When I was in school, I had this friend Greg. Every fall, Greg would work for one of those haunted mansion spook tours out toward the end of Long Island. I hadn’t been to one since I was a little kid, I remember I went with a friend and his parents, they took us on a hay ride from the parking lot to the house, and there were people running around outside with chainsaws, lots of screaming sounds projecting from inside.
And yeah, it was cool, I think. I don’t know, I was little. It could have been circumstance that made it so exciting. Like, I was with my friend, and he’s acting all scared, so I could have been pressured to act scared, to fit in. It’s like when you go see a comedy movie with your friends, and everyone in the theater is cracking up, laughing out loud, and then months later you catch that same movie on cable and you sit back, ready to recapture some of those laughs, but nothing’s funny, you’re like, what the hell? Evan Almighty isn’t really that good. How did I enjoy myself the first time around?
So when Greg kept bugging me to make the trip out east to see him in action, I was pretty unenthusiastic. I’d have to take the train, I wouldn’t know where to get dinner, it would have been a huge thing. But he was persistent, “Rob, you coming this weekend? Only two weeks left. Come on man, I promise, it’s a really cool time, for real.”
And I don’t know, he caught me in a moment of weakness, I relented, and two Fridays before Halloween I found myself on the Long Island Rail Road, taking the train out somewhere far away. I got off at the stop and, you know how Long Island is, you need a car. There are usually a bunch of cabs everywhere, but not tonight, there weren’t any.
I considered calling a taxi service, but I really didn’t feel like waiting, and then I looked up the address on my phone, it was only a mile and a half away, I figured, I could walk a mile and a half, that’s not too bad.
So I made it to the house, the first thing I noticed was the total absence of any other people, no parking lot, no cars, no haunted hay ride. But my friend Greg, well, he was cool and everything, but if there’s one person I could think of that would work in an unpopular haunted mansion, well … well that’s a weird way to put it. Greg wasn’t weird. But if someone told me, “Hey Rob, do you know the haunted mansion that Greg works at? Yeah, I went last weekend, and there wasn’t anybody there. Like, I don’t know what kind of business they’re running, but the place was totally empty,” it wouldn’t be that hard to believe.
It was already dark out, and I’m not stupid, like if I walked up to an abandoned house, I wouldn’t assume that it was some sort of under-attended event, no, but there was a flickering light coming from somewhere inside, and so I figured this had to be it, maybe I was early, or maybe it just sucked and nobody wanted to waste their money.
The front door was open so I walked in. There wasn’t any ticket booth, no signs anywhere, in fact, the place looked pretty decrepit. If I wanted to set up a haunted mansion, I’d go over the top, add some fake cobwebs in every corner, maybe paint “HELP ME!” or other creepy stuff on the walls. No, this place was just old, it smelled old, dusty, like mildew.
And I don’t know why I wasn’t scared before, like I hadn’t even considered that I was walking into some creepy real abandoned house, but the sudden realization that this probably wasn’t where I was supposed to be hit me all at once, and I knew that I needed to get out immediately.
I turned around to leave and there was old man standing behind the open door, his face twisted into a grimace, I didn’t expect it, I freaked the hell out and tried to run, but he slammed the door before I could make a break for it. What could I do? I didn’t want to run any further in the house, should I try to get past him? Make a break for it?
“Boo!” he said. And then he just kind of stood there, he relaxed his face, and then he said, “OK, five bucks,” and he held out his hand. And I said, “Wait, this is the haunted mansion?” And he said, “Yup. Pretty scary, huh? You were pretty scared, I could tell. Five bucks.”
I said, “Where’s Greg?” and he was like, “Greg? He doesn’t work here. I’m a solo act. He gets a cut from everybody he sends over.” I said, “But, you didn’t even ask who referred me. If I hadn’t asked about Greg, how would you have known who to pay?” He went, “He should have told you to make sure to mention his name. I figured he had. He’s not the brightest, right? I mean, you see that, right?” I felt like I had to say something, try to defend my friend, but then I got pissed, because if Greg wasn’t the bright one, what did that say about me, apparently one of the only guys he successfully suckered all the way out east to give this old guy five bucks.
“Five bucks,” he repeated. I paid, I mean, I was pretty scared, if only for a second. I got back to school like two hours later, everyone had already went out for the night, Greg left a note, “Hope you had a great time at the haunted house! By the way, I drank your beer. I’ll get you later. Greg.”