PALOUSE — The moon peeked from behind a ghastly wall of clouds. A cold breeze bit with the deathly chill of winter. And a clown decked in a yellow jumpsuit yelled at my car because I had dared to enter.
The scene was definitely set for spooks.
Last Friday night, I followed pitch black highways to the small Washington locale of Palouse, where the whole town had been taken over by zombies, ghosts and ax murderers for the 14th annual Haunted Palouse.
Just hours before I arrived with my friend Lindsay, I realized I’d never been to a haunted house before. And I was about to brave my way through two.
But I’m not someone who scares easily. As soon as I was old enough to watch scary movies, I laughed through them. I knew every startle was staged and all the blood was just corn syrup and food coloring, so all the horrors seemed silly and absurd.
Lindsay agreed it took a little more than a ghost story to spook her. So I vowed to keep a tally of every creep that made me jump and she vowed to chuckle at all of it, and off we jaunted to the night’s first freak show.
We got in line for the haunted hayride. Child-sized zombies staggered at us, dragging their limbs and staring into our souls with dead eyes. A headless horseman trotted up and down the street. Lindsay and I took note but mostly chatted about how our work weeks had been going.
Once we found our seats on a hay bale, the rickety ride jutted quickly into the night, leaving the downtown area behind and swiftly getting us lost on a dark forest path.
The trailer, loaded with college students, slowed as lights flashed on madmen and boys devoured by combines. Freddie Krueger greeted us with his murderous wave and I laughed, recalling the classic horror flick. A chainsaw murderer made his weapon wail, making me jump for the first time that night.
A very clever ghoul shouted, “Student loans!” Our college-aged comrades agreed he was the most frightful feature of the ride, and otherwise rated the fear factor at a 2, where a 10 would be crippling terror that leaves you crying in the fetal position for a week. Lindsay and I went on our way.
The first haunted house we approached was at the corner of East Whitman Street and North Beach Street, just a block off the main drag. We huddled in a winding line that moved us quickly to the entrance.
We were greeted by twin girls who must have been possessed and a fair amount of corpses. Bright lights flashed on ghosts as we trotted along. Spirits that could get no rest pounded at us from beneath the floorboards.
Lindsay was thrilled because a deranged circus performer let her throw a — plastic — knife at a dartboard where a doll had been pinned.
By the time we exited the building, my tally was up to two, but Lindsay and I had laughed through most of the spooky site. My very first haunted house earned about a 4 on the fear-factor scale.
Lindsay and I had a philosophical discussion about knowledge, wondering if we could be scared when we knew that we were entering a place meant precisely to scare us.
Then we landed at the second haunted house.
It looked unassuming. Palouse’s Newspaper and Printing Museum, situated along East Main Street, simply had black plastic covering the windows. The building otherwise appeared the same as it would in the daylight.
We entered and a woman in Victorian clothes had us sit on a bench before she kneeled and prayed for our souls.
What happened next was a blur. A disorienting, shocking, multi-sensory blur.
My silly tally of the things that made me jump was lost in the fearful scramble of all the things that made me jump.
Lindsay grabbed on tighter and tighter to my coat as I inched cautiously through the maze. She laughed, but it was nervous laughter, her tone lilting with unease.
At one point, I even screamed.
For the sake of those who dare to take on the terror, I’ll say no more than this: If you want to be scared, you will be.
If you go:
WHAT: Haunted Palouse
WHEN: The event starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31, and ends at 10 p.m.
WHERE: Various sites around downtown Palouse, 15 miles north of Moscow or Pullman
COST: $15 covers both haunted houses and haunted hayride