Stonestruck by Alyson Faye

Soaked in dusk, the boy stands, as if stone-struck; he gazes at the sleeping angel. He has only visited the cemetery previously in daylight, with his nurse. Jacob loves his nurse dearly, for her creamy skin, secret stash of lemon drops and her magical stories. She told him, ‘An Italian sculptor carved this angel.

 He said the vision came to him in a dream and filled his fingers with the powers he needed. He’s buried below with his mistress.’

Jacob shivers, for the creeping shadows nibble at the gravestones turning the angel demonic. But he is tired, so tired of running; his rage has brought him this far, now it has fled leaving him an empty shell.

 He is hungry too, his stomach tight and hurting. He’s not eaten since he left Father’s house- a day ago, or was it longer? Jacob climbs onto the massive stone tomb, lies down and nestles against the angel’s stone wing.

“Now I lay me down to rest,” he mumbles, saying his prayers as he’d been taught by his mother.

‘I miss you Mama,’ is Jacob’s last thought, before darkness sweeps its cloak over him.

A young, foolhardy fox, lurking in the bushes, saunters up to the tomb, raises a wary paw and sensing the energy pouring out of the granite, scoots back to its lair. No other night time animal comes near. No trees allow their greenery to droop upon the angel’s shoulders. It is an ancient force contained within the stone.

Snow falls, soft as goose feathers, smothering and blurring the landscape, so the boy and the angel become one. Blended. Flesh to stone. Cheek to wing. Velvet waistcoat to feathers.

*

The sun rises on a chill bleak day, at winter’s tail end. Its rays barely warm the surface frost.

Birds peck at the grasses around the sleeping boy, keeping a beady eye on him. None approach. Jacob sleeps as though he is drugged, only a slight movement in his chest betrays his life force. The angel lies staring, blank-eyed for eternity, face unreadable. The stone glows in the setting sun, amber and terracotta, its hidden powers ignited by the rays.

Three more days pass like this. And three nights.

*

A glittering cluster of tiny moving lights approach, darting amid the snowy mounds, like fireflies capering. Two voices calling out, “Jacob!” “Young Sir!” “My boy, where are you?”

Two figures, both black-cloaked, hatted and booted, hunt around in the bushes, then amongst the graves - until the taller man shouts, “Over here, sir! The boy. Come and see.”

He holds his lantern high above the snowy angel and points, as if afraid to touch the prone figures. Jacob’s father joins his man-servant and stands beside him, in silence. They both stare in wonderment at the sight before them. Reason battles with what they see.

A net of silver mesh lies draped over the angel and the boy, Jacob. It covers him, en-wraps him as though in a cocoon; it glistens, fizzes and shoots silvery sparks into the frosty air. The angel’s wing wholly embraces the boy, protecting him as any father might. Jacob’s cheeks are rosy and his lips parted; he even snores gently. He appears, at first glance, to be unharmed. .

“My son.” Jacob’s father weeps, his tears forming ice drops before they reach his beard.

“You are alive. You are safe. “

“I have never seen the like, Sir.” The man-servant makes the sign of the cross. “This is nowt but magic. I will have nowt to do with it.” He makes to back away.

“Tell no one of what you see,” Samuel grabs the man’s arm. “Do you hear me? Not even Jacob’s mother. It is a miracle.”

Jacob’s eyes open. His breath makes steam puffs in the air and he smiles sleepily. “Father. You have come for me. I dreamt I was dead and sleeping with the angels. Such strange dreams.”

Jacob stirs and pushes himself up on his elbow. The silver mesh dissolves into glittery fragments, which melt into the snow. The boy is oblivious.

“Yes, my dear boy. I’ve come to take you home, where you belong. You must never run away again. I forbid it.” Samuel chokes back tears.

He reaches out to touch his son’s face, frowns and pauses; he and his man servant exchange worried glances. Both have noticed how necklaces of ivy creepers are swathed around the boy’s wrists and ankles, as though securing him. On his cheeks patches of furry moss grow. His lips are sprinkled with lichens.

Turning to his valet Samuel whispers, “It is as though the boy has lain here for months, not mere days. Nature is dining on him.”

The valet, though he does not dare speak his thoughts, knows the boy should be dead of the cold by now. The master is deluding himself. As all grieving parents do.

Samuel lifts his son into his arms, ripping the ivy cords. He brushes the moss from his cheeks and a shower of tiny insects fall from the boy’s hair, scurrying down the sides of the tomb like squiggly ink blots from a fountain pen. Jacob feels strangely heavy in his arms. His feet in their black boots barely stir.

Sweat breaks out on Samuel’s brow, his arm muscles scream in pain and he gasps, “I cannot carry him. Help me man.”

His man servant hurries to his aid, holding out black gloved hands, but he has an unhappy look in his eye. He pats his jacket pocket, where his Bible is stowed; an old habit of his.

“What is wrong Papa? Why can I not feel my feet inside my boots?” Jacob’s voice wobbles.

“Unlace his boots man. Be quick!” Samuel instructs his servant, whilst he struggles to hold Jacob’s upper body vertical. Both men gaze horrified, at the sight of Jacob’s feet as they emerge from the prison of his boots.

Grey stone extends up to his ankles, merging into the pink calf flesh. He is stone-booted.

Jacob wails like an animal and scrabbles at them, ripping his fingernails and sprinkling the stone with his blood. “No! Papa. Help me!”

Jacob’s words lacerate Samuel as a knife does meat. What use is his mills, his money, mansion and staff? He’d give up everything he owned for his boy to be all flesh again.

The angel stares at Samuel, deep within the effigy he glimpses a flash of silver; a pulsing heart.

“He is saved, Sir. He will have a life. That surely is the main consideration.” The valet rests his hand on Samuel’s shoulder, for the first and last time in the years of their association.

Samuel remembers only how his son ran like the deer in his woods. So fleet of foot; so lithe of limb. His first and only surviving son. The apple of his eye.

*

Every year, before winter tips into spring, Nurse pushes Jacob through the woods in his bath chair, out to the graveyard to visit his special angel. Jacob asks for time alone with the effigy and against his father’s wishes, his Nurse complies.

“Just five minutes,” she says each year. Jacob knows the angel will ensure she is gone for hours.

Jacob nods in dismissal. He strokes the angel’s wing and senses the energy in its core. His whole being floods with the ancient power, lifting his arms he whoops and laughs and jumps down from the plinth.

Once a year, under the angel’s watchful eye, Jacob dances, runs and leaps, while time stretches, bends and loops round on itself.


Published in Issue #16

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