In our family, we’ve always tried to focus on the fun, lighthearted aspects of Halloween. Imagine Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, or Winnie the Pooh going trick-or-treating with Piglet. Our Halloweens have been filled with candy treats, cute costumes, apple-bobbing, pumpkin carving, etc. And occasionally, Susan has convinced me to allow our three girls to join in.
This year, though, I discovered that, upon turning thirteen, there is some kind of unspoken requirement that a child be allowed to attempt to scare herself to the point that she reverts to jabbing her kneecap into her father’s kidneys as she wallows in her parents’ bed all night. Yes, Ally, my eldest and the drama queen of the group (wonder where she gets that from?), took advantage of my main weakness-my inability to say “no” to anything that doesn’t clearly violate one of the Ten Commandments-including the local haunted house.
The first truly frightening aspect of this haunted house was its location-out in the country, where there promised to be lots of dirt and a lack of proper restroom facilities. Once we managed to find the entrance of the haunted house without an encounter with the local residents or even a single rendition of Dueling Banjos, we were confronted with the second scare of the night-parking. The parking system consisted of a pasture and a couple of husky teenagers with flashlights, John Deere caps and enough snuff lodged behind their lower lips to start their own earthworm farms. After Billy Bob Bubba directed me to squeeze my vehicle between a monster truck and an antique Capris that had a lovely primer finish, Ally and I found our way to the ticket booth where we were greeted by one of Ally’s friends and her dad, who seemed to be looking forward to this almost as much as I was. At least I had someone with whom to commiserate.
Purchasing tickets constituted the next terrifying component of the haunted house. With trembling fingers, I found myself handing over my credit card to pay $20.00 apiece for the privilege of being startled repeatedly by some guy wearing a pillowcase over his head and who would undoubtedly laugh at us later. I actually had to stifle a small scream when I saw that I could pay $30 for a VIP ticket and be first in line at each of the haunted venues. Naturally, I ran away in horror.
The first venue we experienced was the Haunted Cemetery. The ticket puncher at the gate recited the rules in a contrived scary voice that sounded like an elderly woman who had smoked too many cigars: “No running, no touching the actors, no profanity, and no touching the props.” “Darn!” I thought, “I was really looking forward to giving everyone in costume a hug.” As we crept through the path of the pre-built cemetery, I was actually impressed with the sets that had been artfully constructed. There were aged tombstones, a crumbling mausoleum, and even a well-dressed funeral director pricing caskets. However, I soon realized that the second-string actors had been brought in tonight, probably because it was Friday, and every third person in East Texas was at Mecca . . . I mean a high school football game. Most of the actors appeared to be under the age of 10 and were about as scary as my youngest daughter when she wears her Hello Kitty blanket over her head. Ally proceeded to ask each of the actors to be her best friend and told one that he had bad breath. I felt sorry for the actors and told her just to play along.
The second venue we visited was The Haunted Manor. Again, I was impressed with the set. All of the haunted houses I had ever attended were actually old, abandoned houses that were actively violating every safety code in existence, but this one had been specially built to relieve me of my money. There were several gruesomely decorated rooms and more than one floor in the house to navigate. Again, though, it was amateur employee hour in The Haunted Manor. Some of the juvenile actors even looked bored. At any moment I expected one of them to ask me if I had an extra piece of chewing gum. There was one moment in the Haunted Manor that did give me pause. The kitchen was manned by a full-figured woman with a bloody meat cleaver screaming at us to get out of her kitchen as she chopped up something grotesque-like celery. As we exited the kitchen and walked down a long, narrow hallway, I could hear her waddling close behind me. I glanced back a couple of times, and she was still there-smiling at me. What gave me the chills, though, was that it wasn’t an evil glare, but an expression that suggested she wanted to have coffee with me later. I almost told her that I was married and the whole zombie scullery maid look just wasn’t my thing, but I thought better of it. (I knew I should have made Susan come along.)
After The Haunted Manor, we mercifully found the final haunted venue, The Labyrinth. There was a short line outside this venue, which suggested that, perhaps, there would actually be something spooky within. Once again, however, I was disappointed. Maybe it’s just that being in my late forties, the scariest thing I can think of is our new puppy pooping in the living room before I can get her outside. (Last night, I saw her squatting to poop, and as I scooped her up and made my way toward the door, she turned into a tootsie roll dispenser-truly horrifying!) But I digress. At the end of The Labyrinth, I saw what all of the hubbub was about-scary clowns. The room was decorated like a demented circus, but the teenaged clowns were just wandering around aimlessly with noisemakers. I’ve been dealing with scary clowns all of my life: Bozo, Ronald McDonald, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and every seventh-grade boy I ever had in my English class when I taught Junior High. Now, seeing a clown just makes me hungry for a large order of fries and gives me the urge to grade a poorly-written essay.
Despite my jaded attitude toward the haunted house, Ally seemed to have a good time, and that was the whole point. She even slept in her own room all night, which made me a little sad. I guess my girl is growing up. Pretty soon, she may not be interested in the fun of Halloween at all, which means that, once again, I’ll be bobbing for apples in my Winnie the Pooh costume all by myself.