen my grip on the rampart where my claws have dug grooves into the stone. The Cathedral is safe another night.

“Jacques.” Light touches my shoulder, and a hand. The Angel of Notre Dame stands at my side.

“Go away,” I say. “I am a monster.”

“Not forever,” says the Angel. He goes away, leaving his light behind.

Stars come out over the spires of Notre Dame.


Samantha Lee lives in Vero Beach, FL, where she spends her free time walking on the beach and dancing the cha-cha. The rest of the time she is a nurse.


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Every Day Fiction

  • S Conroy

    I really enjoyed the nature of the beast feel to this. Personla preference would have been a less concrete end, but think I’m probably a minority there.

    • MPmcgurty

      I liked the ending, but I think you may have a point. Would you have closed it sooner?

      • S Conroy

        Think I’d have preferred to have the battle between light and dark not so obvious with the angel at the end. Just slightly different, not sure… bit more animalistic interaction between the gargoyles now that the job’s been done or something… Fact is I’d never have come up with such a whacky idea in the first place. Much easier to nitpick. 😉

        • MPmcgurty

          I don’t consider that nitpicking; we’ve seen nitpicking here and I’ve done some of it. I like the line “Go away, I am a monster” so the angel was a good device for that, but I was less satisfied with the light aspect of it. If the angel has all that light, why does the grotesque have to stand guard? Thanks, S.

  • S Conroy

    I really enjoyed the nature of the beast feel to this. Personal preference would have been a less concrete end, but think I’m probably a minority there.

    • MPmcgurty

      I liked the ending, but I think you may have a point. Would you have closed it sooner?

      • S Conroy

        Think I’d have preferred to have the battle between light and dark not so obvious with the angel at the end. Just slightly different, not sure… bit more animalistic interaction between the gargoyles now that the job’s been done or something… Fact is I’d never have come up with such a whacky idea in the first place. Much easier to nitpick. 😉

        • MPmcgurty

          I don’t consider that nitpicking; we’ve seen nitpicking here and I’ve done some of it. I like the line “Go away, I am a monster” so the angel was a good device for that, but I was less satisfied with the light aspect of it. If the angel has all that light, why does the grotesque have to stand guard? Thanks, S.

  • MPmcgurty

    Excellente. Merci pour ce régal. I enjoyed this quite a bit. Will be back with more when I have a moment to read again.

  • MPmcgurty

    Excellente. Merci pour ce régal. I enjoyed this quite a bit. Will be back with more when I have a moment to read again.

    EDIT: I read this again this morning, and I enjoyed it as much as yesterday. I could do without adverbs like “sternly” and “fiercely”, but overall I thought this was imaginative and the mood was well-done. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the grotesques being both playful and malevolent. “I resist the urge to bite his face.” So much in that one line.

    Something I didn’t know until several years ago that might be helpful if you write more about these beasts (and why wouldn’t you?): The term for the architectural beast or monster figures we see on universities, cathedrals, and such is “grotesque”. A gargoyle is a grotesque with a decorative waterspout that drains water away from the structure. Grotesques without waterspouts are chimeras. So, some of your monsters may have been gargoyles and others chimeras, but all of them grotesques. 🙂

  • An interesting read for the nature of it. Once I realized the MC was a gargoyle, the second time around went smooth. The redundant reference to the cumulative mind glared against an otherwise creative background. Not sure the ending needed the angel at all, but there it is.

  • An interesting read for the nature of it. Once I realized the MC was a gargoyle, the second time around went smooth. The redundant reference to the cumulative mind glared against an otherwise creative background. Not sure the ending needed the angel at all, but there it is.

  • I enjoyed this imaginative flight.

  • I enjoyed this imaginative flight.

  • Diane Cresswell

    I read this to my little gargoyle. He listened silently. When I finished I asked him if he liked it. In response his eyes turned red and a smile crept onto his face. Guess that means he liked it. I did too – a lot.

  • Diane Cresswell

    I read this to my little gargoyle. He listened silently. When I finished I asked him if he liked it. In response his eyes turned red and a smile crept onto his face. Guess that means he liked it. I did too – a lot.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Yeah, I liked this one. Light-hearted with a tinge of darkness is difficult to do.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Yeah, I liked this one. Light-hearted with a tinge of darkness is difficult to do.