The Last Gargoyle

The Last Gargoyle

by Paul Durham

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524700201
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 01/09/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 308,179
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Paul Durham was raised in Massachusetts and went to college and law school in Boston--a city with a shortage of gargoyles even back then. His debut novel, The Luck Uglies, earned the Cybils Award for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction and was named an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book, a New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, and a Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year.

Paul lives in New Hampshire with his wife, two daughters, and an enormous, bushy creature the local animal shelter identified as a cat. He can be found writing in an abandoned chicken coop at the edge of a swamp, online at pauldurhambooks.com, or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @pauldurhambooks. You can also listen to him tell fibs on his iTunes podcast, Telling Lies to Children.

Read an Excerpt

1

 

 

What Goes Bump in the Night

 

 

My earliest memory is of a crib, a darkened room, and three shadows slipping through the doorway with bad intentions.

 

You’d be surprised how many first memories include a visit from the shadows. Parents like to stamp these visitors with convenient labels. Nightmares. Figments. Overactive imaginations.

 

They have other names, though. Shadow Men. Dark Wanderers. Netherkin. Names that aren’t so neat and tidy.

 

This first memory is a very old one. Gaslit streetlamps glow outside my building. The road below is quiet, the carriages parked and the horses all stabled for the night.

 

The three Shadow Men flicker by the doors. The One in the Hat hovers in the middle, his eyes white slits in an otherwise featureless face. The One with the Horns stands to his left, studying the crib with a hunger I sense but cannot see.

 

Maybe if I lie very still they won’t see me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, they won’t realize I’m here at all.

 

It’s the third shadow that steps forward first. The One with the Teeth. Gleaming, white and perfect. Odd, since nobody had perfect teeth back then.

 

He creeps toward me without a sound, an eager but cautious prowler.

 

My insides are churning. I force myself not to budge. There’s no one here, I repeat silently to myself. Nobody at all. As if my thoughts might be enough to convince him.

 

The One with the Teeth hesitates but keeps coming. He hovers over the crib and I see his perfect mouth twist into a wicked grin. He reaches down toward the blankets, long black fingers grasping for a small foot or toe.

 

I allow myself to smile too.

 

The One with the Teeth has taken my bait.

 

I catch him by his wrist. He recoils in surprise but I hold fast, punching my other hand right through him. It leaves a transparent hole that I peek through, offering a wink to his sinister companions by the door. I open my fist and study the handful of smoky black essence steaming between my fingers.

 

It smells pungent and sour, so of course I give it a taste.

 

The One with the Teeth’s own mouth goes wide, and he promptly collapses in a flutter of vapor.

 

I spring over the rails of the crib, but the One in the Hat and the One with the Horns are quick. Their forms break apart and scatter like a flock of frightened birds, disappearing into the cracks of the walls before I can do worse.

 

I glance back at the crib and its tiny occupant. A young boy tosses and turns fitfully in his blanket, his face hot and flushed as his lips tremble in his sleep. But he has nothing more to fear. The Shadow Men won’t return on this night or any other. Not if I have anything to say about it.

 

Don’t look so surprised--I never said the crib was mine.

 

What goes bump in the night?

 

If you’re lucky, I do.

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

Terrible Children

 

 

I’m watching you.

 

That’s right, up here. At the edge of the roof just above the fifth-floor window. Not sure how you could miss me--I’m about the only thing of interest on this old brick building. Although, to be honest, you’re not the first to walk right by.

 

No, I am not a gargoyle. I don’t collect the rain and whistle it out my lips to keep your shingles dry.

 

Gargoyles--a bunch of glorified water fountains, if you ask me.

 

I am a Grotesque. One painstakingly chiseled by my Maker nearly a hundred and thirty years ago. You may see my toothy canine jaws, watchful eyes, alert ears, and regal wings, and call me a monster or demon. That’s only because you’ve never met a real monster before.

 

You can thank me for that, by the way. Not that I need thanks. I am here to keep you safe. I am a warden of the night. Behind this heavy stone façade lies a quick and clever protector--the most loyal friend you’ll never meet. All I ask in return is that you keep the pigeons off my head.

 

My Grotesque friends, the Twins, say I get too riled up over those feathered menaces. But how would you feel if someone used your head as a toilet without so much as an apology? Sometimes, when I’m short on patience and no one is looking, I’ll snatch one between my jaws. That usually keeps the rest of the disgusting flock away.

 

Yes, I can move my stone form, although it comes with a heavy price. A simple gesture like the pigeon chomp and I might need to sleep for a week. To actually get out of my crouch and run or fly, that could put me out of commission for months . . . even years. I’ve only had to do that once--long ago. I have no plans to do it again.

 

A word of advice. Should you ever see a Grotesque take to the skies by night, latch your doors and leave on the lights. It’s a sure sign that serious trouble is on the prowl.

 

When I do move, like that time with the three Shadow Men by the crib? It’s outside of my stone body in the form of a wisp--an apparition that exists but can’t touch or be touched by the living. I’m supposed to be on my way to make just such a trip right now, but it seems I’ve overslept. It was an unseasonably warm autumn day, and only now, with the chilly evening air interrupting my slumber like hands tugging off a blanket, do I realize I’m late yet again.

 

The weather has taken an unexpectedly poor turn while I’ve snoozed. A strong storm is on its way in, the kind that sinks ships and punishes houses along the seacoast. I squint out toward the downtown skyscrapers and can hardly believe my eyes. Tiny white flakes and shards of sleet dance over the cityscape.

 

From my roof, I have a good view of the shimmering glass-and-steel tower on Boylston Street--the second-tallest building in the entire state. I see that more window panels have fallen from its highest floors, where empty frames gape like punched-out teeth. The local authorities will block the sidewalks with yellow tape while they tend to the shattered glass, and will surely chalk it up to faulty engineering or the night’s gale-force winds.

 

But I know better.

 

What’s obvious, at least to a trained eye like mine, is that some uninvited nuisance has taken up residence atop the tower. I was supposed to meet the Twins--Winifred and Wallace--to find out exactly what.

 

I can already imagine their grating voices.

 

Penhallow, you lazy buttress, where’ve you been?

 

Penhallow, just once can you hop your perch and be on time?

 

“Penhallow! Is that pigeon paint on your shoulder?”

 

That last one was Winnie’s real voice, her tone as biting as the squeal of a streetcar braking on the tracks.

 

I glance down. A girl and an enormous, beady-eyed rat look up from the sidewalk.

 

“You were supposed to meet us an hour ago,” Winnie continues. She points toward the glass tower in the distance, then thrusts both hands impatiently onto her slender hips.

 

“You’ve missed all the fun,” Wallace adds. He stands upright on his hind legs, balancing himself with his ugly pink tail.

 

The Twins have assumed their wisp forms. Winnie favors the appearance of a forlorn girl, a waif in a ragged jacket and mesh trucker’s cap over sad, lost eyes. Wallace isn’t much for fashion and prefers the utility of traveling as a sewer rat. Commuters in neckties and raincoats bustle right past them without a second glance. As wisps they remain nearly invisible, and to the under-evolved ears of human passersby, our conversation is indistinguishable from the bluster of wind through the alley or the churning rumble of traffic.

 

“Sorry,” I call down. “I overslept.”

 

“Hold on,” Winnie says. “We’re coming up.” She glances at Wallace. “Race you!” she declares, and darts toward the door without further warning. Wallace curses and scurries for a wall.

 

I’m more preoccupied with the swirling gray sky than the Twins’ footrace. The ground is still too warm for snow to stick, but ice coats power lines and limbs that still stubbornly hold their red and orange leaves. With the howling wind, trees will fall tonight. Deep roots will be torn up, long-settled earth disturbed. A night for trouble.

 

The kind of night that could wake the dead.

 

Fortunately, we don’t see that kind of trouble much anymore. It’s a good thing, since the Twins and I are the only three true Grotesques left in this entire city. Sure, look up at the arches and eaves, especially over the libraries and cathedrals, and you’ll see many carvings: heavy-browed green men, mighty chimeras, and winged griffins. But those are just fossils. Abandoned shells. They’ve all finished their tasks and moved on to whatever’s Next. You can tell by the eyes. All those old friends--their eyes are now as lifeless as granite countertops.

 

Not mine, though. If you look at my eyes, particularly at dusk after I’ve had a good day’s rest, you might see a little twinkle. That’s the sign of a good Grotesque--one who’s always on his toes.

 

Wallace’s own hairless rat toes appear on the edge of the roof. He pulls his chubby body up just as Winnie bursts from the stairwell.

 

“I win!” she calls.

 

“No way. It wasn’t even close,” Wallace objects. They hurry over to me.

 

“Penhallow?” Winnie asks, and they both look to me for a verdict.

 

“I wasn’t watching,” I say distractedly.

 

The Twins grumble. Wallace twitches his nose in annoyance.

 

“It’s snowing,” I point out.

 

“Just a few flakes,” Wallace says.

 

“It’s only October,” I explain, and try to jog my rather long memory. Flurries this early have to be some sort of record.

 

“What’s wrong, Penhallow?” Winnie teases. “Afraid you’re going to get icicles on your tail?” She gives me a playful swat on my hard, cold rump.

 

“No,” I say quickly. Although, indeed, there’s nothing more embarrassing than an icicle hanging from your hindquarters for three weeks on end.

 

“Do you remember the last time it snowed this soon?” I wonder aloud.

 

Wallace scratches an ear and thinks.

 

“Never mind all that,” Winnie interrupts. “Guess what we found in the tower?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, feigning ignorance. “Maybe . . . imps?”

 

She frowns. “Well, that was no fun. How’d you know?”

 

“You’ve still got some imp on your chin.”

 

Winnie wipes a sticky black residue from the corner of her lips with the back of her hand. “Thanks for telling me,” she says to Wallace, shooting him a glare.

 

Chasing imps is a favorite pastime of ours. They are stubborn, mischievous little spirits, and once they settle in somewhere they’re as persistent as bedbugs. A family of them used to live in the old brick ballpark not far from here, and it took the Twins and me the better part of a century to finally send them on their way. The good news is that imps aren’t normally dangerous to people--although the recent window-breaking presents its fair share of hazards.

 

“Did you get them all?” I ask.

 

“The big ones, anyway,” Winnie says. “Then Wallace got a stomachache.”

 

Wallace places a paw on his gut.

 

“I’ve never seen so many in one place,” she adds.

 

“I wonder what’s made them so bold,” I say.

 

Winnie shrugs. “Well, they’re not going anywhere. Maybe next time--if you actually join us--you can ask them.” She scowls at me, but it’s more in jest than anger. “But now that you’ve gotten your beauty rest, we should get going. If we don’t make it to the Dragon soon, we’ll miss the first set.”

 

It’s Tuesday, which means live music at the Copper Dragon. Music is another favorite pastime. Sometimes it’s the only thing left that inspires me to pry my heavy eyelids open on a cold night. It’s another reason I’m so surprised I overslept.

 

“Okay,” I say. “Just let me check on my wards first. . . .”

 

My wards are the inhabitants of my Domain--the building on which I dwell.

 

Winnie groans and rolls her eyes toward the bill of her cap. “You always take soooo long.”

 

“You live on an abandoned chapel,” I remind her. “That’s why you’re always ready so fast.”

 

“Maybe so, but that squatter in the basement sleeps very well thanks to us,” Wallace remarks. He twirls a whisker between nubby nails.

 

“You go on ahead,” I offer. “I’ll catch up as soon as I’m done.”

 

“You’re such a stickler,” Winnie says, turning on a heel. She glances back before leaving. “But you’re our stickler, so we like you anyway.” She gives me a wink and a tip of her cap. “Promise you won’t be long?”

 

“Yes, I promise,” I grunt.

 

“Good.” Winnie nods, and the Twins hurry off, disappearing onto a neighboring roof.

 

My Domain is shaped like the letter H, its walls framing a small garden-entryway in the front and an even smaller courtyard around back. The unusual layout allows me to see into most of the windows without even leaving my perch--at least the ones not covered by the sprawl of overgrown leaves. My Domain is the only one on the block that wears a woolly green coat of ivy. It reminds me of the hairy man on the second floor who sometimes checks his mailbox without a shirt.

 

I take a quick glance down into the fourth-floor apartment, where a new family has just moved in. There are still boxes to be unpacked in the daughter’s bedroom, although she ignores them and instead huddles at a brightly painted desk too small for her long legs. Her outgrown work space is a pastel blue-and-yellow island in a sea of brown cardboard. The girl labors over something--homework, or perhaps a journal--the strain on her face palpable as she puts her thoughts on paper. She has a brother still in diapers who sleeps with their mother in the bedroom across the hall. No father lives with them from what I can tell. I’ll know more once they’ve settled in.

 

I cast my eyes toward the fire escapes and narrow alleyways, studying all that can be seen and, more importantly, unseen. The shadows are benign for the moment. I’ll check the stairwells and basement before I leave, but it appears that my wards can spare me for a few hours.

 

Yes, I know, my elders would be appalled that I left my post. After all, my primary responsibility--my only responsibility--is to protect my Domain. But the fact is, we all stretch our wings a bit on this side of the world. This isn’t the twelfth century. We aren’t as uptight as those stone-faced Europeans.

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The Last Gargoyle 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
WKenL 9 months ago
This is a solid read. Good world-building without getting bogged down unnecessarily, lots of heart, a solid plot. The writing is excellent, with several quotable one-liners as well. Lots of heart, good action scenes. This is well worth a read. Highly recommended, and looking forward to reading more by Paul Durham.