The Gargoyle’s Day Off

(SFX wind rising and falling for several seconds – a rainstorm begins)

Narrator: (begins slowly in a soft, deep voice) Far above a dark river, at the top of a towering cathedral wall, sits a stone sculpture of something. It might be a winged ape resting its chin in its hands. The gears of the sun run the course of the seasons over and over; rain and hard weather come and go. Year after year the ape’s expression softens.

(SFX Rainstorm fades slowly during following lines)

On a warm June night, a storm rages over the ancient city. The howling wind whips hard rain against the ape’s eyes. . . and from behind those eyes, a thickly insulated germ of awareness listens, straining to hear the murmuring of unknown clockworks in the sub-foundation, in a hidden chamber . Old gears are coming around at last to the end of another cycle. . . only one unpolished tooth away from completing an ancient round. Then the final cog on the smallest wheel clicks into place . . . and a little hammer comes down sharply upon a tarnished silver bell. The clear tone is carried op the great stone wall . . . .

(SFX Silvery bell tone)

. . . to the waiting figure, hunched over a drain, to the little murmur in the center of the gargoyle’s head.

(SFX Rock surfaces grinding together)

The head. . . wasn’t it. . . looking straight out. . . just a moment ago? A man on a canal boat thinks he sees a great winged ape crouched on a windowsill. He sees it come down to the ground moving with startling quickness, upside down, scuttling like an insect down the huge wall. An old cycle has come round again. It is the gargoyle’s day off. It darts out over the curve of a flying buttress, following its slope to the ground. Over the fence it rolls and drops in to the river. A few minutes later it pulls itself out of the water on the opposite bank and disappear into the long park. It is after two o’clock in the morning. One hundred and twenty years have come and gone since it last had the chance to stretch its stone legs. It disappears into the shadows lumbering andcapering, all of its joints grinding together like millstones.

(SFX In the background we hear grinding crunching sounds that should correspond in a way to the description given.)

One year, two hundred and forty years ago, a group of civic –minded gentlemen came upon a statue of a gargoyle where there had been none before. These civic-minded gentlemen immediately fell into a deep suspicion.

(SFX indignant unintelligible French muttering)

The idea that a huge stone gargoyle would suddenly materialize in the middle of a sidewalk in the middle of the park was a puzzle and an indignity of considerable proportions.
Leaving two of their number with the statue, they set out to contact the authorities. Five minutes later, when an officer arrived at the scene, both men and the statue and disappeared and were never seen again.

(SFX Unintelligible astonished muttering)

One hundred and twenty years between chances to work out the kinks.

(SFX Gradual build-up of mob noises and feet running)

Some centuries earlier, the gargoyle had been observed climbing out of the mud on the north bank, and a mob of angry, frightened people had begun chasing it up and down the dark, narrow streets. The front few runners were very fast; they were young men armed with iron bars and swords and they pelted after the lumbering gargoyle, right on his heels. Up a hilly side street and around corners to the left and right they plunged, and the stone race showed no sign of tiring, and only eight frontrunners tilted after him.

(SFX Shouting mob and clattering boots)

The rest of the mob was just beginning to struggle up a steep cobblestone dead end street, puffing and wheezing as they came, when suddenly there was a loud muffled explosion, like a single enormous clap of distant thunder.

(SFX Crumpled explosion. Loud grinding sound followed by shrill screams and hoarse bellows, which stop abruptly)

When the terrified crowd began slowly to make its way up the cobblestone street, no more than thirty seconds later, a thin trickle of blood rounded the top of the hill and ran down to meet it. When the people peered timidly around the corner . . . they found no one there at all. No one in the street; no one in the courtyard. But the wall at the end of the street was drenched in blood to a height of seven feet. And on the ground, scattered all over, they found bent and broken weapons. . . and a shoe with the foot still in it.

Different stories grew out of that encounter but none of them connected the stone monster in any way to the beautiful cathedral on the island.

Once every hundred and twenty years, the gargoyle has a day off. It comes to life and climbs down from the great height of its perch on the rain gutter. It walks across the river bottom and climbs out into the park, where it runs and capers in a silent, joyous, reptilian sort of way through the trees and walkways.

(SFX Concertina music evoking a leaping cavorting gargoyle)

A pair of new lovers happen upon a new statue in the park. They stop and lean on it. There’s not much time for passion, the sun is coming up. When they leave, the sky is clearing and the day is new and bright. There are now the beginnings of some real traffic on this pathway.
Around nine, there is a break in the flow of people: the gargoyle stops pretending to be a statue and plunges into the ornamental shrubbery.

(SFX Concertina music sells and becomes slightly discordant)

The gargoyle goes on for a little way, trying to get its bearings to find the southern edge of the park and beyond it the river.
Suddenly, the air is filled with voices. The gargoyle stumbles out into a clearing where it is confronted by a great number of children and their parents.

(SFX Crowd sounds where appropriate)

It finds itself face to face with a tall silent figure with a large fiberglass head and a face like the muzzle of a huge cartoon dog!
Long black ears, large round black nose, huge protruding white buck teeth! Yes, it’s . . . Goofy!
And there is Mickey and right over there, Donald Duck. Each of the big-headed figures is surrounded by flocks of merry children and their beaming parents, jockeying for position. There must be thirty video cameras. Look at Mickey and the embarrassed pre-teen! What is that thing over by Goofy?
The gargoyle has come crashing out of the underbrush on the very day of the opening of Le Mond de Disney, whose ancestors lived not far from the ancient city.
Somehow, it is the most natural thing in the world for a towering stone figure that both lumbers and capers to come bursting out of the thicket. It is a huge figure in the world’s most realistic gargoyle costume.

(SFX Huge cheer from a crowd of a hundred or so people and rushing of feet)

The crowd surges forward to greet this new treat, and in the tiny instant that passes for the gargoyle to realize that the crowd is surging forward, it also becomes aware of an amazing, over-powering feeling of sweet and tender regard, which radiates from the crowd like light piercing darkness, so different from other mobs.

(SFX Music and excited crowd sounds build and fade)

It took hundreds of little children on its worn stone knee that day. It was photographed and videotaped continuously, cheek to cheek with toddlers, cocking his head from side to side, beaming through his big ape grin.

(SFX Stone surfaces grinding together)

The Disney people were delighted with the man in the world’s most realistic gargoyle suit. The executives at Disney had passed down the word that there was going to be a special unannounced surprise visit by someone very important. This unofficial message had reached quasi-official channels and had been the subject of emails to and from department heads.
So when the gargoyle showed up, everyone applauded with great enthusiasm and relief. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with the gargoyle. The old gargoyle didn’t mind.

(SFX Happy parade-style music, laughing children, rhythmic rock-scraping sounds)

And, as the sky began to darken, the gargoyle had an escort of skipping children and chuckling parents down to the river’s edge. Many cheered when they saw that it seemed like it was intending to enter the water. At the sound of the cheer, it turned to the mass of people and cheered back . . . a very eerie sound, a high-pitched scraping sound

(SFX Gargoyle cheer) which startled the crowd into silence for a second before the cheering resumed.

Then the gargoyle walked straight into the river and sank . . . like a stone.

Later, of course, it was realized that the special event was to have been the evening arrival at the Festival de la Publicite´of the CEO, not the sudden appearance of an eight foot gargoyle.
Over the course of the day, the gargoyle had been video-taped by several hundred tourists of different nationalities. Eventually, many of these tapes were accumulated and studied. But the tapes have produced more mystery than they have dispelled. There is footage of the gargoyle doing some kind of hopping dance, bouncing back and forth from foot to foot. The sound of those feet hitting the groiund is unexplainable. The earth rumbles and vibrates as each foot hits the concrete.

(SFX CRUNCH, CRUNCH!)

There are left-over crumbled sections of the terraces and pavement damage. But some of the most interesting footage reveals how children took to the big stone thing, sitting in its lap, kissing its grainy, cold, weather-beaten cheek. The tapes show it picking up one-year-olds, giving them a tender if kind of mechanical little squeeze and depositing them gently on the ground again. In an official office, group of investigators and specialists view the tapes and talk about things like reptilian incremental head movements.

Official sounding voice: “. . . the head snapping around in steps, freezing for the merest instant before tilting or going on to the next step in the sequence. The whole effect has an illusory hydraulic smoothness, one seemingly smooth movement made up of a lot of little ones.”

(SFX thoughtful group murmurs)

Another voice: “This grinding massiveness in the sound, like blocks of granite being turned on each other. A deep rumbling sound that seems to come from the joints as they move in their sockets!”

(SFX thoughtful group murmurs)

Narrator: But one investigator is not paying attention. He is staring out the window at the cathedral roof towering above the little island in the middle of the river.

(SFX desk drawer opening)

He takes a pair of binoculars from a drawer and peers closely the rough them. . . focusing. He sees a soft smile on an old stone face.

© Ken Raabe

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