The grinding wheels of freight trains were haunting cries of ambient soundscapes
polluted with graffiti. I watched them crawl along the horizon from my window with my
pumpkin spice coffee as silhouettes of parking lot gulls weave across a grey sky on the morning
of October first. Halloween season was here. The face of it has changed as I have gotten older,
making celebrating more difficult. Living alone in a post Covid19 Chicago raises the challenge
to be merry and spooky even higher. We’re all desensitized to fear of the unknown after 6
months of existing in an apocalyptic horror film. I was determined to celebrate by any means
necessary this year, hell bent on tricks and treats.
With the weather unseasonably agreeable, I decided to start off the month of October
with a trip to the legendary Haunted Trails in Burbank. A Halloween themed year-round
attraction that has been entertaining kids and kids-at-heart since 1975. Reopening in early June
along with Covid19 guidelines, they offered weekly deals to keep business rolling and asked all
patrons to wear masks.
Pulling into the parking lot on a weekday afternoon I was greeted alone by the iconic
fiberglass Frankenstein statue. At first, I wasn’t even sure it was open as not a soul occupied the
park. Even the arcade, loud as ever with every game blaring its pitch, was void of humans. I
wandered for a bit before coming across sleepy teenage employees, surprised at the presence of a
customer trying to treat themself to a windy round of 18-hole mini-golf. The course is decorated
with statues of vampires, ghosts, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. With no real skill
and not keeping score, I whacked my little green ball through giant skulls and mini haunted
houses at my own pace before buzzing around the go-kart track solo a few times.
Arcades can be a little disorienting to begin with but without screaming children running
in circles around you it’s easy to be consumed by a game and lose track of time. That’s exactly
what happened to me in the Batman driving game and other spooky themed amusements. I blew
a small fortune on ski-ball until my frustration of losing got the best of me. Looking around and
finding the floor vacant, I boldly cheated by walking up the lane and plunking balls in the highest
score slots. The only other occupant was a young attendant at the prize station. She’d look at her
wristwatch frequently and time herself wiping down games with disinfectant, but otherwise it
was a ghost town.
Seemingly hours later I had run out of tokens and felt proudly smug about being the only
patron of the afternoon. It’s weird to have a beloved entertainment institution all to yourself so I
decided to mark the occasion in the photobooth. The irritable 19-year-old inside of me posed
smugly with a vape pen for each photo, puffing away and flipping birds like the punk I used to
be. But the vapor cloud was bigger than I realized when I stepped out to collect my photo strip.
Billowing out from behind the booth’s curtain. I did my best to wave it away casually just as the
security manager stepped out of their locked office. She was in her early 20’s, still a baby but
with tattoos and a serious disposition evident even with a mask. I decided to cash out my tickets
and leave while I could as the weed was quickly starting to turn to paranoia in my brain. Perhaps
the security manager could sense this or maybe she had watched me get high in the photobooth
or cheat at ski-ball like a miscreant. Whichever it was, she escorted the sole attendant to the prize
counter and stared holes through me.
I picked out as many sugary treats as I could from my ticket total, all the while white
knuckling the counter just at the security manager was doing the same. Nervously eyeing the
Bride of Frankenstein tattoo on her forearm, I silently scolded myself for trying to be punk in my
late 30s. Dripping sweat and getting light headed, I collected my candy and made a bee-line out
the door to the car. I sat there for a bit in a sugar buzz, wondering what the big deal was in the
end. It’s not like my parents would have been called or much of anything else besides maybe
getting kicked out. Even a ban from Haunted Trails seemed unlikely. Overall, it wasn’t a bad
start to the month of October and the Halloween season.
Originally published in Haunted Emporium Magazine October 2020