63. That Time I Worked in a Haunted House

I really wanted to title this post That Time I Was a Zombie or That Time I Was a Killer Clown, but those titles would have been misleading. I was neither zombie nor killer clown. I was merely a tour guide in a haunted house full of them.

Years ago, when I was a senior in high school, it fell to me and some of my classmates to put together a haunted house as a fundraiser for our class. The idea was simple: lead groups of jittery customers (we preferred to think of them as victims) through the basement of our school, scaring them as much as possible along the way. Each customer would pay for a ticket, and the proceeds would go our class fund.

It was an important fundraiser, so my classmates and I formed a Haunted House Committee weeks in advance and began planning. We met during our lunch break, discussing gory details over sandwiches and slices of pizza.

It was decided early on that our haunted house would feature killer clowns. Clowns, even of the non-killer variety, are freakishly scary. Zombies were the next suggestion, and they were quickly added to our list of Freakishly Scary Things Needed For Our Haunted House.

Several members of the Haunted House Committee were horror movie aficionados. They insisted on adding authentic little touches, such as puddles of blood and a heap of intestines. The blood was fake; the intestines were genuine, having previously belonged to a pig butchered at a local market.

While I appreciated the enthusiasm that went into planning these ghoulish details, I didn’t like them. They were rather too macabre for my Puritan sensibilities. Besides, I wound up slipping in one of the blood puddles during the fundraiser and acquiring several colorful bruises.

On the night of the fundraiser, our victims—our customers, I mean—lined up with their tickets ready. I had been chosen to play the role of a tour guide. In retrospect, I’m thankful not to have been a zombie or a killer clown, since those unfortunate ghouls had to wear thick makeup.

I had two responsibilities as a tour guide.

First, I had to lead our customers safely through the haunted house.

Second, I had to give the impression of a person who was verging on insanity after having been locked for hours in a haunted house full of killer clowns and zombies.

The second responsibility was a good deal more fun than the first.

The haunted house through which I led our customers was a masterpiece of creepy interior design. Apart from the aforementioned intestines and blood puddles, there were overturned desks and torn scraps of paper littering the floor. A hangman’s noose dangled from the ceiling. The mirrors were scrawled with grotesque lipstick drawings.

My favorite part of the haunted house was a corridor with a cloud of dense smoke from a fog machine. The tour guide’s flashlight became useless in the smoke; its beam stabbed through the obscurity without illuminating anything. A strobe light flashed at the end of the corridor, revealing scenes of carnage: desks, textbooks, papers and bodies strewn over the floor.

After leading a group of customers through the haunted house, I had to retrace my steps from the exit back to the entrance to meet the next group. This was, without question, my favorite part of working in a haunted house. The zombies and killer clowns, so terrifying in the presence of customers, smiled and laughed and gave each other high-fives when the customers were gone. There was an atmosphere of cheerfulness, companionship and solidarity among my classmates that contrasted quite sharply with their ghastly costumes and gloomy surroundings.

Despite a few mishaps—a customer running into a glass door and shattering it, for example—our haunted house was a success. The only downside was having to clean up afterward. We remained until the early hours of the morning, cleaning up bloodstains and picking up paper scraps, like murderers trying to get rid of the evidence.

After removing all traces of our haunted house and restoring the basement of our school to its original, less creepy condition, we went back to our homes and slept like the dead.

I felt about as lively as a zombie upon waking up the next day. My side ached from where I had bruised it after slipping in a blood puddle, and my throat was sore from all the screaming I had done in the character of an insane tour guide. It took time, tea and cough drops, but I eventually recovered.

Working in a haunted house was a memorable experience. I enjoyed it, and I hope never to do it again. I will leave it to the younger generation to carry on the tradition of putting together haunted houses.

Just a word of caution: Be wary of makeup and blood puddles.

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