Author Archives: jhartz87
This is a long short horror humorous story based on true events. Trigger warning: 2020. This story takes place in 2020. Also, it’s in 2nd person which isn’t popular, but I stand by my writing choices. Please, enjoy!
It’s Halloween, and although things have been a lot a bit different in this the year of our Lord Covid 2020, it’s customary to round up your friends and pay a gratuitous amount to go through a “haunted house.” Except this time you are all wearing masks. And all the employees inside will be wearing masks. And you’re all really discouraged from touching anything. And you’re supposed to stay in small groups and not get near anyone. And you’re starting to wonder if it would just be scarier to go get groceries or walk on a crowded trail in the park.
But your friends all talk each other into going and somehow snag a reservation ON HALLOWEEN OF ALL THINGS. Well, fuck yeah. Maybe now it’ll feel more Halloween-creepy. Possible actual ghosts lurking in this abandoned historical building turned horror novelty. Besides, you’ve watched all of The Office three times now and new shows sound like too much commitment. Might as well leave the house. You think about dressing up but honestly putting on normal clothes feels like a costume. All your jeans are already clean since you haven’t worn anything without an elastic waistband in months. You actually get a little excited and say, “Sorry, slippers, I’m going out tonight!” as you grab your sneakers and try to remember how the laces go.
You drive over to a once prosperous part of the city that’s now old buildings turned into cool startup offices, hipster wedding venues, and, of course, haunted house attractions. There are four different Halloween experiences in this area. There’s the Haunted Huge House because The Haunted Mansion is trademarked by Disney. There’s the Hotel of Horrors complete with creepy bellhops and untrustworthy elevators, and the Werehouse Maze, which makes up for in jump scares what it lacks in alliteration. And finally, the newest experience, whose renovations started some time last year in 2019 but didn’t get finished until recently due to delays caused by the pandemic: The Cursed Crypt.
You’ve all visited the old experiences so many times you’re on first name basis with some of the characters. The Rat Man’s real name is Bill – he sells cellphones for a living – and the sexy vampire you hit on turned out to be your teacher from middle school (in your defense, costume makeup has come a long way). There are still some thrills to be had for sure, but this year of all the years, it was time for something NEW. The Cursed Crypt is supposed to have room after room themed with various horrors and sort of an Egyptian tomb feel with some puzzles and hidden doors you have to figure out to make it through the whole thing. The challenge excites you. It’s been awhile since you’ve done much other than stay inside your home and hit spacebar repeatedly playing World of Warcraft.
You park your car and walk towards The Cursed Crypt. Or at least, you’re pretty sure you’re headed in the right direction. It’s supposed to be on the same block as The Haunted Huge House. You head that way and find a long line. You get in the line. Damn…this line is REALLY long. Even with the 6-feetish apart. And where’s your friends? Didn’t Mike already say he was in line? And what about your reservation?
“Excuse me. Is this the line for The Cursed Crypt?” you ask the lady ahead of you.
“What?! No?! This is the line for the cursed unemployed. I’m trying to get my application fixed because some jackass filed for unemployment under my name. That’s my money! I’m the unemployed one with five children!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Thanks,” you mumble and head further down the street.
You approach another long line, and some of these people are dressed up. Several are wearing hats – mostly bright red ball caps – and some even have prop weapons. Maybe this is it! But as you get closer you see posted notices warning you – No Political Ads Past This Point. Oh…it’s a line for early voting. And it looks like it’s all the way down the block to the south before turning and winding even past that. You suddenly remember you forgot to send in your mail-in ballot. But maybe you shouldn’t. After all, couldn’t filling out the ballot yourself and voting for whom you think is best suited to be in office and signing it in the proper place and sealing it and dropping it off yourself at an official ballot box add to the voter fraud that’s all the buzz these days?
You walk a couple for more blocks and then see some of your friends in line waving at you. They are almost at the front of the line.
“So glad you finally showed up! They’re about to call our number,” says Stacy.
At least that’s what you think she said. Things are bit muffled through the masks.
“Is everyone here?” you ask partly because you can’t quite tell who’s who and partly because this how to casually introduce people in the story in a natural way.
“Yep. Only Charlie bailed. Something about wearing a mask in a haunted house full of people during a pandemic is infringing on his rights.”
Most of the group rolls their eyes so you know it’s safe to quip, “Probably the only thing scarier than this crypt is Charlie’s Facebook comments.”
“Right?!” Stacy looks down to check her phone. You see a guy in a red shirt next to her whose name you can’t remember. They started dating right before the stay-at-home order so no one’s really gotten to meet him. Think his name is Steve. You think about asking. Then think maybe that’s awkward given how long you’ve been standing here. Or how many times he’s definitely walked by behind Stacy in a Zoom call. Maybe the fact he has a shirt on this time is what’s throwing you off.
You’re about to casually pretend to check your text messages but secretly creep on Stacy’s profile to see if she’s listed whom she’s in a relationship with when your party’s number is called.
“Did they just say our number is 666?” you ask incredulously.
“No. It’s 66S. We’re number 6 with 6 people and S for my name.”
You do a quick head count – you, Stacy, Steve?, Brandi, Josh, and Mike.
“Makes sense,” you concede.
At the door painted to look like ancient stone, you are all asked to sign a waiver. Flickering light bulbs cast sinister shadows on the entrance and erie ancient Egypt-sounding music snakes through a speaker on a thirty-second loop. There are signs reminding you to keep your hands to yourself and to have your mask covering your nose and mouth at all times.
“Failure to comply with these rules will result in immediately being removed from the premises without a refund,” an employee dressed either as a cat or maybe Katy Perry drones on. “We have cameras. We will catch you. Be responsible.”
“Sure,” you say. “How hard can it be to follow those rules?”
Kitty Katy Perry shoots you a look over her cat nose mask. “You don’t get out much do you?”
“No, but I’m on the Internet.”
“Follow. The. Rules.” she says.
“Wear a mask and don’t touch anything. Girl, I can work with that,” you wink.
Her mouth isn’t saying anything but her eyes are murdering you over and over. Shit. That sounded a lot sexier in your head.
“C’mon. Just joking around.” Stacy pushes you forward towards the entrance and hisses in your ear, “Idiot.”
“Enjoy the Cursed Crypt. For this tomb…may be your doom.” she says with rehearsed unenthusiasm.
The fake stone doors open from the inside with some fake stone being dragged over ground sound effects. It’s pretty damn dark in there. The only light is from fake torchlights on the wall but every other light is out. The doors roll shut behind you, and it’s even darker now. The creepy music is gone. Nothing is moving. You all huddle close and stand there for a moment.
“Ok,” Stacy says finally, “stick together. Don’t get lost.”
You all move forward, inching through the dark. There’s suddenly a flash of bright strobe light, and you see creatures scurry across your path. Someone grabs your arm hard and tight. You half scream and look down.
It’s Steve?. “Sorry!” he says and quickly lets go.
“It’s cool…bro,” you respond because clearly it’s too late now to get his actual name, and it’s pretty obvious at this point he’ll probably be the first to mysteriously disappear from the group.
You turn a corner and find your first door. It looks like a regular bedroom door. No fake stone paint. Stacy swears something just brushed past her leg. You’re suddenly very glad you’re wearing practical shoes you can run in and not slippers.
Steve? is closest to the door but he moves behind Stacy and says, “Ladies, first.”
“Oh, hell, no!” she says pushing him towards the door.
“Oh my god, you guys,” Brandi steps in, “the first room is never that bad. It’s just the warmup.”
“Yea it’s only scary so far because it’s dark,” Mike adds.
Brandi whips open the door to reveal…a bedroom?
Everyone gets inside and looks around. The bedroom is dimly lit and plastered all over the walls are news stories and images. Headlines glare at you “MOST CONTAGIOUS VIRUS SINCE THE SPANISH FLU!” “MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS WITH ORIGINS IN CHINA INVADES THE US” and also “200,000 DEAD AND COUNTING”. There’s an unmade bed with a creepy young girl sitting on it. She’s wearing a mask with a Joker smile printed on it and so much black eyeliner. In her hands are pictures.
“It was supposed to be gone by summer,” she says, fixing you with an intense stare. She slowly stands up from the bed and starts towards you. “Sunlight was supposed to kill it. You didn’t need a mask. And Mommy and Daddy were essential.”
“Oh, I get it,” Stacy says. “Ha ha! The pandemic times are scary.”
You look over and see a computer glowing on a desk. It’s open to the comments on Twitter. You turn back and see the creepy girl is super close to you, peering intensely at you. Aren’t you supposed to maintain social distancing?
“Mommy and Daddy were essential. We were told it was ok. Don’t let the virus control your life. But Mommy served so many customers.”
You’ve learned from past experience that if you don’t react to the actors, they often leave you alone and look for a different target. After blinking a few times (thank God the mask makes you look even more stoic), she looks away from you and heads towards Brandi.
“And Daddy worked from home. But I went to school. I can learn best there. But then Daddy started coughing.”
Brandi shrugs. The girl creeps over towards Mike.
“Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital. And there weren’t enough beds. Daddy told Mommy to take his.”
“That sucks,” Mike tells her. She turns and stalks towards Stacy who has started filming this with her phone.
“They both died. Alone. I couldn’t go visit them.”
She veers suddenly towards Steve?. He lets out a startled sound and backs away nervously. She keeps coming closer to him. He backs into a wall. She stops.
“If this is all fake…then why are Mommy and Daddy dead?!” she screams and lurches at him. He dodges her and runs to Stacy whose laughing now.
“This is so good!”
“You can’t escape! You’re next!” she points after Steve? who is hiding behind Stacy.
“Unless…” she stops and tilts her head, scanning all of us before proceeding, “ You can find a cure. Rumor is there’s ancient healing secrets in the cursed crypt. Find the vaccine and you can escape this hell.”
She points towards a different door than the one you came in. She walks backwards and when her legs hit the bed, she plops down and sits frozen.
“Clever!” Stacy exclaims. “This storyline is really heightening the experience.”
“Oh, yea, great.” Steve? nervously eyes the motionless girl, wondering if she’s going to do a jump scare.
You all head towards the door. Brandi slowly pulls it open, and you’re all blinded for a moment. The fluorescent lighting is intense. You walk into a classroom full of scary students. Several are not social distancing. One kid is gnawing on a pencil then trying to touch others with it. Some kids are dissecting a pig. An spit ball flies by your head. Another one smacks Stacy right on the check.
“Oh gross!” she cries out, quickly wiping it off her face. She looks in horror at her hand and then looks wildly around the room. She spots a hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall. She runs over to it pumping it as fast as she can.
“Oh my god!!! Nooooooo!!!” she screams.
Steve? hurries over. “What? What?”
Stacy holds up her hand and you all stare at it in horror. No! It can’t be!
“It’s empty!” she wails. She reaches out to Steve? who dodges her hand.
“Maybe there’s one in the next room?” A spitball flies at Steve and bounces off his shirt sleeve.
“Hey, stop it!” Immediately more spit balls and other objects are flying from every direction.
“Run!” you all head for the door. Mike runs into a desk nuts first. He cries out.
“Dude! I’m gonna put that on Tik Tok!” one of the kids yells waving his phone around.
“Please don’t,” Mike says in quiet small voice. A spitball comes flying at your face and in slow motion you whip your head off to the side only to have it hit Stacy in the middle of her forehead where it stays.
“Oh god, gross!” she screams, “Get it off! Get it off!” But Steve? just looks at her helplessly not wanting to touch her. He looks around furiously and picks up a pencil off a desk. He flicks the spitball off her with the pencil then he looks down at it. Bite marks everywhere.
“Ahhhhh!” he screams and drops the pencil then waves his hands around.
“Quick – let’s go!” Brandi heads the group out the door into a hallway. It’s quiet and dimly lit. Your eyes take a bit to adjust.
“That was crazy!” exclaims Josh.
“What the hell?”
“I mean technically they didn’t touch us.”
“Yea but that’s not sanitary!” Stacy and Steve? are still holding their hands far from their bodies, like they are foreign limbs.
“Well, we did sign a waiver.”
“They’re just kids.”
“You think it wouldn’t be too hard to get a group of kids to behave. How hard is it to focus on just sitting there and looking scary?”
“Where was their teacher?”
“Or maybe it’s their parents’ job?”
“Maybe that was the dead body behind the large desk?”
You don’t remember seeing that, but you do suddenly remember the writing in blood red marker on the white board: “The virus is coming from inside the kids -” and then the letter dropped off into a violent downward line.
The lights in the hallway get even dimmer. Thunder rumbles from a speaker near you causing you to jump. You’re all sprayed with a blast of water. A violent wind picks up via large fans. The dark hallway is lit up from fake lightning, and a skeleton with an umbrella streaks past you yelling, “It’s raining sideways! The hurricane is here!”
Suddenly more water rushes from the ceiling causing you to all shriek and run down into the dark. The wind whips Stacy’s hair into your face, and you’re blind for a moment. Steve? slips and grabs you to keep from falling. You immediately cringe and wonder which hand he grabbed you with.
“I found a door!” cries Brandi. She pulls it open, and you run into a brightly lit room. The fluorescent lights are so bright you are blind yet again. You shake of some of the water from your shirt.
“Are we in a grocery store?” asks Mike. You look around, and it seems pretty empty. Abandoned shopping carts are everywhere, some tipped over. Fake blood on the counters and floor. You wait and wait and wait…and wait…and wait…nervously eyeing the tall display then the registers then quickly looking behind you but the jump scare never comes.
“Oh thank God!” Stacy cries out making everyone jump, “I bet there’s sanitizer in here!” You all begin to scour the aisles.
“I’m gonna use the bathroom over her quick!” says Mike stepping away, and you’re very aware this is the kind of situation where people shouldn’t go off to pee alone.
You head for the cleaning supplies aisle, but it just has a brooms and trash bags. The next aisle has a few broken open cans of food and that’s it. Another aisle has pacifiers and teething toys and scary stuffed animals with fangs but no wipes or diapers. The next is tons of toothpaste and one dented box of tampons. Bloody razors litter the floor. Another aisle has nothing but “I’m so sorry for your loss” greeting cards and a single, broken pumpkin spice candle.
“You guys over here! What the – “ you round the corner to the freezer aisle. But instead of ice cream or pizza, the coolers are full of…body parts. You look to the left and see a whole corpse pushed up again the glass and scream.
“Ew.” says Steve?. He’s eating something out of a box.
“What the hell are you eating?”
Steve looks down. “Oh. I found some Corn Nuts.”
“Gross. Put your mask back on! You don’t know where those have been.”
“I mean they weren’t open,” he protests then looks at his hands. “Oh shit.” He drops the bag, and the Corn Nuts go everywhere.
“Clean up in Aisle 5!” blasts over the loud speaker scaring the crap out of everyone. You race out of the aisle. You look around and see an employee with his back to you.
“Oh, let me ask him if they have any hand sanitizer!” Stacy hurries ahead. “Excuse me, sir? Excuse me! Do you have any hand sanitizer? The last room was out and – “ he turns around and she screams. He’s a zombie!
You all look around and see another couple of employees lurch from the shadows, and they too are zombies. Now the bodies in the freezer make sense! But also this is a haunted house. The zombies make low, incoherent noises, and you’re not sure if they’re muffled and muted because zombies or because masks.
“Help!” screams Mike from the bathroom.
“Mike! Get outta there! There’s zombies!” screams Steve?.
“I can’t!” he cries. “I can’t get out!”
The zombies are shuffling closer.
“Are you trapped?! Is there a zombie in there?” Josh asks eyeing the zombie to his left.
“It’s worse!” you all look at each other. “There’s no toilet paper! Is there any out there?”
“There’s like nothing out here!”
“What about even like some leafy vegetables?” Mike sounds desperate.
“It’s just a bunch of kumquats!” you yell. Or at least that’s what they looked like. What kind of prop people made those? You are suddenly terrified by the inconsistent detailed nuances of this house. Or wasn’t it supposed to be a crypt? What’s the point of all the earlier foreshadowing if they’re not even going to stick with their theme?
“Kum what?!” he yells back. “Just give me something!”
Two of the zombies lurch at Josh, and he dodges them.
“Dude! We gotta go! Like grab a paper towel!”
Another zombie closes in on Stacy.
“Mike! Get outta there!”
He groans loudly, “I hate you guys.”
The zombie near you is now almost in your face.
“Mike! NOW!” you yell and head with the other towards what you hope is the exit.
“Just a moment! I’m washing my hands!”
“There’s soap in there?!” Stacy run towards the bathrooms.
“Stacy! No!” cries Steve? and runs after her. Now all 3 of them are in the bathroom, and the 3 zombies are coming closer. You have an idea.
“This way!” you yell and run back towards the bathroom away from the zombies and the exit. Josh and Brandi follow. You stop by the bathroom door and just as you are about the rip it open, it flies open. Stacy rushes out.
“Oh. My. God. Do not go in there. It smells like death.”
“Did it maybe smell like that before because, ya know, haunted house?” Stacy’s face says are you fucking kidding me right now. Steve? and Mike emerge. There’s something different about Mike. He’s obviously missing something. He doesn’t look quite right.
“Mike,” you start, trying to figure out how to ask this delicately, “Where’s your hat – ” Stacy cuts you off with a look that could kill. Which would be really useful right now except that zombies are already dead. The moaning and groaning undead employees are close now.
“Follow me!” you rush to the produce section. “Quick! Throw these at them!”
“Let them eat kumquats!” screams Josh, and he hurls two kumquats at the zombies. The kumquats unceremoniously fly about a foot and drop. “What the? They’re like styrofoam.”
“Yip-ki-yi-eggs, mutherfuckers!” yells Mike chucking eggs out of a carton. One smacks a zombie in the arm and promptly bounces off onto the ground where it bounces around on the floor before coming to a stop.
The zombie looks down at the rubber egg and then back up at Mike. “Really, bro?” it says.
“Sorry,” says Mike. You all stand there for a moment. Getting in a fake food fight with fake zombies seems pretty lame right about now. “Um, the bathroom’s out of toilet paper by the way.”
“Thanks. We’ll let management know,” says the egged zombie. You all look at each other uncomfortably again. “Um, so, anyway, should we continue?”
“What? Oh, yeah. Um, ok…” you feel your stomach tense. “RUN!”
You lead the group, dashing for the back of the store. The zombies lurch forward groaning loudly. You reach the end of the produce section and make a mad dash right down the back main aisle. You dodge a knocked over display of pumpkin spice marshmallows (good riddance!) and jump over an empty basket. You lead the group to a sharp right down an empty aisle full of…oh god – it’s terrifying – Christmas stuff! Christmas stuff everywhere! Satanic reindeer and vampire snowmen and elves. “Let It Snow” is softly playing from a creepy open music box with a sinister-looking Sugar Plum fairy pirouetting in endless circles.
You glance behind you to make sure you have the group. They’re all there but so are two zombies. Where’s the third? Of course, he (or maybe she? It’s hard to tell with the masks. And makeup. Do zombies even conform to gender norms?) is now blocking your exit out of the aisle. You frantically look around the aisle wondering if you can climb the shelves.
“Not today, Satan!” cries Mike running towards the zombie with an open bag of glittery snowflakes.
The zombie raises his arms and backs out of the aisle, “Please, man, not the glitter. Please quit throwing the props.” All three zombie stop moving and stand there with their arms raised in surrender. Your group sheepishly slinks out of the aisle and towards the door marked exit.
“They know this is all fake, right?” mutters one of the zombies.
“Is it though?” asks Josh as he gestures towards all the chaos of the grocery store behind them.
You’re all in another dimly lit hallway. Fake wind is blowing in here too and a lot of…dust? There’s dust or sand billowing around. You try to cover your eyes, grateful for the first time for your mask. As you navigate your way down the hall, something suddenly swoops down from the ceiling towards you.
“What the – “
“Oh my god!”
As you all crouch down, a giant glowing rock flies past your head and disappears back into the ceiling.
“What was that?” asks Stacy.
“Satan’s balls?” guesses Steve?.
“But there was only one,” you point out and then look around to make sure a second glowing ball isn’t coming down to prove you wrong.
“Looked like a meteor,” says Mike and you all start to notice very small star-like lights in the the ceiling, shining through the sandy dust cloud.
The hallway leads to a room with a high open ceiling. You see more stars and planets and big shiny UFOs.
“Take me to your leader,” intones a stereotypical green alien with big bug-like black eyes. Or is the Reticulan’s skin tone actually grey?
“Oh, you don’t want that,” Josh assures the alien, “our leader is a – “
Stacy’s scream startles the shit out of all of you (well, except for Mike obviously) and a black slimy and very pointy Xenomorph comes out of the shadows. Steve?’s eye get big, and he hides behind her.
“Stay away from her, you bitch!” Mike rushes in front of Stacy, yelling yet another movie reference, and you realize just how much time you’ve all had in quarantine to watch too many movies.
The Xenomorph hisses and creeps towards them, brandishing its shank tail. You notice a few random bloody humans staggering in the shadows with Face Hugger masks sucked tight over their mouths.
“Run away! Run away!” the green or gray alien flails his arms, and the Xenomorph takes him out with her tail.
As the Xenomorph heads towards you, suddenly a giant space turtle comes out of nowhere. He comes between you and the Xenomorph and glows brightly. The Xenomorph hisses and screams, retreating quickly with its human victims back into the shadows. As the turtle’s glow diminishes, you realize it’s not a turtle after all. It’s Mitch McConnell.
“Let’s get out of here!” cries Brandi, and you run towards what you hope is the exit.
“Wait! I can help you!” chirps Mitch.
“Trust no one!” yells Mike. “Run!”
The high ceiling room continues, fading from dark space to a dark forrest. The stars are still blinking up above but no more alien life forms. Fake trees and bushes pop up. A giant spider chills in its web off to the right. There’s a couple of werewolves with blood dripping down their faces. Vampire bats hang in the trees, and black cats creep in the bushes. A large hairy human-esque shadow that looks like Big Foot is in the foreground, and a Swamp Thing is crawling out of a pond that’s definitely actually a kiddie pool.
But something’s not right. Again. This haunted forest is quiet. Too quiet. And none of the creatures are actually moving or making sounds. You take a closer look. All of the animals are dead. You thought they were dripping blood from tearing into their victims. They have terrifying, petrified looks on their faces. It looks like they all died violent deaths. From what?
A loud buzzing sound comes from within deep in the forest. A hoard of murder hornets swarms the dead animals. You hear loud squealing and see feral pigs running around the forest floor, stopping to eat at random creatures. Oh god! The murder hornets are crawling over everything, and the droning sound is so loud. How do you escape murder hornets? You all band together in a tight group, looking for a way out.
Then you smell it. It’s faint at first then strong. Smoke. A soft red glow comes from the back of the forest. The room gets very hot. The murder hornets scatter. The forest is on fire! You all rush towards the trees away from the spreading glow. Fake flames pop up from the floor. The worst part is the smoke. It’s getting thicker and stinging your eyes. You run into a black wall.
“Quick! I found the handle!” Brandi opens a door, and you all rush to escape the fiery forest. You’re in a dark hallway with wind. Again. More wind. Always wind. And more water. But the water is starting to flood the room.
“Another hurricane?” asks Josh.
“Over here!” says Steve. “I think the door is behind here.” Thunder booms overhead and fake lightning reveals a large statue in front of the door.
“We need to move this.”
As you get closer, you see the statue is a sinister person on a horse. His head is missing and there’s red blood dripping all over. Is it the Headless Horseman? Lightning flashes and you read the plaque: Robert E. Lee. Well, his head is definitely missing. And you now see the blood is red graffitied words. Lightning flashes again and you read the word Cancelled.
“Push from this side – the wind will help,” Mike motions to get behind the horse’s behind. You all push together and knock the statue over. The door opens a bit but the base of the statue keeps it from being swung wide open. At least you are able to crack the door open enough for you each to file in one at a time.
Steve? again pretends to be a gentleman, letting Stacy go in first, and you’re still not sure what she sees in him. Anyone who leaves you to die by Xenomorph first seems sketch. He probably doesn’t share his french fries either. You immediately hear Stacy’s signature “Oh my god!” and you all hurry through to find what “new” horror this room brings.
You can’t believe it. You probably should at this point in the story but you’re still like for real? The room has a mad scientist laboratory vibe going. Counters with mysterious samples and flasks full of odd colored liquids. The room lined with cages. Some look like lab rats and monkeys. But inside some of the cages are…kids. They start crying out to you.
“Where’s my mommy?”
“I want my Daddy!”
“Why can’t I see my parents?”
You can’t bring yourself to look them in the eye. It’s so heart breaking. A man in a tan jacket with a clipboard approaches you. He’s wearing a red MAGA hat.
“Excuse me, would you like to donate to the wall? We need to build it to keep the illegals out.”
“Is this a joke? It’s not funny,” Brandi demands. “This is fucked up.”
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. We didn’t build the cages. Biden did.”
“What?! No. Parents weren’t separated from their kids until legislation passed in 2018!” Josh says.
“If you donate to the wall, we can keep the illegals out. And then we don’t have to separate the parents from the kids.”
“This haunted house is ridiculous,” you say outloud. “It should stick to scaring people. Not politics.”
“Please, just donating to the wall will solve all our problems,” the Republican insists.
“Here,” Mike says as he thrusts a dollar bill at the man.
“Well, thank you now. God bless America!” he places the dollar in his pocket and walks over to a large jail cell door. “You can get into America through here.”
You all file out of the room and enter a long narrow hallway. The cries of the children still echo faintly behind you. The square is full of shops and businesses all boarded up or with Closed Forever signs. One wall has slogans of “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” are sprayed on it. The opposite walls has “Blue Lives Matter!” and “Defund the Terrorists!”.
What looked like a pile of garbage stirs and a man emerges. “Better watch out or Antifa will get you!” he foreshadows.
The hallway ends and you’re in what looks like a town square. There is a group of protesters chanting, several holding signs.
“Come join us!” one calls.
“Maybe that’s how we get out of this room?” Stacy asks, looking to see if anyone will follow.
“Can’t we just stay out of it? We don’t need to get involved. It’s not real anyway,” Steve? suggests.
“C’mon,” Stacy pulls at his arm, “it’s better than donating to the wall.”
Steve? looks wary and pulls out of her grip.
“No. I don’t want to.”
“Please,” she reaches for his arm again.
“Is she being violent, sir? Do you need help?” a voice asks from behind you. You turn around to see a young teenage wielding a large assault rifle. He points the gun at Steve? “Move along, sir.”
The assault rifle seems like – pardon your pun – overkill. It’s so over the top. You wonder whatever happened to threatening people with a good old fashioned chain saw.
“No, no. We’re good!” Stacy puts her hands up.
Suddenly men in black SWAT team uniforms and helmets swarm around you. They throw canisters and some kind of gas hisses up from them. You start coughing and your eyes sting worse than that time you ate hot wings and touched your face before washing your hands.
You all try to grab a hold of each other and find a way out of the room as quickly as you can. Your eyes hurt so bad. Tears are flowing making it hard to see. The gas starts to clear, and you notice the protesters are gone. The uniformed men are lined up on the church stairs and at at top of the stairs is a sight that makes your blood run cold: an orange-haried clown in a suit, smiling sinisterly, holds a red balloon in one hand and a Bible in the other. A photographer pops out and waves your group over.
“Over here! Come get your photo taken!” Several of you shake your heads, but he keeps waving you over. “Look, I gotta take this picture then you can leave.”
You pile onto the stairs awkwardly trying to stay away from the clown but the photographer keeps telling you to move closer in. The clown’s smile is actaully a really well done mask. He makes eye contact with you, and you wish you’d brought a change of pants (Mike probably does, too).
He points a finger at you. “Person.” Points at Stacy. “Woman.” Then Steve?. “Man.”
A bright flash of light interrupts him and makes you jump and maybe pee yourself a little.
“Camera,” he finishes.
“Ok, great. Thanks, guys. You can buy your souvenir photos at the end of the crypt in the gift shop,” the photographer disappears into a dark open doorway off to the side. You all quickly scatter off the stairs and head towards where the photographer ran off to. You find the photographer in a room full of other photographers and reporters. There are several folding chairs all facing a podium flanked by American flags. You’re in the White House press briefing room.
A blond woman in a bright pink dress is talking on the podium. “And the vaccine is coming soon. Any questions?” she points at you, “You in the back. What’s your question?”
“Who me?” you ask.
One question does immediately pop into your head, “Why are they using tear gas in a haunted house on actual customers? I mean, I know I signed a waiver.”
“We did not use tear gas, sir. That is a lie.”
“Ok, so like smoke and pepper ball props. Whatever. We were still attacked,” you push.
“Violent Antifa protesters must be stopped. They are terrorists trying to destroy our country.”
“We’re not actual protesters! We’re paying customers!” Josh pipes up.
“I’m sorry, sir. Do you have any evidence?” she presses.
“Yea! That photographer! He took a picture!” Stacy points to your photographer. The photographer goes up to the podium, and shows her the digital copy on his camera.
“This is a picture of you and a clown. There is no tear gas in this photo.”
“Isn’t it hazy in the background?” asks Brandi.
“Could be fog. Fog is a very common outside phenomenon,” she quips back. “Next question.”
“Press Secretary Barbie. Integrity sold separately,” Mike mutters next to you.
“Yes. I have a question!” Brandi shoots her arm up. “Why are there kids in cages?”
“That is a nasty question. You can’t leave until you ask a nice question.”
“We don’t have to ask shit.” Mike says and crosses his arms. A bunch of the reporters turn around in their chairs and glare at you. They are poised on the edge of their seats ready to attack.
“Maybe we should do what she says, Mike,” you say in a lowered whisper, “or she’s going to sic her army of Fox News correspondents on us.”
“Ok, ok,” Mike concedes, “I read on your website this administration’s accomplishments. Just how did you save us all and end Covid?”
Her eyes narrow, and the reporters stand up.
“What is the president’s favorite color?” Brandi suddenly yells. They all pause.
“Blue.” she responds and points. “Right. Off you go.”
A reporter opens a door hidden in the wall.
“Shouldn’t it be red?” whispers Steve?, clearly not getting the semi subtle movie reference.
The door closes behind you all and finally the theme of the story returns as you find yourselves in a creepy crypt. The dim tomb is lit with torches on the wall. Fake rats hang out on piles of gold. Egyptian sarcophaguses are lined up. In the middle of the room on a circular stone pedestal is a gold box with the physician’s symbol engraved on it – two snakes intertwined on a winged staff.
“It must be the vaccine!” Stacy hurries over.
“Wait!” cries Steve. “It could be booby trapped!”
“Or cursed,” Mike supplies.
Josh comes over with a sack of gold coins. He carefully squats and eyes the box and then the bag of gold. He very carefully takes the box off the pedestal and instantly replaces it with the bag. You all shiver in antici… … …pation. Nothing happens. You let your breath out in heavy relief.
“Yeah but a bag of gold won’t stop a curse,” Mike points out.
“You found it!” the girl from the beginning of the crypt that you and even I for a moment totally forgot exclaims. She runs over to your group. “You can save the world!”
Stacy slowly opens the box. She stares at it.
“What?!” you all crowd around and stare into the box.
“It’s empty,” she says. “We’ll never escape.”
“Maybe the vaccine is in another crypt?” suggests Steve?.
“Shut up, Steve,” you snap.
“My name’s Chad.” he looks surprised at you. “Did you really think my name was Steve?”
“No. I knew that. I meant to say Chad. I’m just tired,” you lamely lie. “I want out of this house! I mean, crypt. Whatever it’s supposed to be. This isn’t fun anymore! This isn’t even clever! I’m tired of being in this scary story that’s really just a seasonally relevant recap of 2020! Let me out! Save me! I didn’t ask to be in this timeline!” You throw your hands up in the air and look towards the ceiling.
But the author just keeps typing faster and faster because she is safe in her home sheltered from the world, lucky to still have a job she can work remote and fortunate enough to have bought toilet paper from Costco in January, and it’s so easy to pretend it’s not happening and be complacent, hiding high on your privileged perch with no empathy because you aren’t down below in the suffering.
Everyone just stares at you quietly. You try to avoid eye contact, especially with Not Steve who looks especially miffed. Even the little girl looks weirded out and looks around for evidence this is all fake. After a moment, she regains her composure and slips back into character.
“The only true escape,” says the little girl, “is that way!” She points a finger towards a dark, open doorway.
You all look at each other and shrug. They want you to buy that souvenir photo so they have to let you escape somehow, right? Unless you’re just trapped in the gift shop for all eternity? What scary 2020 event hasn’t the Cursed Crypt thrown at you yet?
The next room has a table with forms on it, a voting booth, and a mailbox. There are two closed doors with two round lights above them.
“Vote!” commands the little girl. “Vote like your lives depend on it.”
Mike runs over to the table and fills out a ballot. “That’s easy. Fuck the system! I’m voting third party!” He seals the ballot in the envelope, signs it, and puts it in the mailbox. A big red light over the exit door lights up and a that is not the correct answer error sound blasts.
“You can’t rely on the ballot being received on time,” explains the little girl.
“Ok, fine.” Mike goes into the booth. After filling out his ballot, the round green light lights up with a that is the correct answer sound ding. The door on the right unlocks.
“Let’s go,” he says.
“No,” the little girl stops the rest of you, “Only him. You must each vote.”
“I’ll go check it out and call you if that’s the correct door,” Mike waves and goes through the door. You wait. And wait. And wait. Your phone rings, and it’s Mike FaceTiming you. You answer.
“Oh my god! Do not vote 3rd party! The Republicans win!” he cries out. “It’s terrible! Terrible! Look!” He pans his phone behind him.
It’s a giant graveyard. You see several tombstones.
Here Lies Democracy.
Women’s Right to Choose 1973 – 2020.
Gay Marriage You Will Be Remembered.
John Doe: Died From Pre-Existing Conditions.
“I’ll find a way out. Go on without me!” he hangs up.
You all rush over to the voting booth and one at a time vote Democrat. It’s the only choice left.
The green light and correct ding go off for each of you and you each exit out the left door. You have finally left the Cursed Crypt.
– 1 hour later –
You’re all huddled outside, still not quite sure what to make of the Cursed Crypt. Mike emerges from the exit door, gasping for breath.
“Mike! You’re alive!” you exclaim.
“You are so lucky you didn’t follow me!” his face is very red. “After the graveyard, it took me through a tunnel, and I started right back in the little girl’s room. I had to go through the whole thing again! And it was just as bad if not worse!”
“Definitely not coming back to do this one again!” says Stacy.
“Well, hopefully none of this will be relevant next year,” everyone looks at you and nods.
“Until our next Zoom happy hour, see you guys!”
One by one, you all leave.
As you walk down the street, you look back at the Cursed Crypt for a moment. You take a deep breath and look forward again. You aren’t really sure you’ve actually escaped.
– Epilogue –
The year is 2021, and a vaccine has just been approved. You eagerly take it because you want nothing else but to be done with this pandemic and go back to normal. At first, you feel great. A strong sense of hope and serum race through your veins. But since the vaccine was approved by the government and distributed by the military, it doesn’t work. You turn into a bleach-thirsty vampire who can only feel happiness when destroying the lives of liberal snowflakes. It’s not a subtle ending, and you’re kind of mad at being reduced to a political pawn, but at least you don’t sparkle.