by Valarie Thorpe
A man, or maybe not so much a man, who went by the name of Moundshroud, had on one Halloween, shown seven boys a glimpse at the worlds they knew existed but had never dreamed they’d see. On that one evening, a man, or maybe not a man at all, took by the hand a ghost, a skeleton, a mummy, a witch, an apeman, a gargoyle and death itself.
“Where are we going,” cried the ghost, skeleton, mummy, witch, apeman, gargoyle and death itself.
“Not where, but when!” screamed Moundshroud.
And with that they were off through the dark like tails on a kite. They saw themselves reflected in dusky moon-bright creeks, brushing down over ancient trees. They traveled to the undiscovered country, floating amongst strange years in the frightful past.
Their feet fell on the ancient roads of Mesopotamia, they heard the shriek of calliopes, they touched the monoliths of the Paleolithic and felt the drip of wet cavernous stone as Notre Dame was being built.
Moundshroud had given all of this to these boys. And in the epiphanies that followed, they found that the greatest friend in the world, no, the greatest boy in all the world, was dying. Moundshroud said he could give them all one more momentous year with their greatest friend. And in return? A year off their lives. Why, they were only twelve. They’d hardly miss it.
How these boys came to meet Moundshroud is a story all itself. It starts with a Halloween Tree and ends in a clattering cacophony of magicks, tragedies and childhood lost. But this is about the October Gods – the ghost, the skeleton, the mummy, the apeman, the witch and death itself. But mostly about the gargoyle.
Taking a year from a boy’s life is a tricky matter. You can’t just take it all willy nilly from the middle – he might miss his first kiss, his first car, his first love. You had to be very specific and it took a special type of gargoyle to achieve that precision. Cut as flawlessly as they were from stone, with facets to make the most brilliant of diamonds jealous, the gargoyle was well-suited for the task. And the gargoyle that traveled with the boys wasn’t actually Hank Nibley, as all his friends believed. This gargoyle was a gargoyle. And Hank was at home with the chicken pox.
In all of the ancient times lost, the setting of the sun, or the coming on of winter, was a fearsome, horribly lonely time.
Osiris, son of earth and sky, killed each night by his brother darkness.
Neanderthal wondered if the white beast of winter had, by shaking its shaggy fur, buried the warmth forever.
There sinks Mithras, the Persian fire.
There falls Phoebus, all Grecian light.
Would the sun return? The space of time immediately before its reappearance weighed heavy with fear, misery, and for some, opportunity.
The gargoyle had a very precise space of time, in a very precise location, with extremely precise tools to extract this year from each boy. There could be no mistakes. If a gargoyle was imprecise, the unemployed of all midnight Europe would shiver in their stone sleep and come awake. All the old beasts, old tales, old nightmares would wake at the summons and arrive and arrive and arrive.
The gargoyle knew. It was his last chance. He had to get it right this time.
Inspired by and in tribute to Deena Warner and Ray Bradbury