Halloween Contest 2023

The Friendliest Town There Is by Lorraine Ryan

Eleven months of the year Turner Falls is a model of constraint, coloring each day inside the lines. But in late October the small town lets its hair down, partying hard. Quaint villages like Tarrytown and well-known Sleepy Hollow border us and spillover tourists flood our streets. “The friendliest town there is!” signs declare. Sunday’s church attendance brings tears of joy to Pastor Dwight as both the church and collection basket fill up.

I’m one of the spillovers that loved this picturesque town and its promise of home, hearth, and happiness so much I bought a blue Victorian in the middle of town.

The week before Halloween I whistled out the front door with our Golden, Maisie on a leash. Tourists carrying packages and shopping bags bustled everywhere. Pumpkins, baskets of apples, candles were in shops. Old Mrs. Henderson tended her marigolds on her knees, and I called out a greeting. She turned around and smiled. I gasped. Under her gardener’s sunhat was a skull, white and gleaming. Wispy strands of gray hair floated in an airless day. Her eyes found me but how can I say eyes where there weren’t any? Just empty sockets. As empty as the soul in her ancient body? I wanted to scream but was frozen. Maisie first growled, then whimpered and pulled me away.

Shaken, I managed to walk a few paces, then turned around. Mrs. Henderson was now standing up and talking to the mailman. She was not a corpse but fully fleshed and alive. I shook my head as though trying to shake sense into me.

Do nightmares only appear in the dark, slithering in like a cold serpent intent on prey? Beware what lurks when the sun burns and blinds.

I passed every home, every store, every building, and the same thing happened over and over. When Tom Flynn who owned the Turner Falls Diner lifted his hat in a pleasant greeting, his head left his shoulders. “How are you today, Patrick?” He grinned. Blood dripped from his neck. By this time, Maisie escaped from my hold and had run toward the church.

Pastor Dwight sat at a picnic table by the church with his wife and three children. “Patrick! You’re looking well. Come break bread with us.” The family once looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. Now they could strike fear on a Stephen King book cover.

“My dog ran…” Why give excuses to this family of demons? But they were smiling. Every horrific townsperson of Turner Falls I met beamed pleasantly. No getting around it, they were genuinely friendly. For dead people.

Maisie barked behind the church, in the cemetery. She wagged her see-through ghostly tail when I found her. A crowd stood by a small gravestone. I didn’t have to read it to know whose name would be etched in granite.

“Welcome, Patrick” Their voices, comforting.

I smiled.

Turner Falls is indeed the friendliest town there is.