Conquering the haunt

By Annabeth Carlson

Anyone who knows me is aware that I don’t handle scary things well. When I saw the movie “Nightmare on Elm Street,” I didn’t sleep for a week, worried that Freddy Kruger would show up in my dreams. When someone says they are going to pop a balloon, I run out of the room, afraid to hear the noise it makes. And don’t even get me started on spiders.

But perhaps the thing that scares me the most is haunted houses, so much so that I had not been in one in eight years — that is, until two weeks ago.

This eight-year hiatus was caused by my first and only haunted house experience in 2007, while on vacation in Mackinac Island, Michigan, with my family. Walking down the street, we noticed a haunted house, located inside a strip mall. Just seeing the words “haunted” made me nervous, but as everything is old-fashioned on the island, my parents assured me that it would be more silly than scary, and nothing like the scary movies I had seen.

But once we entered the first dark room of the haunted house, I knew my parents were very, very wrong.

People in ghost and monster-pirate costumes jumped out at every turn, and my seventh grade self began to cry. My parents comforted me, but since it was so dark, they had no idea how to get me out early, and said I had to power through the fear.

However, everything went downhill when we entered a room with doors that covered the walls. To leave the room, you had to choose the correct door and monsters popped out of the incorrect ones. Of course, my parents and siblings kept choosing the wrong doors, and after one especially startling monster jumped out of a door, I lost it — running out the emergency exit, which consequently set off the fire alarm. And to the horror of my family and I, the police showed up to make sure everyone was OK.

Luckily, this has been my first and only run-in with the law. But to avoid more trouble, I have stayed away from haunted houses ever since. However, when Chad Swim and Kim Heath of Midway of Madness Haunted Barn in Urbana reached out to The Daily Illini, I decided it was finally time to face my fears.

Just miles away from campus, the haunted barn is located at the Champaign County Fairgrounds. At 7 p.m., the property was pitch black, save for a parked car with flashing lights that resemble lightning, and a red and white striped ticket booth, illuminated by small twinkle lights.

Nervously, I walked up to the ticket booth, where soon I found myself surrounded by excited middle school-aged kids who were taking selfies with a zombie child wearing a yellow jumpsuit, which made me think of an insane asylum. I remember thinking, “If those kids are talking to a zombie and aren’t scared, this must not be so bad!” However, when the kids dissipated, the zombie child approached me with a smile on its face and followed me when I tried to walk away. I was fully prepared to make a run for it, but just in time, Heath and Swim, decked out in appropriate zombie costumes, directed me to the dim, ominous haunted barn, where I finally set out to conquer my fears.

I won’t go into specifics about how I was scared, since I don’t want to take away the spooky experience of anyone who chooses to visit the haunted barn. But I will say that after encountering a few zombies and “crazy carnies” (the creepy circus theme was a nice touch), I swiftly exited after only three rooms.

Luckily, I left without pulling a fire alarm this time. Haunted houses: 2, Annabeth: 0.

If there is anything that this experience taught me, it’s that it’s important to face your fears. You really never know what is going to jump out at you at each corner, and you can’t control it. But once you get that initial scream out (or thousands if you are like me), it’s a good time.

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