We interrupt these tales of one side hustle to bring you tales of another: this one night that I worked at House of Torment here in town. For confidentiality purposes, I had to wait until the season was over (or nearly over) to tell this story.
I promise you right now that most of you won’t believe this story. That’s okay, though, because I swear every word is true.
For my first and only assignment, I was put (alone) in one section of a charnel house. Across from me were two bloody men in a bathtub, one headless and hanging from severed wrists over a disemboweled man below him. The scene was horrific, and in the dark, the blood gleamed as though it were real.
When patrons rounded the corner and observed this scene, I lurked, unbeknownst to them, dressed in full zombie makeup and costume, in a curtained bathroom stall right behind them. A few seconds after they arrived, I would stomp on a button on the floor that activated a loud noise and a strobe light, pull back the curtain and scream. It was a jump scare, but a very satisfying one.
Everyone reacted differently. Some people would scream and run, and those were the best; others would stand and laugh, and those were the worst. The best scare of the night, however, came from another actor, who walked in during a lull in customers to fix her hair in the mirror. In the silence of my bathroom stall, I watched her for a minute through a hole in the curtain, thinking two things: 1) “Bitch, you’re a zombie. Your hair doesn’t need to look good!” and 2) “Do you think I’m NOT gonna scare you?”
She was admiring her reflection when I activated the strobe, and at its loudest BOOM, I burst from the stall. Zombie Girl screamed and whirled around, her eyes wide with disbelief, staring at me as though I had just murdered her puppy. She put a hand on her chest and bent double, heaving, and backed into a wall to support her wobbly knees. I stood there laughing as she regained her composure, yelled, “Aw, HELL naw!” and stomped out.
She reached the door frame and just beyond, another actor lurched from the shadows and screamed directly into one of her ears. She jumped, screamed again and bolted. Poor Zombie Girl was NOT having a good night.
The other actor chuckled and turned towards me. My stomach twisted as I looked at him. While my zombie makeup had been airbrushed on, his looked real, with chunks of flesh falling from his skull to expose the bone underneath. One eye popped out of an empty socket and bounced on his cheek as he walked towards me, his shabby clothing dragging along the floor. I backed away as he approached. “Great makeup, dude,” I said. He smiled menacingly and disappeared around a corner.
I saw him several times that night, following unsuspecting groups through the charnel house and screaming into the ears of the unfortunate souls stuck at the back. He scared one girl so badly she jumped onto the back of the fellow in front of her and latched on hard. That fellow shook her off and turned around to shake her hand. “Hi, I’m Dave,” he said. “What’s your name?”
Throughout the night, two scene leads named Boo and AnnaBelle came by frequently to check on me and make sure I was doing okay and had enough water. They also came to fetch me at the end of the night when it was time to go home. “Who was that guy walking around screaming in everyone’s ears?” I asked, walking with them through the long maze outside the scenes, full of spooky props and piles of dead, fake bodies.
“What?” said Boo.
“That zombie guy!” I said. “The one with the really good makeup following groups around and screaming at them! His makeup was really good!”
AnnaBelle frowned. “There’s no like that here tonight,” she said. “We’re short-staffed, so we couldn’t spare any actors from the scenes to be roaming actors.”
We rounded the corner into the main staging area for all the actors. “There he is!” I exclaimed. “Right outside the make-up rooms.”
AnnaBelle and Boo craned their necks. “There’s nobody over there,” Boo said.
How could they not see him? Leaning against the wall outside the makeup rooms, Zombie Boy pulled the eyeball away from his face and licked it. I wondered what it was made of. Silicone? Or perhaps one of those candy eyeballs you could buy at the store during Halloween season?
“Yes, he is,” I insisted. “The one with the eyeball falling out of the socket.”
AnnaBelle and Boo looked at each other. “Hey,” AnnaBelle suggested, “why don’t you grab your things and I’ll walk you out?”
I looked back at the makeup rooms. Zombie Boy was gone. They probably thought I was crazy.
I sighed, feeling embarrassed. “Sure.”
My stuff was stored in the cubbies outside of the break room. “We’ll wait for you in here,” AnnaBelle and Boo said, disappearing behind a metal swinging door.
My stuff had been pushed deep into the back of the cubby. I had to step on tip-toe and push past someone’s else backpack to reach it.
Through the metal door, I could hear AnnaBelle and Boo talking about me. I don’t think they realized the metal door was thin enough to hear through.
“You know she’s describing Russell, right?” I heard one of them say.
“Who’s Russell?” I heard a third voice say.
“He was the son of one of the scene leads who worked here a few years ago. He was a bit autistic, so we couldn’t get him to stay in a scene, but he loved running around and scaring random customers. He was so good at it that they just let him do it.”
“So . . . what about him?”
“Well, there’s a new actor out there claiming she’s seen him.”
“Well, Russell is dead.”
I had found my purse at this point, but I just stood there, listening.
“It didn’t happen here. He died at his school.”
“I’m not sure exactly, but what I heard afterwards was that there was a bunch of students dressed up as Harry Potter and Hermione and all that, and they were horsing around. One of them started chasing the Harry Potter character and Harry rounded the corner just as Russell was headed around the same corner the opposite way and Harry’s wand went straight into Russell’s eye. The guy pulled it out really quickly, but Russell’s eyeball popped out with it. He died on the way to the hospital. Freak accident.”
The third voice gasped. “So you think this new actor’s seeing the ghost of Russell?”
“That doesn’t make sense,” another voice countered. “If Russell died in an ambulance, why would she see him here?”
“Russell really loved this place,” another voice said flatly.
“We aren’t that far from the old hospital either,” someone else said softly.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. Had I really seen a ghost?
I’ll probably never know. I quit after that night and never went back.
But if you go to the House of Torment tonight, and someone screams into your unsuspecting ear, tell Russell I said hello.