So, I’m one of those guys who wouldn’t mind watching “The Ring” at three in the morning in an abandoned house. Read: I don’t scare easy. Maybe it’s just that I can never suspend my disbelief long enough to get really absorbed in a story or a movie. My wife is the exact opposite, though. Suspenseful music makes her hide under the bed at the same time as I’m laughing at how the movie is all but telling you exactly when the bad guy is going to pop up. I learned long ago that a bonding experience for us is most definitely not a scary movie.
Truth is, not much has been a bonding experience for us, lately. What with the kids and my crap job and all of our problems, she mostly spends the little downtime we have trying not to cry. I guess that’s why I finally prevailed on her to come with me to some cheesy haunted house attraction in South Brooklyn earlier tonight. It was advertised as fun and satirical—not really meant to be scary at all. It was a great way for her to enjoy what was more of a fun house and for me to enjoy the ironic take on haunted houses in general.
We hired a sitter and headed over to this reworked Victorian house a couple of hours ago, since the place only opened after sunset in true haunted house style. The lines were pretty long, and it was so weird to be out with my wife for an extended period of time that we could barely say anything to each other. I think we’ve pretty much forgotten how to talk, honestly. I tried laughing at the character actors dressed like old-school horror film personalities who weaved in and out of the crowd saying outrageous things. I tried laughing at the cheesy organ music sending overdramatic chords careening through the cool autumn air. She barely cracked a smirk.
When it was our turn, the zombie-looking, trenchcoat-wearing doorman cracked a yellow grin. “Uh-uh. Couples separate in here,” he ordered us. “You take the left tunnel, you take the right.” I nervously looked over at my wife, expecting to see panic begin to set in, but she just shrugged and started down the left-hand passage without a backward glance. Weird. The zombie waggled his eyebrows at me as I turned right.
“Pray that you both meet again at the other end,” he intoned. I swear, he ended that statement with an actual “mua-hahahaha,” as though we’d stopped off in 1950’s Transylvania. I grinned as I started on my way.
Not much to tell here, guys. There was a lot of entertaining movie paraphernalia, a few interesting takes on beloved characters (like a campy, effeminate Jason and a hobo Dracula who’d taken up Bloody Marys instead of blood) and then I was already seeing the parking lot streetlamps shining around the next bend of the tunnel, which doubtless meant the exit was up ahead. Bit of a disappointment, all in all.
“Won’t you have a look in the Victim’s Glass?” asked a quiet voice. I looked down, and realized that I’d almost missed one last actor: a young girl of no more than twelve—a pale, dark-haired, pretty little thing—wearing an old-fashioned looking white dress and holding the handle of a silver-backed hand mirror.
I smiled kindly at her and took the mirror from her hands. “What’s it do?” I prompted her. I thought it was funny that the haunted house people hadn’t had her practice her lines.
“If you breathe on it, it returns the smell of your future murderer’s breath.”
Well here, at least, she was flawless with her line, lacing the words with a sort of heavy melancholy and a floating English accent. I nodded graciously. “I’d love to try it.” I lifted it to my face, studied my reflection for a moment, and breathed. It took a moment, and then the sudden smell of cinnamon blew back against my face, mixed with the humid tang of someone else’s mouth. The sensation was pretty realistic, even a bit gross.
I’ll admit, I was actually surprised. Creating that kind of effect demonstrated a higher level of commitment than I’d come to expect from the effects team of a haunted house. As I returned the mirror to its young owner, I mentally raised my Yelp review from two to three stars.
“Most people don’t say they’d love to try it,” spoke the voice of the girl, a little curiosity mixed in with her practiced leaden tone.
Oh, so we’re ad-libbing dialogue? I smiled. “It’s the first thing in this fun house that has actually entertained me, so I’m not sorry.”
She held my eyes, and her forehead puckered. “Fun house? I do not understand you. This is my home.”
Her words hadn’t even sunk in yet when I was suddenly blinded by a flashlight beam. A voice called, “You coming out, cowboy? There’s people waiting behind you.” The zombie guy had shown up at the exit, and his tone was harassed, humorless. I mumbled an apology and headed toward the guy; I glanced back bemusedly to discover that girl and mirror were nowhere to be seen.
“That’s a neat trick,” I commented to the zombie as I stepped out the back door. “Does that kid actor at the end just go down a trap door or what?”
He squinted at me. “We don’t have any kids working here. Have a good night, weirdo.”
The drive home was as silent as the drive there. My wife mentioned only that she’d found the experience “stressful,” and then we lapsed into our accustomed silence until the car pulled into the driveway.
“I’m going to sleep,” my wife sighed as I switched off the ignition. “This has been a colossal waste of time. Do me a favor and put the kids to bed if they’re still up.”
I’ll skip rehashing the rest of the night, mostly because I want to tell you what happened an hour ago. It was just as my wife was headed up the stairs to bed, after her paradoxical evening coffee. She stopped at the foot of the staircase to ask me if she had dust in her hair from the haunted house, sighing as I leaned in to check. It was then that I got a full-on blast of her breath: tangy, humid cinnamon.
That was about when stoic, fearless me felt my flesh crawl in such a way that I haven’t experienced since early childhood. “Hey…what’d you eat that was cinnamon?” I asked, struggling to keep a tremor out of my voice as I pretended to be examining her hair for dust streaks.
“Some kind of breath candy,” she replied in a bored tone. “This Victorian looking little girl actor gave one to me right before the exit. Which is good, because that place left me feeling like something had died in my throat. Well, good night.”
I met her eyes then, and I wondered, heart thudding wildly, if I’d ever truly looked at them in a long time. There was crystallized hatred there; not the fuming hatred of an enemy who’d been wronged, but the cold, clinical disgust of someone who has seen something they don’t like on the bottom of their shoe.
So, I’m sitting downstairs on the computer now instead of upstairs in bed. I don’t know that I want to go to bed, not now and maybe not ever. Of course, this can completely be an elaborate ruse on the part of the haunted house staff, but it wasn’t even that type of haunted house. It was supposed to be cheesy fun, not this…whatever this is. Or—and I hesitate to write this or even think it—it could be true. If it is, well…why, oh, why didn’t I ask the girl with the mirror how long before a murder does the mirror show you the murderer’s breath? Will it be tonight? Will it be tomorrow night? Will I ever sleep again?
Written by Arithered
See Also: NoSleep
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