The four of you who read my weekly posts already know me and are therefore aware that the Halloween holiday is my very, very favorite. I loved it above all others as a child and now as a parent – though my personal traditions are evolving – my adoration for Halloween is as steadfast and true as it ever was. This Halloween season has found me distracted and pre-occupied with a myriad of varying obligations that are sadly unrelated to ghouls and goblins and I haven’t been able to devote the time and care which I normally would to honoring the season. This predicament has left me feeling nostalgic and wanting, reflective of simpler times. It is in the spirit of the season that I share with you one of my favorite stories about Halloween.
I am unable to correctly recall the exact year, but I can say that when this happened, I was in high school and well old enough to drive myself around. It was Halloween night and a small group of friends and I decided to venture to a local Haunted House to celebrate the evening. Of course, it wasn’t a real haunted house, but a warehouse located in the downtown Springfield area that housed spooky dioramas and employed local theater actors and (I assume, perhaps unfairly) errant vagabonds to dress up as scary characters and jump out at you as you passed through the building.
Among my group of friends was a Spanish exchange student whom we shall call, Javier, because that was his name (and the likelihood of him or anyone who knows him reading this is slim to none.) The concept of the haunted house was a novelty to Javier and he was game to experience it with us, so it was with a childlike glee that he entered building, blissfully unaware of the terror that awaited him. Let us attribute his enthusiasm and gusto to cultural differences, he practically skipped inside.
I walked into the haunted house behind Javier and was followed by a friend whom we shall call Mr. Shitshisself. By the time I crossed the threshold of the first vignette, Javier was so far ahead of me, I could scarcely hear the pitter-patter of his joy-filled footfalls. Mr. S on the other hand was practically riding on my back, so closely was he following behind me. Unfortunately, Mr. S was no fan of having be-costumed individuals jump out at him and, as it happens, was also a sufferer of crippling claustrophobia.
His dislike of the haunted house was directly proportionate to Javier’s rapturous delight and there I was, trapped between the two of them. I passed through each darkened room with a pair of bony hands digging bonier fingers into my shoulders, the unsettling huff of fearful whimpering brushing my ears and neck. I was being forced into a nurturing role that I didn’t want – desperately longing to catch up with the friend who was having fun but being compelled to snail walk with the friend who was suffering through some sort of emotional crisis. After what felt like an eternity of plodding, Mr. S and I finally came to a suspended bridge which was rumored to be the last thing one crossed before the experience of the haunted house would be over. No sooner had I uttered the words, “thank fucking Christ”, did a man dressed up like Leatherface appear below the “bridge”, wielding a running chainsaw (chains removed) and waving it perilously close to our feet and ankles.
In the defense of Mr. S, I have to say that this was super startling and scary when it happened. At the precise moment when I thought to myself, “AWESOME”, two things happened. I noticed that Javier was lying on the ground in the fetal position and weeping uncontrollably “….eh…nooooo…eh…nooooo…” and Mr. S – still clutching my shoulders – jumped in start, ripping my shirt in half down the back. Not unlike the Incredible Hulk, only with my shirt instead of the one he was wearing. With my two friends now simpatico in their palpable fear, I found myself stricken with a kind of paralyzing laughter – the swishing motion of the chainsaw sending chilly wafts of air along my newly bared back – I couldn’t have moved even if Javier hadn’t been blocking the exit.
Eventually, after considering the situation and realizing that no one was going to go anywhere anytime soon, Leatherface ended up putting his weapon down and opted instead to assist Javier outside the premises – whereupon he promptly demanded to be taken home. Mr. S, suddenly invigorated by the open air outside of the warehouse, reverted back to his fun-loving state and was eager to proceed to the bonfire and underage drinking portion of the evening. During our passage through the Hotel of Terror, their roles had completely reversed and in the end I was able to enjoy the wide range of emotions that I have come to associate with a successful Halloween night – even though my favorite shirt was a casualty.