As the sun sank, we woke to stare over the remains of skyscrapers that had crumbled into the streets a millennium ago.
“I heard something,” Trac thought to me.
I braced my claws against the ledge, ready to swoop down and ravage anyone who dared intrude on our cathedral.
Then I remembered I could no longer move. “It’s a mouse,” I thought back.
“Are you addled? It’s human. A thief.” His thoughts were loud, insistent, excited in a way I hadn’t heard since the last plague survivors left for the stars. “There! Did you hear that?”
Below, the bats zipped between the oaks and the broken stone wings of our comrades who had, one by one, lost the ability to move, then gone deaf and finally crashed to the earth. Their falls had echoed through our minds to the others who still guarded and would never speak of them again. In the old days, we watched in shame as the humans picked up the stones. Later, alone, we turned our heads away.
I listened to the bats dive through the cathedral’s rotted doorway, their wings cutting the air. Wishing I could turn my head, I peered from the corners of my eyes. “A cat.”
The wind shrieked past my ears, over my nostrils. It howled around trees, their skeletal branches stretching to the heavens. Inside, a squirrel scurried over the crucifix where the humans once pled for sons or wives. In the end, the funeral pyres charred the streets.
The last humans to stand below had been a child and her mother. The girl had pointed up to me. “Who will take care of the monsters when we’re gone?”
“They’re statues, not monsters.” Her mother stared into the ashes. “No one needs to take care of them.”
“Then why are they here?”
The mother considered, pulling her coat tighter. If she ever answered, it was long after they were gone.
“It’s you who’s addled,” I thought to him. “You think the humans care that we miss them?”
His thoughts shrank back in anger.
The night pressed on. A bat grasped the ledge beneath my feet. A leaf slipped to the ground.
“Trac.” I searched for words. “I miss them as much as you do.”
Across the street, a cat climbed over crumbling bricks of collapsed apartments. Once, the humans had stopped to hold the animals. Now the cats walked the nights alone.
“What does the intruder sound like?” I asked.
“You don’t believe me.”
“I don’t hear it.”
“You think I’m imagining it.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you think it.”
He visualized flying, slicing the wind and moonlight and the shadows between the stars. It was too painful, so I interrupted. “If there’s a thief, why can’t I hear him?”
He started to answer, then closed off his thought.
“What?” I tried to grab the words.
“Maybe it was just a mouse.”
I strained against the ledge as if to force the answer from him.
His thoughts came again, too quickly. “I don’t hear him anymore. You’re right. I just wanted them to come back.”
Curse his lies. And his suspicions, too. I’d seen the others crash against the street. I didn’t need his protection from the images.
“Trac?” I thought, grateful I couldn’t see him. “I haven’t quit guarding.”
“I know you haven’t.”
The night passed. The dust that had settled around us shivered and danced. The wind tossed the leaf down the street.
I shifted my attention toward him.
“He’s taking some of the reliquaries.”
“Well, what do you want to do about it?”
Silence. A dandelion seed caught against shards of stained glass. He visualized his wings spreading against the air currents.
“He’s walking towards the door.”
“Well, fly down there and catch him.”
“You know I can’t.”
“Then fall on him.”
I wasn’t serious. I was just mad. Then it came. The throbbing pain of stone tearing from stone.
“Trac! I didn’t mean it!” I shouted. “They’re gone. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
He swayed, the moonlight gliding over his wings.
“It’s not worth it!”
Below, footsteps padded on rotten wood.
He rocked, then tipped from the roof. I heard the wind whistle past, heard his claws collide with the first human who had come since their departure. And for a moment, I thought I heard his wings spread and catch the air.
© Dawn Lloyd
Dawn is an American who got bored and set out across the world looking for adventure. Four continents later, she settled in Afghanistan where she teach English at the American University of Afghanistan. More information about her adventures can be found at http://dawnlloyd.wikispaces.com/ . Her work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in a variety of magazines including Space and Time, Triangulation: Last Contact, and OG’s Speculative Fiction Magazine.
Support Eschatology, become a Patron. For more information on how you can support Eschatology, click here.