I don’t do well with ‘spooky.’ I never have. My gut tells me I never will.
My unfortunate relationship with Halloween has been well documented on this blog. But it’s not just that holiday, it’s all things scary, and haunted. I don’t have a desire to be scared. The idea of it actually scares me.
I’m sure we can trace this one all the way back to my childhood.
When I was really little, the most deliberately scary experience I can remember was going on was Mister Toad’s Wild Ride in Disney.
That wasn’t scary as much as it was just a tiny acid trip for children. That I remember enjoying. Lots of black lights and fluorescent lights and frogs. Pretty easy to handle.
As I got older there were these annual carnivals that would come in to my town. The kind that show up for weeks complete with scary looking dudes trying to get you to go on a ride that spins around upside down that they assembled that morning out of what looked to be bobby pins and erector set pieces.
These carnivals inevitably had a haunted house. And since the haunted house had to be packed up and thrown on the back of a trailer every other week, they didn’t have the most tremendous special effects. So they hired local teenagers to put on masks and jump out and grab you while in the dark.
In retrospect this probably could have been called Mr. Toad’s Lawsuit Ride. I don’t think I would have ever willingly volunteered to go on such a ride. But I remember one year my next-door neighbor and I went together.
My next-door neighbor was an interesting kid two years older than me who had moved into the neighborhood late in elementary school. He was from the city, from tougher parts. His parents called the street ‘the gutta.’ I knew this because they were always telling us:
Get outta the gutta!
We willingly obliged until they went back in the house.
My neighbor also taught me the phrase ‘flat leaver.’ As in, if you were hanging out with somebody, and then left to hang out with somebody else, you were a flat leaver.
It was about the worst thing you could call somebody.
One year my neighbor and I went to one of those carnivals, and either because neither wanted to admit the other was scared or because we convinced each other it was a good idea, we went in the haunted house. Certainly I must have feared being called a flat leaver for not joining in the experience.
Shortly into the 60 second “ride” my neighbor was grabbed too hard by one of the volunteers.
When the ride was over we complained to the… well, carnie, running the ride about what had happened. He promised us he had never heard any complaints like that before.
Regardless, it was the last haunted house I ever entered at a carnival.
Several years later my parents, my sister and I went up to Salem, Massachusetts. Home of the famed Witch Trials and a noted haunted place.
Back in those days I was so blissfully unaware and was more excited about the whole vacation then any specific haunting in particular. Whereas today I would probably stress out so far in advance that I would have an ulcer before I could leave my apartment.
There are all kinds of wonderfully kitchy things to do in Salem. There are walking tours, and reenactments, and of course, haunted houses.
We were there for a long Labor Day weekend. It was a distinctly cold and dreary weekend, seemingly apt for such a vacation. We did all of the family type stuff that the city had to offer, and when my father proposed a haunted house that you walked through, we all thought it would be hilarious to do as a family.
In hindsight I realize that if I ever end up in a haunted house again, I don’t want to be near anybody I know. Because, well, basically after they see how I behave the will lose any and all respect they might have had for me based on how I behave.
It is, in a word, embarrassing.
Into the haunted house we go. We have to walk down a flight of steps into what is essentially a set path through basement hallways dressed up elaborately in a variety of themes. It was really quite something. In a matter of minutes my mood shifted from excitement, to amazement, to concern, to all out paranoia.
We weren’t just walking through narrow halls with sloped ceilings looking at spooky stuff. There were actors in full costume, corpses come to life, ghosts, zombies, and all other manner of undead.
They would walk up behind you, jump out in front of you, all in very very close quarters.
As we made our way through the house my heart rate quickly became unbearable. I had experienced enough. I couldn’t handle the anxiety of the upcoming scare. I didn’t want to be scared anymore. I had no idea how many more ‘boos’ lay ahead.
So, after we passed a corpse on a table and a man with a knife jumped out at us, I had decided that was enough and faked hitting my head on the corner of one of the arched doorways.
I did this by kicking the wall as I gently bumped my head.
Cowardice makes one wildly creative.
Immediately, Frankenstein came out of nowhere to make sure I was OK. My parents fawned over me. I said I was OK it was just an accident. But by that point the majority of the scaring was over and I think we passed through the rest of the haunted house rather unscathed.
We emerged into the sunlight, which quickly solidified the guilt in my chest I felt from having to fake an injury to get out of being scared.
A guilt I never felt from my time with Mr. Toad.