The children insisted on going into The Spooky Shack, as the sign in front of the door labelled it. Although Anthony was a fully grown man with three deliberately annoying kids, he was considerably more afraid than even his six year old. In fact, he was sure that when he had been a child, ugly devil heads and skeletons that dropped out of closets to the sound of corny screams had been far less terrifying.
The large clown face that loomed down over the entrance was enough to put him on edge. The kids were screaming in excitement rather than fear and before Anthony could grab any of them, they all ran inside. Sighing to himself, Anthony followed them.
There was a large lump in his throat that refused to go away. The first sound he heard was a creaking noise, gradually increasing in volume, before the door behind Anthony slammed shut. If he squealed like a little girl then that was okay, because his kids had already moved further inside and none of them could prove the scream had come from him. He could hear them shouting at one another.
‘Look at this mirror!’
‘No, look at this one!’
‘Tina, you look so far in that one.’
‘Shut up, Joey.’
‘Guys, guys, check out this skeleton!’
‘Oh my god, look at the clown!’
‘Molly, where are you? This room is so dark, I can’t see …’
‘Where – aargh!’
‘Hahaha, that’s my hand, Tina! It’s only me.’
‘I don’t know. Joey?’
Listening to his daughters call for him son kicked some adrenaline into Anthony. He had told the kids not to run off or get separated from one another. He did not want to spend a lot of time wandering around in dark rooms looking for an eight year old boy.
Anthony walked through the next door and into the room of mirrors, where he met a freakishly tall and thin version of himself, a short and fat version of himself, and several other reflections of himself that were oddly warped or out of proportion. The kids were still moving around somewhere further into the building, but Anthony could not hear Joey yet.
In the next room there were models of clowns, vampires, ghosts and zombies, all of which looked far too lifelike in the semi-darkness. Pre-recorded fake laughter echoed around Anthony from somewhere above him, and just as he turned around to go down the next corridor, a door to his left swung open and a skeleton dropped out, halting mere moments before it could hit him in the face. Dramatic sound effects sent Anthony’s heart pounding into overdrive, and he realised then how much he wanted to be in the presence of someone else – even if they happened to be three overenthusiastic children.
‘Tina! Molly! Joey!’ he shouted for them as loud as he dared. ‘Where are you kids? Get back here now! Come on, we should all stick together in here.’
‘Dad?’ It was Tina. ‘Dad, where are you?’
‘I’m here,’ Anthony replied, one hand held out in front of him as he got further and further into the darkness. ‘Tina, where – unf!’
‘We’re here, Dad,’ Molly said, her voice muffled by the top of Anthony’s thigh.
‘Whoops, sorry honey,’ he said, stepping backwards to give her room to breathe. ‘Come through here, both of you, look, it’s lighter through here. Where’s your brother?’
Anthony did not want to admit it, but he was starting to panic. Joey had a tendency to walk off when he saw something that caught his attention. Anthony could remember being a young boy and getting separated from his own father at an amusement arcade. A man with long, greasy hair had offered him some money to play on some of the arcade games, and although Anthony liked to think that it had been nothing more than a generous gesture, as a parent he could never be too cautious.
‘Joey?’ he called the name again, louder this time. His companions moved with him through into the light; the next room was decorated with little dancing skeleton figurines, but Anthony was too panicked to be either afraid or amused. The girls started giggling.
‘Dad, Dad! Stop yelling!’ Tina said through her giggles, tugging on Anthony’s arm. Only then did he realise that he had been repeating Joey’s name over and over like a mantra. ‘Joey’s over there.’
She was pointing to a corner of the room, and sure enough the shadowy figure hiding there was a laughing, red-faced Joey.
‘Don’t you – don’t do that!’ Anthony scolded his son, feeling his terror rapidly subside. Spooky Shacks, he told himself. ‘Stick together, all of you. Stay with me.’
‘Don’t be scared, Dad. It’s only make-believe.’
Anthony sighed. ‘Of course it’s only make-believe, Joey. Now, let’s get out of here. There’s a merry-go-round I think you’ll love.’
‘Or a roller coaster!’ Molly cried, to the agreement of both Tina and Joey.
‘Yes,’ Anthony responded with distaste, ‘or a roller coaster.’