“What have you seen?”

It was the first day of October in the small coastal town of Rockport Massachusetts, which meant only one thing: the locales were hard at work decorating their respective abodes. Mr. and Mrs. Stephens erected their homemade Styrofoam tombstones while their mayor, Paul Taylor, was busy turning the old vacant library into a haunted house for the “youngsters,” as he called them.

As the whole town gradually turned black and orange, Detective John Sturgis was unable to share their enthusiasm due to the disappearance of his nineteen-year-old daughter, Cynthia, in late August. This was a phenomenon that repeated itself every autumn in the quiet town. Like clockwork, a resident would mysteriously go missing, never to be seen again. The first being Lucy Chambers back in 1934.

Five agonizing weeks had passed and still no trace of Cynthia. As time slipped on, it had become more difficult to function daily, so he took a leave of absence from the force in order to care for Cynthia’s mother who had suffered a full nervous breakdown after the first week.

On the second day of the month, Sturgis was returning home from his morning coffee run and passed the spacious property of Mr. Pritchard who had already unboxed all of his Halloween decorations and prepared his property two weeks prior for his favorite holiday. He had started with the interior before moving outside to his front lawn where he established himself as the town’s most elaborate decorator with scaled life-size replicas of zombies, ghosts, mummies, and scarecrows. Some of the creatures were carefully seated in vintage rocking chairs, others hung from nooses or secured in padlocked stocks.

It was an annual occurrence that started shortly after the old man had lost his wife to the scourge known as cancer, but every year since her departure, the town’s residents’ could look forward to a new addition to his collection which equated to an appropriate thirty-three pieces displayed behind his secured wrought iron fence, one decoration for each year that had passed.

The detective wasn’t sure what had made him pull his car over to the side of the road this particular day to soak in the creepy atmosphere. It might have been fate or a near silent whisper, but as he left his car and walked to the front gate, a familiar sight caught his eye on the life-sized emerald witch that hung by a noose from Pritchard’s tree. On the woman’s left wrist was an ornate tattoo of a black cat and the number 13 below it, the same tattoo his daughter had acquired earlier that spring.

As Sturgis entered the property and approached the witch, his muscles tightened at the realization that the arm was not made of plaster or fabric, but human skin. He carefully pulled back the pointed nylon hat and lifted the rubber mask, laying his eyes upon the lifeless face of Cynthia. As he jumped back and assessed the other decorations on the lawn, he immediately concluded that these were the same folks that had delivered his mail, waited on him at the local supermarket or fine-tuned his vehicle during annual inspections. He gingerly unmasked a tall ghost and scarecrow that were seated on a wooden bench, the familiar preserved faces of Bob and Donna Reilly slamming him like a steel girder as their unnatural grins and clouded sapphire eyes glared back at him.

As he impulsively reached for his sidearm, catching dead air, a resounding “click” rang out behind him. The officer spun and noticed Pritchard securing a padlock on his iron fence. Sturgis called for help as the old man started towards him whilst grasping a long outstretched syringe. “What have you seen?” he asked in a glassy tone. The detective’s pleas fell on deaf ears however. As he swept past the old man and reached for the padlock, he felt a sting on the nape of his neck. He turned and the needle caught him again, this time on his left shoulder. As he made a desperate struggle against the thin pointed instrument of death, his world gradually fell to dusk.

The detective’s car was found abandoned three days later in a wooded area off of Route 9, and he was never seen again. For the rest of the month, Mr. Pritchard wore a sinister smile because that particular autumn, he’d acquired not only one, but two decorative trophies for exhibition. He displayed them together.

Interview With Phil Thomas

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