Out after dark. On a school night. I can remember it like yesterday.
It was pitch black. Music was playing somewhere off in the distance, a tinny, eerie sound that added to the suspense.
A vacant building – maybe an old school or a warehouse – would be decorated for the season with a few boxes of garbage bags, a load of dry ice, and a few splashes of theatrical lighting. Not to mention spaghetti. Guts and gore required lots and lots of spaghetti.
A new haunted house would open its doors each October, usually a community-effort that sought to raise money for a cause. It didn't matter that they were always the same. I'd be there. As a teenager I couldn't wait to be scared.
Back then I never thought about the lengths to which folks had gone to get the desired effect.
I never fully appreciated the work it must have taken to transform some ordinary place into a maze of horror. Or how many people had actually dressed up to scare the bejeezus out of throngs of halloween guests. I'd never actually counted the number of psychopaths or the variety of undead looming in the shadows or hulking around in the glare of strobe lights. I just held my breath and waited for something to reach out and grab me.
I certainly never recognized any of these actors … though it wouldn't be a stretch to think one of the ghosts might have been my gym teacher or that one of the maniacal medical practitioners might have been a school nurse.
I just remember how intricate they always seemed.
Perhaps the years have colored my recollection of these low-budget efforts.
Or perhaps inertia has.
All. That. Work. Wrapping walls in plastic. Making costumes. Hanging spiders and webs. Cutting a hole in an old card table so that Mr. Smith from the bus garage could be a head on a platter. I can't hardly imagine being the person who had to paint all those cardboard tombstones or figure out the best way to color spaghetti intestines so they wouldn't stain … should you accidentally throw them at a tourist. You know … by mistake.
Sure, it might sound like fun when a person puts it that way, but I think the older one gets the more precipitously the ratio between effort and fright diminishes (which is why they make people my age sign waivers).
Ordinary things scare me now: doctors' appointments; car repairs; going to the mailbox; waiting in line at the grocery store behind someone who says, “I vant to write a cheque.”
Seriously, I get a noticeable blood-pressure boost from remembering that I forgot my reusable tote bags as soon as I take the keys out of the ignition in the supermarket parking lot.
And the mere thought my kids will be asking for the car keys someday is enough to elicit a blood-curdling scream.
Which is why I'd like to propose a lower budget, low-budget house of horrors.
One that doesn't need costumes or props. It doesn't even need a venue, it could happen spontaneously anywhere.
All we'd need to do is have the narrator of our minds make announcements through the loudspeaker that is our mouths while trying to channel the voice of Vincent Price or the Wicked Witch of the West:
8 a.m. “Hoooooo ooooh … I think you missssssssssssssssed the busssssssssssssss.”
10 a.m.: “Attention: Gross-A-Rama customers … A repugnant shopper in Checkout Lane 9 will contaminate the environment with a raft of plastic bags and her lack of forethought. But in her negligence she's actually saved her family from certain death or at least a very real potential for gastric distress. The bags she forgot haven't been laundered and are teaming with chicken poisons.”
5: p.m.: “Whatsssss for dinner? Leffffffffffftovah Spaghhhhhetttiiiiiiiiii!”
Of course the worst part of such ordinary horror is realizing you'd even be afraid of your teenage self:
“Honestly, what IS she doing out so late on a school night?”