The Watcher – Flash Fiction Piece
Another entry for a Chuck Wendig flash-fic challenge. Fourteen opening lines were given, one was to be chosen. Here is my piece.
I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house.
To my six year old eyes, it was grotesque. Two feet tall and hewn from something like limestone or granite, it was a vicious-looking gargoyle, mouth opened to bare uniform teeth, deep-set eyes beneath an over-hanging brow, wings half-open as if it had just settled onto its dirty stone pillar—or was about to pounce on an unsuspecting victim (invariably myself).
The stone gargoyle was Aunt May’s pride and joy. She said he was called Clyde, and that he was a very special statue. The last was always accompanied by a wink. For a very long time, I didn’t know why.
He sat beside the lily-pond, guarding the goldfish. The local herons stayed away from the garden because of Clyde, and I couldn’t say that I blamed them. I would have stayed away too, given the choice. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time during school holidays at Aunt May’s house. Mum said it was good for me to get out into the country, to enjoy the open air and the wide fields of meadow grass (she never brought up the copious amounts of cow dung).
For four weeks during the summer, and every Easter half-term, I was shipped off to Aunt May’s house with my suitcase of clothes. When I was young, I used to cry about it. Mum thought I cried because I was going to miss her. I couldn’t tell her that I didn’t want to go because the gargoyle made my skin crawl. Even as a six year old, I knew that sounded ridiculous.
Aunt May had a dog called Spot, and he was my constant companion during those holidays. He didn’t like Clyde, either. Whenever I threw his ball too close to the lily pond, he growled and backed away, refusing to retrieve it. We would have lost a lot of balls over the years, had Aunt May not gone and fetched them for us, smiling and shaking her head over my fear of her statue.
Every time I arrived at Aunt May’s, I’d hear Uncle John tutting over the latest rural scandals. Some predator, likely a fox or a cat, got into Mr Duncan’s chicken coop last night. One death, and all the eggs sucked dry; Little Milly’s rabbit was snatched from its open run last week, probably that damn kestrel again; The Ramsgreaves’ cat was found torn to shreds two days ago—looks like someone set a terrier on it, the bastards.
Each excuse sounded feasible, and I’m sure that to the adults, they were very logical reasons for the mishaps in the village. I, being a child, and therefore much more informed, knew better. The deaths weren’t caused by foxes or kestrels or terriers. It was Clyde who had killed those animals. I just didn’t know why he didn’t eat Aunt May’s fish, too.
When I lay on my bed in Aunt May’s spare room at nights, I fancied I could hear scratching on the window. It sounded just like claws against glass, and with every spine-chilling scratch, Spot (who was allowed to sleep on the bottom of the bed) would whine, and edge closer to me. I knew he and I shared the same thoughts; that Clyde was trying to get into the bedroom. Probably to drag us off and eat us, because that’s what gargoyles did. In the morning I would convey my fears to Aunt May, who’d chuckle and tell me that the scratching was caused by branches of the old apple tree brushing against the window, and that she’d get Uncle John to prune them.
For some reason, Uncle John never did. Or perhaps she simply didn’t ask.
Aunt May and Uncle John were like second parents to me. They never had children of their own (they tried a lot, I heard my mum once whisper to my dad), and I was like a daughter to them. I was nineteen when Uncle John died. A heart attack; he died in his bed. Part of me wondered if he’d heard scratching on the window just before his ticker gave out.
Aunt May lived to the ripe old age of 76, and bequeathed her house to me. After the funeral, Mum and I went around to the house, to start packing things up. Until then I’d been living in a tiny apartment, so I was looking forward to having more space, and a garden of my own. Of course, the first thing I planned on doing before moving anything into the old house was getting rid of Clyde.
When I looked out of Aunt May’s kitchen window, towards the lily-choked pond, my heart skipped several beats. Apart from the pond, and the ancient apple-tree, the garden was empty. The panic immediately turned to relief, and I told Mum how glad I was Aunt May had gotten rid of that old gargoyle before she’d died.
What old gargoyle? Was Mum’s reply.
You know, the one that used to sit by the pond. Clyde.
May never had a gargoyle, Mum frowned, looking completely puzzled.
Of course she did. Don’t you remember? Aunt May took a picture of me and Spot in front of it one summer when I was ten or eleven. The picture’s been on her mantelpiece for years.
Mum was adamant. She went to the mantelpiece, and showed me the photograph. The skin on my entire body broke out into a chill, goosebumps peppering my flesh. Spot and I were in that picture, both of standing uncomfortably in front of the lily-pond. But where I remember Clyde standing for over forty years, was nothing but empty space.
I put the house on the market that weekend, and it was bought by a family with three young children. I never went back, to ask if they’d ever seen an ominous-looking gargoyle loitering around the pond, looking after the goldfish.
Some questions are better left unasked.