Frederick stood 50 feet from the entrance of the haunted house while his teammates pleaded with him to go inside. He rattled off a bunch of statistics of mechanical failings in these kinds of pop-up carnivals while they rolled their eyes.
“Just 3 years ago in Iowa, the roof came loose and injured 5 people. A 12 year old girl lost her arm.”
They laughed. “Freddy, if you’re scared, just say so. You don’t have to make up injury statistics.”
Frederick was scared, but he didn’t want to admit it. It was just last week that he had made the varsity football team as a sophomore; he would be the starting running back and safety on a team that had made the state championship the last two seasons. He couldn’t very well have his new teammates see him jump at the sight of a dirty bedsheet on a stick emerging from the darkness.
Eventually he realized he wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of it. He looked at Chet – the starting quarterback – in the eye and gave a slight nod.
“Alright! Freddy’s in. Quick, let’s go in before he remembers about the guy who was paralyzed by a prop gone wild in Arkansas.” They laughed.
Frederick took one last look around the carnival yard. It would be moving on the next day, so it was pretty empty. He thought maybe he would see someone in dire need of help somewhere and could heroically rush off to help them. “Sorry guys. Can’t go in there; my fellow man needs me.” But there were no damsels or lads in distress, so Frederick turned towards the haunted house and shuffled up the steps.
The opening featured a cartoonishly large mouth with vampire teeth, lips curled back in a grotesque laugh. The eyes above were red and wild. Frederick gave a short laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
His laugh brought the attention of the door attendant. He was an old man, sitting on a stool so tall his legs didn’t quite reach the floor. His body was hunched over, as if his necklace weighed 500 pounds. His terrible comb-over was covered with a ratty top hat.
“You find this funny? Perhaps you won’t be laughing when you exit. If you exit.” His laugh was harsh and uncomfortable. Frederick gave the man a quick, sidelong glance before hesitantly pushing his way through the black curtain that marked the entrance. The man’s laugh seemed to get louder as he stepped through, as if it were echoing off every wall.
The entrance was a dark, narrow hallway. The walls were tight; Frederick barely had enough room to pass through with his broad shoulders. On the few occasions where he made contact, they gently swayed, as if they were nothing more than cardboard. He attempted to look more closely at them, but he couldn’t make out much in the dark.
Frederick looked down and realized that he couldn’t see past his knees. “Smoke machine must be working overtime,” he said nervously. He looked for his teammates and saw they were already 20 feet ahead of him. He sped up his step to catch up with them. Once he was back in their presence, he began to calm down, and the laugh of the old man finally seemed to dissipate, swept away with the smoke.
The entrance hallway turned to the right and widened, revealing many alcoves lining the walls, filled with the most frightening costumes Wal-Mart had to offer for less than $30. A rubber witch mask and flowing black bedsheet shot out, while a cackling laugh playing over the speakers. Frederick startled, but not enough for anyone to notice. “I can do this,” he thought.
The laughter of the others made it easier to deal with. He found it difficult to be scared while the rest of the guys were poking fun at every scare. Watching them laugh and pretend to punch the masked killers in bathrobes put Frederick at ease. One subject in particular drew a lot of laughs: a two-foot doll with long dark hair covering her face and bright red paint splattering her white dress. A metal arm was attached to the back of her neck, cocking her head ever-so-slightly from side to side. But it was turning a bit too hard and the head had popped off. The hair had also uncovered her face, revealing the surprisingly uncreepy face of a mid-80s Cabbage Patch Doll. Frederick was starting to feel pretty good, so he stopped for a few moments to inspect the doll.
He dwelled on it for longer than he meant to, and when he looked up he found himself alone. Someone must have turned up the smoke machine, because it was now up to his chest. “Hello?” There wasn’t even an echo. “You guys there?” He heard laughing up ahead but he was determined not to run. He was having a good time; the last thing he wanted was for panic and fear to come creeping back.
He walked to the end of the hallway and stopped, listening. He heard laughter, but it seemed further away. He was getting ready to jog up to the next turn, but something to his left caught his eye. It was the same doll he saw earlier, right down to the blood splatter pattern. Frederick laughed. “Must have found a deal.” He briefly laughed at himself for being scared to enter such a cheaply thrown together haunted house. He was about to turn when he saw movement from behind the doll. A figure dressed head-to-toe in black emerged from the wall holding a long, curved blade. Frederick was able to get out one strangled yelp before he felt the blade enter his throat. The figure dragged Frederick’s kicking body through a gap in the wall.
Frederick’s teammates waited outside the haunted house. “You think he’s still in there? Probably got scared by a rubber cockroach or something. YO FREDDY! YOU COMING? I’m going back in.”
Chet’s phone buzzed.
– not feeling well. left thru front door. c u tmrw
“Freddy,” Chet reported to the group, pointing at his phone. “Must have got spooked. Already took off.”
As they walked away, they heard the old man say, “Have a pleasant evening.” His laugh echoed into the night.