Authors: Misty Provencher
MERCY, A GARGOYLE STORY
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by Misty Provencher
Cover & Interior Design by Misty Provencher
Editor: Kathryn Paquette
This is a work of fiction.
Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Author holds exclusive rights to this work.
Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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or on Facebook and Twitter: @mistyprovencher
boil and prickle
Oh, what will be your name?
Your kingdom’s come
and not yet won
Shall your mercy be in vain?
Then I will.
Then the city will find the boat and put the boy under its magnifying glass.
He'll be suspect.
And finally, my body will find its way back to the surface and gossip in the autopsy notes.
But the best parts will be left out, of course.
An autopsy can't explain how the boy inhaled my breath and left me breathless, how his hand on my thigh would make me forget everything except who we were, together, when I laid down beside him.
It won't say how I counted imaginary wisps of hair and nicknamed the thing that never was.
Those empty lines between the facts are the why, and only the boy knows those.
And I doubt he will ever tell.
I bet there'll be some rock-hard sergeant with a coffee tongue, asking questions.
The golden fleece in the boy's voice will probably thin out beneath the spotlight and the boy will whisper my name like he doesn't know me at all, "Madeline?"
The sergeant will give it a minute to sink in and say, "That's right, son.
What do you know about her?"
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Is what the boy will answer.
It's his one last chance to be cruel.
I don't need to think of anything else to know that
this is enough.
I wobble up between the seats of the quivery silver boat and take one more look at the black clouds drifting over the moon.
The water doesn't hesitate like I do.
It floods my ears and nose and mouth.
It numbs my fingertips.
Like it's helping me.
I flail up to the surface once, which wasn't the plan, but I need to see the boat's oars licking away, so I know this is for real.
I can't swim and there's nobody on the pier this late on a Tuesday night.
The boardwalk lights don't even reach this far.
Under the water, my lungs become hard, useless tanks when they run out of air.
My body spasms and fights death like a tiny fish on a heavy line.
I breath algae.
I gasp seaweed.
It wasn't supposed to be this hard.
I figured I'd open my mouth and breathe and just swim away from my life, but the water squeezes my guts.
It rolls over me like a machine.
Even so, my will to survive is the first thing to drown.
I know, because I hold it under myself.
My blood vessels dilate, the water in my respiratory system may as well be lead.
There's no getting out now.
Some things, you just know.
My back touches the sand.
My eyes are wide open.
A thought flutters through: I should make a sand angel.
But I lie still on the bottom, watching the dirty prism cast by the moon, liquid dust dancing, just like the particles that used to float in the air of my bedroom.
Let me die, let me die.
I chant in my head.
Please just let me die.
A school of passing fish flash like diamonds above me.
Something I am not anymore.
I wait for my soul to drift out, drawn to some beacon.
At least, that's what I've been sold on all those years in church.
"The Lord comes with light,"
Father said from the pulpit.
It was summer.
The pews were sweaty and the parishioner's bodies were bread dough.
My father sent me, alone.
I obediently sang hymns among strangers while pieces of me still smelled like the boy.
I daydreamed of sex, while the preacher spoke of the golden-ruled ways of championing a pious, deserving death.
"We shall not fear our death,"
The preacher insisted.
He gives us a dramatic pause and my mind wanders to how the boy's muscles felt like waves of blown glass beneath my fingertips.
"The Lord sends His blessed angels to watch over us."
As I lie here on the sandy floor, water burbles through me like the hull of a sunken ship.
I'm still thinking, yet I'm not alive.
My soul darts in and out of my body, quick as a frightened minnow, but I can't lift my fingers or feel what is happening in my skin.
The moon changes position and turns the water a murky gray.
My eyes stay open.
A huge fish emerges from the deep.
The thing nudges my side before snaking away.
Another tinier fish pauses to nibble my skin.
But none stay long and none come back.
I wait through the sun rise, the sunset, and then I give up for the second time.
I give up waiting for dragnets or angels.
Maybe they can't find me or maybe no one wants to.
I give up deeper than I've ever thought of giving up before.
And I rise.
This body, with it's eyes glued open and its useless limbs, is a cage, soft as soggy bread.
I hit the surface face up under the black moon.
The water has either released me or rejected me, but I still can't open my mouth to even shout to God,
Instead, I float along the surface.
Maybe not dead at all, I think, but I know better.
I'm not breathing.
My heart isn't beating.
My clammy skin doesn't feel cold or warm inside.
I can't feel anything inside at all.
The ocean smoothes me toward the pier, as if I'm on the shoulders of a rock concert crowd.
The panic surfaces again, that I'll be stuck among the nets of some poor fisherman.
I'll ruin his sleep for years with my hideously open eyes.
But it's worse than that.
My body dodges the nets by millimeters, and no matter how I try to will my flesh to sink again, the waves still push me to the beach.
It anchors me under the wooden slats of the old pier, among the rotting fish, caught by clothing alone, to a rock.
The tide pushes in garbage and dead fish hit my face.
I know this place.
It is where kids come to collect the fishermen's beer cans for candy money.
A child will find me.
I pray, more like trying to ping whatever savior is in proximity, hoping the angels will take me.
I hope that the universe will have mercy enough to wash my body back into the sea after I'm gone and feed it to the creatures at the bottom.
A voice, graveled with age and smoking, ground down by drinking and screaming after women, chokes off the word with a phlegmy laugh.
"There's none of that here.
You're among fish. Consider them friends. And what you need isn't mercy.
You need saving, although it's too late for even that."
If I could speak, I'd scream
Let me die!
But I can't do anything besides lie in the slimy, rotting fish.
The last of the tide gushes up, bashing me against the rock.
The voice comes closer.
"Now if I poke you, you'll be a talker.
Not like I need a talker just yet, I'll tell you what.
You need saving.
Looks to me that somebody forgot.
The voice is so close, I ache to turn my head.
"You're a Slip, that's what.
Slipped right through the crack.
Right through their fingers." The voice settles above me, on the rock that is holding me here.
With just one more push of the tide, my body will flap up and I will be able to see the owner of the voice.
I pray for that.
"And that's what they get,"
the voice goes on.
"They are Forgetters who end up with Slips and don't even know they have them, because they are Forgetters.
You, my darling, are a fortunate disaster.
You are a Slip in the hands of one who never forgets."
One hard, salty wave gets under my shoulder and shoves me upward.
Right before I hit the rock, I get a good look at what is there.
It is nothing like an angel.
It is not like any living being I've ever seen.
The face is a tortured tribal mask.
The body is stout as a dwarf, but the limbs are long and thick with muscle and the skin is the crackled gray of broken concrete.
Before the wave gives out and flops my body back onto its spine, I see that this thing is perched on the rock, clinging impossibly from a cleft.
Its sinewy finger extends, hovering only inches from my naked eye.
I have seen this thing in a book once.
A photo that was not this, but similar enough to identify it.
It is out of place here, but as the thing scrapes to grip the rock, I am almost certain I am looking at a gargoyle.
"Surprised? Disappointed?" The thing says. "That a grotesque, an
would be sent to save you?
Not the beautiful, not the angelic?
What is the matter with me?
I have wings."
And the thing spreads out hideous, thin wings, darker gray than it's body and spiny as the backbone of a starving child.
He pushes them down so hard that the water churns around me, bashing my body against the rock, over and over again.
I scream inside.
Leave me for the angels to find!
The gargoyle's giggle escapes in charred wisps, but the thing tucks in its wings with one sticky, awkward fold.
"Strength is not exclusive to beauty, darling,"
The gargoyle growls, hovering closer to my face.
"You will exist, Slip.
And you will do it knowing that these ugly claws were the only ones that reached out for you.
They are what came to save you, and not those celestial beings."
It's finger, pointy as a stinger, swoops down to prod me, but at the last second, all of the gargoyle's claws spread wide.
The tines of its fingers clutch my skin and my soul is thrust back into my soft, bread cage body.
A caustic scream awakens from my bloodless shell and echoes among the milky-eyed fish that stare up at me as I am carried away.
My lips don't move as well as they did only a day ago.
My body has forgotten how to have me in it.
I try desperately to force air into the shape of a sound, but all I manage is a question that whines like an accordion,
"Fool," the thing grunts.
"Stupid and beautiful, always so simply married.
Of course, the ugly are singled out for Hell!
But it is not so, Stupid, not so.
I should crack you against the rocks and let you die twice more.
Ugly understands the world because it has nothing to stare at in the mirror.
Maybe I let go? Just once?"
The claws falter and my arms spring up to clutch at them.
The gargoyle squawks a laugh, tossing me into the air.
It seizes me again, knocking the air from my lungs.
My belly stares at the Earth as we glide above it.
Prettier, always better.
We will deliver the ruins, so no one notices the pretty.
Uglier always worse to the human eye!”
I tug in a breath and force it back over my tonsils, one word at a time.
The gargoyle cackles.
It beats down the air with its wings and rises us up so quickly that my head is dizzy.
I can't see anything but the broad colors of the water and the city, gradually loosening into a landscape of trees and foliage.
"Stupid has an idea.
Who looks and doesn't see ugly?
Yet, ugly saves you.
Not mean, Pretty Stupid."