The Valley of Darkness – A Personal Narrative by Stormy Skies
Let me begin by stating that sometimes places can hold onto bad things, bad energy. Sometimes bad people flock to places like this because it’s where they feel safe. And every once in awhile, someone who is simply there to work, to have fun, to make memories, gets caught in the mix.
I worked at a haunted attraction on the East Coast for a very long time, but I won’t name it. There, I grew from a little girl into an adult. I called it Home.
In a place like that, everyone around you becomes your family. Together, you systematically bring out fear in the customers who walk through the trails each night. During the downtime, though, when we were sitting alone in the dark at our scenes, we all knew better than to scare each other. In a place like that, in the middle of the woods, it just wasn’t fair.
The first year I returned to work, after I had turned seventeen, a great number of jokes were played. We told spooky stories to each other over the walkie talkies we were required to carry out on the trails when we had no one to scare but ourselves. I was chased by people I knew, some carrying taser guns, and some carrying guns filled with blanks. I knew these people, they were my friends, my family, and they taught me everything I knew. Running from them, I was able to call out their names, because they were familiars.
After another year went by, all of us refining our skills, all of us growing closer. Then I started noticing the…holes. They could be described as mistakes, or things that guests and management simply overlook or sweep under the rug for convenience, but these glaring holes were things I knew would someday be the cause of complete ruin for the haunt.
Take my word for it now that this all came to be true.
If someone decided to simply wear a mask and walk into the haunt, they would be considered an actor. No one checked identity, because no one cared. Booze was sold without a license, money was gambled away, dilapidated scenes were abandoned instead of refurbished, and conditions for the actors gradually worsened.
We were taken care of, fed, kept warm, but soon it changed. Soon we were left alone, without food or water, forced to piss behind our scenes resembling lean-to shacks, and cold without the knowledge of a boy scout, unable to build a fire without a cup of kerosene and a match. Both were things we could not get unless we abandoned our posts, which was forbidden after the ticket sales began at 6pm.
Sometimes we called on the walkie talkies for someone to bring us a bottle of water. Sometimes we received what we asked for. The small snacks and granola bars we brought from our homes couldn’t hold us over for the countless hours we spent in the woods. The turnover began, slowly at first, then a rapid decline of friends following friends on the way out. Soon there was only a handful of us left, and five of my group of originals including myself remained.
Our rage for the new members of the haunt defined us, so we kept to ourselves. We didn’t have violent tendencies towards other people, so we took out our frustrations on parts of the trail. Fires were lit outside of the safety of the metal barrels, fences to keep guests from toppling down the hill were beaten down by aluminum baseball bats, and mirrors in the makeup trailer were shattered and broken to prevent any new people from applying a false pallor to their skin.
We became fed up with the place, unravelling at the edges. Drunkards stumbled through the VIP lines, one latching onto my breasts as a joke. None of us laughed as he was carted out of the property by my protectors, members of the group of five of us. New volunteers who signed waivers blindly, and so desperate to scare resulted in many freak accidents. One young actor falling from the side of a moving wagon, landed too close to the wheels. His neck was run over, and as a result, broke. He was life flighted to a nearby emergency room, as the rest of us watched the bright lights of the helicopters through the trees, and heard the buzz of the local news crews aching for a dead in the haunting community. Instead, out ticket sales soared for the rest of the season.
New kids swarmed, and the following year, a stranger stumbled onto my trail. It was a slow night, maybe a Friday early in the season, sometime in September. The air was still mild and I heard screams in the distance. I paced the length of my scene, and I saw him. I wasn’t startled by a man in a mask, we all wore masks, heavy makeup, barely recognizing each other without them. But this was a mask I had never seen before.
It was a gasmask, but I could tell it was homemade from where I stood. He was easily a foot taller than I, so why had I not noticed him before if he was an actor, new, even?
He took a step towards me, and unconsciously I took a step back.
“Who’s that?” I asked, laughing. I felt it though, something wasn’t right. It was then that my walkie talkie went off, one of my four friends, saying something inaudible. The man in the mask didn’t have a walkie talkie. He didn’t have anything on him that identified him. He was a stranger.
My hand lingered above my walkie attached to my hip as he took another step towards me. I stood my ground this time, which invited him to retaliate. So, he spoke.
“Hey there, little girl.” As he said this, my stomach dropped. I didn’t know his voice. He had no radio, he didn’t work there. He couldn’t. And he probably walked right in. This time, his hand hovered over his pocket, and he lifted out a box of matches. In a few quick motions, he lit one and tossed it in my direction.
Once the match left his fingers I bolted in the opposite direction. Speed made me a great asset to the haunted trail, as I could chase after guests as long as I wanted without tiring, even all the way to the door of their cars.
I cut through the woods in between the walking trail that led to the hayride trail, not stopping until I reached a familiar point, a home base. I called my friends, who ran to me from every different direction. They hadn’t seen the man, didn’t know the mask. After that night I didn’t see him again for the rest of the season.
Did they believe me? I couldn’t be sure, and I had almost forgot about it by the following September.
But when I arrived early on opening night, I walked the trail alone to take in anything that was new, and anything that didn’t survive the elements. I got halfway before I stopped short. A chill ran up my spine, although it was a mild day in late September, and the sun was still shining at 5 o’clock.
It was the man in the gasmask. His tall, lanky frame dressed all in black was hunched over the three rickety steps to the tiny house that was my scene. He was holding a red gas canister, upside down, shaking every last drop of kerosene onto the splintered wood. I held my breath, didn’t move. I couldn’t.
His hand went to his pocket, but I already knew what he was reaching for.
I shouted at him, I didn’t know I would but I was protecting what was mine. He went still, but only for a moment. His hand moved on its own, going for the matches, and shaking one out into his palm. “You’re late,” he whispered as he stepped down from the tiny house, making his way towards me.
I only saw the flaming match between his fingers, risking a sharp inhale to protest further, but before I could form the word “stop” a smile spread on his face as he flicked the match onto the threshold. I went to take another step forward, but it all went up, covered in dry kindling, with a feast of dry wood beneath.
Before my eyes, it was gone. The years and years of memories, of fear and love, of safety. Now I had nowhere to turn. I knew the only thing left to do was pick up and leave, find another place, push other actors out and claim a new structure as my own.
“No!” My feet moved before my brain granted permission, running at the man, my fingers reaching for the mask to rip it from his head. Of course, he was quicker. His arm cocked back and he threw his fist at me, making impact with my nose, and knocking me to the ground. The good people at MedExpress would later tell me it was broken. Blood ran down my face, my neck and chest, ruining my clothes. After I gained my bearings I sat up and he was gone. The only thing that remained was the tiny house, still ablaze.
If you must know, my friends and I devised a plan. I ran to the front and told the gatekeepers everything that had happened. I moved my scene to the very first spot on the walking trail, closer to the crowds. I could see the bonfires, I was within earshot.
More years passed and I moved on, abandoned the scene altogether and went statewide. The rest of my friends followed one by one, until the haunt began its downward spiral. I returned only once to take in the sights, only to find that the gatekeepers had left the smoldering shell of the house on the crest of the hill. I could only stare, wondering if he was out there, hoping one day they’d believe me.