The Man with the Cane

June 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM

(Note: this is a followup of Grad Night in the Haunted Mansion. It is recommended you are familiar with the original story before continuing)

Recently I read a story posted on a Disney forum I frequent, an account of three friends who tried to spend a night in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion back in the 80s. Since I don’t know the author’s name or gender, or even if said author is reading this, I’m not sure how to address him or her. Hopefully whoever put the story out there in the first place will see this.

I tried tracking the author down, and apparently the story had been posted on several forums and sites under different usernames – I’m not sure when it was reposted or where it originated, nor how long it’s been circulating.

But regardless, I read it at first thinking nothing of it but a half-assed ghost story. It was well-researched, sure, but there were certain details that were off and raised doubts. I almost dismissed it entirely when there were utilidors mentioned – because only Walt Disney World has those – but that was before the Prop Rooms got brought up.

My own story has lot of similarities, and I doubt its coincidental. I’m not sure how much this will clear things up, but that realization has prompted me to share my knowledge, maybe get a few things off my chest.

I grew up in Orlando, and have pretty much lived my whole life in close proximity to Walt Disney World. My mother met my father while working as a Cast Member at the Magic Kingdom, and now I work there myself (though I’d rather not say where). For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened all kinds of urban myths and rumors circulated among cast members at the parks, mainly through my parents; Mom got her start there back in the 70s, not long after the Magic Kingdom first opened, and in 77 she finally got bumped up from retail to attractions, which she had hoped for since she’d been hired. Her first role was a hostess at the Haunted Mansion, a position she thoroughly enjoyed until one August night that same year, when she encountered the Man with the Cane.

The way she tells it, she was a little on edge that night: earlier in the day, a 4-year-old boy had climbed over a railing surrounding the Cinderella’s Castle moat and drowned. It was the first death to have happened in the park’s short history. Management tried to keep the incident as quiet as possible – so the other guests weren’t disturbed – but word of it quickly spread among the cast members, and this was fresh on my mom’s mind as she worked the loading area for the mansion. Guests would come through from the stretching rooms and board their doombuggies, blissfully unaware that a life had been lost in their midst.

She was working until late, the crowds getting lighter and lighter as the night dragged on, until they were down to one stretch room. The guests were coming few and far between, so there were long periods where it was just her watching the empty doombuggies flow endlessly out one dark corridor and down another, listening to the eerie music and sound effects.

It was during one of these lonely spans of time that she saw him: from around the corner came a doombuggy that was occupied by a man, sitting right in the middle of the car. She described him to me as being gaunt, almost emaciated-looking, dressed in a rumpled suit, hands resting on the handle of a cane set in front of him. He stared straight ahead with pale blue eyes set far back in his head, his expression bitterly grim. He didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow when my mom tried to get his attention, waving at him and saying hello; he just kept staring at some fixed point right in front of him as the doombuggy moved past and on into the rest of the ride.

Immediately my mom noted his car number – 67 – and called the operator at unload on the phone to ask him about the man he had sent her. The operator responded that he hadn’t sent her anyone, at which point both of them became very confused and mom got a little scared. Together they got in touch with their lead, and the three of them proceeded to wait at unload for the man to come around.

Sure enough, car 67 arrived, but it was empty.

There was no way the man could have sneaked out without anyone noticing. There are dozens of security cameras around the ride that would have caught it. My mom never got to review the footage, and to this day she’s not sure if there even is any, but she is thoroughly convinced that what she saw was a ghost. It spooked her enough that she had a hard time working late at the mansion, when there were periods where she would be all alone and felt as if someone else was in the room with her, watching her, and requested transfer shortly thereafter. She ended up on the Tropical Serenade (which is the Enchanted Tiki Room today) a month or so later.

But mom was only the first to see this apparition. Stories of the Man with the Cane began to circulate among CMs working at the Haunted Mansion, and every so often someone would catch a glimpse of him, usually riding alone in a doombuggy but sometimes walking in a backstage area of the ride, often only seen reflected in a mirror. He was always described the same way: gaunt, dressed in a suit, sunken eyes and holding a cane. Some say he’s the ghost of Yale Gracey, one of the imagineers that built the Haunted Mansion, while others have claimed that he’s much older, the spirit of a pilot whose small test plane went down on the land WDW would be built on, back in the 1940s. Needless to say, it became a local legend among the Haunted Mansion staff, and even those who didn’t see him were unnerved that they might, especially if they had to work alone at night.

So of course this was all going through my head when I went to work at the mansion myself, in the early 2000s.

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve never been a big fan of the Haunted Mansion, though coming from a Disney family I know a lot about it. I think the main reason is because I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable around it – I blame my mom’s ghost story, of course. Looking at the facade from a distance is fine, but from the moment I pass the gates into the line, I get this prickle of inexplicable worry in the back of my brain, like that feeling you get when you’re in a dentist’s waiting room about to get a tooth pulled – you know it’s going to happen, and it won’t be fun.

Of course the ride isn’t really that scary, but that irrational feeling doesn’t go away until I’ve left the area behind. I think that’s why I opted to take the position as a hostess in the mansion – like mother like daughter, I guess. Plus, I think it had to do with trying to overcome that stupid childhood fear.

Anyway, I got the job and it was pretty normal, for the most part. My position in the attraction would shift, being a outdoor greeter at the mansion gate one day, a monitor at load or unload the next. I got used to it after awhile, and even started to like the job, despite that nagging tension I mentioned earlier.

My supervisor, a senior CM on the ride, was a woman named Karen (and yes, I realize it could be a coincidence, but I’m not so sure anymore). She was the one that basically got me acclimatized to the ride, and became a sort of mentor. She was a little severe and seemed high-strung, like she was always on the alert for something to happen. She’d get on anyone’s case if they made a shortcut of anything on the ride, citing safety reasons. But she seemed to like me well enough, showed me some level of concern due to my apparent unease about working the attraction at night.

I mentioned to her off-handedly once that working the mansion made me nervous due to the stories of the Man with the Cane. I recall it was just the two of us standing in the “Servants Corridor,” which is a CM-only passage from the load area to the outside, and it was just around closing time, so it was just the two of us in that flickering gloom. She became very interested and asked me a few questions, and I told her my mom’s story and how it had spooked me.

She stared at me long and hard as I talked. It was just starting to make me feel uncomfortable when she said, very softly, “I’ve seen him too. Just once. November 5th, 2000.”

She didn’t elaborate, didn’t expand on anything. Before I could ask her any more about it, she changed the subject to the tasks at hand for us closing the ride and walked away. I never did get a chance to broach the subject again, because she seemed to be all business following our conversation.

I’m not sure why I didn’t look up the date she mentioned sooner. I guess it never crossed my mind. Not until later.

After that, Karen seemed to take an odd interest in me. She had some measure of clout with the rest of the cast, and got leeway to go through plenty of backstage areas, so she started showing me all of the various nooks and crannies of the Haunted Mansion, very deliberately pointing out details like a tour guide. I got to learn the ins and outs of the attraction fairly well, and even had a chance to walk through the entire thing at one point with lights-on, thanks to Karen. In a way, I felt weirdly accepted, almost initiated… It’s hard to describe, but I was grateful anyway.

Which brings me to 2004, and the main reason I tell this whole story.

I’d been at the Haunted Mansion just under a year by that point, and my initial worries and irrational fears had finally begun to subside. I hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary during my time spent in the attraction, whether on set or backstage. Any notion of real ghost sightings was just the occasional in-joke between CMs, and even I wondered if my mother had just made it up to scare the people that worked with her and it had stuck around as a local legend since.

It was a February night, and I had just come back for my last shift of the evening. I was assigned to the load area and the crowds were relatively sparse, since it was around parade time and the route at Magic Kingdom passes through Liberty Square. Those riding either had no idea it was happening or ducked in to take advantage of the lull it caused.

I had grown pretty accustomed to being a grim, spooky maid by now, since the Haunted Mansion is the one attraction where CMs don’t have to smile. I escorted the few guests that came through into their doombuggies and walked the moving conveyor belt at an easy pace. The people coming through gradually became fewer and fewer, which seemed odd considering it wasn’t really that late at night.

And then the inflow stopped. There was a good five-minute stretch after I sent the last couple guests along where no one came down the corridor; just me, all alone, with the constant loop of familiar haunting sounds and the never ending line of doombuggies.

I started to get that itch of worry again as my mom’s story popped back in my head, but I tried to push it down. Another couple minutes of nothing, not even another CM to accompany me (usually there’s more than one of us in there), and I really started to get nervous. I was just reaching for the little shortwave radio we kept on hand to communicate when it crackled to life, making me jump.

It was Karen’s voice on the other end. “I’m at unload,” she said. It was hard to tell over the crappy receiver, but I think she sounded on edge. “Keep your eyes peeled.”

“For what?” I asked. Last I checked, Karen wasn’t on duty at unload, or on the ride in general that night.

Even before she responded, I had this terrible feeling I knew exactly what was about to happen, and I looked up as she said something else I don’t really remember.

There he was.

Just like in my mother’s story, he came gliding down the line in a doombuggy that should have been empty. Thin, near skeletal hands folded on the head of a black cane, a dusty suit and a face that reminded me of some scavenger bird. He was so still, he could have been a statue – apart from the fine, wispy hairs on his head, nothing on him moved. He didn’t blink, and his blue eyes didn’t even twitch; it was like he was boring a hole in the back of the car in front of him with his gaze.

Now I was on the verge of panicking, seeing a childhood terror before my very eyes. I stumbled back as the car passed me by, wanting to run but fighting with the logic that this was all definitely some elaborate prank. The man was lifelike, sure, but he was way too still to be real. It could have been some old animatronic from the Hall of Presidents for all I knew, just made scarier and set here to freak me out.

I mean, I certainly didn’t FEEL that way, but my brain was going a mile a minute and that was the best explanation that came to me in the moment.

The moment passed and off he went, without a glance in my direction. I watched it go with my heart going crazy in my chest and Karen shouting at me over the radio for confirmation. I picked it up and choked out what I’d just seen.

There wasn’t even a pause before she responded: “Get in the next car. Now. Don’t lose him.”

Surprisingly enough, I did just that. I was maybe two or three buggies back from the one I’d seen him in, but without even thinking I hopped on the ride and let it carry me into the depths of the attraction. I hissed to Karen that “this had better not be a prank or I swear to God I’m going to report you, because this isn’t funny.” She kept assuring me it wasn’t (which didn’t help) and that it was important I watch my surroundings and not lose him. She said she was keeping tabs via the security cameras.

The ride carried on as normal, just me and a possible ghost somewhere in an endless line of empty clamshell cars. Nothing happened as I went through the library, the music room, and up the stairs surrounded by cobwebs and giant day-glo spiders. I recall gripping the safety bar tighter than I ever had on any roller coaster, looking around every side to make sure I saw him coming – prop or no, I did not relish the thought of seeing him suddenly loom out of the shadows around me if he somehow slipped out of his doombuggy.

As my buggy reached the top of the stairs and turned to face the Endless Hallway, I caught sight of a figure in the shadows behind the floating candelabra and my heart went into my mouth. It opened a door on the left hand wall and slipped inside, closing it behind; in the same instant, I thought I heard a strange bellowing sound that I could only discern because it wasn’t part of the normal attraction audio.

I relayed this to Karen. “Get out,” she responded quickly. “I’ll be right there.”

In hindsight, I feel stupid for just doing what she said. Yet I got out anyway, pushing up the safety bar and stumbling onto the floor. I figured this would trigger the sensors and force the ride to stop on an alarm, but everything kept running. They must have been disabled, I realized – the man had apparently gotten out too without setting anything off.

I stood for a bit at the entrance of the hallway, too scared to go down it but eaten up by not knowing what was happening. I’m not sure where the courage came from, but when Karen didn’t show up right away I got fed up and moved down the hall toward the candelabra, pushing past the thin black scrim that gave the corridor its misty quality. The “endless” effect of the hall is created by a large mirror at the far end; this close to it, I could see my opaque reflection walking to meet me.

Most of the doors down there were facades, and I was never shown a backstage entrance from this area, so I had no idea what to expect. I turned and tried the door I thought I’d seen opened, the one closest to the mirror, which proved to be fake; I tried the one to the left of that and got the same result, which confused me even more… I was so certain it had been the furthest door. My hand was already on the next door’s handle when a beam of light came bobbing through the scrim and Karen stepped through, flashlight in hand.

I immediately rounded on her and demanded to know what the hell was going on. I was scared out of my mind, so it probably came out more pleading than angry.

Karen just sighed and shook her head. She pushed past me and turned the handle on the door. It opened onto a stark, narrow stairwell leading down and to the right.

“You know this ride just as well as I do,” she said, looking back at me. “Did you know that this was supposed to be here?”

I shook my head, no.

“Good,” she said, gesturing for me to follow behind her. “Neither did I.”

I tried to protest as she started descending the stairs, and followed only because I didn’t want to be left alone in the corridor. Karen seemed pretty stoic, which was some small comfort as we went down the darkened stairs, her flashlight showing the featureless gray walls and dirty black steps. It wasn’t a very long stairwell, but I was sure it would take us below ground level, making it a possible access point to the utilidors I didn’t know about.

I had so many questions, but most of them went unsaid because I felt this tense urge to be quiet, not just from Karen’s body language but the faint sounds I heard coming from the bottom of the stairwell – the best way I can describe it was the bellow I had heard before, this wheezing keen, like a person doing a bad impression of a dog’s howl. I know it sounds dumb, but it was so out of place that it gave me chills.

The sound stopped just as we reached the bottom. The stairwell ended at a utility door marked with a sign: “CAST MEMBERS ONLY.”

Karen hesitated, and I think I saw her visibly shudder as she opened the door. Not once did she look back at me.

This is why I tell this story: the hallway past the door was almost identical to the one described at the Disneyland mansion. It was a long, straight passage lined with doors, themed just like the hall above with the demon-eye wallpaper and flickering candles. And just like the other story asserted, the doors all had plain, white signs mounted on them, marking them as Prop Rooms.

I say “almost” because, looking back and comparing accounts, there were two main differences: first, the hall had eight doors compared to the six at Disneyland; and instead of the hall ending at another utility door, it was a dead end wall, with a mirror in an ornate oval frame hung on it.

At the time, I was more confused and unsettled by that fake-sounding whine that seemed to come from down the hall. Karen tensed and started marching along, ignoring the closed doors. Hesitantly I reached for the handle of the first Prop Room, but Karen said “Don’t bother. It’s locked.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. “How do you know?” I cried. “What is this place? Why are we here?”

Karen looked over her shoulder at me, and she looked weary and grim. “I don’t really know,” she said. “But we followed that thing down here, and I want answers. I need you to watch my back.”

The way she said “that thing” stuck out to me – I assumed she meant the Man with the Cane, but she didn’t refer to him as a “him.”

Then it hit me that the shadow I’d seen in the Endless Hallway might not be what I thought it was…

That recurring howl startled me just as I thought of this. It was louder than before, and even more plaintive. I peered down through the flickering gloom and saw the door closest to the end of the hall was slightly ajar.

Karen pointed her flashlight in that direction and started walking quickly, making me have to pick up the pace. I almost slipped on a wet patch, and realized the whole floor past Prop Room 1’s door was damp, water having soaked into the thin carpet. Strangely, there was no mildew smell, just just something chlorine-like: if you’ve been on any of the water rides at a Disney park, you know the smell I’m talking about.

We pretty much made a beeline to the open door. Some parts of this hall were not up to the usual Disney quality of repair – besides the wet carpet, there was an empty space for a candle sconce beside Prop Room 4, a bunch of exposed wires poking from where the fixture should be. Karen only stopped once, to tentatively test the handle on Prop Room 7, which was locked. Water leaked out from under this door, and I figured this was the source of the soggy floor.

Prop Room 8 was open just a crack, not enough for me to see what was in the room. Karen turned to me again and held up a hand, a clear sign she wanted me to stand back. I wasn’t about to argue with her, because I really didn’t want to be the first one to open the door into that dark room.

She stepped up and opened the door very, very slowly. The hinges made no noise, no the slightest creak. She opened it just enough to peer in with her flashlight on, though I couldn’t see anything with her bulk blocking the way. I kept looking back down the hall where we had come, just feeling like I needed to make sure nothing came up behind us.

Then, while I was turning my head to look, the howl happened again – so loud, so close and with so much more whining agony it nearly gave me a heart attack. I had a moment to realize it had come from the room Karen was looking into before her body suddenly jerked forward into the darkness, like she had been yanked off her feet, and the door swung closed.

I freaked out and rushed to the door. It wouldn’t budge, the door was locked. I pulled and tugged at the handle and kicked at the door while screaming for Karen. My adrenaline level was so high I couldn’t even THINK about trying something more logical than that, I just knew I had to get to Karen because I suspected something horrible was in that room with her.

Something splashed on the soggy floor near me and I felt drops of water spray my ankles. I froze, my breath catching in my throat, and looked. Nothing was there, but I swear I saw a depression in the damp carpet right near me. Glancing down the hall, I saw only the empty corridor we had come down, but movement in my periphery made me look the other way, toward the mirror on the wall.

The Man with the Cane stood behind my gaping reflection, so close that he could have rested his chin on my shoulder; at that same moment, I felt a cold breath on the back of my neck.

I completely panicked and bolted down the hall, pretty sure I screamed the whole way. I shot up the steps two at a time, nearly tripping on the skirt of my uniform as I tried to put as much distance between me and the man as possible. Soon I had flown out of the door and back into the Endless Hallway, and I turned to run through that artificial darkness…

Or would have, if I hadn’t turned the wrong way in my blind terror and collided with the full mirror reflecting the hall.

when I came to, several of fellow CMs were huddled around me where I had sprawled on the floor. I was disoriented and sick with dread and could barely explain to my concerned rescue party what I was doing there. They told me later a guest riding the ride had seen me lying there and had asked when they had added a “dead body” to the attraction, which brought them to me; checking later confirmed I had been unconscious for several minutes.

I was whisked off to get first aid, unable to get a word out in time about Karen and the hidden corridor, dazed and confused as I was. Thankfully my run-in with the mirror had not done any long-lasting damage – either to myself or the mirror – though I suffered a serious concussion and was forced to take a leave of absence to recover.

When I returned to active duty at the mansion, the old feeling of unease was in my gut again, stronger than ever. That first day back, I was so on edge that I would jump at the slightest breath of cool air or sound of my name being called by another CM. Everyone was really kind and welcoming, but I know I came off like a nervous wreck.

Karen was conspicuously absent, of course. I started asking about her right away, and the other CMs said they had no idea where she’d gone – word was she had either transferred or quit, though no one I spoke to had seen or heard anything concrete. Management seemed unable to give a straight answer either, since they claimed didn’t know. It was like she had vanished completely.

Frustrated, I went back to the Endless Hallway after hours and tried all of the doors along it. All of them were stuck tight, and appeared to be facades. Blueprints and layouts I managed to procure after revealed no sign of an access point from that scene to anywhere else. It made no sense.

I could tell by the end of the first day the other CMs were thinking I was a basket case, I could see it in their sidelong glances. One of them, a friend of mine who I’ll also leave anonymous, said he had no reason to blame me, and said everyone just felt relieved I hadn’t died too.

That gave me pause, and I asked him what he meant.

He seemed surprised I didn’t know, but explained that the night I’d gotten hurt and Karen had “retired,” another CM had been in an accident backstage. The man, dressed as Pluto, had been struck by a parade float and killed. Those working outside had immediately gone into damage-control mode, halting the parade and keeping things as quiet as possible to the guests.

I put in a transfer request the following day.

Thing is, throughout all of this I worked to convince myself that everything I had experienced that night was the result of my head injury, weird dreams and hallucinations I had while I was out cold or semiconscious, coupled with the short-term memory loss. I had to, because for a long time after I couldn’t bring myself to look in a mirror, out of fear I would see something behind me that shouldn’t be there. Even now, it sometimes makes me uncomfortable.

It was the only logical explanation I could come up with, the only way I could convince myself to keep working at Disney World. And it succeeded, made perfect sense.

Until I read the grad night story.

Now it’s all come back, nagging at me, telling me everything I saw and felt that night were all too real. Putting all of this down has only helped refresh my memory, and it scares me. I keep glancing over my shoulder, worried I’m going to see the gaunt visage of the Man with the Cane standing there, staring at me. I also keep thinking about the way Karen jerked through that door, like something had grabbed her and pulled her in…

I’m not sure how much this will clear up, but it needs to be done. Something bigger is going on here, hidden under both Haunted Mansions in both parks. I would go so far as to say something evil. And with everything in mind, I’ve done research, compared accounts.

The day my mom saw the apparition, someone had died; the date Karen had mentioned – November 5th, 2000 – another in-park death, this one on Splash Mountain; and someone else had been killed the night I saw him.

With that last accident in mind, by 2004 eight people had died on Walt Disney World resort property. There were eight doors in that hidden hall.

The author in the grad night incident described a fatal accident happening the same night. Looking that up, there were six deaths at Disneyland counting that one as of 1983, and six Prop Room doors mentioned.

I fully understand this is speculation and the whole thing could be coincidental, but at this point I doubt it. I understand now why Karen rushed over to the mansion when she heard someone had died: she’d put the pieces together. She knew, somehow, the Man with the Cane would appear.

Who he is, what his role is, and what he wants I don’t know. Is he anything like the Hatbox Ghost at the Disneyland mansion? I have heard Disney is putting old Hattie back into the attraction soon, but I get the feeling whatever they add won’t be what those three kids saw backstage in 1983.

That’s really the worst part of it, the not-knowing. All of this just raises more questions for me, and the only reason I haven’t left WDW is to keep my ear to the ground and hope get more information. I owe Karen that much.

All I can say is I have a feeling… that if someone manages to find either of those hidden corridors now, beneath their respective Haunted Mansions, those gloomy hallways will have grown much longer, and have more Prop Room doors.

Credit To – CrackedMack

The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud

Midnight Marinara

January 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM

We’ve had them linked for awhile, but the creator of Midnight Marinara put together a write-up with some preview videos for you guys to get a taste of what their podcast is all about – so it’s time for them to get their own spotlight post!

Note that the creator is also the author of two well-received pastas: Fangs and Grad Night at the Haunted Mansion. Read them if you haven’t already!

Midnight Marinara is a bi-monthly podcast which takes various Creepypasta, coats them with its own unique spooky sauce, and turns them into audio dramas or radio plays. Be it a well-known classic or a deserving unknown, Midnight Marinara strives to make a quality performance out of these eerie tales.


Just Telling Stories

The Art of Jacob Emory

Our Little Roanoke

The Egg

Episodes are uploaded regularly here.

Credit To – CrackedMack

Grad Night in the Haunted Mansion

November 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM

On June 4th, 1983, my high school was one of many that took us to Disneyland for Grad Night. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland on Grad Night, you know how much fun – and how crazy – it can be. The park stays open extra late, the skippers who drive the Jungle Cruise boats let loose and tell dirty jokes, and there’s plenty of opportunities for people to sneak booze and weed in. Getting a bunch of amped high schoolers in Disneyland is one thing, but with a nightlife and party atmosphere behind it, things can get pretty nuts.

My two friends and I, Anaheim locals, were particularly excited. We all loved Disneyland, and while we didn’t get to visit often, living practically in the park’s backyard gave us more opportunities than most. In addition, we hadn’t been since the new Fantasyland opened earlier that year, going from a sort of Medieval fairground into a storybook village, so I was kind of looking forward to that. Unlike a lot of people who were there, we intended to keep things clean and have a grand old time of it, hit as many rides as possible, and just revel.

But the big plan for the night was kind of ambitious and maybe a little reckless – to this day, I can’t remember who suggested it first, only that we all thought it was a great idea. We had already gotten into the park and gone on a number of rides when it was brought up, while we were sitting on a bench in Frontierland eating churros. From where we sat, we could look across the Rivers of America to Tom Sawyer Island, and past that where the river curved to New Orleans Square. Poking above the trees was the cupola of the Haunted Mansion, with its clipper ship weather-vane. The sun had just gone down, and the sky was awash with dull orange and purple clouds, most of which seemed to loom behind the cupola. I pointed out how perfect and spooky the whole thing looked, and that got us talking about it. The mansion was a collective favorite, and being dumb kids, we agreed to do a little exploring: to effectively “spend the night” in the Haunted Mansion.

We laughed about as we got in line for it, moving past the brick columns and up the walk toward the mansion, but inside I was a bit nervous. You have to understand security was a bit more lax back then, so it was plausible that we would be able to pull this off if we were careful. Plus, Grad Night always had kids getting into trouble, and the likelihood of us getting banned for good was not as high as it could have been. But I still felt tense, that feeling you get when you’re scared about going on a thrill ride for the first time, excited but hesitant.

The three of us – Mike, Karen and myself – had it all worked out: when you first enter the mansion, you’re escorted into a room that seems to stretch and warp before your eyes, which is actually an elevator that takes guests below ground, where a hallway connects to the ride building beyond the park’s berm. As everyone else crowded out of the room and into the Hall of Morphing Portraits, we lagged behind (which the disembodied voice of the Ghost Host jokingly warns you not to do) and fell in at the very back of the line. By the time we piled into our “Doombuggy,” there was no one else behind us, and the black, endless procession of clamshell-like cars were empty.

We went through the ride as normal, cracking jokes and making banter at all the old familiar scenes, until we reached the exit crypt. We stepped out onto the moving platform and walked toward the escalator ramp that leads from the crypt back to the park outside. If you don’t know, the escalator hugs the wall on the right, but on the left is a small crypt scene where a tiny, ghostly bride stands on a stone shelf and tells you to “Hurry back…Hurry back…” Mike took charge here, deliberately turning backwards as we went up to watch the cast member near the buggies below us. Mike’s a big, broad-shouldered guy, a football player through-and-through, and his bulk hid me and Karen from view as we slowly ascended. At his signal, when the cast member monitoring the exit had his back turned, Karen and I climbed over the rail and dropped down into the crypt scene, where we quickly scurried under the dusty space beneath the escalator. Mike was over a moment later, and we laughed and congratulated each other on a job well done.

We must have spent a good hour or so down there, giggling into our hands whenever we heard footsteps and voices overhead of unsuspecting people exiting the ride. Karen even had some snacks she’d brought with her, and we sat there in the dark and ate and whispered to each other. It was like being in a weird clubhouse, and it felt good that we three shared this delinquency together, even as the narration of the ghost bride looped over and over again in the background: “Hurry back…Hurry back…Be sure to bring your death certificate. If you decide to join us, make final arrangements now. We’ve been…dying to have you.”

Eventually the novelty wore off, and we got quiet, and then listless. Sure, we’d managed this much, but then what? Karen pointed out that it had been eerily silent for awhile – other than the monotonous speech of the bride and other spooky ambient sounds, there were no more people coming up the ramp. Mike said he thought maybe the park had closed, but that made no sense because it was open all night on Grad Night. Not wanting to get in trouble, but also wondering what was up, I volunteered to clamber back up and take a look. When I did, using some of the crypt scenery for hand and footholds, I saw that there was no one around, not even a cast member down at the unloading platform at the end.

When I reported this, Mike and Karen climbed back up as well, and we went back down the unloading station to look around. All the Doombuggies coming along the corridor were empty, and there was not a person in sight. It was odd, to say the least, and I felt like something was definitely off to have the place so empty. I was about to suggest turning around and heading back outside when Mike said he’d always wondered where the Doombuggies went after they dropped you off. They rounded a dark corner in the crypt area and vanished from sight, and Mike was curious what was down there.

Now really, I should have said no, that there was no point and that we could get into some serious trouble if we snooped around back there. It was probably just a utility corridor anyway, since the buggies just looped back around to the loading room anyway. But I was young, and I was stupid, and when presented with a golden opportunity like that, it was hard to pass it up.

So we went ahead and jumped into a Doombuggy going by, and it slowly rounded the corner into the darkness. This was uncharted territory for us, and even if it turned out to be boring back there, at the very least we’d get a chance to see it, and maybe get another ride out of it.

Hardly a day goes by where I regret not having said something.

The main thing I remember was how spartan it was. It wasn’t quite pitch black, but it was even gloomier in there than the rest of the ride. There were small lights set into the walls on either side of the track, but they were low to the ground and far between. The walls were painted black, and the corridor seemed so narrow that I felt boxed in. It was quiet too, other than the hum of the track moving the buggies. I felt tense, and Mike and Karen weren’t helping that, because they looked tense too; I think it was dawning on all of us how much trouble we might get in.

I think a minute or so had passed like this, us going down that dark, featureless backstage corridor, when the ride suddenly stopped and I nearly jumped out of my skin as a voice came from somewhere overhead – and laughed when I realized I’d been startled by the normal breakdown spiel. “Playful spooks have interrupted our tour,” the recording went. “Please remain seated in your Doombuggy. We will proceed in just a moment.”

The teasing was immediate, as we all pointed out to each other how we’d jumped. We waited for the ride to start again, and every thirty seconds or so, the spiel would play: “We have been unappointedly detained by prankish spirits. Kindly remain seated in your Doombuggy. We will continue our tour momentarily.” This went on for good long while – ten, maybe fifteen minutes – and still the buggies hadn’t moved, no one had come looking for us. We were getting antsy, and the silence between the announcements was becoming unsettling.

Then Karen leaned out a bit and looked around, and she noticed the door first. Just ahead, past the buggy in front of us, worklights revealed a little alcove and a utility door on the right-hand side of the corridor. We were so sick of being in the buggy by that point we were willing to try anything, so after a short discussion, we all squeezed out of the buggy, pressed against the wall to go past the next one – Mike had trouble here – and stood before the door. I pushed it open, finding it unlocked, and it led to a metal staircase leading down into the darkness, footlights like the ones in the corridor revealing where to go. I was thinking up excuses in my head as we went down the stairs, to explain why were likely stepping into Disney’s underground utility corridors – the infamous “Utilidors” said to run like a spiderweb beneath Disneyland – if someone found us. And by this point, I hoped someone did.

At the bottom of the stairs, another closed door with a sign on it, reading “Cast Members Only.” We pushed through that as well, and were legitimately surprised to see that it opened into what looked like a themed hallway. Disney, even backstage, seemed to be paying attention to style, as this hall sported the purple “demon wallpaper” and wainscoting of the rooms above. It was even lit by candle sconces on the walls, the fake flickering bulbs coated with cobwebs and dust. Several detailed wooden doors lined the hall, with out-of-place white placards mounted to them. Each was marked as a Prop Room, with a corresponding number.

As we made our way up the hall, we tried each door we came to and found them all locked. The first door, Prop Room 1, shook a bit but wouldn’t budge. Same with 2 and 3. Mike chuckled and said he wondered if we would find Walt Disney’s frozen head down here, but I could hear a nervous waver in his laugh. Even I was feeling some sense of dread with each door we tried, something hard to place but nagging. At Door 4, I put my ear to the edge of it and thought I heard what sounded like rushing water or faint TV static from the other side, and at 5 I noticed that the faux candles flanking it were flickering more sporadically than the rest, like they were faulty. Door 6, to left and near another plain utility door that marked the hall’s end, was the only one that yielded to us, and I was the one who turned the cold handle and opened it for the first time.

It’s difficult for me to describe what I saw in there without shuddering, because even now my telling makes it sound fairly normal… That is, as normal as a room hidden under a theme park attraction can possibly be. It wasn’t very big, almost like a large storage shed. Unlike the hall, this one was the bland utility black, and lit by a single fluorescent light in the ceiling, albeit a dim one. The walls were lined with metal cabinets, and there was some sort of large, archaic gadget shoved into one corner, not unlike the old computer banks from the 60s. But what caught my attention right away was the grinning figure near the far wall, across from the door – a dummy or animatronic of some sort, lifeless and unmoving but standing on its base.

The discovery was fascinating to all of us, and without thinking we all edged into the room and immediately approached the figure. It was clearly meant to be one of the ghosts in the ride, a specter in a top hat with a skull-like face, cartoony bulging eyes and a leering smile; one of the teeth was even painted gold. He stood in a bow-legged stance, one gnarled hand holding a cane and the other a hatbox. None of us had ever seen this particular character on the ride before, though Karen said its face looked a lot like the tall, skinny hitchhiking ghost from the end of the ride.

I was just turning away from the figure to look at the cabinets when there was a combustion roar from the hall outside, like the sound of a passing motorcycle, followed by a loud, bassy boom that made the floor shake. The door to the room swung shut, and the fluorescent light sputtered and went out, leaving us in total darkness. Mike gasped and Karen screamed, and I was just reaching out for them in the dark when I heard a peculiar whirring sound. Another light came on, this one a concentrated green light above the hatbox ghost, showing its skeleton smile for a moment before that light faded and another faded on, illuminating the hatbox. I could see through the material of the hatbox now, and saw the ghost’s head grinning at me from inside. The pattern repeated itself rhythmically, making it seem like the ghost’s head was disappearing from his shoulders and appearing in the hatbox. It wasn’t a terribly convincing effect, but in the dark and with the strange things going on around me, it genuinely scared me.

I turned and stumbled through the room, ready to get out of there, feeling around for the door. Now even the light on the ghost shut off, and I heard Karen and Mike’s feet behind me, a crash, and the sound of something solid tapping the concrete floor. I tried pushing the door open, but it wouldn’t budge, and somebody slammed into my back in the dark and caused me to hit it hard. I was dazed but unhurt, and another scream from Karen fueled my adrenaline even more. I instead gave the door a tug and it opened.

I was out in the hall without a second thought, without even looking back. I started running, sprinting back the way I had come, gasping for air. I was never a very athletic kid, but panic kept me going. I heard sounds behind me – footsteps, Mike and Karen yelling in terror as they followed, and what seemed like rapid knocking and banging on the doors around me – but I refused to look over my shoulder. Up the stairs and back into the Doombuggy corridor in what felt like a matter of seconds. The Doombuggies were moving now, endlessly traveling through the shadows. I knew it was risky to jump into one in this narrow corridor, and for a moment I stopped, trying to figure out what to do.

I finally looked back, back down the stairway I had come from. I thought Mike and Karen had been right behind me, but they were gone. I called out their names, my voice echoing down the stairs, but there was no reply. Not until I heard something tapping the metal stairs, coming up toward the door, and saw an unfamiliar vague shadow on the wall that I flung the door closed and dove into the nearest buggy, which carried me down the corridor a little ways before finally emerging into the limbo-like loading room.

All of the effects were still running here, including the eerie music and sounds, but there was still no one else around. I yelled for help, but no one appeared. As soon as I could I jumped out of the Doombuggy and ran back up the line, into the Hall of Morphing Portraits. Ahead was the door to the elevator, the Stretching Gallery, but I remembered that this area had a more immediate chicken exit, meant for those too scared to ride the ride and wanted to head back up to the park. The door was marked with an obvious exit sign, sitting between two shuttered windows that made it look like it led outside to a stormy night, and without hesitating I pushed through that as well.

Beyond was another corridor, on either side of me flashing lights pointed at the windows to simulate lightning, flickering with each thunderclap that boomed through the hall, disorienting me even further. Turning left, I followed the hall as the floor inclined gently up, my throat tight and a stitch in my side.

And then my throat closed altogether as I turned a corner almost ran into the hatbox ghost.

It was standing smack-dab in the middle of the hall, between me and the door that led outside. I scrambled backward instinctively, but the figure didn’t move. It was a static prop, grinning its cadaver grin, back-lit by a ceiling light further down the hall. The light also broke the illusion of the hatbox, and I could see vaguely the shape of the disembodied head through the scrim.

I was convinced – thoroughly convinced at that moment – that thing was going to suddenly jerk to life and come after me, but it didn’t. I had no idea how it had gotten there from down in the sub-level, or how it had so quickly. Maybe the one I’d seen below wasn’t the only figure; maybe Mike and Karen were pulling a fast one on me, and had dragged the figure up with them. I was frozen, trying to figure out where to go next, not wanting to go anywhere near the ghost but not wanting to backtrack either, because I still felt like there was something sinister behind me. Nervously, I croaked out the names of my lost friends, but there was no reply. Noises from the ride seemed to come floating down the hall, muted but ever-present.

Then I heard the groan.

It could have been a human groan, or something mechanical, but I definitely heard it. It didn’t sound like any of the standard audio, and it came from a point somewhere near or past the hatbox ghost, maybe even from further down the corridor past the exit. As if this were a trigger, I realized that either my eyes had adjusted to the dark or the lighting had somehow changed, because I looked again at the hatbox and saw the thing inside through the scrim.

There was still a head in there, but I know it wasn’t the ghost’s head. It wasn’t even a cartoon caricature of a head. It wasn’t Mike, or Karen.

It’s at this point the details allude me. I know that what I saw shook me to my very core, and that’s part of the reason its taken me so long to recount this. I remember seeing the thing in the box, seeing that it was indeed a human head – a man’s face, a face I didn’t recognize, seemingly looking back out at me with shocked, pleading eyes – but after that there’s a blur of sheer terror and snatches of frightening images: gnarled hands; tombstones; pneumatic hissing; the stretching room going in reverse, shrinking, shrinking too fast, the ceiling rushing toward me, the corpse hanging in the rafters descending on me…

I try not to dwell on them too much, because now I’m no longer sure which really happened and which were the results of the nightmares I’d have for years after.

The next thing I can remember clearly after that is being on my hands and knees just outside the fence of the Haunted Mansion, vomiting onto the pavement, while around me crowds of people stood. Most of them weren’t paying me any mind, there was lots of whispered talk and a few were crying. There were red-and-blue lights, police cars parked nearby, but I couldn’t tell why. I just sat there gulping and sobbing until a cast member finally noticed me and led me to a first aid station.

Karen was there when I arrived, and she jumped up and hugged me tight when she saw me. I don’t think either of us made much sense, we were both at our wit’s end, but it was such a relief to see her after all that that any questions I had fell by the wayside. I’ll never forget how haunted she looked, wide-eyed and pale, barely able to form a sentence without tearing up.

Mike never turned up.

That fateful night has never left me, and in the years since then I’ve slowly begun to piece together the details, trying to (vainly) make sense of what happened. It became sort of a private obsession, something to do in the background as I moved on with my life.

First, it didn’t take long for Karen and I to learn why the police cars were there, and they weren’t for us. According to the reports we heard later, an 18-year-old guy from New Mexico had died while we were in the Haunted Mansion. He and a friend had snuck into a backstage area on Tom Sawyer’s Island and stole a rubber emergency boat to go for a joyride around the Rivers of America. Apparently this guy was pretty drunk and it wasn’t long before he hit a rock, throwing he and his friend from the boat. His friend went for help, but he drowned before they could find him. His body was discovered an hour later.

I wonder now if that’s why there was no one around when we crept backstage. I managed to track down a few cast members who were working that night, and though most of them claim that they were told by management to not cause alarm and keep to their posts, several admitted they had gone to check out the grim spectacle… especially those CMs that were on attractions near the river, like the Haunted Mansion. Was the timing such that everyone turned a blind eye while we stumbled into something hideous?

Mike’s disappearance was something me and Karen both felt deeply, and we tried for years to get something from anyone about it. His parents told us later that he’d shown up again a day or so later, behaving erratically, barely registering them, deeply disturbed by something. Mike had planned on moving out beforehand, but that night after lashing out at his folks, he grabbed very few personally belongings, took the family car and drove off to points unknown. After that, he dropped off the face of the earth.

Karen and I eventually drifted, probably because we blamed each other for what happened. She never expressed to me what she experienced after we got separated, either because she wanted me to feel guilty for leaving them behind (oh Karen, you have no idea) or that she, like me, can only recall so much. We were both too shaken to recount to each other. But time and distance make things easier, and with the advent of the internet there was suddenly a wealth of new information. I’ve since begun to piece together clues.

Almost immediately I found our Hatbox Ghost. Plugging that into any search engine will turn up multitudes of pictures of that bow-legged, grinning figure that has often floated through my mind’s eye in the dark. It was apparently part of the attraction when it first opened in 1969, and much of the promotional material of the ride at the time featured this character and his ubiquitous hatbox. He originally stood in the attic scene, right across from the ghostly bride with the beating heart, but was quietly removed from the ride after only a week; apparently, the effect of his disappearing head never worked properly, or so the official account goes.

In recent years the Hatbox Ghost has gained a fanbase, groups of Haunted Mansion fans that want to see him restored to the ride. It’s wishful thinking, I’m sure, because that figure had to have been stored downstairs for a reason.

It took longer to find out about the backstage area where the Doombuggies go, that empty corridor not originally meant to be seen by guests; disabled guests, however, travel that route all the time. Wheelchair access to the ride is done through the Limbo-like loading room, and guests travel back around to this room to reclaim their wheelchairs and head back out. I’ve posted about it and posed queries for details about that area, but no one has given me a description that sounds anything like what I went through. It’s been described as short, bland, and with some sort of catwalk going over the track, but no mysterious alcove or obvious doorway. It takes less than 30 seconds for the Doombuggies to go through, and then you’re back in the loading room. I suspect Disney might have changed that area since ht 80s, but why?

Most recently though, I’ve come across an odd factoid that seems more like a morbid curiosity than anything else, unless one’s been through what I have. It’s not about the Haunted Mansion, however, but its nearby E-ticket neighbor, Pirates of the Caribbean. According to the story – and this has been published in various Disney-owned books, so its no vague rumor – the Imagineers who built the ride felt that the faux skeletons of the time weren’t convincing enough for the underground grotto scenes. So they borrowed real human remains from the UCLA Medical Center, dressed them up as pirates, and put them in the caves. Let that sink in for a moment: millions of people went by on boats and had no idea they were looking at real skeletons, all propped up in pirate garb. Eventually, a later team of Imagineers would replace these with more convincing facsimiles, and supposedly the bones were returned to their countries of origin and given proper burial.

But whose to say they were? What if something was left behind in that basement when the bones were taken? And what if Pirates wasn’t the only ride that did this? The show building of the Haunted Mansion was built along with the rest of New Orleans Square in 1963, but it took another six years for the actual attraction to open. Why the delay? It couldn’t have just been the gridlock from the 1964 World’s Fair and Walt Disney’s death in ’66, could it?

All of this is speculation, a string of understanding that raises more questions for me than it does answers. I want to get to the truth of what happened that night, but everything I’ve found doesn’t add up to a concrete explanation; perhaps there isn’t one, though I desperately want there to be. And I can’t go back – I won’t – not after the things I saw and felt. I haven’t set foot in Disneyland since that night.

Maybe, though… Maybe its time I tried again.

Karen, if you’re out there and you’re reading this, I’m sorry about everything. I’m trying to make it right, trying to put some meaning to this. Contact me if you can. I need to know what happened to you and Mike – maybe you have the key to the mystery in your memories. I can’t do it alone, but together we might get to the bottom of this.

For everyone else, let this stand as a testament: some things are backstage for a reason, and a company like Disney must have a multitude of skeletons in its closets. Think twice before you pull some stupid stunt like I did, because it might not be security that finds you.

Grad Night in the Haunted Mansion

Credit To – CrackedMack

The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud


October 31, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Dustin hit the sidewalk hard, his plastic vampire teeth popping out of his mouth and skittering across the cement. He could see them come to rest just on the edge of the street lamp’s light, a fanged disembodied smile dribbled with his saliva and a few specks of blood.

He’d kept his head from cracking against the ground by getting his arm in the way, but the wind was knocked out of him and he took sobbing, shuddering gulps of air. He could hear the ugly voices of the teenagers above him, but couldn’t make out their words before the pounding of their sneakers on the sidewalk receded into the dark, taking his hopes for a fun Halloween night with them.

Wincing, Dustin slowly pushed himself up so he was sitting, and crawled over to the cool grass of the nearby lawn, crunching dead leaves as he went. His palms stung, but the scrapes on them weren’t too bad as far as he could tell. The shock and cruelty of the sudden attack hurt even worse, and as he got his back against the lone sycamore in the yard and gingerly licked the skin of his palms, he felt something loose in his mouth and spat a tooth into his hand. Only then did he really start to cry.

Of course no one had seen this happen – the house before him was all dark, and this side of the street was empty, though in the distance he could hear the voices of other kids out trick-or-treating. If Chris had actually bothered to meet him like they’d planned, instead of going and getting a fever, he would have had a friend to back him up. The orange bag that had his candy and the flashlight his mother had given him was nowhere to be seen, probably snatched by his attackers after they had ambushed him.

Dustin sobbed bitterly, knees pulled up to his chest, hating himself for crying. Ten-year-olds weren’t supposed to cry. It made him look stupid, not just because the tears were probably smearing his white face paint. It had taken ages to convince his parents to let him trick-or-treat on his own, proved to them through his chores and homework in the weeks leading up to the 31st that he was responsible enough. He’d even bought all the stuff for his costume, and felt dashing stalking the cool Missouri night as Count Dracula, Lord of the Vampires. What would his mom and dad say when he came home, disheveled and bruised and without any Halloween sweets? If he was even allowed to go out next year at all, it would be with one of them breathing down his neck.

Caught up in his sadness, he barely registered the approaching steps on the grass until a small voice said “Hey Count. You dropped these.”

Looking up, Dustin saw a small witch standing in front of him, a broom held in one hand and his vampire teeth in the other. She looked to be about six or seven, short brown hair poking out from around her pointy purple hat and an earnest look on her face as she held out his teeth.

Dustin blinked at her stupidly. The girl cocked her head to one side like a curious dog. “Don’t you want ‘em back?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Dustin muttered automatically. “Thanks.” He wiped his nose on his cape with one hand as he took the teeth, feeling awkward that this little girl could see him brought so low.

“You’re welcome,” the girl replied. “Are you gonna be OK?”

Dustin’s gut writhed at this, still in turmoil. “No,” he said. He wanted the girl to leave him alone. He still held his missing tooth, and was aware that his mouth tasted like blood. He tried to spit out the side of his mouth, like he’d seen some of the other kids do, but it dripped pathetically down his chin instead.

The witch’s brow furrowed thoughtfully as she seemed to study him. Then she laughed. “It’s fine! I’ll use a magic spell!” She then promptly bopped Dustin on the head with the bristly end of her broom.

“Hey!” Dustin yelled, but the girl just giggled. Tangled a bit in his cape, Dustin stumbled and stood up. “What was that for?”

The girl was all smiles, resting her broom on one shoulder. “Plish plish!” she said. “You’re all better! You’re welcome again, Mr. Count!”

Dustin glowered at the little witch, and for one dark moment felt like pushing her over and taking whatever candy she might have, just to vent – just to make someone else feel as bad as he did. But the thought quickly shamed him, and as his anger cooled he felt tears sliding down his face again. Sniffling, he walked past her and started to escape down the sidewalk.

“Hey! Wait!” the girl called after him. “Don’t you wanna get back at those meanies that stole your candy?”

Dustin stopped, a little surprised. He turned around to stare at the girl. “You saw?”

She nodded. “I was down the street. Those three big kids knocked you down and took your candy, but I can help you get ‘em back.”

Great, so someone had seen, and it was this little crazy girl. “Who are you?” Dustin asked.

“Macy Grant,” the witch replied. Again she looked earnest.

The name sounded familiar to Dustin; he guessed they probably went to the same elementary school. “Where’s your parents, Macy?”

Macy shrugged dismissively. “Plish. I don’t need ‘em. They wanted to come with me, but I sent ‘em home after I met Sal.”

Dustin found this hard to believe, but Macy spoke with a conviction and impressed Dustin, that she actually could have told her parents to let her wander around at night alone, weird as that was. From where she stood looking at him, she had an aura of authority about her, though it could have been the way her profile was thrown into silhouette by the streetlight behind her, making her shadow long and pointy on the ground, like a powerful sorceress.

So Dustin asked “Who’s Sal?”

Now Macy was smiling, and Dustin wasn’t sure he liked the smile. “Sal’s the October Man,” she said brightly. “He can help you. Let me take you to him.”

October Man? Dustin had never heard of anyone like that and assumed it was some sort of nickname of Macy’s. He wasn’t certain he liked the idea of following a little girl to meet a stranger, but as he realized how sincere Macy looked in seemingly every expression, considered that he had nothing else to do but go home and face disappointment, and noticed that his mouth had curiously stopped bleeding…

“Alright,” Dustin said, real tooth clenched in one hand and vampire teeth in the other. “Lead the way.”

Dustin followed behind Macy on a zigzag route through the neighborhood, every so often crossing a road or turning down some lane or another. They passed houses where jack-o’-lanterns grinned fiendishly from porches and through windows, plastic skeletons and ghouls hung from balcony railings, and tombstones were propped on front lawns. Gangs of kids dressed in all manner of costumes paraded by, yet Macy never stopped to join them begging for candy. She skipped along, tapping the handle of her broomstick on the sidewalk, chanting her strange “plish plish” noise in a singsong voice, like some sort of mantra.

Silently, Dustin kept pace, half-aware of the night’s revelry going on around him, replaying the ambush in his mind: how they’d first shouted at him from across the street when he’d turned down Shenandoah Lane to Mr. Narbourn’s house (who always gave out the big candy bars). Two boys and a girl, maybe a grade or two higher than him, dressed in leather jackets and sporting pale makeup and messy hair. The stockier boy was smoking a cigarette, and the stench of it had drifted across to Dustin. “What are you, some sort of gaypire?” the smoker hissed through his own vampire teeth.

The other boy, tall and with long black hair, nudged the girl with his elbow and made her giggle. “Get with the times, homo!” he yelled.

Dustin had done his best to ignore them, simply shrugging them off, but they must have been lying in wait for him on his way back up the street. They’d jumped him from behind a hedge on the corner house’s lawn, one of them stepping on the back of Dustin’s cape while another pushed him over, all the while shrieking and laughing.

“We’re here!”

Macy’s cry shook Dustin from his thoughts. They had turned yet again, and Dustin saw that they were now on Carolton Road, a sparse area on the edge of the neighborhood. Their side of the street had a few small houses, but the other bordered a dense patch of boggy woodland that was avoided by the local kids. Macy took Dustin by the arm and tugged expectantly, leading him across the street to the sidewalk before the opaque tree line.

They walked parallel to it for a minute or two, Dustin listening apprehensively to the night-sounds coming from the trees – the insect stirrings and tiny rustlings, and the deep croak of bullfrog. There were all kinds of rumors about the woods near Carolton; stupid stories from school about the forest being full of quicksand, or that a crazy man lived there and snatched kids who walked past at night. He thought the other kids were dumb, just making stuff up to scare their friends…But looking at the black, formless expanse of trees beyond the few and far-between pools of fluorescent streetlamp light, Dustin couldn’t help but feel a small twinge of unease shoot along his spine.

“Where are we going?” he asked Macy, his voice squeaking more than he wanted it to.

If Macy noticed, she didn’t react, though she suddenly stopped and sniffed the air, her head tilting this way and that, her hat’s point flopping from side to side as she did. Dustin did the same, smelled wet grass and damp earth and perhaps the faintest whiff of pumpkin smoke. Macy let go of Dustin’s arm and dug into a hidden pocket on her witch’s gown, producing a small flashlight that she flicked on.

“This way,” she said. She turned and trudged down the small hill between the sidewalk and the woods, and Dustin noticed a thin line of well-trodden dirt that marked a trail. He stopped, heart beating a little faster, and watched Macy reach the edge of the woods before turning back to him. “Don’t chicken out, Count! Sal’s really nice, I promise!”

Dustin teetered on the sidewalk’s edge, curiosity the only thing keeping him from leaving the whole creepy scene behind. “Does he…live in the woods?”

“Nope,” replied Macy. “I think he’s from really far away. I only just met him tonight.”


“Here.” She pointed with her broom down the road. “My house is just down there. I saw him when we left at sunset, and he gave me a gift.”

Before Dustin could ask, the streetlight closest to him sputtered and died, leaving him in darkness. Jumping at the sudden change, Dustin found his feet carrying him down to the wilderness edge, where Macy stood like some Halloween buoy at the edge of an unknown sea. “Here,” she said, and handed him the flashlight. She then gently took him by the hand. “Nothing’s gonna happen. I’ll lead, and you light the way. Team work.”

Dustin cast a look over his shoulder, back to the faint orange aurora that was the neighborhood. He didn’t want to go, really; getting his candy back was not worth wandering into a spooky wood and meeting a stranger. But something else stirred in his mind – thoughts of the jeering faces of the teenagers as they’d pushed him down, hurt him, made him miserable – and he felt angry again, even defiant. He pointed the light ahead, and Macy nodded.

The black swallowed them almost immediately as they entered the woods, and if there was any trace of the neighborhood they left behind, it was quickly snuffed by the oppressive trees. Dustin felt the comforting fire in his gut weaken as they went along, his flashlight throwing wild shadows out from bushes, trunks, and gnarled branches they passed. He tried to keep an eye on his feet, out of a sudden fear of possible quicksand, but the trail was dry and a little dusty, almost hidden under a thick carpet of decaying leaves. He had a hundred questions but felt weirdly apprehensive about voicing them here; something about the night felt both foreboding and special, and that to disturb it would be wrong.

Macy, for her part, would often pause for a second to sniff loudly, like she was trying to pick up a scent, and then would march on, her hand never leaving his.

The trail weaved its way through the woods for another minute until they came to a small clearing. The skeletal canopy here was not so thick, and Dustin could see the sky awash with a billion stars. A huge oak stump sat at the middle of the clearing, its top oddly smooth and even, and Macy giggled as she clambered up on it, taking her flashlight back from Dustin and switching it off.

The night rushed in, not as completely black as it had been earlier, but more weighty somehow, more charged and substantial than Dustin had ever felt.

“This is it!” she said. “Sal’s around here somewhere. We just gotta wait for him to show up.” So saying, she held her broom aloft and swayed it in a circle over her head, as if giving a signal. “Sal Win, Sal Win, we wanna see you!”

Sal Win? Dustin pushed the broom back down, suddenly nervous. “Jeez, what are you doing?” He cast an eye toward the woods. “What if the wrong person hears us?”

Macy fixed him with a condescending look. “Are you embarrassed? I’m almost eight, you know!”

“I didn’t know, and what does that matter? I don’t even know who Sal is.”

“I told you,” said Macy patiently, like she was talking to a kindergartener. “He’s the October Man.”

Dustin groaned. “I don’t even know what that means!”

“You’ll see,” replied Macy firmly, staring straight into the dark trees. “He’ll be here soon.” She started spinning the broom above her head again, slowly and rhythmically. “Candlelit Octobers past, may your servant stand steadfast.”

For a minute there was awkward silence, Dustin shifting nervously from foot to foot while Macy kept her gaze on the forest, spinning the broom. The only sounds were the chirping of crickets and the occasional distant hoot of an owl – not even a sound of a passing car or the voice of a trick-or-treater came to break the ambiance. It felt like they were a million miles away from anything. The moon hung overhead like a cold, half-lidded eye, and a light breeze kicked up that shook the vacant limbs of the trees, making them hiss and whisper.

Macy suddenly grabbed Dustin’s arm and pointed toward the undergrowth. “Look! There he is!”

Dustin started and looked, at first discerning nothing. The darkness was like a solid wall, impenetrable and thick. Then he saw a flicker of orange move between the trees, a fluttering light that soon was lost, only to reappear a few seconds later. With a mounting sense of dread Dustin noticed that the light was getting a little closer every time it bobbed out of his sight, each time growing larger as it slid back into view. Suddenly Dustin could see that the light had shape – a flashing pair of eyes in the dark, and a wicked smile.

Dustin wanted to bolt, but Macy still held his arm. “Don’t panic!” she whispered. “It’s just a pumpkin, see? Sal’s just got a pumpkin.”

It was true; on a second look, Dustin could see the classic candlelit shape of the eye and mouth, the pumpkin sneer he’d seen on so many doorsteps. The pumpkin was now coming out of the woods, held under the arm of…someone?

“Plish plish!” cried Macy happily. “Hi, Sal!”

Somehow the shape that emerged from the woods was darker to his eye, even against the inky quality of the trees. It stopped right at the edge of the clearing, a tall shadow that Dustin was sure towered over him. He took a step back, feeling terrified but also mystified by this figure. It remained where it was, and seemed to shift and billow in the breeze – Dustin guessed it was wearing a cape not unlike his.

Macy nudged him. “Don’t be rude,” she whispered. “Introduce yourself!”

Dustin’s mind had locked up, and he was sweating up a storm. Nevertheless, swallowing, he stammered “Are you Sal? The…the October Man?”

The figure made no sound, no motion in reply, but Dustin felt a nod more than he saw it, and thought it was enough. This reassured him more than it should have, and Dustin pulled his cape up to cover the bottom of his face. “I am…Dracula,” he said in his best Bela Lugosi voice, wondering immediately why he’d chosen to do that, or why it felt so right.

Again there was no reply. Macy laughed and tapped her broom on the stump, making a knocking sound. “Oh, he liked that! I can tell!”

She could? Dustin looked between her and the October Man, confused.

Macy gave Sal a surprisingly genteel curtsy. “Sal, the Count here needs your help. Some other vampires stole his candy.”

Hearing Macy say it like that, Dustin felt a fresh bout of embarrassment. His problem seemed stupid in the presence of Sal, who made the bullies seem petty with his presence alone. Sal was a living shadow, a patch of pure October made manifest, a little bit of every All Hallows Eve that had ever been all molded together. Dustin began to worry that there was something wrong with his eyes, if they hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet.

And still the October Man said nothing, did nothing but crinkle and twitch like an autumn leaf yet clinging to its branch, though the breeze had long died away. The candlelight in the pumpkin sputtered rapidly, the face silently laughing.

“Sal wants to know what you want,” said Macy. She too was taller than Dustin from her stump perch, and was staring adamantly at him. “He can give it you, but you have to tell him what you want.”

Dustin thought, and remembered – the harsh words, the laughter, being totally incapable to defend himself. Recalling it all made him sick, the little spark of anger in him flaring, fastening, growing.

“You want to get ‘em back, yeah?” Macy danced anxiously on her stump podium. “Get ‘em good, yeah? Make ‘em pay, those meanies! Shake ‘em up!”

He wanted to get even, that was for sure…but he wanted to do more: he wanted to hurt them back, make them feel weak and helpless like he’d felt. He wanted to ruin their twisted Halloween…no, all their Halloweens from here on in.

“Revenge,” was what Dustin finally whispered.

The October Man seemed to ripple at the word, his jack-o’-lantern the only light in the deep blackness.

Dustin now felt his heart pounding with both fear and anticipation, and knew he wanted it. He glanced over at Macy, who grinned a very witch-like grin and nodded.

“Beget to him,” she said to Sal in a strange voice, “what he is to us. I beseech thee, Sal Win!”

The shadow moved forward.

Heart hammering in his ribcage, torn between dread and desire, Dustin popped his plastic fangs back in his mouth. The October Man grew larger, spread his cloak out, wider and wider around him until Dustin was surrounded by his darkness.

Hunger. Rage. Renewal.

Stalk, creep, smell. Darkness engulfs, darkness hides and protects. Moving through, moving with, flowing with the tendrils of night.

The Dead whisper, their words gossamer: “There! Hear!”

Hissst…Voices. Vile sounds, ugly curses. The Dead guide, pockets of void in the All Hallows air. The Living suspect nothing, deserve nothing.

Observe: the trees are their prison, the undergrowth their barrier. The stench of one is unbearable – smoldering plant, burning paper. His smell keeps him from the others…Move swift, silent.


Closer, closer…Time enough. The light. Put it out. Wrap them in darkness, smother them in shadow.

Trick, or treat?

There. Treats. A feast of thieves! But…No. A Trick instead.

Fear, perfect fear. Exquisite. Light is gone, night is here. Let them catch a glimpse.

Jaws. Claws. Blood. Jaws claws blood jawsclawsblood jawsclawsbloodjawsclawsbloodbloodblood…


The Children of the Night.

What sweet music they make.

Dustin stirred and opened his eyes, feeling groggy. As his vision cleared, he saw he was staring up at the night sky again, though not the patchwork of stars he remembered from the woods. Groaning, he sat up and recognized the low stone wall that surrounded his own front lawn, and realized he’d been lying on the grass.

His stomach lurched painfully before he could take everything in, and he knew he was going to be sick. Panicking, he jumped up and stumbled to his own front door, his cape getting in the way. He felt the bile rising as he pushed it open and careened down the front hall, past the open living room where his mom and dad were looking up from their couch with surprise, and into the bathroom at the far end. He made it just in time.

Dustin was in agony, as anyone would be, until the last heave left him. Shivering and shaking, he looked into the toilet at what he had brought up, and vomited again. He’d eaten too much Halloween candy before, but this…There was something wrong with him, with the bile: it was too thick, too red.

Dustin had flushed the toilet at least three times before he was done, quaking all over and worried he might fire away again, worried that someone might see him. Confused and upset, he practically crawled to the door, trying to think, to remember, to get some sense of what had happened to him.

Macy was standing in the hall talking to his parents. “Nothing to worry about,” she was saying, in a calm and rational tone, as if his parents were younger than her. “Dustin just has a tummy ache, ‘cause he at too much candy. You can go back to whatever you were doing now. Dustin just needs a break.”

Dustin gaped, first at Macy, and then at how his parents reacted: they nodded, shrugged their shoulders, and thanked Macy before returning to the couch to resume watching The Haunting. Smiling sadly, Macy looked at Dustin and waved before skipping back out the open front door and into the night.

Dustin would have followed her if he could – too many questions were knocking around in his skull – but he was feeling weak and disoriented, and maybe a bit scared of Macy too. Even so, he went to the door and peered outside. It was late by now, the street littered with fallen leaves and candy wrappers. His orange bag, which he didn’t remember getting back, was sitting on his front lawn. Macy was already at the far end of the street, and Dustin thought he saw something move near her – a glimpse of a billowing shadow and an orange glow – but it was soon lost from view along with Macy, her “plish plish plish” fading into the evening.

Dustin crawled into bed without shedding his costume, nor receiving a goodnight kiss from his mom. His sleep was restless, nightmarish visions and remembrances flashing across his mind that both repulsed and darkly delighted him. Feelings of both relief and misery washed over him when he awoke, knowing that Halloween was over, and that it would never feel the same again.

The next morning brought little change. Since it was Saturday, no one bothered him about staying in bed, but Dustin felt tired and haggard, and had no appetite. He barely remembered what had happened the night before, barely acknowledged the hushed conversation between his parents at the kitchen table that three local teenagers had gone missing last night, and the police were combing the area for them. But something dawned on Dustin as he stepped into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Checking the mirror, he ran his tongue over his teeth – hadn’t he lost a tooth the night before? And why was that one tooth now pointier and sharper than he remembered?

Credit To – CrackedMack

The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud


Submission Status

Submissions closed on February 21st, 2017. Please allow me time to work through the queue before I reopen submissions. PLEASE READ THE FAQ AND ANY RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO SUBMIT YOUR PASTA OR SENDING CONTACT REQUESTS.

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