I love many things about Halloween.
I love the fall colors, I love the crisp air, I love all things pumpkin-flavored and I have a deep, inexplicable love for candy corn.
Unfortunately, all of those good things are shackled to one of the things I hate most: spook alleys.
I don’t know if it’s the fake fog, the ad-hoc maze, the masked actors or just the whole combination, but I would not consider myself a fan.
Actually, no, I know exactly what I don’t like about spook alleys.
In the fall of first grade, a spook alley was constructed in the building across the street from Grantsville Elementary School, which now houses Dalton-Hoopes Funeral Parlor. A friend, Danielle, bragged about how she had gone to it and it totally wasn’t scary at all.
Danielle had just turned six the month before, which was at least a month younger than everyone else. Obviously, I could not let someone who was practically a baby (in first-grader terms) out-do me. So I said I was going the next weekend, and that I wasn’t the least bit nervous.
The plan was the easy part. Getting my mother to go along with it was much harder.
For some reason, she didn’t seem to be swayed by Danielle’s report that it wasn’t scary, or my protests that I was tough enough to go through a dimly lit maze of high school kids dressed like Freddie Krueger and Jason. But eventually, I wore her down.
“Are you sure you want to go to this? It might be really scary. But it’s all just pretend,” she cautioned as she begrudgingly drove me down.
“I know Mom,” I countered. “I like being pretend scared.”
We paid our two cans of food for admission, and went in.
I want to point out that, for a 6 year old, I was very prepared. I hadn’t actually been to a spook alley before, but we had a TV and I watched programs I probably shouldn’t have when my parents weren’t looking. I was completely prepared for guys in masks and people jumping out from behind fake trees—after all, my dad jumped out at me all the time. How bad could this be?
I still remember vividly going into the spook alley. There was a grate on the floor and dried leaves strewn around the path. Small, dim lightbulbs peeked out here and there from the curtains and sheets draped about. We hadn’t gone five feet when the first spook jumped out.
He had a chainsaw.
He had a freaking chainsaw!
Do you know how freaking close he came to my head with that thing? Do you?
What kind of maniac comes after a 6-year-old’s head with a chainsaw??
I also want to point out that, at the age of 6, I was not aware that chainsaws could be disabled to render them relatively harmless. So, when this guy jumped out at me, I had visions of myself being cut down like that big dead tree at Grandma’s.
Suffice to say, we didn’t make it any further in the spook alley. Another guy, dressed in a long black cloak and holding the pale mask he’d just removed from his face, said the rest of the spooks were his friends and he’d tell them not to jump out at me. But I refused to go on. Somehow my mom got me back out the entrance.
Someone offered to let us take our cans of food back because we had only gone such a short distance.
“No,” my mother said, “the food bank can keep our cans of corn.”
I don’t remember what I told Danielle, but I do remember that the skeletons and ghosts leering around the sign for the spook alley taunted me through the years, fading so slowly on the building’s brick exterior that I could still see traces of them in high school. In many ways, going—or not going—through the spook alley was my first real failure in life.
It was a reminder that I had let my fear of being chopped down like a tree before even losing a single baby tooth paralyze me from finishing something I had started. It disturbed me that I had been unprepared for any occurrence, despite my best efforts. And even this many years later, the memory drags itself up like the undead from the depths of my subconscious every October. My only consolation is that maybe, just maybe, my bloodcurdling screams likewise scared the dude with the chainsaw.
And that is why I don’t like spook alleys.