Holding back folds of red finery, Cardinal Fratelli paused. Several children rushed forth to meet him, one breaking past the attendant priest. He looked down and smiled but his silent thoughts were again broken by the crying voice,
“Alright, little Paolo, I shall tell you a story,” the cardinal agreed.
Instinctively, all the other children gathered around him, each asking for a story.
“I want to hear about the winter witch!”
“Tell us about the gypsy tramp, the one that turns into a goat!”
A boy with blonde curls begged:
“No, tell us of the dueling prince of Florence!”
Another boy named Antonio easily pushed him out of the way.
“No that is stupid, let’s hear about the mean wolf!”
Being tall and 14 years old, Antonio was arguably just as mean as the wolf.
“Now, now… calm down,” assured Cardinal Fratelli, “There is time yet…”
He searched for a proper place to sit and saw nothing but a stone railing. It was likely dirty and cold. He simply stood there, raised one hand and stroked his chin in amusement. The children sensed his thoughts and quieted. Six pairs of eyes stared expectantly. At last, clearing his throat, collecting himself, he began.
“Let me tell you about the statue that came to life… On a cold, blustery night, we gathered to say Vespers in the cathedral…”
“What’s Vespers?” blurted out the blonde boy.
Cardinal Fratelli, not irritated at all, answered, “Little Stefano; that is our evening time of prayer when we recite the psalms and ask for God’s protection.”
Antonio hissed and pinched Stefano- lest he dare ask another question and keep them waiting. After some minutes, things quieted again. Fratelli continued:
“How cold and stormy it was that night! The clouds wore cloaks of grey and rain danced about. After we finished our Vespers, one of the priests must have heard something and he gave me a fright. Jumping up and down, he said: “There’s a bat in the belltower! I saw it!”
Now, I told him any bat would surely be gone by morning but he still seemed so frightened, asking what should happen if it flies into our windows at night.
“If I catch it myself,” I said, “You shall have to dust and polish the high altar”
That altar had been dusty for a while…
Without an answer, I marched up into the dark bell tower holding nothing but a tiny candle. My light fell on this large grey face, open-mouthed, snout-nosed, garish and toothy. How I jumped! It was only a gargoyle, carved into the cathedral wall ever since olden times. I continued my away and kept searching for the bat. Suddenly a winged shadow flew overhead and I reached to grab it. Flapping wings brushed my hand- how dreadful! And worse so, it escaped! Swooping in a big circle, the bat dove out into the grey skies. Good, it is gone. Now came time to retire and sleep well. However this strange night would not end yet! When I passed the gargoyle again, I noticed an eerie black space where it once stood. Wasn't it just here? Where had it gone? Gargoyles don’t just get up and walk away, do they?
My terrified feet flew down the stairs and to the sanctuary where my bewildered priests stood. “The bat is gone, do not worry anymore,” I gasped. Then as I ran from the church, they followed, not asking a question. Early the next morning, almost compelled, I again climbed the bell tower and saw the grey gargoyle sitting there, wrinkling his nose and smiling as usual. Good, it was just an illusion, a trick of the eyes played at night. Or so I thought- for as I turned to climb back down, I heard a quiet voice lean over and whisper: “Make sure good Father dusts me off as well!”