Last night, I crawled into bed and found a severed arm under my pillow. I didn’t jump. I didn’t scream. I chuckled, leaped back out of bed, and buried it in the unfolded laundry, with the tips of its fingers poking out.
When my husband came out of the bathroom and got into bed, I discussed it with him.
“I think the arm has lost its mojo. Maybe we need a more realistic body part. Or a motorized one.”
“Those are never realistic,” he said.
“Maybe we need eyeballs.”
He grunted something in return, and we went to sleep. The next morning, the hand greeted him when he reached for socks.
“Clever,” he said. “When did you put that there?”
It soon became evident that he was not the culprit who’d hidden the arm under my pillow. He had no idea why I’d brought it up the night before. Apparently, my son was the one trying to scare me. Either that, or the cats are getting into the spirit of things.
For the past six years, that arm has spent the time around Halloween being passed from one unexpected place to another. The rules are simple: If you find the arm, it’s your turn to get somebody else. I’ve been startled in the past by finding it in my underwear drawer, under a throw on the couch, in the freezer.
This year, I started it off by putting it the refrigerator, top shelf, clutching the side of the water pitcher. My daughter opened the door, shivered, and took several steps back. Points for Mom. It stayed there for days. Nobody else was startled, but it was disconcerting. It moved to the pantry, where it did startle me a little when it shifted and moved on its own across the room. My son and my husband passed it back and forth, both hiding it in each other’s backpacks. Nobody did more than chuckle. It spent time on the fireplace mantle, where it disturbed the cats, but was mostly ignored by the humans. And then it appeared under my pillow.
We decorated for Halloween late this year, only managing to get it set up two days before the holiday. I’ve left it for a week so we could enjoy it, but today the severed arm and all the other stuff gets put away. Knowing the arm was getting a little stale, I bought severed fingers this year and mixed them into the candy bowl. I don’t think anybody was impressed.
Originally, the hand was placed on the arm of a couch or chair and left there for the season. It made me jump more than once without ever being moved. It makes me wonder what’s scarier — the totally unexpected out of nowhere, or the thing in plain sight that shouldn’t exist.
I think it’s the latter. A cheap scare is always good for a laugh. But to really be frightening, give the audience something impossible, and put it right in front of them to examine.