"You're kidding," said Mr. Chin, shaking his head in astonishment.
"No. Really. He screams like a young girl going through a bad frat initiation," I said.
"Wow, I never imagined…"
"Now what?" There was a commotion in back of us. We were standing in line, waiting to get into The Maze, a new addition to Psycho Clan's Nightmare: Ghost Stories, New York City's favorite haunted house attraction.
"Hey, looks like Lawn decked the ghost," said Mr. Chin, chuckling.
A guy wearing a white sheet had been keeping things lively by sneaking up on people waiting in line to give them a quick fright. He was now on the floor, balled-up in a fetal position and moaning horribly, although this time I don't think he was acting. Lawn Gisland, former movie cowboy and rodeo star, had slugged him hard.
"Lordy, sorry, so sorry, buddy," said Lawn, leaning over the prostrate ghost. You oughtn't have snuck up on me like that. It was pure instinct is all." The ghost moaned louder, tightly clutching his white sheet as he rocked back and forth. Two guys wearing wireless headsets came running over and carried him away. They gave Lawn dirty looks.
Going through the new Nightmare: Ghost Stories haunted attraction, Face Your Fear, can be quite a test for your nerves, as Mr. Chin, Lawn, myself and Zombos soon found out.
Mr. Chin insisted on doing The Maze first, but the many screams emanating from it didn't endear me to that idea. Groping around in the dark without Riddick's eyesight, through claustrophobic, tortuous passages filled with disoriented people desperately searching for the exit, and spookers hiding around every corner waiting to scare you is — oddly — not much fun for me.
I let the eager Mr. Chin go first, then pushed Zombos ahead of me. He scowled, but I'm only his valet, not his bloody bodyguard. Lawn followed Zombos. I took a deep breath and plunged into the pitch blackness of terror. Within the first two minutes I realized my strategy of always following the right-side wall, and always turning right at corners, wasn't working well.
"Mr. Chin?" I called out.
"Over here," he said.
I groped in the direction of his voice. "Where's Zombos and Lawn?"
Someone ahead of us screamed like a young girl during a fraternity hazing.
"Hey, you weren't kidding," said Mr. Chin. "Let's not go that way." We turned left instead, right into a dead end.
There were many dead ends, and spookers patiently crouching in them, eagerly taking advantage of our poor sense of direction. Jean-Paul Sartre must have been referring to his experience in a maze when he wrote "hell is other people," though he probably meant to say "hell is being stuck in a maze that is so dark you can't see your freakin' hand in front of your face, and having lots of screaming, frightened people stuck in there with you bumping into one another." After what seemed like an eternity, a light flashed in front of us.
"Look," said Mr. Chin. Ahead of us, a brawny, long-haired guy quietly pointed to the exit. Dressed in a bloody apron, and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Leatherface, we were reluctant to take him up on his offer. He was pretty insistent, however, so I pushed Mr. Chin ahead of me and we ran past him. Freedom never tasted so good. We braced ourselves for the main attraction, Face Your Fear.
Lawn and Zombos were already waiting on the line to get in, under the flickering chandelier covered in cobwebs. Lawn was smiling from ear to ear, and Zombos looked as white as the sheet that poor ghost had worn. They were reading the Assumption of Risk disclaimer tacked to the wall. A really, really large poster with very, very small print.
"I reckon that 'physical injury from frightening performers, or from sudden reactions to them may occur' blurb is a might true," said Lawn with a laugh. Zombos stood mute, but his fists were clenched into tight balls. "Maybe I should go first," said Lawn, taking pity on Zombos.
Of course, any experienced haunted attraction devotee knows you never go in second, or last for that matter. There's safety in numbers, especially the middle odd ones when in a group of determined, but skittish, horrorheads.
Once the doors opened, and we were inside, the true fear that comes from the expected unexpected began. Haunted attractions rely on simple but devilish effects that take advantage of darkness or gloomy light, unnerving and disorienting sounds, and spookers, both visible and dressed in blackout clothes, primed and ready to lead you into and out of each foreboding room of fright, with all designed to scare the hell out of you, and maybe gross you out a bit along the way for added measure.
Suddenly, a pair of headlights caught Zombos in their beams, and a car crashed just a foot or so away from him. He was too startled to scream this time. Like I said, the second person always gets it but good. From there it was a feverish, twitchy-tour, from freak-me-out room to you-go-first room, each filled with a mind-numbing tableau of terror. At one point we had to climb over a bed to get to a door on the other side. Mr. Chin took the initiative after I — and even Lawn — balked at ruffling the bedsheets for fear of what lay underneath.
Then there were strobe lights. Really disorienting strobe lights, flashing out time-slices in that bizarre, mixed-up, non-linear way of theirs. In the room of mummies, we found ourselves desperately trying to avoid their touch as they changed position to the beat of the strobing light, blocking our exit. Or did they even move? Perhaps the alternating darkness and brightness made it seem they were moving. The tableau reminded me of the blind nurses' devilish mannequin dance in Silent Hill. I wanted out from this temporal aliasing so bad I could taste it.
I finally managed to get past the blinking mummies… and into the twirling laser-light tunnel, spinning around and around and around, taking what little wits I had left and spinning them around, too. The coup de grâce was stepping ankle deep into something grainy and squishy, down a tenebrous hallway, just before we were set free.
"Lord love a duck, would you look at my shoes," I said. Whatever it was we walked through was still in my shoes.
"That was the most harrowing experience of horror I've had," said Zombos, clutching his heart.
"Tarnation! What a ride," said Lawn, dusting off his boots.
"Damn, let's do that again!" said Mr. Chin. We looked at him in horror.
Then we did it again.
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