A lead roofing tile, patinated with age, clanged off a gutter with a clear note. There was a long gulf of silence before the tile hit the pavement with a crack. Muted by the distance, the broadly accented swearing of the tradies below faintly reached roof level.
I better picked my footing amongst the tile’s remaining neighbours and surveyed the damage. Up and down the slate grey slope of roof, tiles were missing, damaged, or even sagging in places. It was a sorry sight, even if the cathedral was nearly a millennia old in some places. Tallying up the costs of a complete new roof tiling, (at least for this face,) and a structural engineering review while I was at it, I ended up with a few too many zeroes to tolerate. Or rather, a few too many zeroes to have to (calmly, calmly,) explain to a costings committee with the bureaucrats of the various English heritage associations. Taxpayer pound? It costs what it costs to keep buildings like this standing for another millennia! I don’t give a good goddamn how much it costs!
—Ah. No. That’s not going to be a healthy train of thought.
When did I become such an intractable old man?
Taking off my glasses, I ground the bridge of my nose, trying to ease the stress I felt welling up, and only succeeding in making myself feel very tired. That’s life, and I’ve long resigned myself to its indignities, but if I can keep this cathedral standing for now, it’ll probably survive me by a large margin. People can keep handing down the buildings I’ve worked on, they can keep a physical anchor all the way back to time immemorial; through all the hands that have worked on it, that have lived with it, that have conserved it, and will do so in the future; my contributions made immortal…
Staggering, sorting my footing between the rotten tiles and the healthy, I made my way to a likely looking gothic spire. The southward bell-tower of the west entrance speared into the bright, clear English sky, towering over the roof ahead of me. It’s twin could be barely made out over the peak of the roofline and the partly finished gangway that was being set up for ease of access across the mountainous ridges and valleys of the rooftop. I reached the gothic hypodermic without much trouble, and paused.
For the first time today I properly noticed the patchwork of emerald greens that rushed into the cathedral’s space, fencing it in with a blinding kaleidoscope of colour, noise, and shivering sunlight that forced me back under its pressure. There lay the outside world. The secular world that wasn’t bound by roofs or walls, where shearing points, maximum loads, foundation quality, repair techniques, all were of little use. The world that I couldn’t box out with walls of my own making, the world that constantly tried to corrode the buildings I preserved. I averted my wincing eyes to the long, swooping drop of the buttress and traced the line I understood so well back up to its pinnacle.
Quickly checking the spire’s structural integrity, then slumping in an old heap, I pressed my back against it and began fumbling for the pack of smokes I had stashed somewhere on my person. It was definitely time for a break. Feeling the sun warmed stone wedge hard up into my flesh, I noticed it with a new clarity born of rejection and refuge. I dragged a finger tip across the spire behind me; organic ridges, geometric planes, naïve carvings of saints, demons and assorted martyrs of every stripe and masochistic disposition.
The finger tip came back blacker than the chambers of a dead nun’s heart, the stone feeling somehow weaker to the touch. Industrial revolution, wars, cars, people, in a word: pollution. Eating away at the stone, leaving a filthy pitted façade. One more cigarette’s worth of smog won’t do any more damage, not that I need to justify anything. I tallied the cost of the façade cleaning as I patted myself down for my lighter, cig hanging from my bottom lip—
—Ah. Fuck. I lent it to the carpenter and the bastard mustn’t have given it back…
Where’s an intern or a grad student when you need to steal a lighter or a cigarette? Well. I’m too old to be bumming cigarettes from my underlings, not that I’m any better paid these days…
At least I was still on good terms with the tradesmen. That was something. Even though it felt like we were from two different species, aliens trying to talk to one another in a foreign tongue, I still manage to keep the tradesmen on side. It made work easier if the people under your supervision didn’t hate you. Well. If the people that mattered didn’t hate you anyways. It took a while to break in contractors, to teach them how to do things to my specifications.
Compared to a university student, all of them 21 odd years old and ready to be recognised as the geniuses they obviously are, tradesmen were easy. There was an obvious, and instant, mutual rejection. “You are not like me.” We could communicate on the assumption that neither of us could understand the other, that a single misstep could lead to lifelong contempt, but no amount of effort could make us truly equivalent. My students however, they were people meant to be cut from the same cloth as me, but that only made it easier for them to intrinsically understand that I could only communicate with them via commands from upon high, and they all ended up hating me for it. Not that I could blame them.
So I oversaw the inside works, and I lent the tradesmen my lighter and my smokes and they thought to themselves “These uni snobs ain’t all bad I guess,” whilst I screamed at the revolving roster of the dregs of the history and architecture departments. I am long past the point of trying to compromise, even with myself. Skipping straight to yelling was simply more efficient.
Too busy watching the high clouds blow across the postcard-blue sky as it slowly turned a purplish orange, I barely noticed time pass. The clock seems to run faster, but easier, as you age. Below, the sounds of the interior works team continued at a steady pace, broken every now and then by a high, reedy, needling voice. It was that voice that broke me of my reverie, the voice that suddenly reminded me why I was up here at all: that the (technically inaccessible) roof needed immediate attention. The fucking Archbishop’s (goddamn capital a) Assistant. I felt my pulse pound through my head just thinking about him. Every second hour he wants a fucking update on the work! Then he wants to pontificate about his amateur-hour fucking architecture knowledge for god knows how long. I just have him thrown out of my temporary office now, before I turn him into a 21st century martyr.
I had a pleasant mental image of throwing him off the roof.
Christ! Was it the lack of nicotine? Or am I just that angry?
Willing my tired legs back into functionality, I got up in a single, somewhat smooth movement, putting my glasses back on, sorting out my hair. I should get some more work done before night sets in proper…
I twisted a finger through a grey lock before putting it back in place. I thought the first grey streak was charming when I saw it in the mirror, I was a picture perfect academic with it, blazers with elbow patches and all. The charm wore off after the fourth streak. I’m not even that old! Even if my body’s creaking, I’m barely past 40. That’s not that old.
Sighing, I picked my way towards the southward tower, noting damage, loss, and surprisingly healthy elements in the architecture as I went. Engulfed in its late evening shadow, I gingerly made it to the tower itself. Pressing my hand against the cool masonry I tried to imagine the person who had shaped the block by hand, the people who had hoisted it all the way up here, the men who had mortared it in place… How is the mortar? My pocketknife scraped at the stonework, the ancient mortar resisting the intrusion—
—Until I lose my footing. Tiles slipping out beneath my feet, tumbling back to earth.
In a fit of blind instinct I jammed the knife between the stonework and held on for dear life, the sound of steel on the ancient stone a rending shriek.
Panting, finding my footing again, I checked the damage I had inadvertently caused—
—No, found, the damage I had found. Nothing that couldn’t be easily repaired, seeing as how all of the roof was going to be retiled anyways (if I got my way). The knife itself was ruined, and having refused it entry before, the stone now refused to release it without a great amount of effort. The mortar there will need a patch.
I caught my breath, and having already long thrown OH&S to the wind, I made my way up the roof’s steep incline, bracing myself against the tower. I became a faintly ridiculous mountaineer scrabbling up the sheer face of a 1000 year old roof. But I had a goal at least: there was scaffolding all over the western entrance, if I could reach it, it would be the easiest way back down to terra firma. Besides a long fall and a sharp stop. Not to mention, this face of the south tower hadn’t been properly checked by the last surveying team twenty-something years ago. Of course a drone, or even a kite with a camera could, and really should, do this initial survey with a slightly higher modicum of safety. However. That left me at the mercy of the Assistant; the roof was easily the better option.
So up I went, until I rounded the sharp corner of the tower.
Something strange happened here.
Architecturally speaking, of course. Here, where the roof met what could be called the narthex portico, (the heavily embellished western entrance to the cathedral,) the roof continued towards the structure as normal before plummeting down at a steep angle
to meet the narthex, creating a deep valley. In addition, between the roof’s peak and the towers, a steep incline fell down perpendicular to either side of the roof-line, giving the impression of an empty void, that the towers pinning in the space were somehow slowly grinding inwards to fill the gap. Looking down at the roof, one would see two small rectangular hollows on the inside edges of the towers, the roofline dividing them, a reservoir for whatever streamed off the roofs. Looking up from ground level, you wouldn’t notice anything.
A faint memory tugged at my focus; old aerial survey maps, and their strange wells of shadow, delving deep into the stone peaks of the cathedral, at angles that denied the usual geometry of the sun’s rays. I guessed that I had crossed off an investigation before I had even considered organising it.
Cathedrals get built in stages, periods of light activity and heavy activity, parts get torn down and rebuilt, others are completely changed from the original plans. As you can imagine, managing to make a cohesive whole out of a building that could take over 700 years to complete is a considerable achievement.
This small space before me, hemmed in by walls, roofs, and gutters; plus, (as I vaguely recalled,) another one mirroring it on the northern face of the roof, were relics of some immediate change in plans, and a compromise made on the spot. I guess they decided it was out of sight and out of mind, so anything that worked, worked. I could sympathise with them up to a point—
—but only up to a point when I considered the amount of rubbish that I could barely make out in the gloom.
Vaulting the joint between the roof tiling and the tower, briefly pausing, I let my eyes get accustomed to the ever deepening shadows. Leaving the last of the sunlight behind, forcing through the heavy curtains of gloom, I entered the small stage-like space. There were no windows on to the little pseudo-courtyard, no way to enter from the tower or the front façade, so the space had been abandoned since the day construction finished, same as it was, never changing. If this spot hasn’t been disturbed in years… Then under all that detritus…
I took a closer look at what could be at best described as the refuse that covered the treacherous flooring. Broken tiles, broken stone work, leaf litter turning into compost, the nests of birds, mice, and god knows what kinds of creepy crawlies. The previous generations’ shit and skeletons added to the pile. Grass had even started to grow up here.
Sitting on top of all of it at a rakish angle, like a lord on their throne, was a broken statue; it felt different from the rest of the grotesques I had seen here so far, as if someone had taken extra care with it’s features, it’s femininity appealing, its monstrous aspects more well considered, better fitting, than the cut-and-paste menagerie of her colleagues—
—Its face. It’s expression. Wait—
“Swear to god… It was making an obscene face…”
My over educated Oxford voice rose out of the well, until it was sucked up by the debris, with no reply from any quarter. Not even an echo to speak of.
Now that I looked at it more carefully, the sculpture had a somewhat ho-hum visage of aggression, where, not a second ago, I’m certain that it had hooked a long finger into each of its cheeks, pulled them out, mouth open wide, vicious teeth on display, her tongue lolled out in what would be a very compromising expression in polite society.
The little well of trash darkened as we stared at one-another, two figures shrouded in the velvet purple of a deep shadow: a man feeling more and more embarrassed about making sure a statue doesn’t move, the other a creature of marble and artistic skill.
I rubbed my temples and gave up. Slowly exhaling, cracking my neck, I set about figuring out where the sculpture had tumbled down from.
“Chimera, gargoyle, chimera, gargoyle, chimeraaa… Ah,” I had noticed a shattered piece of masonry, perched on top of the back of the western façade. If a gargoyle was placed there it would divert the water down the roof to be siphoned away by the spires along the building. That’s probably a correct hypothesis, correct enough, “so I guess that makes you a—”
It, she, the gargoyle, had silently moved right beside me, making that obscene face again.
We stared at each other once again. Only this time, her sightless marble eyes had changed, now a blood red light welled up from the depths of the carver’s chisel marks. And we kept staring until she unhooked her fingers from her cheeks, slurped up her long tongue, and sighed.
“A gargoyle. You guessed right! Congrats. Clap clap clap.”
I watched her sashay up the rubbish pile back to her ruined plinth, spaded tail flicking, bat wings folded in, where she sat her well cushioned marble arse down, swiftly put one long leg upon the other, armoured elbow on an armoured knee. She tried to flick a stray lock of hair off her face before resting her finely wrought jaw, chin, on the soft palm of her hand, claws making a stoney clink-clinking as she tapped them against a perfectly polished, beautiful, high, cheekbone.
“To have no real reaction at all is actually pretty dispiriting. My feelings may be hurt. After all, I’ve lived on this plane for half a millennia looking after this cathedral, just to get knocked off my perch by an unlucky lightning strike, then for the last 50 years sit around as lord of a rubbish tip,” well, at least she’s aware of her situation, “now, as I finally have a chance to chat to someone, all I get is some suicidal academic defacing a national monument who won’t say a word. O’ cruel fate!”
“I was hardly defacing a national monument!”
“Did you miss the inference from the whole “looking after this cathedral” thing? Guardian, caretaker, soul fished out of their home, bound to a statue, then the statue bound to a certain place, whatever you wanna call it, I know when you’re damaging this building.”
She got up as she finished that last sentence in a deathly purr, powerful muscles rolling under her almost translucent marble “skin”, loosening up her shoulders, flaring her wings, pushing out her chest, the bouncing of her white breasts as prominent as the sheaths of muscle flowing across her rib cage. The marble woman struck an imperious pose from her perch.
“Hmmm. First things first, one must always consider time and place, but most importantly… Atmosphere! Let’s introduce ourselves!” She laughed like a rain of pebbles striking a rock face and producing a sweet tinkling ring that I find hard to describe, apart from “charming.”
“Hrmmm. What should you call me…” She ran her wicked claws through her shoulder length, unkempt hair, the horns that erupted from her hairline getting in her way. She knit her pretty brows together, chewing at a full bottom lip. Finally she gasped, snapped her claws, and gave me an out of all proportion look of triumph, “Galatée! Call me Galatée. That’s a good one, a classic is nice every now and then right?”
She looked at me expectantly, and I tried to steady my breathing, to calm down, to press through my annoyance with the ridiculous mile-a-minute monsterous girl before me.
“You can call me Dr Wren, Dr Art Wren, it’s a pleasure Galatée.”
“No, no, the pleasure’s all mine Mr Wren—”
She just ploughed through, “—it has been so long since I’ve last had a chance to chat, it’s true. Not very many people come around here, would you believe? Anyways, now that we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way Mr Wren—”
“—I must ask: Why are you throwing tiles off the roof? Stabbing masonry? Do you have some kind of vendetta against gothic architecture?”
Her tone may’ve been sing-song, she may’ve had a bright smile on her face, but everything about her body suggested tendons tightened to snapping point, muscles flooding with blood. If she had blood, or muscles, or tendons. I realised I was staring at her silken, soft thighs rubbing together as she padded towards me, drawing up to a height a couple inches shorter than me. If you discounted the horns that gave a solid 5 inches plus to her height.
I then remembered I was pissed off with the creature, no matter how scary she was since conversation time had apparently changed to interrogation time.
“Oi. I won’t be charged with destroying a monument I’m losing years of my life for, by a damn objet d’art!—”
“I’m a proper architectural element!”
I was the one who ploughed through this time, a slight, petty glee flaring in my heart for a second, “—I’ll have you know, that I’m the man in charge of conservation work here, sweating blood to keep this gothic wedding cake standing for another thousand years! When I’m finished here, my department will second me to some other conservation project, for which I will then be forced to crawl on my hands and knees, begging for pocket change to keep the damn thing standing in a respectable condition. Ad. Infinitum.”
Galatée’s somewhat threatening aura relaxed a few notches towards curiosity whilst I caught my breath from my little rant. I felt a bit better.
She tilted her head: “Lead conservator you say Dr Wren?”
“Doctor— oh, wait, sorry. Thank you… Ah, yes.”
I explained about the university I had been sent from, the board on which I function as a de facto leader, the various issues I had so far found with the cathedral, my cynical projections about what kind of half-arsed patch jobs we’ll have to do to save on our budget, that kind of thing. She seemed to find it interesting, or at least, she paid more attention than most of my students ever have done, her pointed ears perking at certain parts about the physical works to be done.
“So what’s a man with an alphabet soup of letters after his name doing scrambling up heritage listed monuments, at your age? Do you think you’re Indiana Jones?”
“At my age?! I’m not old!” The marble girl just nodded with a condescending understanding, “How do you even know about a movie made in ’81?”
She laughed that tinkling laugh once again, crinkling her well sculpted nose, with the barest of flicks up at the tip, making an attempt to cover her mouth with a claw.
“It’s true that since I got knocked off my proper perch, that my… Range of movement is severely limited, however that doesn’t mean I can’t hear. The god-botherers down stairs thought they’d add to their flock by projecting movies onto a big screen outside in the summer, the grounds are big enough. Indiana Jones was a movie that they played. I listened to it like a radio drama. I would like to see it one day though… Though, if Indy doesn’t look like you I’ll be a bit disappointed Doc, you fit my image of him perfectly.”
“I’m not a kleptomaniac archeologist, don’t dump me in the same category as Harrison Ford leads.”
“And yet you’re scrambling up a roof at age, what, 50?—”
“—42. I’m 42, thank you.”
She just grinned at me with a disgusting look of superiority.
“I see, I see! Well, at any rate I can’t admit to being rude to you Dr Wren, since I simply don’t want to, and I’m 400 plus years older than you, so I don’t feel I have to. But… I’ll overlook the physical damage rendered unto this cathedral, being my responsibility. That being the case, don’t be petty, and let’s be friends!”
She said it all so easily, making no attempts to hide the sly look that came to her eyes, now burning a slightly brighter ruby red.
“How big of you Galatée.”
“Don’t mention it! Whilst I’m at it, I’ll even offer you a seat, hospitality always helps a deal.”
Galatée gestured to a vaguely flat piece of rubble, I hesitated for a second before I took a seat, with good reason it seemed. As soon as my arse hit the rock the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, I could feel the grinding of trash beneath me, shifting, settling, sending tiny electric vibrations up my spine.
The marble monster before me sat daintily on her perch, shifting her legs, crossing and uncrossing them. I wonder if she specifically chose this piece of rubble for me to sit on, just so that my eyes would be on level with the girl’s shadowed crotch. Grinding filled my head, it took me a second to realise that it wasn’t the stones beneath me, but myself, grinding down my teeth.
Galatée smiled sweetly as I attempted to both relax and not lose my balance on the stone pile.
“So? What’s this deal Galatée?”
“So impatient! Well, time must seem so much swifter to you, a human’s life goes by so quickly. Memento mori, no?”
“As a conservator I can give you a professional opinion: even marble will erode away.”
She seemed to like that answer, flicking out her wings, swinging her legs out and laughing honestly.
“That’s it! That’s it! Ah, you got right down to the issue at hand Dr Wren, I suppose you deserve to be recognised for your skill!”
“Galatée, I don’t give a damn if you’re a gargoyle, a demon, or a damn saint, I’m at the absolute limit of my patience!”
“You’re so tense Dr Wren, that’s not good for your health you know?— No, no, sit down Dr Wren, this is the deal. Or rather a story, and finally a request, with the promise of a reward.”
And this is what she told me:
In short, Galatée was happily minding her own business, innocent as a lamb, when she was forced on to this mortal plane, and bound to a stone grotesque, a gargoyle, drainage and all. From whence she was dragged she declined to elaborate upon. Understandably she was a little miffed about her new status, regardless she quickly acclimatised. Quickly over the course of 200 years. Galatée took to her new home and her new job, and for the better part of 500 years she happily looked after the cathedral, saving it from civil wars, robbers, bombs, so on and so forth.
When interrupted and asked why a bound gargoyle would be the best choice for guarding a cathedral she simply grinned and said: “you can put out a fire with gasoline.”
Thus, in the course of her stewardship, she enjoyed harassing the various men of the cloth that passed through her clutches and steadily digesting more and more information about this world. This world that she soon found herself more and more attached to. Her current home feeling smaller and smaller in relative comparison.
Bound to her proper perch, the church grounds the absolute limit of her travels, Galatée nevertheless didn’t consider escape. So she says.
Then in the midst of one of the worst thunderstorms she had ever experienced in 450 odd years of being exposed to the elements, a lightning bolt struck her. Lo and behold, her perch broke and most of her ended up down in her current little city of refuse.
Her problem was twofold; firstly, due to the rules placed upon her, she could neither alter, nor move her perch by herself. “Imagine saving yourself from quicksand by pulling your own hair up,” she laughed at that, and shrugged her pretty shoulders, “I’m not much of a Munchausen.”
Secondly, (and here Galatée’s look became more predatory than conspiratorial,) she lacked a lot of power. Most of her abilities were automatically sealed since she was separated from her proper place in the world. She couldn’t move about in daylight lest she be permanently turned to stone, and her range of movement was severely curtailed as well. Functionally, Galatée was trapped. However, if she were to “receive” power through some, as yet unspecified, means from some, as yet unspecified, person, potentially she could be returned to her perch, thus being able to tap into the cathedral’s holy power once more, everything will be fixed as good as new.
Everything is in its place and all would be right in the world.
I sighed. I knew it was coming, but I still took off my glasses and ground my temples again, the blood thumping in my head, “Or?”
“Or, with a little bit of borrowed power, we—”
“—It’s we now? Since when was I a bit part in your play?”
“Since you clambered up here like you were looking for the Ark of the Covenant, Dr Jones.”
“I haven’t agreed to a goddamn thing!”
Already the deep shadows of her pit had turned into pitch black night around us. In the dim light Galatée’s white body loomed in and out of focus, even as the sound of grinding stone reverberated through the space. The blood red light of her pupils followed me, seeing through me. Galatée now towered over me by a foot.
“—And I haven’t suggested a goddamn thing yet!”
She stared me down. I won’t feel ashamed about that. I won’t.
“I-I apologise… My temper got the better of me.”
“Your apology would be worth more if you weren’t grinding your jaw, Dr Wren… With a bit of borrowed power,” Galatée wavered, flicking her wings out and flailing for balance, shrinking back to her usual height, the red glow of her eyes dimming like cooling lava, “with… A bit of borrowed power, we could erase my connection to the architecture of this cathedral, and I would be free to leave holy ground.”
“Erase your connection to the architecture you say?”
“I thought you’d notice something like that, well, one should stick to one’s field of expertise, don’t you agree Dr Wren?”
“…You’re right Galatée! The thing is, you could argue that you have barely any connection to the architecture of this cathedral at all. Being a glorified decorative element afte—”
“I. Am. A. Gargoyle. Drainage is an integral structural element to a building!”
“So you say! My mistake! I do apologise Galatée!”
Now it was Galatée’s turn to grind the bridge of her beautifully carved nose. There’s that petty glee again.
“Look. Here’s the deal. I mean, my request. You share a bit of power with me, and then help free me, and I’ll make it worth your time.”
“You say it like you’re doing me a favour. What’s in it for me? Are you going to force the Heritage board to start giving money to me hand over fist? Make my interns and grad students actually pull their weight? Hell, are you going to put on a high-vis vest and a hard hat and start hauling things up to roofs?”
“Ooo, so close on that last one. Manual labour really isn’t my thing though.” Figures, “But. You instead get 500 years of knowledge about how buildings like this get put up, first hand witness account, I could even tell you all about the architects of this place. The masons’ names, how their families were doing when they cut a certain stone. That doesn’t just go for the cathedral, I’m sure I could be helpful for a lot of other conservation work too…”
I hate to admit it… But her proposal really interested me; who wouldn’t want a first hand witness to history? Theses languishing unfinished in my office, research projects given immediate results, thousands of unprocessed records languishing in archives that could be cleared up immediately by a being with 500 years of experience… But, what could she possibly gain from sticking with me? Does she think I’m so naïve that I’d believe an unbound monster will honour her word made whilst bound?
“Won’t you just disappear the second you get a chance? I’ll have no hold over you, nor would you have a reason to stay with me.”
“I wouldn’t say no reason not to…”
“Regardless, my female assistants last a month at best, the male ones less. And you’re going to be in my company for how long? I apologise, but even if you can tolerate me, that’s no guarantee that that feeling will be mutual Galatée.”
She sighed at that, genuinely disappointed for the first time. Disappointed in me. I couldn’t hold her gaze and fumbled for my lighter again. The cigarette forgotten behind an ear.
“Dr Wren. Let’s deal with the hurdles as they come, shall we? You’ve got a more pressing issue at hand.”
“Hmmm? My lack of nicotine?”
“My lack of power.”
“That sounds like a you problem, rather than a me problem.” Childish. Aren’t I more mature than this?
“Well, then I’ll just make it a “we” problem. How do you think you will… Release your energy to me?”
The marble monstrosity advanced on me, her bestial canines catching the light. Galatée’s face twisted into an animalistic grin, her pupils constricting into two cat-like slashes of blazing red.
I dropped my cigarette.
She was on me before it hit the floor. Claws pinning me down by the shoulders, my head cracking the broken stonework, my world spinning around the axis of her burning eyes.
A low whisper into the crook of my neck, the scent of earth and night upon her, teeth close enough to nick the skin, “How do you think, Dr Wren?”
Her long, hot tongue dragged up my throat, and the higher functions of my mind turned off in sheer terror. I became little more than an animal, lizard brain firing all cylinders as flight became impossible and fight was never an option to be considered.
Pure sensation electrified its way up my nerves, as she ground her cool, soft crotch into my own, her thighs clamping down on me. It was like trying to push against soft flesh that could turn to stone at will. Beneath the gargoyle it felt like an entire building was going to crash down upon me, her tangible sense of mass precariously hanging above.
Her breath cascading hot against my throat, “Don’t worry Dr Wren, it’s not your life that I’ll be taking. To be blunt: I’ll take your orgasm for myself.”
“What if I… Refuse?”
She rose to her full height, flaring her wings, openly grinding her hips on me. Galatée smiled down at me, her hair a mane about her shoulders and delicate throat, her breasts swaying with the rising of her stone chest, the full moon above framed by her ridged impala horns. A beautiful Hellenistic goddess, twisted by lust.
“I’ll do it regardless of your consent.”
With a beatific smile she slid her hands up my front, the buttons of my work shirt opening by some supernatural mechanism, until she could slide her claws beneath my collar. The cool, polished marble of her palms forcefully pushed down on my collarbone, one hand finding the base of my throat, it’s razor sharp nails pricking at my neck, plucking at my adam’s apple. It’s sister busied itself in opening up my shirt front, seeking my waist, slipping down towards my belt buckle.
My muscles tensed under her touch, as if an electric current was being forced through them, abdominals contracting under her caress, legs twisting away, feet kicking, my hands opening and closing pointlessly around lumps of rock and stone, worthless weapons when the pressure of her claws pressed into my carotid.
Beneath her rolling hips, even as I struggled against it, I could feel my manhood responding to her, betraying me.
“What do you gain from my orgasm, you demonic gargoyle?!”
She ripped away my belt, the leather sliding with a burning friction, throwing the scrap away even as her tail snaked around my thigh, constricting it.
“What do I gain, human? Hmmm, how to put it so that you would be able to understand human,” she paused, her claws leaving my throat as she rocked back, sitting on my legs and seemingly pondering out my question. With a snap of her claws she continued, “Let’s put it like this: I could claim your soul easily, but this way I actually get a larger amount of energy. Instead of your single soul, I take the very possibility of life, souls, so on and so forth, all and sundry, from your sperm… So your unborn children, in a way I guess?
“Ah, don’t look at me like that Dr Wren, unless you go and find a willing woman to put this thing into,” she caressed my erection, delicately undoing my fly, “all that sperm would go to waste regardless, at best maybe one would be successful… Let me just tell you that every sperm is, in fact, not sacred. At least not when I’m around and in this kind of predicament. So? What will it be Dr Wren? Ready to man up and shove your cock down my throat? You can resist if you like though, that’s fun in it’s own way too.”
I turned my face away from the marble monstrosity even as she laughed and yanked my pants down, her cold tail sneaking into my underwear, provoking a sharp influx of breath whenever it brushed against my cock. I felt Galatée bend down towards me through the pins and needles of my erect body hair, the moonlight getting cut out, more than seeing her descend upon me, wings protectively flared out around us.
Simultaneously as her inhumanly hot tongue spooled out across my unprotected throat, her cool, smooth tail slid tight around my member, both tongue and tail dragging higher, until her mouth bit down around my ear, her tail ripping off my underwear. My cock bounced free, a line of pre flicking up her perfectly formed stomach.
The stone woman used my natural lubricant to slide her front down my cock, pausing for an excruciating second when my now over-sensitive head came to rest in her cool navel. There she twisted and smothered it between us.
Above she hadn’t let up her assault, sucking on my earlobe, biting at my throat, kissing me delicately, licking my collarbones, until I couldn’t help but shiver under her every touch, prevented from moving by the claws pinning my arms down at the elbow.
Between her navel and her brutally perfect oral teasing, I didn’t even notice the soft globes of her breasts pressed up hard against my sternum, not until they started shifting further down my body, their weight shifting down my stomach, as her kissing and teasing followed at their heels.
It was only when my slick cock slid between Galatée’s breasts, nestled there for a heart stopping second, that I realised how close Galatée was to her prize.
No amount of kicking at this late a stage would stop her. No amount of wriggling would change her mind. No amount of pleas would reach her.
We both knew it, even as the girl ground her delicate cheek into my stomach, looking up at me with her burning eyes through thick, beautiful marble lashes, catching sparks of moonlight, her smile more satanic than saccharine.
Edging down, her claws tracing down my arms, trailing kisses down my abdomen, breasts swaying down against my thighs, her chin nestling in my pubic hair—
My cock sliding up between her cleavage, grinding the head up her sternum, flicking up into the hollow of her clavicles, my back arching up, my cock finally nestling under her chin, the length laid bare against her beautiful throat—
Galatée caught my gaze, and held it fast with her ruby eyes, twin maelstroms of red boring a hole through my skull, destroying all reason as it went. My sheer animal panic mutilated into the need to leave offspring before my death. Like a noose around my neck, the gargoyle was prepared to wring my balls dry.
Finally her stifling, humid, hot-spring breath rolled over my manhood. Looking down I could see her death grey lips purse and draw near to my cock at a glacial pace.
She opened her mouth—
Her tongue lolled out—
—and licked the length of my cock from root to tip, flicking off my frenulum. Tensing every muscle in my body, almost grinding my teeth down to splinters, I barely staved off an orgasm right there and then.
“—aste good you know? It’s been so~ long!”
Galatée’s gloating, sing-song voice filtered through to my over-taxed brain. I became dimly aware that the melting heat and wetness of her breath, her mouth, had been replaced with the cool, smooth surface of her cheek.
“Dr Wren… I’ve got to say,” the statuesque woman stopped rubbing her cheek against my cock, rising off of it, repositioning herself, “I’m almost a little disappointed. You didn’t struggle nearly as much as I thought you would. Don’t get me wrong though, this is fun too, but still…”
“—you weren’t very manly huh?”
She took my cock deep into her throat in a single motion.
From the base of my cock she looked up at me, right in the eye.
And she smiled smugly at my failure—
—as the seething red of Galatée’s gaze consumed me.
…What I first noticed was the cruel-white brilliance of the full moon that had earlier been so abjectly framed by the gargoyle’s fine-wrought horns. The marble moon now adrift on the same sea of red that filled my head.
It seemed to have made hours of progress in seconds, cracking an arc like a comet whenever I didn’t carefully pay attention to its movement. But as I watched, the white smear that it had slashed across the sky slowed to a near standstill, the moon now at its usual pace; the sky around it fading to the black depths of night, with the odd star piercing out.
I let my head loll on my shoulders, gravity bringing my chin down to my chest, the realisation dawned that I was now standing upright in the dark well atop the cathedral. Sensations slowly filtered through the red fog that still clung to my consciousness: the creaking joints of my hands as my death grip slackened on a pair of horns, the ivory ridges as my palms slid to their bases; cold, soft hair sifted through my fingers like silk; I let my hands roam, finding a pointed ear, the arch of a cheekbone.
Then I saw properly.
There in the dim moonlight Galatée hung, unmoving apart from a staccato shiver, from where my cock held fast in her throat. Dulled eyes rolled back in her head, rust red tears welling up, my semen seeping from her pretty nose, chin a liquid mess and plastered to my sack, the definite bulge of cockhead in throat, her claws limp and scraping at the floor.
“I’ve asphyxiated a girl with my cock” was my first absurd thought, the second, no less stupid, was to bodily shove the girl off my manhood.
I nearly collapsed. It was like I had been struck by lightning. Simply dragging my softening erection out of the confines of the girl’s torturously, rapturously tight, scalding throat, was enough to make my knees jelly and my sight white out, almost as if I had experienced a lifetime’s worth of blowjobs in a single moment.
Panting hard, seeing stars amongst the trash, I fell to my creaking knees, suddenly feeling 20 years older. Vaguely aware of the cold air sticking to the mess her throat had made of my genitalia, I took stock of my situation.
At the very least, hiding the corpse of a stone carving would be easy, after all, it would be more surprising if the statue moved to begin with.
…I guess I can at least be sure that if I were to ever wake up next to a dead woman in the future, that I could calmly consider body disposal. Christ almighty. Well. I couldn’t rule out my life getting more absurd, not after today’s events, not after what I had done.
Feeling more than slightly disgusted with myself, I once-overed the stone cold girl; somehow balancing herself on her knees, back nearly arched over double; I assumed her tail must’ve been propping her up. By now even the shivering had faded away.
On hands and knees, I cautiously made my way towards the gargoyle, inching forward, closer, almost close enough to touch—
Galatée’s strange chiming laugh began to echo throughout the well, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. Marble muscle, bone and organs rose up, a carved doll drawn up by invisible wire. Pulled by some unknowable force Galatée’s limp body jerkily righted itself.
And I nearly fainted.
Covered in the remains of her meal, the stone monstrosity advanced on me, transfixing me with a single magma-deep eye. On all fours the woman encroached, now invading my space slowly, steadily, forcing me back onto my arse, her tail flicking even as her grin widened. I scrambled backwards with each of her probing attacks, until I felt a sickening crunch stab into my palm.
Blood and shards of bone. Down in that well of trash, the moon already setting, I could barely make out the palm of my hand, the hand that was scrambling for purchase, for escape. The hand that had just crushed the china delicate, translucent silver skeleton of what was once a young bird. In a daze I picked the skull-shard out of the flesh of my palm, gazing at the blood that welled up in confusion.
Like quicksilver Galatée was on me all at once, cooing into my ear in her mocking way, “Hey, Dr Wren, could it be possible that you thought you had managed to suffocate me with your cock?”
Quick as a cat she slunk around behind my shoulder, her long legs and claws finding easy grip on the rubble beneath us, “Because that would be ridiculous you know? I’m a lump of marble, I don’t even have lungs to starve of oxygen you know?
“So Dr Wren? What did you think after you realised you had just grabbed a pretty girl you just met by the horns and then forcefully throat fucked her? Hmmm?”
“Now Dr Wren, you’re not trying to say something trite like ‘I lost control!’ are you? That would be pathetic you know… Dr Wren.”
Didn’t I lose control? The alternative however… No. I couldn’t admit to that.
“…I’m glad you’re having so much fun Galatée.”
“Oh? Am I having fun? Well, I did say irrumatio had its own good parts, but just how much fun do you think it is to be covered in semen?”
And it was true, even as she spoke she slipped onto my lap, tracing a claw across the flesh of her breast, the soft indent of marble giving way to the pearlescent sheen of my semen. Leaning back as she straddled my thighs once again, her claws about my waist, not a single chisel mark made in error could be found across her taut stomach, across the flesh that rolled over a rib cage that protected nothing.
Lit by a barely noticeable inner light, Galatée presented her pure white body to me, chest heaving, my semen slipping down her sharp chin, down her sinuous neck, between the swaying mounds of the demonic woman’s breasts. And following the semen, her inhumanly long tongue searched out every drop, slipping over the lightly jiggling flesh of her breast, coiling into the hollow of her clavicles, scooping up her chin, flicking a stray splash away from her proud cheekbone, finally she cleaned her plump, fine lips.
Tracing the pin point tips of her claws up my sides, sliding her soft, cool palms to my chest, lightly playing with the salt and peppered hair she found there, until almost remorsefully her hands left my body, to rest in a nest beneath her mouth.
Seemingly savouring the taste for a final time, Galatée let her head hang, her finely wrought horns swaying and parting the waves of her white hair cascading over her face. Nearly hidden by the sheet of her hair, one could barely make out the cool red of her eyes, softened as she looked up through her lashes. With a quiet hum, Galatée’s jaw dropped, her tongue lolled, and she let the combined results of her mouth juices and my orgasm pool in the grotto of her claws.
“Look at all this Dr Wren,” it was barely a murmur, flicking her eyes between the impressive amount of fluid that had collected in her hands, and my face, “you poured all this into my throat, down my chest… With this amount, we can do something, but, you know, you had your turn Dr Wren, and I want mine. That’s only fair, this is a contract after all…”
With that she brought her clawed hands to her lips, tipped back her head, and let the pearl silver liquid slip to the back of her dark mouth. Drawing her hands away from her face, my semen and her saliva flowed down, before finishing up as a fine rope connecting her tongue to her slight wrists, catching the last of the moonlight, before that too flicked down to her waiting maw.
She paused, sighed through her finely wrought nose, and swallowed noisily, tracing a hand down her throat in the fluid’s wake.
Daintily placing her claws above her chest, arching her back, Galatée shuffled backwards on her knees, swaying her arse, using her tail as a counterbalance. The grinding of her knees slowed as she gave herself some clearance before she swooped. And swoop she did, flint tipped thumbs pressed into my throat before I could even gasp, lithe arms extending, taut, the armour at her elbows slowly shifting styles, not fully resolving into any particular form. Beneath my struggling grip vambraces, bracelets, chain link, different forms rose up out of her milky flesh before subsided beneath her skin once again. Her thin wrists iron and just as unyielding.
Even as I fixated on her inhuman body, she fixated on mine inhumanly. Her hair dragging across my thighs was the only warning that her tongue was about to constrict my phallus, hell hot and wet she sucked me inside her maw, unseen cheeks hollowing out, delicate flesh manipulated between stone mollars and vicious canines.
With the mind shattering, nigh tectonic power of her suction, the writhing of her tongue against my frenulum, the grinding of my head against her incongruously soft cheek, the hot sighs and moans of her breath escaping her nose as she worked me back to stiffness, forcing me through the pins and needles, the flabbiness of exhausted post coitus.
I was rendered dumb, my world collapsed down to the crags of the cathedral that towered around me, and the white body of Galatée, her shoulder blades roiling beneath her wings, flapping and twitching, raising the rubbish about us as her tail whip-cracked the air. Balanced on her knees, she lowered her entire chest and head towards my groin, even as her hands remained chained to my throat.
Finally the gargoyle achieved her first goal: my cockhead ground hard against the tight, flexing ring of her throat.
In a single fluid motion she forced my cockhead into her spasming throat, moaning hard down my length until she could sigh a hot breath through my pubic hair. The only thing that prevented my absolute collapse, was Galatée’s claws, and the strength of her cantilever back; with a final display of back strength she pulled her unwilling throat-flesh away from my cock, levering the tip back into the confines of her mouth.
She took a moment to roll her tongue about all the nerve clusters she could pinpoint and abuse, and I took the opportunity to abandon my hold on her wrists. Instead, due to some mindless instinct for leverage, or revenge, I lunged for her carved ivory horns—
And was rewarded by way of Galatée’s cross eyed moan, her vibrating throat swallowing my length, even as she bottomed out, her nose pressed hard up against my groin.
Some deep seated part of her physiology rejected the cock that had been so roughly shoved down her gullet. Rhythmic convulsions rocked the stone-girl’s slim back, her claws sliced through my shoulders, her legs kicked broken masonry into gravel, sending shrapnel rebounding throughout our tight confines.
Galatée gagged around my cock: refusing to submit to her gag reflex she held fast, locking our eyes with a teary-eyed expression halfway between annoyance and rapture. She relaxed, tension visibly seeping from her, the gargoyle’s technique once again became the steady ministrations of a being that had long since surpassed pro.
Once again, I became brutally aware of the assault I was under. Now that Galatée had regained the initiative, she found that the only display of dominance she needed, was to be able to force moans and sighs from me perfectly on cue. She wore the heat of the Earth’s mantle about her throat, grinding about me, as the power surged through the veins of her rocky body. I had no control, not even the leverage gained by my white knuckled grip on those perfect white horns had any effect.
I could only hang on for dear life as the stone demon tried to suck my soul out via my cock, or at least, the souls and futures of my unborn children.
If she were even telling the truth.
Even in this ridiculous environment, this lost cavity in the cathedral’s firmament, where far below me Christ sat in eternal judgement, consigning sinners to an infinite experience of suffering on the grotesque tympanum carving, I steadily felt like I was losing grip. The savagely, statuesquely beautiful demon was sucking me deeper towards a precipice I couldn’t withstand.
And even as I started to teeter over the edge, Galatée picked up the pace. Her inexplicably long tongue expertly slurping my tightening, abused, milked dry testicles, coveting one last blast.
The collapse of her mineshaft throat around my cock, the heart stopping precipice she brought me to, teetering at the edge of its abyss, pushed and pulled over that gulf, so close to falling—
Galatée finally pushed me over, pulling the cum from my cock like lava surging through a mountain’s hidden tunnels, rushing me down in a release that made feel as if I were floating, or simply screaming down an endless abyss, down through groin and vault, through columns and fresco, leaving me wordlessly exalting in an afternoon light that poured like honey through the cathedral’s stained glass windows.
With great, chest heaving sucks, the girl dragged the last of me from my balls, shattering the night black volcanic glass and stone of the false-cathedral she had forced up around me, sending its roof crashing down about me, exposing me to the depths of the predawn sky, pleasure flickering to pain and back again as I tried to lever the unyielding stone of the gargoyle’s throat from my cock.
And failing. Galatée could’ve really been a succubus, it felt like she had sucked 40 years of my petty life out through my damn cock.
No one could blame me for falling unconscious after an assault like that. I was too old for this shit after all…
Unconscious as I was, I didn’t see the sunset red of Galatée’s gaze be consumed by the dawn-break light, instead I came to beneath the burning morning sun, high above the gargoyle’s haunt. She had somehow deposited me next to her broken plinth on the portico roof, the scaffolding an easy scramble away.
My wristwatch had long since shattered, but by the crunching of gravel, the slamming of car doors, the calls, the ringing phones, I could guess the hour. With the old cathedral warming up in the sun’s light, scaring off the last scraps of shadow, the last whispers of the night, I felt a little bit of normality return uninvited.
Edging towards the pit I had escaped from, or rather, had been released from, I could barely make out Galatée’s pale form, not a single sunbeam reaching her to set her marble body alight into sparkling life.
Did such a creature really terrorise me last night?
Was it even terrifying?
Well. A little bit.
I took in the view from Galatée’s broken plinth—
Looking towards the blinding sun, just cresting over the apse, eclipsed by the crossing tower, the entire millennia old building burst alight. Solid stone shattered into splinters of light, heavy buttresses pulled up towards the sky on strings of pure sunshine. Windows piercing through solid stone, rows of the still dark interior of the church, alternating with panes that cracked the light back in burning reflection.
The entire building broke up into the electric blue sky, architectural element by element flaking off and returning via some intrinsic gravity to the sun above.
And I realised, even if she betrayed me, even if she escaped, even if she stayed, I had to salvage Galatée from the abject, tar-black pit I had found her in.
It wasn’t too difficult to find the access routes for the Narthex, a couple of false starts at doors and windows immovable with congealed time, and I was back on my way to ground level. Even as the beautifully carved blocks with their perfect mortaring slid beneath my finger tips, as I wound my way down the ancient, graceful spiral staircase, I could feel last night’s toll on my body.
A night with Galatée and I had become a crippled old man.
What had been done to me, what I had done.
Was it worth it?
Vision swimming, shaking off the encroaching darkness, chest heaving, legs screaming, I considered quitting smoking for the Nth attempt.
Fuck… When was the last time I had a cigarette?
Like a soak after 3 days dry, I half collapsed, half sat in one of the few remaining pews left in the cathedral. Most of the building was out of bounds during the current, heavy, phase of interior repairs; the daily services outsourced around the community. The resounding crack of my coccyx against the unforgiving wood echoed throughout the cavernous hall, getting caught in the great drapes of dust sheets, rushing through the complex lattices of scaffolding encrusting the ancient building; the pain, the radar ping, sharply brought me back to the land of the living.
As much as one possibly can, I tried to melt into a comfortable position on the ancient hardwood pew.
I blanked out.
The insanity I had suffered, the emptiness of my stomach, the aching of my bones, the awkward pressure of the real world swirling around me, the workmen, students and clergy half asleep and trying to look busy, it all hit me like a bus. My wandering hands found the carved back of the pew before my own, fingering the time frayed edges of a bible.
I cast my gaze up, my consciousness following with a short lag.
What really happened last night? A demon drained me, and claimed the very possibility of my kin… And I’m free and healthy? And I’m the one to help her?
This all happened high above, high above the scaffolding zigging, zagging, stuttering its way up the old building’s guts, high above the blinding glow of the morning light burning through stained glass, high above the columns that tied the heavy roof to earth, high above the vaults of the roof itself.
Up there, in the dark, where the roofs rise and fall like a raging sea, up there in a lee of time, the demon waited for me to return, with the self-assured carriage of a woman who knew her will would be done.
Away in the distance, I could pick out Christ’s broken body upon the cross, and his absolute opposite number in terms of holiness: the Assistant to the Archbishop, making a beeline towards me, unhindered by the workmen, tools, and materials he stumbled over, knocked down, and left in a general disarray, chaos following in his wake like a bad habit.
Taking appropriate action, I decided to make a quick getaway and look busy myself before I returned to Galatée later tonight.
I spent the day aching, smoking heavily, staring into space and glaring at students and conservators in turn. Wandering around the cathedral like a lost ghost, lingering in corners, flitting into empty chambers, where the sound of my footsteps echoed up to God. I tested scaffolding, met with the foremen, distractedly agreed to all their plans, forgot to scream at students. People parted before me like the Red Sea, drifted away from my stalking, the workmen all looked busy around me, the students were all quiet, sharing searching sidelong glances at one another as I hefted broken masonry, looking at the disassembled sculpture work. I rubbed cleaner spots into the grime that infested the ancient carvings, though even as I poked about the ugly stone face of a sinner, and the ugly stone face of a saint, I still felt the heavy presence of Galatée above me.
Restlessly making circuits of the church, staring up through the vaults, or staring into the clear blue sky outside, trying to pick out the tell tale brilliance of Galatée’s marble body, I wore myself out.
It was pathetic, I’m pathetic.
What’s Galatée to me?
I’m not some naïf teen…
So what’s Galatée to me then?
Had she… Actually put me under some kind of curse? To force me back to her, to put me under her thumb?
Even as I considered it, I threw it out. She hadn’t cursed me, or at least she hadn’t actually put a curse on me yet. Although she knew she wouldn’t have to.
I was left in my portable office, staring at the clock tick down time, with all the materials I’d need to secure access to her pit amongst the spires of the cathedral at the ready.
Even as I knew I’d head out long before the sun set, even as I knew I was heading straight for her grasp, I still, despite all my years, all my failed relationships, all those disappointments, I still felt that awful, irresistible, spark of excitement I thought I had long since subsumed into my love for architecture.
Shadows were now tiger-striping the worksite, the light from the windows casting the inside of the cathedral into a somber gloom rather than illuminating the vast hall. Painted saints glowed, staring down blindly into the dark as Galatée waited and waited above them. The tradies were packing up for the day, the students milling about, trying to slip away awkwardly without anyone around to give or withhold the permission to leave.
High in the sky the blue filled saucer of the moon quietly faded into existence.
I gave up on my patience and started toward the narthex, already the slightest gold glow of the sunset’s radiation was beginning to show upon it.
As I wound upwards towards Galatée, following the thrusts of the spires around me, the flows of the buttresses, tight upward circles into the sky, I calculated I had another two hours or so until the sun had set completely. Though, Galatée could apparently move a bit when the shadows of her den were deep enough; the actual specifics of her locomotion were still a mystery to me.
It wasn’t long before I found the door that allowed access onto the narthex roof, no one felt the need to bolt it shut during the works; a security issue I would overlook in this case. My chest heaving from the exertion, cigarette jammed between my lips, I peered down into the steep crevasses of the church roof, and fighting off the vertigo, I was thankful I had brought the rope ladder with me, even if it was a hassle to haul up here. Eventually we’ll have to put in some proper scaffolding, or even a permanent ladder… But whilst Galatée was down there I… Wanted to keep others away.
Even as I grunted, wheezed, flicked the cigarette from side to side on my lips, I quickly got the ladder secure. And, butting out the cigarette, taking a final deep breath, turning towards the burning western sky, I stepped down into the dark of Galatée’s haunt.
Each foot tentatively searching out the next rung, the light swaying of the ladder itself, it all magnified the impression I was once again leaving a conscious, logical world. When the ledge of the roof finally cut off the last of the sun’s rays, I shivered, the temperature has dropped by a noticeable degree, at odds to the high summer heat above.
Rung by rung, the world got darker, quieter, the architecture of the building seemed to heave up around me in a seismic hell, I could’ve kept climbing on down until I was knocking on Lucifer’s door and beseeching Virgil for guidance. When my foot finally hit the slightly shifting rubbish floor of Galatée’s pit, I felt an intense shock, as if I had found something that had no right to exist where it was. Once again the sky had crowded away to a distant hole punched through the building around me, us.
Galatée stood on top of her little throne, looking more fearsome and majestic than she had before. No obscene mouth greeted me, only the gargoyle’s supercilious marble bust.
That smugness… After all those obscene expressions of the night before, after all that had transpired, well I couldn’t deal with it: every cell of my body screamed for action.
I took a piece of coloured chalk from its usual hiding place and, carefully negotiating the tectonic shifting of the trash, drew quite the glorious moustache/beard combo on the stone demon.
I’ll admit, even as I drowned out the disappointed inner-voice reminding me of how old I was supposed to be, I felt an upsurge of pride at my handiwork.
So much so, that I wanted to take a few steps back to fully appraise my masterwork of appropriation art; however, walking backwards down a heap of broken stonework is simply not an option. Unless you want a broken neck that it is.
But as it turns out, chancing a broken neck might be preferable to turning your back on the prideful gargoyle you just scribbled a majestic moustache/beard combo on.
I had turned around to gingerly pick my way back down Galatée’s stone throne when, with a soul crushing sound, the entire structure shifted beneath my feet. With a testicle shrinking lurch, an anus puckering drop, and a heart stopping shiver, the pile warped into a maelström of tiles, masonry, skeletons, shit and trash.
Then I remembered the stone statue that was queen of this collapsing castle; but some deep instinct hadn’t forgotten her for even a second, and was screaming at my nervous system that that marble monstrosity was bearing down upon my back.
With a howl the floor of the pit rushed up to me and I readied myself for the bone-splintering crack that was going to echo up the well—
Which never came.
Rather, it was a muted thud that failed to carry above the spires.
Fingers flexing, toes curling in the dust; I could move my arms, my legs, so I assumed I hadn’t broken my neck, and was doubly sure when the pain hit, rushing into the shell-shocked gulf left behind by shock.
Well, it wasn’t that bad…
But I had still fallen a metre or more flat on my face, and couldn’t get up. It wasn’t the most pleasant situation I had recently found myself embroiled in. The floor I found myself pinned to was stable at least, but none too comfortable, not with the extra-sensory impression of a heavy weight hanging above me by a string.
I tried to push it out of mind.
And failed: above me, a weight electrified all my senses, arcs of static could have warped between my back and that force, precariously perched. I knew it’s presence without having to see it: hair that was once streaked with grey now white with dust, a 40 year old academic about to be crushed by a slab of broken masonry, saved by an unlikely twist of luck at the last second.
Well. Saved for a given measure of “saved” anyways.
Cave ins, building collapse, earthquakes, with that kind of thing, the first danger is obviously when everything collapses, but, thanks to the same gravity that brought everything low, the debris will settle. Yet, you don’t need a structural engineering degree to know that a single wrong move could shift all that precariously stable material and reward you with a slightly delayed, but still rather messy end.
Well, it’s nice to look at problems like they have nothing to do with you. However, that doesn’t get one out from under the heavy chunk of rock above; a slow trickle of dust and debris amongst the cracked slabs threatened further collapse without warning. Certainly no one else was going to drop by before Galatée woke up…
Gingerly, I groped upwards, my shaking fingers feeling the new, broken structure of the pile, tracing load-bearing points, overstressed supports, until, over the small of my back, my fingers slipped from cold stone, to a cold substance that gave like the softest flesh, hanging above me like the Sword of Damocles.
Galatée had had her revenge.
And she twisted the knife: with a drawn out scream of stone grating on stone, the gargoyle’s form pressed against my back. With some reserve of energy, she had changed her rock hard body to a facsimile of flesh, so perfect as to transcend the original. Rather than crushing me between a rock and a hard place, she pinned me with the soft globes of her breasts, their weight on my shoulders and neck. Any attempt to shift, squirm or move defeated by her thighs, stomach, or simply by her locked joints and immense weight.
I was trapped in the Gargoyle’s embrace until she fully woke up.
It’s exasperatingly difficult to get an ageing body comfortable on shattered masonry and trash, or to beat down a burgeoning erection through sheer will-power. Anything to stave off that little humiliation. Just like me, it was trapped hard against the warming stone, and the soft press of body weight.
Ah. Careful, careful. Any stray thought to the naked, statuesque beauty above me was liable to send a rush of blood to the head, so to speak. But, at the same time, this really was the first time I had had the liberty to explore Galatée’s body, well, at my own volition. I had some niggling questions (purely academic in nature) lingering in the back of my mind after last night’s dimly lit adventures. And my cursory, awkward, cack-handed explorations quickly bore fruit: namely, that Galatée had all the sexual characteristics of a barbie doll. If the stone creature had only used her upper mouth, then that was because that was apparently all she had at her disposal. Even if she could change her size and form to a limited extent, could she not create sexual organs?
Such were the idle thoughts that I toyed with whilst I settled into Galatée’s pin and waited for the sun to pass beneath the steep precipices of the cathedral.
The electric shock of Galatée taking my ear into her mouth, nibbling at cartilage, pushing my heart to bursting point, was all I had by way of notice that the gargoyle had finally escaped her day time torpor. With the same action, the carefully cultivated torpor that I had forced upon my nethers utterly failed as well.
I shifted uneasily into the stone creature’s tightening embrace, attempting to at once alleviate the pressure upon my crotch and prevent Galatée from noticing her success.
With a grin I could feel through the back of my skull, the gargoyle pressed her crotch down, shifting the pressure, using my own body to grind my cock.
“You’re evil to the core Galatée.”
“So you say Dr Wren, and you can say it as often as you like, but I’ll ask this in return: do conservators usually graffiti antiquities?”
“Only when we can get away with it.”
“You didn’t get away with it.”
“That has steadily become more and more apparent.”
She gave me a choice, as such as it was. I was either to let her, beg her, to suck me dry so she could use her magic (in a pointlessly over the top waste of effort) to clean herself, or, I could just wash her clean, full sponge bath treatment.
I chose the bath. It wouldn’t be the first time I had cleaned a statue, and it wouldn’t be the last. That’s what I told my pride at least.
The sky burned above us, imparting an orange glow to the rivulets of sudsy water that flowed between a set of daintily carved human toes. I had quickly collected my cleaning tools from the narthex roof, having foreseen their possible need, which was really the easiest part of the process. Kneeling before her on her broken throne, Galatée warped her feet even as I tried to clean them, hooves passing to talons beneath my sponge; after a one sided screaming match she condescended to a foot fetishist’s dream.
Even if I would rather die than admit it, I took no little satisfaction from the gargoyle’s squirming as I sponged her pitch black sole back to a clear white shine. Clear marble calves tensed beneath my touch, tendons pulled, skin tightened, all in a mockery of stone. Fists tensed to breaking, the girl underlined her dominance in her little game, resting a long leg on my shoulder as I moved up to her thigh, with perhaps a little too artificial a dispassion.
Well. No statue I had cleaned had ever reacted quite like this. Or at all really.
“Galatée, I’m a little curious—”
“Curiosity killed the cat you know?”
“And satisfaction brought it back again,” I underlined my point by brushing the sponge deep through the cleft of the girl’s legs, I smugly noted the bit lip and suppressed shivers, “Are you Barbie’s elder, stone, sister?”
She spoke from a place very far away, “Eh? …who? Barbie? What?”
“Barbie. The doll, the children’s toy—” sponge left marble skin, “Ok, forget it, you have no genitalia. Nary a nipple even.”
With a deeper exhalation of breath than her lithe frame could possibly contain, the gargoyle removed her leg from my shoulder and presented her other foot, waving it in my face when I didn’t immediately start spongeing it.
“Well, you know… How to put it?” She tried to look pensive even as she shivered through my ministrations. Attempting to slip her forelock behind a pointed ear, and being defeated nigh instantly as it slipped back, she regained her train of thought, “Think of it like this: what good are genitalia to a creature bound to protecting a church? Think of the poor faithful flock, think of how much of a temptress I would be!”
“You’re plenty enough of a temptress as it is Galatée.”
She sighed again at that, and rested her foot atop my head, mussing my hair into a birds-nest before I could swot the offending limb onto my shoulder.
“Then think how bad it’d be if I had the full plumbing then Dr. Wren. Technically, I could open up another… Orifice, a blind gutter not being useful to anything, but, would you really want to put something as delicate as your manhood into guttering?”
“That doesn’t sound gr—”
“Though I am talking to a man who has spent more time conserving buildings than in the romantic company of women, what would I know?”
I threw the fucking sponge at her face.
After stripping off my soaking wet jacket to dry and attempting to clean my smeared glasses, I refilled the bucket at the temporary faucet that had been set up on the rooftop, precariously made my one-handed way back down the ladder, and found the gargoyle bent over her broken plinth, sinuous tail swaying in obvious amusement.
Even if she was prevented from having any orifices below the neck, nothing on Earth, (or above, or below it,) could stop her from having a great arse, and she was disgustingly self-aware of that fact too.
So I pointedly ignored it.
Which left me fewer choices of conservation project, but after a few failed attempts, I managed to snatch her tail out of mid air. The brutal looking crocodilian appendage writhed in my grip, leaving me with little doubt that the sheer power that roiled throughout the stone could thrash me in two, even without the flattened off tip’s serrated edges. Those selfsame jagged ridges condescended to allow the fresh sponge to gingerly slide over them.
A quick soaping quickly turned into a life-or-death, or rather, life-or-loin negotiation when I steadily ran out of tail to soap and came much too close to the masterfully observed marble anatomy the gargoyle possessed. Rather than concern myself over the complexities of how her spine followed through from pelvis to tail, Galatée forced my attention to the creases that marked the remarkably resolved connection of tail to arse.
I hadn’t really thought this far ahead. Forethought, after all, isn’t necessary when the conclusion is already set in stone.
So I attempted to distract the 500 year old statue from the fact I was now running a sponge between her tautened cheeks, suds slipping down her shivering thighs in clots of white froth, and Jesus Christ.
“Ga- Galatée, you haven’t really specified how I’m going to help you, here on out.”
“You could rub a little h-harder to start.”
Deep breaths, deep breaths.
I tried to ignore the Gargoyle’s own shaking legs, flexing back, shivering breaths.
I wasn’t entirely successful.
Rather, even as I soaped down the marble creature’s cleft, atop a millennia old cathedral, I further retreated from reality and returned to the formal nuances of conversation.
“How hard I rub won’t make a damn difference to freeing you!”
“Ah, there, there,” she giddily exhaled; either I had managed to dislodge a centuries old spot of grime, or marble is more sensitive than even I had realised. This entire event has cast every other time I’ve cleaned a statue, hell, even basic decorative elements, into a really strange light, one whose implications I have little interest in considering.
Galatée herself seemed dissatisfied with my current train of thought, derailing it entirely, “you will be… scrubbing more than me soon. If I were to break do~wn the things you-oo have to do, firstly, you’ll need to gradually erase what’s left of me on the plinth up the~re, and then lifting it, erase the seal you’ll find beneath the plinth. From your perspective, a~par~t from some physical labour, you don’t have much to do.”
“Did you not see the elbow-patches on my jacket? I’m an academic, those are magic wards against having to use anything even close to the concept of elbow-grease.”
“That… Didn’t stop you from climbing up this building like you’re Indiana Jones, did it?”
“…There’s a nuance to work I enjoy and work forced upon me.”
“Oh ho~, nnn, then, soaping me up must be something you enjoy right? You’re certainly spending enough time at it.
With a creeping, sickening, cold horror that ran down my spine, I realised I had been lavishing a little too much attention on the gargoyle to laugh off as sheer professional enthusiasm. Extracting my hand from between the creature’s thighs, tugging the unwilling sponge through the unwavering gap, I decided a silent continuation up to Galatée’s lithe back would be the most face-saving option allowed to me. And was quickly prevented from standing up by a creeping, sickening, cold horror that now slid back up spine, slipped over my shoulder, and clearly belonged to the same marble creature I was cleaning, 100% against my will.
“Galatée. I can’t clean your back like this.”
“Hrmm? Do you have to clean my back? You’re doing a fine job where you are, I really must applaud your handiwork, you have a conservator’s touch, you really do Dr Wren.”
“Whilst I am so pleased to hear that Galatée, your tail is fucking heavy and my fingers are turning to prunes.”
“My, my, the standards of manners really are falling these days!”
She removed her tail with a lingering caress that instantly deflated my rising blood pressure.
But I took a genuine delight in the sheaths of muscle that rolled beneath her marble flesh, watched in wonder as her shoulder blades shivered, the pivots of her wings rotating, the subtle mountain range of vertebrae leaving a dappled shadow up her spine. It was like watching a perfect Nike, a perfect angel, a being wrought by finer hands than Michelangelo, or Bernini, her flawless skin unknown to Rodin or Polykleitos, a nes plus ultra of art, come to life.
Even Galatée (and as I ran the sponge up her nubile back, with the stone arching up to my touch, I realised that she couldn’t have chosen a more perfect nom de guerre,) fell silent beneath my almost religious scrubbing. Gone were the heady sighs, the choked giggles, the happy murmurs, instead, holding her hair off her neck, we fell into a mutual trance, my soapy hands following the lines that swelled from the core of her being as she breathed in, each line traced with a deeper affection, each breath deeper than the last, until, with an honest regret, I had finished tending to her exposed stone, and needed her cooperation for a much less rigorous scrubbing of her large, bat-like wings. Even Galatée seemed to be less focused now, her deep breathing returning to a lighter swell, the bones of her back knitting and unknitting into armour and ridges by turn, even the membrane of her wings threatened to turn to feathers beneath my sponge.
The final wipe of extraneous suds from a wing tip was excuse enough for Galatée to slip over onto her back, gracefully keeping freshly soaped flesh away from the grimy mess of the basement like space above the cathedral. I thought her attempt was something of a forlorn hope, but held my tongue lest I be asked to clean certain areas for a second time.
Now, for the first time, Galatée properly exposed herself to me, tête-à-tête; the final hints of brilliant orange above sliding into the deep purple of night was reflected upon her soap white body. Here, before me, she had nowhere to hide, nor any defense but her pride; that was clear to me even as I traced the the slim line of her belly to the trembling hints of her ribs, the pert breasts rising, rolling, with each of the gargoyle’s hesitant breaths. The deep well of the divot between her clavicles sucked in my gaze, and gave me the push to follow the sinuous arc of her throat, but there I hesitated.
Until a taloned finger briefly gestured to the sponge, forgotten in hand.
Stepping forward, further into her space, I tested the grinding footing beneath me, even as the creature tensed in communication with my every move. Like that, I had to raise my eyes to meet hers, from the point of her chin, her sweetly parted lips, her perfectly carved nose, following the lock of pure white hair that traced up her face, to be bound either side by those terrifying horns above; like that, I had to meet the creature’s strange, frightening, intense gaze, the red nebulae of light that welled up from her deeply chiseled pupils, bathing her deathbed white orbits in that light, defeating even the shadows of this swallowed den. Certainly, even if Galatée couldn’t blush, even if she stared me down with that same superior look, with those burning blood red eyes, that gently mocking smile on those too-perfect lips, I sensed a certain amount of relief ebb from the girl as I neglected to wash her crotch a second time, face to face.
The sponge followed the gently rolling swells of her stomach. Too proud to be the one to look away, I could feel Galatée’s gaze boring a hole through my skull. For both our sakes I didn’t take on the challenge of actually meeting her gaze. Not when she was suppressing shivers every time the cold sponge grazed her lower ribs, or when sudsy water pooled in her belly button, just to spill and run down to her crotch.
I briefly wondered if gargoyles were ticklish; I had already cleaned the depression of her stomach, of her abdomen, soon I would have to venture beyond the bony peaks of her hips, and stray my hands up her sides. And I didn’t particularly want to be eviscerated by her tail.
“G-Galatée, it might be a bit late to ask this, but, are you ticklish? I mean, you’re a hunk of marble, common sense would say no, but…”
“Common sense isn’t worth much in relation to me?”
“That is what I was getting at, yes.”
“Look at me.”
“…I assure you that I am, Galatée.”
“In the eye, Dr Wren.”
Her tone brooked no argument, so I relented, and met the gargoyle’s stony gaze, I would even go so far as to say that she had set her expression.
Her words came measured, with a complete control of her composure.
“I’m not ticklish at all, Dr Wren, I guarantee it absolutely.”
Ah. So she was ticklish.
“I’ll start on your arms then, give me a hand.”
“No. Clean what you were going to clean,” watching me even as I reached out for one of her clawed hands. My hand was slapped away instead, “Dr Wren.”
Fine. If she wanted to be difficult, then we’ll just do whatever she damn well wants. With the wet splat of a freshly soaked sponge against marble flesh still echoing, I slowly, purposefully, dragged the sponge from the swell of her left hip, up, higher, across the tautening sides of her stomach, staring into her eyes. The sponge rose up and down with the waves of her ribs, glancing her breast for the first time, and there I paused. Galatée had kept her composure perfectly intact. So far.
I waited for her to grow suspicious, to open her mouth even just a crack, to knit her brows, and the moment to strike swiftly came. As she prepared to ask why I had stopped, and with her arm slightly raised to permit easier access to her sides, I saw my opportunity had come with a deep, sadistic glee. And with that same glee, in a single sharp movement, I gouged out a path from her breast, through the cup of her delicate armpit, and half way up her arm.
Her eyes went as wide as saucers, her eyebrows arched high, her jaw cracked shut, her tail pulverised a sweep of the broken masonry, before that too became as rigid as a real marble statue.
Ah. Once again I had let my worse instincts put me in an immediately worse position.
But it was so worth it.
“The… Other side. Could you be more gentle though? A 500 year old marble statue is a delicate thing, you know?”
I cut off her forced laugh, “you could just admit you’re ticklish Galatée, I wouldn’t hold it against you. As you say, you’re 500 years old, wouldn’t that be the mature thing to do Galatée?”
“Wash the other side, carefully, Dr Wren,” she spat each word with a lifetime’s worth of threat in every stressed syllable.
I got to it with a secret smirk, which only grew when it became obvious that the gargoyle had only become more and more conscious of my touch. Having to second guess whether or not I was about to slide a cold, wet, sponge through her armpit in an instant, left her all the more sensitive. When my knuckle grazed her breast this time, she audibly gasped, the sharp intake of breath only shaking her perky breasts more. It was an altogether better change to her temperament.
But it soon became apparent that she had some form of retribution in mind.
And she made it clear when I finished up with her sides.
“You’ve forgotten my chest Dr Wren!” Her sing song tone was totally unnecessary.
“I was just getting to that.”
“Uh huh… Anyways, since you are such a gentleman, you wouldn’t do something as unseemly as stare at my breasts whilst you clean them, would you?” I read the threat loud and clear.
“Then, where should I look?”
“Is the concept of eye contact foreign to you Dr Wren?”
I dropped the conversation, lest she immediately start feeling superior whilst watching me get irritated. I spared a single glance at her pert breasts. Even without a nipple crowning each, they were definitely… Alluring.
“You won’t find my eyes down there, I assure you Dr Wren. Start scrubbing in your own time, but, remember: eye contact.”
The evil creature immediately arched her back to meet the sponge, starting in the valley of her cleavage. Her superior look only got worse the more aroused she became. Soon, even as the sponge slid across the soft, but resistant curve of the underside of her breast, she gave a new command: I was going too slowly with just a sponge, she wanted me to soap up my free hand and wash her other breast: skin to stone.
The gargoyle sighed happily as my soapy fingers sank slightly into her breast, pushing it up, lifting off grime, thumb sliding over the vacant peak. A witness could swear in court that they had seen an academic in their mid 40s, fondling a gargoyle’s breasts with great emotion, as the creature marred her self-satisfied expression only by biting her lip, a long canine carving deeper into the plump flesh with each scrub.
And here I was having to look her square in her goddess-like face, to stare into her eyes as I fondled her.
She’s evil right to the goddamn core.
“I… I think you’ve devoted plenty of time to my breasts, continue.”
I wasn’t in any state to argue, not with my blood surging through tired veins. So I affected an aloof disposition, rinsed off her breasts, and quietly tried to not enjoy the shine of moonlight upon them.
Even her clavicles were traps; beneath the sponge tracing the bold rises of bone, the stone creature squirmed. It was terrifyingly becoming. It seemed that suddenly, this smug, imperious, unfathomable creature had begun to fill my erotic ideals perfectly. Or, perhaps, she had simply over powered my ideals with her own. Regardless, the marble statue that lightly spasmed as the sponge found the divot beneath her throat, had totally entranced me.
It was if I had stumbled across Artemis bathing, and having been ordered to clean her myself, was now simply waiting for the killing blow. Galatée had once already turned me into a beast. The memory of her shaking silk-white body, my pearlescent semen sliding down her vacated throat, down in this pit atop a cathedral, with the full moon above…
Even now my hands slid up her long throat, like she was some kind of baroque statue. It was too much to keep up with her. She totally has me wrapped around her little finger.
“T-that’s enough. My arms Dr Wren.”
“What about your face?”
“My face? What about my face?”
“Oh. No way. Do you think I’d let you clean my face with that sponge? I’d kill you if you even touched my hair with that thing.”
I gaped, my jaw must have hit the floor, because Galatée felt the need to continue, gesturing at the light remnants of chalk on her cheeks, around her mouth, “I’ll just magic it off, don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to wait around for you to give me a full spa treatment Dr Wren.”
She offered a dainty hand, each finger tipped with a razor claw, the top of her hand protected by a grieve that went up to her elbow and disappeared back into her flesh.
I took it blankly in hand, scrubbing as I tried to parse what the gargoyle had just said.
“So. If you’re just going to magic all the dirt off… Why the fuck am I scrubbing you?!”
“I thought it would be enjoyable?”
Either I threw the sponge at her face again, or my blood pressure spiked.
Either way I woke up to a night sky pierced through with stars and a gibbous moon. And Galatée’s quietly pleased smile. She was as clean as the day… She was finished being carved?
“Is the good doctor in?”
“Aww, are you mad? Maybe you should think twice the next time you want to graffiti a national monument.”
“I had no idea you were still conscious, and the very concept that you could be an important part of our cultural heritage really sets my teeth on edge Galatée.”
“How rude, is that any way to speak to your elders? If I were unconscious, would it have been ok to scribble on my face? Not to mention, here I was thinking I’d be helpful elucidating all that cultural heritage for your benefit.”
“It’s not like you take me seriously, damn it.”
“…Ah. Pride is such a precarious thing isn’t it?”
She laughed that tinkling laugh again, resounding like it didn’t come from her per se, but rather, emanated and echoed from all around us, “you really are getting a lot less stiff, Dr Wren.”
“If I keep passing out on broken masonry, I assure you, I’ll prove that wrong.”
“Don’t blame the stonework for the toll of age upon you.”
“Do you have any right to say that? 450 years and suddenly a bit of a storm and you’re cast low? Any way you look at it, your situation is worse than mine.”
That laugh again, “I guess you have me there. So let’s do something to correct that situation.”
And true to her word, she instantly set me to work.
From my perspective, as she always stressed, it really was a simple operation. All I had to do was find a few odds and ends: being five or so high-quality slow-burning pillar candles; the bearing for true north; a pint or more of a virgin’s blood, preferably female and taken all at once from the same source; and an entirely new gargoyle.
When I made it clear to her that apart from the candles and the bearing, none of that was really going to be happening anytime soon, she relented and decided she could make do with sacramental wine, (blood of Christ and all,) and the capstone from an old church arch. Those I could procure much easier.
Always go generic.
Unfortunately for me though, it wasn’t just a little bit of manual labour that was necessary, rather, I would be expected to efface what was left of the gargoyle’s presence from her plinth. By hand. When I showed Galatée the tools that I had quietly “procured” from the works, they were instantly nixed: I couldn’t use any metal that wasn’t purely iron, or as close to it as possible.
A few nights later I returned with the correct tools, and wanting Galatée’s final approval, but not wanting that approval enough to be bothered to climb down to her throne, threw one down to her.
It landed on the broken stone with the unmistakeable flat crack of a difficult-to-find iron chisel shearing itself to pieces on impact.
Before I could even begin to yell, Galatée beat me to it, and with great enthusiasm. To the point where I felt somewhat glad I was outside of the area she could easily reach.
Thinking back, it probably wasn’t a great idea to throw an iron chisel to a marble gargoyle. Live and learn. At least she could tell from the fragments of chisel she gingerly poked at, that I had in fact found a decent chisel, and promptly wasted one of the dozen I had hauled up to the roof.
I set up shop easily on the rooftop, I could easily straddle the remains of Galatée’s plinth, and leave the extra equipment behind me on the narthex proper. The gargoyle herself sat just beneath and slightly ahead of me, atop of the section of roof that divided the wells from one another, staring at her ruined perch, seemingly in deep concentration. I learnt not to expect much in the way of conversation over the coming nights of hard work. Whilst most of Galatée had ended up down in the pit to my right, a large section of what must’ve been the bottom of her then axe-bladed tail remained carved in the scarred, blackened, pitted marble. And I was expected to efface it degree by degree, having already been warned off from doing a botch job of it, and just carving out hunks.
It was hard work in the rapidly cooling summer nights, and even if I kept warm with the physical strain necessary to chisel marble with easily snapped or blunted iron tools, I couldn’t do much about the waning moonlight and the excellent English weather. The first issue could be solved with a headlamp, but the second could only be sorted by taking shelter from the rain in my awful little portable office that had lately been pulling double duty as my bedroom.
And it was just such a storm that kept me confined to my miserable office, around a week and a half into our work. I had already procured the new capstone, even carved it down to fit the space a bit better, a much easier job with power tools. The wine was purloined after the abbreviated Mass, such that it could be called in the middle of a worksite. Even if we had left some pews intact for the church tragics, and put down tools during the service, the effect of the cathedral was somewhat muted by the covered up columns, the temporary glass windows, the scaffolding, the disassembled bells, the half restored altarpiece. All things the Archbishop himself was fine with, knowing that the meek will apparently inherit the world. His Assistant (capital A for Arsehole) however wouldn’t stop bitching about it. He had become emboldened over the time I had been helping Galatée; too tired to get into a screaming match with the conniving little bastard, I just assented to everything he said, and did whatever I felt like (within my mandate given to me by the Archbishop and the state, obviously) as soon as he was out of sight. He seemed to have taken it as a victory however.
Now I was harassed at work, by both an ever annoying church functionary, and an ever deepening pile of paperwork, procurements, and self-satisfied suggestions from people with about 10% of my experience, who should still have realised their ideas were awful with 5% of my experience. And it was from these teetering piles of backed up work that I escaped. For the first time in a while I could get an early night, and rest my tortured neck and shoulders.
Of course I couldn’t sleep.
The depressing, carpet covered couch that some student had saved from a roadside a decade ago resolutely fended off any approaching tendril of sleep with what would be an otherwise impressive show of zeal.
But as I stared at the white roof of the office, cast a deep purple by the lightless night outside, and listened to the pounding rain on the flat metal roof, deeply meditating on the crappy fluorescent light that was the sole light source in the one room portable, I wondered if the couch would still catch alight regardless of the rain.
With the bonfire of polyester crackling merrily in my mind giving me the mental push to turn the eye searing light back on and get back to work, I spared the cathedral a glance.
It hung there in the storm, looking like it was falling to earth along with the rain, I could barely make out the rain slick south-west tower, the one beside the pit I knew Galatée inhabited, rather, as my eyes adjusted, I realised that the entire side of the tower that faced on to the gargoyle’s throne was glowing the same ruby red as her eyes.
It didn’t take too long to climb my way up the tower, trailing the remains of the storm in my wake; either adrenaline was boiling in my veins, or in the course of my work my old body had become a lot fitter. But such thoughts were far from my mind as I crashed through the rooftop door, back into the howling wind and rain. Some deep fear, insecurity, dragged me towards the gargoyle’s resting place. Before I even reached the rainslick precipice the red light rose in a screaming pitch, bathing the towers, grotesque statues, the carvings, the windows, the spires in blood, casting harsh, crisply black shadows that sucked away all other light.
My madman sprint faltered, petered out, until, with hesitant steps I reached the plinth that Galatée once called home.
With the rain pouring blindly off the edges of the cracked, shattered marble, it took me a second to understand, standing statue still as the storm whipped about me. A renewed pulse of light echoed from the depths; of a type that would reveal secrets, but refuse to illuminate them, the lit up truth slid uneasily over reality: ethereal, intangible chains ran down from the perch, ran down to the gargoyle far below.
And as I followed the rain on its journey down the chains, I could no longer resist the urge to steal a glance at the marble goddess that stood stone-still below, sightless eyes cast up at her broken plinth, cast beyond, her wings fully outstretched, looking all the more like a goddess, lighted up from the inside, like a truly sacred marble ikon. Her white skin, a silk sheet stretched luxuriously over bone, rejected the barest caress of the rain, no wind could have shifted her, she could have stared down a lightning bolt.
The likes of me could not approach her.
As I gaped at her impala horns, both lit up from the inside by some personal secret, I noted the waning moon that hung unreal in red between them, the light from her eyes taking more solid forms, leaving her stone body, showing the absolute limits of her power, and the absolute limits of the restraints forced upon her.
Even as I watched, the surrounding red light strengthened, from the cast of red on her high, brutal cheekbones, from the cast light upon her beguiling breasts, the ruby incorporeality slowly congealed between her clavicles, before lacing up her long neck, a chained brace.
And from that brace ran the twin chains that bound Galatée to the cathedral, to her plinth.
Those faintly pulsing chains, the red light softly coursing up to her plinth, as if it was chased by the beating of her silent marble heart, those ghostly chains dragged clinking upwards, the faltering twitching of a power barely contained and barely applied, the very beginnings of a pair of spectral claws.
It was only when my I lost the grip on my left heel, that I realised I was stepping out into the abyss—
Vicious spires swinging down to buttresses—
And the screaming, screeching jerk of the light returning to Galatée’s bestial, inhuman eyes, her gaze slamming through mine, readying herself, flexing her claws—
It was only when she easily caught me, snatching me from the terminal velocity descent, that I realised the creature wasn’t preparing herself for my evisceration. Rather, that would’ve been a waste to her.
As she slammed me to the ground, sending a tidal wave of muddy water surging to the surviving guttering, as she shredded my pants, and transfixed me with an animal, divine, demonic look of pure predatory instinct, that I wondered if this was the first time that she had actually bewitched me. That that was the difference from that night and this one. That this terrifying power could have possibly been collared by a rage, and a rape such as mine, as painfully and pathetically human as I am, I couldn’t conceive it. Even then, even as I did what I did, I was as solid, as physical, as a phantom to the marble monstrosity.
My pride was as viciously attacked as any of my physical members.
Such were my thoughts as the rain hammered down upon me, as a gutter emptied in a waterfall upon my chest, as I looked up at the violent sky, dark, close, closer than even the ground below.
Such were my thoughts as Galatée fed upon me.
The morning sun shone out of lakes, puddles, pools of light all over the cathedral roof. The water running down the spires, trickling out of gutters, all of it caught the light, turning into a never ending fortune of diamonds tumbling into space.
The effect was to make the intricate gothic building come apart, to drift in the sky unanchored and unmoored.
It wasn’t the worse tableau to wake up to.
Yet the waking up was still particularly awful.
Even if my old body had gotten used to that terrible couch. Even if I found the petrified Galatée curled up beside me, her wing out in the sun, my impossibly mended clothes slowly drying in the summer light. Even if I was still whole after falling from a vertigo inducing height…
That didn’t erase the pain of waking up on broken masonry; it didn’t erase the bruises, the cuts; it didn’t erase the memory of the gargoyle that cracked me down, held me down, stopped my struggling blows with a glance; it didn’t erase that she had fed from me like a eagle ripping out Prometheus’ liver.
I took the morning off. I had to wait for my clothes to dry.
It was only at midday that they weren’t obviously wet, and not-obviously-wet was good enough. I couldn’t sit down there beneath Galatée’s plinth any longer. I knew she was conscious now, I didn’t need to scribble on her to know that. But, that made the silence worse. She: curled up on herself; me: knees against my chest, watching the passage of the sun in the shrinking pools of light.
I left Galatée without a word, climbing up the building-cliff face I had fallen off of last night.
And I returned without sparing Galatée a word.
The puddles had all but disappeared by sunset, leaving the narthex, the roofs, all with an oily slickness, but not so bad as to force me to sit on something as I worked. The reinforced seat of my work pants would cope with that much, even if it felt damp with cold. Even with the recent inclement weather, I had been making short work of the damaged marble; whilst I had done a little bit of carving in university, this much was all new to me. Luckily all I had to do was efface. And since that required more brute strength than fine control, I often found myself zoning out, totally focused on the rhythmic thonk-crack of mallet striking chisel striking marble.
It was as I was settling into that steady rhythm that I first noticed Galatée slowly stir from her petrified state. Stretching out of the ball she had curled up into last night, flexing life back into her limbs, the unchecked power causing random choices of armour to merge, sink down under her flesh, to emerge anew in a different form, it was like watching some strange lizard leave hibernation.
Hammer hit chisel, chisel hit stone.
“…I apolo–,” too thick, it caught in her throat, “at our current rate, we’ll be ready in about a week’s time, perfectly in sync with the new moon.”
“Does the–,” whilst Galatée’s voice carried to me perfectly, (even if she were to whisper from her position I was sure that I’d be able to hear it,) my Oxford strains were swallowed up by the strange, myriad faces of the gothic building. Raising my voice I tried again, “Does the new moon matter, gargoyle?”
A few chisel hits echoed down into the well, I followed the progress of the chipped marble as it tumbled through space, down to the statuesque woman. She had resumed her position from the night before, but, almost recoiling from the blow, couldn’t stare at her plinth. I hardened my heart, it only took recalling the vicious creature from the night before, that ethereal power. But, far down below, her skin grey from the shadows and distance, she seemed a far cry from the creature from then.
“Dr Wren… I’ve always phrased your duties as “to your point of view” haven’t I?”
“You have, and I took the hint not to pry.”
“And I thank you for that, it’s neither easy to explain, nor necessary for you to know everything that happens on my side—”
“That there are different sides was always abundantly clear, moreso now.”
“Dr Wren! Do you think I’m happy about last night?”
“Should we compare notes on who had the worst of it?”
Even if I was in the right, even so… Even if I couldn’t help lashing out…
“I lost control Dr Wren. Or rather, last night, I had no control to lose. I don’t mean this as an excuse, even I feel pathetic for acting like a starved beast, but basically…” She stumbled, trying to piece together some way for me to understand the processes she went through each night in order to free herself, “basically, I acclimatise myself to your presence. I force more and more of my power away from myself over time, cancelling out your presence as I do.
“It’s like you’re a burning pyre, warm, with a perpetual feast about you, bright… And erasing myself from this building, chip by chip, dust lost to wind and rain, it really is a part of me you’re erasing up there… and I constantly have to suppress my bond’s reaction to my weakening presence, or rather, I have to fill the empty gaps with my own power…
“And here I am, feeling parts of myself simply cease to be…”
“So you’re saying… That last night, without any warning, a warm, welcoming bonfire, full of energy shows up, just as you’re at your weakest, loneliest, your coldest?”
I sighed long and hard, only then noticing my hands had stopped their work, and that Galatée had turned her face up to me, her brows knit, jaw muscles tightened to shearing point, the light in her eyes barely an ember.
“You had no control, all of it being exerted on your magic, or whatever you want to call it? That’s what you want me to take away from this? That you were non compos mentis?”
She laughed half heartedly, the chiming dull and lifeless, “That’s more or less the position I’m taking, as weak as it is.”
I started chipping away at the lightning black marble; we hadn’t been talking too long, but already the moon had swum into focus above us, the sky turning a deep indigo. Soon summer will leave us, the nights coming faster and faster.
Nice for the nocturnal creature.
“Why does the new moon matter?”
“The new m—”
“You mentioned it before, that we’ll be perfectly in sync. You wouldn’t phrase it like that if it was nothing more than an inconsequential coincidence.”
“What about last–,” totally off kilter, the gargoyle paused, her tone switched from the interrogative to the plaintive, “what about last night?”
“You’re usually sharper than this, aren’t you? Considering the past, well, I’m dropping the subject.”
“If it’s like this it’s no better than saying it was your fault for distu—”
“Galatée.” The chisel vibrated in my death-grip.
“Do you think that this is enou—”
There was a long pause from the stone woman below, “…Thank you, Dr Wren.”
“The new moon?”
“Technically… Technically, the full moon would be just as good, or even better, but I can work with the new moon. The cycles aside, the extra light from the full moon would help drown out mine, we don’t need any interlopers.”
I held myself back from the obvious quip about the last interloper.
“But the new moon is good enough?”
“Good enough. The sooner the better. By the time I’m ready to cut ties with this place, I’ll basically only be able to survive off of the energy I’ve… Taken from you. That’s a precarious position I don’t want to be in for any longer than strictly necessary.”
“Will we be done in time?”
“As long as you maintain your current pace effacing my remains from that block.”
I answered by way of chiselling with renewed gusto.
And with a herculean effort, or so it felt to a man who hadn’t frequently exercised since the 6th form, I managed to complete the erasure of Galatée’s remains from the cathedral the night before the new moon’s advent. With a note that rung like struck crystal, as loud as a clarion call, echoing from the sky as much as from the cathedral, the chisel cleaved through the last of the marble that had once been a part of her. All that was left was a pitted, raw scar, and the spiderwebbing of burnt marble that still recalled the lightning’s blast.
Galatée had explained to me a day or two earlier that as soon as her last physical link to the plinth was erased, she would regain a larger sphere of operations: instead of being in two places at once, her existence was now focused upon a single point, prepared to reunite with her parent plinth. Or abandon it. Even so, in her current state she was still bound to the holy ground, and utterly dependent upon her own inner well of energy; the toll of movement only growing the further she strayed from her place in the cathedral’s firmament. She couldn’t exactly move with complete freedom yet.
You wouldn’t know it though. Not if you too had heard the enraptured yell that set stained-glass rattling, the solar flare of red light, the explosive joy of lift off, the brilliant white streak of her passing, the heavy “whump” of long dormant wings beating at the air.
Even as cautious as she needed to be, Galatée couldn’t resist the surge of emotion that came with her first taste of freedom in half a millenia.
For a second, the dark moon hung between the spires, the stone saints, and the shining gargoyle. For only a second though. Galatée had hit the pinnacle of her arc, and was already flipping over, feeling gravity pull her back down to earth, feeling reality reassert the weight of her marble body, feeling her bondage grasping for her soul once again.
With the lightest of touches, Galatée returned to the roof she was cast down from half a century before. The rush gone, the gargoyle fell on her back, spread eagle, and freely, giddily, wept tears the colour of blood.
And, almost forgotten in the moment, I let the marble goddess cry her fill in a discrete quietude, packing away my tools, brushing the dust from my work clothes, stretching the muscles that had been pushed to breaking for the last month. I almost felt embarrassed, an awkward witness, standing by whilst a beautiful woman wept her heart out, laughing, sniveling without reservation. But, all things considered, I was happy for her too, from the bottom of my heart. It wasn’t long before Galatée’s deep, shaking breaths calmed, the flow of tears slowed, the laughter quietened, and she could sit up to address me.
Smiling with complete honesty for perhaps the first time since I met her, she simply thanked me.
We rested together, in that nice, warm atmosphere, wrapt up in a comforting silence, watching the moon’s progress, and the stars spin across the night sky. It was only at the first blush of dawn that she spoke again.
“Its finally here Dr Wren, the real finale, the payoff of all our hard work… Now all that’s left is to free me entirely.”
“Well, what do you need me to do?”
She grinned at me, leaning across the short span of roof that separated us, “You’ve gotten so honest Dr Wren, are you sure that’s ok?”
“Would you prefer it if I were more difficult, gargoyle?”
“That has its own endearing qualities… But no. This is nice. I liked verbally sparring with you Dr Wren, all the same though, it wasn’t good for your health, y’know?”
“Thank you for your concer—”
“I was really happy you found me Dr Wren, well, that doesn’t quite convey the emotion… Gradually forgotten, neglected, then lost down in that pit for half a century, with no way out on my own… If I’m honest, it could have been anyone who found me, and I’d still have been overjoyed. But, I am glad it was you Dr Wren.”
“…You’ve gotten plenty honest yourself Galatée.”
“Have I? Well then, I’ll keep it going: it’s totally convenient for a guy who could have a decent excuse for having a gargoyle in their home to be the one to have found me~”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that, “Don’t ruin the moment right at the end Galatée.”
She just smiled at me, but for the first time tonight she looked pensive. Her mouth parted slightly, a claw played at her bang that as ever refused to stay swept behind an ear. The pregnant moment endured between us, the gargoyle retreating further into herself every second she failed to break the silence.
“Well, Galatée? What do you need me to do?”
Thankful, perky again, she outlined my duties for the coming night; but first she would have me lift out her old perch. Muscles straining through my aching arms, purloined crowbar bending, marble grinding to dust until, with a sudden, sickening give, the mortar surrendered its hold upon the block. Only then could the gargoyle help me lift the stone she was once attached to. Setting it to one side, Galatée displayed the bottom to me, unseen by mortal eyes since it was mortared into position some 500 years past. There, in a brilliant red, shining wetly, a simple verse was written: Et svper hanc petram ædificabo ecclesiam meam et portæ inferi non prævalebvnt adversvm eam. I easily recognised the verse; even as Galatée wistfully ran her thumb through the words, letters smudging like they were only written a second ago and knitting back together in her wake, the English translation bubbled up to the surface of my mind.
“And upon this Rock, I build my Church; and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
It really was blood, once belonging to a virgin, spilt some 500 years ago. Still wet, still showing the calligraphic hand that had died with it’s owner, maybe even the same hand that spilt that innocent blood. A seal, and a promise, that had bound Galatée to her marble body, and to the church, for all this time. And all I would need to do to erase it, was to baptise the stone in the sacramental wine, then wipe it clean.
Then the rest of the little ceremony could begin.
But before any of that could happen, I had to quickly steal as much rest as I could; I’d be spending the day to come setting up for the long night ahead.
It was only a whispered goodbye, but, as I made my way down the spiral staircase once again, I thought that was probably as much as Galatée could manage. Even now she must be seeking shelter from the sun and its petrifying rays; cut off from the holy power of the cathedral’s millennia long storage of faith, dependent upon the energy reserves she had harvested from me, having no choice but to pin all her hopes on my return…
If I failed to return, what would become of her?
Would she be able to hold out until some prey wandered close enough for her to pounce upon?
Would the bright red lamplight of her eyes simply fade to the same darkness of that pit above the cathedral?
Even I couldn’t ignore the tightening of my chest when I considered Galatée becoming a permanent fixture among those lifeless stone saints and demons.
Returning to my portable office in a daze, I soon fell into a fitful sleep punctuated with terrifying dreams; a gorgon with Galatée’s face forcing stone through my veins, calcifying my flesh, fossilising my skin, petrifying my nerves, as I looked on aghast. Her face a visage of pagan cruelty as she snapped my limbs; she contorted my brittle body, grinding my spine, rotating joints with a gravelly echo, until I was perfectly posed to join the rows upon rows upon rows of broken, naked martyrs, standing sentinel to the apocalypse in their aedicula.
Bug eyed, clawing at my paralysed throat, gasping against the dirt stained, sad carpet of my portable office, I vaguely noted I had barely managed to steal two hours of sleep. Outside the barred window the cathedral loomed, glowing gold in the harsh morning light; as the first autumn winds pulled at the rows of saints that stretched high into the crystal blue heaven.
More amped by sleep deprivation than energised by a good rest, I stalked through the work sites, feeling the burden of my years lifted by the gut churning apprehension, and anticipation, of what lay in store for us tonight. I must have bled a strange, restless energy as I vaguely noted the progress of the works, the tradesmen looked at me like I was a stranger, the university kids fitfully steered clear of my progress, as if I was some kind of apparition…
And I may as well have been.
Even if I had been barely keeping on top of all the paperwork that passed through my office, for the past month, my presence at the actual scaffolding was fading out. Work was progressing without me, and that was a comforting, if bittersweet thought, but who knows how much has been half assed without my supervision? How many corners cut? How many cheaper options chosen?
Even if I felt a strange… Responsibility towards the creature, I had let Galatée completely eclipse my love for this old cathedral. I’ve let untold amounts of relationships die for my need to keep working, I could watch myself sabotage every move, every overture. Can I just laugh it off as care for a broken architectural element?
With a rising disgust, the awful realisation that I was honestly close to looking at my motivations free of self-delusion, the fear, I shied away from my own train of thought and chose to start the preparations over dissecting my own motives. As pathetic as that may well be.
One way or another, the question of my place in this cathedral’s conservation work, the question of my relationship with the gargoyle, the question of what I would do next…
One way or another those questions will be answered by the end result of tonight’s labour.
It wasn’t particularly difficult to convince a group of workmen to set up the hoist on the narthex roof without arousing suspicion; I had already marked down the roof, and the pits, to be the next focus of surveyance once enough tradesmen and students were freed from other duties. As they worked I sorted out the rest of my materials. The new cap stone, a wheelbarrow, the candles, the wine, a goblet, a cloth, a brush, an old military surveyance map of the cathedral, true north already marked in; all dumped in the back of a borrowed, ancient Citroën van, and parked beside the finished hoist.
All I had to do now, was wait for the day’s work to end, and then hoist all the junk up to the roof. And as the setting sun painted the crumbling stonework pastel pinks and indigo blues, I had my opportunity.
The hoist made steady progress up the cathedral’s western façade; the last brilliant rays of the sun illuminated Christ as he sat in judgement, separating the sinners from the saved above the tympanum, as the means of a demon’s emancipation jerkily crawled further into the heavens. It was torture, listening to that fossil of a generator cough and splutter; a wet, pneumatic staccato rhythm that stunk of gasoline, the used jerry cans barely secured beneath a plastic tarp, bright red and blue clashing on the old rooftop, the stonework’s reproachful greys almost seemed hostile to the modern interlopers. Saints looked on beatifically as they were covered in a new layer of belched, black exhaust. The groans and squeals of the hoist’s motor spoke of another battle, this time against gravity itself.
I paced fretfully, restraining myself from calling to the gargoyle down in the deep chasm behind me. But, with a final arthritic groan, the hoist came level to the roof, and I could finally set about the next phase of preparations.
It was a simple matter of arranging everything within an easy arm’s reach of Galatée’s plinth: the thick pillar candles and my retrieved lighter, the capstone, the wine already decanted into the goblet, like so I double checked everything. I’ve never been a particularly fastidious person outside of my work, thus my own pins and needles nervous energy came as something like a shock.
The bigger shock was the silent reappearance of Galatée on her plinth.
Shining her nigh transparent marble-white, the last light refracting off her in a shower of stars; her pure, unnatural, virgin-snow skin casting even my pale, academic complexion a corpse grey. It was that eternal blankness, that white gulf, that caught my reproach in my throat. Just as I couldn’t call out to her, neither could she so easily break the spell of the last month, and take the next step.
Instead she pointed to the dark well in the sky above, the barest hint of light playing at its rim. The new moon had risen, the velvet dark of a moonless night had fallen, and the baleful red glow rekindled as her eyes opened.
“I’d venture that it’s time to begin, Dr Wren.”
Having come to the final hurdle, the gargoyle wasn’t willing to hesitate; filling her stone lungs, inhaling deeper than her frame could possibly accommodate, Galatée passed by me, gracefully placing herself a ways further west across the narthex roof. Spreading her wings, raising her hands like some lost pagan statue, long legs planted with architectural solidity, she was a living Nike. Lifting her sharp chin, her animalistic horns curved up into space like the spires around us, fiery gaze piercing through her plinth, through the lead lined roof, radiating below the transept tower, east to the horizon, to the altar.
And with a quiet exhalation of everything she had, that life-blood red aurora spread from her eyes, painting her crystalline skin a neon collage of luminous black and violent pink. Overflowing it’s source, escaping up the towers, running down the gutters, rising above our heads, the light trapped us in an illuminating amber-thickness. Mixing with the oily night, brought to a sudden boil, it seized, and as if it were a solid thing the thickness left the air, sliding from a half-understood reality, to a witnessed impossibility: a light with no source, not so much reflecting off of surfaces, but simply radiating above them. Leaving vortexes and eddies of pure night in their wake, the twin lightning rods of her ivory horns trailed a magnetic impulse: the light shivered back to it’s pale font. Dripping up Galatée’s too-delicate ankles, her lithe legs, her tautened stomach and sensuous ribs, between the pale orbs of her blind breasts, collecting and becoming corporeal.
I watched on in silent horror, breath caught in my throat, the heavy iron crowbar turning ever icier in my hot-palmed grip.
And divorcing itself of any mechanism of ray or wave, the pulsing light knit together, once again reflecting the reality of the gargoyle’s bondage. Choking around her baroque throat, resisting the power of her shoulders, ignorant to the mysteries of her clavicles, a tall collar materialised, from chin to breast bound by chain, and like a bit and bridle, it was then prey to reins of chain.
What I had seen only hinted at before, was now on full display: two awful, disembodied hands, harsher, heavier, monumental in their barely suppressed cruelty, held those reins tight. One could only imagine a similar knee riding between the ridges and passes of Galatée’s vertebrae, bisecting muscles and nerves.
And from that scene of power enslaved, a single tenuous conduit stretched to the marble block I was about to baptise, energy crackling viciously up and down the length of her tail. The clear marble vibrated into fish scales, armour rose up from her flesh, to be warped into the split end of a shark’s fin. That tail snaked past me, to slip into the stone-like milk, a temporary, delicate umbilical cord we were about to cut, surging like a live wire.
My instructions for the first crucial step were disarmingly simple:
I was to begin levering out the scarred plinth, ignoring anything I may see or hear, and at the moment of the coming eclipse wash the old blood seal away, and remove the plinth completely and entirely from its cradle.
The crowbar easily sunk into the abused mortar. The grinding of metal on mineral reverberated through my hands, my head, until even the slivers of bone in the whorl of my inner ear grated. Revulsion thundered through me, filling my mouth with sickly saliva, that awful Pavlovian response to the need to vomit ringing through my head.
And with a desperate, hopeless push, I levered up the plinth and fell to my knees.
Cracking up into the hollow of my stomach and the tender cage of bone, my limp body pressed down on the crowbar, keeping the block hovering by means of a mortification of the flesh. Hanging in space, the marble glowed from an inner light of mantle and magma, and beat like a heart carved out from a living chest.
But even the success of my allotted task failed to halt the grinding, nor could my bleeding hands halt the assault to my ears.
In their aedicula, on their pediments, on their columns, bound together in groups, or barely incised into the cathedral’s living stone; saints, sinners, angels, and demons all, every last stone creature was reborn. Grinding out their stone murmurs, marble words fell from their lifeless lips, each whispered pebbles of wisdom to their neighbours, the entire cathedral had become a tableau of humanoid forms violently gesturing, milky eyes rolling and searching the sky.
I fell to the irresistible urge to follow their gaze.
Like the night I first met Galatée, out of the darkness blossomed a carmine nebula that soon consumed the entire sky, until it seemed that the entire planet had been forever taken from electric blue skies and indigo nights, and plunged into an eternal half-light as vivid as life blood.
The gargoyle herself a pillar of salt against that apocalyptic backdrop, still bound, statue still. She seemed to drink my gaze, growing more monumental as I stared.
Horror. Horror consumed me. Too terrified to move, too terrified to think, I instead saw the black hole the new moon punched in the red sky between her horns, and the sensations of the past forced themselves upon me, until I simultaneously lived in past and present.
The moon hung between her impala horns, and a cold, dead, false sun rose behind her in the west—
The broken masonry of the pit below speared into my back, as I fell forward upon the lever—
Her mocking laughter echoed the peeling of the cathedral bells, the empty belfries howling with sound—
Hot and wet around my manhood, forced deep down her throat, I reached for the goblet of wine—
The monstrous sun was eclipsed by the black moon,
The holy son had left his throne upon the tympanum,
The sacred wine washed away the virgin blood,
And with a sudden vacuum of silence ringing a clear note,
Galatée was free.
As white as sun bleached, sand scoured bone, stripped of her usual élan by exhaustion, the emancipated marble creature fell to her armoured knees, her only comment a long contained exhalation of withheld relief.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to commit the cruelty of ending her utter freedom. Right now, I sensed, she was even free of me.
So I waited for her to break the spell herself, to once again establish the chains of relationship and necessity; and dragged the sadder, greyer remains of the plinth to the hoist. Now devoid of the link to Galatée, the marble seemed made of poorer stuff, the wine seeping into the porous rock like an accusatory blood stain. With all the feeling that one disposes of a once living body, I placed it on the hoist, ready to lower back to the earth.
I was transfixed by Galatée’s gaze as I turned, her inner glare had returned to the chasms of her pupils; focused once again, they seemed to be two orphan pools of a scarlet lake.
Against my will, I straightened my back, squaring my shoulders, drawing myself up to face her. I couldn’t defeat such a piercing, searching look.
It was clear that the gargoyle knew the limits of her power, and the limits of her trust in me at this crucial juncture; and rather than feel another barb in my pride, I could only hope I wouldn’t fail her.
“Dr Wren…” tentative, probing out my position in the dark, “Let’s… Let’s move on. I’ll have time enough to celebrate later, but for the time being… Thank you. No matter what happens, thank you for this much, for coming this far.”
“We’ve still got a ways to go, don’t we gargoyle?”
She finally cracked a wry smile, “only if you can keep up, human.”
With the blood washing out of the night sky, the bravest stars already reasserting their dominance over the hollows of nothing that made up heaven, even with the slowly dimming radiance of that cold sun, it was clear that the eastern skies were soon going to feel the blind groping of the rosy fingered dawn. We had been much too engrossed in our rites to note something as unreal as the steady passing of time.
I really would have to hurry, lest the sun find the gargoyle’s stone body shipwrecked, without a home to return to or a safe haven to aim for.
I wasn’t prepared to let Galatée’s soul be split from her body.
And if I was going to achieve that goal, it was going to be necessary to bind a new capstone to the rooftop. Ideally I’d have found something that would align with the pre-existing guttering, but I did what I could. Still, I wonder how Galatée would feel about another gargoyle being bound to this cathedral? It’d be more authentic after all…
“Hey, Dr Wren, it’s a nice capstone, but I don’t think it really deserves such a deep appraisal, not when time is in such a dire overabundance.”
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, you know?”
“But the highest form of intelligence, Dr Wren,” her playful lilt was finally returning, but my inexplicable relief was much more exasperating than that easy riposté.
“I was never a fan of Wilde.”
“Lucky I’m not asking you to write one of his passages then, eh? With that wine, simply transcribe what you found beneath my plinth. Matthew something or rather.”
“Something like that.”
With belaboured strokes, my exhausted hands gave out a Morse code calligraphic stuttering. If you really looked maybe you’d be able to pick out a word or two: petram… ecclesiam meam… inferi… adversvm eam. The wine shone thickly, reflecting the power of Galatée’s claret gaze back into the empty space above the narthex, between the towers. On this pale rock, I’ll build a gargoyle’s freedom? Something like that.
For someone who was utterly invested in the material fabric of the buildings we inhabit, their decay, their loss, their rebirth, to suddenly be confronted with a cathedral’s own self preservation instinct made manifest… Was a change of speed. It was something I felt I had no choice but to take in my stride, by sheer force of will if needs be; and at the end of the day, the events of this past month were happening to me.
But now as I stared at the wine, that half-living purple colour of blood stripped of oxygen clearly contrasting against the pale grit of stone; wobbling, holding its surface tension, slightly altering my handwriting, fixing my mistakes, all at a 90° angle I was forced to accept that this magic was a thing I could also control.
To simply let gravity take hold of the new capstone, and fit it into the vacant spot in the ranks of high gothic decoration, didn’t take anything nearly as fancy as that.
And we came to the final rite.
Each step of the way Galatée had not only been fighting her own battles, but been ready to guide me through to the ceremonies’ success, and the toll was beginning to show. Dawn may not even come before the gargoyle was utterly spent, burning through the last of her reserves. I could easily recognise pride in another, even in something so far apart from humanity: pride is always a threat when found outside yourself. But now, now it was a threat to herself, and a threat I had to allay as soon as I could. To her, it was freedom or (a marble) bust. For me, all I could do was complete the spell, (and having sealed the new capstone in place,) escape the rising of the true sun.
And to that end, I picked up one of the pillar candles, the longest, and guarding against the threat of the waxy surface losing traction on my sweat-slick palms, carefully dipped the exposed wick into the shimmering blood-red mirror of wine. Excess wine dripped down to the ornate goblet, ripples spreading across the surface. Now, I simply had to light the thing; but for a moment’s trepidation, and a heart stopping pause of smoke and sputtering, the wick burst alight with a hurricane-match’s force.
That guttering light blinded; all present stared into the waving, living flame as it threw up seething shadows amongst the gothic carvings, the gargoyle, and an old, exhausted academic. Its pinpoint of warmth collapsed the little world that had been created above the narthex into the easily understood: what could be seen, and that which was hidden. Even the dying red of the sky seemed less threatening with the breathing flame at hand.
By the coppery glow, I fumbled for the map I had prepared; finding it as the first drips of molten wax hit the stonework with a hiss and a sudden petrification. Pressing down the age-ironed creases, I followed the spider webbing contours across the orange peaks and blue valleys of the map; ruins, forgotten foundations, pits and hills, all the arcane symbols rose and fell, until I finally got orientated. Half blurred by dim eyes and dim light, I found TRUE NORTH.
The ceremony I was about to undertake was an exercise in reproductions, representations sliding between life size and the miniature; with the mirror of the grounds showing true north, I would create an effigy of the cathedral upon the capstone. East, South, West, and North, I’d place a candle at each extremity, light them with the first candle (which belonged in the centre), and let them consume themselves.
By which time I, and Galatée, were meant to be very far away.
The gargoyle murmured away as I worked: if the ceremony was to be completed in earnest, you would have marshalled up a superfluity of clergymen, given each a candle lit from the mother candle, and it’s burning blood, and told them to book it to the furthest extremities of the cathedral’s grounds, singing whatever hymn set the mood right. There they would wait until the candle died. Thus doing so, the gargoyle would be bound to the fabric of the building, and their movement limited to holy ground. Cathedral in miniature, cathedral in life.
Soon all 5 candles were alight, and soon enough they’d consume themselves.
It was time to leave.
Protesting under the strain, the hoist creaked back down to earth, aided by the combined weight of plinth and a gargoyle clutching the wooden floor, perfectly rigid.
I took absolutely no joy in watching the usually dignified creature sway with the wind, jaws locked tight; she wouldn’t let out a squeak. Not even when the hoist barely cleared the groping hands of a penitent, looming out of the dark gothic shadows for forgiveness. I assume if she had a heart, it would’ve skipped several beats; apparently, inching your way down a vertical drop on a rickety hoist is quite different to flying. Too bad she had to conserve energy.
I tore myself away from the life-and-limb risking spectacle with great regret, I too had to get to ground level before the candles sputtered out.
Rushing through the pointed arch into the swallowing darkness beyond, I flew down the spinning staircase, jumping two or three steps at a time, fingertips grazing the ancient stonework as I made my way back down to the earth. Falling out of the stairwell, flailing for support, I crashed against the gothic railing; and immediately felt the affects, my hip cracking against the ungiving stone, bone bruising, the old flesh tearing, blood seeping into the muscles.
But the gaping cavern dragged me back through the pain, the limp forgotten as I witnessed the change before me.
All at once, in a disorientating rush, I felt the reality of the cathedral come apart, that the real building that we had all seen, entered, lived in, was simply a threadbare bolt of tangible knowledge, thrown across a much greater truth.
And that truth was forcing itself upon me from my second floor vantage point.
The stained glass windows, high above in the clouds, dark, murky, quiet with night and sleep on my entry, now burned red with the force of Galatée’s escape. Each panel, soaked with lifeblood red, waved, swam, in the light’s death throes; suddenly, cut off from any source in reality, golden light would burn away the the night, the paint, the leadwork. This over-exposing light ate away at the cathedral’s film, so bright it threw the rest of the ornate gothic magnificence into a negative; everything the light touched, bathed in so pure a light, beyond white, was broken down, erased.
Sweeping across the high windows, searching, it lit up the cathedral in random bursts. Gantries, scaffolding, all the small human mars were erased; the lost carvings, broken stone work, missing columns, illuminated, given a quavering, living rebirth into reality; the fabric of the building rejected all human failures.
Lost amid this terrible glory, I belatedly realised I was losing time. In the hollow… Absence inside the grand cathedral, my hard footsteps rang out on the flagstones. Bunches of organic columns swept past, carvings reached out for me, ladders of light crashed to the ground to my right, casting the world in an operatic high relief of white and black. Even the staircases would betray me, each step minutely changing, rising, lowering, widening, forcing my lopsided gait into a drunken controlled fall.
Sprawling on the cold, unforgiving slate, my joints screaming at me, my lungs collapsing in upon the dark flecks of emphysema, 42 years of wear and tear clawing through my nerves, crushing down upon my shoulders.
And with a sisyphean effort, I forced a wavering hand out to the dark, dead heartwood of the pews strewn about cavern-cathedral, and found the seat repulsively warm with a recently departed body warmth. The whispers of a millennium of the faithful rose from the wooden pews, a susurrus of faith and boredom, a deep well of surety in sin and grace. Shuffling filled the nave, erased of all my works, all of my effort immediately corrected by that dire, heavenly light, a thousand years of worship took their places on their pews.
In the choir an entire history of clergy cleared their immaterial throats, muttering, practicing their scales, the rustling of habit trailing in their wake.
And, before them, in a blaze of glory, the broken body of Christ sagged on his cross.
Before the alabaster son of god could raise it’s tortured head, display it’s crown of thorns, I had fled.
All voice had been taken from me, all thought had been erased, I ran, rolling eyed, down the marble nave, through the great stone ribs that trussed the ceiling to the ground, past the innumerable wooden pews, as whispers flowered in my passing.
Without any conscious effort I breathed deeply from the clear night air; I saw the red sky dissipate like ink in water, the false, cold sun slide from existence; I felt the cold grass, so cold it felt wet against my knees, and a gentle warmth that radiated from Galatée I hadn’t ever noticed before.
Collapsed together, the gargoyle let me catch my breath, my burning lungs craving air. Stray strands of glittering, marble hair clung to my lips as I let my head fully rest in the crook of her neck. A shiver of tension ran through her marble body to mine, for even now, we weren’t safe. Adrenaline feeding our elated jog, we wheeled her plinth to the back of the old Citroën; alone, grumbling, gasping, I struggled to force the lifeless stone aboard. The van’s rear suspension saged with a put-upon sigh, the weight settling in. Somehow I had to convince the reluctant creature to follow in its wake. Still somewhat scarred by her descent, Galatée glared at the van with more than a small measure of distaste. Yet her shy reservations were quickly overruled by the slowly grasping fingers of dawn, and the gargoyle’s own claws threatened the structural stability of the Citroën’s corrugated walls. With a deep breath and her usual arrogant grace she climbed aboard.
The sharp whine of the fan belt tore apart the early English morning, my prayers and Galatée’s clenched tight tension forced the turning engine to catch into explosive life. Screaming away from the narthex, the shivering cathedral, we passed my portable office at speed, I could feel our arse-end sliding out from under on the turns, nigh-bald tires losing grip, the stone scraping across the floor bed, and Galatée’s suppressed squeaks; the steering wheel burning hot from friction, gear shifter held in a death-grip. Catching air as I forced the Citroën from the dirt road I once used when I was just a conservator, on to the oil black asphalt towards freedom, we both held our breath as we came to the limit of the cathedral’s holy ground. This was our final test, and failure meant eternal petrification.
—we cleared that final hurdle.
Nerve-searing anxiety was suddenly flooded by elation; the gargoyle’s living, marble flesh wrapped around me, her laughter ringing inside the beat up old van, nearly killing us both. Beat off back to a safe distance, Galatée wept without reservation, her bondage slipping away, slipping away with the great cathedral into the distance.
Before the sun had even cleared the horizon, we were safely back at my, (and Galatée’s temporary,) home. There Galatée drank deeply from me, her first taste of freedom was of me, and it was that first surge of warm life that cemented her emancipation from the cold of the Cathedral’s stone. She was free, and free to choose her future, and she chose to freely honour our promise.
It was several years later when my first (successful) assistant paced about my old house amidst the greenery of Oxfordshire, admiring the teetering piles of theses, research, and pointedly ignored paperwork; her small, delicately constructed hand traced through the layer of dust on a certain book, pausing.
“You know Art—”
“I don’t care how many years you worked for me, or how many years it’s been since, I won’t ever feel comfortable with you using my first name.”
“Ehh~? But we got on so well even!”
“Did we? How many times did you run off crying, or throw things at me in those first 6 months?”
“Y’know, it wasn’t me that changed Art.”
She had a point: cohabiting with a marble monstrosity with a voracious thirst for knowledge and experience, like a starving man at a banquet, had been quite the brutal change of pace for the both of us. As soon as she had slept off the withering exhaustion, Galatée had forcibly ejected me from my study and hadn’t left until she had had her fill of the wonders of the internet, and the world it contained. From there it was a running battle between an academic who had long settled into a permanent bachelorhood, and a 500 year old creature keen to carve out her own territory.
Simply for my health, I had to quickly acclimatise, and the changes to my rougher edges were well appreciated by my coworkers.
By now my old assistant, well along in her own career these days, had begun to leisurely wave a chillingly familiar book towards me, dust particles burning when they fell into the late afternoon light.
“Y’know Art, this was the book that absolutely ensured that I’d begin conservation work proper.”
“I know. You asked me to sign your damn copy of the thing and ambushed me with a job application. No matter how many times I refused, you still kept coming back for more.”
“It turned out for the best right? I knew I just had to work with the guy who totally rewrote how we consider the breaks and resumption in a monumental building’s construction.”
“You… never regretted working for me?”
“Mmm, well, I had been warned by basically every single person in the faculty to not even bother… And sometimes you really were truly awful, and I’m still sure I can write better than you—”
“I’m conservator damn it! Not an author!”
“Even so, yeah, I don’t regret it. You weren’t easy Art, but it felt like you were at least trying to engage with me. If it weren’t for that, I would’ve walked away too… Speaking of.”
I grunted at her, straightened up my posture, and made a show of working; even now I’d like to still appear the busy doctor.
“How is your new assistant going?”
“The boy? Well. If he doesn’t quit early, he’ll be competent at least.”
“I’d ask you to go easy on my students… But I feel that would bring about the opposite effect.”
The woman, in her academic professional wear, continued to pace around my wide study, stopping to finger the china rim of her drained tea cup.
“Whatever happened to that gorgeous gargoyle that you had? I never understood why you played with its placement so much, if you weren’t having it cleaned, it was in a brand new place, if it wasn’t somewhere new, it was hidden in some back room. Where’ve you hidden her now?”
“Oh, that ancient thing? Well, you know, as pretty as it is, it can get wearisome to stare at the same monstrous visage day in and day out… maybe it’s in the gardens somewhere? Would you like a tour?”
“You’d actually give me a tour of your garden Art?”
“It’s a self guided tour.”
She sighed, smiling to herself, “that sounds wonderful, but I’ve got to prepare for my next lecture circuit, I just wanted to chat before I properly begun.”
“Hmm? You didn’t ask me anything about it?”
“I didn’t need to Art, I’ve got it under control, it’s just nice to chat with your old mentor now and then isn’t it?
“Hilarious, but I do appreciate your visits, you know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, a visit every now and then is better than being a fixture of the architecture.”
“That from you? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? You’ve always preferred stone to flesh…”
I sunk back into the plush leather of my seat and shot a weary grin towards the departing academic, she had already collected her coat and hand bag, and was reaching for the study door,
“Will you be fine finding your own way out? I can get up if you prefer.”
“No, no, rest your weary old bones Art, I’ll let myself out. Take care of yourself now.”
She left with a promise to send me her lecture notes upon completion.
And not a second too soon either.
“G-Galatée, damn it, I can’t have one conversation with one of the few assistants I’ve actually liked?”
Her only response was to redouble her efforts, her cheeks hollowing out around my cock, the mixture of sloppy, wet, sucking and the scraping of marble horns on wood was slightly muffled by the desktop between us.
It was all too much, as soon as I had sat down at my desk she had started teasing me. That was over an hour ago, and now she was going all out.
“Galatée, I’m, I’m going to—,” I had reached down to grab one of her horns, instead her fingers intertwined with mine, her rock hard grip preventing me from getting the leverage I desperately needed to slide the rest of myself down her throat, to release; instead she slid my cock out of her mouth with a wet pop, her soft lips giving a single parting kiss as her saliva quickly cooled.
“Art this, Art that? And you made me call you Dr Wren for two whole years? Even after sharing a bed for most of that?”
“L-look, Galatée I’m not happy about that either!”
With her free hand she lightly stroked my member, not giving me a chance to draw back from the precipice she had brought me to, and not enough to push me over the edge, sadistically she ground my head against her supremely soft, cool cheek.
“You’re not happy about it are you?”
“No! You were right there to hear it right?”
“Mhmm, I heard that alright Dr Wren, I heard it all… Ancient old thing? Bored of my face?” She punctuated her question by fluidly taking me all back into her mouth, her throat, near melting me.
“Oh, come on Galatée, I was just teasing you. I mean, you’re so cute when you’re jealou-/teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth!/”
Her light nibbling was swiftly replaced with the cool air, “Jealous?! Me? Of that baby? Ha! And you, you, you’re so soft on her, don’t try and push this back on me!”
“She was right though—”
“I much prefer stone to flesh,” I took the opportunity to rest my free hand between her horns, lightly petting her, letting her hair sift through my fingers.
The gargoyle tightened her grip on my hand by a near imperceptible fraction, and ran her tongue from the root to my tip, her hot breath cascading over my manhood as she paused, “you’ve gotten a silver tongue to match your hair now.”
We both sighed deeply as she took me back down to the base, shivering together as my cockhead passed into the tightness of her throat, and her hand found its place between her soft thighs.
“Well, maybe I’ll keep improving with age?”
I felt Galatée’s smile around me.