- NO REFUNDS. ALL SALES ARE FINAL.
“Sorry ma’am, no refunds.” My new coworker tapped the sign showcasing the rules and smiled insincerely at the aggressive soccer mom and the crying kid behind her. “It’s part of the rules here at the Madison County Ultimate Haunted House Experience – enter at your own risk!” The mom huffed at us as she stormed off, and the new girl turned to me, already rolling her eyes. She wore her blood red hair up in a high ponytail and looked unfairly hot in the dorky pumpkin polo and visor that management make us wear. I became acutely aware of how mousy I must look, dishwater hair hanging limply at my shoulders.
“Hey, I’m Jenny. I swear to God, this job is going to be the death of me,” she complained. “I could be working at a bookstore or a coffee shop or something where no one complains when we do our goddamn jobs effectively.” She chattered on, and I decided that I liked her, even if she was terrible at customer service. I’d been with the Madison County Ultimate Haunted House Experience for a while, and sometimes my coworkers sucked, but something about her was intoxicating. This season was going to be a good one, I just knew it.
- NO SMOKING OR OPEN FLAMES OF ANY KIND.
Technically, employees are supposed to stay at least 200 feet away from any structures on a smoke break, but Jenny said that if management insists on only giving us five minutes off at a time, they were basically forcing her hand. The cherry flickered when she took a drag and fiddled with her lighter. My eyes flicked nervously towards the back door of the house, worried that someone was going to emerge and bust us.
Jenny shivered. “Is it me, or did the temperature just drop like ten degrees out here?” She stubbed out her cigarette and flicked the butt into the scrubby bushes nearby.
“Come on, let’s get back,” I said. She grabbed my hand, and I felt warmer already.
- NO ALCOHOL, FIREARMS, OR OTHER WEAPONS.
We were two days into our second week when Jenny waved a flask under my nose and raised her eyebrows at me. The sharpness of its scent made my eyes water; I shook my head. With a shrug, she screwed the cap back on and tucked it back into the inside pocket of her faded denim jacket.
“Do you need a ride out of here?” she asked, turning as she was leaving the locker room.
“No, I’ll be okay, management asked me to stay late and clean up at concessions. Some kid puked there earlier, and I guess I drew the short straw.” I grimaced.
“Tough break, babe. Don’t let the ghosts get you!” She cackled, letting the door bang shut on her way out.
- NO RUNNING, FIGHTING, OR HORSING AROUND.
Every night after the last call, we do a sweep of the house. It’s our minimum wage duty to clean up any trash that guests leave behind and make sure everything is in place for opening next evening. The other two closers, Steve and Danny, spent most evenings making stupid noises and wrestling or challenging each other to duels with any props not bolted in place. I found myself picking up a stray femur from the floor outside the Master Bed-doom that one of them must have used to wreak havoc on the other. Sighing, I walked it back to its proper resting place while Jenny cracked up beside me.
“They’re just being teenagers, man. You don’t always have to take this job so seriously.” She fluffed her hair and made a kissy face at the cracked mirror.
“Jenny, I can’t lose this job. Also, you’re literally a teenager yourself, and you aren’t always acting like a fool.”
“That’s because girls are more mature than boys,” she smirked, before tackling me. The two of us landed on the Death Bed, nearly flattening the corpse mannequin under the covers. I was shrieking and trying to squirm out of her grasp when we heard a loud thud. The lights went out and we froze. Her heart was pounding so hard I could practically feel it in my own chest.
“Bet those idiots finally broke something,” she said, standing and offering her hand to help me up. I took it, and just when I was feeling thankful that the power outage hid my blush, the lights flickered back on.
“See? Nothing to worry about,” she grinned. I laughed nervously, and we made our way to the next room.
- NO FLASHLIGHTS OR ANY OTHER FORMS OF ILLUMINATION.
The lights in the house are rigged to flicker on and off at regular intervals, which is great for scaring guests but makes it a pain to clean up when someone gets spooked and sends their overpriced popcorn flying. Jenny held a weak flashlight while I swept stray kernels into a dustpan, but she kept breaking to put it under her chin and reenact ghostly moans from the house soundtrack. I giggled, but paused when I heard a guttural groaning coming from the hallway. Jenny stopped messing with the light, and the two of us looked uneasily at each other, unsure what to say.
She broke the silence first. “Maybe it’s just the house settling? Scratch that, I sound like the airhead in a dumb horror movie. C’mon, let’s get out of here.” I nodded and we fled, dustpan and popcorn forgotten.
- NO PICTURES OR RECORDINGS INSIDE THE HOUSE.
Jenny texted me a selfie from inside the house – smack dab in the center of the Killer Kitchen. In it, she was winking at the camera and sticking her tongue out, nearly licking the plastic knife that I know for a fact is supposed to be stuck in the decapitated head on a platter.
I smiled, and then squinted at it, bringing my phone closer to my face. The room was supposed to be empty, so what was that behind her?
- DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING, INCLUDING PROPS OR ACTORS.
I was shuffling along the corridor with my broom when Jenny grabbed my arm, her face thunderous. “God, I could kill Steve, I really could. That jerk just chased me through the Dining Hell and the Un-Living Room. I could hear him laughing the whole time. We have to get him back.”
“Get him back how?” I tried not to give in to the distraction of her hand on my arm.
“I don’t know, but I’ll think of something. He’s been pulling tricks all season and I’m so sick of him, I swear.” She rolled her eyes. “Thank God you’re here. This place would be unbearable without you.”
I smiled. “It’s not bad once you get used to it. And I’m sure he’ll get what’s coming to him.”
- WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY LOST, STOLEN, OR DAMAGED POSSESSIONS.
During seasonal jobs, I’ve noticed that coworkers start to get sick of each other a few weeks in. It was nearing the end of October, so I wasn’t surprised when Jenny stomped into the locker room, already shouting. “Steve, you asshole, did you take my Swiss army knife again?”
Danny followed her inside, looking surprisingly earnest. “Dude, Steve must’ve quit. I haven’t seen him in like five days.”
She considered this, clearly still itching for a fight. “Well, if he ever decides to show up for work again, tell him that he’s a jerk and I want my knife back.” She slammed the door and Danny glanced at me, his eyes wide.
I shrugged at him and fingered the knife in my pocket.
- RESEMBLANCE TO PERSONS LIVING AND/OR DEAD ARE STRICTLY COINCIDENTAL.
I confessed to Jenny on Halloween, after the last guests cleared out. It was near midnight when I laid my heart bare to her and took her to the room where I’d hidden Steve’s body. I thought she’d understand, even be flattered, but she just tried to run. When I caught her, her screams mixed with the prerecorded shriek track until they were indistinguishable. It was like a sign – she belonged there with me.
So maybe things didn’t work out between us, but at least I’ll always know where to find her. After all, Jenny is part of the house now, just like Steve and the others that came before them. Just like me.
- ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.
“Sorry ma’am, no refunds. It’s part of the rules here at the Madison County Ultimate Haunted House Experience – enter at your own risk!” I’m thrilled that it’s October again, so happy to be back home where I belong that I’m practically trilling my words. Smiling, I tap the sign, before turning to face my latest coworker. Aiming to replicate her predecessor’s casual confidence, I adjust my high ponytail. New season, new me.
“Hey, I’m Jenny.”
Emily Carlson is a queer writer, reader, and lover of monsters. Emily can be found on Twitter at @emiacarlson or by saying her name three times while looking in a mirror.