the state of things
Excerpt from AYE, BARNEYThe Return of Barney ThomsonBallad In BlueRevised DI Westphall Publication DatesDI Westphall Cover ArtIndex
by Douglas Lindsay - 08:16 on 27 October 2008Since spending an enjoyable evening three autumn’s ago walking down Pleasant Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea on 31st October, the kids have been infatuated with the idea of the American Hallowe'en. (Consequently, I’ve never taken them back...)
Last Friday evening in Warsaw, the United States Marine Crops detachment held a Hallowe'en party at their house in the city. (It’s not clear why they were a week early. Maybe they threw a dart at the calendar to pick the date and missed what they were aiming at.) The advert stated Children Of All Ages welcome. It seemed the perfect chance to give the kids the American Hallowe'en they’ve been craving since the sugarfest of three years earlier.
They took a friend each and we pitched up fashionably late. The smiling Marine who greeted us seemed a little wired about how scary it was all going to be, but there was enough bonhomie going around to prevent anyone getting too worried.
Inside it turned out that there wasn’t so much of a party going on. Instead, they had turned their place into a haunted house type of affair, and were taking groups of four to six kids at a time on a walkthrough.
We stood around for half an hour waiting out turn. Two of Two and his wee mate started getting a bit edgy. The call went up that they were doing a tour for younger kids - (in retrospect this was the moment when the big flashing red warning signs should have gone off) - but we looked at the younger kids going in and they seemed about four or five years old, so we didn’t push any of ours forward. Shorty afterwards a four year-old in a Superman outfit ran hysterically from the house, already putting calls through to his lawyer, the reality tv agents and a phalanx of psychiatrists, and perhaps that was the moment when the Intelligence Operatives - me and TPCKAM - ought to have wised up and recalled the mission.
Don’t worry, we said, it’ll be fine. It’s for kids, how scary can it be? And so we pushed them all to the front. The woman who would be escorting us around went to great lengths to point out that the people inside had done their Younger Kids tour and were keen to get back to the Adult Version. There would be no more Younger Kids versions, the Adult Version from now on. Demonstrating the kind of blinkered enthusiasm which allows imperial powers to continue to invade Afghanistan, I calmed everyone’s nerves and told them it would all right. Meanwhile TPCKAM fled back outside and left me to it with the kids.
We entered the House of Horror. The first room was fairly tame, at least by the standards of the rest. Two people sat at a table eating brains. In the centre of the table there was a detached (talking) head on a plate. Presumably the rest of her body was underneath the table, but we never got a visual on that. The detached head started warning the kids not to enter the rest of the house. They seemed keen to heed this warning, but I blindly got them to charge on, in a gruesome re-enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Through the next door and a swooping figure with red eyes screamed down the stairs. The kids screamed too. Our guide and I ushered them down the next flight of stairs. At the halfway point stood a demented figure with a white face. All body parts attached, just had the serial killer look about him. He stared evilly as we walked past.
I say walked. By this point Two of Two had turned to jelly, and we were batting 1.000 for the kids wanting to evacuate the building. At the foot of the stairs the floor was covered in blood, while a detached arm swung around trying to grab ankles. The mission was in total meltdown. Two of Two was in tears, One of Two was trembling, and the friends were just plain not having a good time. I had one of those moments as a parent when I realised that sometimes I can be a complete and utter muppet.
The guide picked up on the torment of our detachment and started shouting ahead to everyone else. ‘Young group! Young group!’ And then, for all the world like we were in a movie situation, she yelled, ‘We’ve got a cryer!’
You could hear the groans of the rest of the people in the house, having been standing there waiting to let rip the Adult Version. The rest of the walkthrough was a bit of a blur. I was just concentrating on getting the kids out without any of them completely freaking, and without the kids who weren’t mine calling their parents and their parents’ lawyers there and then. The coffin, the strobe lights, the zombies, the brains, the electric chair, they all passed by in a whir as we charged through, heads down.
At the end a man in a zombie outfit was keen to know what we thought of it. The kids stared straight ahead, bottom lips trembling, heads twitching occasionally. We retreated to the local pizza house, where we drank wine and the kids sat glued to a mild mannered Disney movie on the tv, a movie where no one died and there were no corpses.
The haunted house thing was fantastic, well thought out and (like the guy in the electric chair at the end) beautifully executed. I would have liked to have seen the Adult Version. It just wasn’t something for my kids. Ought to have gone on a recon mission beforehand, that was my mistake. Like not checking out You Don’t Mess With The Zohan.
I was discussing the whole thing with Two of Two the following morning (they all seemed very keen to talk about it afterwards, thank God), and was explaining the concept of US Marines and why they’re stationed in overseas capitals. I had just got to the part when I was saying that a few months ago these guys might have been fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan when I had a small moment of Epiphany about where the dark thought processes which had let to the gruesome haunted house might have come from.
Perhaps next year we’ll go back to Pleasant Street, where the dry ice is obviously dry ice, the ghosts are stuffed and the sweets are plentiful.
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