This story is by C. Thursby Flynn and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Not even an honorary mention?” I asked, as I stared at our masterpiece.
In the days leading up to Halloween, Marty and I look forward to one of our favorite pastimes: The Halloween Art Contest, a Bay Ridge tradition since 1953. Kids from all the neighborhood schools submitted Halloween-themed paintings. The winners, chosen across all grades and ages, had the opportunity, come Halloween, to paint their Picassos on participating storefront windows. Every year, throughout grade school, we submitted our painting, and every year got snubbed. Except for this year, our freshman year. That elusive gold medal within our grasp.
“I told you it would be too morbid for the judges,” Marty had said.
This year’s window paintings, aside from a few standouts, were mediocre. A typical cemetery scene, a standard haunted house, and a flying saucer hovering over a town being invaded by aliens. Marty reminded me that The Thing always plays on Halloween night when I questioned what aliens had to do with Halloween.
“Our painting blows these out of the water,” I said, in front of a painting on the next storefront.
“That’s a third grader, you fool,” Marty said, pointing to the contestant’s information card.
A few blocks away, we found a gold ribbon winner. The Festival of Samhain was told on the placard below the crude artwork on the deli window. Cloaked figures danced around a fire in the woods. My only knowledge of Samhain came by way of Dr. Loomis in Halloween II.
Out of the corner of my eye, a black smudge in the tree line, representing a Pukah, a shapeshifting creature of Celtic lore, moved. Druids danced around the fire, their chants foreign to my ears, as the painting sprang to life. The fire crackled, sending embers into the night sky. The smudge opened its yellow eyes, locked on me, bearing sharp teeth to match.
Bounding from branch to branch, the Pukah reached the end of the painting. A smokey arm reached out, breaching the glass and took hold. Fade to black.
We came to on the cold damp ground, the smell of damp moss and tree bark heavy in the air. In rhythm, chanting toward an orange glow deeper in the woods.
“Charlie. What the hell?” Marty asked, his breath condensing in the chilly night air.
From behind, branches snapped, a low growl followed. The Pukah burst from the brush, landing on its haunches. If not for ears curved in the shape of horns, it could be mistaken for a wolf.
Toward the orange glow, we fled. Branches whipped our faces and tore at our clothes. At the clearing, we skidded to a halt. Eight robed figures danced clockwise around a raging bonfire, chanting in their foreign tongue.
The chanting stopped, heads craned in our direction, scanning the brush for us. No, looking above us. It happened fast. A black blur pounced from the trees. The massacre was quick. Twisted bodies, tattered robes, and blood everywhere. Once the screaming stopped, the creature locked onto us and leaped into the trees.
A white light shone through the bare branches beyond the slaughter. Pursued by the beast, we arrived at the source. An eight-foot square of static white noise, like a TV channel going off the air, it hurt the eyes to look at it. With a wide berth, I circled around to see what it was. Razor thin, floating, like a… window! The woods roared behind us. Without hesitation, I grabbed Marty’s arm and took the leap of faith.
We tumbled to the ground in a cemetery.
As crazy as it might be, we jumped from one painting to the next. If the last picture was the Festival of Samhain, that meant we jumped into the graveyard painting on the hardware store window. “We have to look for another window.”
“What does that even mean?”
A rotting hand punched through the ground, the index finger missing flesh, a boney nub poking out. We clinched each other like schoolgirls after jumping back. The dead emerged from graves throughout the cemetery.
“There,” I said, pointing to a white glow.
The Kubah exploded through the static window, slicing a zombie in half. Marty and I weaved through the shambling masses, avoiding outstretched decrepit hands. Hot on our tail, the creature in our wake cleaved a path. The undead horde slowed the Kubah enough for us to make it to the ‘window’.
We came down hard on the porch of a dilapidated Victorian mansion. Half the windows were boarded up or broken. A drainpipe hung loosely from the edge of a roof missing portions of slate shingles.
Marty jumped to his feet. “What the fuck is going on?”
Looking up at the window floating a few feet off the porch, I said, “Not here. That thing could burst through any second.”
The door creaked open.
“Oh, hell no.”
From within, the faint glow of white light. Somewhere in that house was the next exit window. I pulled Marty in and slammed the door. At one time, this was a fabulous estate. A sinister staircase in the center of a grand hall, its furnishings covered in dusty white sheets. Slats behind chunks of missing plaster littered the walls. The glow came from the top of the stairs.
I explained my painting jumping theory.
“Are you out of your mind?”
The scene of us on our tours played back in my mind. “I only wish I was…”
A thud on the porch.
We froze. With a finger over my lips, I pointed to the stairs, and we inched back. Outside, the creature paced on the porch, its claws clacking on the rotten wood. I flinched to a stop halfway up when a step creaked under my Pony’s. The Pukah ran off to the right, I’d been holding my breath the whole time. I thought we were out of the woods when a ratty credenza rose from the landing. Our eyes followed in stunned silence as it glided by.
We watched in horror as it dropped to the floor; the impact deafening. The door shattered, splinters flying in all directions as we reached the landing. At the end of a long hallway, the glow flooded from under a door. On the walls, candelabra flickered as we ran past. The Pukah slid into the wall as it rounded the landing. Kicking the door open revealed our ‘window’ on the far wall.
The concrete broke our fall. Thank God. We made it! Only…
“Uh, I don’t think we’re in Bay Ridge,” Marty said.
Sure enough, we were on asphalt, but the surroundings were unfamiliar. We had stepped into the middle of a one stoplight street. Random shops and businesses lined both sides of the street. Main Street U.S.A.
A saucer broke through the clouds, laser fire rained down, destroying a section of shops and a cluster of parked cars. Townsfolk scattered in all directions. Five more UFOs appeared, beams of light from their underbelly splayed the streets. Within each light, a silhouette. The alien with a pill-shaped dome helmet, one enormous eye, a snout full of teeth stepped out, and tentacles for legs. More light beams, more aliens. An army of them. I waited for 50s Sci-Fi music to chime in.
A slimy tentacle wrapped around my waist, lifting me off the ground. On the other side of the fishbowl, the disgusting face exploded into goo. The coil loosened, and I fell to the pavement. The Pukah slung the limp carcass through a store window. A bigger threat than us, the aliens open fire on the Pukah and sent it reeling into a patrol car.
“Charlie look.” Marty pointed to our escape window at the far end of town. But where would that one take us?
Against the flow of panicked, fleeing people, we ran. Bodies vaporized around us. As chaos ensued, the ground trembled. A tank rolling down Main Street fired at a saucer. The fiery wreck took out the police station and courthouse. Soldiers waved us behind them, opening fire on the alien masses.
“Now what the fuck is that?” The gunfire ceased.
A severed torso slopped to the ground in front of us. I dared to look. With agility beyond words, the Pukah evaded the bullet barrage, slaughtering soldiers and aliens with discrimination.
The window was a few yards away. A single entrail of electricity tickled my outstretched hand. The Pukah wrapped its claws around me.
“I don’t like that one,” the little boy said to his mother.
“That’s morbid,” the mother said. “I don’t know how that won a gold ribbon.” She pulled her child along.
The painting of two terrified teenagers reaching, a black arm wrapped around both and razor fangs bearing down. A gold ribbon fluttered in a slight breeze under the placard that read: Window Chopping by Charlie and Marty.