Nicholas’s father told him he was stupid to fear the Stone Men. They couldn’t hurt him; they couldn’t even twitch a single finger. Nicholas though his father was stupid not to notice the way the Stone Men smiled and winked; granite flesh grating over pock-marked eyeballs as he and his father walked the garden paths.
“They’re not real Nicholas.” His father told him. “You shouldn’t be so childish.”
Nicholas shook his head and ignored his father. His father was old, too old to hear the Stone Men laugh. They croaked with pebbles bubbling in their throats and only words that had been spoken before to say.
“They’re waking up.” he whispered, though knew his father would beat him for speaking. His mother wore her Stone Men bruises as warnings;
“Fists need not be rock to break the bone.” she said, hands wrapped around his own. “This place is not ours, we do not belong among these men of stone, they will break us!”
His father came to drag her from his room.
“Don’t fill the boy’s head; your nonsense makes him stupid as it is. Who would think that the Stone Men are real? He’s not right because of you!”
Nicholas heard the family physician claim it was the fall that killed her. Two hundred steps and a fractured neck, no blood and lips caught open without chance to speak. They did not mention the fingerprint bruises around her wrists or the screams that echoed before the fall.
Over time Nicholas stopped fearing the Stone Men. The Stone Men smiled when his father did not. The Stone Men were slow while his father’s swing shot out of threats faster than Nicholas could duck.
“If I could be stone, my father could not hurt me.” he told the Stone Men. “He cannot touch you.”
“We will not break.” said the Stone Men; speaking with voices that they did not own. “Flesh Men will not hurt us. We are as fey. Immortal.”
Isabelle was beautiful, but her heart was cruel.
“Must I marry you?” she said. “You are as dull as those Stone Men. Nothing you say is worthy of note and even your fortune holds little allure. One could think you stupid.”
“Think what you wish.” said Nicholas. “But do not curse the Stone Men, they do not take words lightly.”
“Where is mother?” asked Nicholas’s son.
“Taken by the Stone Men.” said Nicholas. “Her flesh to turn to dust.”
“Why did the Stone Men come father?”
“They come for those who enjoy to watch things break.”