In early 2007, I took a trip to Texas to visit a then-boyfriend. We decided to make a day trip to San Antonio to see the riverwalk, the Alamo and such. We’d been together for a year and had been long-distance for most of that period, so the time we spent together was always marked with hyperbolic elation. The day was bright and warm once we got to San Antonio. I was a bony 18- clad in little denim shorts, a tank top and a pair of red, Old Navy flip flops. They were the foam kind, that you could buy 30 for two dollars in-store. We were young and fit and smiling and in love, and the world felt more right because we were together.
We wandered: we walked the river hand in hand, and then made our way to the even more touristy center. When we got to a building boasting “Ripley’s Haunted Adventure,” I gaped and stopped.
“You want to do the haunted house?” I asked with cautious glee.
His face faltered. He was not a big fan of scary experiences. I looked up at him, sun bouncing off the dip above his generous mouth, and remembered a gloomy spring night back when we’d been at school together in Cambridge.
It was a Friday evening before a rare Saturday off. We were both on the track team, which usually meant day-long Saturday meets, preceded by quiet Friday in our respective dorm rooms, or hotel rooms depending on the event’s distance from campus. A Friday with nothing to wake up or prepare for; a Friday with no parties or special occasions calling my name like a freshman’s siren song — these were almost unheard of.
We were in his room. As an upperclassman, his dorm was far away from mine and the other freshman hovels. The distance gave me a sense of haughty calm. I had a reprieve from the spastic confusion of freshman life, and could almost, for a second, convince myself that I did (or could) possess the surety that emanated from this room. These were the big boys. This was their senior spring. They knew where they were going and they didn’t have time for petty triviality. In my young mind, these also-babes were awe-inspiring and massively mature. They were after all, *twenty one whole years* old!
He sat on the bed while I stood by the giant windows, watching storm clouds gather. The night was electric. A storm was threatening. We wondered at what to do with our evening and decided to go rent a movie. (This was before Netflix streaming was a thing. It was basically the Stone Age. The Rubbles were his neighbors. Always with the * BAM* *BAM* *BAM* … It was an exhausting era).
The temperature had dropped, so the skirt I was wearing would not work for an outdoor venture. I raided his dresser for a pair of jeans to borrow. They were, of course, huge on me, but I cinched my belt tightly around them and tucked in the ribbed tank I’d also borrowed.
I studied myself in the mirror and decided that my outfit was very Aaliyah. I pushed my micros over one eye, turned to my guy and made the baby squeak sound that punctuates the background of ‘Are You That Somebody.’ With an eye-rolling shake of his head, we were off.
After much enthusiastic head nodding, eyebrow wiggling, Vanna White gesturing and plaintive debate, I convinced him to choose “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose” as our movie. The night was too dank, too dreary, too perfect NOT to watch a scary movie, I’d argued. He did not agree, but there is some secret power in dressing like your foe in battle. I was dressed like his mini-me. Not trusting me would be like not trusting himself. Right?
Midway through our short walk home, the sky opened up and rain began to fall. We screamed and raced the rest of the way. My memory is fuzzy on this part, but I’m pretty sure I won. That makes sense, right? He was bound for the Olympics and I was bound for a desk-job in tech, so yeah… *pret-ty* sure I dusted him.
Back in the room, we popped in the dvd. He was shaking his head.
“I don’t understand why you like to watch stuff like this. Who wants to be scared on purpose?” He frowned, not-quite-stewing.
“Meeeee!” I sang, and pressed play.
I alternately yelped, cackled and sat in silent rapture through the film. Eventually, I started to doze off.
“*How* are you sleeping right now?!” He demanded.
My anxious fear, and my amusement at the absurdity of that fear had kept me awake for most of the movie, but they were no match for the hypnotic drumming of the rain and the warm body next to me. I looked up at him blandly with one eye still closed: His face was tense with brows knit tight. I shrugged.
“S’jus a movie Pap…” I slurred, and with a chuckle, succommed finally to my exhaustion.
More than a year later, we were in San Antonio, squinting up at the haunted house’s unassuming sign. I bounced up and down on the side walk and squeezed his hand. “Please, babe?! You get the ‘Believe It Or Not’ Museum too! Two attractions for the price of one. WHAT A DEAL!”
I was putting on my best obnoxious TV car salesman voice. If I could make him laugh, maybe he’d indulge me.
I took a step back and surveyed him while I waited expectantly. He had a slim frame, but enjoyed the weight room even more than me. He was a jumper, and walked like he’d had springs in his toes. If bright-eyed, bouncing Tigger had eaten his spinach and been a strapping Haitian, he’d have been my hundred acre jumpoff.
“OK.” He sighed heavily.
“Yes! Fine. Ok!” He poked me in the ribs and dragged me inside.
I was PUMPED. I’d never actually done a real life haunted house before, and a sun-soaked, jaunty day in wan San Antonio seemed like a safe place to start.
I mean, how scared can you get when it’s like summer outside?
After we got our tickets, the two of us and about eight others were asked to pile into a minecart.
“We’re like Indiana Jones!” I whispered, all aflutter. He smiled and grunted at me, pulling me closer to him.
The minecart moved forward slowly, then pitched up suddenly. The group of us started sharply. We moved roof-ward toward a giant cast-iron cage, which went up like an elevator once we were inside.
A large man, ostensibly the offspring of Lurch and the American Gothic guy, greeted us at the top and ushered us into a long, poorly-lit room. The walls were covered in wallpaper with a pattern that looked better suited for a worn Victorian couch. It was endlessly swirling and a little dizzying, so I did my best to keep my eyes down and focus on what American Lurch was saying.
“… It is IMPERATIVE that you all stay together. I’ve arranged you in a single file line. Again, it is IMPERATIVE that you maintain this arrangement, not just for your safety, but for the safety of those in your party. Have I made myself clear?”
He looked at each of us sternly until we uttered satisfactory affirmations.
I was getting a bit nervous.
Just a bit.
“I’ll be taking you on a tour of my mortuary. It’s been in my family for generations,” American Lurch continued. “We’ve got some truly fascinating specimens here, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Let’s move into the next room to take a look, shall we?”
A door in front of us swung outward, and we shuffled forward, dutifully maintaining the single-fileness of our line. The room was near dark and just large enough to accommodate us all. American Lurch (Henceforth A.L.) had to stoop to fit. As we listened to A.L. continue with his story, I placed my head between my guy’s shoulder blades and hugged him around his waist, closing my eyes tight.
… Just a *bit* nervous.
“Well!” A.L. announced suddenly, “I’ve got some work to attend to. You all can handle the tour yourselves from here.”
Wait. WHAT in the Everlasting Tuck was this guy talking about?
“Just remember to stay together. I might even suggest placing and keeping a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you…”
Murmurs and exclamations rippled through our tiny crowd. I snapped by head up to look at my guy, who’d turned around to catch my eye. I looked around to see where A.L. was going, but it was too late. Our enigmatic escort was already gone.
A door opened to our right, and something, a voice or sign, beckoned us forward. We were the ants, marching one by one into the doom that lay before us. My nerve shot tingles down my arms and I got giddy again. I squeed, smiled and poked at my partner.
As soon as the last person had entered, the door shut behind us. We’d been thrust into a black expanse – the only light came from a far away exit sign and a few dim spotlights that featured the pane glass-encased spectacles on either side of us: We walked by one scene after another: heavy, dramatic shadows fell over unimpressive tapestries. A head peeked out of a coffin. What might be an animal stood, obscured from light, impaled with razors and other sharp objects. A woman with stringy gray hair lay in a heap on the floor, and then stirred, eliciting a quick yelp from our group, before we laughed and realized again that these actors were behind a thick barrier, and couldn’t get to us, and were also, let us not forget, just acting.
I wanted to press my face against the glass and get a good look, but a rope like you’d find at a VIP entrance was blocking my way, and I didn’t want to interrupt the line by pausing.
Each grisly countenance was relegated to it’s own cubicle of horror. What could have been corn syrup “blood” was splattered on a few of the residents’ walls. Everything the light touched glowed a sickly blue hue. Our party’s heart rate had collectively slowed. The obvious cheesiness of the ‘haunted house,’ had lulled us back into familiar territory, but the halls we walked still smelled of tangy, fearful sweat.
I took a deep breath, and let it go lazily. My body was relieved that it no longer felt imperiled, but my childish brain was annoyed that the build up of mysterious specter and speech had given way to such a let down.
It was all too pedestrian.
What was that noise?
A buzzing sound was coming from one of the glassed off rooms we’d passed.
They sure messed up the timing on that one, I thought.
As we walked though, the buzzing got closer, instead of farther away. And it wasn’t so much a buzzing, as a like some forty foot Jimmy Fallon quipping ‘ew!’ over and over again, at 33 1/3 speed.
It was… hmm.
It was…. so familiar.
It was a god damned chainsaw.
All at once, the sound became deafening. We turned to see a massive man in shredded rags racing toward us. He wasn’t belabored like a normal horror-movie villain. He was nimble, despite his hulking frame. He tromped toward us, not ungracefully, with his weapon held high. The saw flickered and gleamed above his head, while the chain revolved with sickening speed.
“OH MY HOLY SHIT MY GOD!” the heretofore jolly teen behind me howelled. His chubby hand, which had been resting on my right shoulder was now gripping me tightly, talon like.
Just behind Jolly Boy was a girl of slight frame. She was the last person in our line and was, naturally, in a naked panic.
She shrieked wildly and began to run. Jolly Teen behind me also ran, as she pressed her hands into his back. In his haste, his foot caught me right in the red, foam flip flop, and with a quick rip, the plastic thong between my toes popped free.
I curled my toes tight to hold on to the shoe, but I couldn’t maintain enough speed to stop from getting trampled with just one foot.
“He broke my shoe!” I yelled.
“Here! Hop up!” My guy was running in a kneel. I scrambled up onto him for a piggyback ride to safety.
We rounded one, then another corner. Suddenly, American Lurch was in front of us, gesticulating desperately at an elevator he wanted us to pile into.
We all sprinted in, and waited helplessly while the chainsaw man came around the last corner towards us. One hero of our party mashed the ‘close door’ button desperately, and the doors did close just as the chainsaw was going to reach us.
We stood in silence for a few beats, breaths heaving and gasping. It took precious seconds for us to realize that the elevator hadn’t moved.
There were buttons ranging from 4 down to G on the elevator console. There was also another button next to the ‘close door’ button that had a crudely drawn instruction: “Press here to go down.”
“Wait!” I cried, as our ‘Close Door’ Hero reached for the strange other button.
“It says to press here! We’ve got to get back down to the ground level to get out!” The rest of our party yelled in near-fury.
“But the G button is right there! It’s a trap!” I was desperate. Everything in my body told me that we weren’t out of the woods yet.
“Don’t listen to her!” I heard from behind me. With that, Close Door Hero hit the mysterious button.
The doors in front of us opened to reveal American Lurch, standing stoically before us.
“I told you to go down,” he sneered at us. A lone shaft of light struck the top of his head and his face, save his sunken eyes.
The sound of the chainsaw crept up again, but behind us. There was a second set of doors in the elevator, and we turned sharply when we heard them opening.
Fresh screams tore from our group as Tattered Chainsaw Man appeared at the back doors and dipped into the elevator to thrust his glinting weapon toward us in a murderous arc.
I slammed the heel of my hand into the ‘G’ button repeatedly. All doors closed quickly, and we finally went down the shaft with panting reticence.
My heart was still slamming against my ribs when the doors opened. I still had anger zipping through my veins when a cheery greeter asked us how our tour went. My breathing had just begun to slow when we walked out of the building onto the sizzling pavement.
“Dara… Dara. I can’t believe… I can’t believe you just put us through that,” my bf gaped at me.
“I know. Ugh, I know! … Wasn’t it great?!”