Mature Macabre

October's Men's Room column

Halloween will soon arrive with haunted houses meant to terrify us with scenes of torture and terror.

Sure, they’re scary in a jump-out-and-grab-you kinda way, but while the traditional haunted house might infect the nightmares of children, most adults forget the scares before they even reach the parking lot. The time has come for a new kind of haunted house. One for adults. A haunted house guaranteed to stress and disturb even the most mature grown-up with truly frightening scenarios:

Black Friday: As you enter this room decorated like a florescent- lit big-box store, a blonde teen in a blue vest and name tag reading “BRITNY” mindlessly swipes at her phone and absently scolds, “No pushing” as you’re swept into a throng of bargain hunters fighting over half-price coffeemakers. As you slowly sink into Styrofoam quicksand, the last things you experience before you pass out are the rank body odor of the shopping hoard and the bitter bile of materialism’s existential disappointment.

Thanksgiving with the In-Laws: Since you completed a questionnaire before entering, the actor playing your father-inlaw knows to stubbornly and loudly tout the genius of whichever politician you most deeply loath while you struggle to simultaneously prepare a juicy turkey, a Tofurky (for your vegan sister-in-law), and seventeen side dishes, all while that holiday movie you can’t stand blares from the living room.

Home for the Holidays: You first notice the depressing odor of institutional food. Next, a hospital bed with filthy sheets and a view of a poorly tended cemetery. A glance in a special effects mirror confirms your worst fear: You’re pushing ninety, and the years have not been kind. The Somber Valley Home for the Decrepit wall calendar strikes terror in your heart: It’s Christmas Day. “Where’s my family?” you call. “They’re all dead!” a voice cries from the hallway, then breaks into demonic laughter. It’s Randall, the sociopathic nurse’s aide, arrived for your monthly sponge bath.

Meds Terror Attack: You’re in the waiting area of a walkin med clinic. There’s only one free seat, so you’re forced to squeeze between a sneezer and a hacker. You grab a People magazine for distraction, but the issue only features tales of celebrities who died because they ignored seemingly innocuous early symptoms of fatal diseases. By your own quick calculation, you’re currently suffering from a dozen of the same symptoms. But, it’s when you pull out your phone and Google your symptoms that the true terror begins.

The Room of the Lost: As you enter, a pickpocket deftly snags your wallet and phone, so you’re forced to scramble back through the previous rooms in a panicked search as haunted house staff innocently ask, “Did you lose something?” and commercials for identity theft protection services play on a crackling loudspeaker. While this new kind of haunted house would be aimed at adults, teens could be brought along for a glimpse of something they’ll encounter in the not-so-distant future that’s really scary: adulthood. Boo!

Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.