Chris Danver had been mowing the lawn when he saw Mrs. Bennett hang the thing. She had wheeled a ladder to the corner of her lawn where the big elm tree was, propped it against the trunk, and went back inside the garage. When she returned she was holding it. It looked like something you could buy at one of those Halloween stores that came in the very last days of summer to temporarily fill the empty storefronts in the strip malls on Blacow. The top was the large rubber face of some kind of dead thing. It was a greyish green with two bulging eyes and a bright red tongue sticking out. Below was an enormous amount of a kind of cheap, shimmering black fabric about nine feet in length. A short way down from the head, two large rubber arms came out ending in two gnarled hands, covered in molded veins. The fabric was dragging on the grass as Mrs. Bennett climbed the ladder and hung the thing as high as she could reach on the tree. The fabric blew in the breeze and the thing swung back and forth. Mrs. Bennett climbed down and brought the ladder back inside. Besides a styrofoam tombstone sticking up from the ground, the thing was the only sign that Halloween had come to the house. Chris half-watched this with as much interest as he gave the jumbled series of lines he was mowing into his front yard, but as the month wore on, he would become a key eye-witness in the neighborhood. Kids would demand he describe the event over and over and answer their questions about this first sighting. As he did, he filled it with a never-ending supply of details, the event gaining more and more clarity in his mind the more he turned it over. Had he noticed anything unusual in those first moments? The street had seemed quieter than normal. Was Mrs. Bennett acting weird? She did look around the neighborhood when she reached the height of the ladder, before hanging the thing onto a branch (maybe not so unusual, but Chris had noticed it). Did the thing move at all or show any signs of the danger that was to come? No, but Chris had always ended these retellings with the same note: he had known that there was something wrong with the thing from the very beginning.
Pete Rainer lived next to the house and was maybe the first to raise the alarm that the thing hanging in the yard at the end of the block was bad news. Late one Tuesday, Pete was going up and down the sidewalk between the two houses on his skateboard. His mom wouldn’t let him skate in the street, so he would go down to the corner, turn the board around by hand, and skate back up toward his house. While passing under the big elm tree, Pete was knocked off his board and onto the lawn. Bringing his hand down from his head, he saw it was covered in blood. Looking up, he saw the thing looking down at him, its tongue sticking out, the bulging eyes twinkling in the setting sunlight. It felt larger than it had seemed while skating by. The hanging fabric brushed against his shoulder and he broke into a sweat. There was nothing to suggest that the halloween decoration was moving with any kind of intention, but it seemed to want him. Pete thought about a time years ago when he had been at the Crossroads mall with his parents. There was an adult there he caught sight of over and over while they were shopping. A man who didn’t look very different from his own dad. Every time Pete saw that man in the different parts of the mall, they would make eye contact, and he would grip his mom’s hand tighter with the fear and the knowledge that this man wanted something from him. The last time Pete saw him, he and his parents were walking toward the exit and would be passing right by the man. From a distance, Pete made eye contact and the man did not move. As they got closer, Pete was gripped by the fear of what would happen. They passed by the man and as they did, he turned and the outer edge of his hand brushed Pete’s shoulder. That was it. Pete quickly moved off the lawn and back onto the sidewalk. That night he had to get four stitches on the back of his head, and his dad took his skateboard away. He felt stupid the next day telling everyone at school what had happened to him, but would rather people think he was crazy than a bad skater.
Soon the thing developed a reputation. Kids would say they felt its eyes on them as they walked by. Word spread that the thing was looking for kids. Some said Mrs. Bennett didn’t buy the thing at a store, but that she was in its possession, doing its bidding. Others said she was using it, and that she was a witch. Elijah said he saw the same thing in a halloween store he went to with his cousins, and some kids weren’t sure if that made them feel better or worse.
Lauren Sommerfield said the thing had come into her room one night. She was falling asleep and heard a scratching sound on her window. She quickly pulled her covers over her head and kicked herself for not closing the curtains that night. Imagining a pair of eyes, even a raccoon’s, looking in on her scared her enough to ignore how uncomfortably hot it got being entirely under a blanket, but still she fell asleep. She wasn’t sure how long after she woke up, but she knew something was in her room with her. She said she couldn’t hear anything, but she just knew. It would be impossible to fall asleep now, knowing there wasn’t even glass in between her and whatever it was. She could scream out for her parents, but what if whatever it was used that moment to grab her before they could run all the way up the stairs and down the hall to her room. She pulled the blanket away so that it only exposed one eye. She scanned the room, but didn’t see anything. In the morning, the thing was gone. She never brought it up to her parents or brother and forgot about it. When the danger of the thing became apparent to everyone, Lauren remembered that night and the scratching on the window and the feeling of what had been in her room. She told everyone with no small amount of proud and horror that what happened later that month could have happened to her. Skeptical kids would ask how she knew it was the thing if she hadn’t seen it. Lauren would always say it was the smell of the rubber and the heat in her nose, like she had put an old, cheap mask on.
The Fieldner’s lost their baby. Amanda heard as much as she could from her dad, who knew Jake Fieldner. Their three-month-old daughter died during the night on Wednesday. She had stopped breathing. Her dad said it was a freak occurrence. Amanda made sure everyone knew that if you looked up from Mrs. Bennett’s elm tree where the thing was hanging, you could look right into the room where the baby slept.
A group of kids got together on the Friday before Halloween to get rid of the thing. They were scared to do it at night, but they couldn’t risk getting caught wrecking someone’s property, even a witch’s. Tommy took a ladder and a knife from his house. They’ll all met up outside Mrs. Bennett’s house at 2AM. The thing was in the tree, looking down at all of them. They kept trying to tell themselves it was just a cheap decoration. The face and arms were just rubber. You could see the seams on them. Even still, it gave them the creeps. They thought about the Fieldner’s baby and all the other stories they had heard. Tommy held the ladder and Rebecca climbed up and grabbed the rope it was hanging from. For a second Eric thought it had grabbed Rebecca and he peed himself a little. Rebecca looked into its face. It wasn’t alive. Her heart started to beat faster. Its tongue looked wet. She thought she felt it breathe on her. The eyes seemed to be looking into her own. It wasn’t alive. She took the knife and began sawing at the rope. It came loose and fell to the ground. Eric let out a yip. For a second no one moved. The kids grabbed the decoration and started to run for the woods. On his way out, Tommy took a rock and threw it through Mrs. Bennett’s window.
At school, the kids told everyone how they had burned the thing. How the fabric had went up quick and the arms and face slowly melted until they were unrecognizable. They buried the melted plastic in the woods and put a big rock on top of it.
On Monday, Claire Classky didn’t show up at school. Later everyone found out that she had gone missing from her home. The police were looking for a suspect and a curfew was instated. Trick-or-treating that year took place during daylight hours but none of the kids were mad. They wouldn’t want to be out at night anyway. Claire’s sister told everyone it was the thing that had taken her. Its face melted into something not resembling a face. Its arms caked in mud and warped, but still capable of clawing at Claire while the girls had been playing out near the edge of their property, next to the trees. What she only told her best friend, Emily, what she was too ashamed to tell anyone else, but what Emily would tell other close friends until it became public knowledge, was that she hadn’t even tried to fight off the thing as it grabbed Claire. As it came out of the woods, she got caught in the stare of its wet, disfigured eyes. In that moment, she knew that the thing wanted something from her. In tears, she told Emily she ran. She ran as its twisted arms tangled into her sister’s hair and dragged her screaming back into the woods.
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