The sunlight plays mockingly under the door to our hut. I squeeze my seanair’s hand, but he does not return the gesture. I have failed him. I have lost count of the times I have tried to watch over him through the night to keep him safe from the evil that would take him from me, but every night I fail. I want to say the words that would bring forgiveness, but my mouth is dry and empty. I stand and rub the tear-salted crust from my eyes and brush the dirt from my kirtle. I am slow in my movements and linger at the fire.
The First Night…
I bury my seanair’s sword under the door. The iron blade heavy and cold when I put it into the ground and claw the dirt back over it. I pat the mound until it is flat. It leaves my nails black and I go to the river to clean myself before my seanair comes home for dinner.
But we had seen the bean-nighe that morning, washing my seanair’s blood soaked shirt in the same death-cold river that cleans the black from my white fingers. In the evening, as the darkness encloses our home, the wind carries her scream through the cracks in the stone.
“It’ll be witchcraft, Eithne,” he warns in hushed tones as we sit with our trenchers.
Decker is tugging on my arm. His dark eyes are so wide the whites show all around.
“Calm down.” I peel his fingers from my sleeve. “It’s just for a look.”
I touch the spot on my forehead where he hit me with a rock when he first saw me. It’s stopped bleeding, but it smarts. Instead of apologizing, he told me it made me look less naff.
Decker kicks at a chunk of brick. He looks up and away, into the gray sky. There used to be towers and high rises blocking the view here, but they’ve all been turned to rubble. When he sniffs and rubs his face on his sleeve, it leaves streaks in the dust on his skin.
I jerk awake in the passenger seat, bang my head against the window glass, then wipe the back of my hand across my mouth. Mmm, drool.
“We’re here,” Mom says. Her hands are like the tiny tremors of a Hollywood Chihuahua. “This is the last one, young lady. Do you hear me?”
Uh oh. She used “young lady,” as if I want to be one of those, along with “do-you-hear-me” when she knows perfectly well I hear her. She’s the only thing I’ve been able to hear during my summer-long grounding. And her voice? It’s about as interesting as those Hollywood Chihuahuas. I twist Dad’s wedding ring around my thumb, careful to keep it under the sleeve of my hoodie. Mom believes he was buried with it. Oops.
For my entire eighteen years I have known nothing but the solid grit of rock. Cast in stone for all my life, I live in the shadows of a world that knows nothing of my kind. They paint us as gargoyles. Concrete monsters, with horns and teeth. Creatures of the night, but that is not what we are. We are the gatekeepers. We safeguard the Souls drifting between the here and away. I don’t know what’s beyond this life on Earth, but I know I am to keep humans moving past it when they die.
For a rock, I have the grace of a falcon. Horns and fangs are actually feathers and skin that is all silk and slate. My perch is at the top spire of a sacred church. I was placed here because I was born here, and I’m sworn to protect the souls brought here after death.
The stone angels are more like shepherds with wings and at night, when the resting souls are vulnerable, we keep them from the Vultures who would lead them Underground to feed their kin. Like I said, I don’t know what’s beyond, but I do know what’s below. It’s no place for a Soul. So I fly, and keep my sheep safe from the darkness of a Vulture’s wing.
This night will be darker than most. Moonless and cloudy, the sky is a soup of vapor and sounds dampened by fog. My knees scrape the edge of the church’s dormer.