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Braving haunted houses

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actually afraid of the dead returning to life.

In the hopes of getting into the spirit of the season we took a trip down to the Scimitar Shrine Center (home of the Shriners, best known for their philanthropy and wearing red fezzes), and their annual Temple of Terror. We hadn't been to a haunted house since we were a kid, the memories of which we had successfully repressed, so we weren't sure what to expect.

Step one: get in line. From the outside, the Shrine Center looked empty, but, after we'd been escorted through the dimly lit lobby with cliche Halloween merchandise in every corner (skeletons, spiders, cottony cobwebs), we took a seat with about 40 others who were waiting for entrance. On one end of the room concessions were being sold; at the other a big TV played the last thirty minutes of "Poltergeist." Hanging from the ceiling were zombie-ghost-grim reaper hybrids that occasionally lit up and vibrated and emitted compressed shrieks. A few people were in costume. The initial shivers that had followed us in from the chilly night outside were gone very quickly, once we realized that we were in for a long wait.

Over an hour's wait, in fact, but we had company and there was, after all, the promise of a good scare once the time came. Occasionally the exit would pop open and visitors would scamper out, chased by the sound of a chainsaw. The Observer and our companion laughed with each other, but of course there lingered in our conversation the vague concern for what, exactly, was behind the door that every 10 minutes or so would admit a few giggling teenage girls and their parents.

At last it was our turn. Volunteers tore our tickets and ushered us into the Temple. We'll admit, it was unnerving — everybody's a little bit afraid of the dark.

Here's how it went: the haunted house was essentially a series of rooms, each one playing off a particular horror movie trope. In one there was a family sobbing around an open coffin; as we strolled past it the person inside jumped out with a screech. Another was a psych ward with white-clad patients chained to their metal cots, beseeching us to help them escape. A few were empty except for Halloween paraphernalia — ghoulish mannequins, TVs playing nothing but static, giant bugs. Most of it was in total darkness. Between each room we had to squeeze through very thin partitions, which, for the claustrophobic, was probably the most terrifying part of the experience. The Observer was most creeped out by a room painted all in white with a fog machine going somewhere — it was impossible to see, and there were people with gas masks who appeared out of the smoke to get up in our face. Yes, we jumped more than once as we trudged through the Temple, and there were even a few times that we had to laugh.

All in all it was an amusing evening, despite the wait. We can admire anyone who waits around in a small, dark room, surrounded by skeletons, waiting for an (somewhat) unsuspecting victim to walk through. That, we think, would be pretty freaky.

Speaking of Halloween traditions, Junior had outgrown trick-or-treating this year, so instead of organized begging, The Observer and family drove up to Conway, and hit another haunted house.

The building was a dark, close maze in a large building. Junior held onto his mother's shirt tail, and The Observer onto his. At times, he almost ran. In the middle of things — the dark, the noise, the folks jumping out of shadows — The Observer found himself thinking about the mannish boy who has replaced the warm bundle who once slept on our shoulder. This moment, The Observer thought, is as good a metaphor for his onrushing teenage years as we're likely to get: Trailing him through darkness. Struggling to hold on but not hold him back. Both full of apprehension. Both dreading the inevitable moment when it will all be over and we will emerge in the Real World.

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