They Always Get Their Scares
Emma had always loved the month of October. Some might have guessed that it was because her birthday happened to be on the 15th of that month. Others would tell you it was because she enjoyed the cooler weather and the colors of the turning leaves. But her closest friends knew that Emma was crazy about Halloween. She couldn’t understand other kids who waited all year for Christmas. Sure, you got great stuff most of the time, but who wanted to do all that waiting and guessing?
What attracted her the most to Halloween was that it required action. The more time spent on your costume, the better it was. The more houses you went to, the more candy you walked away with at the end of the night. Though none of those things, as great as they were, could compare to the action found at a long, deserted warehouse on the edge of town. It was there that, for the latter two and a half weeks of every October, the local Jaycee chapter put on their haunted house. For as long as she could remember, Emma had been drawn to it. Granted, the first three years she had gone, she made it no further than the first shadowy figure in those dark hallways that echoed with the far-off screams of children deeper in that maze of frights… but she was determined.
At the age of ten, she finally completed her first run-through of the haunted house, emerging at the end with her friends, huffing and puffing, bodies jerky and shaking, eyes wide. Her girlfriends hated it; couldn’t believe she made them do something like that. Emma, who had been shaking worse than any of them, had loved it. Through the years however, the thrill wore off, not only as she matured, but as she had, time after time, found that the scares never varied. The last time she had been through the house was at the age of eighteen. Somewhere inside of her, she still loved Halloween, but there she was just the same, a high school senior with her friends, every last one (including her) drunk, standing in line outside that warehouse. They had gone through the whole thing, loud and obnoxious, laughing at the fake ghouls and monsters.
Emma especially, who knew the routine by heart, made great efforts to preemptively point out the “scarers” before they so much as uttered a single “boo”. Upon bursting through the exit door, breaking the cold, almost sharp silence of that empty October night with their barks of laughter, Emma had a sinking feeling that something that used to be a part of her had just died. Worse, she had murdered it. She mocked what had once brought her joy, and turned her back on it. But the affairs of a teenage girl are much more pressing than a silly old haunted house she had gone to as a child. That sinking feeling left her almost instantly in her drunken haze, and her life went on. So too did the haunted house…
It was a Friday in October, the 31st as a matter of fact. Emma was, by age alone, only three years older than the high school teen she had been on her last haunted house visit. But she matured to an older age in attitude, changing considerably over those three years. She had left home for school, gone through three years of college, and while she was never a slouch when it came to school, had gradually placed much more importance on academics. What little time she had between her studies and her part-time job as a waitress was spent with her boyfriend Matt. She found herself that October back at home on fall break from school, sprawled out on the love seat in the fading light of her living room surfing through channel after channel of B horror movies.
She was in fact waiting on Matt to show up as he said he would just the previous night. Of course Emma knew that, while he was a good boyfriend, Matt was never gonna win any awards for punctuality. But, being a good boyfriend, he would be able to keep her company even though there was nothing to do. She often thought it ironic now that she was twenty-one, that when she had been eighteen, the only reason she needed to drink was the simple fact that it was a Friday night. Now, having both boredom and the law on her side, she had no desire to drink whatsoever. If worse came to worse, she knew she had the house to herself. And Matt, after all, was a good boyfriend…
She sat bolt upright, the remote clattering to the floor as her head turned sharply to look behind her. The hallway and the front entryway beyond were much darker than she had expected. The sun was setting earlier and earlier, and the light from the large window to her right was only a soft gray now. Only a burning orange strip of light glowed on the horizon, silhouetting the near bare trees. The only sounds she could hear were those of her heartbeat racing in her ears, her own shallow breathing, and the ticking of the clock; seemingly much too loud all of a sudden. But hadn’t there been…? Yes, she could swear she heard a soft creaking coming somewhere from down the hall. Somewhere from the dark. She waited there, tense, for another minute until her neck grew sore. She tried to convince herself it was only floorboards settling and slowly lowered herself quietly back down on the couch.
Her mind had no more wandered away from the thought of that noise when suddenly, there came another. It was much softer, but it was also much closer and this time, it was unmistakable. Emma never had a chance. She could feel that sense of being watched, of being near someone, or something, even before she could turn to face it. As she fell off the couch, turning, she opened her mouth to scream. Dark gleaming eyes balanced over a large gaping jaw full of sharp jagged teeth were staring her right in the face…but that building scream suddenly caught in her throat. There was something about those eyes… and was this creature wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans? Oh yes, you’d better believe it.
Emma, with darkly gleaming eyes of her own now, stood and sharply jabbed the monster in the gut. The monster fell over at once, both groaning in pain and laughing hysterically. “You’re a real jerk, Matt” Emma spat, but she sat down again next to him anyway, pulling off the lame mask he had been wearing. He was lucky he caught her off guard. Emma knew she’d never be scared of something this childish. Never. Would she? Matt’s laughter slowly tapered off to small giggles as he sat up. “It’s Halloween, gimme a break. Besides, the look on your face was more than worth it.”
“Yea, well maybe we’ll see how priceless the look on your face is when I send you home early tonight.” She replied, trying her best to sound angry with him while holding back a smile. “And besides, what have I told you about letting yourself in?” “Em, its freezing out. How could a perfectly nice guy like myself be expected to wait out there while your lazy butt got moving?” “Oooh, I’m lazy!? I’m lazy?! You’re the one whose a half hour late” she said, emphasizing the point by poking him in the stomach. Matt put an arm around her and kissed her regardless. “I prefer the term ‘fashionably late.'”
From behind them on the TV, the horror movie that had been showing broke to a commercial. Matt was the first to notice it. “Have nothing to do? Want to add some thrills and chills to your evening?” the commercial’s poor imitation of Vincent Price inquired. “Then come out to the final night of the Jaycees Haunted House. We’re dying for you to come, and you’ll die to get out…” as the bad echo FX laughter faded and the commercial rattled off the address and admission price, Matt knew exactly how he and Emma would be spending their Halloween. It seemed almost too perfect actually. “You ever been there?” Matt asked. Emma turned to watch the commercial and simply muttered “Yea, when I was little” and turned back to him apprehensively. “Why?” Matt could already see she was going to protest but he knew she couldn’t argue.
“We have nothing better to do right? It’s Halloween, and it’ll be fun. Besides, the more time spent with you in the dark, the better” he said, wagging his eyebrows, making a bad attempt at being charming. This got Emma giggling and he knew then that they were going. “Shot gun!” he shouted in mock joy as he raced for the door. “I am not driving!” Emma yelled after him, still giggling, as the door shut behind her.
In the living room, the forgotten TV still glowed, the commercial and that echoing laughter both still at it. And then… it just cut out. No rhyme, no reason. The commercial stopped and the bad horror movie was back on. A large-breasted blonde was screaming as she ran from the shuffling monster. There were no other commercials that followed that of the haunted house, and if Emma had stayed, she might or might not have noticed that a whole three minutes or so had been missing from the movie, like the commercial was a mistake. As if it wasn’t supposed to have happened at all.
“You’ve got to be kidding…” Emma was only half out the driver’s side of the car before she wished she had thought of a way out of this. Even for a Halloween night there were plenty of little (and not so little) kids waiting in line. Some were in costumes, but most were bundled in big jackets. Matt had been right, it was freezing, and Emma tried desperately to remember if they had heated the inside of the haunted house the last time she was there. She couldn’t remember.
“Do we really have to spend our night with a bunch of twelve-year-olds?” Emma pleaded. “I don’t see how you wouldn’t want to. Little, waist-high creeps screaming for their mommies? That stuff is priceless. Who knows, maybe they’ll even get a few screams outta you” Matt teased, grabbing her waist. “I doubt it very much. I’ve been here before and I know the drill.” “Yea well we’ll see Ms. Grumpy” he said, glancing at her sideways as they joined the line, wondering what her deal was with this place anyway. She seemed almost… ashamed to be there. Soon, they were paying and then being ushered inside and his interest turned to the haunted house.
Matt was fairly impressed with the first couple of minutes in those early pitch-black hallways. Vague noises called out and objects brushed by him quickly in a rush of footfalls and heavy breathing. He was impressed, yes. Scared, no. And it seemed to him that Emma was in the same boat on the being scared business. There was no clinging to him, no gasps of surprise. He could sense her there next to him, but her presence felt as natural as if they were strolling down the street.
It wasn’t long before Matt could say he was no longer impressed as well as not being scared. It quickly devolved after those dark hallways into colored spotlights on badly painted backdrops, while grown men in masks leapt out from their hiding places. More than once Emma yawned, and at one point even whispered in Matt’s ear “Aren’t you glad we came?” Yes, he was getting the point loud and clear. It was bad alright, and he knew she’d tease him about it for weeks. They started making their way around a corner with their small group of twelve-year-olds, past a Dracula declaring that he vented to suck Matt’s blud, and came to another pitch-black hall.
Matt took Emma’s hand as they blindly felt their way along, when Matt called back to her “I think I found a door.” Emma started to reply that there was no door here, to just keep walking… but Matt was already pulling her along. As she followed he suddenly stopped and there was a soft click behind her. There really was a door! she thought. Whaddya know? After all that time, they finally added something new. But that click of the door did not sit well with her. It sounded too final somehow. And this new hall did not seem like such a great place to be, even for a haunted house.
A solitary light bulb swung lazily overhead, emitting a soft buzzing, electric hum. The light was dim and yellowed, the bulb caked with a thin brown film. The walls looked like they had once been painted white, but now they too were a decayed yellow tint. Large patches of paint were missing along the length of the hall, while it bulged out in other places. The path that set before them was simply concrete, dotted with small, half-evaporated puddles of stagnant water.
And the smell! There was no mistaking that disgustingly, tangy smell of vomit. “Matt, I don’t…we shouldn’t be here.” “Well then why would they put a door there?” he asked, but was obviously not interested in finding out. Matt turned back to the door and twisted the knob. There was a little metal click as the knob stopped abruptly, not turning any further. The door had locked behind them. Beside him, Emma was still softly repeating “We shouldn’t be here…this isn’t part of it…”
As Matt began pounding on the door, Emma knew it was a bad idea. She had that feeling again. The feeling she had right before she was surprised by Matt back in her living room. Only it was much stronger now. Primal. She quickly grabbed his arm, shaking her head wildly, eyes frightened. She was not just worried, but terrified, and now Matt began to wish they were back in that first hallway when she was bored and was eager to let him know it. He could take all her taunting and teasing for making her come to a crappy haunted house. He could take anything she could dish out as long as he didn’t have to see that look in her eyes. He was on the verge of panic, about to start banging on the door again when suddenly there came a small sobbing noise from up that filthy hall.
Both Emma and Matt turned to each other. “Did one of the kids in our group come through with us?” Emma asked. “They couldn’t have. We would’ve seen…right? I mean, they’re not that small…” but he looked up the hall again towards the sound, and they both fell silent, waiting. After what seemed forever a faint voice could be heard drifting down along the walls. They both strained to hear it, their puzzled eyes darting to each other than back up the hall. Finally, Matt could make it out. It sounded like a little girl crying softly “please…please don’t. you’re hurting me…” then there were more quiet sobs and then nothing more.
“Did you hear that?” He asked Emma. She only nodded. Without another word, they both started slowly, making their way up the dank hall. The farther they moved along, the dimmer the light from the single light bulb grew. By the time they reached the end, both visibly shaking and in a cold sweat, it was almost too dark for them to see each other. For the first time in three years, Emma remembered her last trip to the haunted house, remembered so clearly.
There had a been a character at the end, very tall and very lanky, who had come out of hiding like the rest, annoying the disrespectful high-schoolers. As she and her friends made their way to the exit, that lone figure had tightly grabbed her arm with its knobby fingers. She saw it’s dirty, yellowed fingernails grip into her momentarily, and she looked at it’s face, expecting to be scolded by an adult — but found only the fake empty eyes of a mask. It held her and then seemed to think twice of it and let her go. Thinking back it was the only thing that had really scared her that night. It was those dead, empty eyes that were suddenly back in her mind now as she and Matt came to the end of the hall.
The hall joined with another forming a T. They both looked down to the left to find nothing but darkness. When they turned to the right, both of them froze. There stood a young girl, her white-blonde hair hanging in greasy strings over her eyes… Those eyes! They were rolling wildly and sickly in their sockets. Her jaw worked open and shut, but no words came out, only a solid string of saliva bobbing at the end of her chin. Her skin was pale, with almost a purple tint to it. Matt saw the reason why and a low shaky moan escaped him… the girl was missing her left arm. Maybe it would be more correct to say that her arm wasn’t connected to her body, because she wasn’t completely missing it. In her right hand, dangling on the floor, was that very arm, gripped in her tiny hand by the wrist as the ragged flesh made patches of smeared red, grazing the concrete.
That sight alone was enough to make silent tears of helpless surrender pour down Emma’s face, but it was what was behind the girl that stopped any conscious thoughts in her mind: There were hundreds of eyes glowing behind that mutilated girl. They were not those dead eyes she saw when she was 18, nor were they the sort of glowing red eyes portrayed in movies. There, staring at them, were round discs of luminescence reflecting back at them, the eyes of animals…of creatures…that hunt at night.
It seemed to Emma that three things happened in rapid succession: She became suddenly aware of the warmth running down her leg, the young girl dropped her arm with a putrid thud, and the light bulb they had left far behind was extinguished with a hollow pop. The light had no sooner gone out then Emma heard Matt screaming her name, first in fright…then in pain. “Em? Emma what… where are you? Emma, what the hell is…Emma? emmaa-aaAAAHH!” She could hear things moving past her quickly, and she could only whisper Matt’s name as she started to run, felt her knees buckle weakly, and collapsed in a heap on the cold gritty floor.
She could hear sounds behind her, wet and thick, scraping along the floor, interjected by muffled, snapping sounds. Emma was all set to scream then, but there came a voice in her right ear. She could feel the warm breath puff against her skin; smell that sick-sweet odor of vomit, so strong now that she nearly vomited herself. The voice, though only a whisper, could be heard over the maddening sounds behind her. It was the girl. In a soft, almost mockingly sweet voice she asked “Are we scaring you yet?” And then it was Matt’s voice she heard, wet and bubbly, as if he were gargling his words. It was weak but she could make out between his sobs “please… Emma… help.”
She reached out without thinking now and grabbed wildly, found what she believed to be Matt’s hand and then she was running, running blind. Not long after, she hit a wall, saw stars, and started shuffling along it, looking for any door, any window, anything to get them out. She had almost turned to run again, when her hand brushed something. She pulled it so hard she felt her shoulder ignite in pain. She stopped then, and tried to turn it… it was moving! Without waiting any longer she pushed against the door with her good shoulder and tumbled out into a back alley face-first.
As the door swung slowly closed on its hinges, Emma struggled to get her wind back as she turned over. The door snapped shut. She was alone. Where was Matt!? She looked around wildly, then realized she was still holding whatever it was in her hand in a death grip. Afraid to look down, but without any choice, she opened her fist.
Laying in her hand was a rubber mask, it’s mouth full of sharp jagged teeth grinning wide, it’s dead empty eyes gazing blankly up at her. Those same, dead eyes. As Emma’s screams pierced that cold, empty night, the way her laughter had done three years prior, a sign was being placed over the warehouse entrance. It read: Scaring over for this season! Be sure to visit again next year. We promise a good scare at any age…no matter what!