"What's this?" Ryan Rudo asked when he arrived home from school Wednesday and found what looked like a severed arm hanging out of an orange potato can beside the front door.
The 7-year-old wasn't particularly surprised, however.
He quickly recognized it as just the latest addition to the expanding Halloween display -- ghosts and skeletons, bats and cats, pumpkins and goblins, and a score of stuffed animals in costume -- that his parents are establishing as a neighborhood tradition.
Hal and Toba Rudo set up a small display last year, using hTC whatever they could find around the house. It attracted at least 300 youngsters from their Baltimore County neighborhood, the Cedarmere area of Owings Mills, and beyond.
This year, they said, "people were expecting it," so they went out and bought new things to expand the decorations. By the time neighborhood children go out for trick-or-treat Wednesday night, the display on the front of the Rudo house will be bathed in the ghostly light of candles and jack-o'-lanterns, and the creaks and groans of a spooky soundtrack will fill the air.
Also this year the fantasy will carry a note of harsh reality.
Visitors will find a bucket for donations to help victims of last week's Reisterstown tornado, which, Mr. Rudo pointed out, "landed only five minutes from here. It could have been this street."
The tempest wrenched off the Rudos' screen door and scattered the display up and down the street. "We were very lucky," the couple said.
"I went out as soon as the storm stopped and started putting it all back, and then I started adding things," Mr. Rudo said.
On Halloween, the Rudo family will be in costume: Hal as Dracula, Ryan as a bat, 3-year-old Spencer as "Dr. Bones" and Toba as the "good fairy."
Even Pumpkin, the family's orange tabby kitten, will probably get an orange and black neckerchief. "We don't know if he'll like that, though," Mrs. Rudo said.
Because of Mrs. Rudo's work as a phlebotomist, spending early morning hours at Greater Baltimore Medical Center drawing patients' blood for tests, her decision to be the "good fairy" is the stuff of a standing family joke.
"I'm a good Dracula," Mrs. Rudo said, laughing. "At this time of the year we're the joke of the hospital."
Indeed. A call to the hospital for her yesterday drew a colleague's quip that she had left before 8 a.m.: "She has to be out before sun comes up."
Mr. Rudo, a hearing-aid specialist, said the inspiration for a large display came from a patient, an elderly man who created an annual Christmas decorating extravaganza at his house on St. Lukes Lane.
"We used to go out to see it every year," the Rudos said.
But because they are Jewish, they said they couldn't set up a Christmas display and had to think of something else. They settled on Halloween.
"It's just a fun holiday," Mrs. Rudo said. "I like it on the happy side, not too scary, so the kids will really enjoy themselves."