“I have a story to tell!” announced Zack.
Same table, same restaurant, several months prior. Zack stood up, his head framed by what used to be a ticket window back when the building served as a movie theater.
“I’m here to tell you…of the Gargoyle.”
“Yay,” moaned Josh.
“Many years ago—“
“What would happen if I filled his mouth with burrito glue?” wondered Neal.
“Stop it. Burrito glue is a dumb idea,” I say. +It was a rare strikeout for Neal, whose ideas were normally of a much higher caliber. Cereal Milk, for instance, is a brilliant idea. It’s a shame the cereal companies never responded to our numerous emails.
Zack huffed through his nose at our interruption.
“Okay, we’re listening,” I said.
“You better be,” he admonished with one of his signature clicks. “As I was saying, this happened many years ago. My aunt and her friends were wandering through the Highlands. They were staggering along the sidewalk when they found something. I don’t know how they found it, since it was dark and they were drunk, but there it was, under a bush near an old brick building. They had found—”
“The gargoyle,” said one or more of us.
“Seriously?” complained Zack. He sighed. “ANYWAY. They found—the gargoyle!” He tried to make his voice all mysterious and smoky like some kind of crappy magician. “They decided to keep it, and this is when they discovered the dark truth. It was cursed.”
“It began the next day. One of the girls suffered a terrible car accident and ended up in the hospital. Another girl lost her job without warning. Weird nosebleeds, devastating breakups, horrifying hair dye incidents. +They say it was a color that human eyes can’t comprehend, a color that drives people to madness just by looking at it. The power of the gargoyle altered all of their lives. Their only recourse was to return it to the spot from where it came. Once they did, the curse broke. All was well. And none of them ever tried to find the Gargoyle again.”
Zack let the silence linger.
“Sounds made up,” said Josh.
“You sound made up!” snapped Zack. “Trust me—it’s real.”
“Guys,” Bill leaned in. “I think we all know what we have to do.”
Murmurs of agreement.
We had to find the Gargoyle.
Zack’s aunt didn’t remember the gargoyle’s exact location. We knew it was under a bush near an old brick building, somewhere in the Highlands. I suspected crows would be circling over the building, with lightning added for effect. This was all we had to go on, but no plan was enough of a plan for us, so we all piled in my car and began our search. +It wasn’t actually my car; it was an old diesel church van from the 80’s with a mint-green and poop-brown paint scheme. I was riding in style that weekend. +Why was I driving an 80’s church van? Well how else was I supposed to transport all of those bouncy castles?
The clock neared midnight, but the Highlands were still awake with throngs of roaming hipsters. With four hours left until last call, things wouldn’t quiet down soon.
It was a warm late-spring night. A gentle breeze whispered promises of freedom and adventure, while the stars, not yet dimmed by the summer haze, tried their best to outshine the streetlights. It was the kind of night where kids catch fireflies, misjudge their grip, get bioluminescent guts on their palms, and fall in love.
We should just have a million fireflies in our house instead of lights, She said once walking through Cherokee Park. +The average North American firely (Photinus pyralis) produces 1/40th lumen of light. A 60 watt lightbulb produces about 800 lumens, so it would take roughly 32,000 fireflies to equal just one lightbulb. This would be an incredibly impractical way to light a home, but that’s not the sort of thing you say when trying to get a girl to kiss you.
I wondered if she was catching fireflies with someone else now.
We started searching in the alley behind Twig and Leaf diner. A transformer hummed, doing its part to keep the party alive. An old biker with a white tank top and a blue handkerchief on his head smoked and watched us until we bored him. +They call him Copperhead, but you don’t really call him at all; he calls you. And when he does call you, you should probably just run. A cloud of gnats performed maneuvers in the golden cone of the streetlight.
“Ugh, a spider,” moaned Bill. “I walked right into its web.”
I picked up a loose brick. “Plenty more under here.”
“The gargoyle’s not going to be under a brick,” snapped Josh.
“Don’t question my methods,” I retorted.
“We’re looking for a bush.”
“Maybe it’s not under a bush anymore. Maybe it moves around.”
“IT’S MADE OF STONE.”
“I’m not suggesting it can crawl.”
“This bush is full of spiders.”
“Maybe the spiders moved it.”
“Can you imagine a whole army of spiders carrying it around?”
“Can you imagine a whole army of spiders picking you up and carrying you to their dark spider king? +The less said about the Spider King the better.
An hour more of this and we had nothing to show for it beyond the empty cans of PBR we’d find every few yards.
“This place is fresh out of gargoyles,” said Josh, kicking a pebble.
“What’s if it’s not here anymore? Maybe someone took it?” asked Bill.
“I bet we’re just in the wrong place,” said Zack. +Spoiler: it was definitely the wrong place.
“We could try across the street,” I yawned.
“No,” Zack replied with a yawn of his own, “time for bed.”
“Fine,” I mumbled. “We can start fresh next week.” Crickets played their concertos, oblivious to the discordant bassline coming from a passing Pontiac. It drove through the intersection to my right, the same intersection I would drive through months later when Bill called me with fateful news. Red taillights disappeared into the distance.
Rewind a few months before now and those would have been my taillights as I drove home from getting coffee with Her.
We don’t need to retread why I broke up with you, She said. The sunset behind her was a beautiful apocalypse.
But I needed her to know why. I knew it was my fault, and that everything exploded when I ignored her worried texts and calls. I was never more in love, but never more afraid. The questions paralyzed me. The inverted logic of a fearful heart convinced me the best option was to push her away. Hearts will spew all sorts of corrosive lies to protect themselves from love.
I wanted to give you time to figure things out, but I never wanted you out of my life, she countered, her voice cracking. You pushed me out of yours.
My heart sank with the evening sun.
I’ve had to learn to live without you, she whispered with glistening eyes.
I wanted a word with whoever kept writing these flashbacks into my story.
Future Aaron owes me big time for the crap I'm going through.
— Aaron Kreigh Hooper (@aaronkreigh) February 9, 2010
We drove back to the restaurant and separated into our own cars.
I wasn’t ready to give up the hunt yet.
“Don’t worry, the year is young,” reassured Josh.
“Yeah, next week,” I mumbled.
I lingered in the parking lot after everyone else left, leaning against the trunk of my Civic. Staring up into space, I imagined that the stars were little cracks in the sky. I debated searching for the gargoyle on my own. It carried a significance I didn’t understand, as if finding it would give me proof of something I’d always suspected about the world. At the very least, it gave me something to hope for.
But I was tired, and would rather be asleep than be alone. We had time.
“Next week,” I whispered to the night.
But we were a flock of birds, and we found other shiny things. We didn’t search the next week, or the week after. The seasons sprinted by like unruly children. Until Bill’s phone call, we forgot about the gargoyle.