The Clown in the Woods
Okay, so this is weird. I’m not even sure how I feel about it. But, we have a deadline around here! So, I won’t be offended if you read the whole thing or not. I promise I won’t even ask you.
“No, I won’t do it,” I said.
I had been to countless haunted houses in the last few years, and only last weekend had been bored to death with yet another one, The Field of Screams, despite the clever use of a zombie bat-boy. And it was no slouch, nor should it have been for $25 tickets.
It had three attractions, including a haunted hayride, and enough electricity and slaughterhouse pigmen to make quite a show. But I could barely keep my eyes open. If their modern pyrotechnics and asylum loonies with chainsaws couldn’t scare me, then surely I was now immune. I might as well stay home, watch political extremists talk, and save myself the money. Instead of telling him this, I simply used the excuse that “It’s the week before Halloween, and I don’t feel like being in long lines of shreaking fifteen-year-old girls.”
“No, no, this one won’t be that crowded. It’s a bootleg haunted house. Somewhere near York, Pennsylvania.” My iPhone has a bad connection inside my apartment, so I asked him to repeat what he had just said.
“Bootleg, eh?” I sat forward in my chair. Haunted Houses that advertised had to have permits. Rules. Regulations. No-touching promises. Safe for children and people with pacemakers. A bootleg house, though… sure, it was probably very low budget. But money obviously couldn’t buy the big joints imagination, just a bunch of pyrotechnics and animatronics. I guessed this bootleg house was probably just the product of a bunch of rednecks with power tools, but if my mother’s side of the family was taught me anything, it was never underestimate what a bunch of rednecks with power tools could accomplish. Especially in terms of frightening educated people. Besides, this one was outside of York, Pennsylvania, which added considerably to the creepy factor before I even knew the name.
“It’s run by some church group.”
“I’m not going.” I said, and reclined back in my chair.
“No, it’s actually good. I promise. It’s the one Agnes was telling me about. She said some kids have apparently gone missing at this thing.”
“Agnes told you about it?”
“I thought that’d perk your interest.”
“Is she going?”
“Of course. Why do you think I’m trying so hard to drag your ass there? I mean, you ruined any subtlety I was going for, but if that’s what it takes.”
“I don’t know.” I sighed. This made things more complicated, not less. “What’s it called?”
“The Clown in the Woods.”
I couldn’t imagine what sort of church group would name their haunted house such a thing, and this made me uneasy.
“Alright, I’ll go.”
Into the Woods
Five of us packed into a Toyota Camry, we made it to the York area on schedule around dusk. However, the directions Agnes had given Curtis from there were less than clear, and it took us a good hour and a half of driving past fields and turning down wrong gravel roads to finally find the place. Since the haunted house was illegal, we were told to simply look for the “The Creamy Acres at Sundown Hollow” farm. We had driven by it several times before we realized it was the farm we were looking for. You see, the entrance sign was very old, and most of it’s wooden letters were missing or broken, and the arrangement of the lettering made it seem the name of the farm was simply “Creamy Hollow,” which particularly freaked out Curtis and he asked us to stop saying it.
The muddy driveway lead us past a dark farm house and into a wood. About a mile after, we came to another clearing where a small figure in a druid costume waved a flashlight, pointing where it wanted us to park. Joining a string of a dozen or so other cars, we got out and made our way to the gathering of string lights at the top of the hill.
Standing beside the entrance, at the end of a line of a dozen people or so, was a girl in her mid twenties or so with a smile that started at one side of her mouth a few seconds before the other side could catch up.
“Agnes!” Curtis said.
“Hey guys!” she replied, “I was so afraid I missed you. I forgot my phone in Washignton.”
“I’m so sorry we’re late,” Curtis said, giving her a hug. “The directions were trickier than we thought.”
“Besides, we didn’t know it was Creamy Hollow dairy farms we were looking for.” Evita said, who is Curtis’s girlfriend, and in so doing gave us all permission to say the words “Creamy Hollow” to Curtis the rest of the night.
“But it’s the perfect advertisement for a haunted house,” our friend Evita said. She then adopted the voice of a confused housewife: “Gee, honey, how did make three lefts and still end up going left?” she paused for affect, then whispered “Creamy Hollow.”
“And how are you, Jack?” she said, coming to hug me.
“Great,” I said, and then acted like I was going to say something else, but didn’t. She took pity on my awkwardness by smiling and turning towards the ticket booth. There, a lady with a melted mouth and a dangling cigarette told us to get the hell moving.
“I’m so excited,” Agnes said. “This is supposed to be the best underground haunted house in the country. I’ve been wanting to come here for years, but none of my friends ever wanted to come with me.”
“What’s this?” Curtis asked, looking at a sheet of paper the lady had handed to him.
“It’s a waver saying you can run a five minute mile.” The lady said.
“Creamy Hollow,” Jennifer whispered.
“The form’s a nice touch.” Curtis said, running his pen across the signature line.
As the last of us finished signing the forms, the lady began speaking in a lazy drone: “There are five attractions, but today, two of them are shut down for repairs and other reasons. So please, if you see something that says stay out, pay attention and mind the signs. Finally, are any of you allergic to duck meat? I’ll take your silence as a “no.” Snack vending is on the left, follow the trails to the attractions.”
The Ghost Ship Hurricane
Past the booth, a tiki-torched path soon forked into three branches. A sign saying the “Ghost Ship Hurricane” pointed off onto a wide path that lead to a bright clearing ahead. Several people were on the path traveling to it. A sign for “The Darkness” and “The House of Memories” pointed down a hill and into a dark forest, and a sign for “The Victorian Hedge Maze” and “The Clown in the Woods” pointed to a small path that quickly disappeared into the woods on the left. It was absent of torches. A large sign on poster board stood in the middle of the path saying “THESE HAUNTS ARE CLOSED. Sorry for the
inconve i nconvien trouble.”
We walked toward the Ghost Ship Hurricane clearing, which revealed itself to be a rather impressive pirate ship rising from a sea of corn stalks. We climbed a wooden staircase to the top of the ship, where a ghoul in a pirate outfit told us we’d better mind our step, or he’d be marching us off the plank. His accent passed through several destinations, including Jamaica and Scotland, before landing in Cockney Britain. He also mentioned he’d be putting two groups together.
“Oh, I heard about this!” Agnes said to me. “The guy who told me about this place told me they’ll put two groups together, but they’ll also put in a ringer at some point. Each one will think the ringer is part of the other group. Then, when you least expect it, they do something to freak you out.”
“I don’t know, probably yell boo or start screaming, or lose a fake hand in a chainsaw or something.”
“Nice,” I said.
Once on deck, we realized the ship was built around a barn, but it was still impressive. The journey to the bottom of the ship was both whimsical and educational, as we saw fake bodies being subjected to every kind of torture the past centuries were guilty of. The iron maiden, toe wedging (hammering wooden slivers under toe nails and finger nails), whipping (I got fake blood all over my shirt), drowning, thumbscrews, and getting shot out of a cannon. The raping and the sodomy were combined into one rather stomach-churning animatronic scene, but that’s what you bargain for when going for an unrated haunt. I have to give props, though, to the Keel-Hauled kid, for he simply hung against the bow of the ship telling bad jokes to people waiting in line all night, and seemed he couldn’t enjoy himself more.
Aside from the admirable display of imagination and history, though, the ghost ship was just another predictable haunted house full of teenagers in masks who can’t think of anything scarier to do than to jump out at you, hiss, and stare at you very closely for ten seconds. There was also the usual air guns pictures of people who turn into skeletons as you walk by, loud banging noises, and, for some reason, a pirate with a chainsaw to chase us out of the ship. I was also sad to see a demon version of Jack Sparrow done by what I could only imagine was a local reject of the community theater. I said as much to Agnes, who had agreed. She thought it was only slightly better than Field of Screams, where we had all first met her the weekend before.
“It makes me wish that if they are going to do a period haunted house, they’d stick to it.” We were walking back up the trail to the fork. “Not a thing in it made after 1900.”
“They only use old old magician tricks to scare you,” Evita said.
“Or the fear of syphilis,” Agnes said.
“They’d only use gas lanterns, and the sound of real scraping knives, and it would all end in an ultimate test of chivalry, where the men in the group are expected to protect the women.” I offered.
“Like what?” Curtis asked.
“I don’t know, like protecting a woman from Mr. Hyde,” I said.
“Or the existential dellima of a probably-atheistic world.” Agnes said, and we all fell silent.
“Creamy Hollow” whispered our friend Jerry.
“I was really hoping that ringer thing you talked about was true,” Curtis said. “So that was disappointing.”
At the fork, we decided to go back to the ticket booth for something to eat, which ended up being a menu of 23 things they had found they could deep fry. Say what you will about American junk food habits, but don’t say it until you’ve had a deep fried Oreo cookie.
The second attraction, The Darkness, was a broken down New Orleans plantation style house at the end of the middle trail. At the entrance stood a seven-foot tall cloaked person who didn’t say anything, just kept us from entering for ten minutes. When it was time to enter, he told us to take off our shoes and socks and leave them in an empty bin by his feet. He then split us into groups of two people, and sent one person through a door on his left, and a person through a door on his right. Five minutes after Curtis and Evita went, Agnes and I were finally allowed to go.
I went through my door, saw absolute blackness, and felt the coldness of the dusty floor planks. After a few steps, I ran into a wall, and then put my fingers out to feel its direction. While sliding my fingers along it, I heard a shuffling noise ahead, and stopped where I was. When I did so, the sound stopped as well. I continued walking, and suddenly the wall felt soft and like balmy foam rubber, a feeling I didn’t want to touch. I let go, and in a few moments, in blind space, I suddenly ran into a moving figure and yelped. The figure yelped too, and I recognized the voice as Agnes’s.
“Oh, well done.” She said. “They don’t even have to pay for staff.”
We held hands as we felt our way through the darkness. At first, it was a large empty space, with nothing to guide by. There was a somewhat rancid smell and an occasional chirp, which we soon realized was the dozen of crickets that must have been inhabiting the room. This kept us from putting our hands out for a wall and made us slide our feet across the floor, but still the bastards would hop on our ankles and send me frantically kicking.
We were in the room for a few minutes, and I was getting very twitchy when Agnes realized that we had walked over a part of the floor where the texture changed to a slightly waxed wood. We went back to it, and indeed, she was right. We took it as our path and followed it until our hands told us we had come to a hallway. The hallway soon curved around, and I spotted that we had come to the proverbial “twisting hallway maze in the dark,” a staple of haunted houses. We had moved around a few corners when we suddenly came to a dead end. From a dozen or so feet behind us, there was a scraping sound that resonated through the floor.
We turned towards the direction to backtrack, fearing we were now going to bump into a teenager that would hiss at us, but instead, we bumped into a wall. By which I mean, a wall that was not there before. The scraping sound came again from a few different areas around us, and there were little clanging sounds, too the kind of things that sound like locks being set. They were changing the maze as we went through it.
After a grueling ten or fifteen minutes and a few cricket deaths, we realized the path was getting smaller and smaller until we were on our hands and knees. I called out to someone to see if this was supposed to be the path we were taking, as I’m dreadfully claustrophobic, especially where insects are involved, which I guess makes me an insectoclaustrophobic. But I received no response, except the scraping and locking sound of a door panel directly behind us.
Through the tunnel I breathed heavily until I bumped into a wall in front of me. I pushed on the walls around me and started to worry that maybe I had missed a small tunnel we were supposed to turn down, and I would somehow have to back myself back down the tunnel. I must have started to breathe strange, because I felt a hand gently stroke my leg.
“Did you try pushing everything?” she said in a relaxed voice. I tried the walls again, and felt along in front of me, and pushed up on the ceiling of the tunnel, which gave a little. In my desire to feel the release of the tunnel’s compression, I quickly rolled onto my back and pushed upwards on a lid that swung open and we climbed out.
Still in darkness, we walked along a new tunnel, and stepped on what I hope weren’t really toenail clippings, but I can’t think of a cheap substitute. Occasional strands of hanging fishing line and fake web kept us flinching. Our feet soon found a waxed path again and we followed it until we felt a door that we pushed open. At this point, having been without sight for twenty or so minutes, my ears had taken charge and were searching for the slightest noise. Imagine our surprise, then, when a car with its headlights on and a whining horn came careening at us and stopped two feet away from us in front of an iron bar.
I didn’t have a chance to save Agnes. The thought didn’t cross my mind one bit in the space of instant time it all happened in. I had slammed myself against a wall, which they had kindly padded with a gym mat. I then let go of Agnes’ hand, which I had been holding the entire time, harder when I saw the car, and got back to standing. I could now see the car itself was nothing but headlights, car horn, and a cardboard windshield on a metal track. Along the side wast he real exit, which took us to the back of the house, where the others were waiting for us next to a bin with our shoes in them.
“The whole time I was in the house, I never heard the car horn, but that thing was so loud. I wonder how they kept it from making that much noise!” Curtis said. He was ecstatic. I could tell the others, though, were a little anxious. Apparently Jerry was more of an insectoclaustrophobic than I was, and said he wanted to go home.
“But that kind of place is the whole reason you come to an underground haunted house. That place must have cost them, what, a few hundred dollars of lumber and ten dollars worth of crickets?”
“Never underestimate what a bunch of rednecks with power tools can accomplish” I said.
“Creamy Hollow” Agnes whispered, and she started walking down the trail that lead to the next house.
The Childhood Room
While we went to the final attraction, Jerry decided to go back to the vending area, and his girlfriend Laura went with him. At one point on the trail, when no one was in sight, Curtis pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels from his back back, which he passed around. Slightly buzzed, we made our way to a modern, suburban looking house at the end of the trail. A stairway lead up to the attic where the attraction began. There we stood behind a group of people that gave me the impression we could only see a small portion of their piercings.
It gave Agnes and me a moment to talk a bit while Curtis and Evita pretended not to notice us.
“I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned anything yet about my name.”
“Pshah. There’s nothing wrong with having a grandmother’s name. It only matters if you’re a grandmother.”
She laughed and said she wasn’t.
“Besides, I like the name Agnes. It’s the perfect name if you’re planning to meet men in haunted houses or die of consumption or that kind of thing.” I said. “Besides, it really fits the whole sexy librarian look you have going on.” I flourished my hand around her general person for a bit and this was the moment I realized I had drunk more than I thought I had.
When we met Agnes at the Field of Screams, she was alone as her friend had ditched her to catch a date with a guy. But it was alright, as Agnes really liked the guy her friend was ditching her for. She joined our group, and I immediately had taken a liking to her when she snuck up behind one of the haunted house’s ghouls and scared the shit out of him.
“I don’t have a no touching policy,” she whispered to me when she came back to the group, and only later that week did I realize the line could possibly be taken two different ways.
Standing in line at the house now, I thought for a moment and concluded that the level of slight drunkeness I was at could easily be perceived as confidence to an outsider, and I decided to ask Agnes if she would like to go on a date with me.
“Oh, Jack,” she said. “I’d love to, I really would, but I’m about to move.”
“Oh, sure, sure.” I said.
“Grad school. In England.”
“Of course. Of course!”
“I just have so much to do in the next few nights and, besides, I’d feel strange committing to anything right now.”
“Of course. Sure, sure. Not a problem. I myself am still, kind of…getting over a….thing…a death in the family…it’s probably best…”
She gave me her sympathies, and Curtis was somehow able to kick me in the shin with his back turned to me from two feet in front of me. Ia sked Agnes what she was studying, and she told me something about anthropology, or economics or something, I forget what it was. And around that time a perfectly normal guy in hospital scrubs with a large mole on his lip came out of the house and told us it was time for our group to enter. Before we started walking up the steps, though, Agnes pulled me towards her and whispered in my ear, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not up for getting to know you a little better.”
We were all put inside of a bedroom where everything in the room was bigger than it should have been. The dresser was as tall as I was, the bed came up to my chest and stretched almost ten feet long. On the walls were innocent pictures of clowns that no sane parent in their right mind would put in their child’s room, but for some reason they do. The sound of a heated conversation was slightly audible through the walls, and I soon realized I couldn’t tell if it was two parents fighting or being intimate. It was Curtis who realized the bed skirt on the bed was lifted up at one side, revealing an open space below the bed.
“Dude,” he said, looking up at me in awe. “It’s a slide.”
At that moment, the strange argument changed slightly and a harsh banging came near the top of the giant bedroom door. An unmistakably fatherly voice screamed that he knew what we did and he was going to break the damn door down if we didn’t open it right then. We had to cover our ears, the pounding was so loud.
We came off the slide into what can only be described as a dental waiting office. The horrible sound of high pitched drills and those low, grinding drills filled the air. A few children walked around with various iron contraptions hooked around their faces, and hygenists with masks over their mouths walked in and out of the room. Overhead, a 1980s smooth jazz song played. Throughout all of this I noticed Curtis was getting antsy. The door across the room opened and a hygenists holding a clipboard pulled down her mask, revealing a horrifyingly disfigured split lip and teeth jutting out at inconceivable angles. Curtis bolted past her and we quickly followed.
We found ourselves in a classroom where the desks were way too small for us, but a teacher walked into the room and told us to sit down. She was a woman with a pearl necklace and a flower print dress with what had to be the largest chest I’ve ever seen. There was nothing else weird about her except that, after a few moments, I noticed she had terribly flaky, red oily skin on her elbows and forearms. She began writing on the chalk board behind her and speaking in a kind of gibberish where the words made sense–“division” “conquest of Normandy in 1675” “carry the three” “You’ll have to go to the special class” but they had no relation to one another, and before I realized it, she was screaming, asking me a question and pointing to the blackboard. I had no idea what the answer was, even though the blackboard said, simply “2 + 3 =.” She came to my desk, screamed ion my face, slammed her hand on my desk and brushed her skin scaly against my arm. ordered us to leave the room and go to the principles office, and in a sort of daze, we did. By far the creepiest thing about the classroom, however, was how it smelled exactly. like. my elementary school. A smell I have not smelled since.
The next room was a teenager’s bedroom. The walls had posters of teenage pop stars in sex bunny poses, and It didn’t seem very creepy, and I was beginning to get bored when Curtis mentioned something about a full l mirror that didn’t seem to have any tricks. Evita went to look into it, and after a few seconds grew horrified. “Oh, those bastards.” I joined them and soon realized what they were talking about. The mirror was warped just enough to give the impression you were ten or fifteen pounds heavier than you were.
“Look at this,” Curtis said, and motioned us to the bed, where underneath it lay a bottle of baby oil and a gun.
“That’s a little creepy, I guess.” I said.
“That’s extremely creepy,” Evita said, and said it was time to go.
We opened the closet door, and swam our way through six feet of hundreds of hanging clothes, which took considerable strength to push through. Along with it came the stench of thrift store mothballs and stale cigarette smoke. That became a stairway that went downstairs, where we passed a few rather attractive people with sores on their body asking us if we wanted to play doctor. The stair case ended in a simple, clean hospital room with bed. Again, they got the smell just right–the smell of industrial cleaner and people’s bodily fluids. Curtis and Evita didn’t even stay in the hospital room, but went on through to the next. I stopped and stared at the bed, because I knew exactly what hospital they had modeled the room after.
The only sound in the room was the sound of the machines, one the beeping life monitor in all the television shows, and the other the sighing sound of a breathing apparatus, the kind that looks like an accordion in a glass tube.
The patient in the bed was not in bad make up, didn’t have blood and guts spilling out of his sheets or an alien that pops out of his head, like in the other haunted houses. He was simply a middle aged man, with strange black and dark lumps on various places on his skin. He stood still, with his eyes closed, and the beeping machine began a long flatlined beep, and the breathing apparatus stopped. At that moment, the man opened his eyes, squeezed his lips into a twisted smile, and lifted himself slowly to the edge of the bed. He held out his shaking hand, which was freezing tot he touch, and I helped him onto his feet. He then walked slowly across the room, out of the door, and closed it.
The Hedge Maze
“If it was the me twenty minutes ago talking, I would say that I need a drink.” Curtis said. “Instead, I think it’s time for us to find Jerry and get the hell out of here. Tell you what, we’ll split up. Evita and I will check the vending area and the car, you guys check everywhere else.” He grabbed Evita and made away into the trail going back to the entrance.
Agnes laughed and pulled me along a trail that went further into the woods. We soon came to a dark field of corn rows. Though it was dark, the moon was bright enough to see the field was laid out in an intricate maze. A sign saying “Haunted Corn Field” and an additional one saying “CLOSED” stuck to it stood in the path.
“You know, at first I was bummed the main attractions were closed. But having gone through those, I think I’m done.”
“Yeah, me too. But you know, I always wanted to go through a corn maze. I mean, not haunted, just to do it.”
“Well, we could probably do it now. Besides, if its the corn maze that broke down, it’ll take a whole season to repair.”
“Yuk yuk yuk,” she said. At the entrance of the maze, she suddenly hopped in front of me and I could picture her smiling her slanted smile.
“Tell you what, if you can find me, I’ll give you a present.” she spoke it close enough to me that I felt the warmth of her breath on my face. She then dashed into the maze like a gazelle.
Though it seemed like a plotline in a bad romance novel, I decided I’d be damned if I let that stop me from severely making out with this girl this night. I gave her a few minutes and then sprinted after her, only to find I had completely lost her. I called her name and heard her giggle int eh distance, but soon stopped hearing her giggle. At one point I heard something running along the path on the other side of the corn wall from me, and I decided to simply run through the corn stalks to get to it. Battered, raw, and with various bugs crawling into my clothes, I came out the other side to find I was at the edge of a wood. I called out Agnes’s name again, and heard leaves rustle on a hill in the wood. I walked up the hill, wondering if I had enough courage to see this through to the end, when I suddenly looked up to find I was almost face to face with a six-foot clown.
It was a perfectly innocent looking clown. A bright smile, big eyes, colorful suit. The only strange thing about it was that it was standing quietly in the middle of the woods, two feet in front of me. I turned to walk away, but as I did so, heard the crunching of leaves behind me. I turned back around, and the clown was still standing quietly in place, only a few feet closer than he was last time. The bright smile on his face hadn’t changed.
“You got me!” I said, holding up my hands. “Good one.”
The clown just stood there.
The thought that the Clown in the Woods attraction had been closed entered my mind. The thought that the corn maze had taken me and Agnes more than a good half a mile away from the fork in the road did, as well. I therefore turned and ran as fast as I could. Around corners in the corn maze, and then through corn walls. I screamed for Agnes, trying to listen to her replies, but hearing nothing. Occasionally I would turn a corner and see the clown standing in the middle of the path. I would then turn around or dive through the walls. By this time my cries were only “Agnes, run for the car! Save yourself!”
I finally found the path, ran up it, and five minutes later was huffing and puffing at the car where Curtis asked what I did with the body. Evita hit him lovingly and asked me, no, actually, what did she allow me to do with her body.
The entire site had finished closing down and the only person at the booth was the lady who sold us tickets. Without answering the others, I ran up to her and told her about the clown, and she merely laughed and said it was probably just one of the staff who saw two lovebirds entering the hedge maze and wanted to have some fun with us.
So then I told her that one of the lovebirds hadn’t made it back.
“Well sir, I can’t help you there. There’s no cars left in the parking lot but yours. We’ll do a sweep like we always do to make sure there’s no one left, but if I were you I’d probably just take it personally.” She closed the door to her booth and began walking down the path to the attractions.
It took them awhile to finally convince me to get in the car. The lady had come back and mentioned they hadn’t found anyone in the maze or in the woods, and all the staff were leaving. The only other parking lot, one near the hedge maze, was empty, and that she had probably used that one. Even then I demanded to go and look again with the group, but we didn’t find anything. Curtis had continually tried to call her, but it went straight to voice mail. That’s when I remembered she had left her phone in DC.
The next morning, I tried to call her phone with the number Curtis gave me. This time it rang, but again ended in a voice mail. The voice mail said “Hi, you’ve reached Agnes. I’ll be out all day today, but if it’s an emergency, you can probably find me at The Clown in the Woods haunted house, the creepiest Haunted House in the country. Happy Halloween!”