The Gargoyle. Edgar. Routing Evil.
In the Free City of Mumling, the gothic cathedral honored Silvanus, a nature deity of Man. It was a looming structure, rectangular, constructed from solid granite blocks, mortar, iron, wood, and glass, topped by a vaulted gable roof covered in vigorous green moss. A spire at its entry reached beyond the roofline, decorated with statues depicting Silvanus’ acts of celebration, and if one were to stand at its harrowing doors, the spire seemingly stabbed the sky like a knife.
The followers of Silvanus respected nature by erecting their cathedral in a grove of ancient oak trees. Their leafy crowns filtered the sun and blanketed the temple in perpetual shadow. Their wandering knotty branches ran parallel to the ground, and the grove’s air was thick, moist, and earthen.
The cathedral hosted a courtyard of Dogwood and Star Magnolia trees that grew alongside white Tulips, Daffodils, Chrysanthemums, and Dahlias, and featured a winding cobblestone walk and a sitting bench. In spring and summer, the yard would bloom with vibrant white flowery petals. In contrast to the gloom of the cathedral, the courtyard offered a bright and cheery respite, drawing visitors to wander, pray, or sit patiently in reverence or recollection.
One spring, the garden did not bloom. The soil was raked bare; its bushes ripped away; its flowers upended; the trees plagued by an unhealthy rot. Uprooted, the sanctuary was sickly, and its ruined sight deterred visitors from lingering.
The reason for the disarray wasn’t apparent. Groundskeepers set up fences to thwart suspect animals. They overturned the soil, fertilized it, replanted the plants, mended the trees, and prayed to Silvanus for guidance, but to no avail, for - as mortals - they were blind to how things actually were.
Much older than the glade itself, hobs, sprites, and shades lived within the crannies of the old oak trees, and at night, those spirits wandered the dark cathedral grounds. Soon they grew jealous of the sanctuary’s peace and brightness, they attacked the courtyard with vengeful spite.
Singing a rueful song, they churned the courtyard’s soil and burrowed under its trees; they ripped at its flowers; they gnawed on its leaves.
We’ll trundle o’er the fallow field,
We’ll dig the dirt and harrowed clay,
We’ll follow the roots to the netherworld
And we’ll get there the worming way!
We’ll inch, crawl, slither, squirm,
We’re shades and shadows at play!
We’ll wriggle down deep to the Chinvat Bridge
And sing to the newly dead today!
No one ever saw the spirits come and go, night after night, except for one lonely creature.
Garwig was a grotesque - a gargoyle carved from excess granite used in the temple’s construction and placed in an alcove recessed into the cathedral’s tower. No larger than a pug, Garwig had a hawk-like beak, protruding pointed ears, the wings of a bat, and a four-legged body. He lay on his belly, and his face was carved to look like he was sleeping.
Every night, Garwig would watch the spirits roll into the courtyard like a thick, angry fog, with grasping hands, boney arms, and snapping teeth.
Enraged by their trespass, Garwig would growl and paw at the stone in the alcove. Frequently, the spirits did not see nor hear Garwig, but hobs that did would stop in their tracks. They’d point up at the tower and mock the gargoyle; they would make sour, unhappy faces, lay uselessly on their bellies, and beg at it as a dog might. They would taunt Garwig mercilessly.
Those spirits were not afraid of Garwig as Garwig wasn’t frightening at all, a fact which greatly saddened him. A grotesque, Garwig was carved by Man to scare spirits away. Garwig wanted to do his job. He desperately wanted to protect the sanctuary but couldn’t because he didn’t know how.
Nearing the end of summer, the leaves of the great oaks faded from green to yellow, and on a cold, clear night, a waning crescent moon hung motionless in the inky black sky, and a murky fog settled around the cathedral like a boiling bog. Deep within those old oak trees, the sprites, spooks, and shades celebrated. It was Allhallowseve, the night when spirits might roam beyond their sticky haunts, and they looked forward to exploring the world.
Garwig sat unmoving on his belly, his bat wings tucked in, barely able to see over the brick lip of his niche. It was Allhallowseve, and Garwig, too, had awakened.
Blinking away sand from his eyes, Garwig shook his head and yawned a tall, beaky yawn. He stretched, and his body made grinding stone sounds.
Looking despairingly down at the sanctuary, Garwig’s head drooped.
“I was made wrong,” Garwig said morosely to himself, resting his chin on his tiny arms. “I can never guard this place. I am too small. I have failed.”
Still, within him, Garwig felt a fight, a streak of defiance and resentment toward the shades, and he wondered, on this night, if he could venture out to find a friend, someone who might teach him to be scary.
Why, he thought, that would change everything.
Emboldened, Garwig left his perch and descended the temple walls to the courtyard. As he wandered through the garden, it smelled of rotting leaves and wet mulch. Its flowers slept in the soil, and its trees suffered from rot emerging from the hob’s vicious bites. Left unattended by Man, black soil and dried leaves spilled over the cobblestone.
Garwig looked sadly upon the sanctuary and felt remorse for its state, yet, seeing it only strengthened his resolve. He must learn how to be scary, he thought. He just needed help.
He left the sanctuary to cross the cathedral grounds, journeying far from the oak grove. His footsteps crunched dry leaves and broken branches, and after a time, Garwig emerged into a field of upturned topsoil.
Curious, Garwig approached a man with outstretched arms suspended from a crucifix of rotting wood. He wore a dirtied nightshirt and old cotton breeches, his body stuffed with straw, and atop his burlap sack of a head rested a black, wide-brimmed saturno. Backlit by the moon, the figure seemed ready to set upon Garwig as he approached but remained eerily still in the gloomy fog.
Upon seeing Garwing, the straw man moaned to life. His voice was low and rumbly like an old cellar door. He stretched, drawing his arms closer to his body, then fell away from his cross, slumping to the earth, his back propped against the crucifix.
Garwig quaked in fear.
Slouching, the straw man rubbed his left arm with the cuff of the nightshirt, pretending as if he had hands, and groaned, “Argh, my shoulders … so … tight.”
“Merry Allhallowseve,” Garwig croaked.
The straw man threw his arms out over his knees and lowered his head. His hat jutted up to expose the creased shadows of his burlap sack, and appeared to sneer. He mumbled, “Pray, why am I bothered this night by a stone puppy?”
Garwig swallowed and said, “I-I come for favors.”
“Then make your ask,” he said dismissively, waving a sleeve, “and thereafter, you will leave me undone, my aching back sprawled over the earth and faced up to the blessed moon.”
“Agreed,” Garwig bargained. “Were you gifted a name?”
The straw man contemplated and glanced at the field before saying, “I am Edgar, Enemy of Crowkind.”
“I am Garwig,” the gargoyle announced with a bow. “Enemy of Shades. I was named by the niece of the man who birthed me from stone.”
The brim of Edgar’s hat obscured his eyes. “And what is your favor, Garwig?”
“Sir, Edgar, sir,” Garwig asked in a shakey voice. “Please tell me how you scare crows and protect this field?”
Edgar rustled. He stared puzzlingly at Garwig and blurted, “What kind of favor is that?”
Garwig sat on his hind legs like a dog. “I seek a friend, someone to teach me how to scare spirits.”
“A teacher? Me?” Edgar chortled. Mocking Garwig, the scarecrow’s face looked contorted and sinister. “For something you’d ought already know?”
Humiliated, Garwig’s eyes went shamefully to the earth. “The spirits of the grove run amok in my sacred garden. I wish only to defend it.”
“Hmmph,” Edgar grumbled, flopping his head around to regard the gargoyle with greater empathy. “Where are your mentors? Others of Gargoylekind perched on your ledge? To help instruct you in their ways?”
“There are none,” Garwig reflected, his eyes trailing over his shoulder to the temple. “I am alone in my alcove.”
It was then Edgar saw Garwig anew: he was young, without friends or guidance. Edgar felt pangs of empathy.
“Garwig,” Edgar began, “do you know how crows see?”
“I do not.”
Slumped against his cross, Edgar grimaced and made a waving gesture with both of his sleeves. “Oh, they are terrible birds, clever and conspiring, and when they see the world, they prefer to view it with just one eye. Their monocular vision is more powerful than their bifocal: they are two-eyed creatures with only one eye. Does this make sense to you?”
“Yes,” Garwig replied, earnestly following Edgar, trying to absorb his lesson.
“A one-eyed bird struggles to see depth; they only know what is before them. I appear bigger than I am as my arms reach across their narrow field of vision.”
Jerking, the scarecrow struggled to his feet. His limbs were weak and dead-like, and he moved in a contorted, limp way, sauntering to the right and left until he found his balance. Hunched over, Edgar groaned achingly as he outstretched his arms before a loud popping sound came from behind, and Edgar cried, “Oh, yes! That’s it! There it is! Ugh, good grief, that’s so much better.”
Garwig sat on his haunches, watching Edgar, amused, and with the naive attentiveness of youth.
“Alright. Garwig, like this. Do as I do. Go on.”
Sitting in the turned soil, Garwig opened his arms weakly at his side.
“No, no,” Edgar said, throwing his arms wider and more dramatically. “Like this!”
Garwig raised his forearms over his shoulders.
“Yes, Garwig, yes!” Edgar rumbled, lurching forward. Both faced one another, their arms outstretched. “Arch your back. Back. Back. And some more. There you go.”
Garwig stretched backward and unwittingly unfurled his bat wings. Unbalanced and so unaccustomed to their weight that they tipped him, sending him to his back.
And Edgar, the Enemy of Crowkind, roared with wicked, cackling laughter.
Wavering, Edgar widened his arms and, staring wistfully at the field, said, “As those wretched birds descend, the crows see me. I am made in the shape of Man, and I appear very, very close to a one-eyed bird. So close I may lunge at them.”
Following Edgar’s lead, Garwig stood, arched his back, spread his wings, and opened his arms wide.
“That’s it, that’s right, ugh,” Edgar said, falling fatigued against the wooden beam of his cross. He waved his straw-stuffed sleeves in encouragement. “Wider, Garwig! Remember: be close! Be big! Be as tall as you can be! Be something to be feared!”
Holding his breath, Garwig stretched his paws as far and wide as they could go, and he brought his bat wings up over his shoulders, further bestowing him more height.
“Yes!” Edgar exclaimed. He slapped his sleeves together as if he were applauding. “Much better.”
Edgar issued a painful, aching moan, and his arms slumped to the ground. The shadows of the burlap sack vaguely resembled a scowl. “And that, young Garwig, is how I scare crows.”
“Look! Look at me!” the young gargoyle shouted with an arching back, outstretched arms, and unfurled wings. Garwig wobbled and rocked precariously, like a small dog wholly unaware of his feet.
“Utterly terrifying,” Edgar said mischievously below the rim of his hat, “but, on its own, insufficient.”
“What more then?” asked the gargoyle, confused, lowering his paws.
Edgar leaned back, chuckling and flopping his sleeves over his stomach. “Oh, gracious, Garwig, you cut me with your innocence and sincerity!”
Garwig paused. “Are you not my friend, Edgar? Are you unwilling to help?”
Chortling, the back of Edgar’s sleeve brushed where his mouth ought to have been, and, genuinely hurt, the scarecrow whispered, “Of course, we are friends, boy. What monster would I be if I turned you away?”
Garwig pranced in place and smiled at Edgar. “I thank you, sir.”
“Now, Garwig,” Edgar roared and clenched his sleeves like fists. “You have a voice! Do for me as you’ve done before. Stand tall! Be brave! Show me your conviction! Believe in your purpose! Growl!”
And Garwig growled fiercely.
“No, no, louder!” snarled Edgar, urging him on. “You are angered by the shades’ trespass! Dig deep, boy - find that rage within you! Show it to me!”
“Grrrrrr!” Garwig growled deeper.
“Show me a face!” Edgar exclaimed, pulling at the edges of his burlap sack.
Garwig squinted, opened just one eye, skewed his beak, and uttered a fearsome growl that uprooted his belly.
And at that moment, Garwig understood his purpose, and he reared back on both hind legs, threw his wings up and over his shoulders, stretched his paws wide, and issued a dreadful screech from his horrifying beak.
“Yes! Bravo! Bravo!” cried Edgar.
Out of breath, Garwig toppled backward to land flat on his butt, and for a time, he and Edgar laughed long and hard together.
After a while, Edgar leaned forward to crawl in the dirt on his elbows and, in so doing, dragged the rest of his straw-filled body behind him.
“Time rushes on,” he said, crawling past Garwig to flop over on his back, splayed face-up over the earthen field. His hat tipped from his head and lay still beside him. At a distance, the scarecrow appeared as if he simply fell from his cross. “And there have I taught you all I know.”
“Rest easy, Edgar, Enemy of Crowkind, my friend,” Garwig said.
Edgar whispered, “Farewell, Garwig. Remember what you’ve learned, and route the evil from your sacred gardens.”
Leaving, Garwig made his way into the misty night, and as he strayed from Edgar’s field, he heard Edgar breathe, “Oh, oh! And there She is! Hark: she is … round … a round and beautiful moon! Her light, always present, always behind me, yet never seen. My love, have I longed to stare into your night sky save I couldn’t crane my neck. A gift! A gift, I say, and oh, such a gift! Bestowed unto me by a dear, dear friend, Garwig. I thank you, friend.”
Left alone, Edgar spent the night resting comfortably in a dark, fallow field, whispering love poems to the moon.
* * *
It was midnight on Allhallowseve, and a cold breeze rushed through the old oak grove surrounding the cathedral of Silvanus, and deep within those trees, ancient and malevolent spirits stirred. They bubbled up out of the soil; they seeped through cracks under the bark; they crawled out of the roots; they dripped from the oak branches.
They took their shapes on boney legs and had fat, round bodies. Some were as thin as skeletons. Some had long snouts and pointy ears. Some had hands like claws, and they grappled the soil. Some had gaping maws and teeth. And all had two glowing white slits for eyes. Together, they appeared as a rolling fog of twisted arms, legs, hands, and claws.
Garwig dashed through the sanctuary to climb the wall of the cathedral. He scrambled up the tower wall just as the mob of frenzied spirits charged the sanctuary grounds.
Facing the courtyard from his nook, Garwig inhaled and gathered his courage.
Garwig knew that the sanctuary was a sacred space, and within him was the power to defend it.
Standing on his hind legs, Garwig extended his wings up and over his shoulders, to spread them as wide as he could. Gripping at the stone with his hind paws, he opened his arms and leaned to be seen from anywhere on the ground.
Garwig’s face wrenched into the fierce visage of a screeching eagle, and he shrieked, terribly and loudly, just as an attacking raptor.
Below, as the hobs savagely approached the sanctuary, Garwig shrieked, and the spirits cringed in pain. If they had arms or hands, they threw them up and over their ears; they covered their eyes; they pulled at their hair. The panic-stricken shades pointed to the tower and agonized over the terrifying gargoyle, clawing at the midnight sky, his wings outstretched as if it were to take flight, his sharp beak prepared to bite, tear, and rip. Horrified, they shielded their eyes; they cowered and groveled; and they pleaded for mercy. Finally, retreating, they fled as far away from the courtyard as they could.
In the year that followed, spring returned, and the courtyard garden flourished. The walks were cleaned, swept, and trimmed, and the cathedral’s groundskeepers restored the garden to perfect health. Worshipers again came to linger in the garden to sit, contemplate, and pray, so moved by its natural splendor.
And in the morning of each new day, sunlight kissed the gargoyle pawing viciously at the air, determined to protect the sanctuary from the shades of the old oak grove.