If You Dare

Noah and I were eating oatmeal and reading the Saturday paper when Noah piped up that there was a haunted train and carousel at Wheaton Regional Park and he wanted to go. He’d just finished reading the review in Kids Post and he thought it sounded fun. I considered and realized that it was the best day between now and Halloween to do it because June was spending the weekend at my mother and stepfather’s house–they were finally going to Sesame Place (http://www.sesameplace.com/sesame2/) after their planned July trip to the park got scotched by three-digit heat. Anyway, the haunted train was recommended for kids eight and up and June’s easily spooked, so doing it while she was still out of town seemed like the best idea.

In the morning Beth picked up supplies for the kids’ costumes (June is going as a witch, and Noah will be a newspaper) and she went to get the tickets that afternoon. After a delicious dinner at Asian Bistro (http://asianbistrocafe.com), we drove out to the park. We arrived at 7:20, twenty minutes before our train (we had timed tickets). It was a dark night, and cold. I had on a fleece jacket and I pulled my hands inside the sleeves.

Hay mucha linea,” we heard a Spanish-speaking boy warn his family but the line was not too long. It was however, menaced by a man in a hockey mask wielding a chainsaw, sort of a Friday the 13th/Texas Chainsaw Massacre mashup. He walked up and down the line, jabbing the saw toward people, many of whom squealed or jumped away. I started to feel uneasy, remembering the man with the chainsaw who directed traffic at the much too mature haunted house where I took Noah when he was seven (see my 11/5/08 post). Was this a mistake? But the Post said eight and up, I thought, and the crowd seemed to consist mainly of kids eight to twelve and their parents, though here and there I saw much younger children, including a boy with his face painted like a skull who couldn’t have been older than four.

Someone called out, “Hey, Jason, can we get your picture?” and the man with the chainsaw broke out of character and said, “Sure. Why not?” and then proceeded to pose for pictures. This will be okay, I thought. Even the serial killers are friendly.

Many of the train passengers were in their Halloween costumes and the line was full of nervous tween energy. We wound past inflatable ghosts emerging from a pumpkin, a wooden figure of Dracula, and a graveyard with names on the tombs like “Dee Composing.” My favorite one said, “Felix the Cat,” and had nine dates of death underneath. We watched the train before ours pull into the station and the passengers disembarked. Some of them took off running with Chainsaw Man in hot pursuit, while others waited in their seats until everyone who wanted to run had gotten past. It seemed quite civil, with everyone having the choice of whether to be chased off the train platform or not.

Finally we got on the train, Noah and I were in one row with Beth ahead of us. Behind us sat two park employees who’d been working as actors along the tracks and wanted to see the show from the passengers’ perspective. They kept discussing what was coming next, but apparently the routine is varied enough so that they were wrong at least as often as they were right.

The train was strung with little red lights that would go off during suspenseful moments. I actually thought the scariest part was once when the lights went out and the train stopped for a full minute. I don’t even remember what, if anything, happened next. As is so often the case, the anticipation was better. There were a lot of props along the way, another graveyard, coffins, a dummy in a guillotine, but there were also live actors. The clown with the bloody scythe was the most memorable for me. The train went over a bridge that was draped with caution tape to make it look unstable and then near the end, through a tunnel with strobe lights. Chainsaw Man turned up here, and as Beth later pointed out, the lights made his actions look jerky and unpredictable.

The whole experience was just about right for Noah (and Beth, who’s really not a fan of this sort of thing). Being contained in the train, helped, I think, because nothing and no one ever crossed the boundary between inside and out.

And then the train pulled into the station. Noah had said earlier he wanted to wait and not be chased, but changed his mind at the very last minute. But there were people running down the platform in front of our seats and I couldn’t get out before Chainsaw Man had already run past. Noah ran up the path anyway. He was keyed up and proud of having ridden the train, just as he was last summer at the Haunted Mansion on the boardwalk (8/22/11).

Because we were late off the train, we didn’t make it into the first group to enter the Haunted Carousel. This was just as well because Beth, Noah and I ended up being the entire second group. The carousel is housed in a metal building with sides that normally roll up while it is in use, but they were left down. To enter we had to walk past a coffin with a corpse reaching out and some other decorations. It was dark and misty inside and instead of music, there was a recording of sound effects—a cackling laugh, a cat meowing, clanking chains, a church bell tolling. It was odd and spooky to ride a carousel alone in the dark, without the usual cheerful music. I thought actors might appear, but after a while it was clear it would just be Beth, and Noah and me riding our horses and zebra (Noah’s mount) around and around in eerie, but strangely peaceful circles. It was a nice end to the evening.

On Sunday Beth and Noah fetched June from my mom at a rest stop in Delaware. Noah had purchased what he believed to be the exact recording of Halloween sound effects from the carousel from iTunes that morning and they played it in the car, making it a haunted Ford Focus, I suppose. In between that five-hour drive and June’s soccer game, we squeezed in a trip to the pumpkin patch to buy four jack-o-lantern pumpkins, a soup pumpkin and a tiny decorative pumpkin for my computer desk. That evening, at Noah’s insistence, we ordered some last minute Halloween decorations for our ever-growing collection. We are now the proud owners of a tombstone with a winged death’s head and caution tape with the words, “Haunted: Keep Out,” “Caution: Zombie Zone,” and “Enter If You Dare.”

Because haunted or not, be there zombies or ghosts or vampires, we dare.