I don’t really remember how it started. I know it was 1995 and something that my mom and I liked to do together, back when we actually liked each other and were able to get along for longer than one half hour at a time. We would get the weekend newspaper and scour it for haunted house ads, mapping out all the ones that were close enough in proximity to ensure we could fit in at least two a night.
It was a sickness. Some of my friends caught the bug from my mom and me and soon we were salivating for weekends in October, piling seven or eight people in Lisa’s minivan and driving down dark country roads to farm fields where we would scream like motherfuckers in the chainsaw guy’s face and horror-flirt with Michael Myers, not letting ourselves believe that it was really some Clearasil commercial douchebag in a cheap K-mart mask. It was an opportunity to play scared, helpless victim around boys I had crushes on and to be one of those obnoxious teens in lines that I want to punch in the face now that I’m a “grown-up” with a low patience threshold.
Fighting with Keri over Jason Voorhees outside of Terrordome (she won and ended up taking him to our high school’s Christmas dance that year, but he ended up being a real motherfucker, so I guess I won after all); peeing my pants inside the claustrophobic fog-machine-stenched halls of Victory’s Haunted School and scream-singing Superdrag’s “Sucked Out” with Lisa in order to be let out of one of the rooms; wrecking into the chainsaw guy’s car at that same haunted house years later and sometimes literally wondering, “OMFG WHAT IF THIS IS REAL & I’M GOING TO DIE TONIGHT?” while having some strange man snarl in my ear and coat my neck with his warm, sleazy breath: These are all some of my favorite memories and why, even as an adult, my stomach does little flip-flops every October. That adrenaline rush of being someone’s horror movie prey for 30 minutes a night and the release of tension when it’s over is what makes me continue to fork over money to this crazy industry year after year. (Though there are some that I refuse to go to because they’re over-hyped and just not good. Keep your animatronics and give me all the old-fashioned garbage bag-curtained VFW haunted halls; it’s the simple things that scare me.)
It started with a scrapbook of sorts, just a regular notebook into which I modpodged ticket stubs, newspaper ads and other haunt memorabilia. (Like a penny I found at the now-defunct Castle Shannon Haunted School. Who keeps shit like that? A future hoarder, that’s who.)
That same year—1995—I was in a writing class in high school and we had to keep journals which would be turned in to the teacher weekly. I would basically write about shit that I did, just as I still do, but when my mom and I went to the Terrordome that October with my best friend Christy and I wrote about it, my teacher particularly loved that entry because haunted houses were something she was scared of, so scared that she refused to go to any. She wrote in the margins of my journal that she enjoyed reading about it because it was her way of being there without having to leave her house. Around that same time, I realized that as much as she liked reading it, I loved writing it. So the following year, even though I was no longer in her class anymore, I continued writing about every haunted house in that same journal until I ran out of room and my friend Angie bought me a new journal.
I still keep hand-written haunted house journals which is why I don’t often write about it over here on my blog; in fact, I’m almost out of room in the Goosebumps journal I’ve been using. There are so many stories (literally tomes-full!) and photos that I should probably start sharing them on here, too; maybe start a series if anyone is interested in it.
Someday, Chooch will be old enough to do this shit with me and I just honestly can’t wait. Because when I think back on my early haunted house experiences, it makes me remember how awesome my mom used to be. I wish this was still “our thing.”