‘The scariest haunted house in the world’.
That’s what Ellie had said. A haunted house to rival all other haunted houses, one that apparently shows you what ‘real, true’ fear was. As we approached, it didn’t look much. A tall brick building, similar to an office block-definitely not something that looked like a house of horrors.
“Are… you sure this is the place?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow at the roughly 5 story tall building.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Look.” She pointed at what I at first assumed was some random teens graffiti, but now I looked harder I could see that it actually said ‘true fear waits inside’. As we pulled up, I got an uneasy feeling.
“I’m not too sure about this Ellie…” I muttered, frowning at the front door. It looked like something off of a shitty estate block, white paint peeling off and glass stained where it just hadn’t been taken care of.
“Wassamata Elliot, Scared?” She winked, sticking her tongue out at me.
“No… well, yeah, but come on. This looks more like the kinda place that you enter and then next thing you know you’re waking up strapped to a wall, looking at your leg confused because you we’re sure when you entered the place it was attached to your body and not hanging upside down from the ceiling whilst you bleed out on the floor to entertain crazed psychopaths.”
“Aaaah, but doesn’t that mean this exterior causes you true fear?” The voice came from the left of me, and I almost jumped out of my skin. Peering into my open car window, was a strange-looking man. He was small, portly, but most bizarrely the left side of his face was completely hairless. No hair, no eyebrows, no mustache, not even any eyelashes, and yet on the opposite side was, well, the exact opposite. Wildly frizzy black hair looked matted and uneven, a bushy half beard thick and gnarly covering the entire bottom right half of his face. He looked like Danny DiVito having a bad hair day, and I’m not ashamed to admit he scared the crap outta me (much to the delight of Ellie).
“Bloody hell, mate, don’t do that.” I gasped, trying to catch my breath.
“Why? Isn’t that the exact reason you’re here?” The man giggled, opening my car door for me. Looking like I had no choice, I got out and Ellie followed. We followed the man to the door, and all the while he was whistling an upbeat tune. His movements were erratic, not like he was putting on an act, but more like he had a genuine mental health problem. Is this what it meant by true fear? After all, there was nothing inherently scary about the guy, but he still made you feel…uncomfortable.
“So uh… is there a place to pay, or…?” I trailed off, the man was obviously bemused.
“You would pay to have true fear given to you? How bizarre. But then again, if you see what you see, feel what you feel knowing you paid, would that be worse? Would you feel more scared? I wonder,” He stopped suddenly, turning around to face us. “How much do you want to pay to regret it?”
I looked to Ellie.
“Uh, how much…?” but she just shrugged, as confused as I was. Did this place work or a donations system or something? “Um… £10?” I asked, fishing in my wallet and pulling out a £10 note. The man snatched it out of my fingers, and opened the door.
“Very well. Enter one at a time please. Fear is subjective, one person is not afraid of what the other is, so you girl, go first.” He spoke quickly, and we were barely able to catch what he was saying.
“Uh…ok.” Ellie said, walking past me and through the door. “I’ll see you on the other side I gues-”
Her words were cut short as Half-beard slammed the door in her face, taking us by surprise.
“Why the hell did you do that?” I sputtered, turning to him.
“Why? Did it scare you?” Half-beard grinned, and I just shook my head. It was pointless trying to argue with Mr. Fear Factor over here. After about 10 minutes, he opened the door again and motioned for me to go through. It’s showtime.
Now I’m not one to brag, but I was quite the horror fan, and let’s be honest, all haunted houses are pretty much the same so I wasn’t gonna get my hopes up, especially not for one that works on a donation based system. As I walked through the doorway I felt the door slam behind me, and walked down the corridor facing me. It was like a hospital, pure white with little detail. Just a little ahead I could see it open into a larger room, and a staircase was visible with what looked like a portcullis blocking it. Curious, I kept walking till I was finally out of that corridor. A loud scraping noise started to echo around the room, and I covered my ears. I turned back to the corridor I’d just walked down just in time to see a metal portcullis like the one in front of the staircase fall, blocking that as a form of exit. I have to admit, even I wasn’t expecting that. Looked like the only way now was up.
Looking around the room, it reminded me of a hub area from a video game. Four doors were stationed around the empty white room, each like the front door. If this was supposed to be scary, they had a lot of work to do. I walked to the first door, and swung it open. Inside was a narrow walkway, connecting my side of the door with a small platform, where a switch was on the wall. Hell, they could’ve called this place RPG Land, it would’ve been a better than saying it was a scary place filled with ‘true fear’. Either side of the walkway was water, with obviously fake dead bodies floating in it. I quickly walked to the other side of the walkway and pulled the switch, before heading back to the central room. I noticed a light had gone on above the staircase. Further inspection showed four lights, as I expected. I made haste to the opposite room, only to find it in pitch darkness. Of course it was. I felt around the room, only to find that, surprise, surprise, it felt like flesh. Terrifying. The other two rooms were similar, one which when you flicked the switch lightning went off and the other where two cardboard cutouts of zombies popped out when you got halfway through. If this was the best it had, I sincerely regretted giving half-beard even £10. I made my way up the second flight of stairs, and on the wall was a screen. It simply said:
“This is not true fear.”
“Yeah, you got that right buddy,” I muttered, entering the second floor. It was the same layout, but this room was different. It wasn’t pure white like the last one, the walls were a dark maroon, and the ceiling was painted beige. It felt familiar for some reason, but I didn’t care about that. I thought if I got through this room quick enough, I might be able to catch up with Ellie (unless of course she chose to wait back a floor to hide behind a door and scare me. It sounded like something she would do, and to be honest it would probably be the scariest thing in this place.). I went to the first door, and opened it. Blue tiled floor, and dark blue walls. Again, that familiar feeling was felt, but I still couldn’t place it. I walked to the switch with a sigh, and flicked it on.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened. Bats. One of the few things that genuinely goddamn scared me and they had them. A hatch opened from the ceiling and out flew a good ten, twenty bats as I screamed, running for the door and shoving it behind me. Damn! I fell to the ground laughing at myself for getting to scared. But seriously, bats? Was that even legal? As I walked to the next door, I hesitated. This was getting real now, but because each time you enter a new floor the last one gets locked it’s not like there’s any going back. Was there a panic button or something? What if someone actually got hurt in here, would they just be trapped? But there would be time for speculation later. I opened the door, and the breath caught in my throat. Moths. Moths coated the pink walls to the purple ceiling, and only the floor seemed to be safe. Fuck. First Bats, now Moths? I was wondering how much more unlucky I could get as I began slowly walking into the room. It was bright, so the moths seemed happy enough just sitting where they were. I finally reached the switch and flicked it when-shit. the lights went off. Well, that wasn’t strictly speaking true. A different, smaller light came on and the moths went crazy. This time I didn’t even have time to scream, I just leapt across the room and shut the door before any of the blasted things could escape.
“Come on Elliot, pull yourself together.” I muttered, slapping myself in the face a few times before walking to the third door. Expecting the worse, I opened it to find something that even I couldn’t have imagined. Standing there was an overweight man dressed as a clown. This was too much to be coincidental. I slowly walked past him, and he did nothing but follow me with his eyes. As I reached the switch, I recalled the day from when I was a kid where I’d walked into my mum’s bedroom after a nightmare, and found my overweight father doing my mother doggystyle dressed as a clown, whilst she was covered head to toe in body paint. It was the most fucked up sight I’d ever seen as a kid, and the smell…. I’d been traumatized for life by this event, and understandably so, but then here he was-a fat clown. At least this time he was funny dressed, but…as i flicked the switch music began to play, like the kind you hear in strip clubs. The clown was blocking my exit, as he slowly began to undress to the beat. No. Hell no. To most of you it sounds stupid, to be scared of a fat, stripping clown, but my heart began racing, my vision blurred and my mouth went dry. I had to get out, I had to get out NOW. I pushed past the clown, slamming the door and falling to the floor. What the hell was this place? How..How did they know about that? Enough to recreate the man, the smell, the room…the room. Suddenly it hit me all at once. The reason these rooms seemed so familiar, they were the same colour schemes as the rooms in my old bungalow. This was so bizarre… but there was still one room left. I braced myself, and opened the door. It was a struggle not to throw up.
It was the colour scheme of my old bedroom, and hanging from the ceiling were dead dogs, each a breed I’d owned as a child, skinned with the blood dripping from them. I had to get out of here. I closed my eyes, walked towards the switch and flicked it without hesitation. The room wasn’t that bad in traps compared to the others, as all that happened was the dogs fell but… but it was horrible. Why? Why the hell would you do this?
I began my ascent of the 3rd floor stairs, and came across another screen. On it read:
“Do you know what true fear is?”
I shivered for some reason. With 2 floors to go, I was already beginning to lose it. What the hell would be in… as I reached the top of the stairs, a lump caught in my throat. There were no doors. No portcullis. Just a mannequin in the middle of the room, and a screen hanging above it.
“True fear is remembering.”
It was wearing a crude cut out mask of a man I’d wanted to forget for seventeen years. His face old and wrinkly, beard filled with crumbs, his eyes cold. The mannequin wore brown stained slacks, and a cardigan covered in tomato sauce, soup and other…substances. In his hand was an old cane, bleached wood and curved at the handle. This was the face and outfit of the man who’d molested me seventeen years ago when I stayed round his house. He convinced me to sleep in his bed, and… and… I shook my head. This was impossible. This place wasn’t fucking… it wasn’t built for me, why was he here? Where was Ellie? What the fuck was going on?! I had to get out of here. I ran to the staircase, glancing at the next screen on the wall.
“True fear is insecurity.”
I ran into the next room, and whispers began playing over the speaker system. I stopped. I knew all the voices talking, and it sounded like interview tapes.
“Elliot Iwood? Yeah, I know the guy. He’s a bit of a cocky git really. Terrible grades,” said the voice of my favourite teacher, Mr. Henley.
“Elliot? Yeah, I lost a bet to my friend and had to sleep with him. It was ok, I made her give Mr. Henley a blowjob in return.” Laughed the voice of Megan Newman, the girl I lost my virginity to.
“Dude doesn’t even know his girl's been seeing me behind his back for the last six months. He’s so oblivious, I kinda feel bad for him.” sighed the voice of Greg Johnson, my best friend since year three.
“He’s sweet but... and don’t tell him I said this… he’s just awful in bed. Greg… Greg knows how to treat a woman, y’know?” smirked the voice of my girlfriend of five years, Ellie Smith.
I covered my ears. My worst fears, the fears that I’d convinced myself we’re my paranoia were now being played to me in the voices I’d only imagined saying them.
“Shut up… SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I screamed, but it was no use. You can’t stop what can’t hear you. Covering the walls were screen caps of conversations, my friends talking behind my back about how stupid I was, my girlfriend's sexts to her ex’s, my mothers sext’s to my father, every little truth I’d suspected but never wanted to know was in this room…my ears were ringing as I made my way to what I figured was the last floor as if on auto-pilot. The last screen sat on the wall.
“True fear is loss”
Losing what I love…? What was there left to lose? the last room looked like a cinema. A computer was hooked up to a projector, and a single program sat in the middle of the screen, simply called “Do you know what true fear is?” I wasn’t going to click it. I walked to the door, and tried to open it. I knew it was pointless, but i had to try. locked. Defeated, I did all I could do, and went back to the computer knowing it was the only way out.
A webcam feed came up, and where I thought I’d lost everything, I realized just how much I had left to lose. The feed showed the roof that must’ve been on the other side of that door. Sat tied to a chair, hair matted with blood and a gag in her mouth, was Ellie: tied up and struggling to no avail.
“No… NO!” I shouted, tears welling in my eyes. "YOU CAN’T HAVE HER!” I didn’t care about what she said, I didn’t care about anything in the last room, I wasn’t going to let her get hurt. I love her. More than anything, I love her. I would fight for her, and win her back, I had to. That’s what this place had shown me, not to hate her but that despite what I’d heard I still wanted her…and this place knew it. Words appeared on the screen.
“True fear is realizing how you feel only when it’s too late.”
A man walked on to the screen. He looked like half-beard, but reversed. His face broke into a massive grin, teeth yellowed and shining. He grabbed Ellie by her hair, cutting the rope and dragging her to the door… the door that I was the other side of. As he slammed her against it, I saw the door shake and heard the thump. I ran to it, trying desperately, but there was no opening it.
“True fear is being so close…yet so far.”
The man dragged Ellie so her face was directly in front of the camera. A face I had skyped with so many times, now battered and bruised. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. The last words flashed on-screen.
“True fear is watching the person you love die.”
“No...” I muttered, watching the screen as the man began to drag Ellie kicking and screaming to the edge of the roof. “NO! LET HER GO, PLEASE! I KNOW TRUE FEAR, I’M FUCKING TERRIFIED RIGHT NOW, JUST LET HER GO! JUST LET HER FUCKING G-”
I stopped. With a grunt, the man threw Ellie, screaming, off the edge of the building. The last thing I’d ever said to her was asking her how much I should pay to watch her die. Not 'I love you'. Not 'see you later'. Just ‘how much?’. I collapsed to the ground sobbing as the camera went off. What awaited me out there, death? Well fuck them. I’ll not let them take me like they did Ellie.
“Now comes the fun part.” Ricky Bandanis grinned as they waited outside the door the Elliot to leave. All his friends, his family, and a perfectly safe Ellie all sat in wait, party poppers and banners at the ready. Ricky Bandanis had this idea for years, and it was perfect: A person picks the tour in advance, tells them all the things the victim is afraid of, and then they set it up so the victim progressed through their worst fears only to reveal at the very end they’d been had. It was clever, too. Book a month in advance, they get the ‘loved one’ in for the filming of the ‘death’, gives them time to set up the rooms with what the person’s most afraid of, and the victim comes out a better person for it. It cost a lost to buy a slot,around about £500, but it was worth it. They would work with the family to get to know the victim on an intimate level, and then make the horror experience perfect. However, something felt off. It’d been at least five minutes since they’d showed Elliot his girlfriend’s ‘death’ so he really should be out by now.
“Uh, hey, Marco, perhaps turn on the feed again.” Ricky called to his brother, who switched the interior screens that they’d been using to watch Elliot through his little haunted house back on. What was on the screen made Ricky stop short.
“SHIT!” He shouted, but Marco and Elliot’s old teacher were already on the move. Shit! He put so much into making sure the attraction was TECHNICALLY safe, Ricky had forgotten about the computer screen. The computer screen that was now smashed as Elliot took a piece and stabbed it into his neck. Ricky watched in horror with Elliot’s family, knowing he would have to answer for the death he was watching, his dream to create a house of true horror broken. His brother came into view too late, as Elliot lay on the floor, his throat slit as he lay dead on the floor. Ellie began to scream, and as the screen filled with Elliot’s friends and family Ricky only had one sick, perverse, twisted thought as he watched these events unfold that he’d carry with him till the day he died.
This is what true fear is.