This is the story of my best Halloween ever.
Back when I was in high school, the speech and drama departments put on an elaborate haunted house every Halloween. Since we studied set design and makeup, our haunted houses rocked. They were sight and sound extravaganzas. We even planned to use some decayed meat for that authentic zombie smell but our teacher shut us down.
The haunt we did the Halloween of my senior year was the best ever. The crowning achievement in my opinion was a simple little innovation of my own. We built the haunted house in our stage area and a couple of connected hallways. By making the thing basically a big maze we crammed a rather long path into a relatively short space. The house ended when the
victims guests exited out into the open night air of the parking lot. Everyone relaxed because the boos were over, and they strolled securely down the sidewalk, chatting about the experience, past an innocuous bush where I, dressed in full ghoulish regalia, would leap out and scare the crap out of them. I scared one class mate so badly that he punched me in the face out of reflex. He was an amateur boxer and my jaw hurt for a week. I took it as a great compliment.
My little boo-blind had one minor flaw. I could hear, but could not see, my approaching
victims guests. I timed my attacks by the sound of the exit door and the foot falls on the concrete. After spending a few hours scaring classmates and college students I heard more pigeons enter my trap and sprung out screeching at my most fierce, and shocked two little old ladies so badly that one of them did a full-on Three Stooges jerk-and-fall-backwards pratfall. She lay on the ground clutching her chest, and for a few moments I feared I had given her an actual heart attack! Fortunately, she was a well-padded old broad so the fall did no damage and her ticker quickly calmed down. As I helped her up she said that we had put on the best haunted house she had seen in her 60-odd years.
However, for me, the best part of the house was still to come. After nearly killing a
victim guest, I decided to end my boo-blind and go work the crawl-through maze. Our stage had a large lip that extended about eight feet out in order to allow for ventilation to blow out from under the stage and onto the audience. We converted the space under the lip into a low maze with a padded floor, and got our victims guests to crawl though it on their hands and knees. At one point, the victims would crawl out of a little creepy room with a blinding strobe light, go around a corner and down a completely dark segment. We left little gaps in the wall of the segment so we could reach out and grab the people as they passed. This was nowhere near as fun as trying to kill little old ladies in the parking lot so I rapidly grew bored until I heard the voice of Rosemary H.
Now, Rosemary and I had gone to school together since first grade and I had had a thing for her long before puberty hit. She came from a strict religious family, dressed conservatively in dresses, skirts and blouses with high collars and always carried herself with grace and decorum. She was cute as a button and had that whole repressed-librarian, untouchable vestal virgin aura that I found very alluring. She and I ran in entirely different circles so we would have never, ever gotten together even for one little date but right then I realized that the gods of Halloween had given me one ephemeral opportunity with Rosemary there in the dark on her hands and knees, with anonymous little me lurking within arms length. All I had to do was abandon my morality go over to the dark side.
Which I did immediately without hesitation. As Rosemary crawled by I reached out and grabbed her ass. And what an ass it was! Oh, man. I had one of those, “I am never going to wash this hand again,” moments. I heard Rosemary snap at her boy friend to cut it out, which prompted a very confused response from him, so I knew I had gotten away perfectly clean. I would have continued to have gotten away with it too if I had only been able to keep my mouth shut but I couldn’t resist bragging to my male peers (which made me a god in their eyes for the better part of a week, “Rosemary H’s ass? No @#$%! way!”). Two days latter Rosemary trapped me in my desk in English class and gave me her best ice-queen-with-lava-inside stare and asked, “What’s this I hear about you, me and the maze at the haunted house?” I had no choice. I lied like a rug. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Rosemary. Were you at the haunted house?” She gave me a look that clearly communicated she knew just who had grabbed her ass and then she pivoted precisely and walked away leaving me with a creeping feeling of dread. To this day, I expect some horrible retribution on her part. Rosemary always struck me as the kind willing to wait decades for her revenge.
After the haunted house closed at around 1 am, we were all too jazzed up to think about going home, so we decided to go run around a local cemetery and try to scare ourselves. We all piled into various vehicles, all of us still in full costume and makeup, and headed out to sneak into the cemetery. Turned out somebody had left the gate open so we drove inside. We spent a good hour trying scare each other when suddenly we saw about two dozen police lights appear all around the cemetery. It seemed like every freaking cop from every possible jurisdiction in the county surrounded us. There was Brownwood city police, Early city police, sheriff’s deputies and constables. If a Ranger had shown up we would have had the full array of law enforcement trapping us there. It turned out that all the various cops had been sitting at the local 24-hour coffee shop when the call came in, and so they all just decided to come along. Only Richard H. escaped the cordon. Being an absolute maniac, he drove his classic VW bug down a Johnson Grass-choked drainage ditch, jumped a road and made his escape, much to the utter terror of those foolish enough to accept a ride from him.
The rest of us awaited our doom while wondering what we could have done to trigger such a massive response from local law enforcement. Things didn’t improve when the actual chief of police stepped out of the mob of police and began checking ids. He didn’t seem to like what he saw. Now, to put this in the proper context, I should point out that this all occurred in the early ’80s when the nationwide Satanic-cult hysteria was at its peak. Rumors were rife that Satanists were holding dark rituals in local cemeteries. (I was partially responsible for some of those rumors but that is another story.) Now the chief of police was standing in the cemetery on Halloween with a group of teenagers dressed in very elaborate ghoulish garb. The fact that we had driven there in our vehicles instead of jumping the fence made it look even worse. He asked if he could search our vehicles, on the pretext that there had been a rash of tombstone thefts recently. (Which raised the question: What does one do with a used tombstone? The reuse possibilities seem rather restricted.)
My good friend Tony C. had driven in his pickup with a camper shell on the back so the chief started his search there. Tony, costumed as a blood-drenched zombie with a slit throat, stood by the driver’s door with another cop, looking as nervous and near frantic as possible. He had nothing to hide but was convinced his father was going to kill him when he found out Tony had gotten caught by the police. Now, Tony was an Eagle Scout and a member of the Scout’s Order of the Arrow, a Native American reconstruction society. Tony had mastered the creation of authentic Native American tools and dress and he was carrying a lot of such items in the back of his truck. The chief of police opened the back of the truck and pointed his light in. I was standing behind the chief and could see that in the sharp shadows of the flashlight, the flint tipped spears, stone war axes, drums, leather vestments and animal skulls didn’t really look Native American. Instead, they looked, well, Satanic.
The chief turned around and said, “Anyone care to explain all this?”
Tony, now in a complete panic, ran to the back of the truck and shouted, “It’s okay! I’m a Boy Scout!”
Which at that particular moment had to sound like the biggest non-sequitur ever. To this day, whenever I find myself talking to police, I have to resist the urge to explain myself by hollering, “It’s okay! I’m a Boy Scout!”
Eventually, we convinced the chief that we were in fact just a bunch of drama students fresh from a haunted house with an entirely coincidental pickup load of recreated Native American artifacts. They let us go but, Brownwood being such a small town, all of our families found out by the next day. I got a stern talking to, Tony got grounded and our escapade entered local Satanic folklore.
I think it was my best Halloween ever, even if, now that I think of it, I never got any candy.