A stone gargoyle sat atop a courthouse in a quiet downtown square. He’d been perched there for centuries, placed there by the settlers as a nod to their old-world homes. For 364 days of the year, he sat on his corner, grinning and immobile.
But this was Halloween.
With an ear-shattering crack, the creature sprang to life — or, more accurately, leisurely stretched his wings and yawned. The grackles beside him cawed and flapped in annoyance. The gargoyle grinned.
“What a lovely night,” he said, as he always did when he awoke.
The moon hung high and bright overhead, and the streets below were decked with lights and glowing pumpkins. A few late-night stragglers walked about, weaving and unsteady on their feet.
The gargoyle flapped his wings, took a deep breath of fall-fresh air and leaped off the edge of his perch. He plummeted toward the ground, waiting until the last possible second to extend his wings and soar over the head of an unfortunate drunk. A muffled yelp told the gargoyle he’d been spotted, and he chuckled as he flew away. The man might tell a story the next day about a flying stone creature — but who would believe him?
The gargoyle let the wind catch his wings and carry him aloft. He savored the feel of the air, the scent of pumpkin and spice and fallen leaves and the sounds of revelry below. He was alive again at last.
He didn’t know why he lived. Perhaps a witch had blessed him. Maybe a wizard had cursed him. Or maybe the craftsman who carved him had just been extraordinarily talented. Either way, he lived — for one night every year he could eat and drink and fly and laugh. It was better to have just one night than to sit stationary on the courthouse ledge for all eternity.
He shifted in flight and took in the city below. It glowed beneath him, full of light and life. It had changed immensely over the years, transforming from a tiny speck of a village into a sprawling city. In just the last year, more buildings had been added to his domain. One new place caught his wandering eye. It was sleek and shiny chrome, with bright splashes of red and yellow, and it smelled of meat and smoke. His rumbling stomach reminded him that it’d been a year since his last meal.
He circled the building. A bright neon sign flickered and glowed: Valkyrie Burgers. He liked the sound of that. Humans sat outside, munching on piles of golden fries and sipping drinks — but it was the big, juicy cheeseburgers in their hands that had his mouth watering. He loved a good burger. It was one of the humans’ best inventions, along with rock ’n’ roll and drive-in movies.
Yes, a burger would be the perfect way to start his night. He soared up, preparing to dive down among the unsuspecting patrons below. He’d be in and out before anyone even noticed their food was gone.
He reached the apex of his climb, turned, spotted his target below — and was knocked horns over tail out of the air.
“What the — ”
He tumbled toward the ground, spinning and twisting in the air. He righted himself just feet from the pavement. He rose back into the air, looking for his assailant. An over-eager vulture, perhaps? If so, the feathered fleabrain would soon learn the peril of —
“Halt, foul beast!”
He checked his flight, blinking. “Foul? Really? I don’t smell that bad.”
He turned toward the voice — and every thought left his head. Hovering there before him was a glorious, shining Valkyrie. Her silver robes streamed behind her, flapping in the wind. Her hair was long and braided, her eyes were fiery and fierce, and her wingspan was magnificent. She wasn’t stone, but she was clearly a statue — just like him.
“Hello!” he said, grinning. “Is this your first Halloween? I remember my first — it was a special night — ”
“I said, halt, creature! Do not dare to threaten my domain, for you shall meet your doom!”
“Er, right … about that,” he said, glancing down at the tempting morsels below. “Look, I just want a bite to eat. I won’t hurt anyone. I’m not that kind of gargoyle.”
“I warned you, creature! Now you will pay.”
“Oh, hell,” he muttered as she hoisted her spear and shot forward.
He darted out of the way and dove. He twisted and turned and shot back up. She stayed close behind. He executed a great soaring loop. She was right with him. She was an impressive flyer, but he had a slight edge. His smaller size made him just a tad more maneuverable.
He did a tight series of spirals and shot around behind her. She turned to him, outrage etched on her face.
“Look, this is fun — ”
She wacked him with the spear. He’d forgotten about her longer reach. He tumbled a few feet, puffing.
“Was that really necessary?”
“I will protect my domain at all costs, beast!”
He rolled his eyes. “The burgers can’t be this good.”
Still, he didn’t flee. He just circled and spun through the air, careful to keep out of her reach but not venturing too far from the burger shack. This little chase was the most fun he’d had in years — and it was nice to spend time with another cursed creature.
“I will slay you!”
He grinned. Charming woman.
He looped higher and higher, then paused to hover just above her. Far below, there was a commotion. He cleared his throat.
“Um, excuse me. Those humans there seem to be threatening your domain.”
She glanced down. Two men in masks with weapons bullied the young cashier into passing over money while the patrons silently handed over their wallets. The Valkyrie roared as the masked men scrambled out the door of the shop and into a waiting automobile.
“They will suffer for this!”
The gargoyle didn’t doubt it. Forgetting him completely, the Valkyrie soared after the speeding car.
The gargoyle paused, considering. He could seize the moment to grab a burger — but that seemed a bit unfair now. He could go on his way and find an unguarded place to eat. Or …
He swooped after the Valkyrie. Punishing wrongdoing was far more exciting than pilfering a meal.
It took some effort to catch up to the Valkyrie — the woman could move. The car swerved below them, winding through the streets at what had to be an unsafe speed.
“Tsk, tsk. They’re going much too fast,” the gargoyle said. “We should do something about that.”
“I have not forgotten our feud, creature,” she said.
“I hope not.”
Cracking his knuckles, he eyed the car below. He had an idea.
“I’ll slow them down for you, my dear,” he said. “Be ready to slay their steed. Its heart is in that front end there.”
She nodded. He grinned and dove.
He landed with a heavy crunch on the car’s roof. Metal creaked as he dug his claws in. The startled shouts below made him chuckle. Baring his fangs, he hung his head over the windshield and glared at the men inside.
They squealed and screamed. The car slowed and veered wildly from side to side. The gargoyle held tight, laughing and waging his tongue at the men.
The Valkyrie skimmed overhead and hurled her spear at the car. It landed with a solid thunk in the car’s hood. The engine hissed and sputtered, and the car rolled to a stop inches from the outraged Valkyrie’s robes.
The gargoyle waited. A door swung open, and a masked man sprang out. He pointed his shiny human weapon at the Valkyrie. The gargoyle pounced, his claws sinking into the human’s scrawny shoulders.
“Gah! What the hell is this?!”
The gargoyle laughed as the man spun and flapped his arms, throwing his weapon to the ground. When the gargoyle finally released him, the man ran, screaming and babbling about demons in the night. The gargoyle chased him for a bit, flapping and cackling for good measure, before finally letting the poor creature go. The humans could deal with him now.
The gargoyle turned back to the car. The other man was passed out on the pavement with a solid lump coming up on his head. The Valkyrie stood above him, glaring.
“They’ll never steal from your domain again, I would think,” the gargoyle said as he rested on the car.
“I would hope not,” she said. She looked at him, and her glare softened to a smile. “You are quite brave, creature.”
“I have my moments.”
“Perhaps I can reward you for your service?”
“I would love a good burger.”
She laughed and nodded, and they soared into the air together, heading back to the burger shack for a Halloween feast.
When the manager of Valkyrie Burgers opened up the next morning, he received a bit of a shock. Perched at the feet of his six-foot-tall chrome Valkyrie was a grinning stone gargoyle.
The police could never figure out how — or why — the gargoyle ended up there. It took city workers more than three months to get the statue re-installed on the downtown courthouse.
When it happened again the next year, they put it down as a high school prank and once again moved the gargoyle back to the courthouse.
No matter how often they moved it or what precautions they took, every November 1, the grinning gargoyle would be perched at the feet of the Valkyrie. Eventually, everyone agreed to leave him there. He seemed to like it that way.