Companions

K.J. Watson

Frida never forgot her first memory from childhood: a snarling face.

The face fascinated her. She stood in the garden looking up at it, ignoring pleas to come into the house. One or the other parent had to lead her inside. She didn’t resist but expressed resentment by baring her teeth.

Her father wondered whether to remove the cause of the problem, a stone gargoyle he had bought at auction around the time his wife gave birth to Frida. The auctioneer’s vagueness about provenance irritated him. Even so, he thought a gargoyle placed on a plinth would make an imposing garden ornament. It certainly became a talking point among visitors. The creature’s protruding tongue, arched eyebrows, and sinewy wings amused some and discomposed others. For Frida, the gargoyle became an obsession.

Preoccupied with business matters, her father never decided what to do about the grotesque sculpture. His death from a heart attack, shortly before Frida started school, settled the issue. Thereafter, his wife sank into depression and lost interest in anything related to her only child.

In the absence of siblings and motherly love, Frida occupied her days with the gargoyle. When school became necessary, she avoided friendships. She kept her distance from the other pupils and returned to the garden the moment the bell signalled the end of the school day.

Once her education finished, Frida resumed a life at home. No one troubled her about a career, socializing, or marriage.

A rare announcement from her mother came as a surprise, “We’re going to move away.”

“I’ll stay here,” Frida replied.

“You can’t. I’m selling the house.”

Without arguing or asking for an explanation, Frida went into the garden and stood face-to-face with the gargoyle.

That night, her mother disappeared. Frida conscientiously informed the authorities. A police officer who came to take a statement found her wiping the gargoyle with a damp, crimson-stained cloth.

“Berries fell and stained it,” Frida said.

The officer shrugged and asked his questions. Frida declared she knew nothing about what might have happened to her mother.

The police didn’t visit again. Frida continued to live in the house, using the residue of her late father’s life insurance that she discovered in a savings account. She eked out this sum over the following decades by selling furniture and other items from the house to a local antique dealer.

On his first visit, the dealer noticed the gargoyle and made an offer for it. Frida refused and rebuffed his offers in subsequent years. Then, in need of money for household repairs, she accepted the amount the dealer proposed.

The dealer promptly paid cash. With the help of his assistant, he removed the gargoyle from the plinth and placed it in the back of a van. Frida watched with equanimity.

The next morning, she woke early and strolled into the garden. The gargoyle, in its characteristic pose, squatted on the plinth. A piece of broken mahogany jutted from underneath a talon. Frida pulled the wood out and threw it away.

At lunchtime, a news report on the local radio station mentioned the overnight vandalism of an antique store in the town. The dealer had also perished. The reporter hypothesized that the dealer had hurried from his apartment above the store to investigate the destruction and fallen down the stairs.

A further forty years passed. Low on funds, Frida nonetheless refused to sell her home and existed on welfare payments. She reached her ninetieth year and persisted in spending most of her time outside with the gargoyle, regardless of the season.

“We’re weather-eroded, you and I,” Frida said one day as she stared at the beast’s pitted features. “Your snarl is softening into a sneer.”

When night fell, Frida began to trudge indoors. Something rustled behind her. Talons gently gripped her shoulders. She tilted her head back and felt the warmth of the gargoyle’s chest against her skull.

“Are we going somewhere?” she asked.

The gargoyle spread its wings.

Of course we are, Frida thought and closed her eyes.

Together, the companions rose into the darkness.

K. J. Watson’s fiction has appeared on the radio, in comics, magazines, anthologies, and online. His latest work is in the anthology Retro Horror, the magazine Horror, and the online publication Horla.