For several years, I used to participate in charity haunted houses every Halloween, 'cause I felt like it was the best way to celebrate the only really important holiday of the year. Playing around in a real haunted house might have been better, but I've never found one in over a decade of searching, so the spook houses are still my best bet.

The first year, I was a senior in college at Eastern New Mexico University. One of my friends and I got dressed up, dosed up on some 'shrooms, and went to his frat's haunted house (not a bad set-up--good makeup, sub-standard effects). When we were done with the tour, they let us help out. They stuck me in a closet, where my only jobs were (1) to pull on a string to make a bat flap up and down and (2) to jump out of the closet and scream when the marks were nearby. Not bad, but not that great either.

The next year, I was living in Levelland, Texas, and I really wanted to be in a decent haunted house, so I kept an eye on the local newspaper, and when I heard that the local EMS was putting a spook house on, I called 'em up and volunteered. This was a truly fantastic house. They staged the whole thing in a tiny, condemned building, and they really worked their asses off to make it cool. They used one of their safety harnesses to rig up a neat "hanged man" effect, and turned a bunch of styrofoam wig heads into stunningly gory props. We had some dry ice, but it wasn't doing a good job of making fog, so we used it to keep the beer cold (Note: Do not use dry ice to keep beer cold--it will freeze it solid).

For a while, they had me dressed up as the mad doctor, operating on a screaming patient. We had ordered a couple of buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I ended up using the chicken as props--I hid a thigh or a wing out of sight, then "ripped" it from my patient's stomach, took a big bite, and threw it at the marks ("Eww, gross!" one burly football player hollered--music to my ears!).

Later, I was enshrined as the guide, wearing a torn black jacket, matted black wig, and a hockey mask, and carrying a scythe in one hand and a severed human head in the other. I adopted a Freddy Krueger voice and attitude, and took turns scaring the hell out of the marks and making them laugh their heads off. And for the record, I was a damn good haunted house guide.

But the best moment came at the end of the tour. Everyone crowded into a tiny room containing only a couple of witches and a bunch of decapitated human heads. Nothing much happened, and the marks were thinking (sometimes out loud), "Well, this sure is a boring ending." And then... "BRRRAAARRRRRRRRR!" A guy stood up in the back of the room with a roaring chainsaw (chain removed, of course), and the marks nearly tore out the back door trying to get away. Oh, that was a good one...

The next year, I was living in Denton, Texas, and I wanted to be in another good spook house, so I called the local theater society when I learned they were putting one on. This one was held in the gymnasium of a health club and had a much larger budget than the others. It was pretty good--oh, really, it was very good, but it didn't have as many E Ticket moments as the one in Levelland. I was pegged as the guide for the entire run of the house, and talking in that Freddy Krueger voice for so many hours in a row ended up doing permanent damage to my vocal cords.

After that, I had to skip a year. My boss wouldn't let me off work on Halloween night.

The year after that, I was a grad student, living in Bruce Hall at the University of North Texas. Bruce had an annual haunted house down in the basement, and I was looking forward to participating, but by this time, I was worried about future damage to my voice, so I asked if they could make sure to put me someplace where I wouldn't have to speak at all. They said "You bet!" and immediately set me up shouting into an electronic squawk box. Grrrreat. That was a weird one: we had some kind of evil exterminator, a bunch of evil clowns, and another chainsaw killer--this one wearing a big fur coat.

So that's what I got. I'm available for almost any haunted houses (just not those freaky Hell houses--that's just sick, man). Please don't make me yell too much--I can only take another few years of this torture before my voice box gives out completely...

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