Illustration by Griffen Eckstein
Kristaps Porzingis clutched the invitation, running his thumb across the embossed copper jack-o-lantern on the cardstock as he’d done so often since it arrived weeks ago. He eyed the address and looked up at the darkened mansion at 2 East 79th Street. This was the place, and this was the time, but why weren’t there any lights on?
He went up the first two wide marble steps and suddenly felt a gust of wind across his head, as if something had just flown low over it. Looking up, the balcony was empty, but in the big bay window to his right a shadow quickly ducked out of sight. Somewhere down Fifth Avenue a group of children screamed, “TRICK OR TREAT” and Porzingis stood up straight, pocketing the invitation he was holding between his huge, white-knuckled hands.
“Come on Porz,” he said as he took the last two steps toward the door. “You are no baby.”
He’d found the invitation in his locker after the Knicks first regular practice, the black envelope cool in his hands as he looked around, smiling, to see if anyone else got one. No one paid attention. So Porzingis slid the envelope into his bag and forgot about it until the next morning, when he found it resting atop his ping pong table. Already late, he left his apartment for the gym, only to find the envelope jammed into the toe of one of his Curry 2’s, the pair he kept hidden under a pile of old towels in his locker and only looked at when he was sure he was alone.
Checking that no one was around he pulled out a black card with gold lettering and grinning jack-o-lanterns in each corner. He read slowly:
He touched a hand to his chest and whispered, “That’s me.”
The Honor Of Your Presence Is Requested
At The Annual Hallows’ Eve
2 East 79th Street (Spooky Mansion On Corner)
Absolute Secrecy Required
Tell No One
He was picturing just how spooky a mansion when someone slapped him on the back and he jumped, dropping the shoe and the invite. He only had a second to choose which one he went for as he bent and scooped up the glittering paper.
“Curry Twos!” Someone hooted.
Porzingis stood and found himself looking down at a smirking Marshall Plumlee. Great, he thought. “Good,” he said out loud.
“Nah bro these shoes are crap,” Marshall shook his head, thrusting the comfortably tapered toe into Kristaps chest, “Sup, what’d you bench today?”
Porzingis turned and shoved everything into his gym bag, hoping he could get out of there without another word. But a Plumlee never relents, and senses parties to crash like a shark does blood. Marshall had a finger lifted, pointed at the duffle bag. “What’s the invite for?”
Kristaps turned toward the door, “Private”, he mumbled.
Plumlee’s eyes lit up like a pinball machine. Somehow his grin got even bigger.
Trying a different tactic, Porzingis made his face as grave as possible and shook his head, “Too spooky for you.”
Plumlee seemed to be salivating now, “A Halloween party, bro?” He rubbed his hands together, “You gotta take me.” Porzingis was past him, making for the door on longer legs. Like a determined terrier, Marshall kept up, shouting his clarion call, the same he’d whisper, boom, and jeer in the weeks to come at every practice: “I’ll find out, bro!”
“But he did not find out, bro,” Kristaps assured himself, shivering on the doorstep of the old mansion against a sudden chill. He steeled himself, and pressed the bell.
From inside he heard chains dragging, a cackle, a cat’s yowl. The door opened a sliver and he caught a glimpse of what looked like fur before it closed. He waited. The door opened again and this time he thought he saw vibrant silks, flashing in the thin light from the streetlamps behind him. The door slammed. It dawned on him that he could be here only as a joke. His shoulders slumped and he turned to go but as he did a long creak came from behind—the door opening. “Welcome, Young Lurch,” a voice said.
Turning back, Kristaps Porzingis stifled a gasp. Standing in front of him was a cloaked figure with a high, stiff collar flaring out from the neck and a long cape lifted by an unseen arm to cover the lower half of an eerily familiar face. Porzingis raised a shaky hand and pointed to himself, “I’m Porzingis.”
All at once the figure let out an exasperated sigh, dropping the arm, “Come on, man, I know that. I invited you!” Paul Pierce stood in the doorway, shaking his damn head, “Whatever, get in here.”
Pierce ushered him into the foyer and shut the door behind them, but no lights came on, there was only what trickled in from the street through the draped windows. The same sounds he’d heard from outside were louder now, and he noticed what looked like fog trailing from a balcony above, around a wide old staircase and down to the floor in front of him.
“First you must pass the test,” Pierce whispered into Porzingis’ ear, closer now than he had been a moment before; the older man guided him by the elbow into another room passing through wisps of something hanging that tickled his face.
“An old witch lived here,” Pierce said, “and she left her mortal body behind to guard the place. This was her HAIR.” Porzingis’s hand was thrust into a bowl of something cold and slimy, thin strands wrapped around his wrist but he dared not jerk it out.
“And these… were her EYEBALLS!” Again, his hand went into a bowl. Small, cold globes rolled against his knuckles. He felt sick.
“And this… was her BOOT!”
“Her boot!?” A voice heckled from somewhere else in the room, just as the lights came back on. Porzingis looked down to see Paul Pierce, still holding his hand; Pierce’s other hand was held out expectantly in the direction of Goran Dragic, who was sitting on the floor, struggling to remove his shoe.
“You were supposed to have it ready,” Pierce chided, dropping Kristaps’ arm. “That was like the only thing you had to do.” Goran shrugged and stood, eyeing Kristaps long enough that he swore he saw a flash of eerie green cloud the man’s irises, before the Dragic slunk away. “Well,” Pierce shrugged, “sorry about the boot bit. Welcome to the party.”
A plastic cup full of a sloshing red liquid was proffered from beside him, Kristaps turned to follow the long, long arm up to Anthony Davis’ face. Porzingis reared back, his eyes wide. There, under the familiar, single, now furrowed brow, was only one eye. Davis laughed, “Costume, man. A cyclops, y’know?”
Porzingis allowed himself a closer look, “But is right in middle of your face.” He moved to touch it but Anthony turned away.
“Expensive makeup, my man. Come with me,” he motioned, putting an arm around Porzingis, “let’s get you introduced.”
Davis wove him through the party, pointing out players as they went. There was the other Dragic, Zoran, settled beside a fog machine and wrapped in a roughspun brown cloak, eating cold spaghetti from the bowl into which Kristaps’ unsuspecting hand had just been plunged. Passing the DJ booth Porzingis watched as Tim Duncan, dressed as a traditional wizard, switched between various tracks of ‘The Most Spooky Sound FX’ CDs, cranking up the scary sounds Porzingis had heard earlier. But Ducan’s long beard, down past his chest, kept getting caught in the CD tray and before they rounded a corner Kristaps watched as Duncan jerked his head back, yanking his beard free and leaving a tuft of gray hair snagged at the corner. He touched his chin, as if the beard were real, as if the pinch had hurt him. Everyone took their costumes very seriously.
Two figures got up from a table where they were playing cards with a Frankenstein monster and a skeleton. One was swaddled in strips of shining, colourful silks, different patterns of camouflage, and snakeskin; the other had a huge gray head that was, impossibly, almost bigger than his torso. Getting closer, Porzingis recognized Russell Westbrook’s face, obscured in parts by the mixed strips of bandages, and thought that the stony features on what looked like a huge piece of stone seemed to match Klay Thompson’s. He pointed at them and looked to Anthony Davis, “Costume?”
Davis crinkled his one cyclops eye—Porzingis tried to figure out how makeup did that—and laughed, “Yeah man, you know, a mummy?”
Russ Westbrook slid up and rolled his eyes, “Fashion mummy, how many times do I have to tell you that, one-eyes?” Russ jerked a thumb beside him at the idle man standing with a huge stone for a head, “Klay’s a were-Easter Island statue.”
There was a muffled sound of assent, Westbrook nodded, “Only by the light of the full moon, though. Nothing to do with his name or personality.”
Behind them the Frankenstein monster suddenly flipped the table, cards and drinks spilling to the floor. The skeleton stood with its bony arms crossed and spoke in the dulcet, no-nonsense tone of Kevin Garnett, “Draymond, you are such a sore loser,” before taking a sip of his drink, which splashed and spilled out of his open chest cavity and onto the floor.
Three eyes were trained on Porzingis as his jaw dropped, taking in the scene, and then an Easter Island statue moved to block his line of sight. It said something that sounded like it was coming from a person locked in the trunk of a car. “Klay wants to know if you like the punch,” Westbrook asked, lifting an arm to Anthony Davis where his bandages were unspooling. The other man narrowed his eye and with some difficulty wrapped his friend up again.
Porzingis sniffed the cup; it smelled headily sweet and metallic. He took a small sip and felt immediately emboldened. “Why you say ‘Young Lurch’?”
“’Cause that’s your name isn’t it?” A moody voice came from the corner. Everyone turned to find a hairy shadow in a jean jacket leaning against the wall. It flung its head back to shift the hair from its eyes, glowing a faint red, and spoke again in a growl, “That’s what they call you?”
James Harden pushed off the wall and Porzingis watched the man’s two doglike ears, sitting on top of his head, rotate around like independent periscopes. He stopped in front of him and curled his lip back, exposing an elongated canine that flashed for a second. Porzingis remembered the quick glimpse of fur he’d seen when the front door had opened.
“Are you like us, Young Lurch?” Harden emphasized the name in a way that made Porzingis freeze, his stomach sinking to an icy pit as Harden’s furred face looked him up and down, his clawed fingers dragging along the collar of Porzingis’s Knicks windbreaker, “’Cause you look pret-ty normal to me.”
“Is only a nickname by a crazy fan,” Kristaps stuttered, taking a gulp of the punch to steady himself, “I didn’t know it was dress up party.”
Harden smirked and looked to the others, “All good, Lurch, was only trying to sniff out the truth.”
Harden moved past, jostling him with a shoulder, and went into the main room, where Tim Duncan had moved onto playing clips of varying lengths featuring revving chainsaws. Porzingis watched the very hairy moody man whisper something to Paul Pierce, who looked up and locked eyes with Kristaps at the same time a voice—not his own—rang out in his head: THE TRUTH!
Porzingis turned back to the others. Klay Thompson’s head drooped but it was hard to tell if it was from the weight of the stone or some unspoken, sad discovery passing between them. Anthony Davis’s brow had raised in concern.
Westbrook patted him on the arm, “Hey man, it’s alright. Don’t let Harden get to you, he gets that way, well, always.” Russ smiled, colourful silk bandages crinkling around his eyes, “Have a drink!”
Unsettled as he was, Porzingis didn’t mind if he did. He took a deep, long drink, finishing off the rest of his cup. Instantly, he felt the punch work its way up across his vision, blurring it the same goopy red, and then felt four strong hands grab him. He had just enough strength to tilt his head and see two sets of glowing, limpid green eyes looking down at him before the world turned black.
Porzingis woke up to a low and incessant cackling, and then Paul Pierce testily saying, “Tim would you turn that off?”
“He’s gone, Lord Pierce, Tim never stays for this part.”
“Right, I forgot,” there was a loud snap of someone’s fingers, “Klay Thompson, switch it off”
“He can’t see anything past his chin, Lord Pierce.”
“Davis, take care of it, just pull the plug.”
“I have basically no depth perception, Lord Pierce.”
A frustrated growl, “Garnett, you do it!”
The sound changed to jangling links of heavy chains accompanied by a bubbling cauldron effect.
“My bones are brittle right now, Paul, they’ll snap.”
A sudden roar filled the room and silenced every other sound, like a vacuum switching on and off. Then, calmly, “I have to do everything myself, don’t I? Including bringing us this year’s sacrifice.” A collective murmur of agreement, “Great, awesome to have all of you helping out. Anyway, Kristaps, open your eyes.”
Paul Pierce was standing on a platform at his feet. Or not standing: he was hovering, a few feet off the ground, his long cape fluttering out in an invisible wind. On each side of him stood a Dragic, their toxic green eyes wide and lips mumbling a silent, tandem incantation that was keeping him pinned to a slab of stone. Just beyond the table in a ring he saw the faces from earlier that night: Klay Thompson’s heavy, hanging, Easter Island head. A snapping and salivating James Harden, now gone full werewolf, held back by an expressionless FrankenDraymond. And through the skeleton Kevin Garnett Porzingis saw Anthony Davis with his single eye squeezed shut.
He saw other creatures, too: a molting harpy with the head of Larry Bird, a stone golem Shaq, medusa Steve Nash, Jason Kidd as himself, the shrunken and gnarled form of Pat Riley clutching a shillelagh, and fashion mummy Russell Westbrook smiling and snapping photos of everyone.
“You better not post those anywhere, Russell,” leprechaun Pat Riley screeched.
“Why not? And why not do it with the hashtag ‘Why Not’.”
The voice boomed unspoken through the room, and all eyes shifted to The Truth. “The sacrifice will begin!” Pierce clapped his hands and floated directly above Porzingis, smiling down at him and then around the room, “We come as we do every year on this night, when the boundaries between our world and others grows thin. We offer the sacred sacrifice of One Forgotten Rookie, A Year Past His Drafting.”
“A Year Past His Drafting,” followed in a collective chant.
“Through he we may remain, his blood grant us career high stats and another shot at the Finals.”
“Through he we may remain, through he we may remain!”
The chant continued and the stone table beneath Porzingis began to tremble. He shut his eyes, thinking surely this must be a dream. Young Lurch! He had only heard of the nickname once, on Twitter, sent from some yahoo in Chicago, and it had wound him up here in a room full of monsters and hungry has-beens. And what was Anthony Davis doing here? He had always seemed so nice.
There was a sudden, splintering crack and Kristaps Porzingis was sure he was dead. He opened his eyes and saw… Melo? Carmelo Anthony! Heaving in the wooden doors he had just split open, axe in hand.
“Pierce, you let Kris go!” Carmelo shouted.
Paul Pierce laughed, a booming sound that shook the room. His eyes were glowing red, “Go home Melo, there’s a reason you were never invited to this party.”
“You’re damn right there is, I don’t party with freaks,” his eyes scanned the crowd, taking in the ancient crones and young ballers alike, “I’m surprised at you, Anthony, and you, too, Russ. You don’t need this to be superstars.”
Pierce snapped his fingers. Goran Dragic shot a bolt of lightning from his fingers at Carmelo Anthony, but it bounced off of him, evaporating.
Jason Kidd gasped, “Dad Melo.”
“It’s true!” Golem Shaq hissed.
“As foretold in prophecy,” Garnett rasped.
Pat Riley screamed and vanished in a puff of green smoke.
“So, you’ve gone through your final transformation and are now untouchable in your benevolence,” Pierce said. “No matter, the forgotten rookie is already ours.”
Paul Pierce turned back and the Warlock Dragics ramped up their chanting. A writhing black mass gathered across the ceiling and descended toward Porzingis, moving to suck out his talent and viable minutes on the court. Greedily, Larry Bird stepped forward first to make the connection, but as soon as his hand touched Kristaps Porzingis he flew backward, through the splintered wood door.
Carmelo laughed, “You forgot the most important thing, geniuses! Y’all picked a rookie that’s long from forgotten—The Zinger is a fan favorite! This old junker of a curse backfired on your asses.”
The mansion began to quake, and Melo moved to the table to help Porzingis up, “Russ, Harden, One-eye, rock head dude—gimme a hand here before this place falls down!”
The Dragics joined hands and began fading from the room, but not before Zoran grabbed the last of the cold spaghetti. FrankenDraymond moved stiffly to the door, unable to bend his legs, scooping up skeleton Garnett and slinging him over one shoulder like a bony bindle. Kidd cowered in the corner. Golem Shaq, as if remembering his form for the first time, ran through a brick wall onto 79th Street.
They were almost out the Shaq-shaped hole in the wall when Pierce descended in front of them, resplendent in the full flower of his evil. “The Truth always triumphs, Carmelo,” he leered. “And there will forever be another rookie.”
Melo smiled, and pointed behind Vampire Lord Paul Pierce, where Westbrook was Snapchatting the entire exchange, “The truth’s gonna be trending, that’s for sure.”
With a growl, Pierce shot upward into the night and vanished.
Porzingis slumped into Melo, “How did you know where to find me?”
“Never keep a party from a Plumlee, Zingy. I’d never seen Marshall dedicate himself to anything like that. He started calling around, had a list of who had flown to New York in the last 24 hours. I took one look at that pile of mutants and knew they were up to it again. This is what happened to Xavier Henry, actually.”
The others had started to slink away, worried about what might happen to them, “Nah uh, you guys stay put,” Melo said. “I’m ordering us an Uber—you’re lucky it’s Halloween and they’ll pick us up, no way I was about to take the subway with your spooky asses.” He hooted, “Good thing Paul’s retiring, I got a feeling he’s gonna need to sleep for a hundred years!”
“You’re not mad at him?” Anthony Davis asked.
“Nah! We had our minutes on the court, but that’s where it ought to stay. Remember that.” He eyed them each, one by one, and in his beatific Dad gaze their monstrosities shrunk a little and their former likenesses started to return. He shook his head, “Now I gotta be wasting my time with you freaks, try to get you back looking like yourselves. Although I doubt anybody would notice with you, Russ.”
They all laughed and piled into a mid-sized Uber with a sunroof through which Klay Thompson could stick his now slightly smaller Easter Island head. They headed downtown to Madison Square Garden, where Melo had secured a box for the monthly Billy Joel concert. Dad Melo had a whole week of activities planned, and they’d be back to themselves in no time.
Sandwiched between the monsters and Melo, Kristaps Porzingis touched a hand to his chest and whispered, smiling, “Young Lurch. Me.”