The screaming of my alarm woke me at four in the morning.
“Shit,” I moaned as I slammed my hand on the bedside table five times before reaching the clock and hurling it to the floor. The plug pulled out of socket, and the noise stopped. “Thank God.” I closed my eyes again and tried to go back to my happy place, but the distant buzz of power tools reminded me I’d better move.
A few groans and colourful curse words later, I stood upright. The sun hadn’t risen yet, the lazy jerk, but I groped the wall until I found the switch and flicked it, burning out my retinas. I peeked through tearing eyes and scanned the floor for my cleanest pair of leather pants. They put up a good fight, but I wrestled my way into them and grabbed a pink hoodie that said “slayer” on the front. I pulled it over my head and checked myself in the full-length mirror. The sweater was a threat to the stone bastards about to ruin my day. “Fear me, minions of Satan.”
I staggered to the kitchen to find the black liquid I would shank a bitch for. Lucky for Lincoln, my roommate, there was half a pot, hot and waiting. I took my mug and pushed through the door from our apartment into the garage. We lived in a mechanic shop that Lincoln had transformed into his studio and two-bedroom apartment.
“Linc,” I called. “Linc!” I waved an arm and tried to get his attention. Lincoln was in his early twenties like me. A red bandanna covered his short black hair. Noise reducing headphones covered his ears and ridiculous safety goggles protected his eyes. I couldn't blame him, carving stone was a loud, messy profession. A fine stone dust collected on his dark skin, making him look funny when he took off his goggles.
“Linc!” I yelled again, this time getting close enough that when a small piece of rock came off, it hit me in the face, then plopped into my coffee. “Oh, you have to be shitting me.” When I turned to refresh my coffee, Lincoln finally noticed me and his grinder flicked off.
“Harlow, are you leaving?” he asked, pulling his headphones off.
“Yeah, I was just going to have a coffee, but your rock flew in it.” I raised my eyebrows at him accusingly.
“I’m not apologizing for that,” he said, stone-faced.
I scoffed. “Whatever. I’ll see later.”
“Don’t forget your amulets.”
He put his headphones back on and started up the grinder again. Conversation over. In the kitchen, I dumped my coffee and poured a new mug, sipping it while I walked down the hall to get my chains. I wore six, all hand carved and each from a different religious leader. The amulets were supposed to protect me. Probably did. Not from the little bitey teeth of the night demons, just from being possessed. Wish I had these babies three years ago when I had my first run in with a gargoyle. I grabbed my net and headed out to do a bit of hunting.
It all started the night of my senior prom. Derrek had asked me to go. He was every high school senior’s dream. Even the boys dreamed about Derrek, with his chiselled abs and square jaw—the All-American boy. Then that skank Rhonda promised to have sex with him if he took her to prom and he dropped me like I was a cow patty. So, I keyed his car and got drunk on the library roof. Seemed like the right thing to do.
Whoever built this town must have loved gargoyles, they were everywhere. I thought they were ugly as hell and that night I kicked one off the corner of the library. It broke away and crashed to the ground. I almost made the three-story drop too, and sometimes I think that would have been a better fate.
A Demon inflicts excruciating pain on their victim, like having their skin flayed over and over while they are is still alive. I blocked out most of it, thank God, but I will never forget the pain. Then it all stopped. Turned out a man put amulets around my neck and forced the demon out. That man was Lincoln and when I complained about the early mornings, he liked to remind me the alternative was much worse.
The streets were quiet at four in the morning. I walked through our small town, doing a head count of the little stone shits. They flew around at night, but had to return to their proper perches before the sun came up. My job was to wrestle the little devils that caused problems. Inside each one of the stone monsters, a real live monster dwelled. A demon spawned from hell that would possess any human it got its slimy paws on if it escaped its rock.
Luckily, Lincoln caught them as they crept through our world, and locked them in gargoyles. Then he shipped them via UPS to various cities that had people like me: gargoyle control experts or schmucks as I like to call us. We are the idiots who find out about the gargoyles through some random act of vandalism. Then we spend the rest of our lives either controlling the demons or being controlled by them.
My head count went great until I checked the top of the bank. There was definitely one missing. Not the one I hated most, but the trouble maker that caused the most problems. Trusty net in hand, I stalked the usual haunts. Gargoyles like trees, the little flying bastards. Several oak trees in the park were big enough to hold their weight, so I headed in that direction, muttering to myself.
Headlights turned out of a side street toward me. Once again destroying my hope of having vision left when I’m ninety. I’ll be that little old lady squinting through the glasses perched on the end of my nose to no avail. Kids will throw stones at my house and run away. I’d end up sitting on my cat and wouldn’t realize it till the house started to smell. Yup. Super. Thank you, bright-high-beams guy.
The car crept along like whoever was driving wanted to be sure I wasn’t about to jump out in front of them. I considered it for a moment, but the car would have had to run me over several times to kill me at that speed. Instead of continuing down the street, the car pulled to a stop beside me, and the window slid down.
“Hey, Harlow. Whatcha doing?”
Spots before my eyes didn’t prevent me from recognizing the voice of my least favourite person and all-around asshole, Derrek. He was also the newest police officer with Humber Falls PD. As my vision cleared, I saw he rode in the passenger seat of the only police car in our small town.
“Just out looking for some lightning bugs. You know.” I held up the net.
“That’s a fishing net, Har,” Derrek said with a laugh.
“There are some huge lightning bugs.” If he had been anyone else, I would have changed my story, but Derrek was a jerk and always got my back up. “Is it against the law to hunt lightning bugs?”
“Nope, just weird. Carry on,” he said with a laugh. The driver of the car, old Officer Harris, formerly our towns only officer, turned his eyes back to the road. The cruiser crept on toward the bakery on the edge of town. Derrek had been getting donuts there since we were in grade school. He wasn’t getting fat yet, but I hoped it would happen soon.
I shook off the thought and got back to work. I only had an hour before the sun would come up and the gargoyles would return to stone. The rogue stone critter was mine. I kicked through the fallen leaves surrounding the tall maples in the patch of grass the town called a park, looking up into the branches for my target.
“Here, little rock,” I cooed into the silence. The sound of rocks grinding pinpointed the gargoyle’s location, and I took off running. The little gremlin was on the move.
The first time I saw one running, the speed amazed me, but the real kicker was they are agile too, like cats. They could zip around tight corners and climb trees.
I had this one in my sights though. He wasn’t getting away. I pushed my legs to run faster as we neared the edge of the park, the wind whipping past my ears so loud, it drowned out the grinding rock noise. He turned to head toward a giant old oak tree, but I cut him off. As he leapt toward the bark or the old tree, his stone nails extended, I dove, lifted my net, and he shot straight inside. Swish.
The little demon made the gross rocks grinding noise barely muffled by the sound of about a million people screaming. No, wait, that was just me screaming. God, that stone grinding sound was gross, like nails on a chalkboard.
“Bad gargoyle!” He stopped fighting me, accepting defeat.
I slung the net over my shoulder and walked out of the park, toward the bank to make a deposit. Heh.
Checking both ways for cars first, I strode across the street. I was usually careful not to get caught, but a drunk man stumbled into me while I was returning a rock demon once. He thought it was a stray cat in my net. His drunk ass blocked the way and explained to the cat he was going to a better place with kibbles and warm blankets. Idiot.
Thankfully, the bank only stood one story high. I flung my net and captive up on the garbage dumpster and jumped up after it. I got up on my stomach then had to kick my feet and scramble to get the rest of the way up. Garbage day was getting close. The dumpster lid didn’t stop the smell at all. I breathed through my mouth and stood to set my little buddy on the roof of the bank which was now an easy jump-shimmy-wiggle away.
One time I watched a video of this guy who leapt around all over buildings and up the sides like freaking Spider-Man. When I tried it, I ended up in the emergency room with a twisted ankle and two broken fingers. Lincoln had to hunt the gargoyles while I healed and he was pissy for that whole month. Dealing with his grumpy attitude was a worse punishment than trying to drink my coffee with a broken hand.
I dragged my net and delinquent across the tarred roof, lungs wheezing from the effort, and plopped the little bastard down in his place. He grumbled for a second and froze, solid as a statue. Ha.
Wayward gremlin tucked into his proper place, I aimed my boots for home. There was enough morning left for another hour or two of sleep before work. Gargoyle hunting paid nothing, so I had a day job.
I rounded the corner and saw the UPS truck pulling out of the driveway. Glad I missed that. Loading the giant rock sculptures into the truck was a pain.
The garage door stood open, and the sound of Linc moving heavy stuff around echoed through the neighbourhood. I slipped in the front door and tiptoed through the kitchen, toward my bed.
“Har, come give me a hand!”
Shit. I considered pretending I hadn’t heard him. I could make a dive for my room, but he would drag me out of it again if he had rocks that needed moving. I sighed and slugged to the garage.