Well, that mushy Hallmark holiday is done-zo and I hope everyone survived being sufficiently glutted on chocolate hearts strewn about the workplace. Henry and I aren’t exactly a walking example of a Nicholas Sparks “novel,” so it’s kind of nice to have an option to celebrate Valentine’s Day without needing to make reservations at a crowded restaurant or relying on Henry to suddenly sprout a romantic notion and surprise with some glittery romantic bullshit. So for the second year in a row, we pretended to somewhat like each other at Castle Blood’s special VD event.
I know I have virtually clung to Castle Blood’s jock numerous times over the years, but it’s because it is a fantastically imaginative haunt produced by talented people who pour their blood, sweat and costume makeup-stained tears into it, their Gothic lilts never wavering; the whole experience has given me so many beautiful Halloween memories since I was 16.
And now that they’ve officially nested in their Monessen location, Castle Blood is not just your standard October pop-up haunt anymore. With a set-up way too creepy to waste, Castle Blood is the only Pittsburgh-area haunt that reworks their story for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and even a special Midsummer’s Nightmare, which is just enough to keep us horror hounds pacified until the official Halloween season without completely stripping itself of that original autumn novel.
Of course we brought
our spare limb Chooch with us, just in case the urge to openly love each other conquered our carefully-built cinder block wall of mutual disdain. (Not likely, but you never know. You’re welcome, people of Monessen.)
This year’s theme was “Love & Death,” and it revolved around one of the Castle denizens, Vapor, and her bloody trail of dead husbands. She greeted us in the first room of the Castle, which was full of placards featuring the names of all of her dead husbands. She told us to pick three and Chooch was absolutely beside himself, raising his hand and “Ooh ooh”ing like a rabid teacher’s pet because one of the cards said “Henry.” I mean, this kid was in anguish, hopping from foot to foot, squealing through clenched teeth, ready to projectile vomit the word “Henry” all over Vapor’s bloody face. I wonder if he’s like this in school, too…
However, there was a young couple in our group, probably high school-aged and totally adorable; Vapor chose one of them to answer before Chooch and he acted like his head was going to explode, like some punishable crime had just been committed before his eyes.
(I’m sorry that my son tried to disembowel you with his mind, Vapor.)
Finally, Chooch got his turn and instead of just telling her which name he wanted, he practically choked on his tongue while shouting “Henry!” and then walked over and grabbed the card, too, completely ignoring Vapor’s insistence that being handed the card wasn’t necessary. He just REALLY wanted to make sure she knew he chose “Henry” and not “Ivan,” I guess.
Now I can’t even remember the story of Husband Henry’s demise because I was too busy trying to keep Chooch from having a seizure. He gets so excited to participate, but sometimes he forgets that there are other people with us and they too would like to play along. So then I have to hiss, “LET OTHER PEOPLE HAVE A CHANCE” because I may or may not have approximately 7 entries in my Haunted House journal where I’m whining about getting stuck in a group with attention hogs.
After Vapor told us the story of three of her husbands’ untimely deaths, we were set off into the Castle with an order to find a fractured heart, a fluffy, and a flame, which Chooch happily screamed when we were acquainted with our guide for the evening. She asked if Henry and I were married, which delighted me greatly because it gave me a chance to emit my patented Harumph of Disgust. I guess she liked my response, because I was rewarded with a plastic ball and chain to carry around through the castle. Chooch kept trying to pry it from me; Christ, kid, let me have a thing or two every now and again!
We paused in a small room outside of the library, where our guide encouraged us to check out the art work on the walls.
“I think you’ll like the one behind you,” she said to me. It was a painting of a lady being attacked by an angry mob. She explained that it was Lady Bordella, and apparently she did some things that some people did not appreciate, which automatically made me think of myself and the Catholic School Incident and I was like, “OMG DOES THE GUIDE KNOW ABOUT THAT!?” So then I was paranoid and looked over my shoulder only to find myself face to face with a werewolf, which made me scream and then Chooch did the “Parents are so lame” eye roll. I get no love from him in haunted houses.
In the gypsy room, I got another chance to verbally articulate my disdain for Henry by answering “pffft” when asked if anyone in our group was in love. The cute little high school couple were the polar opposite of Henry and me and they tended to cuddle up on each other in response to these types of relationship status inquiries. It was adorable and sickening all at once, but they seemed like some kind of scene kid offshoot, so I decided to go with the “adorable” judgment. Anyway, we scored the fractured heart in this room, which was given to the scene kid for safe-keeping.
Next up was the lab, which was lacking a considerable amount of dorkiness and at first I just couldn’t…put…my…finger on it. But then I realized it was because Professor Scrye wasn’t there for the first time since, I don’t know, practically the beginning of the Castle. But his new assistant Zap was there and immediately made Chooch blush.
“Shut up,” he whispered, ramming his elbow into my ribs when I tauntingly fluffed his hair.
Professor Scrye’s fill-in tried to put the fractured heart back together for us, but failed. As he handed it back to the scene kid, Chooch made a swipe for it because god forbid if he doesn’t get to touch every single talisman. Scene kid let Chooch keep the heart and you would have thought it was cold hard cash (or…a stuffed cat) what with the way Chooch rejoiced and hugged it to his chest.
Before our guide took us through the mausoleum, she turned to Chooch and asked, “Do you even know what a mausoleum is?”
“Yeah,” he scoffed. “It’s like a building in a graveyard where they keep dead bodies.” Like, duh.
“Hmm, this is surprising,” she said, her mortal-hating tone softening a bit. “How do you know this? Does your mommy let you play in graveyards?”
“Yeah,” Chooch answered with a shrug, because this is Normalcy in our household.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was when the creepiest, most Peter Steeliest-looking vampire emerged from a corner and demanded that the scene kid in our group sing him a love song.
“What genre?” the boy asked, and I so badly wanted to scream, “POST HARDCORE!” because you know me, stereotyping people everywhere I go. (But seriously, I want to believe that on their way home later, that cute couple put on some Emarosa.) Anyway, the kid tried to pass the buck, so Vampire Peter Steele went down the line, asking each one of us to sing him a love song, and let me just tell you that Henry is lucky I suck at coming up with a medley on the spot because mine would have been a fucking 87-verse funeral dirge about how I wasted 13 years on a blue-collar d-bag who won’t marry me so I stabbed him in the eye socket with an icicle, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, love is an enema for the heart, tra la la.
So then it was back to scene kid, who blurted out Itsy Bitsy Spider and was awarded a small fluffy pillow for his effort. Chooch was like, “OMG FLUFFY WE GOT FLUFFY!” (I’m telling you, there’s nothing like an interactive haunted house to make a seven-year-old feel important.)
In the end, we wound up with all of our talismans (talismen?) and walked away with honorary vampire fangs, a Hershey Kiss, and a satisfyingly non-mushy Valentine memory. I deemed this trip to Castle Blood as one of my favorites yet; the whole “going to a haunted house in February” brings back some of the novelty and I even found that I was more jumpy than usual. Castle Blood doesn’t focus on scares, but they do have an occasional “boo!” moment, and every last goddamn one of those made me jolt. I guess I’m just much more stoic in October.
Chooch and I spent the rest of the night making fun of Henry for being one of Vapor’s murdered husbands. Obviously.
I started writing this a few days ago, before the news of Castle Blood’s eviction was announced. For the second time in as many years, they will be looking for a new home and I can’t tell you how much this breaks my heart, knowing how much work goes into this (OK, Henry knows more about that part that I do, since my definition of “work” is “standing around in everyone’s way”). This is so much more than “just a haunted house.” For a lot of us, this is a standing Halloween tradition. I’ve been going to Castle Blood since I was 16, and we started taking Chooch when he was two. Some of the people involved in bringing this place to life every year have become my friends, and I know that they won’t let this ruin them.
So, here’s hoping that Castle Blood v.4 will be the best one of them all.
(Seriously. They have to come back because I WANT TO HAVE MY BIRTHDAY PARTY THERE.)