Every October, our high school drama club puts on a Haunted Hallway event that's recommended for children in middle school or older. So naturally, my 10-year-old son and his friend (one year shy of middle school) were dying to go. "Mom, I can handle it. I love scary stuff. Look at my Halloween mask!" he said, wielding his extremely creepy "Scary Clown" mask.
I had flashbacks to my ninth birthday party, when I begged my mother to take my friends and I to a Haunted House attraction on the Jersey Shore, where I grew up. Eight little girls plus my mother and a friend. Needless to say, we were all terrified. I remember someone lost their flip-flop, and we all had to backtrack in the pitch black into a pit of fake rats to find it. I'm pretty sure we were all crying, even the adults. A sympathetic staffer (dressed as the bride of Frankenstein, if memory serves) let us out via an emergency exit about five minutes in, and we had the surreal experience of seeing zombies on break smoking cigarettes in the bright sun overlooking the ocean. I think that was the last time I went to a haunted anything.
Not wanting to project my own baggage onto my son, I said OK. So, I bought tickets for him and a friend and we got in line. We happened to be behind four other boys that my son knew. I introduced myself to the other mother, and as we waited, the boys talked trash about how not scary the Haunted Hallway would be.
Finally, it was our group's turn. The theme of the event was a haunted hospital, with gory "operations" taking place and patients moaning, "Help me!" as they crawled toward us. It was very realistic... if you're 10 years old.
Approximately three steps into the adventure, the other mother's son ran screaming back out the entrance. Eyeing the other three boys she was in charge of, she gave me a panicked look. "It's OK," I told her, "I got this."
Within a few more steps, the five remaining boys were all gripping one of my hands, arms or legs, and one (a boy I didn't know) had his entire head in my jacket. Every single one had his eyes screwed shut and covered, and we shuffled along as a group. Every few seconds, one would ask me, "Is it almost over?"
"Yes!" I would say brightly, though I had absolutely no idea. "I think there's only one room left! Isn't this fun?"
While it took less than 10 minutes to get to the end, it seemed like an hour. As we approached the glass doors to the exit, the boys loosened their grips and opened their eyes. We walked through the exit into the well-lit foyer of the high school, and they all dropped my hands and arms like a hot potato. The last boy removed his head from my jacket and blinked in the bright light.
"That was awesome!" they told each other, high-fiving and swaggering their way toward the outside doors, "I can't wait to do it again next year!" I shook out my fingers and hands to get the circulation going again, and followed them out into the night.