FAIRMONT - Ghosts floating through the air, zombies rising from their graves, skeletons rattling in the autumn breeze, jack-o-lanterns gnashing their man-made teeth ... The signs of Halloween are creeping up all over as more homeowners become infected with the holiday spirit.
Halloween is Loran Arlen's favorite holiday, no contest.
"I like it because it's closest to the movies. You can set the atmosphere, make your own props - and you can scare people. That's always fun," he said, laughing.
Father and son, Loran and Seven Arlen, kneel behind a tombstone in their front yard, while baby Savannah Arlen perches on top of a coffin, supported by her mother, Mercedes Arlen.
The Arlens live at 1122 S. State St. in Fairmont, the one with the boarded-up windows and tombstones dotting their front yard, which is separated from the sidewalk by a fence covered in barbed wire.
"I'm hearing people are getting to where they spend as much on Halloween as they do on Christmas," said Bob Wallace, Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce director.
Loran suggested to the Chamber last year that it sponsor a Halloween home-decorating contest, and the Glows committee that regularly oversees Fairmont's Christmas contest liked the idea, encouraging people to "Be scary this holiday season!"
The Arlens didn't need an invitation.
"Last year, that's when he decided, 'Hey, let's up it,'" said Mercedes Arlen, talking about her husband's obsession with Halloween.
By browsing online forums, Loran unearthed a slew of ideas for making his own decorations: The boarded up windows are actually old planks attached to a frame and hung in place. Fog that will creep through the graveyard on Halloween night is created through a machine of Loran's making, and cobwebs will shoot out over the property, thanks to an air compressor and hot glue guns. A motorized skull that looks out from behind a tombstone is another idea Loran got from the Internet. The tombstones and coffin also were crafted by his own hands.
"Our best friends are garage sales and second-hand stores," said Mercedes, when it comes to finding ready-made decorations and parts to make their own.
"We always try to stick to a budget, but ..." Loran said, with a shrug and a smile. Sometimes he goes a little over budget, and sometimes he just has to wait until the next year.
A talking hologram of a floating head is one purchase he's particularly proud of - "The trick-or-treaters really like that one!" - and he enjoys spooking out the neighborhood with music and sound effects, like thunder that's accompanied by bright flashing lights from 500-watt flood lamps.
"You can see if from down the block," he said.
Adding to the drama will be Loran himself, decked out in costume to recreate one of Hollywood's more horrific characters - Jason from the Friday the 13th films. Loran's son, Seven, will be Ghost Face from the Scream movies, and even the baby, Savannah, will be a tiny little werewolf.
Of course, the Arlens aren't the only ones caught up in the Halloween spirit. Houses throughout Fairmont are being spookified. Just up the street from the Arlens is one great example, with ghosts dotting the landscape of a home on the 1300 block of South State Street. Drive a little farther and turn onto Albion Avenue to the 700 block to see a parade of skeletons in one front yard. A left onto Woodland Avenue brings viewers a variety of Halloween sights, including some gory, realistic meat hanging from a front sign at "The Butcher Shop."
Got the creeps yet? There's still some time to enter nominations or get your home ready for the Halloween competition. Call the Chamber at (507) 235-5547 by Friday to enter the contest or make a nomination. Judges will prowl the streets, looking for the spookiest decorations, the week of Oct. 24.
The grand prize is $100, with $75 to second place and $50 for third.