“Are we ever gonna get there,” Sarah whined from the back seat.
“We still have a ways to go, Punkin,” my wife replied. I could tell she was as tired of being in the car as the kids were.
Jeremy was still passed out in the backseat next to his sister. He must have been sleeping hard because her wails and whines were not so much as causing him to stir.
“How much longer?” Sarah cried out in her most pitiful voice yet.
“We’re still a long way off, Punkin,” I replied, trying not to sound as irritated as I was starting to feel.
We started calling her Punkin after our first Halloween that she was old enough to enjoy. I can’t say that I was a particular fan of the holiday, having spent my childhood in London, where I was born.
My family moved to the states when I was fifteen after my father got a job offer he couldn’t refuse. I’m thirty-four now, and a similar opportunity now took my family and I across the country.
Sarah’s first Halloween costume was a little pumpkin onesie with a cap that had a small green stem protruding out of the top. She loved it so much, and refused to wear anything else for the weeks following her night of trick or treating. She couldn’t say the word quite right at that age, so Punkin became her moniker, inspired by her own words.
As much as I did not care for that time of year, she adored it. I attempted to convince my family to try out my old tradition of sporting the ancient garb of Guy Fawkes night on November fifth, which I used to celebrate as a child. Safe to say it wasn’t their cup of tea.
When Jeremy joined our little flock, it didn’t take him long to find his love for Halloween, too. I was in the minority with my distaste for the occasion, but it was hard to argue too much with something that brought the kids such glee.
The children, and my wife, were all of the same fear, that our cross country move in mid October would make the seasonal traditions difficult to celebrate. I assured them that the subdivision we were to be adopting as our new home looked to provide far more opportunities for treats than the one we had left behind.
“Maybe we should get off the road for a bit,” Jessica suggested.
We had planned to stop at a hotel at some point in our trip across the country. The idea of forcing the kids to endure fourteen hours straight in the car was enough to make us all exhausted at just the thought alone.
I had wanted to make a little more progress before stopping off for the night, but I couldn’t deny that the six hours I had already spent behind the wheel was making me feel a little on edge. As much as I adored our little Pumpkin, her whines were starting to inspire a fair amount of frustration.
“Just a little longer, babe,” I replied to my wife’s request.
Truthfully, I was hoping to find some sort of landmark or otherwise pleasant location to spend our break from driving. I had meant to do a little research before we left, to plan out a good place to stop off, but it had completely slipped my mind.
We had loaded up the trailer with all of our belongings over the days before we headed out, but that just served to exhaust my body and mind.
“Daddy!” Sarah exclaimed from the back seat, with a jubilation to her voice.
“Look, look, look!” She cried out, thrusting her pointing finger in between where my wife and I sat.
‘Sammy’s Halloween Spooktacular!’ the billboard my excited daughter raved about read.
Jess gave me a look I knew all too well. A broad, mischievous smile with a tingle in her eye that read, ‘come on, babe’. I let out a sigh and smiled back at her. Sarah’s excited screaming had woken up her brother, causing him to join in on the shared glee that my wife and daughter already overflowed with.
He showed absolutely no sign of drowsiness, regardless of just being dramatically yanked from his sleep. I miss those days. I couldn’t wake up with any degree of enthusiasm, even if I’d passed out for twelve straight hours.
“Alright,” I chuckled, causing the rest of the vehicle’s inhabitants to bellow their appreciation.
I can’t say I was anywhere near as thrilled as they were, but I couldn’t say no to their smiling faces. The information I could make out on the billboard indicated that it was still a good twenty miles ahead.
There was absolutely no way that I had any hope of getting the kids to settle down as the same sign reappeared every couple of miles. Every single one we passed caused more yells of anticipation and, as happy as I was to see them excited, I could feel a throbbing headache begin to form.
Some fifteen or twenty minutes later, I pulled off the exit that promised our adventures were close at hand. There were a few fast food joints and truck stops directly off the short road that branched from the interstate, but the new smaller signs on the side of the road indicated that Sammy’s was still up the road a little bit.
After another handful of miles, we arrived at what seemed to be the main strip of whatever town we had landed in. There were plenty of little tourist attractions, and a boatload of roadside motels before we finally reached the large and creepy looking building that bore the same title as the billboards we had seen for the last half hour.
“How about you guys go check it out, and I’ll go set up a hotel room,” I suggested, mildly hopeful to avoid having to enter the ‘spooktacular’ environment.
“You don’t wanna come, daddy!?” Sarah exclaimed, pouting slightly.
“It’s not that, Punkin,” I replied knowing full well that it was indeed that, “I just want to make sure we can get a room before they all sell out.”
Jess gave me a sideways glance, and I had no doubt she could tell that traffic wasn’t heavy enough to imply that the numerous hotels were hurting for rooms. She still gave me her cute half smile, accompanied by a quick wink. She knew Halloween wasn’t my thing, so she didn’t hold my bailing out of the event against me.
“It definitely would be a pain to have to get back onto the interstate to find a room for the night,” she said, loosely backing up my play.
“Awwww,” both kids whined in unison.
It did make me feel bad to let them down, but as we pulled into the spacious parking lot of the ‘best haunted experience in the country’, according to the flare on the signpost, their pouting veered back to excitement.
I pulled up as close as I could to the entrance, while hauling the enormous trailer filled with a houseload of furniture and labelled boxes, and I handed Jess one of my credit cards to cover the entry fees. She gave me a kiss before getting out of our extended cab truck, to much “Eeeeeew,”ing from both kids.
“Bye bye, daddy,” Sarah yelled out while my family made their way to the entrance, hand in hand.
Jeremy was already fully focused on the festivities within his reach to waste any time on goodbyes.
“I love you guys, have fun!” I shouted at the trio as they strolled happily away from me, before I circled out of the exit to the parking lot.
I chose to head over to the nearest and nicest looking motel, that would prove to be easily within walking distance of Sammy’s. I respectfully carried my truck and trailer to the rear of the parking area, to stay out of the way of any vehicles that would much more conveniently inhabit the closer spaces.
After setting up two adjoining rooms for the night, I went ahead and unloaded our overnight bags and carried them up to our second floor lodgings.
I sent Jess a text of our room numbers, and let her know that I arranged for the front desk to hold onto one of the keycards in case we ended up bypassing each other as I walked back to the roadside attraction.
It seemed unlikely that we would miss each other with such a short distance between us, but I knew some of these tourist spots would have a rear exit so the folks leaving wouldn’t get in the way of those entering.
I didn’t receive a reply, so I assumed they were in the middle of having a ‘fright load of fun’, as the fliers at the hotel would suggest were likely to occur.
It didn’t take long to arrive back at the parking lot to Sammy’s on foot, so I was sure they would have made it through the attractions by now. I still hadn’t heard back from my wife, but she was often prone to leave me hanging on text messages, so I thought nothing of it.
As I walked closer, I really took in the size of the place for the first time. It was set up to look like a giant, classically styled haunted house. Various colors of tarnished siding, boarded up windows and a wide variety of warnings spray painted on the walls. They looked like something cruel teenagers would apply to the house belonging to the neighborhood weirdo.
‘Turn back now!’ ‘You’ll never last until morning’ ‘Save yourself!’ were just a handful of the phrases painted across the large building. It had to be a solid five stories tall at least, and looked like it had set them back a healthy chunk of cash.
There were the classic seasonal assembly of horrific characters just outside the entrance. Werewolves, evil looking scarecrows, vampires and the like, all set up in their best mid action poses to alarm those who may pass by. Though I didn’t care for the theme, I couldn’t argue that it all looked quite convincing.
When I pushed open the door to the lobby inside, I heard a ghostly howl that seemed to be triggered by a motion sensor beside the entryway. I rolled my eyes at this one, as it seemed a little cliche.
Of course, well done or not, this whole place was quite the stereotype, but I imagine it was effective to their target audience.
Though festive decor lined the interior as much as the exterior, I was surprised to see that it looked not dissimilar to a common movie theater lobby on the inside. They even had a concession stand, though it sold just as many advertising trinkets as it did snacks and beverages.
T-shirts bearing such phrases as ‘I Survived the Six Floors of Terror’, or other simpler ones bearing the moniker of this establishment hung on pegs to the side of the counter, along with hats, hoodies and even expensive looking jackets.
“Welcome to Sammy’s, how many in your party,” a monotone voice beckoned from somewhere to the side of me, breaking my staring contest with the clothing accessories.
“Um, no party actually,” I replied to the cute blonde girl dressed like a ragdoll who had approached me.
“I’m looking for my family, actually,” I continued.
“Name?” she requested, looking quite bored by the experiences her job provided.
“Hawthorne. Jessica, Sarah and Jeremy Hawthorne,” I replied.
She began tapping her fingers across the screen of the tablet she held. It had a wide case around it, shaped like a skull. Honestly, It looked like it would be quite cumbersome to make use of, with such ridiculous padding, but she seemed to have no issues with it.
“It looks like they’re still enjoying the attractions,” she said after completing her search, sounding completely unenthusiastic about said activities.
“Wow!” I replied.
“It’s been a while now! How long does this thing go on for?” I asked, genuinely taken aback that they were still in there.
“It depends on how many floors you get through,” she droned on.
“Maybe up to an hour, if they’re brave enough,” She continued.
“You’re welcome to take a seat and wait for them,” she finished, gesturing to a row of benches off to the side of the lobby.
“Alright. Thanks,” I said dismissively before walking over to take a seat.
It had already been close to an hour since I dropped my wife and kids off, but there may have been some sort of line to get in. There was currently a small group gathered up in front of the big doors to the rear of the lobby. They seemed to be awaiting whatever the allotted time was. Surely this was the case for Jess and the kids too.
After another thirty minutes passed, I was growing quite restless. The other group had entered a little while ago, and I still saw no sign of my family. I badgered the rag doll girl again, only to receive a similar dismissive conversation as we had before.
I kindly asked to speak to a manager as this was clearly going nowhere. She seemed reluctant to grant my request, but placed a phone call nonetheless.
“He should be with you shortly. Please take a seat until he gets here,” she said, gesturing back to the same bench I sat on previously, as though I had somehow forgotten it’s existence.
Perhaps I was allowing my annoyance to take root, but this was becoming a little ridiculous. Only a few minutes passed before,
“Hello there my frightful friend!” Bellowed from the portly man to my left.
“What can yer old buddy Sammy do for ya?”
He seemed very theatrical in his words and actions as he spoke in an almost exaggerated Irish accent.
“I’m looking for my family,” I replied without hesitation.
“I dropped them off about an hour and a half ago, and they’re still not out.”
“Well good lord!” he exclaimed in an awful imitation of an English accent.
“We got a proper bloody limey among us! Pip pip, and tally ho!” He continued as he jumped his plump little body from the floor to click his heels together.
“Look, mate. I just want to see my family, yeah?” I said, feeling a growing aggravation with the rotund man dressed in the style of a circus ringleader.
“Oy, easy on, gov’na! I was just ‘aving a little fun!” He replied, jovially
“Give it a rest!” I exclaimed, grabbing the man by his collar.
“Where is my fucking family?” I asked slowly and firmly before letting go of the fool who still wore a silly grin.
“I’m sorry,” I said, though it wasn’t exactly sincere.
“I’m just worried about my kids. It’s been a while and I haven’t seen any sign of them,”
The man nodded to the rag doll, who quickly brought him her skull wrapped device. He tapped away on the screen, still keeping every action almost comically exaggerated.
“It looks like they got through all six floors!” He exclaimed with his eyes wide.
“Likely, they’ll be enjoying the restaurant and arcade at the bottom.”
“The bottom?” I asked, glancing upwards at the ceiling I assumed to be the base to the second floor.
“The six floors of fear go down, me boy,” he grinned, fully returning to his Irish brogue.
“Can I meet them down there?” I asked, hopeful that I may finally get to meet up with them.
“Only if ye brave the floors yerself!” He said, proudly, straightening his posture.
“Isn’t there, like, an employee’s entrance or something?” I asked, feeling exhausted by this whole ordeal.
“Well of course, boy-o, but such things are not fit fer mere mortals to cross!” He said, with a mischievous look in his eye.
“C’mon! Don’t ye wanna have some Halloween fun, yerself?” He asked, wringing his fingers together.
“I don’t give a flying fuck about Halloween, mate!” I belted, feeling my face flush.
“Just take me to my fucking family, you smug little shit!”
A certain amount of malice crossed his red bearded face for a moment. We locked eyes in what felt like a completely childish staring contest. There was something unsettling in the way he looked at me, as his mouth twitched ever so slightly.
“If ye wants to get to yer loved ones,” he sneered.
“Ye needs to descend the six floors. Are ye brave enough to face yer fears, me boy?” He asked as his face regained a pleasant smile.
“Fine,” I sighed.
“How much?” I asked, feeling like this whole thing was just a set-up to squeeze out more cash.
“It’s on the house,” he said, grinning widely before making a theatrical bow.
“Fer the misunderstanding, of course.”
He gestured to the small group that gathered in front of the wide entrance, which was made up to look like heavy, iron doors.
Feeling dejected and annoyed, I slowly dragged my feet over to the six other people that stood before the entryway.
“Do try to enjoy yerself,” the pudgy faced man said as the doors creaked open.
Almost instantly, I found my eyes rolling again as I looked upon the predictable strobing lights that flickered beyond the opening of the giant doors.
The two teen couples in the front of the group huddled together while the boys gave each other a grin. The girls, who wrapped themselves around the two, were certainly overselling their fears at the silly sights ahead, but I remember such games when I was younger.
“Someone’s getting laid tonight,” the voice in the back of my head stated.
The closest kid to the front had shaggy dark hair, and wore a letterman jacket, while the girl who held onto him had her blonde hair tied into pigtails, and wore a red and white cheerleader outfit.
The other girl had long black hair that hung to the middle of the back of her blue minidress. The guy who stood beside her had short brown hair, parted in the center, and wore a blue and white striped button up shirt and dark, purposely ripped jeans.
The remaining two members of the group whose company I would be forced to share for the next hour or so, looked to be in their mid-twenties.
The taller of the two wore a white shirt and tie, with a grey, pin-striped vest that was buttoned in the center. His jeans were also stylishly ripped, and he had a dark, chinstrap beard, a thin mustache and spiked black hair.
The other had a shaved head, and a thicker, yet tidy dirty blonde beard. He wore a tight beige sweater that accented his athletic build, and baggy, light blue jeans.
I couldn’t really get a read on my new companions, but I hoped they would help make this experience as tolerable as possible.
As we made our way through the makeshift hallways, likely made of cheap wood, draped in dark cloth, I kept checking my phone to see if Jess had replied yet. I almost winced every time one of the teenage girls made an over the top scream while wrapping their bodies further around their excited dates.
Plenty of costumed men and women jumped out from behind walls to bring frights to those who couldn’t see that shit coming from a mile away. Some seemed more into it than others. The guy in the Scream get-up acted like he’d rather be drilling down online friends on whatever shooter game took his fancy.
After a few minutes, we cleared the black draped walls and found ourselves looking at a stairway that led down into sights unseen. The fluorescent lights that were mounted to the ceiling above the steps flickered almost as much as the strobes we had only cleared moments ago.
I let out a heavy sigh and checked my phone again, while the airheads in front were attempting to sound convincing in their terror at the thought of descending to the second floor. It wasn’t until then that I really took in the implications of six floors going downwards. How deep did they have to dig to build this place?
My thoughts were cut short when a man in a bloody apron, wearing a burlap sack over his head and wielding a roaring chainsaw came charging at us. A ridiculous abundance of shrieking came from the front of the group, before the two couples scampered down the steps.
The two guys in the back strolled quickly behind them. I just began my descent at an average pace. I wanted to get back to my family as quickly as I could, but I wasn’t about to let myself get dragged into this silliness.
As I approached the bottom of the staircase, I saw that all six of my associates for the day were standing in a row.
None of them were moving and even the dramatic teenage girls were silent while they gripped tightly onto their boyfriend’s. When I got level with them, I found my jaw hanging open when I looked upon the darkly lit woods that lay beyond the landing.
There was no evidence of walls to our sides or a ceiling above our heads. All I could make out above the dense woods was the night sky with a bright full moon shining down.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Maybe the stairs led us outside?” The taller of the mid-twenties guys said, completely unconvincingly.
“It’s just special effects,” the dark haired teenager next to the pigtailed girl in the cheerleader outfit remarked, attempting to sound confident.
“Can we just go back?” The girl replied, her voice trembling slightly.
“This is just too weird,” she continued.
“Quit being a pussy!, None of this shit is real!” The teenage boy said before being smacked across the chest by his girlfriend.
“Don’t be an asshole, Greg!” She said before smacking him again.
After some back and forth, the group agreed to turn around and head back up the steps. I was sure this was all just some sort of gimmick, but I couldn’t deny that this floor looked as though it would take some time to get through.
I desperately wanted to get to Jess and the kids, but maybe I could walk around the building and reach the arcade another way. If this building really did lead another six floors down, surely there was some way to get there from the outside.
“What the hell!?” The spikey haired twenty-something guy exclaimed, mirroring my own thoughts when we turned around to see that only more woods stood behind us.
“It’s gotta be an illusion or something,” his friend retorted before walking towards where the stairs were only moments ago with his arms outstretched in front of him.
He traced his hands around like he was trying to find a light switch in a dark room, but he only walked further than where the stairs had stood.
“They must have retracted them,” the confident teenage boy who had recently received a slap from his girl said.
More conversation erupted among our small group while they attempted to explain what was going on, but I just wanted to get moving. Giving little shit about standing around and listening to any more pointless arguing, I started walking forward in the direction the stairs had stood before.
It would stand to reason that, if this was indeed another floor, I would have to make my way under the one above to reach another possible flight of stairs.
“Where the fuck are you going!?” The cheerleader’s boyfriend called out.
“Looking for the next stairway,” I replied, turning around as I continued to walk away from the six in a huddle.
“You’re goin’ the wrong way, dingus!” He exclaimed, laughing at my apparent ignorance.
“We’re in a forest, mate,” I replied, shrugging off his insult as uncertainty mixed with adolescent cockiness.
“Who knows what’s right and wrong?” I finished, choosing not to get into my reasoning with someone unreasonable.
“Fuck that limey fruit!” I heard the cocky kid’s friend say from behind me.
“He can get himself lost. Let’s get moving in the RIGHT direction!” He spoke loudly to make sure I heard, but I wasn’t about to waste my time picking fights with children.
It only served to make me dread my kids’ teenage years more than I already did.
I still heard their voices in the distance as I made my way through the trees, but I felt no need to register their words. After walking for a little while, I came to a clearing in the trees that housed a large, stone altar with the words: ‘When the Moon is Full, They Come to Play,’ carved into it.
I rubbed my fingers across the tablet, and found myself surprised and slightly impressed that it felt like cold and bumpy stone. They really had spared no expense with this place.
“Daddy!” I heard my daughter’s voice call from somewhere ahead.
“Sarah!” I yelled out with my heart racing.
Had she gotten lost in here? Could Jess and Jeremy be out there too?
“Daddy, help me!” She shouted with panic in her voice.
“I’m coming, Punkin! Just keep calling out and I’ll follow your voice!” I yelled out as I ran in the direction of the sound.
No matter how fast I ran, her words seemed to grow no closer. Branches whipped me in the face as I weaved in and out of trees, but I could not find my daughter anywhere.
“Daddy! He’s hurting me!” She cried out, causing my movements to become even more erratic as panic swelled in my chest.
“Daddy Daddy Daddy…” her voice kept calling with each repetition of my moniker coming from a different direction.
I spun in place and became dizzy from jerking my head at a new angle for every repetition of my daughter’s words.
“Daddy Daddy Daddy….,” Continued to echo through the woods as the voice grew deeper and more menacing than my child was capable of sounding.
“Daddy,” was said calmly one final time from directly behind me.
It was not even close to Sarah’s voice anymore. It now sounded gargled and hauntingly deep. I noticed a scent of something foul coming from where the words were spoken, and I felt heavy breaths brush across the back of my neck.
“Help me, Daddy,” the voice at my rear said before I slowly turned around.
I found my jaw hanging wide once more when I turned to see the fleshy and wrinkled chest of what appeared to be some sort of monstrous parody of my sweet little girl. It stood probably nine or ten feet tall, and two to three times as wide as I.
Two muscled and deformed arms hung almost to the ground, beside far skinnier and bony legs. The chest looked emaciated behind the stretched and torn unicorn t-shirt Sarah had been wearing today.
The large head had a low hanging jaw that lay open and drooling while jutted out in an unsettling and crooked underbite. Two different sized, though still enlarged eyes looked down on me.
They were the exact same shade of grey-blue as my daughter’s. The red hair that was tied back into a ponytail sprouted out from somewhere in the back of the thing’s head.
“You’re not her!” I exclaimed, slowly backing away from the creature wearing the shredded clothes my girl had worn this very day.
“Daddy!” It whined, which sounded almost like the guttural moans of a large and wounded animal.
“Don’t you love me anymore?” Wailed out while it walked closer with it’s elongated arms stretched out towards me.
I continued backing away, shaking my head from side to side. I was trying to convince myself that this was not some sort of abomination formed from a cruel experiment on my baby girl, but that very thought was stabbing into me more and more.
“You’re not her, you’re not her” I said over and over like some sort of bargaining prayer as tears flowed down my face.
“But Daddy, it’s meeeeeeee!” It called out one last time before something pointed and barbed sprouted from her chest.
The creature coughed and gargled on blood that began to rise up from its throat and out of its mouth. It fell to its knees and slumped over onto the ground to reveal a jagged tree branch had been gouged through it’s flesh.
“You ok man?” The heavily breathing voice of the taller of the twenty-something guys said as he ran around from behind the beast that lay on the forest floor.
It cried out one final, “Daaddyyyyy!” before the long arm it reached up at me flopped to the ground. A single choking breath passed it’s mutated lips before it lay still and silent.
I was still shaking my head from side to side, entranced by the mutated thing that wore my daughter’s clothes as it spilled dark blood across the leaves and pine straw on the ground.
“W-what the fuck is g-going on?” I asked the boy who was now helping me back up to my feet.
I hadn’t even realized I had dropped to a sitting position until I felt his arms wrap around me.
Beginning to regain my senses and composure, I looked at the kid who had impaled the thing that now lay lifeless. He had a deep gash across his left eyebrow, and the right sleeve of his shirt had been torn off.
Another four people came staggering through the trees and I saw that they had all apparently been through some shit.
The other kid in his twenties was limping while bracing himself with a long and solid branch. His right knee appeared to be covered in blood and wrapped with the sleeve from his friend’s shirt.
The teenage boy with the dark haired girlfriend appeared unharmed, but she clung onto him in a much more convincing fashion than her flirtatious manner before.
The other girl was on the ground, sobbing into her hands. Her outfit was covered in blood and her stockings were torn on both shins, where twin gashes leaked through the splits.
“This ain’t no fucking game,” the boy perched on the heavy branch said.
The one who saved me from the approaching monstrosity went on to explain that they were attacked by some sort of hunched over creatures, with long fur covering their bodies and sharp claws on their hands.
The arrogant kid who wore the letterman jacket thought they were part of the show and approached them to take a selfie. One of the beasts bit into his throat, and the other tore off the arm that held the cell phone outstretched.
A battle had ensued which caused the shredding of the one guy’s knee, and the gashes across the shins of the dead teens girlfriend. They managed to kill the animals, or whatever they were, but it wasn’t easy. The cheerleader wrestled to wake her boyfriend up, her shock convincing her that he ‘wasn’t hurt that badly’.
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed, still taking glances at the thing that had pretended to be my daughter.
“God, I hope it was pretending,” the voice in the back of my head argued.
I shook my head as if to shake such thoughts away. Regardless of whatever these things were, hidden away in the trees, I was terrified at the thought of my family being out there somewhere.
“We gotta get moving,” the tall kid said, “No telling what else is out there.”
The teenage couple helped the sobbing girl up and wrapped their arms around her. The other guy assisted his friend with the bandaged leg, and we began walking, though we were thoroughly lost by now.
On our journey through the trees, we heard rustling leaves and stampeding feet, but nothing else sprung out at us. It took us some time, but after walking for God knows how long, we all shared sighs of relief when we approached a parting of the trees that led to concrete pavement.
The solid pathway led directly to another flight of stairs, which resembled those that may descend into a subway tunnel. I checked my phone again to see that I had still not received a word from my wife, and I was terrified to think what my family may be facing right now.
I was worried that they may still be on the floor that we were now leaving behind, but something told me they were still ahead of us. I couldn’t put my finger on what was convincing me of that, but somehow I knew I had to keep going.
Once again, the shoddy lights flickered above our heads as we made our way down to the next floor. I had no way of knowing what still lay ahead of us, but the first floor paled in comparison to the second.
I’ve never been a religious man, but I can’t say I didn’t internally say a small prayer as we walked down into the darkness below.
Just as I had predicted, the stairway led to what appeared to be an abandoned subway. The lights above our heads still blinked in and out, but other than the buzzing noise they made, the tunnel was completely silent.
Old cups, wrappers and paper bags lined the concrete floor along with newspaper pages that appeared decades old. The paper was yellowed and even burned in places, but the words were still legible.
My body was still shivering from head to toe. I couldn’t break my thoughts away from the freakish creature in my daughter’s clothes.
I had to find my family, no matter what. Though I was still scared they could have been lost on the floor above, I knew I had to plunder forwards.
It hurt me, more so for Jess and the kids than myself, to see what should have been a pleasantly creepy Halloween experience have turned out to be something like this. I think my wife loved this time of year even more than the kids.
Even before our little Punkin came along, Jessica always made sure our house was the most decorated for the season. Every year, we would add even more eerie and macabre decor to our home, so it was only natural the kids would grow to love it too.
She told me it was almost like a sacred holiday in her family, and she would never allow us to be seen not following the traditions it held. Even though I never cared for it, I would go out of my way to make her happy when October approached. She would get like a giddy child when it was getting close.
“Subway fire claims the lives of hundreds,” the teenage boy called from behind me.
I turned around to see him crouched on the ground, holding one of the discarded newspaper pages. His girlfriend and her friend were still huddled together while he squatted in front of them, and the other two guys were just looking around the empty, concrete tunnel.
“It’s got today’s date on it!” The boy on the floor exclaimed.
“Of course it does,” I whispered to myself with a sigh.
“Huh?” The kid reading the paper asked, apparently having heard me speak.
“Nothing,” I said dismissively.
“Hey we saved your ass, man!” He called out, getting back to his feet and stomping towards me.
“I’m just thinking out loud, mate. No disrespect intended,” I replied apologetically.
“You better not disrespect me, fucking old fart,” he said under his breath as he walked back to the girls.
I shook my head as my mind took me back to my adolescent years. I was always ready to pick a fight. Constantly seeking opportunities to make myself look tough in front of others. It wasn’t the easiest thing, being a foreign kid in an American school.
My accent made me a target, so I made sure to overcompensate should the opportunity arise. I got in plenty of scuffles for no good reason, but other kids left me alone after a while. Whether I actually intimidated them, or they just didn’t want to put up with my shit, I’ll never know. We all do what we have to, I suppose
“At least we only have one direction to go this time,” the guy who braced himself with the tree branch said.
“Not so much,” I replied, pointing towards where we had approached from.
“Goddamnit,” he sighed when he turned to look at the now absent stairway, which left an open tunnel in its wake.
“Yep,” I said, agreeing with his sentiment.
We all stood around in silence for a bit. I checked my phone several more times over the course of a few minutes. Somehow, I still had four bars of reception, but still had not received word from Jess.
“While we figure out what to do next,” The guy with the makeshift crutch suggested.
“Maybe we should introduce ourselves?”
Perhaps it would be best to have some names to go with the faces, since we were forced to be in each other’s company for the time being.
With the agreement of the group, we all offered our names and spoke for a moment. Tony, the tall, well dressed guy who impaled my would be daughter, told us that he and his boyfriend, Calvin, who now propped beside him, using his strength to hold him upright instead of the branch, said that they met each other online. They arranged to meet a few years ago, and instantly fell for each other. They had been together since then, well, after moving closer to one another.
Together, they ran a podcast that inspired them to go undercover to a variety of roadside attractions. They had exposed quite a few over the years for safety hazards along with an array of other violations at places such as the one they thought they were entering today.
Bridget and Monica were cheerleaders in the same high school, where they had been friends since the sixth grade. They were in their senior year now, along with Gregory and Todd, the two boys whose company they shared today.
Gregory, who currently lay dead on the floor above, was on the football team of the school they all attended. He and Bridget had been together for six months, and his friend, Todd, who went to a different school, was a blind date for Monica. They had apparently hit it off right off the bat, and planned to see more of each other if we ever saw the outside world again.
After getting to know the other members of the group a little bit, we all agreed to try to work as a team to get through this.
“No more wandering off on our own,” Tony declared, giving me a wink.
I shrugged and nodded my agreement. We all chuckled a little, with the exception of Bridget, who still appeared almost catatonic.
After we felt we had taken sufficient enough time to rest and gather our collective composure, we all agreed to follow the path that led behind where the staircase dropped us off.
We couldn’t exactly pinpoint which was the correct direction on the floor above, as we were all so turned around by the time we found our way to this place, so we had no basis for comparison.
Perhaps the steps vanishing to reveal a second path was a hint for us to go that way, or it could very well be a trap. Somehow, we did not expect either to be a particularly safer route.
We stayed close together as we walked through the tunnel with only the flickering lights above to guide our path. The platform was wide enough for us to walk side by side, but we allowed the teenage trio to walk behind the rest of us, as they were still dealing with a traumatized and barely responsive girl.
We saw no more than the littering of trash across the concrete floor over the half hour or so we had been walking, when Calvin pointed out that the old newspapers and paper bags were now being disturbed by a subtle breeze that was blowing around us.
“Maybe we’re getting close to the exit,” Tony suggested, while softly rubbing his hand across his boyfriend’s back.
“Christ, I hope so!” Calvin replied with a heavy sigh.
“Fucking leg is hurting like a bitch!”
I could only imagine how badly he was hurting as my perfectly unharmed lower extremities were throbbing pretty well too. Of course, I was especially exhausted having spent six hours in a bloody truck before coming here.
After a few more minutes, we felt the ground begin to tremble beneath our feet. The barely functioning girl screamed at the top of her lungs, before the other girl wrapped her hands around her friend’s mouth.
“Stop it!” She demanded while holding her arms around the girl who fought her tooth and nail.
“We’re all gonna die!” Bridget cried out after wrestling herself free from Monica’s grasp.
She elbowed her friend in the gut when she tried to grab her again, and took off running past us.
“Goddamnit, Bridge! Come back!” Todd called out, before scampering after her with his girlfriend directly behind him.
“Fuck,” Tony sighed, rolling his neck before giving me an exasperated look.
We made the silent decision to attempt to pursue the three that ran ahead, but we weren’t about to force Calvin to go any faster than he was capable of with his swollen and bloody leg.
I ran a little ahead of the other two while Tony assisted his boyfriend as much as he could. We could still see the teens ahead, though the flickering of the lights had become far more erratic, occasionally leaving us in the dark for a minute or so at a time.
I finally closed the gap to find the trio squatting on the ground. I bent over and grabbed my aching side, while Todd and Monica tried to calm the hysterical Bridget who was flailing her arms while spitting out barely comprehensible words.
As the rumbling of the floor grew stronger, the wall beside us began to shudder and shift. It was gradually moving towards us, narrowing the path towards the open subways tracks.
“Oh shit!” Tony belted out with his pointer finger outstretched to the tunnel ahead.
I turned my gaze from the moaning teens on the floor to the bright lights that illuminated the darkness ahead. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the tremors and the approaching glow was a train speeding towards us.
The platform was narrowing more and more as the lights ahead drew closer. Bridget was screaming at the top of her lungs as the wall pushed us close and closer to the track.
“We’ve gotta jump!” She cried out before breaking free of her friend’s arms.
She leapt from the path, and yelled out in agony when she landed with a loud crack onto the ground below.
Without hesitation, and honestly very impressive in his bravery, Todd slid down off the path to help her. Monica ran to watch over the ledge, and hung her arms over the side to help drag them back up.
The lights were getting closer and closer as Monica aided her boyfriend in dragging a weeping Bridget back on to the narrowing pathway. What happened next left my jaw agape for the third time that day.
The three teenagers had successfully escaped the tracks before the approaching train arrived. Just as we saw the metal behemoth rounding the curve before us, the concrete of the platform beneath our feet began to crack and quake violently.
It took all of my focus and balance to remain on my feet, while Calvin and Tony held onto each other to stop from falling to the shuddering ground.
The teenage trio was not so lucky. They had still sat at the very edge of the platform after making their way back up from the tracks below, so when the ground crumbled and shook, it gave way where they lay, catching their collective breath.
Monica turned her head toward us with an startled expression of utter shock and anguish as each of the teenagers tumbled off of the landing and onto the tracks, just in time to meet the oncoming train.
“No!” I cried out in protest, pointlessly reaching my arm out to the three who had just met their sticky end with a loud splat that sprayed blood across the platform.
Tony, Calvin and I just stared at the rusted and ancient looking subway car as it came to a halt before squeakily sliding it’s doors open across from where we stood. The wall was still gradually closing the gap between us and the train, giving us little choice but to board the heavily abused shell.
The doors screamed shut behind us before the mildewed bricks sealed the landing we had left behind. Tony gasped when he turned his eyes to what lay inside, causing his boyfriend and I to share his reaction.
Dismembered and burned wisps of translucent bodies sat upon the seats and stood in the aisle of the subway car we now inhabited.
“You look hurt,” the somber and monotone voice of a thin, charred specter said to Calvin, whose arm was clutching onto his wooden prop like a safety blanket.
The slender, see-through man got to his feet, and gestured back towards the now open seat with his one remaining arm. Calvin grew incredibly pale when he looked at the face of the spirit, whose left side was almost completely burnt, leaving only melted and bubbled tissue and skull.
“T-thankyou,” he shakily said to the scorched and torn phantasm, who bowed his head courteously.
After taking his seat, he looked up at us with wide eyes and a trembling lower lip. The ghost who had so graciously given up his seat, now wrapped his fingers around the metal rod that paralleled the ceiling, before absentmindedly glaring out of the window with his solitary eye.
We were all still shaken up by the bloody demise of the teenage trio, and our current company did not help us to regain any manner of composure. None of the spectres appeared to pay us any attention, outside of the half scorched one who now only seemed concerned with the solid wall beyond the glass.
“What do we do now?” Tony asked, looking at his boyfriend and back towards me.
I just shrugged and shook my head. I found words difficult to form all of a sudden. My mind was still arguing that none of this could actually be happening. It was just a simple roadside attraction.
Such things as what we had seen since descending that first flight of stairs could not rationally exist, right? Could we have been drugged before entering the room behind the fake iron doors?
I let my own eyes turn toward the windows of the shuddering train to see nothing more than brick and darkness outside, still contemplating the true nature of the things I had seen so far.
“What the hell is really going on here?” Calvin asked, shaking his head from side to side.
“Train,” Tony replied, barely changing his expression.
“I know it’s a fucking train,” Calvin said, shrugging his shoulders and looking agitated.
“I mean what is all of this?” He repeated.
We both looked at him with no answers to give.
“Well, it’s safe to say we’re not ‘descending the six floors of fright’, right?” Calvin continued, making air quotes with his fingers.
“So how did we end up in a fucking forest, and then a fucking train!?” He rambled on as his voice grew more frustrated.
“Some sort of parallel dimension, or something?” I asked, shrugging slightly.
I wasn’t prone to believing in such things, but it really was the only thing that made any sort of sense, as far out of the box as the idea of it was.
“Like each floor is, what, a different universe?” Tony asked, screwing up his face.
“Could explain why the stairs vanish, I guess,” Calvin mentioned.
Once more, our conversation gave way to somber silence, before I was jerked from my thoughts by the vibration of my cell phone in my pocket.
“Des?” Jessica asked from the other end of the receiver.
“Oh my god, Jess! Where are you guys?” I asked with my pulse quickening.
“We………..last floor……….meet…………you coming?…..,” She said through so much static, I could not make out what she was getting at.
“I can’t hear you, babe,” I said.
“Are you and the kids safe? Did you make it out!?” I asked, hoping I could get some sort of affirmation to their circumstances.
“I……don’t……..Jer……..Punki………..where?” She replied.
Suddenly, panic revisited me again when my desperate plea for answers was interrupted as the train car began to shudder wildly and the darkness behind the glass gave way to flickering, bright light.
“Jess!? Baby, where are you!?” I begged before the line went dead.
It didn’t take long to register that the glow outside was actually coming from a fiery blaze that caused the windows to bubble and crack. The flock of translucent wraiths among us got to their feet and ran for the subway car to the rear of where we stood. They all screamed in shared anguish and terror as they pounded on the door that appeared sealed.
The side entrance we had entered through flew open to reveal the angry inferno in full color. Tony and I plastered ourselves against the opposite wall of the train, casting glances at each other and down at Calvin who still sat, staring out into the fire that surrounded us.
“What do we do!?” He cried out, looking back up at the two of us who clung to the wall of the car for dear life.
“I dunno.” Tony replied, almost emotionless and blankly.
As I continued to watch the flames beating against the outside of the train, I noticed flickers of blue behind them.
“It’s the sky!” I exclaimed out loud.
“It’s the bloody sky!” I repeated, cutting my eyes to my companions while pointing out the doorway.
They both just glared at me with puzzled expressions on their faces.
I’m not entirely sure what reasoning guided my actions, but I braced my arms and my right leg against the wall I was leaning on before turning back to Tony and Calvin.
“I don’t know if this is the right call, but I think we have to jump,” I said before looking ahead of me again.
All I knew right now was my wife was alive. I had to get to her and the kids, and I was prepared to risk whatever rash decisions I had to make to reach that goal.
“Are you fucking serious!?” Tony asked in a surprised tone.
“I’m going for it,” I replied.
“If you don’t hear me screaming bloody murder, you may want to follow,” I continued before sprinting toward the door, pushing my leg and arms against to wall for a jump start.
“Wait!” Calvin cried out before I passed through the opening.
Though I was prepared to feel the flames scorching my flesh, I only felt a slight heat before I found myself falling.
“Oh shiiiiit!” I called out as I felt my stomach leap into my throat while I felt the complete absence of ground below me.
I screamed against my lurching stomach, while I careened downwards. I felt my limbs weightlessly flapping in the air, until I splashed into the cold water below.
The roaring train fell silent as I sunk down into the depths. I flailed around wildly before gathering myself up. I thrust my arms and legs against the water and worked my way back up to the surface. I broke through the roof of the lake and called out to the enormous bridge high above me.
“IT’S SAFE!” I yelled out as loudly as I could to the train that was doused in flames, still upon the giant structure.
“YOU GOTTA JUUUMP!” I shouted out once more.
I bobbed around on the water for as long as I could while the subway car sped towards a tunnel ahead. There was no sign of Tony and Calvin, and I watched on while they disappeared into the dark cavern.
My stomach sank when the realization that I was now alone hit me. I looked around me to see land a ways off in the distance. With a heavy sigh, I began my swim.
As I approached the sandy riverbank, I felt something grab onto my leg. I wrestled to keep myself afloat, but I couldn’t stop myself from being yanked down to the depths below.
I kicked wildly with my other foot to no avail, and when I looked to see what had me, I saw a thick tentacle wrapped around my right shin. I screamed out, which only served to allow what little oxygen I had filled my lungs with to escape into the water.
I dug my fingers into the dense meat that clutched onto my leg in an attempt to claw it off of me. I punched as hard as I could against the pressure of the water around me which eventually caused it to give way and release me.
I thrust myself away from it as it charged at me again, refusing to allow my eyes to make contact with whatever the tentacle branched from. I just beat against the water as hard as I could when I noticed a tunnel ahead.
I swam harder than I knew I could to distance myself from the stretching appendage that shot towards me again. It almost grabbed me again, but I managed to kick off of it and push my body closer to the opening ahead.
As soon as I cleared the entrance, the creature beat against the doorway, causing rocks to cascade, sealing it shut behind me. I began to panic as my lungs struggled for breath, but I continued to push as hard as I could. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I forced myself upwards, praying for the ability to escape a watery grave.
I inhaled a deep breath of precious oxygen when I broke free of the water. The air tasted stale, but still gloriously swelled within my lungs. Again, I found myself bobbing along, but I did not look out into the bright blue sky this time. My eyes met an enormous cavern that surrounded me, which appeared lit by an unseen source. The rippling water traced its reflection across the walls and ceiling of the cave, and I saw solid ground directly across from where I was floating.
I quickly swam to the bank, fearing whatever may still be underneath me in the depths. I dragged my still gasping body onto the hard ground and lay on my back breathing heavily.
After some time, I finally gathered myself up and climbed back to my feet. I winced when I put pressure on the leg the tentacle had wrapped around. I looked down to see my pant leg torn into shreds, revealing a series of swollen circular bruises.
The initial pain faded quickly, but still felt mildly uncomfortable causing me a slight limp as I shuffled forwards. I traversed the rocky path, keeping a steady lookout for anything that may be lurking behind me.
I felt weighed down by my soaked clothing as I walked on, and I had no idea if the direction I followed would lead me anywhere. I finally saw what caused the dim light to flow through the otherwise darkened cavern.
Small, glowing and winged creatures circled above me. They stayed close to the ceiling of the cave, which was some fifty feet, or so, high.
It was while I was glaring up at the glowing, fluttering creatures, that I felt a stab in my chest as I realized my only link to my family was still resting in my dripping wet pocket.
“Fuck!” I belted out, looking down at my phone that showed no sign of life behind its moistened screen.
I tried popping out the battery to see if I could wipe it off on my shirt, but I didn’t have a dry spot on me to even attempt to smear away any of the water.
With a burgeoning rage swelling inside me, I rared my arm back to sling my device into the nearest wall. As I stood there, ready to release it from my grasp, I sighed loudly and stashed the deceased black screen back into my drenched pocket.
The path I walked slowly narrowed as it closed around the lake, which I left behind me as I wandered on. Though my route grew slimmer, it remained just as high, and a strange sort of echo bellowed from somewhere in the distance. I picked up a decently sized rock in anticipation of the potentially monstrous things that may lay ahead, though I quickened my pace slightly.
The pain in my swollen leg had finally reduced to the point that I only noticed it from time to time, so my journey through the cavern was growing more tolerable, though my chest was hammering like a construction crew at work. The sounds ahead of me grew more erratic and I felt my neck tense up the closer I got.
I rounded a sharp corner as the path slimmed even more before it opened up to a wide room with a far lower ceiling than I had experienced this far. There was a rocky stairway leading upwards on my right. The noises boomed from above me, and began to mix with what sounded like screaming.
I ran to the steps and looked up into the opening the stairs led to, but I could only see darkness and nothing more. As I slowly began to set foot into the first step, a flock of the shimmering creatures charged at me.
I swatted at them furiously while little mouths bit into my fingers and arms. I fell to the hard ground and reached for the rock that slipped through my grasp when they attacked.
I looked up to see the swarm of tiny faces staring back at me from above the first few steps. They were little winged people! If I believed in such things, I would be inclined to call them fairies, but surely this was just a trick of the light.
I remembered how Jess would tell me that, according to Halloween lore, Fairies, and spirits of the like, were free to walk among us this time of year. I would often laugh when she brought up the more fantastical and supernatural elements of her beloved holiday, but she always spoke with such reverence when she talked about such things.
The fairies, for lack of anything reasonable to call them, just hovered there, guarding the stairway. I could only assume that I was not to be granted entry to whatever lay above me, so I put my hands out in front of me as though I stood at gunpoint.
“Ok,” I said, “I won’t go up.”
As soon as I finished my sentence, the throng of fluttering, tiny people separated and flew off in various directions.
“What the actual fuck?” I asked the steps I was not permitted to access.
Once more, I got to my feet and began to continue walking in the direction I started. I was almost to the open exit at the rear of the room when I heard:
“RUUUN!” Coming from above me.
I whipped my head around to see Tony and Calvin sprinting down the steps.
“Holy shit!” Tony exclaimed when I ran to meet them at the stairs.
“How are you alive?” He asked.
I explained what had transpired after I leapt from the train, before asking:
“Why didn’t you guys jump?”
“You told us if you didn’t scream, to follow you,” Calvin replied.
“And you screamed!”
I laughed when I recalled my completely undignified “Oh shit!” After I found only air beneath me.
“So how did you guys get out?” I asked
Calvin went on to tell me about what happened after I left them behind. It would seem the train came to a halt some moments after crossing the tall bridge. They were swarmed by the charred specters and forced to jump out into the flames, which faded as soon as they crossed from the subway car. They stood in front of a new set of stairs leading down into the fourth floor.
They found themselves in a darkened desert, with a moonless night sky above. Almost immediately, they were chased by giant scorpions and tarantulas that erupted from the ground like a sandy volcano. As they ran for their lives, they fell into a bed of quicksand which they sunk down into quickly.
With little doubt this would be the end of their journey, they gave into whatever fate lay beneath the ground only to drop into a cavernous chamber beneath the sand. They were now face to face with the stairway as the beasts which chased them fell through the sand they had just passed through.
“Sounds like you found yourself a shortcut,” Tony remarked with a smile.
Though we all laughed at his statement, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was onto something.
Having assumed I had still been on the third floor, I began to rethink my stance on where we were. I had previously come to the belief that we were crossing some sort of dimensional gate between floors, but if I literally jumped down two floors, there had to be some physical connection between them.
I ran this new theory by my companions, to which they seemed skeptical, at best.
“I mean, that was sort of a fluke, right?” Tony replied.
“It’s not like we can just leap off some ledges and hope for the best.”
I couldn’t deny that he had a point, but I still insisted that we should at least keep our eyes peeled for anything that may seem out of place.
They shrugged in half-assed agreement, and we all headed for the exit I had almost reached when they came running down the steps.
“How’s the leg?” I asked after noticing Calvin wasn’t using his branch to walk anymore.
“Honestly, a fuck ton better,” he replied, pulling the wrapped shirt sleeve up to reveal the swelling had gone down considerably. The gashes still looked pretty gnarly, but he only had a slight limp now, compared to his borderline lack of mobility before.
As we continued our stroll, the cavern walls became narrower and narrower. We could only proceed in single file now, and the air around had grown very thin.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Tony asked through a slightly wheezing breath.
“It has to be,” I replied before explaining to them where I had come from.
The ceiling was only inches above our heads now, and we had to turn our bodies to the side to keep going. We were all gasping for breath now, as the thin air combined with the claustrophobic surroundings to cause a degree of hyperventilation. As it started to get to the point where I wasn’t sure if we would be able to progress any further, I felt my feet give out from beneath me as the ground formed a steep slant.
“SHIT!” I yelled out when I began to slide down the slick angled chute.
“DESMOND!” I heard my name yelled from above me as I sped down the slippery slope.
After a few moments, I once again found the ground removed from beneath me, before I slammed down to a solid surface.
“Fucking Christ,” I wheezed out with the wind completely knocked out of me.
“Are you alive!” I heard from somewhere above me.
I looked up at the narrow opening that had just spit me onto the floor to see it only, maybe ten feet above my head. I rubbed my aching and likely bruised arse while I pushed myself back up onto my feet.
“Yup!” I replied to the opening in the short ceiling, still catching my breath.
After a minute or so, I heard the volume being cranked up on a scream as Calvin’s feet came charging down from the entrance above. I quickly reached my arms out to attempt to break his fall, while bracing for a likely painful impact. We both crashed back to the ground when I caught him, before the yelling of his boyfriend came charging at us.
Without enough time to get to our feet, we both rolled in opposite directions to avoid getting crushed by the rapidly approaching Tony.
“Fuck me!” He wailed after slamming into the concrete floor.
“Not right now, babe,” Calvin replied in a strained voice from the ground beside him.
“We have company!”
We all echoed winded laughter against the walls of the stone room we found ourselves in.
Our bones creaked and cracked in unison while we lifted ourselves from the floor, and we finally took a moment to take in our new surroundings.
We were in an almost perfectly round room with no exits in sight. No doorways, no holes in the ground, and no corridors leading out. It was a fucking oubliette.
“What’s an oubliette?” Calvin asked when I spoke the thought out loud.
“A dungeon only accessible from an entrance above,” Tony replied with a heavy sigh.
“They used to leave people to die in places like this,” I said, following Tony’s words.
“To simply forget about them.”
“The hole isn’t too high up,” Calvin replied, sounding hopeful.
“Even if we can get back up,” Tony replied.
“Where do we go from there?”
“It’s better than just waiting to die down here!” Calvin exclaimed.
I couldn’t deny he had a point. Even if we had to backtrack all the way to the lake, there had to be another way out. Only one floor remained, and I would be damned if I was just going to stay down here to rot while my family may still be out there somewhere.
Though the opening we had dropped through was not particularly high above us, it wasn’t exactly as if we could just reach back up and pull ourselves through.
“Can you give me a leg up?” I asked Tony while staring at the opening.
He nodded and walked over to me. He leaned his body downwards and cupped his hands to grab my foot. I stepped into his grip, and he heaved as he pushed me up to the hole in the ceiling.
My hands could not find any sort of lip or ledge to hold onto. I even tried pressing both palms to each side of the thin opening, but the inner walls were slick. I should’ve realized that before I even attempted this, as we had all glided down here with ease.
After one last attempt, I toppled backwards and Tony and I hit the hard ground with our backs once again. Tony groaned and I screamed curses at the opening, while pounding my hands on the floor. It wasn’t my most dignified moment, but my well was running severely dry.
Over the next few hours, we made more attempts to make an ascent from the circular room, but nothing worked. I lay on the ground staring up at the only exit to this room. Tony sat a few feet away with his head buried between his knees, and Calvin just paced around the room with frustration evident on his face.
“Maybe we’re being punished for something,” Tony said, lighting a cigarette.
“What could any of us have done that warrants this?” I exclaimed.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“Maybe we’re all dead and this is hell,” he gazed off while taking a deep drag from his smoke.
“Could they have known about our podcast?” Tony continued, turning to face his boyfriend.
“Is this supposed to teach us some sort of lesson or something?”
“We don’t deserve this,” Calvin said while he walked around the room.
“What the hell is this supposed to prove anyway!” He shouted, becoming more agitated as he stopped walking and leaned up against the wall.
“We’ll figure a way out, mate,” I said, though I didn’t believe it myself.
“IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT!” He screamed out and kicked the wall he had been propped against.
“Goddamnit!” he yelled out, dropping to the ground and grabbing the already injured leg he had just swiped at the wall with.
Tony got down beside him to assist in checking if he’d messed his leg up even more, while I walked towards the wall he had just kicked.
“Do you hear that?” I asked, while knocking my knuckles off the stone slab we were trapped behind.
“Huh?” the two on the floor retorted.
“It sounds hollow,” I said, knocking harder, causing a slight echo of possibilities behind the wall.
I rubbed my hand over the stone. It felt cold and firm, as a rock wall would, but it didn’t feel as dense, if that makes any sense. I began to kick with the flat of my foot against the supposed concrete which began to crack slightly.
“Holy shit!” Tony barked, getting back to his feet and approaching me.
The three of us beat and kicked and banged on the wall, which slowly began to form wider and deeper cracks across its face. After about ten minutes of attempting to break through, the wall finally gave way and crumbled before our eyes.
We stared over the rubble of false, makeshift rocks to see what looked like some sort of back room or storage area. There were brooms leaning against the wall, along with a bucket of water with a mop sprouting from the top.
After we worked our way over the scattered, impostor boulders, we paced to the end of the room to find a simple, wooden door. I turned the knob and swung the door open to reveal yet another staircase with flickering fluorescent lights above.
“I hope to Christ this is the last bloody floor,” I said with a heavy sigh.
I took one last look back at the broken, fabricated wall, and began yet another, and hopefully one final descent into the darkness below.
As I approached the foot of the stairs, I could see what appeared to be a damp road that reflected the moonlight that shone down from above.
“What the fuck is this now,” I asked, looking back over my shoulder at Tony and Calvin.
I stopped in my tracks when I saw nothing behind me but the steps I had already descended.
“Tony!?” I yelled out as I started to walk back up the stairs.
“Calvin!? Where’d you guys go!?”
I started back up the steps before they had a chance to disappear on me. As soon as I reached the top, I could see that things were not as we had left them.
The broom closet and fabricated oubliette had somehow been replaced with a perfectly normal looking room. It was reminiscent of the first floor we had traversed what felt like days ago.
Black cloth draped over the makeshift walls, though there were no plastic and latex ghouls, or any other manner of festively spooky paraphernalia.
I decided to attempt to investigate the area further to search for any hint to where my colleagues disappeared to.
It actually took very little time to travel through the entirety of the area that was formed into something of a labyrinth through the aid of the false walls.
I investigated the room for a while, finding no sign of a second exit, nor any trace of the two I had traveled with up until now.
About halfway through my second lap around the empty room, the vibration of my previously deceased phone snapped my mind away from the puzzling surroundings.
“You gonna be home soon?” Jessica asked.
“Dinner’s almost ready. It’ll get cold if you stay out all night,” she laughed.
“Jess!?” I exclaimed, both shocked at hearing her voice, and confused by her nonchalant manner.
I turned around to find the staircase I had walked away from some time ago, to now be standing directly in front of my eyes.
I strolled down the stairs with my head spinning, while listening to the sounds of my kids calling out from the other side of the phone.
“Come home daddy!” Jeremy yelled.
“Mommy’s been cooking all day! You better get home quick!” Sarah echoed from the background.
“I’ll be there soon,” I remarked, after clearing the steps to see myself surrounded by the neighborhood I left behind my tail lights earlier that same day.
“Love ya, babe,” Jess said before the line went dead.
I just stood in place, staring across the street we had lived on for close to a decade before my new job led to our cross country trip.
The street lamps shone down over the sidewalks, and Halloween decor scattered every single yard. There were always a handful of our neighbors who decorated for the holidays, but it was never a full spread.
It was nighttime, but the full moon shimmered down from above, which combined with the tall lamps to make the path ahead an easy one.
I slowly sauntered down the middle of the road as no cars passed by, neither coming nor going. I turned my head from left to right when I noticed that every single yard sported the very same seasonal adornments.
Strobing lights and fog machines in each front lawn showed a flickering and misted silhouette of skeletons and pumpkins. Each house had its own circle of bony figures that clasped hands while they stared on through blackened and hollow eyes at the central scarecrow that perched upon a tall crucifix-like structure.
Every now and then, the straw men in the middle appeared to make subtle movements from their wooden props, which may have just been the effect of the flickering lights playing with my eyes.
Given the nature of the things I had seen so far, the idea of moving Halloween decorations did not phase me in the slightest as I strolled on in something of a wide eyed trance.
It didn’t take me long to arrive outside the old house. There were no decorations in the front yard, and this was the only building on the street that had lights shining from behind the closed curtains.
Though I knew this was not in fact the actual street I had left behind, it still almost shocked and confused me to see the representation of my home as the one whose yard was free of any festive decor. Ours was always the first to hold a remarkable display of pumpkins, ghosts and witches, along with many other types of seasonal flair.
More often than not, we had our front lawn decked out before September came to a close. Of course, it would take several days to complete whatever the annual theme would consist of. Though my wife adored the process of setting everything up, I can’t deny I attempted to convince her to take a year off, from time to time.
I would feel like the Ebeneezer Scrooge of Halloween for requesting such a thing, and she would grow more upset at my suggestion than if she had caught me in the act of plowing into the next door neighbor’s cute wife as she walked through the door. Still, it really could be exhausting sometimes, but I loved her.
I was shaking all over while I reached a trembling hand up to the door I had swung open countless times before. As I would have expected, I turned the knob to find it unlocked.
“I’m home,” I called out, hopeful that my family would be awaiting me.
My heart sank when I walked into the dining room to see three scarecrows, not unlike the ones on every lawn surrounding my home, sitting at the table. The two smaller ones sat on either side of the other, that was surely meant to serve as a substitute for my wife.
I reached out my violently trembling hand to the taller of the scarecrows, almost certain what I would find underneath the burlap mask. As I slowly pulled the sack away, I screamed out in agonizing horror and fell to my knees beside the table my family had eaten many meals upon.
I still had my white knuckled fingers tightly gripped onto the hard fabric bag that had large buttons for eyes, while I bellowed out against the sight of my beautiful wife’s wide eyed stare and pale, dead skin.
For what felt like hours, I just sat in that same spot, wailing in sorrow. I couldn’t bring myself to pull away any of the other sacks that surely disguised the vacant gaze of my children. I just stayed in place and wept, until;
“Damn shame; that,” came from behind me.
I slowly turned my head to see ‘my old buddy, Sammy’, leaning up against the wall, still wearing his ridiculous circus ringleader garb.
“YOU SONOFABITCH!” I yelled out as I charged the bastard who I held responsible for the death of my family.
I slammed hard into the far wall of my kitchen after the portly man vanished before I could reach him.
I gathered myself from the floor, gripping at the shoulder that had cracked the drywall, while darting my gaze around the room in search of the man I had determined would die by my hands before the day was done.
My jaw fell slack again when I found the room completely empty. No longer did the corpses of my wife and children sit around the also absent dining table. The house appeared completely empty, just as we had left it when we drove away from it for the last time so many hours ago.
My chest still throbbed from the revelations of the last few moments, but I felt hope spark from within me again. Could this have just been another illusion? Was my family still alive out there somewhere? Questions. Too many questions.
After a quick search through my old home to find nothing and nobody inside, I made my way back towards my front door, which now stood closed and locked, though I had left it splayed open upon entering.
I swung the door open to see nine scarecrows standing in a row on the road directly in front of my old house. They were all planted in place, staring back at me through the unevenly sewn button eyes. Their order started on the left with the tallest, and ended with the shortest, which I assumed to be the same one that previously represented my son.
Acting as a perfectly choreographed group, they all reached up with their right arm, and yanked the burlap masks from their heads. They now glared through the pale and cataracted eyes directly into my own.
Sure enough, Jeremy was on the far right, while Tony stood on the left. Each of my family members, and every one of the sextuplet that I began my journey through the ‘six floors of fright’ now appeared very much alive, though also quite dead before me.
“This is all your fault!” They echoed together in a mishmash of very different voices, though equally as monotone.
I paced backwards while still staring at the row of pale faces that began to slowly saunter towards me. After only a couple of steps, I felt my back press against the now closed door that I had no recollection of even passing through.
“You did this to us,” they continued while marching forward with every movement of their limbs a carbon copy of their neighbor.
I reached behind me and jiggled the door knob, desperate to gain entry to the house. When it wouldn’t budge, I darted my eyes from side to side to find the short fence that used to wrap around my home now stood so tall I could not even register the top.
With the pacing throng blocking any exit to the front, and the immense enclosure preventing an escape to either side, I rammed my shoulder against the entrance to the house that showed no sign of giving way.
“You deserve to die for what you did to us!” They continued in their eerie chorus as they trudged across the wet grass of my lawn.
I ran to the left and attempted to kick and push through the thin wooden pikes that reached high above, but it felt as though I were ramming against a steel door. Finally, I fell to the ground, both winded and sore from my fruitless attempts to escape, and mentally exhausted from the insanity I had endured since descending that first flight of stairs.
My precious Punkin was the first to close the gap between me and my undead pursuers. She still looked so innocent and pure while she glared at me through her whitened, wide eyes. I just reached out with my arms and wrapped them around her as she tucked her head into my shoulder and bit into the flesh.
Though I felt immense pain when the hoards’ other members began to claw at my arms and legs, while my beloved daughter chewed into my shoulder, I wasn’t afraid anymore. Were my family indeed free from the pains of this world, I would join them soon. This was not the way that I had hoped to locate them when I began my quest through the roadside attraction, but it didn’t matter anymore. Not really.
I closed my eyelids, and welcomed the darkness that lay behind them.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?” I heard a familiar voice call out, causing my eyes to dart open again.
Calvin, the real Calvin, charged towards me, swinging a bloodied axe which he dug into the head of a green, scaly faced, pointy eared goblin-like creature whose teeth and lips were covered in my blood.
Tony was kicking and punching the others while his boyfriend reached his hand out to pull me up from the ground where I still lay. All of the nine bodies who had matched towards me from the street had transformed into these bizarre fantasy creatures, though they still wore the tattered scarecrow costumes.
Calvin placed a foot on the back of the thing that had been previously chewing on my shoulder, and yanked the axe blade out. He lobbed the weapon to Tony, who then buried it deep into the neck of the tallest of the goblins.
A clawed hand swung towards my midsection, which I caught by the wrist before breaking the forearm bones across my upper thigh. Tony swung the axe from side to side, splitting the green skinned beast across the chest and necks.
Yellowed and foul smelling blood sprayed across the light blue siding of the house I once called home, while the sounds of cracking bones and tearing flesh echoed through the street.
After a short, but grueling battle, all nine of the hideous things lay still on the ground that was sure to serve as my final resting place had my friends not intervened.
The three of us stood panting and heaving for fresh oxygen as we stared down at the massacre we had wrought. I turned to look at both of them, who stood, winded, on either side of me. They looked like they’d been through hell themselves.
Both had blackened and swollen eyes, split lips, inflamed ears and bloody noses. Calvin’s bald head had a deep gash on top, and clumped chunks of scarlet in his matted beard. Tony had cuts and scratches across the arm whose sleeve still wrapped around his boyfriend’s knee. Without a word, I pulled them both into an embrace, sincerely grateful for the unexpected rescue.
After seeing their doppelgangers sharing the company of the dead teenagers, I was sure they had somehow met their end before they could reach the base of the stairs that led me here. Perhaps I would not so quickly have resigned myself to a brutal death had I known I was not yet alone in this.
“Okay, brother. That’s enough,” Calvin chuckled, wrestling my arm from around him.
“Sorry,” I replied, returning his laughter.
“I thought I was done for!”
“We did too!” Tony said.
He went on to explain that they found themselves on the paved pathway of a park they used to frequent together when they reached the base of the stairs. Calvin remarked that they assumed I had walked on ahead while they talked back and forth while descending the steps, after they noticed I was no longer in front of them.
They too had met a small herd of scarecrows, who revealed themselves to be me, the teens from before, and four guys they had met in this same park under the moonlit sky some years before.
Said individuals had taken turns beating the couple black and blue back in the day, for apparently insulting them by showing a public display of affection, which the four had found more offensive than they could allow.
My friends wasted no time in defending themselves against the group, though they did flee after being overwhelmed by the greater numbers. They ran to a nearby hotel, where they found the axe hidden away behind a glass ‘in case of emergency’ box.
Once they were armed, the battle fared much more in their own favor when the group arrived before them again. After some blood had been spilled, the illusion faded, revealing the scaled green faces of the very things we just put down.
“How did you get here!?” I asked.
If the stairs had taken them somewhere different from where they led me, I couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to locate me.
“Through there,” Tony replied, pointing towards a simple wooden door that stood in the middle of the road, several houses down from mine.
“Just appeared after we finished off those things,” Calvin stated, staring at the door.
My heart began to race again at the idea that my family could be behind that door, possibly facing off against their own hoard of ravenous goblins. Without a word, I started to run towards it, though my exhausted legs made my progress slower than I would have liked.
Within a moment, Tony and Calvin were running beside me, obviously still holding far more energy than my tired body contained. Ah, to be young again…
“You sure you just wanna rush in like that?” Tony asked as I reached out to the doorknob.
“I have to find them, mate,” I replied, feeling my eyes well up again.
“We got your back, brother,” Calvin said, giving me a clap on the back.
I looked between the two of them, who stood on either side of me again.
“I seriously can’t thank you guys enough,” I said, turning my head from side to side to look them in the eyes.
“I would’ve been dead if you hadn’t shown up when you did,” I continued.
They both just offered me a smile, and Tony gave a small nod.
“Ready?” I asked.
“As we’ll ever be, I suppose,” Calvin replied with a heavy sigh.
I pulled the door open to reveal a busy restaurant, adorned with a variety of spooky decor. The scent of freshly cooked food combined with the inviting aroma of a delightful pub caused my stomach to rumble and my mouth to water.
My companions and I just glared from the other side of the entryway, awaiting whatever grim surprise lay hidden within the bustling room ahead. We were all hesitant about walking through the opening in the middle of the road, even more so after every head in the room turned to face us.
Applause erupted from the crowd that sat at tables, or perched by the bar. Some got to their feet while singing our praises.
“What the actual fuck!?” Calvin said in a monotone voice.
Tony and I just shrugged.
It wasn’t until Sammy, himself, peered around the side of the open door that I felt inspired to enter the room. I darted forward, grabbing the pudgy man by his collar and kicking his feet out from under him.
As I rared back with my tightly balled fist with the full intention of striking the man, who still wore a silly grin on his smug face, I felt a gentle grip around my wrist.
I turned my still grimacing face to meet the lovely smile of my beloved wife.
“Oh my god!” I called out, dropping the rotund man to the floor and wrapping my arms around her.
“I’m so proud of you, babe,” she said, kissing me on the cheek, as Sarah and Jeremy ran up and hugged around us both.
I just stood in place, holding my family close, taking no time to consider the implications of what was really going on here.
I peered up from Jessica’s shoulder to see Tony and Calvin still staring on in confusion. I backed up from my wife while my kids still stayed wrapped around my waist, and took another look around the room I now found myself in.
Among the many smiling and cheering faces, I noticed the four teenagers who died between the first three floors, sitting at a round table with a large pitcher of beer in the center.
“What the fuck is this, Jess,” I asked my wife, suddenly feeling the veil lift before my eyes.
I just glared at my wife, who wore a somewhat guilty, sheepish smile.
I felt a thick arm wrap around my shoulder as Jessica replied,
“This is my Uncle Sammy. He’s been dying to meet you.”
“Are you taking a fucking piss!?” I exclaimed, pulling myself away from the still grinning Uncle Sammy.
“We almost died!” I cried out.
“They did fucking die!” I continued, pointing toward the four teens who appeared completely unphased by this whole experience.
“They got the shit kicked out of them!” I said, gesturing to Tony and Calvin, whose injuries across their surprised faces appeared to slowly be fading away.
I rubbed my fingers across my shoulder to feel something more akin to a wound received months before. I looked at my palm to see no more than a thin trace of blood from the still damp fabric of my shirt.
I felt my knees weaken and my head spin while I stood in place, grasping for any sort of rationalization for what was happening.
“I…I thought you were dead!” I said, gazing into my wife’s eyes.
My heart was racing and I was trembling all over, feeling suddenly nauseated.
“I saw your body!” I continued, as I felt a cold sweat accompany the blood leaving my face.
“How could you…..”
I felt my legs turn to jelly as I dropped to the floor before my dizzy head allowed the darkness behind my eyelids to take the place of the crowded restaurant.
“Sir?” A stern voice spoke out, awakening me from the involuntary slumber.
I opened my eyes to see a tall, thin, older man wearing a cheaply made Frankenstein’s Monster costume.
“You asked to see a manager, yes?” The man asked, glaring down at me.
“Huh?” I replied, as my eyes began to focus on the familiar lobby of Sammy’s Halloween Spooktacular.
“He was looking for his family,” the monotone voice of the ragdoll girl said from behind the man as she handed him her skull wrapped tablet.
“Ah, yes,” he said, tapping his fingers gently on the screen.
“It appears they have cleared all six floors!” He remarked, still gazing at the screen.
“If you’d like to take the stairs to the right, or the elevator to the left,” he gestured at the the two entryways on either side of the back wall,
“They will take you up to the arcade at the top. If your family hasn’t come back down yet, that’s likely where they are.” He finished.
“Up, I mean, the floors went down,” I replied, still feeling groggy.
“I’m sorry?” The tall man said, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, sir.”
My senses were still heavily muted from the day’s events, and my subsequent passing out, but as I began to argue with the man in the Frankenstein costume, I heard a familiar scream coming from behind me.
“Daddy, daddy!” Sarah yelled out as she wrapped her arms around my neck.
Jess was carrying Jeremy in her arms while she strolled towards me.
“I think he got a little freaked out on the last floor,” she remarked, rubbing our sons back with her hand.
It wasn’t until later that night, after the kids were safely sleeping in the adjoining hotel room next to ours, that I decided to talk to my wife about the events I knew to have taken place that day.
I wasn’t entirely convinced that it had all been a manifestation of my sleeping mind while I awaited my family in the lobby of the roadside attraction. My theory was validated when I looked upon the bite sized scars on my shoulder after I got out of the shower.
She just chuckled and hung her head when I showed her the marks left by the ravenous goblins that somehow appeared to have long since healed.
“I told him not to be so hard on you,” she replied with a shrug, glaring down at the mattress she was propped upon.
I just stared at her, completely lost for words.
“There’s a reason Halloween is such a big deal in my family,” she continued, spiraling her long hair between her fingers as she spoke.
“Uncle Sammy is actually my great, great, great, well, a lot of greats,” she laughed,
“Great uncle Samhain, and he takes this time of year very seriously,”
We sat in silence for some time. I could barely wrap my mind around the things that occurred within the walls of the ‘six floors of fright’, which were apparently helmed by the spirit of Halloween itself. I certainly couldn’t come to grips with the idea that my own wife set me on this path in the first place.
“You were never in any real danger,” Jess said, softly, while I still searched for anything to say.
“You probably shouldn’t have gotten so confrontational with him, though,” she continued with another shrug.
“Really!?” I barked.
“So it’s my own fault he put me through hell?” I continued, feeling my face flush.
“No, I mean, I’m not saying that,” she stuttered.
“He told me he just wanted to have a little fun with you,”
“I didn’t expect him to get so carried away,” She laughed again, until I glared at her with a scowl.
“Sorry,” she said, darting her eyes back to the blanket she was fidgeting with.
“You mad at me?” She asked, still refusing to look at me.
“Yup!” I replied.
It’s been some time since that cross country road trip, and Jess and I are still together, regardless of the insanity of that day. Sure, we went through a good deal of counselling after we settled down into our new home, but I still love her, even if she is a somewhat psychotic demon spawn. God, I hope she doesn’t read this.
Halloween is approaching again, and our yard is more decked out with festive decor than ever before. Punkin and Jeremy are as excited as always, and they apparently remember nothing about the trip that found us at Sammy’s Spooktacular. That’s probably a good thing.
I still keep in touch with Tony and Calvin. They attended a bit of therapy themselves after promising to never include Sammy’s in their podcast, which no longer focused on exposing attractions, but enjoying and recommending them instead. Truthfully, they were remarkably cool about the whole ordeal.
The scars on my shoulder are barely visible anymore, but I still have the occasional nightmare that revisits a mutated and deformed version of my daughter. I can’t say I still don’t care for this time of year, but I’ll be damned if I admit that to Jess.
She told me that we are going to have a special visitor this year. Her Great Uncle is going to be in town, and he’s apparently quite excited about seeing me again. It’s safe to say the feeling is far from mutual.
Just be sure to follow the traditions of the season, yeah? Leave those jack o’ lanterns lit. Make sure you have candy for the trick or treaters. Toss up a decoration or two, even if it’s just a random skeleton, sitting in a lounge chair.
Should you ever see a billboard that reads ‘Sammy’s Halloween Spooktacular’, I’d have to recommend you just keep on driving.
Happy Halloween, folks! God help me.
Credit : William Rayne
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