Halloween was Emma’s favorite holiday. She reveled in all things creepy, scary, morbid, and macabre. Her bedroom was cluttered with horror novels, and her Netflix watchlist was full of scary movies, from classics like IT to terrible B movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. So, when her friends invited her to a Halloween party out at the old Lunatic Asylum, she had jumped at the chance. She had done a haunted tour there before, of course, but this was different. There was a new movie being shot out there, and the film crew was hosting the party. The place was going to be fully decked out with professional level sets and special effects, and Emma was beyond excited.
Putting the finishing touches on her costume, Emma headed downstairs to meet her friends. She shared an off-campus house with three other girls, Cassie, Dani, and Lily. Emma and Cassie had been in the same dorm freshman year, but they had met the other two through classes. They had all decided to rent a house together for their junior year, and it had gone well enough that they stayed for senior year as well.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Emma heard laughter coming from the kitchen. She would bet money that Dani and Lily were already pre-gaming. Cassie was driving, so hopefully, she wasn’t drinking. Entering the kitchen, Emma saw her three friends crowded around the small white table, passing around a bottle of vodka. Cassie was dressed as Carrie, her old prom dress splattered with fake blood. Dani and Lily were the twins from the Shining, despite the fact that they looked nothing alike. Emma couldn’t help but let out a small laugh as she saw them.
“You look great!” Dani said, smiling at Emma as she entered the room.
“Seriously, amazing!” Cassie echoed.
Emma had decided on the receptionist from Beetlejuice, complete with green skin and a bright red wig. It had taken her forever, but she loved the final result. She was just going to have to be careful what she touched all night. She had brought down a towel to put down in Cassie’s car, just in case.
An hour later they pulled up to the asylum, the white clock tower lit up and illuminating the massive stone structure below. Just as it had when she had been here before, the building gave Emma the creeps. It had been an operating mental hospital for nearly 150 years, and at times had held as many as 2600 patients, crammed into every space imaginable, undergoing who knew what questionable treatments. It was regularly listed as one of the most haunted locations in the country, and Emma loved it. Nothing particularly scary had happened on her previous tour, unfortunately, but it was still eerie being in there. She was looking forward to experiencing it at night, in a less formal setting.
The four friends parked and headed into the building. After getting their ID’s checked and putting on wristbands, they wandered in. There was a DJ set up in the community room and small bars spread throughout the first floor. Some of the rooms were roped off, as there were sets for the movie already staged. Emma peaked in at these every chance she got. She was actually a film studies major, hoping to make a living on horror movies like this. Her friends and family thought she was a little crazy, but couldn’t deny her passion for it.
When they got to the second-floor parlor, Emma found what she had been looking for. There had been a horror movie trivia contest listed in the ad she saw. The grand prize was a role as an extra in the movie. Getting to be on set for a horror movie would be great for Emma’s career. Although her friends weren’t as thrilled with that as she was, and didn’t know nearly as much as she did about the genre, they had agreed to be on her team. The contest started in forty-five minutes, so they signed their names on the sheet and headed back downstairs for some drinks.
Five minutes before the contest began, the girls were seated at one of the assorted tables in the room, with a pencil and answer sheet in front of them. One of the film crew had set up a portable projector to display the questions on the wall. He had explained that the first round would consist of general movie trivia and that the top three scoring teams would get to move on to compete in a special second round.
The contest began. As promised, the questions were simple enough. At least for Emma.
‘Which classic movie features a serial killer wearing a William Shatner mask?’
‘What was Jason’s mother’s name in Friday the 13th?’
And on it went. Emma did most of the work, but her friends did know some of the answers and were being good sports about sitting with her, rather than dancing or meeting guys in the other rooms. By the end of the first round, Emma felt very confident. She had known almost all of the answers immediately. She went up to the host and turned in her paper. While they waited for the results, Emma mused over what the second round might be like. The host had made it sound like it was something different than the pencil and paper test they had just done. She hoped that it was something cool, like identifying clips from movies, or maybe even from real props.
The scoring only took about ten minutes. Emma and her friends had made the top three! The next round would begin in half an hour and they were to meet at the end of the first-floor hallway. After a trip to the bathroom, and another round of drinks, they meandered down the long corridor. Now that they were in the finals, the others were much more excited about the possibility of winning and being in the movie.
“Do you think that they will kill us off? That would be awesome!” Dani said.
“Ooh, yeah. I can definitely play a sexy, dead girl.” Lily laughed.
They reached the end of the hallway and found a small sign on the door that simply read ‘Wait here for trivia contest.’ Emma eyed the other two teams competing in this round. One team consisted of two couples, about their age. The other was four guys, slightly older than them. The teams talked quietly amongst themselves, but not to each other.
At precisely eleven o’clock, the door opened. A different host stood in the doorway, holding a flashlight. All twelve contestants fell silent. The host handed each of them a piece of paper and a pen.
“This portion of the contest is slightly more…interactive. We just need you to sign this waiver first,” he said.
The girls looked at each other for a beat, and then glanced at the paper. It looked like a standard release form, Emma had signed similar ones at other haunted houses or escape rooms. Basically, if they got scared or hurt, it was on them. They might also be filmed at some point. Shrugging, Emma signed it and handed it back. Moments later, the rest did the same.
Collecting the forms, their host stepped back into the doorway, revealing stairs. He motioned for them to follow him. Emma had not been down into the basement on her tour, so she was excited to see a new part of the asylum. She noticed that her friends looked decidedly more nervous. The stairs were dark, and upon reaching the bottom they could only see the faint outline of a long hallway. There were a few small dim lights hanging at intervals, but it was not enough to light the space adequately.
“What kind of trivia needs to happen down here?” Cassie whispered to Emma. At some point on the trip down, the four girls had clasped hands with each other. Cassie’s were clammy.
“I’m sure it’s just for atmosphere,” Emma answered. “The prize is for a role in the movie, they probably just want to see what we look like scared, to see if we look good on camera.”
They followed their host down the hallway, eying peeling paint and crumbling walls. Up ahead were several open doors, light spilling out of them. Their host stopped before the first and gestured for the four guys to go in. They did, and someone inside pulled the door shut. They moved to the next door, and the two couples entered. Finally, reaching the third door, Emma and her friends entered. It was a small simple dingy room, with a single table and four chairs. Inside there was another man, wearing a plain black robe. Once the girls stepped inside he pulled the door shut, leaving them in dead silence. The room was lit only by a single bare bulb, swaying slightly.
“Have a seat.” The man said.
The four of them chose a seat, silently. They glanced at each other, eyes wide. This was way more than they had bargained for, and they were slightly tipsy, which didn’t help.
“In this final round, each of you will face a challenge, separately. Your friends cannot help you. Who would like to go first?”
Three pairs of eyes swiveled to Emma. She sighed. This had been her idea, and she was the horror movie buff, so it made sense to go first. Once she finished she could reassure her friends that it was nothing. She nodded and stood.
The man opened the door and ushered her back into the hallway. Yet another robed man met her and motioned her down the hallway. She followed, wordlessly. This was certainly theatrical, she thought. Even she was getting slightly creeped out; she couldn’t imagine how her friends were feeling.
At the end of the decrepit hallway, they made a left turn into a small alcove, with a single arched door. Emma’s guide opened the door and she walked through. The door shut behind her with an echoing clang. She was alone. The room was surprisingly large and completely empty. Unlike the hallway and previous rooms, it was well-lit. The walls were simple stone, stained with something dark that she didn’t want to think about. There was a second door on the opposite wall.
Not sure what to do, Emma stood in the center of the room and looked around. Her heart was starting to pound in her chest and she could feel a trickle of sweat on her forehead. This was definitely not what she had expected from this night, or this contest. She didn’t think that anything bad could really happen, not with hundreds of guests just one floor above them, but this all felt wrong.
A minute passed. Two minutes. Finally, Emma jumped when she heard a voice speaking from a speaker somewhere in the room.
“Welcome to the final round. You will be required to answer five questions correctly. Once you answer five questions, you may leave this room.”
Emma frowned. Were they implying that she was being held captive until she answered? She walked back to the door she had come through. She tried to open it, but it was firmly locked. Then she crossed the room to the other door and tried it. It was also shut tight. Her heart was thundering now. Her hands were locked into fists.
“Ok, this isn’t cool. I’ll answer the questions, but I don’t like being locked in,” she called into the empty room, assuming that someone could hear her. There was no answer.
A shrill scream pierced the air coming from another room nearby. Emma jumped. She walked back to the door, pounding on it.
“Hey! What is going on? Let me out. Now!” she yelled. “This isn’t funny.”
“Question one. Which three horror movies were inspired by serial killer Ed Gein?” The speaker voice rang out again.
Emma froze, only half-hearing the question. “I’m not answering your stupid questions unless you open this door!” she yelled. Screams sounded again from the room next door, pushing her to the edge of a full-blown panic.
“You have ten seconds. Answer the question,” the voice sounded again. Emma still couldn’t spot the speaker that it was coming from.
“Screw you. I already told you that I’m not answering.”
Ten seconds ticked by. At first, Emma thought nothing would happen. She had failed the test, so they would let her go having lost the contest.
A small panel in the far door slid open and something small scurried in. Lots of small things, actually. Rats, they were rats, Emma realized. At least fifty of them, and they were still coming. Emma let out a small yelp and pressed herself into the corner furthest from the door, standing on her toes. The rats were running around the room, sniffing, their beady eyes looking for something.
“Answer the question! What three movies were inspired by serial killer Ed Gein.”
“Oh my god,” Emma whispered. The rats were around her feet now and they were starting to scratch and bite at her flesh, exposed in her black pumps. She kept kicking and them shaking them off, but more came. She could see blood welling from the shallow cuts. Tears formed in her eyes, her chest heaving as she fought to keep from sobbing.