Copyright © 2007 Aislinn Kerry
All rights reserved, Freya's Bower.
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Pale moonlight filtered through the leafless branches of the trees that arched over the cemetery’s entrance. Kestrel shifted the bouquet of wild flowers that she’d gathered to one arm and used her free hand to unlatch the gate. The gate was as old as the cemetery itself, its wrought iron bars rough with age against her palm. She stepped through, latched it closed behind her, and walked along the paths between the headstones. Her boots created muted crunching sounds in the blanket of autumn leaves.
Marble angels, Virgin Marys and other mortuary statues rose like pale ghosts from the black night. Kestrel wandered amongst them, letting her hand trail gently over the cool stones. Her fingers traced the carved letters and dates left in remembrance of the dead.
It was a fitting place to spend All Hallows’ Eve, she decided. The night deepened as each minute passed, drawing closer to midnight. It took little stretch of the imagination to envision spirits rising from their graves and taking advantage of their one opportunity to walk upon the earth again.
At least the company was better than what she’d had to suffer through at Callia’s party. Amber and Dan would wonder where she was, but she couldn’t bring herself to go back. Cheap costumes, fake laughter, and plastic spider webs were not Kestrel’s idea of a pleasant All Hallows’ Eve.
“I’m sure you enjoy the company too,” she murmured and caressed the curved wing of a black marble statue. She followed the lines of the wing as it sloped around and joined the body of the statue. She expected the voluminous robes and gentle expressions of the angels that had filled the rest of the cemetery, but the ebony statue that guarded this small corner of the cemetery had been lovingly carved in the fashion of a towering gargoyle. Featherless wings curved to join between the shoulder blades. Thick muscles contoured the powerful arms that braced the gargoyle against the pedestal. The face looked vaguely human save for the curved horns that sprouted behind his eyebrows and the savage grin that revealed fanged incisors longer than Kestrel’s palm and sharper than a knife’s edge. Moonlight reflected off of the stone, giving the statue the look of a sleek, well-oiled beast braced to attack.
Kestrel shivered and looked for an engraving on the pedestal, but its smooth, unblemished polish gave no indication of why it had been erected. Still, it must have been a grave marker or memorial of some sort. It was a cemetery, after all.
Laughter from the nearby party drifted across the still night air, and Kestrel sighed. Halloween was, for most, little more than an excuse to dress in costumes, get together and have fun. Hardly anyone remembered its origins anymore, and even fewer recalled the significance of the day that it preceded: the first of November, All Hallows’ Day, All Saints’ Day, the day for remembrance of those who had passed and making offerings of flowers and food to the dead.
Kestrel looked over the little cemetery, overgrown and poorly tended, and doubted any of the dead buried there would be paid any respects. Especially not whoever the dark gargoyle statue had been meant to commemorate. Touched by a sense of sorrow that he’d been forgotten and allowed to slip into obscurity, Kestrel knelt and spread the wild flowers at the base of the statue.
“I didn’t bring food.” She pulled a penknife out of her pocket and made a quick slice across her palm. She caught her breath at the sharp pain. Blood welled, a deep black in the moonlight against her pale skin, and dripped to the grass beneath her feet. “I hope this will substitute.”
As Kestrel’s blood soaked into the earth, a nearby clock struck the first chimes of midnight. A cold breeze traced through the trees and sent a chill running down her spine. It had been a cool night to begin with, and promised to grow cooler, but the only place she had to go was back to Callia’s party.
I’d rather face the dead.
She wiped her hand clean in the grass. The edge of the gargoyle’s pedestal stood even with her waist; she boosted herself up onto it and curled up in the protective curve of a wing. The marble’s warmth seeped into her back, holding the day’s heat and radiating it into her chilled limbs. She curled tighter against the cold and pressed her cheek against the leather-textured stone.
The wing flexed and pulled her close against the statue’s chest. Kestrel’s heart leapt with alarm. “What the fuck?”
A rumble that held traces of laughter shook the stone beneath her hand. A jackhammer pulse beat against the ear she had pressed against the gargoyle’s chest.
“Well. You get straight to the point, don’t you?” The voice reminded her of the roar of water crashing against rocks. Something between terror and understanding took hold of Kestrel. She didn’t scream, but held still and waited for the world to explain itself and make sense once more.