There are times when one must test his mettle against circumstances in which he would rather not find himself. These trials are essential to moving from boy to man, and many cultures around the world have significant rituals that are used to mark this transition.
I had none of these rituals, nor did I have any standard by which to measure my manhood. But I had recently started college, and I wanted to prove that I was no longer a little kid. I had also had the sad misfortune of being one of the bigger wimps around, and this fact was known by pretty much anyone that met me. It didn’t help that I often confirmed this fact on a near-daily basis.
To make matters worse, Halloween was approaching, a time that would prove to be my undoing. A wimp and a holiday whose practitioners pride themselves on their ability to scare do not mix well.
So, this year, I would prove them all wrong. I planned to take my girlfriend to a haunted house. I went to one last year, and the picture of my face afterward still circulated on Facebook. In my head, I planned on taking her to the largest haunted house in the area. I did not, however, count on the haunted house being sold out. So, I was left scrambling and found another haunted house that was much farther away, but it would still count and allow me to pass my self-administered test.
Later that night, I drove to Liz’s dorm to pick her up. It was on the edge of campus, and I texted her to get her to come down.
She came bounding out of the dormitory, jogging down the steps, with an energy that I’ll never possess.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said, ‘it’ll be fine.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“No, but it’ll be fine.”
We drove through the city. The original haunted house was just on the outer edge of town. It was mostly staffed by college kids and high schoolers. We knew several of the people working there. It was a double-edged sword. On one hand, they might let up, since we’d be familiar faces, but more likely, they’d take advantage of my general phobia.
“Don’t we need to turn here?” Liz asked.
“I checked. They were sold out.”
“So where are we going?”
“I found another one online.”
“It’s out a way,” I said.
“Oh god, is it some redneck murder factory?”
“I think that’s what the name was,” I said. She punched me in the shoulder.
I drove through the woods. When I picked Liz up, it was just starting to get dark, and now nighttime completely engulfed us. We were on wooded country roads, which only made it darker. To make matters worse, the fog was getting thicker. It snaked its way through the trees and it got denser the further we drove.
“How much farther?” Liz asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “check your phone.” I gave her the address and she plugged into her GPS.
“It’s not that much further,” she said.
“Farther,” I said.
“Is that really what’s important now?’” she asked.
“Good grammar is always important.”
“Pedantry is not going to get you laid.”
“No, but it’s going to get me into law school.”
“Whatever, turn left counselor,” she said.
I turned just as the woods were opening up to a farm, with an old barn in the center of it.
“That has to be it, right?” she said.
“Yeah, I think I see some lights in the front.”
As we got closer, we saw a crude plywood sign that said “Haunted House” written in red spray paint.
“Are you sure you want to go in here?" Liz asked. The closer we got, I noticed that it wasn’t just the barn, but there were a series of tents leading up to it to extend the attraction. There were men with makeup on in front.
“God, I hate clowns,” I said under my breath.
I didn’t think about it at the time, but we were the only patrons at the time. It was a little concerning, but I had a trial at best, and I would at least gain some respect in Liz’s eyes.
A large man in full clown make up approached the car. For some reason, people dressed as regular clowns scared me far worse than purposefully frightful getups.
“You guys here to have a little fun?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” I said. I thought about adding, Please don’t murder us. But I didn’t want to put the idea in his head.
“Ten bucks, boss.”
I paid him the money. It was about half of what I made working in the library.
“Park over there in the grass.”
As we parked, Liz shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Something doesn’t seem right?” she said, “there aren’t any marks from other cars. It looks like we’re the only people that have been here.”
“It’s probably because that other one is so popular.”
“Or we’re the only ones dumb enough to go out to a murder barn in the middle of the woods.”
“It’ll be fine.” I needed to make it through this. At this point, an attempted murder would only help my cause. We got out and headed towards the entrance. I tried to ignore the two men in makeup. They seemed to be the only ones there.
The tall skinny one undid a chain to let us through. “You kids have fun.” He peeled the tent flap back and we stepped into the darkness. Once we were both the darkness was absolute. We walked slowly to keep from tripping over our feet. Liz huddled close to me. Well in truth, I was huddled close to Liz, taking small steps, and trying not to bring both of us to the ground.
“You don’t have to be so close,” Liz said.
“Yes, I do.”
“We’re not even ten feet in yet,” she said.
“Can’t be too careful.”
“Well, if you hold onto my arm any tighter I’m going to lose the feeling in my hand.”
“It’s a small price to pay for love.”
We kept walking at a pace much slower than Liz would have preferred.
“Did you hear that?”
“No, keep moving.”
“No there’s someone in here.”
“That’s the point. They’re here to scare you. Keep moving.”
“Someone just touched my leg.”
“Oh stop just go,” she said.
We kept walking. I thought there would be more decorations in the row of tents, but it was just dark. Every step I took I waited for someone jump out, or to yell at us. But it was silent. It was almost worse.
“This is getting eerie,” Liz said, “was that you?”
“Was what me?”
“Someone grabbed my leg.”
“I told you.”
“Someone grabbed me.”
“Your leg again?”
“No, like they grabbed me.”
“Ugh, that’s not cool.”
We heard a laugh. It was too dark to see anything, and we kept looking around and before I knew it I couldn’t remember which way was out.
“How do we get out of here?” I asked.
“I can’t remember.”
I could hear footsteps around us. There were at least two people now. I hit the side of the tent, and I tried to lift the sides, but they were stuck to the ground. I tried to tear through it, but the material was far too tough.
“Oh god, someone just licked me,” Liz said.
I felt a hard shove in my back throwing me to the ground. I tried to get up but I was kicked firmly in the chest sending me back down to the ground. I heard Liz screaming.
“Get your hands off me!” she kept yelling.
“Hey...” was all I could manage before another firm kick hit me in the ribs.
I heard them scuffling with Liz. It was pitch black. The men were laughing the whole time.
“No. No. No,” Liz kept saying. Her words were getting softer as she was getting farther and farther away.
I heard the barn doors open and shut, and I was back in the silence.
This is the part where I tell how I burst through the doors and saved my girlfriend. That I was the knight in shining armor.
But, remember who you’re talking about.
I’m the coward.
I ran in the other direction as fast as I could.