November 5, 2019
Christmas Gargoyles #3
Ginny’s Christmas plans didn’t include falling in love with a gargoyle.
*NOTE* This is a rewritten version of a short story included in the Naughty Literati anthologies. It’s been revised and expanded to novella length.
The walk from the bus stop to her D.C. apartment takes just five minutes, but Ginny works second shift and gets home near midnight. When a mugger surprises her on the way one night shortly before Thanksgiving, rescue comes unexpectedly. A mysterious hooded and cloaked stranger saves her and walks her to her apartment but declines her invitation to come in. The next night he meets her at the bus stop and again walks her home, a practice that continues each time she gets home late. As they get to know each other on those nightly walks, he promises that he will soon accept the invitation to her home.
He warns, though, that there are things she needs to know about him she’ll find hard to believe and accept. He isn’t kidding. She can handle his dominating tendencies and maybe even the warning that they can have only a short time together. But when he claims he’s a shapeshifting gargoyle, she has to wonder whether letting him into her life is a good idea after all.
Ginny Connery’s Washington, D.C. neighborhood, in the shadow of the national cathedral, grew quieter at night but never completely silent. A constant buzz of car motors and the occasional distant roar of an airplane or clatter of a train created a white noise backdrop to her walk from the bus stop to her apartment building. Getting home late in the evening was one of the downsides of her second-shift job at the hospital. Once she could afford a car, it wouldn’t be a problem, but she still had student loans to pay off.
Moments after she stepped from the bus that night, the other sound was there as well. For the past several weeks, she’d been noticing an odd new noise as she headed for home. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear it was the sound of wings flapping. Whenever she turned to look, though, she didn’t see anything or anyone there. It added to her uneasiness on the walk. She shivered and drew her coat tighter against the combined assaults of fear and the late fall cold breeze.
When trouble did come, though, it hit from a different direction entirely. She turned a corner to find a man leaning against the side of a building, just out of the main pool of light from a nearby streetlamp. Still, enough radiance spread out to show a thin figure with straggly gray hair hanging over a deeply lined face. A ragged trench coat covered his body. She zigged closer to the curb to put more space between herself and the man as she passed, but he lunged toward her, reached out, and snagged a hand around the strap of her shoulder bag, yanking it toward him. Ginny wrapped her wrist around the strap and wrestled him for it. At the same time she fought her reaction to the miasma of fumes surrounding the purse snatcher, a mix of alcohol breath and unwashed body. Nothing she hadn’t smelled before at the hospital, but at least there she could don a mask.
The guy was surprisingly strong. They wrestled for control of her purse for several long moments. Her arm burned and she was starting to lose the tug-of-war when a new party entered the fray. A tall dark figure wrapped completely in a hooded cloak stepped between them. He brought a hand down in a swift karate-style chop on the purse-snatcher’s arm, causing him to howl and let go of the strap. Ginny rocked backward with her purse but found her balance before she went sprawling.
“Never again,” the newcomer growled in a deep, gravelly voice that didn’t need much enhancement to sound menacing. “Never again attack a woman. Or anyone. No stealing.” Ginny shivered, though the words weren’t directed at her.
“I won’t,” the purse-snatcher stammered. “Promise I won’t.” The last word turned into a sob. “I think my arm’s broken.” He moaned and cradled it against his body.
Ginny sighed and approached him, steeling herself against the smell. “Don’t touch my bag again. Let me feel your arm. I’m a nurse.”
Trembling, the old man held it out to her. Pushing up the sleeve of the ragged coat, she ran her fingers over a very thin arm from wrist to elbow and stopped when he cried out in pain. She pulled her cell phone from the bag and called 9-1-1, explained that she’d found an older man on the sidewalk who seemed to have a broken arm. They promised to send an ambulance.
“I’ll wait here with you,” she told the old man. She looked up at her rescuer, who’d said nothing more but remained close by. He was tall, probably two or three inches over six feet, and wore a dark, enveloping cloak with a hood pulled down low over his face. Even though he turned toward her and the old man, she couldn’t make out anything of his features.
To pass the time and distract the man from his pain, she asked, “Why did you try to steal my bag?”
He took a long time to answer. “Hungry. And thirsty. Need money. Know it’s wrong, but the urge just took me.”
“And now you have a broken arm as a result. There are easier ways.”
Ginny sighed and fumbled in her bag. She pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to the man as a siren wailed in the distance. “After they treat you, get some food.” The screech grew rapidly closer, until the ambulance stopped beside them and the medics jumped out. After some checking of vital signs and condition, they put a splint on the arm and loaded the man into their truck to take to the hospital.
Her rescuer had hung back in the shadows while the medics were there, but once they departed he came to her again.
“You cared for him and gave him money even though he tried to rob you. Why?” he asked bluntly.
“He’s a poor, sick old man. It was wrong to try to steal, but he’s paying a hard price for it. I feel sorry for him.”
The stranger made no reply to that directly but moved with her when she turned toward home. “I’ll stay with you until you get to your dwelling.”
That made her step back, wondering about his motives.
He seemed to understand her hesitation. “I mean no harm to you. I promise. I just want to be sure you get to your home safely.”
And what could she do about it if he decided to follow her, anyway? “Thank you. I appreciate it.” His cloak flapped in the gentle breeze and the sound was familiar. “It’s been you. I’ve thought someone’s been following me from the bus stop to the building for the last few weeks. Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“It’s what I do.”
“Guard people? Not just me?”
“Not just you. But you…” He hesitated. “You interest me the most.”
Ginny didn’t know what to say to that. With her curly brown hair, brown eyes, thin figure, and regular but not spectacular features she considered herself mildly pretty but far from the kind of woman who attracted much male attention. “Who are you?”
He avoided pools of radiance from the streetlights, keeping his face well in shadow. “I’m a guardian. My name is Benderic. You can call me Ben. You are…?”
“Ginny. Full name’s Virginia Connery, but I prefer just Ginny.”
They reached her house. At the front walk, he bowed and retreated. “You should be safe now. Until tomorrow.”
He’d already turned around when she called after him. “Thank you. I do appreciate your rescuing me.”