Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boardwalk Tales: The Tale of the FrightWalk Operator

October 31st, 2005 — FrightWalk
There was once a tradition that on Halloween, FrightWalk was open to the public, regardless of which day of the week the holiday landed on. In 2005, Halloween fell on a Monday, which was fine with me.

With so many employees afraid of the little haunted house, I agreed to work it that night without hesitation. FrightWalk never really scared me. I remembered the place from when it was the 3D FunHouse, and that attraction seemed much scarier. FrightWalk was just a dark path with a bunch of loud noises. Or so I thought.

That Halloween, I dressed up in a very simple cloak with dark clothes underneath. I pretended I was some Sith lord from Star Wars, but I really was just lazy. The outfit worked for the location, though, as I seemed more like some grim reaper without a mask or scythe. The evening progressed as it always did for FrightWalk. Most of the guests were teenagers or middle schoolers out for a scare. Many were dressed in costumes. Frankly, I was bored.

FrightWalk was supposed to close at 7:00 that night and it was nearing six o’clock when the first sign of trouble arrived. Watching the cameras, I noticed a pair of teenagers making out in the tunnel. In a sense, it was surprising that it took that long for trouble to arise, but it was inevitable. In any case, I had to break them up. 

I headed into the employee access corridor, opening the door beside the second trigger gag, and popped out at the end of the tunnel. I glared menacingly at the two, who didn’t notice me at first since I was wearing all black. I coughed, and they looked at me, startled. The two scurried past down the ramp, setting off the gag as they departed. I returned to my station mildly annoyed. The two teens ran out the exit shouting, not turning to look at me for a moment. The night wore on...

At a quarter to closing, another group of four teenagers entered. The team was made up of two guys and two girls. The guys were not dressed in any costumes while the girls wore skimpy princess outfits. The two guys opened the door and entered, with the girls hanging off their arms. 

Two minutes after they entered, I heard the first scream. It was not the usual excited shout nor the typical frightened wail, it was the primal guttural scream of someone in peril. As I checked the camera, I realized that they were not visible anywhere. That meant the guests were in the hall of mirrors somewhere, probably on the other side of the drop gag, though I hadn’t noticed the four pass by it.

I grabbed the nearest flashlight and logged out of my register, heading down the employee corridor in a rush. I reached the door to the hall of mirrors and darted inside, forgetting to keep the door opened behind me. It clunked shut, locking itself.

Running around the corners, I passed the drop gag which shouted at me belatedly. In the next corridor, I found the four teenagers. One of the girls had collapsed on the ground and was breathing extremely hard, terror reflected on her face. I squatted down beside her and calmly asked what happened. She didn’t speak.

Her friend answered in a deadpan voice behind me, “She said she saw a ghost.”

“You just saw the eyes behind the mirror,” I calmly replied. “These are all one-way mirrors with props behind them. The eyes glow. That’s it.”

The girl on the ground turned her gaze upon me, but her eyes were shallow and cold. Her lips moved robotically: “She was on fire...” 

Standing back up, I turned toward the other three teens. “Did any of you guys see anything strange?”

A guy wearing a dark-green hoodie to my left responded: “Nothing. We walked around the corner and she just stopped and began screaming. Then she fell backward against the mirror and hasn’t said anything except what she told you.”

Confused, I contemplated returning to the front counter and calling security for help. But I didn’t want to leave the guests in the hall of mirrors. I asked, “Do you want me to escort all of you back to the entrance?”

“She was on fire...” the girl on the floor repeated, her eyes searching the room for something no one else could see.

“Maybe that’d be best,” the guy in the hoodie replied. The two boys reached down to pick up their friend, but without any warning at all, she screamed again, causing everyone else to take a step back away from her. She stopped just as suddenly.

“She was on fire...” the girl said to no one in particular.

As I gazed down at the disturbed girl, I heard the gag behind me go off again. Figuring some guest came into the attraction while the front desk was unattended, I turned to confront the people. Two eyes the color of fire glared back at me. And then all the lights in FrightWalk turned off.

Flicking my flashlight on, I turned back to the teens and stated, “I saw something behind us just before the lights went out.”

“What’d you mean?” asked the girl who was squatting beside her friend.

“I don’t know, eyes or something! They...looked at me,” I sputtered in reply.

“Let’s get out of here,” the guy in the hoodie said.

“Yeah...” The two guys tried to help their friend up again, and this time she let herself be lifted without resistance. I decided that heading further into the maze would actually be the easiest way out because of the emergency exit out back. I planned to let the guests out there and then make my way back to the front desk via the employee corridor. But plans change.

As we made the last two turns toward the emergency exit, we came to the gyrating zombie gag. With the power off, he stood silent, no music motivating him to jiggle. Yet as we walked by, I couldn’t help noticing how bright his eyes glowed. Almost as if they were on fire. They didn’t follow us as we passed by, but the heads dangling above us rotated slowly even though no breeze permeated this area.

At the emergency exit, I was depressed to find the door wouldn’t open. Perhaps it was due to some electric fault—the door was accessible with a card reader so maybe power was required to run it. Pounding my fist on the door, I turned to the four teens and let them know that we’d have to go out the front. Resigned, I headed toward the employee access door down the hallway.

I was dismayed to find that door also blocked. Since a ladder was often stored nearby on the opposite side of the door, it had probably fallen across the path. I pushed the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Sighing, I resigned myself to finishing the FrightWalk with my four teenage guests using only my flashlight. A moment later, the flashlight flickered out, plunging us into total darkness.

FrightWalk was never designed to be long-lasting and had no emergency backup lights in case of a power outage. It was always assumed that the employee would just collect all of the confused guests and escort them out of the attraction. In practice, this concept worked. In actuality, it left both the guests and the employee scared beyond belief.

As I stood with the four teenagers in FrightWalk, I returned to the many times I’d walked through the attraction in the past, hoping beyond hope that through memory and groping along walls, I could find the way back to the entrance. I turned to my left, and informed the four huddled youth that we’d have to continue without light. They had no choice in the matter and scuffled behind me down the hallway.

We rounded the turn toward the beast’s lair and passed the dungeon. Groping along the walls, I noticed faint lights flickering around us. I looked to my left to find eyes again staring back at me, dimly illuminating the prop of a possessed girl climbing a wall in her nightgown. Our eyes locked, and I fell backward into the opposite wall. The teens could see it too, I discovered, as they stepped away from the girl. The eyes burned brighter, and then...she moved.

Very slightly at first, but then with determined steps, the little girl moved, her head twisting unnaturally toward us with eyes glowing with a constant fire. All at once, her nightgown flared up, and the prop fell to the floor enflamed, the head continuing to move. We scrambled into the beast’s lair, not looking back at the demonic child.

I ran headlong into the side of the wall even as I heard grunts from the others who had hit corners or smacked their heads on the low ceiling. Beastial noises emanated from the walls. I realized belatedly that the power was off; the sound effects were non-functional. These sounds were coming from elsewhere. Above us through the wooden slats, the fiery demon child was scurrying along the roof, marking our footsteps. We continued our mad dash up the ramp and out of the lair, toward the tunnel.

Around the corner, the screaming resumed. The girl who had first seen the eyes was facing the child on the ceiling, screaming for no particular reason at her. The sound was ear-splitting, destructive, horrifying, and the three of us fled down the tunnel, abandoning the girl.

But the child was already there, waiting for us at the end. The tunnel glowed faintly from her enflamed body, reflecting off of black canvas walls and blacklight paint droplets. She crawled along the canvas, and her weight caused the tunnel to spin very slowly as she neared us.

With her no longer overhead, the four of us took the opportunity to dart through the exit of the tunnel into the blackness beyond. The room returned to its pitch, and I grabbed the sleeve of the nearest guy and turned us down the ramp and around the jump gag. The girl in the other room continued to scream. As we rounded the corner at the bottom of the gag, it jumped out unexpectedly, but instead of a mundane, poorly-painted prop head, the demon child appeared, flying between our group and into the mirror, laughing hysterically all the while.

We ran around the next bend, into the drop gag room, where faces glowed orange all around us, reflecting off the light of the cursed being who possessed this hell on earth and glared at us menacingly from the top of the bust of Graves. The wailing from the other room continued ceaselessly, adding a panicked note to all our movements. We sprinted into the next room, the last before the exit, with renewed fury.

She was there, awaiting our arrival, the ghost of fires past. Blocking our way from salvation. The teenage girl, now half-way back into FrightWalk, finally stopped screaming. The demonic cherub smiled down at us from a low-hanging limb that decorated the last gag before the exit.

She was on fire. Every part of her body was charred black except her eyes, which glowed like furnaces. She cocked her head slightly to assess us. All four of us were sweating heavily; fear consumed our us, and adrenaline drove us. But we were spent. 

As if she were content with our condition, she smiled with a childish grin and vanished. 
The power turned on and the large swamp monster rose out of the water, growling heavily at us. We ignored it and collapsed in a pile beside the picket fence. A supervisor appeared around the corner, looking at me with a quizzical expression.

“Why are you still open?” she asked. “It’s 7:15! I said you can close at 7:00. And what did we say about hanging out with friends at your workstation? If I find out that you let them in for free, you’ll be in major trouble.” She hurried us out of the exit and closed the door halfway, leaving me in the half-light of the front counter to cash out.

I suddenly remembered that there was still a girl from the group who was inside FrightWalk. I shouted into the back, but no answer came. Cursing myself, I grabbed the other flashlight, the one that still worked, and walked the entire length of the course again, leaving all the white lights on and keeping all the black lights off. When I came out at the end, I couldn’t find any guest left inside.

I grabbed my money and my lunch bag and closed the door behind me. Outside, I ran into the three teenagers from the group: two guys and a girl. I asked them if they had seen their friend come out, the other girl that went in with them. All three of the teenagers looked back at me confused, admitting that only three of them had entered the attraction.

I stared at them dumbfounded, confused, angry. “But,” I began to stutter, “she entered with us, and she was the one who saw...”

“Saw what?” the guy in the green hoodie asked. The three teenagers looked at me with strange expressions and walked away.

I watched them go, muttering to their shadows, “She was on fire...”

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