Congratulations to this year's Grand Prize Hallowinner,  Ross Denyer

EEEK! 2020 Prompts:

Shtories may be any genre, but at least one central character must be either a VAMPIRE, WITCH, BAT, DEMON, JACK-O-LANTERN, MUMMY, ZOMBIE, GHOST, or WEREWOLF.

Read Ross's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Carmen Fong and second runner-up Lauren Boldt—below!

CREATURE COMFORTS

By Ross Denyer

 

     To Barry’s dismay, there’s a bat in the kitchen. It’s fluttering around in the corner like an oversized moth. He waves a broom at it, cursing.

     “You’re not flinging guano in my kitchen, buddy!”

     “Stop! Can’t you see it’s scared?” Allison, his fiancée, runs in from the neighboring room.

     “Scared? That’s what you should be for our countertops! We didn’t spend twenty grand on a remodel so this thing could take a dump on it.”

     “Which is more likely to happen…” Allison wrestles the broom from his grasp “…if you scare it.”

The bat, seemingly grateful for the distraction, flees from the kitchen corner and zips into the living room. Allison and Barry chase after it, but it disappears into the rafters of their vaulted ceiling.

     Barry sighs. “Oh that’s great. Now we’re going to get Covid.”

     “That’s not how transmission works, Barry.”

     “Volunteering at the animal shelter makes you an expert on epidemiology?”

     Allison sighs. “How did it even get in? And why is this happening on a Tuesday night, I was just about to watch The Bachelorette. Now I’m not going to be able to sleep.”

     She plunks herself on the couch, arms folded, as Barry fiddles with the dimmer switch on the living room lights, hoping to draw out the winged interloper.

     “Well, he’s hidden pretty well. I’m going to go get the flashlight from the garage.”

     “Just use your phone!”

     “I need something heavy duty, honey. And gloves. Maybe a net, if I have one.”

     Allison shudders as she clambers off the couch. “This is too much. I’m going to my bedroom. Oh god, I hope I kept the door closed!”

     “Thanks for your help, animal lover!” Barry calls out sarcastically as he steps outside.

     “Close the door behind you, there could be others!”

     He closes the door slightly louder than necessary.

     Allison tiptoes up the stairs, sweater pulled down over her hands, eyes darting along the ceiling. At the top of the landing, she sees the bedroom door is closed.

     “Thank god!” She sprints for the door, wrenches the handle, swings it open, and slams it shut behind her. She slides down onto the floor, pulls her knees to her chest.

     Then the bedside lamp turns on.

     “Hello, Allison.”

     Allison lets out a quick scream. She turns to see a man looming on the other side of her bed.

     “Joel? What the hell are you doing here! How did you get into my house?!”

     “I flew in.”

     “What?!?!”

     “I’m… the bat.”

     Allison just stares at him, still recovering from shock.

     “Well, really I’m a vampire. I just took the form of a bat.”

     “Okay. You’re a vampire.”

     “Yes.”

     “How did that happen?”

     “It’s a long story.” Joel steps forward. Allison retreats toward the window. “But… look, don’t be scared.”

     “You broke into my house…”

     “…flew in…”

     “…and you’re telling me you’re a vampire. How do you expect me to react to this?”

     Joel sighs.

     “I miss you Allison. I...” he searches for the words. “I miss what we had.”

     Allison nods her head, half in agreement and half out of terror. “Yeah, we had some nice moments. But it ended. And I’m with Barry now.”

     “Yeah, Barry,” Joel tuts. “The world’s luckiest rebound.”

     “Well I’m engaged to that rebound, and we’re quite happy, thank you.”

     “When’s the date?”

     “It was either a wedding or a kitchen remodel. We chose the granite countertops. They’re very nice. You must have noticed during your flyover.”

     Joel arches an eyebrow.

     “We’ll get married next year,” Allison adds, feebly.

     “You’re not even sure about him, are you? You are too good to settle, Allison.”

     Allison glances out the window, sees Barry still rummaging around in the garage. She turns back to Joel.

     “Listen, Joel, you have... had a good heart.”

     “I still have a heart. I’m not a zombie.”

     “A good heart, but a lonesome spirit,” she clarifies. “You’ve always been a little aloof, and that was before you could turn into a bat.”

     “We could explore the world together, Allison. We had that trip planned to Croatia, remember? It’s not too late.”

     “How would that work? Am I going to have to become a vampire too?”

     “It’s optional.”

     “And don’t you need to drink human blood?”

     “Also optional.”

     “And how are we going to support ourselves?”

     “We’ll take it by day.” He smiles, revealing a hint of fangs. “It’ll be an adventure.”

     “I can’t, Joel. I can’t. My idea of adventure is fostering rescue dogs or ordering takeout from a new restaurant. Whatever happened to you, I’m sorry, but I think you’re masking a traumatic event with some strangely Gothic notion of romance. Quite frankly, I just want to watch The Bachelorette.”

     “Really?”

     “Really.”

     He hangs his head. “You’ve changed.”

     “So have you.” She takes a step toward him. “But there are so many people that would jump at the opportunity to travel the world with a vampire. You just have to find them.”

     “It’s hard to reveal something so personal. You’re the first person I’ve told.”

     She pats his shoulder comfortingly. “Trust me. Your Elvira is out there.”

     Barry calls up from the stairs. “I still can’t find it. Did it crawl into bed with you?”

     Allison turns to Joel. “You need to go.”

     “Just a few more minutes, I want to tell you…”

     “If Barry finds us, he’s going to drive a stake through both our hearts.”

     She opens the bedroom window.

     “I wish you well. Now please go.”

     “Farewell, Allison.”

     She turns to look at him, but there’s only a bat now. It soars through the window and out into the night just as Barry opens the door.

     “Have you seen the bat?”

     “It’s gone.” She brushes past him.

     “Where are you going?”

     “I think I only missed the first ten minutes.”

JAXE, ANOTHER KIND OF MONSTER HUNTER

By Carmen Fong

 

     Jaxe was a monster hunter, but not in the way that you think. He sat at the end of a wooden bar, at the edge of the television’s glow. He swirled the ice in his club soda and listened to the tinkling noise that rose above the whispers and promises.

     A few seats away from him sat a huge, muscular man with a Greek god’s face and skin the color of spinach. His dark eyes were fixed on the soccer game. Jaxe leaned over.

     “Excuse me?” Jaxe murmured. As he raised his glass, he saw his own reflection—blueberry skin and pointy ears.

     The green giant glanced down at him. The rippling muscles in his arms looked like cords of spring asparagus. The hulk raised his beer stein towards Jaxe. Bolstered by this moment of amiability, Jaxe took his chance. He whispered into the man’s ear. The man’s brow furrowed and then relaxed.

     “I’m sorry, my dude, I can’t say I’m into that. But if you want, try the Fly-on-the-Wall,” the man smiled, revealing straight white teeth against his emerald lips.

     “Thank you,” Jaxe said. He left money for the man’s drink on the bar as he walked out the door.

     Entering the Fly-on-the-Wall, he sat down on a padded stool, the faux leather cracked in a dozen places. He ordered a club soda and waited. There were only a handful of humans here.

They seemed to be drinking by themselves in various states of undress and distress.

     At 11 pm, she walked in. Almost as tall as the green man, wavy black hair down to her waist, a tight red skirt molded to her body like plastic. She had compound eyes, multifaceted jewels that reflected the red of her dress. Perched on her head was a pair of snowboarder goggles. She exchanged a few words with the current bartender and took over his shift, wiping off the counter with a clean towel.

     “Hello,” Jaxe said.

     She leaned toward him, her fly eyes reflecting ten thousand little blue copies of his face. He was mesmerized.

     “What can I get you, demon?” She asked.

     Jaxe blinked himself out of his trance.

     “Another soda?” He tapped his glass. She didn't have to turn her head to see him.

     “Want something a little stronger?” Her insect-like movements methodically filled his glass with soda from a hose.

     “Naw, this is good,” he said as he slid a folded napkin towards her.

     “Is this for real?” She asked as she read the note.

     “Yes,” he replied. “Will you do it?”

     She bit her lip and considered him with her ten thousand lenses.

     “No. No one wants to see this.” She gestured at herself from head to toe. “Listen, you seem like a nice guy. I have a friend who might be interested. I’ll text him right now to meet you, okay?” The tippity-tap of her fingertips on her smartphone sounded like fly legs on the windowpane, desperate to escape.

     Jaxe frowned. As the world got tougher, his job got more challenging. She handed him the phone.

     “Put in your address. He’ll meet you there,” the fly-girl left to serve another customer. He noted two small ridges pushing up where her shoulder blades would be. She was hiding her

wings.

     He was suspicious of anyone who would meet him anywhere at midnight, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He typed in his address.

     When she came back, he asked her, “What are the goggles for?”

     “These are my ocelli,” she smiled and lifted the goggles for a moment. He marveled at the tiny sensory eyes at the top of her hairline. “Some customers can’t handle them. A little too much.”

     Twenty minutes later, Jaxe turned the corner on his street. A skinny young man stood in the lamplight. He kept drawing his denim jacket tighter around him as if he were cold.

     Jaxe stuck his hand out, “Hi, I’m Jaxe. You must be…”

     “Fred,” the young man said.

     “Fred,” Jaxe almost laughed at the mundane name that matched this man’s ordinary appearance. “Fred, there must be some mistake, I’m…”

     The young man scowled. “There’s no mistake. Ellie texted me, you’re…”

     “Looking for monsters,” Jaxe finished.

     Fred sighed. “Look, let’s go inside.”

     Jaxe hesitated only a moment. As he opened the door and invited Fred in, he saw the young man’s eyes light up. Large canvases leaned against the easel. Smaller studies and portraits were arranged on the walls in a salon-style. They were all paintings of monsters. A man with a strange pig face, a woman with tentacle-like limbs, the shiny scales of a swamp creature, and the translucent substance of a ghost all lived on his walls. They were in various poses, all exposing what nature gave them—which is to say, nothing to write home about unless you

were running away to join the circus.

     “Why do you do this?” Fred asked.

     Jaxe shrugged. “I have to.”

     “But why haven’t you sold them?” Fred examined the paintings more closely.

     “No one wants to see them,” Jaxe said. He waited for the moment when Fred would realize what was happening and would voluntarily leave. Jaxe didn’t paint humans.

     Fred looked at Jaxe, a blue demon in a tweed jacket who hunted monsters to paint. Painting monsters that no one wanted to see. Still, he kept at it, night after night, filling his room with these glorious visions—the eye of the beholder, and all that.

     With a swift motion, swifter than Jaxe would’ve thought possible, Fred took off his jacket and shook his head once, briefly. Fred started to grow. His shoulders rose above the fridge, and his nose stretched into a fuzzy snout. His hands and feet became clawed paws. Jaxe wanted to catcall or maybe howl like a wolf.

     When the transformation was complete, Fred laid back on the chaise lounge.

     “Okay, Jaxe, paint me like one of your French girls.”

     Jaxe uncapped a tube of Payne’s gray and squeezed it onto his palette.

LOVECRAFT AND LOVE CONNECTIONS

By Lauren Boldt

 

     What was his name again? Jack? Yes, he was definitely named Jack. Jack O’Lantern. Irish? I guess time would tell. I did fancy an accent. We had only texted briefly before agreeing to meet up, so I had never heard his voice. I met him online; I am on all the dating sites and apps. “Spaghetti at the wall…” my mom always said about dating. I love carbs, but how much spaghetti are we talking? How many men did I have to meet before I met the right one? Dating in New York City is a daunting task for any woman, let alone for a witch. Well, technically only a quarter-witch… on my Father’s side. Still, witch enough for the stereotypical large nose and occasional wart. Lucky for me, NYC is low on witches, but it is certainly not lacking doctors. I had found myself a great dermatologist for the warts, and my grandmother paid for a renowned plastic surgeon who took care of the rest. Granny didn’t particularly approve of my mother’s marriage to a man of warlock descent, but she wasn’t about to let that diminish my shot at finding a man. She’d let me burn at the stake before she let me become a lonely cat lady. I had resolved myself a long time ago to the idea that I might end up alone, but the cat I simply would not tolerate.

     Would he care that I was a witch? Some men did, some men didn’t. It is kind of like how women feel when they find out a man isn’t circumcised. But you are what you are, and people can take it or leave it. For the record, I don’t care what a man’s situation is. It’s nothing a little spell couldn’t fix anyway. Kidding! I have no powers. Not all witches do. You can imagine my disappointment when I read the Harry Potter books as a kid; I was inconsolable. No, life was nothing like the magical wizarding world I had obsessed over in my youth. To say anything about it, it was ordinary. Which is to say, uneventful. I was waiting for the magic. Maybe tonight there would be some.

     I entered the intimately small wine bar in the East Village and found Jack immediately. He was tall and his pumpkin spiced color hair stuck out above the crowd. He kissed me awkwardly on the cheek while doing one of the sideways, half pats, half hugs that you do with strangers in a forced romantic setting. He already had a glass of wine set in front of him and I hastily told the man on the other side of the counter that I’d have what Jack was having. After all, the man was a sommelier. As such, I’d imagine he’d have decent taste. The wine was good, but it was no love potion, or elixir to bring the dull conversation to life. Our saving grace was the bartender who turned out to be the owner of the establishment and apparently a good friend of my date. Not only was Jack a sommelier, but he also worked for a wine distribution company who sold wine to the bar we were presently in. For once I was grateful for a third wheel who was dominating the dialogue. In fact, I rather liked the charming bar owner. That is, until I saw his wedding ring. Son of a witch! Isn’t that always the way?

     With drinks finished, Jack surprised me with tickets to a H.P. Lovecraft reading down the street. I will admit, the gesture was sweet and particularly fitting with Halloween around the corner. We rushed down the block and seated ourselves in the makeshift theater just as the lights went down. While the show was intended to be spooky, it could best be described as “cute.” Maybe campy? With prerecorded sound effects and flashlights, it was a low budget production reminiscent of telling ghost stories at childhood sleepovers. Although, I do not remember any large men with clammy hands interlocking with mine on the sleepovers. Jack was using the horror story as the opportunity to make moves. “Really?” I thought to myself. He didn’t seem all that interested at the bar. The hand caressing mine became far more disturbing than “The Beast in the Cave,” which was being recited. No, the man next to me was currently far more threatening than Lovecraft’s fictional monster. I knew what his next move would be, and that there would be no escape.

     The kiss in the dark proved not to be fatal, just poorly timed, and unwanted. When the lights came up, we headed for the exit. With inflated confidence, he asked me to join him for another drink. I politely declined and hailed the next taxi in sight. Once safely in the cab, I deleted his contact information from my phone. Just like that, he disappeared from my life with no magic required.