May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It was subtle, slightly removed from the bustling center of the theme park, and yet its presence was marked by a skeleton haphazardly dangling from a pole, daring us to enter. I had not really gone on any rides yet, my laundry list of excuses growing every year (gives me a headache, makes me dizzy, my neck will hurt, I am too big…), and so I thought I could handle this one pretty well, as my alibis didn’t quite qualify.

“C’mon guys! Let’s try the Haunted House!” My kids looked at me, doubtful. “I’ll give you a dollar for facing your fears!” And two kids agreed to come with me. We mounted the steps to what looked like a small trailer, and a bearded man with several missing teeth took our entrance fee. A sign above his head read, “No refunds after this point,” and immediately I began thinking of a refund. He ushered us into a tiny, dark cubicle, and wished us luck in a monotonous voice, with murder gleaming in his eye. He was about to slam the door, when one of my children bolted, escaping to freedom from underneath his tattooed arm, and then, there was darkness.

My son and I stood huddled together in what felt like a dark coffin, and I suddenly regretted my previous enthusiasm. “Maybe this was a place to really harm or kill people…” I thought, as my mind began to wander, thinking of every horror book I’d read or movie I had seen in my youth. A costumed woman with a painted face, brandishing a large metal sword, entered and beckoned for us to follow her. She waved the sword around, slicing into things as skeletons popped up and corpses lunged at us. Periodically, she’d close a door and we’d be stuck in a completely dark tomb, travel down a hallway, and she’d appear again. Once, I tried to slip through an emergency exit, feeling like every moment in the haunted house was definitely an emergency from which we needed to escape.

I imagined the damage control I’d have to do later; how my son would need extra reassurance at bedtime, how he’d probably be plagued with images from the experience and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night, for weeks. I was relieved my other child had escaped, knowing that at least I’d only have to comfort one terrorized kid. And so I frequently bent down and whispered into his ears, “They’re fake, it’s just a statue,” about the mummies and zombies, or, “Don’t look, just keep going!” but it was probably more for me than it was for him. I gripped his shoulders for reassurance.

In truth, I was terrified. I would have been shrieking had he not been there, but I had to put on my game face and pretend like it was no big deal. What scared me was not the moving figures, but rather the live, angry woman with the sword, the bearded murderer at the front entrance, the sealed, tight spaces that were conducive to a silent killing, not really knowing where I was going and not being able to see. There was probably a dumping ground for bodies out behind the trailer, where they deposited 75 percent of Haunted House visitors. The people running the attraction were probably out on parole from prison for their previous homicides, or maybe they were escapees. While our fears varied widely, we both had them; his in the realm of science fiction, and mine, in just plain (non)fiction.

When we finally emerged, I felt almost paralyzed with relief, and congratulated my son on how brave he was. “I think this was scarier than the upside-down roller coaster you went on…” I said, still shuddering from the recent trauma. At least it would have been to me. That night, my son went to bed perfectly, without any hint of lingering fear over the characters he had encountered in that dark trailer, and hasn’t mentioned it since. I definitely will not be venturing into a haunted house again; I will have to invent a plausible excuse as to why I cannot go, next time we are in a theme park. However, I would NEVER want my kids to go in alone. That would scare me even more.

Sarah Abenaim is a writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Sarah Abenaim

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