Story Time: Haunted House

I’ve been sitting on this story for a few weeks, going back and forth on whether or not to see if I can submit it somewhere (magazine, look through anthology calls to see if it fits, nosleep) or just post it up here. I’ve figured I can post it up here because, hell, why not? I like to share.

~*~

Working title: “Haunted House”

There was a house down the street from where I lived as a kid that was known to be haunted. It’d been abandoned since before my parents were kids, or at least that’s what they claimed. I never saw a “For Sale” sign in the yard, so I don’t know what was going on with it. Like, I don’t know if it were owned by the bank or someone who just didn’t have the heart to get rid of it because it was some much-loved family member’s house.

It was a traditional haunted house. Dead grass was the yard, weeds growing over the pathway towards the front porch and where flower beds should be, front porch sun-bleached and slowly sagging, some of the window shutters either hanging askew or missing completely. It was a two-storey house, complete with attic and quite possibly a cellar.

Stories were handed down from older siblings to younger, elder neighborhood children told the younger bunch, and parents who knew the stories would laugh them off and tell the scared ones that their elder brother or sister was just telling tales to scare them.

Every so often, a group of kids would dare each other to go in and spend the night, but not much would happen. A squeak here, a groan there. Someone would scare themselves silly walking around an abandoned house in the middle of the night with nothing but a flashlight.

The summer I was 12, I remember it had been a handful of years since the last group of kids had decided to go in. Max, the guy across the street from my house, had gone in on a dare to go into the attic, and had wound up breaking his leg after stepping through a rotting step. The parents in the neighborhood had gathered us all up to give us The Talk about breaking into houses and, well, killing ourselves being stupid. It was a mild summer and the arcade had been shut down for some reason that my brother Ben refused to talk about besides muttering about “sick freaks.”

We were bored. Ben had been grounded and his keys hidden from him, so he was stuck with me.

“Hey Aaron,” Mikey walked up to the front porch where we were being lazy.

“Hey Mikey.”

“We’re going to go up to that house, wanna come?”

Ben frowned, putting his comic book down on the porch. “Why?”

“Max thinks he found something cool.”

“What? His balance?” Ben snorted.

Mikey laughed a bit, “He said we can look around during the day. No harm, no foul.”

I looked over at Ben, who shrugged. “It’s been a while since anyone’s been in there.”

“Mom said no.”

“Mom’s at work and won’t know.”

“No, Aaron.”

“Come on, Ben. I haven’t been in there.”

“It’s not like there’s anything interesting in there. Just a bit of dusty furniture.”

“But I haven’t been in there. It’s not fair.”

“Come on, Ben. It’s a haunted house,” Mikey added. “And it’s not like we’ll be there at night. Besides. It’s a group of us going so it’s not like anyone is going to get hurt.”

Ben sighed, no doubt remembering how loud of a high-pitch wail Mikey could still belt out when he wanted to and checked his watch. “Alright. Mom won’t be home for another few hours. I’ll leave a note for her just in case, saying,” he glared at the both of us, “We got bored and decided to take a walk around the block. Agreed?”

I nodded, “Yeah.”

Ben pointed at Mikey, “Agreed?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Mikey, if you tattle, I’m telling our mom and yours that you convinced Aaron to go with you when I went inside to take a leak and had to go hunt your asses down.”

“Ugh, fine.”

Mikey and I watched my brother go inside the house to write a note beside the phone. I remembered when Ben went inside the haunted house, a month or two before Max had gone in and broken his leg. He’d gone in with a few of his friends, but wasn’t able to stay longer than a few minutes since one of those friends wound up scaring themselves stupid with a flashlight and a mirror. Mikey was practically vibrating from excitement while we waited. It felt like an eternity had passed before Ben finally came out and shut the door.

“Why do you have a flashlight? It’s still daylight,” Mikey whined.

Ben rolled his eyes, “Not every room has windows, stupid.”

We started walking towards the house, and I saw a few other kids slowly making their way over as well. I guess Mikey or some other kid had gone and convinced others to come and explore.

Sure, it was daylight. It was only like 2.30, so we had plenty of time to walk down, search the house, and get home before Mom noticed we’d done anything. She wouldn’t be home until about 5.45, so that was what? Like just over 3 hours. That was more than enough time!

“If Mr B spots us,” Ben started, “we’re screwed.”

Mikey snorted, “If Mr B spots us, he’s not going to do anything.”

Mr B was an old man, known mainly for being grumpy against everything that wasn’t the roses beside his porch. He wasn’t like other people. If your soccer ball landed in his yard, he’d kick it toward you, mumbling about “stupid kids” with “terrible aim.” He was a harmless old curmudgeon.

I nodded in agreement with Mikey, “Ben, Mr B won’t do anything.”

Ben shrugged, “I’m just saying.”

“Whatever man. Max said to meet him around back. I think he was able to break off the new lock on the kitchen door.”

Ben and I nodded. One of the parents had installed a massive lock on both the front and back doors so kids wouldn’t break in. The cellar door had a large, rusting lock-and-chain wrapped around the handles that looked more like it belonged in some horror flick than in our neighborhood.

By the time we got to the back of the house, a small crowd of kids were gathered around Max. He had this smug, “I’m better than you” look on his face and seemed to be enjoying his extra-cool status from breaking the lock. I don’t know when he did it, it could’ve been days ago and he was just now telling people after setting up the house to scare someone. It could’ve been this morning and he just wanted to bask in the glory of being the bravest kid in the neighborhood.

“About time you showed up, Ben,” he called out.

“Some of us have responsibilities, Max.”

“Or you had to hype yourself up to come over,” he mocked.

I remember asking myself if Max really was older than us or just a tall five-year-old. He always had a knack for getting under my brother’s skin, but it’d be a few more years before Ben would break Max’s nose. I watched Ben push past Max into the dark kitchen and get halfway through before Max realized that my brother had taken the lead and was the first one in.

“You brought a flashlight? Are you afraid of the dark or something?”

“Not every room has a window, dumbass.” Ben didn’t even look behind him as other kids started to pile into the kitchen.

I heard a couple kids mutter an agreement and at least one girl lament not bringing one herself. A few kids just breezed through the room, ignoring us in hopes of finding something really cool further in. I guess Ben just walking into the kitchen helped dispel any fear that there’d be something lurking around the house during the day and then realizing that the room itself was just an old, faded room with an old iron stove and fridge that none of us had seen unless it was on tv, and an old, faded table pushed up against a wall.

It wasn’t anything special at first glance. Old, faded, white. White walls, white doorways, white table, white stove, white cabinets. No dust. No cobwebs. I remember looking through the old glass of the window, watching the world bubble and twist from where it was slowly warping itself, and noticing all of the dead flies. No spiders, no webs, no dirt or dust. Just dead flies. And thinking the whole thing was weird. It was like…someone came in to clean this area, but left all these dead flies just sitting there piled up against the sill.

I could hear other kids talking throughout the house, their footsteps stomping up steps or scraping against the floor above my head. No one bothered being quiet because, really, who heard of monsters coming out in the daytime? All ghosts and murderers came out at night, and almost all the adults were at work or running errands.

“Hey,” Max said near us. “Since everyone else is exploring, I want to show you guys something.”

He wasn’t being his normal self, acting like a stuck-up jackass. He sounded kind of confused, like he’d found something he wasn’t sure about. Sure, he could’ve just been pretending to lure us into some kind of trap or trick to blackmail us with later on. But, there was something about the way he said it that made us follow him through the doorway and down a hall that no one seemed to have noticed. It looked more like everyone else was pulled towards the areas with more light or the better possibility of finding something like lost treasure.

Ben cut the flashlight on, allowing Max to lead us deeper down this narrow hallway. It had a couple doors, which probably lead to rooms that had kids walking around them, and reminded me of our grandmother’s house, which had doors you just didn’t notice because they weren’t ever used. There were doors there that had been accidentally sealed by paint and no one was sure if it was lead-based didn’t want to have it tested, there were doors that were behind furniture that lead to bricked walls, doors that were locked that no one bothered with because there was a door like right beside it that lead out of the room.

Again, there was no dust on the floor or anything. The flashlight didn’t catch any dust floating around, and the air didn’t seem stale. It was like someone had just came in recently, opened all the windows, and cleaned the house maybe a few days before we came in.

Max stopped in front of a spot on the left and removed a large board to show another door.

“Wow, it’s a door.” Mikey deadpanned. “There’s like a hundred doors here.”

“Shut up.”

The door opened smoothly, like someone had oiled the hinges. Not even a click for the knob sounded, and Max just let the door swing to a stop against the wall. Ben shined the flashlight into the room.

“Wow. It’s a basement,” Ben’s sarcasm dripped.

“No shit. Look again.”

We stared down and I realized there was something off about it. The walls seemed unfinished, with a couple paint cans sitting in the edges between the exposed studs and empty blackness of the open area underneath. Ben’s light showed the top two or three steps, part of a handrail, and nothing else. It was kind of like when you’d open up the basement door and right before you turned the light on to go down the steps. But we could only see the top couple of steps.

I don’t think any of us wanted to go down. It was the first time I actually felt apprehensive about a part of the house.

Ben sighed. “Dude, it’s a basement. A basement with no windows. Big deal.”

“How good’s your light?”

“Good enough to read by.”

Max nodded and started pulling something out of his pocket. At first, it looked like a snot-rag, y’know? The light was weird and I only got a glimpse of red before I realized it was way too large to be a folded up bandana Max normally kept in his back pocket.

It was a flag. An American flag that had seen better days from what I could tell in the light.

“Dude, did you steal your dad’s flag?” Ben asked, not really believing it.

“We got a new one. No one’ll notice this one’s gone.”

“Your dad’s a vet,” I pointed out. I remember thinking about being told that flags have to be taken care of a certain way when they go out of commission by Max’s dad, who had very staunch views.

Max glared at me as he fished a lighter out of his front pocket. “No one will notice.”

“Uh, huh.”

He started flicking the lighter to life, trying to set the cloth on fire.

“You’re going to Hell for that.” Mikey piped up.

“Just keep your eyes peeled,” Max responded, not looking away from the flag.

A small flame had caught and was slowly gathering steam. Max had kept the small flag in his hand until he was satisfied that it was burning enough before tossing it through the open doorway. I heard Mikey gasp, like he was about to say something, but kept my eye on watching this little orange ball.

We stayed silent, watching it illuminate two more steps that Ben’s light couldn’t reach, before disappearing.

Yeah, disappearing.

There was no splash of water, no sizzle of the fire going out. Just poof. Gone. One second it was there, and the next it looked as if nothing had happened. The light didn’t even reach the bottom step far as we could tell.

“What the…”

Max nodded, satisfied that we’d seen what he did, and went to pull the door shut. Mikey went to grab him before realizing that Max had pull the door with the inside edge, near one of the hinges, in order to avoid stepping foot inside. The door shut, he put the board back over, and turned around.

“What do you think?”

“I think you set something up,” Ben was annoyed.

“Everything that’s gone past the third or fourth step has disappeared. You saw what it was like. You can’t see anything, lights or not. I don’t know if the steps end and it’s just a bottomless hole or what. I’ve lit firecrackers and dropped them down there. Nothing pops. No sound, no light. No nothing.”

Max left us standing in that hallway, shaking his head as he walked away from us. I didn’t know what to do and I don’t think Ben or Mikey did either. We looked at each other a minute or so later before Ben shook his head.

“We should go. Mom might be home early and I don’t want to think about what I just saw.”

Mikey nodded in agreement.

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Dr Pain’s Nightmare

Review/semi-retelling of attempting the latest incarnation of Dr Pain’s. (You can check out their website here)

I decided to brave a local haunted house with some friends last night. Jamie and I were under the impression that it’d just be us and our two friends, but no, it was a nice fun group of six. The more the merrier and yay for being me and deciding fuckit. I don’t know these people and chances are, I’ll probably never see them again: so sarcasm ahoy!

Our friends decided they wanted to go to Dr Pain’s Nightmare (formerly Dr Pain’s Haunted Asylum). The only time Jamie and I had gone was when they were still located in Salem and some of the actors were known for wandering down the middle of the street and trying to get people to come. But, we met up for dinner and then made our way to the location that they have set up this year.

Right off the bat, there is no lighted signage stating that this is where the haunted house is set up. There were people with no reflective clothing walking around (not actors, just idiots), and the only things to show that this was the correct area was that Google Maps shows a warehouse on one side of the street and a rather large and beautiful cemetary on the other side. There were two of the polyester balloon Halloween lawn ornaments off to the side, a green light, and thankfully a rather large line of people. This could only be the place.

Our friend almost hit someone pulling onto the side-road to go to the designated parking area and we almost hit someone trying to turn around down the street to go to the correct side-road. This was because there were people fucking around and not paying attention to large lights coming at them.

We met up, we stood in line with everyone and after about twenty or so minutes we found that the line to buy tickets is elsewhere and this is the line to wait to go in. What? We discussed who was going to buy the tickets and Robert got volunteered to go. As we got closer to the front of the line, we learned there is just a green “party light” set up and a piece of paper duct taped to a plexiglass window that says something. Probably something to do with buying tickets, but it was hard to see.

Tickets handed over, the…intro kid made us stand in a single file line while we waited to be let in. I have no idea how best to describe this kid besides she was probably a teenager, she was shorter than I am (which I don’t encounter all that often), and was constantly screaming at one of the other girls who was taking tickets and making sure that people were getting their tickets. She was in this weird get-up of a short cloak (maybe knee length. Isn’t there a proper name for this length?), her face was painted half black and half white, and the costume was like a bikini top and a skirt. The website states that the Head Nurse will lead you to your doom or whatever, but that isn’t any kind of nurse costume I’ve ever seen before.

We waited, I noticed there were a couple posters on the wall that looked like Slipknot posters (what the hell) and was already beginning to be disappointed. I was kind of hoping there’d be a cheesy waiting room and over-acting from the “head nurse” like the other time we went to Dr Pain’s.

The intro kid decided to make me walk through first, called out to the rest of the group to follow us “to Hell” and opened the door to the haunted house before realizing that everyone else was…still standing single file. She got them to follow us while Anthony, one of the guys we met, made a loud comment that they didn’t follow because she only pointed for me to “follow” and they were all just waiting. (he had to be loud because holy crap the sound effects were really loud).

We were taken past someone beating on plexiglass and screaming and stopped at a gurney. Hey, they got a gurney! Awesome. And on it was this…weird, sad little mannequin that was a head and a disemboweled torso. We were informed of the regular rules. No drugs, no alcohol (queue joke from someone in the group), no flash photography (why would you take pictures?), stay within your group, don’t touch the actors and they won’t touch you, don’t go off or you’ll all die one by one, yadda yadda yadda. The intro kid makes a joke-thing about how everyone’s going to die except me because I was following her and everyone else was just lagging behind.

We’re told to go to the left. Ok. Anthony offered to go in front of me because he just “always goes first” when he’s with a group of people and is going through haunted houses. I let him go ahead of me figuring that at least I won’t be the one running into the walls and I’ll have something to keep an eye on while I’m going through there. Jamie was somewhere behind me.

We almost walked right into one actor who was dressed as a zombie. From what I could tell, he paid a lot of attention to his makeup, but it was such poor lighting that you could just get glimpses here and there. He shuffled, I said “hi!” and he froze. I really wanted to stop and ask him about his makeup and I don’t think anyone else in the group noticed him.

It was a series of rooms and uncomfortably tight corridors. One room had another mannequin torso on a gurney with a dentist/medical table right beside it. Alright! They got more gurneys! There were a couple pressurized chairs that made things move and there was a small, kid-sized rocking chair that moved and it was kind of hard to tell if it was a kid doing it or if it was a prop. Getting closer to it (because you had to walk past it to continue on), I realized it had to be a prop because it was terribly misproportioned and had no feet. It was seriously a full-head mask and something akin to a “body” wrapped in guaze and white fabric and tied into the chair.

There was one actor dressed in a doctor’s jacket, possibly scrubs (most likely just a dark shirt and dark pants), with face paint that looked like ABK’s without the red on the forehead. He had a little circular saw. There’s something wrong when your first thought is “I wonder if he’s ever tripped” and then “Is that the kid-saw you get at Lowes?” Maybe I’ve just watched too many horror films lately. The guy came up uncomfortably close to me and I wanted to punch him.

Maybe it’s just me, but when you go to scare someone in a group and they wave and say “hi!” and show no fear, you go and attempt to scare one of the group members who hasn’t spotted you. You don’t continue to shuffle up and get two inches away from the first person’s face and bear down on them. Also, he killed my momentum so as he lumbered towards me, I almost walked right into him.

One of the guys we met, Anthony, just basically hauled ass through the whole thing, making comments as he went. The other guy we met, Sam, was quiet through the whole thing. If he said anything, I don’t remember because it was pretty damn loud.

At one point, there was a room of a dummy in a rigged up “electric chair” and an actor in a large metal tub. I honestly thought the actor fell asleep until I heard them scream “help me help me” at someone in our group behind me. I almost ran into someone who was standing right beside a “doorway” because apparently they didn’t see me. The one guy just moved the black-guaze curtain and walked through and I had it in my hand, moved it, and then the actor moved. It was more like one of the awkward walking up and stepping out of the way but stepping in the same direction as the person you’re trying to get around.

They had someone in zombie makeup in a large “cage.” It wouldn’t have been bad if the actor wasn’t bending the faux cage bars every time he grabbed one. He kept hopping back and forth and I only know that he was in zombie makeup because either Jamie or S mentioned it. All I saw was a shadow hopping around like a jumping bean.

We got into the room right after that and as I was looking around, someone stood up and went “Raaaaah!” and I jumped. Then the guy in the makeup got in my face and asked if he scared me. When something is not there and then bam in-your-face, it’s surprising to me. But I was also running on high anticipation and expecting a lot more jumps and screams than what I got. He looked like a friend of ours, and what irritated me was that he stayed at my level grinning like an idiot and I wanted to punch him in the throat. To me, it’s kind of like having someone stand right beside you and stare down at you. It’s annoying and I don’t appreciate it. Yes, I know I’m short, but those who are taller than me do not need to remind me by leaning down a little bit.

The corridors through some of the areas were…odd. Complete visual deprivation, and very tight. Robert, Leland, and at least one other person had to “scrunch” up to get through. I barely moved and my hands were hitting both sides. I didn’t care for the “sharp turns” with no indication besides running straight into one of the other walls. Jamie said it was part of the point, but it reminded me of when I almost broke my nose at the Virginia Beach haunted house when my dad and I slammed into a wall because of a sharp turn.

There was, of course, a spider room. It wasn’t that bad, but I still don’t care for spiders. It would’ve been a little scarier if they weren’t the same ones you can buy in a retail store near Halloween. It would’ve been a lot creepier if there was someone in that room freaking the fuck out. What didn’t help was that Anthony decided he was going to play with one of the legs on the gurney. Don’t play with the props, that’s just rude.

We hit this one area where it was…a recreation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake where Leatherface is running through the sheets and the leg goes through the air. Except it was “bloodied” sheets and all I could think of was the leg flying in the air and classical music. There was one of the body bags hung up in the middle of this to clearly take your focus away from the fact that there were people “hiding” back here.

There was one actor who was crawling around and he got super close to everyone. I told him “sorry, I’m afraid I’m going to step on you” because I wouldn’t move until he got at least a few inches away from me. Apparently I said this loud enough to cause the girl hiding a couple feet away to stand up when I walked by her. She kinda looked like a sepia version of the Night of the Living Dead girl and I couldn’t take her seriously. Really? You’re not scary just standing there. Gnaw on a faux leg or something.

We went through this area where there were tied up “bodies” where and you have to go through them to get out of the room. To me, it looked like you go left, but you go right because it was poorly formed (or maybe I just noticed it was only some black gauzy fabric over an open spot?) . It was cool to see they kept the body bag things, but it looked like all they did was cut them in half so they’re now horribly misproprotioned body bag things. Sam moved one and accidentally hit me in the head. It was kind of funny.

Then we got to the end where this rather tall actor decided he was going to get uncomfortably close to me and stare me down. We walked through a doorway and…it was sterile.

No fake blood, no black light paint; just a light right above the “exit” sign. I was expecting one last scare. I was waiting for it. It could’ve been behind the mattress that was set up, but it wasn’t. It could’ve come from the little alcove area to our right, but it didn’t. We could’ve had one last scream-and-jump from the darkened room with no door to the left. But no, everything was fine, we walked outside, and stood around discussing the haunted house.

Anthony was highly dissatisfied and became very vocal about how terrible it was. Sam was kinda meh about the whole thing, Robert mentioned going to another haunted house because he found it a huge disappointment. The group after us screamed loudly and hauled ass out of the exit.

The rather tall guy at the end followed them out, stood around a couple minutes and someone pointed out that he “must have a hard time moving his fingers.” I turned around and squeed over the Nosferatu hands. He must’ve heard me because he moved his hands and cast a shadow that was rather reminiscent of one of the scenes from the film. But then he must’ve gotten bored because he tossed his hands on the ground, moved the full-head mask up and lit a cigarette.

A couple other groups screamed a lot and Jamie pointed out that they must be going after high school girls because they’re the easiest to target. A couple people stopped by where we were and asked if this was where Dr Pain’s was and where to get tickets, which Robert pointed them to where to get tickets.

Eventually we agreed to go back to Robert and Leland’s house and just watch a scary movie instead of driving up to Radford and attempting to get into one of the St Alban’s haunted houses.

The overall consensus was: total disappointment.

If it were just Jamie and myself going, it definitely wouldn’t have been worth the amount that was paid. But since we went with some friends and we got to joke about it, it kind of made up for it a bit. The intro kid was literally the only one who seemed to be into working a haunted house. The other actors really didn’t give a shit. There were two people who jumped out and screamed and the only other reactions from the actors were the “I’m going to loom over you because I’m taller than you and that’s scary.” The guy asking if he scared me was kind of funny but also kind of irritating.

It was neat to see they have acquired a large number of props since the last time Jamie and I went. But it was almost like a sterile environment. Sure, some of the walls had blacklight paint and some of the stuff had dried faux blood on it, but nothing was gooey, nothing was drippy or glistening. Yeah, they upgrated in a way, but at least they could’ve done something with the torsos.

Jamie and I agreed that there were a lot of missed opportunities for good scares. The corridors would’ve been great, the end where there’s an obvious space between the “haunted house” and the actual exit of the building, there could’ve been someone under at least one of the gurneys. Jamie pointed out that maybe they were having an “off” night, but then we realized that this was probably all the main actors and if what we got was what they’ve done every night, they couldn’t have done all that great a job. If the music/sound effects weren’t so damned loud, maybe it’d be a little creepier. They obviously don’t use it to drown out the noise their actors make because you can easily hear people screaming.

When Jamie and I had gone to Dr Pain’s when it was still in Salem, yeah they didn’t have as many props, but there were points where everyone in our small group jumped or got startled. They did good with what they had, some of it was cheesey, but they also had spurts and the blood didn’t look like a Kool-Aid stain, the “head nurse” was hilariously over-dramatic. The body bags looked like they had life-sized bodies in them. The guy dressed as Dr Pain followed us through half of the haunted house and tried to freak us out by getting in the car with us and couldn’t get out because he refused to break character. Now that is dedication to your craft, no matter how cheesy it is.

Going to Robert and Leland’s house and getting jumped on by two very happy greyhounds and then watching a “scary movie” was much better than going to this haunted house. Doing this with some friends, joking about it afterwards, and hanging out kind of made up for the ridiculous amount of money per-ticket. The downside to this just made me want to do a haunted house and I hate haunted houses. And we all decided it probably would’ve been a lot more exciting to hop over the fence of the cemetary across the street and try to raise the dead.

(I ended up writing about four pages of notes down on this. I’m trying to be positive, I know they’re a local thing and I know they try [for the most part], but it’s so damn hard. It was basically an expensive ticket for a simulated snuff film and hearing easily scared high school girls scream. If I wanted that, I could just pop in a really bad horror film)