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Recently, a group of friends invited me to go with them to one of those haunted attractions that pop up when it gets close to Halloween. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I love scary stories and movies and the like, but the apprehension that comes from knowing something is about to jump out and scare you, not to mention how close the actors get to you, is almost more than I can handle. But since I love Halloween and hadn’t got much of a chance to celebrate it, I tagged along.
The place was called Scream City, so named because it had a loose city theme. It had all the typical haunted house fare, complete with a long line. We managed to pass the time by telling scary stories as the occasional worker dressed as a zombie or insane clown rattled the chain-link fence surrounding the queue and screamed. As we approached the entrance, a man dressed as a witch doctor led us and a few others through the door, where he explained the rules. No running, no touching the actors, if you have a heart condition we are not responsible, and so on. As he wrapped up his spiel, he pressed a button and the steel double doors behind him swung open. We walked past him and into a living room while the doors creaked shut behind us.
The room we stood in looked like a cheap motel room. As the rest of the group filed in I took a look around. Stained, blue carpet covered the floor and in the middle of the room stood a recliner, facing a television that blared silent static back. In the recliner was a seemingly long dead man, his gaunt face partially obscured by stringy black hair. An overturned bowl of chips sat in his lap, and one skeletal hand clutched a TV remote. As we crossed the room and walked through the door on the opposite side, the emaciated figure in the chair sat bolt upright and screamed at us, the sound drowning out as we fled into the next room and the door slammed behind us.
We stood in a hospital, beds lining either side of the narrow pathway that led to the next door. A window on the left wall betrayed the “city” setting with its view of a grassy field. There were four beds on either side, one of them covered in blood and gore. The last bed on the right contained a human-shaped lump beneath its covers, and a chorus of screams erupted behind me as the actor tore the covers off, revealing his mangled face. He laughed maniacally as our group filed into the next room.
This room led us past a church altar, a large, upside down cross hanging behind it. On either side of the altar, stained glass windows let a small amount of multicolored light to seep into the room. In front of the altar stood a woman in a wedding dress. Her dress was torn and frayed, and red stains marred the otherwise pure white garment. She was sobbing, and clutching the hands of the lifeless, skeletal corpse in a tuxedo that stood across from her. As we approached the open door on the other side of the room, the bride let go of the dummy’s hands, and it fell to the floor unrealistically. She turned to us, revealing her pallid, tear-stained face and began screaming wildly.
We passed through the open door into what looked like a factory floor. Our footsteps on the hard concrete floor echoed through the nearly empty room as we approached the only furnishing: a conveyor belt that ran from one wall to the other. At the far end was a large, somewhat phony-looking circular saw blade. A dummy was bound and laying on the belt on the opposite end, slowly approaching the blade. A speaker somewhere within the dummy created distorted screams. A man dressed in safety gear laughed maniacally as he pushed down a lever beside the blade, causing the conveyor belt to speed up slightly. No one in our group so much as jumped when we passed the plastic blade and entered the next room.
We strolled through a graveyard, iron fences on either side of the path separating us from plastic tombstones and zombified actors who groaned and shuffled, one of them approaching the fence to reach for a girl towards the front of the line. At the end of the path stood two open doors. Between the fences was a figure in a black cloak, his face invisible under the jet black hood. He clutched a large, prop scythe in one hand. The door to his left revealed what appeared to be a long hallway. The door on his right opened only into pitch blackness. He pointed to the left as member of our group approached him, obediently entering the hallway. This pattern repeated until I approached, bringing up the rear. He quickly moved his hand and pointed towards the dark doorway. Normally I would be hesitant to continue by myself, but considering how unimpressed I had been up to this point, I smiled and strolled into the inky darkness.
I heard the door close behind me as I observed my surroundings. Rather, I tried to observe my surroundings. It was so dark I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I also noticed that it was cold, so cold I could have believed I was outside if it wasn’t for the unnatural blackness surrounding me. I felt around for walls but found nothing, so I just continued straight, hoping I would soon see something.
My wish was granted after a minute or so of walking, as a door, outlined by light gleaming through its cracks, came into view. Relieved, I opened it and walked into…the graveyard I had just been in.
The grim reaper figure was missing, as were the actors. The room was apparently lit by a black light, as a deep blue tint covered the otherwise familiar room. The gravestones looked much more realistic, so much so that, if not for the cheapness of the rest of the attraction, could have convinced me that they had sprung for real marble. Large, plastic tarps covering amorphous piles littered the patches behind the iron gates. I slowly approached the doorway on the opposite side, jumping and letting out an involuntary shout as something rolled out from beneath one of the tarps. The object was a very real looking corpse. This had to be an actor, and I was impressed by his ability to lay still for so long. Wanting to allow him a break, I shuffled through the doorway and into the factory room.
The first thing I noticed was the saw blade to my left now looked very real, a far cry from the cheap piece of plastic I had seen earlier. This room showed the same eerie blue tint as the previous rooms, as did the rooms that followed it. The bound dummy was missing, and I was startled when I noticed the actor in the safety gear was staring at me, an impossibly wide grin on his face. Without breaking eye contact or changing his expression, he slowly lowered his wrist onto the saw blade. The blade’s shiny silver was soon stained with red as it severed the man’s hand at the wrist. Blood continued to spurt from the wound as he brought his arm back to his side, his smile unchanged. The man remained like this, staring into my eyes for several seconds before he simply collapsed to the floor. I was thoroughly creeped out by this, and equally confused as to how the attraction’s designers had managed to pull off that trick. They must have hired a special effects expert or something, I thought to myself.
A hollow thumping sound rang in my ears as I entered the church, and its source soon became evident. The bride knelt next to the wooden altar, slamming her head into it every few seconds, almost rhythmically. Her eyes, unfocused and unblinking, were locked in a thousand yard stare. I was pretty freaked out at this point, and simultaneously satisfied that I was finally getting my money’s worth. I braced myself and entered the hospital.
Each of the eight beds now had shapes beneath the covers, though many of them looked large enough to be two or even three people. I noticed the most significant difference between this room and its counterpart when I glanced at the window. The field had been replaced by what looked to be a view from a second or third story window, overlooking a large city. I skirted between two of the beds and approached the window for a closer look. Skyscrapers stretched out into the distance, and one close to the window was burning, the orange glow of the flames reflecting in the mirrored windows of the buildings surrounding it. I looked down to the street, expecting to see a firetruck, but instead I saw an empty road. There were no cars at all, not even parked on curbs. Just inside an alleyway was a tarp covering a large mound, very similar to the tarps I had seen in the graveyard room. A man stood opposite it, his back pressed against the wall of the building behind him. He cautiously peeked his head around the corner, looking both ways before he began walking down the sidewalk away from me. Suddenly, a ground floor window of the building he was standing next to shattered, spraying him with glass shards. Before he could recover a man leapt through the broken window onto him, pinning him to the ground. To my horror, the new arrival sunk his teeth into the man’s neck, pulling off a large piece of flesh and swallowing it. I wasn’t keen on seeing what happened next, and instead entered what I hoped was the final room.
The recliner was now overturned, laying on its back in the middle of the room. The gaunt corpse of a man that had been sitting in it now hung from a noose above it, the rope swaying back and forth almost imperceptibly. I could tell from the constantly changing glow that the television projected against the back wall that it was playing something other than static. As the screen came into view I saw it was a newscast, a young blonde reporter clutching a microphone in the foreground standing in front of a backdrop that could have been a warzone. The television was apparently muted, as I couldn’t hear anything she said, but I didn’t need sound to see how nervous she was. It wasn’t the jitters you may expect an inexperienced reporter to exhibit, her expression was one of pure fear. She constantly glanced over her shoulder and even dropped the microphone once. The banner spanning across the bottom of the screen read “RIOTS BREAKING OUT WORLDWIDE.” Beneath it, smaller writing proclaimed “Law enforcement resorting to violence to contain civil unrest.” The young lady’s nervous reporting was sometimes replaced with what looked like scenes from horror movies: two women beating a man to the ground and then kicking and stomping on him until he stopped moving, an entire mob descending on a police officer so that only his wildly flailing arm protruded through the mass of bodies, its movement soon slowing and then stopping altogether…similar scenes played out as the broadcast continued, each one bearing the name of a city in the top left corner. Chicago, Philadelphia, Beijing, Paris…worldwide didn’t seem to be an exaggeration. Eventually, the young woman returned, looking as scared as ever. After a few seconds of silent reporting, she stopped short, her eyes locked on something that seemed to be just behind the camera. Her face contorted into a scream just before a figure leapt out from behind the camera, tackling her to the ground. I could see her legs struggling to get leverage to push the figure off to no avail. The rest of her was obscured by the broad back of the figure that sat on her, stooped over her like the closed top of a convertible. In a scene that was becoming familiar, the reporter’s legs soon went limp. The man that had attacked her turned to stare directly into the camera, his blood-covered mouth spread in a wide smile. He sat there, unmoving, unblinking, for several seconds before he charged at the camera. I briefly felt like I was looking into a running washing machine as the camera apparently toppled over before the screen cut to blackness.
The abrupt end of the newscast brought me back to reality, wondering how long I had actually been watching the television. Remembering that my friends were probably waiting on me, I hurried through the door that led to the exit of the attraction. I quickly spotted the group I had arrived with and excitedly described what I had experienced.
“Wow!” my friend Rob spoke up, “the rooms we went through were just as lame as the rest of the place. Wish we had gone with you.”
Before we left the place for good, I approached the witch doctor that ushered us in at the entrance.
“Hey, man, you should send everyone through the backwards part, it’s seriously scary!”
He looked confused. “I…don’t know exactly which part you mean, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Have a good one.”
At first, I assumed he was messing with me. After all, it was his job to scare me. But as I thought about the look on his face and the way he had told me he didn’t know what I meant it occurred to me he was either a very good actor, or genuinely had no idea what I was talking about. While this was unsettling, it isn’t the reason I’ve had trouble sleeping for the past week. The image that I see every night when I wake up drenched in sweat isn’t the look of confusion that spread over the man’s painted face when I gave him a piece of advice. It’s the white numbers that stayed constant on the bottom right corner of the screen as the newscast played, giving the date as October 31st, 2037.