HOLLY SPRINGS — Footsteps and whispers awaken them. If he hears you coming, the glow-eyed gremlin behind the gravestone may rise to take a peek and mouth some dark incantations.
A few steps more and a cacophony rises from the front-yard ghouls.
The mummified woman starts clawing at the ground, and soon enough the beastly state-of-the-art automatons on the porch catch wind of the ruckus. Suddenly a creepy puppet girl is swinging and singing, and a zombie is getting shocked in an electric chair even though hes already dead, for crying out loud.
Holly springs resident Bob Echeverria, who orchestrated all this, is just excited that its almost Halloween.
I went crazy this year, he said. My wife wont even walk the dog anymore.
Echeverria has been making more and more elaborate front-yard Halloween scenes for 32 years now, long enough that his wife knew what she was getting into when she married him. He starts planning five months ahead of time, searching for the perfect theme pieces and heading down to Fayetteville to buy his animatronic dummies at the Spirit of Halloween store.
Everything is in place a week before the holiday: Theres the crooked picket fence, the boards across every window, the slow leaks of fog, the homemade guillotine. Halloween is coming, and the neighborhood kids are gawking as they ride bikes up and down Skymont Drive, so enthralled that more than one crashes.
Youve got to keep both hands on the steering wheel! the semi-retiree reminds the youngsters.
Then, seeing no scraped knees, he channels his inner evil ringmaster: Are you excited yet? Are you ready to come in?
Subhed goes herey
Echeverria comes from New Jersey, where yard decoration is a bit more theatrical than in the old South, and hes quick to point out that hes not some two-bit yard stuffer. He is practically a set dresser.
I try to have a theme, to not clutter up the yard, said Echeverria, who put $2,000 into decorations this Halloween alone.
He points at the tall, gaunt witch zombie, one of his half-dozen new dummies: I just loved her look.
The scene changes each year. This time its a classic haunted cemetery and house, kind of an undead invitational.
Echeverria loved horror growing up the classics, like Frankenstein.
They always fascinated me, said Echeverria, who has a tattoo of a haunted house on his back. I know its a fantasy its just the fear, sometimes even I have fear. ... The emotions are incredible.
He likes scaring the bejesus out of people especially his 17-year-old son, whom hes grooming to be crypt keeper. Whenever a new ghoul joins the crew, Hell set it up in my room before he shows it to me, said Sean Echeverria, one of five kids.
Neighbors join in
Its about more than just frights, though, the older Echeverria said. His elaborate setups are meant to draw people out of their shells.
All those screams turn to laughter, and the candy that we buy is ridiculous.
I remember seeing a girl running down the street screaming, and a man with a chainsaw chasing her, and I said, Where have I moved? said neighbor Mary Duffman, recalling her first sight of Echeverrias horror house.
She moved to Skymont Drive a few months after Echeverria arrived in 2006. Back then the neighborhood was brand new: Its freshly transplanted residents were still making introductions, and the overall Halloween scene, Echeverria said, was rather disappointing.
Six years later, it seems like half the houses are decked out with graves, ghosts and creeps.
The neighborhood has earned itself a reputation, with some residents clocking about 800 trick-or-treaters last Halloween, and Echeverria figures his horror movie sets a big inspiration.
Im learning from the master, said Steve Denoy, 46, who goes for a gentler vibe with his front-yard display.
Amazingly enough, the whole Halloween bonanza happens under the watch of a homeowners association.
They dont mess with me, Echeverria said.
It probably helps that he shuts the whole thing down at 9 p.m. Halloween night and it all comes down the next day.
So, how are the reviews this year?
Brave souls will see a bat and a guy getting electrocuted, said Sophia Duffman, 6, who is growing up next door to Echeverrias displays.
Was she scared? No. Then she reconsidered. ... Its a little bit scary.