My Haunted House

The little princess screamed in terror, ripped her hand away from her mother’s, and bolted from the front door as though her life depended on it (because it did), whereupon she promptly tripped over the dirty black tires, fell, and ruined her costume.

The hauntings began when my family lived in Montana. The address, 1139 Governors Blvd, Billings. It was a nice home, until that one Halloween came around. After that, our house remained the regular local haunt for all the Trick-or-Treaters.

So, I don’t exactly recall when my mother decided to create the local spook-house with our home—or why, for that matter—but she did. It quickly became popular. She had a theme, presentation, theatrical experience, and drive. Together, they all worked wonders. And our home became more haunted each year.

That first year, my mother started small. Her idea was simple: Everyone hands out candy, so why not make it an experience? Sounded reasonable. It was. The basics were this: Trick-or-Treaters ring the doorbell. My mother would fling the door open, she would be draped in all-black witch’s garb, a glowing skeletal bone set of ‘spectacles’ on her face, and a flashlight under-lighting her face while she cackled a terrible haunting noise. Yeah, children cried. Seriously. Tears.

The ‘spectacles’ were like fake glasses but molded to look like angry skull eye-sockets with the upper part of your mouth and teeth attached. They were pretty cool looking. Combine that with creepy, spooky Halloween sounds, strobe lights, a fog machine, and you have a great recipe for Scare. After the first few little children crying in their mother’s arms (seriously, tears, I mean it), my mother adjusted her tactics. Our front door was flanked on both sides by tall, narrow windows. When the doorbell rang, she would sneak a peek through one of them to see how old the Trick-or-Treater was and scare at an appropriate level.

Each Trick-or-Treater had to enter our home one at a time—even if part of a group. They would get a treat, then be directed to move on through our home. One path led them through our garage, where ghastly ghouls would jump out and add some more ‘Hallow’ to the ‘ween’ (unless they were a little-one—we were well coordinated), then they would exit our home and wait.

The other path would take them through another room in the home, to which they would meet a similar fate as the garage, then out our backdoor, to wait. Groups were separated, and sometimes individual party members would just stand around, anticipating their friend’s arrival, only to find complete strangers exiting that same door, just moments after them. So confusing. Eventually, they would begin to wander, call out for each other, find each other, and leave. It was hilarious.

It didn’t take long for word to spread, and we became the cool house to visit on Halloween. Then we moved to Utah.

In our first house, right away, mom was up to her familiar tricks once again. However, this time she added some new twists: Tires and more family.

On my father’s side of the family, there are giants. All the boys are over 6-feet. They are broad-shouldered and intimidating without even trying. Side note: They all joined the Army and Law Enforcement—their size made for minimal conflict and maximum obedience. They are also the kindest, most decent men I have ever known. Anyway, when you put one of them in a monster mask and have them jump from the roof, to land in front of you, or out of any shadow, you need to go home and change pants. Once, my brother (about 5-foot 6-inches) jumped out from the bushes as Freddy Krueger. Some of the teenage Trick-or-Treater tough-guys saw him and challenged, “We saw you. You try and scare us, we’ll get you.” That’s when a 6-foot 10-inch wolfman fell from the sky behind them. The thud he made upon his landing made them turn, the growl—and his immense size—made them scream and run away, marking their territory as they went.

It was at this location that my mother killed a princess. On accident.

My mother could make world-class scroungers look like incompetent buffoons. She could get anything. Case-in-point: I come home from school to find a dump truck unloading old tires onto our front lawn. One of the crew for the truck calls out to my mom, “Yeah, we’ll come get these tomorrow.” To which my mom responds, “Perfect. Thanks, you guys.” WHAT?!?! Apparently, the plan was to set the tires all over the yard to encourage Trick-or-Treaters to follow our walkway. And, if they try to run away, they’ll just trip and fall all over themselves. First Trick-or-Treater of the night (it was about 4 in the afternoon), a cute little 6-year-old, blonde princess, dressed all in white—and her mother.

Doorbell rings, the ‘witch’ throws open the door, cackles, and screeches, “Trick or treat!” Yeah, that didn’t go well. At all. We were the princess’s first house. She screamed. Yanked her hand out of her mother’s. Turned and ran. Hit the tires. Tripped. Fell. And turned her clean, all-white, royal gown into a dirty ‘Cinderella after her stepsisters’ kinda look. Tragic. She was crying. The mother was consoling. My mother = heartbroken. Mom quickly discarded the hat and glasses, put on her best angelic face, and tuned that situation around. The Princess got handfuls of candy and mom cleaned her up to almost as good as new (my mother has mad cleaning skills, yo). And all was well, once again, in the kingdom of Halloween.

By the time we had moved into our second home, my mother had developed—through her dance studio—a willing crew to help her man the growing ‘Haunted Home of Tricks-or-Treats’. And it needed them. Because, our second home had the best layout of all. As if it was built for just this event. As it was an old home, it had been added onto over the years. There were outside doors facing all four cardinal directions. Doorways all over the inside as well. Narrow passages. Places to hide around every corner. It become ‘the’ Halloween event, ‘the’ Trick-or-Treat location, in town.

Trick-or-Treaters entered from the East and left from an arbitrarily decided exit.

The basics were the same. Trick-or-Treaters entered in one at a time—there was always a long line. They were brought into Room 1. After some self-collected treats—I say this because the Trick-or-Treaters were encouraged to move toward visible candy options, but ‘spookies’ (costumed and/or hidden helpers would jump out and scare) might dissuade them—they were directed into Room 2. As the guests entered, the guides took subtle directions from my mother as to how much terror to add. They in turn would utter phrases as they moved the Trick-or-Treaters through our home. These verbal cues told the other staffers to either up the terror or just sit still (no repeat Princess performances).

Once in Room 2, the guests were either directed around the furniture to more treats, terror, and out the Southern door, or moved on to Room 3.

Room 3 was our kitchen, and the Trick-or-Treaters had to put their hand in our oven to collect candies (it wasn’t on, but it did have a red (or black) light bulb installed temporarily to add to the “creepy”). At this point, they were either taken to Room 4 at the back of our house, or they were sent out the North door.

If taken to Room 4, they either ‘deserved’ extra scare—because they were ‘too cool’, or they deserved a little extra treat—because they were very brave little-ones in need of reward for their courage. The best part was that people still got lost once outside. They would stand around waiting for their friends. The friends wouldn’t show. They would then get a little freaked out and wonder what happened. Some would then wander about our yard, attempting to seek comfort in their group’s companionship, only to discover their compatriots were also wandering about and going in the same direction (so they would never meet). If they left Room 2, they could either head East or West. They were on their own. Once out of our house, we offered no help. And we had old trees and creepy shadowy places about our exterior.

All of this was supported by fog machines, no lights (dark rooms), colored lights, strobe lights, spooky sounds on a record—yeah a reh-cord, record (LP, for those that know)—decorations galore, and plenty of people in costume. It was a lot of work, but also great fun.

If you recall from Into the Sewer, the entrance to my underground abode resided on the South part of my home. As a result of this location, one Halloween I rose up from the depths of my ‘hideout’—dressed as Casey Jones—just as someone was exiting my house (it was bound to happen).

So image, you’ve just been through a spooky ‘Haunted House’, and just as you are left outside (on your own), to your right you hear a scraping sound. A manhole cover lifts and moves to the side, and from inside the previously unknown, underground cavern, what appears to be a skull-like face emerges from its depths, illuminated by the night’s full moon.

A ‘Jones & Crossbones’ display.

Yeah, that girl screamed and ran away faster than DC Comics’ the Flash ever could.

Good times.

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