House on Haunted Hill

October 27, 2006

I’ve never been in a real, bona fide haunted house. Sure, there was something that lived in my closet when I was a kid, and I’ve been in houses where the doorknobs rattled, the lights flickered, and the walls oozed green slime dredged up from the depths of Hell, but those weren’t "haunted" so much as "built in the 1970’s", when green slime dredged up from the depths of Hell was a very popular insulating material. Once, while out cruising around late at night, my friends and I went in what someone claimed was a haunted barn. It was pretty scary when we were wandering around inside it and heard a strange sound that sounded vaguely like "gloot, gloot, gloot." It turned out to be a cow drinking from a trough. If you don’t think cows are scary in the daytime try meeting one in a dark barn in the middle of the night.

But I digress. There was a time when various youth groups would put on their own haunted house in a church basement or old house. These are a great fundraiser, if by "fundraiser" you mean "spending four-hundred dollars to make two-hundred dollars". Nowadays every theme park has its annual Hallowe’en festival where the scariest thing is the admission price, and there are the new professional haunted houses, set up in old prisons or out-of-business warehouse stores. If you want something really scary go to a warehouse store that’s still in business. A set of patio furniture for just twenty dollars? Shocking! Terrifying! Xiphosuran!

But I digress. You might have heard the urban legend about the haunted house out in a field in Nebraska, or maybe Nevada, or maybe Nigeria, some place that starts with ‘N’. This house, so the story goes, has thirteen floors and you pay fifty bucks to get in, or maybe it’s fifty floors and you pay thirteen bucks to get in, and if you make it through the entire thing you get your money back. Here’s the scary part: the house is so terrifying that no one’s ever made it all the way through. That sounds almost like the plot of an old horror movie: "The Refund That No One Ever Got", starring Dick Miller, Beverly Garland, and Charles Middleton as The Bald Guy. Filmed in glorious Consternation-o-Vision!

But I digress. When I was a kid there was a house in my neighborhood that I thought was haunted. The people who lived there were the Huns, who were pretty ordinary people, if by "pretty ordinary people" you mean "The Manson Family". They had twelve boys who made the gang from "A Clockwork Orange" look like Boy Scouts. They moved away and were replaced with a succession of people who never stayed more than six months but each new family that moved in brought a bigger, stranger dog. By the time I left the people living there had what looked like a haystack with ears. This "dog", if that’s really what it was, only barked once and all the windows in the neighborhood broke. It wasn’t the dogs, or their owners, though, that made me think the place was haunted so much as the house itself. It was tall and narrow with a high-peaked roof. The windows and door were placed to make it look like the house had a face, and if that wasn’t spooky enough the Huns, or maybe their predecessors, had decided that dark gray and brown was a nice color scheme. No one ever stayed around long enough to repaint it. It was a seriously creepy house from the outside. I never saw the inside of it. If I ever went inside I probably wouldn’t make it all the way through and would lose my fifty bucks.

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