The Education of Tyler Prescott

Chapter 6 – Haunting the House

By late September, we had begun to plan for the Halloween Haunted House. To begin, Cole and his parents came to our house on a Saturday afternoon, and we sat around the dining room table making plans and getting quite silly. One of the first things Dad said was that no stairs could be involved. Everything had to be done on the first floor. We all agreed. Cole brought up the approximate age of the kids we wanted to attract. We talked about that for some time, and we eventually decided that anybody under the age of seven had to be accompanied by an adult. We also agreed that, while we were going to charge admission, the charge for a second or third child of the same family would be less. So, if the charge for the first child was $5, then the charges for other children in the family could be $1.

The next question was how we were going to darken the first floor. We decided that could be easily done by taping black, flame-retardant plastic over all the windows. Then came the problem of how we would create a maze that would go through and around the living room, into the dining room, through the kitchen and out through the mud room door. We realized we couldn’t run the maze through Dad’s den because there would be no way out, so we decided to put the sound console there. We tossed around ideas like building wood frames and hanging black plastic from them, but we decided that building wood frames and then storing them would be awkward. Cole’s mom suggested we might use PVC pipes, which could be easily put together and taken apart, so we all agreed to that.

We plotted out on paper the way the maze would go. We figured that we could get three lengths of maze in the living room by starting towards the left, going to the end of the room, turning, then going back towards the front of the room, turning, and finally heading towards the dining room. In the dining room we designed a maze which turned left then turned right across the room and finally turned towards the kitchen. In the kitchen the maze would go similarly to the one in the dining room.

We got out tape measures and began to plot the maze, measuring the rooms and then drawing the maze to scale on graph paper. Then we figured out how much PVC pipe we would need to construct the maze.

That day we didn’t get into what would go into the maze, but we agreed to think about that and meet again the following Saturday. We also decided that Cole and I would invite a few classmates to get involved with us.

It was a warm afternoon, so Cole and I went over to his patio and sat at a table making a list of kids we would invite. Then we began to make a list of what might go into the haunted house and what materials we might need. We knew that our funds were limited, but both sets of parents had agreed to put up some money. Dad had said that he would go to a building supply place and find out prices for PVC pipes including the little elbows and couplers we would need to join them together.

We decided that we had worked enough for one day and settled on going swimming. A translucent cover had been erected over the pool so the pool and the area right around it were very comfortable.  Neither of us needed much persuading. I told Cole that I would go get my bathing suit, but Cole said that wasn’t necessary. “We can skinny dip,” he said. When I looked a little surprised, he said, “It’s okay. Mom won’t come out while we’re swimming if I tell her we’re gonna be naked.” He went in and told his mom, returning with some towels. I don’t think I had ever been naked outdoors before, but we both stripped off our clothes and dove in.

I was getting better at the crawl. My backstroke and side stroke were also coming along, but I couldn’t master the butterfly stroke and the dolphin kick. I was amazed that Cole could do the dolphin kick even though one foot had no real resistance to the water. He really was very good at it. So that afternoon he instructed me some on the butterfly stroke and I began to get the hang of it. Then we just had a free swim for a while, enjoying being able to be outside still while it was not yet too cool.

When we climbed out of the pool, we grabbed towels and began to dry off. I couldn’t help taking note of Cole’s equipment and I knew he was sizing me up as well. When I had first seen him in Speedos, I had noted the size of his package, but now that I saw it uncovered, I immediately grew hard. So did he. There was nothing we could do about it at that point but laugh and get dressed.

During the following school week, we recruited six kids to help us, three boys, including Paul and Bruce, and three girls. Some of them lived near enough that they could bicycle to my house; the others said they thought they could get rides from their parents. We all agreed to meet the next Saturday at my house at 10 o’clock.

The leaves had begun to fall, so Cole and I scuffled through them on the way to and from the school bus. I loved the acrid, pungent smell of the fall leaves and it quickly took me back to Missouri, reminding me of doing the same thing with Billy. I teared up a bit, but I don’t think Cole noticed.

On Saturday, Mom made lots of lemonade and iced tea. She had spent much of the day before baking cookies, and she had sandwich materials for lunch. A little before 10 o’clock, kids began to gather along with my parents and Cole’s parents.

After introductions all around we settled to the task for the day which was to decide what we wanted in the Haunted House and, if possible, to begin listing materials. We started with things that we knew could be purchased easily like bags of cobwebs and old clothes from thrift shops to make people, both real and stuffed. One of the kids, Sarah, told how we could make scary eyes using toilet paper rolls with eyes by cutting the eyes out of the rolls, painting the rolls, and then putting in glow stick bracelets, which you could buy cheaply at the Dollar Store. We thought we could get some Styrofoam heads quite cheaply and paint them with scary effects. We decided we needed a ticket booth at the front door which Cole and his dad volunteered to make. Another idea we had was to have a tall cage front with bars which were made of pipe insulation and which could be pushed aside so that someone behind them could lunge out and scare a customer. One of the girls, Jennifer, volunteered a large dog crate which one of us could be in and scare people as they came through. I suggested we get a wooden barrel or a trash barrel and put the top of a scary dummy in it, which might greet our victims when they first came through a door, maybe the one into the mudroom. We also wanted a black-light room. Dad offered, “We could cover over part of the maze in the dining room with black plastic, so the light wouldn’t come through. Then we could set up black lights that would make anything white, like skeletons or ghosts or white masks, glow.”

We talked about what to do for light that would be dim enough but that still gave enough light so that our customers could find their way around. The kitchen, the dining room, and the living room all had chandeliers. We decided we could take the bulbs out of those and put in colored bulbs, perhaps blue in one room, red in another room, and green or orange in the third one.

We all agreed that we were well on the way and split up who would buy which materials so that we didn’t duplicate.

We had invited all the kids to bring their bathing suits and towels, so after a lunch of sandwiches, lemonade, and cookies we trooped across to Cole’s house where we changed.

When we got out to the pool, there was much oohing and aahing, because nobody knew it was there. As Cole emerged, most of the kids were looking surreptitiously at his foot. Cole must’ve noticed but he didn’t seem at all self-conscious about it. Before we got in the pool, he said, “Now, it’s kind of a secret, this pool, and we want to keep it that way, so before you go in, you have to swear to me that you won’t tell any other kids. If your parents want to know where you went swimming, you can tell them only after you swear them to secrecy. Does everybody swear to keep this pool a secret?” Everyone agreed, and we all dove in.

We had a great time splashing, racing, and playing tag. I noticed that Bruce and Paul spent a lot of time together, but they also spent time with me.

On Sunday, my parents and I took a ride north to see the beautiful colors on the mountains. Of course, I had seen fall colors before in Missouri but never in such masses as these.

Each weekend we got together at my house and worked on the Haunted House. In the basement, we cut PVC pipes to specified lengths and joined them with elbows. Strange creatures began to take form. We cut fire-retardant plastic sheeting and hung it on the PVC frames. As we worked, we chatted together. Walter very much wanted to be in the fake cage, thinking it would be fun to burst out of the cage and scare kids. Cole decided to be the ticket seller, a job that would not require him to walk around. His dad volunteered to be at the maze exit from the mudroom to help kids step out the door and down the steps without hurting themselves. During lunch, we auditioned CDs with scary sound effects, and chose what we would play throughout the three rooms. At one point, Dad broke into a very scary laugh which we decided to record on a loop and play in the mudroom. Bruce offered to handle the sound. And Walter said that Bruce was “a wizard” with sound, so that was quickly decided.

Fortunately for our planning, Halloween came on a Monday that year, so we were able to use the weekend before to set up the house and put up signs in the neighboring towns advertising the Haunted House and giving the location and times. On Saturday morning, we relocated the furniture in the three rooms so that the mazes could go where we planned with the furniture between the tunnels. Then we carefully carried the PVC frames up from the basement and placed them in the rooms, feeling delighted that our measurements actually worked. We replaced the bulbs in the chandeliers before going for a swim.

Of course, the arrangement of the maze made it a little difficult for my family to live in our house. Slits had to be cut in the plastic on the PVC frames so that it was possible to go in and out of a tunnel or from one tunnel to another. The slits also made it possible for us to get to our stairs and go to bed. Saturday evening, Mom, Dad, and I went out for dinner, but in the morning,  we were able to have breakfast at the kitchen table, which was small enough to fit between two of the tunnels.

The kids arrived on Sunday and we put up all the monsters and scary creatures, including ghosts, skeletons, a Frankenstein, and several small, bloodied dolls which hung from nylon fishing line in a couple of the rooms. We also placed exit signs and set up the black lights in the dining room. One of the girls, Amanda, had found a skeleton hand in a joke shop which showed up in the black light very effectively.

On Monday afternoon after school, we congregated at the house, devouring sandwiches and drinks which mom had prepared so that we could eat before the Haunted House opened at 5 o’clock. Then we donned our various costumes and took our places in different areas of the maze. Walter, the third boy on the crew, had volunteered to be in the dog crate. He had a particularly good growl and bark. He did not wear a dog costume, but more of a monster costume, and he left the door of the crate open, so he could lunge out at people. I wore a ghost costume which showed up very nicely in the black light room. Two girls, Sarah and Jennifer, donned costumes, each taking a room, so they were on hand if anyone needed help. Cole’s mom stayed near the front door to help if there were admissions questions or if older kids got too rowdy.

Before it was time to open, I went out front to look at the house. A skeleton and a ghost had been hung on either side of the front door. In the second-floor windows and in my garret window, we had placed large, black silhouettes lighted from behind. There were black cats and wolves, witches and goblins, all made by Sarah. We had placed luminaries along the walk so kids could find their way to the dimly lit front door. Cole, dressed like a circus barker with a flashy vest and a black top hat, completed the effect.

As the time approached, a line formed outside the house, and we silently took our places. The first customers, two boys, about nine or ten years old, entered precisely at 5 o’clock. As they made their way through the tunnel, Mom, who was dressed as a witch, cackled at the two and they fled towards the end of the tunnel, where they turned and continued to follow the maze. When they got to the dog crate, they were startled by Walter who growled and snarled at them and then lunged out of the crate. They screamed and ran to the next turning. In the black light room Amanda, who was dressed all in black, extended her white, gleaming skeleton hand and tapped one of the boys on his shoulder. The boy turned around and yelped only to be confronted by me, a ghost. I chased them through the tunnel to the kitchen.

In Dad’s den, meanwhile, Paul was managing the sound effects at a central control panel. He had done all the wiring and placing of speakers, and he had the system set up so that he could turn on and off various sound effects and have them come from different speakers in different rooms. It was really incredibly effective.

Small children, accompanied by parents, came through, sometimes a little reluctantly. I think occasionally the parents were more startled, if not frightened, than the small children.

We had a problem when a seven-year-old boy, who was not accompanied by a parent, burst into tears at Walter’s barking and snarling. Thanks to the slits in the plastic, Jennifer appeared quickly and became the boy’s escort through the rest of the maze.

At 9 o’clock, Dad went out to stop anyone new from joining the line. We had settled on 9 o’clock because we thought we might all be exhausted by the end of four hours. It was a good decision.

Those who were left in line were allowed to pay and go in. Most were older kids, and some were our classmates, who were having as good a time as we were. Some of them tried to convince Cole they were all in the same family, so they could save money, but Cole would have none of it.

When the last of the kids exited the maze, around 9:30, we all gathered with tales of what we had observed and ideas for next year’s haunted house. We dismantled the maze itself, carefully folding the plastic and taking the plastic and the PVC pipes to the basement for storage. The rest we left set up until the next afternoon, when we returned to take down the monsters and other creatures, dismantle the sound system, and put the regular light bulbs back in the chandeliers. Cole had counted the money and discovered that we had made over $500, which more than covered our investment in materials. That gave us some money which Dad said he would set aside for next year’s Haunted House. There was never a question in anyone’s mind that the Haunted House would become a tradition. The kids agreed that they wanted to invest in a fog machine, which we knew would cost some money.

The following Saturday afternoon we all gathered once more at Cole’s house. We had a great time swimming, splashing each other, and playing our own form of water polo, which had evolved in the past few weeks. We knew it would probably be the last time the group would be together until the next year, so after we all dried off and dressed again, we went to the McDonald’s in town for hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks, etc., finally disbanding around 9 o’clock after a very successful, extended Hallowe’en.