Halloween Haunts: The Spooky Place by Stephen Mark Rainey
From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, the local chapter of the Jaycees in my Virginia hometown put on an annual haunted castle event, set in a massive, abandoned warehouse in a nearby hamlet called Koehler (which could well have qualified as a real-life model for H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich). The old warehouse is a hulking stone monstrosity set in a forested area on the banks of the Smith River. No matter the season, the place looks like an honest-to-god haunted castle. For Halloween, one could hardly choose a more imposing and appropriate location to host a fearsome good time. From the time I first laid my youthful eyes on the old Koehler warehouse, to me, it became “The Spooky Place.”
In the spring of my junior high school year (1974), I gained some measure of notoriety, at least locally, by way of an AP newspaper article and a TV interview about my blossoming career as a monsterrific artist and writer. I had sold my first paid piece of prose—a filmbook of the daikaiju classic, Godzilla vs. the Thing—to the late, lamented monster movie tabloid, The Monster Times, and the local media had a field day showcasing the community’s “premier monster kid.” In the fall of that year, I started senior high school. One day when I got home from school, a gentleman from the Jaycees was waiting for me. The organization had decided to create a haunted castle attraction for Halloween, and they had lined up the Koehler warehouse for the location. They needed some expert help designing the myriad horrors they hoped to feature within, and my credentials apparently struck them as just the ticket. They even offered me modest payment for my services.
Why, yes, I’d be happy to help, thank you very much.
The gentleman from the Jaycees was named Dicky Globman. Dicky and I talked at length about the kinds of things the haunted castle could and should feature. Inside the place, we envisioned several chambers, each with a different theme. We came up with ways to create rooms featuring Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman… all the classic monsters, and then some. The Jaycees apparently had a substantial operating budget, and when it came to obtaining and utilizing the necessary materials, they spared little expense.
Dicky had a red-hot MG Roadster, and he took me on several scouting trips out to The Spooky Place. At the time, I’d never ridden in a sports car, a straight shift at that, and Dicky drove those country roads to Koehler like a madman. I suppose there’s no better way to plan your Halloween haunted castle than by having the piss scared out of you right from the get-go.
To get into the inner depths of the warehouse, you had to go down a long, dark, earthen-floored passageway to a vast cellar with vaulted ceilings and endless rows of stone columns, each about six feet in diameter. The only lighting came from a few utility lamps the Jaycees’ crew had put in, so it was mostly dark as sin. Spiders aplenty hung around in the shadows (and at that time, I was the consummate arachnophobe). Before the first haunted chamber even existed, this old building was a castle of nightmares.
Along with several other gentlemen from the Jaycees, Dicky and I traced out where polyurethane sheets could be strung up among the columns to create rooms and corridors. We plotted positions for props, the progression of the “monster chambers,” and alcoves where roving monsters might conceal themselves. I was thrilled that these nice, seemingly mild-mannered folks were serious about delivering a good scare. And I couldn’t wait to help things progress.
In addition to my designing duties, I provided the artwork for the haunted castle newspaper ads (which I turned up among some old papers fairly recently; they were not altogether bad). Unfortunately, during the week leading up to opening night, Dicky had other obligations, so I was only able to get out there one more time to help assemble sets. But he assured me that all our hard work would soon pay off in spades.
Come opening night, I admit that, having been a relatively crucial cog in the plotting of this beast, I was hoping to get the VIP treatment—you know, my name in lights, a private advance tour of the attraction, all that fun, glittery stuff. Well, not so much; in addition to the modest cash payment, I received only a couple of free tickets for admission—one for me and one for my little brother. Beyond that, I was relegated to anonymous visitor status.
Just another faceless soul putting his life on the line once he set foot into that forbidding, tenebrous tunnel…
Because there was little onsite parking available, castle visitors had to gather at a nearby shopping center parking lot and board buses that came and went every few minutes. My parents dropped my brother and me at this provisional bus depot, and it wasn’t long before we were chugging along the dark, shadowy backroads out to Koehler.
I actually felt kind of nervous.
The opening night crowd was huge. There was a booth for popcorn and drinks, and I found the salty, smoky smell that permeated the air quite heavenly, the carnival atmosphere almost corporeal. My brother and I had to wait in a fairly lengthy queue, but… finally… we made our way into the tunnel. As we shuffled forth, I could hear screams, popping, crackling, and other menacing sounds issuing from below. At last, after negotiating a dark, mazelike passage, we began to file through one creepy, expertly rendered chamber after another. Here they all were: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, a werewolf, bloodthirsty ghouls, and other such beasties… to my eyes, all as authentic as the creatures from my favorite classic movies. There were strobe lights, smoke machines, spiderwebs, tombstones, and roving monsters that crept out of the shadows to grab you. I absolutely forgot that I’d had anything whatsoever to do with this extravaganza. I was enthralled, my little brother terrified.
THIS, my friends, was HALLOWEEN!
Against all odds, brother and I both survived the harrowing experience. The Jaycees, I’m sure, made out very, very well, for the Koehler haunted castle became a Halloween tradition that lasted many years thereafter. However, I did not play an active part in it again until 1982, after I had graduated college. I was living back at home for a time before moving to Chicago, where I would spend the better part of the 1980s. The Koehler haunted castle by now was a tried-and-true, smooth-running operation, but one particular night, the folks in charge needed an additional body or two to man the scary stations. Specifically, they needed a mad scientist.
They gave me a call.
I wasn’t really a scientist, but some considered me mad, so… yep… I was their man. On the night in question, I arrived early, and one of the fellows in charge of props—a young whippersnapper named Blake—set me up with proper mad scientist attire. Inside the laboratory, I was pleased to find the requisite array of strobe lights; a bank of shelves loaded with scientific accoutrements, including specimen jars full of unidentifiable gunk; and a gurney with a body strapped to it (a department store mannequin with its torso hollowed out and covered by a sheet). Now, Blake had (surreptitiously) brought a six-pack of beer into the lab, so we availed ourselves to it while we had time. Just before the crowd began filing in, Blake briefly disappeared and then reappeared carrying a large, heavy bucket. Dutifully, he pulled the sheet back and dumped the bucket’s contents into the mannequin’s hollow torso.
Yep, it sure was: a big old bunch of entrails, donated—according to Blake—by a local butcher shop. Liver, kidneys, stomach, lungs, and stuff that I didn’t even know what it was. He handed me a butcher knife and said I’d know exactly what I needed to do. Then he ran off to get into roving monster mode and left me holding the knife. Moments later, here came the first of our unsuspecting visitors.
There was nothing for it but to gesture wildly with the knife and explicate in my best Boris Karloff tones the importance of scientific experimentation. In went the knife, in went my hands, and out came huge masses of dripping internal organs. The screams that ensued held a note of honest-to-god horror, and several of the patrons filed out of the chamber somewhat faster than they had entered. Bear in mind I had no gloves, no nearby water, and, in those days, hand sanitizer as we know it did not exist. Thus, with each new crew of visitors to the lab, I was left to perform crude surgery, show off the increasingly ripe entrails, put them all back, rinse, and repeat (minus the rinse bit). After an hour or more of this, even the neighboring chambers of horrors were beginning to reek of honest-to-god death.
Eventually, Blake wandered back and offered to switch roles with me. By this point, I was glad to oblige. I got into the roving monster costume, and he became the scientist. Somewhere in there, I managed to find some water to rinse off my entrail-smeared hands and arms. Still, even in the nearly lightless catacombs, it was difficult to sneak up on unsuspecting victims because, as you might imagine, they sure as hell smelled me coming.
I don’t recall exactly how many more years the Jaycees’ Haunted Castle occupied the Koehler warehouse. I do know the attraction ended up moving to a couple of other locations, though neither could boast the perfect awe and atmosphere of The Spooky Place.
Today, the old warehouse is still there, fulfilling its more traditional commercial role for owners I know not who. Nowadays, I semi-frequently drive by it on my way to hike on nearby trails (one of which overlooks the property from just across the river). As some of you know, I am an avid geocacher, and, some years ago, I placed a geocache near the building. I also placed one along the trail across the river. Even though it no longer serves as a haunted castle, I do enjoy any opportunity to lead people to The Spooky Place so they might gaze upon it and be greatly afeared.
h, yes. THIS, my friends, was HALLOWEEN!
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Stephen Mark Rainey is giving away a Kindle edition of Fugue Devil: Resurgence.
Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject title “HH Contest Entry” for a chance to win.
Stephen Mark Rainey has been writing professionally for over thirty years. He is the author of numerous novels, including Balak, The Lebo Coven, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), Blue Devil Island, The Nightmare Frontier, The Monarchs, and others. Recently, he has been writing novels for Elizabeth Massie’s Ameri-Scares series for young readers, with four currently in print and several more on the publication schedule. In addition, Mark’s work includes six short story collections; approximately 200 published works of short fiction; and the scripts for several Dark Shadows audio productions (Big Finish), which feature members of the original ABC-TV series cast. For ten years, he edited the award-winning Deathrealm magazine and has edited the anthologies Deathrealms (Delirium Press), Song of Cthulhu (Chaosium), and Evermore (with James Robert Smith; Arkham House). His short fiction has recently appeared in Borderlands 7 (Borderlands Press) and Fright Train (Haverhill Press). Mark lives in Greensboro, NC. He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association.
Visit Stephen Mark Rainey’s Amazon.com book page at Amazon.com: Stephen Mark Rainey
FUGUE DEVIL: RESURGENCE from Black Raven Books
“If you know about the Fugue Devil, it knows about you. If you see the Fugue Devil, it will come for you.”
Many decades ago, summoned by the power of music, the Fugue Devil—a dreadful, malevolent entity from another dimension—entered our world. Every 17 years, it reappears to satiate its hunger for unsuspecting souls.
Author Stephen Mark Rainey’s terrifying novelette, “Fugue Devil,” originally appeared in his first fiction collection, Fugue Devil & Other Weird Horrors in 1992. Now, thirty years later, Black Raven Books brings you Fugue Devil: Resurgence, which features the original novelette; its sequel, “The Devil’s Eye”; and ten more tales of horror and mind-bending terror.
Cover art is by British Fantasy Award–winner Daniele Serra.
“I’ve been a Stephen Mark Rainey fan for more than 30 years now, and there’s good reason for that—he’s a consummate storyteller. These stories frighten and dazzle, chill to the bone and linger. Fugue Devil: Resurgence should be at the top of everyone’s list this year!”
—Richard Chizmar, publisher and editor of Cemetery Dance, author of Chasing the Boogeyman, Gwendy’s Magic Feather (with Stephen King), and many others
Order Fugue Devil: Resurgence, available in paperback or ebook, from Amazon.com here.
Read an excerpt from “Night Crier” by Stephen Mark Rainey
(from his collection, Fugue Devil: Resurgence)
Bill was getting too old for trick-or-treating, but it was still the best thing about Halloween.
He didn’t relish the idea of sitting home alone watching movies or commiserating with his
friends about the passing of their childhoods. He did enjoy dressing up in costumes, the scarier
the better, and one of the few advantages of being short was that adults wouldn’t peg him for
twelve years old if they couldn’t recognize him. Tonight, he had worn a rubber scarecrow mask
that fully covered his face, with an old sweatshirt and jeans stuffed with straw. Damn if it didn’t
itch, but he sure enjoyed the spooky look. He actually drew a few shocked stares from the
neighbors when they opened their doors. Happily, he and Charles and Frank had made a good
haul this evening.
It was getting on that time. Every year on Halloween night, the sound came out of the
woods: the keening, mournful cry he had first heard when he was in the crib. Until a couple of
years ago, it had always terrified him, but now it fascinated him. No, that wasn’t right. It still
scared the hell out of him. But since he had turned ten, on Halloween night, the sound drew him
to the back porch, where he would stand peering and listening until it went silent. Whatever it
was, it remained far away, never approaching or receding. It wasn’t going to hurt him, he told
himself. It was just a noise. It wasn’t a bird or an animal or a recording or someone playing an
annual prank. He knew what it was not.
Beyond the porch railing, the backyard extended for a couple of hundred feet before ending
at a steep, rocky ravine, though which a little creek ran. Then there was only a vast expanse of
unbroken woodland—or so it had always been. Unseen amid the distant hills, bulldozers had
begun clearing lots for new houses, and in the daytime, he could hear the heavy machinery and
sharp cracking of falling trees.
If they kept cutting, would they find the source of that noise?
“Well, here you are,” came Mom’s voice. He didn’t realize she had come out to the porch.
“Did you enjoy your Halloween?”
“It was pretty good,” he said. He had never spoken to Mom about his Halloween night
terrors. Well, not since he was very little.
“Your friends have gone home, haven’t they?”
“Since it’s Friday night, if you’d like to stay up a little later, it’ll be all right.”
She stood beside him and peered into the woods. “You always used to close yourself
indoors after trick-or-treating, like something upset you. I guess not anymore, huh? Did
something upset you, Bill?” He felt her eyes studying him. “Does it still?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. I’ve always liked Halloween and all, but there’s just something
about it. Can’t really explain.”
It was just past ten o’clock.
The first strains of the wailing cry came wafting out of the woods.
“When you were little, you used to cry every Halloween night. It always seemed like
something scared you.”
An almost melodic, warbling noise, muted by distance, but still clear and resonant. A dirge,
it seemed, as if something not quite human were crying out in soul-deep misery.
Mom’s eyes turned to the woods. Her mouth was open as if to speak, but no words came.
Together, she and Bill gazed into the depths of a world very different from its daylight
counterpart. In sunshine, the woods appeared beautiful and wondrous. Now, in unleashing that
sound from their dark, hidden heart, they had become grim and forbidding.
For another minute or so, the sound rose and fell, and some of his old, familiar dread came
creeping back. He remembered lying in his crib, that very same sound drifting into his bedroom
through the darkened window, his fingers kneading the bed sheet, his heart beating so hard it
nearly drowned the outside noise.
And then, as it did every year, the wailing rose to a sharp screech and went silent.
Bill glanced at his mom. She was still staring into the darkness, her face thoughtful but not
fearful. When she looked at him, she smiled.
His nerves nearly stopped him, but he asked, “What did you hear?”
Her eyes returned to the woods for a moment. “I heard wind in the trees. But it seemed
different than usual. Somehow different.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what it was. Different.”
“Don’t eat too much candy, all right? You don’t need all that sugar keeping you awake.”
“I’m going to bed soon. Be sure and lock up, please. And turn out the lights.”
“I’ll say good-night then.”
Order Fugue Devil: Resurgence from Amazon.com in paperback or ebook