I didn't really have much of a chance at being a normal, "go play with your friends" kind of kid. Aside from average kid growing pains and neuroses, I had the extra super-fun-happy-time bonus of obsessing about ghosts, bogeymen, spirits, and PURE EVIL at every turn.
I mean come on, let's take stock of my "Creepy Corner" pedigree by age 11:
- Grandfather was a zombie watcher
- Great-grandmother claimed to have "ghost-seeing eyes."
- My mother's family claimed to have lived with a ghost-seeing servant girl.
- Father claimed to have been haunted by his grandmother and an "evil spirit" masquerading as my grandfather.
- Mom claims a ghost threw her, and infant me, down the stairs.
- My family and I moved into a spooky house that among other things was "released" to us by the previous owners, had a left-behind terrifying doll collection in the basement, and had weird stuff -- scratchings, knockings, lights turning on and off, footsteps, shadows -- happening all the time.
Whether all this was real or not, by the time I was in the 5th grade, I was kind of warped. I got along well enough with other kids, by learning to conceal my macabre leanings (let us not forget the great "My Class Presentation on Extra Sensory Perception and Ghosts in the White House" debacle of 4th grade) and relegate it to "acceptable" levels of creepiness i.e., "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and "Drop Dead Fred."
My Kryptonite however, was the slumber party.
Get me with a group of girls, in a strange house, with all the lights off, and everyone else having dozed off even when they SWORE they'd stay up all night with me, and my ghosty-spooky imagination would go to work. Every creek, every shadow, every sleep-induced mumbling from a friend was evidence to me of the HORROR I knew lurked in every dark corner. I would typically spend the earliest hours of the morning sweating in a sleeping bag, engaged in an inner battle of whether to lie there alone in terror but a "normal kid," or wake up a friend and risk humiliation.
Then someone would suggest playing hide-and-seek in their wooded backyard, in the dark of night, and my horror would reach a new spectacular level.
Oh wait, you never played "Horrifying After Dark Hide-and-Seek in the Woods"? No? That's because it's THE STUFF NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF.
Elsa Small. She was THE coolest girl in the 5th grade, and she had invited ME to her birthday slumber party. "Be cool, be cool, be cool," was the mantra running in my head the moment I stepped into her house.
And things were going so well -- SO WELL -- until Elsa suggested, after playing "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board," that we play hide-and-seek.
"Hide-and-seek?" I remember asking, kind of surprised that the cool girls who experimented with make-up and listened to Smashing Pumpkins wanted to play hide-and-seek.
"It's SCARY hide-and-seek!" chimed in Elsa's best friend Gretchen. "There are all those trees in Elsa's backyard, and it's dark now, and it's REALLY FREAKY!" And with that, all the girls got giddy with excitement and tromped down the stairs to go run around in the dark and get "REALLY FREAKY."
I thought I might pee my pants.
My only hope, my last line of defense, was that Elsa's mom would stop a group of 10 hyper little girls from playing around in the dark at 10 o'clock at night. It was the WOODS for God's sake! (OK, fine, Elsa had a big backyard with lots of trees on the perimeter, but it sure LOOKED like THE WOODS to me.)
But Elsa's mom was OF COURSE a "cool mom" (the "cool moms" always intimidated me, I figured they could smell the geek on me too), and she just cheerily said, "Have fun! Be safe!" as she waved from the living room with her hippie friends.
So the game began. Gretchen was It. In the pitch black of the edges of the yard, she began counting and we scattered. I quickly realized that this "Hide-and-FREAK OUT" game was the realization of a number of my fears: the dark, being stalked, and paranoia that SOMETHING was out there waiting to get me. I wedged myself two, closely growing trees and a shrub, and felt my heart pound as I waited to either be found or DIE.
The best and worst news was that THEY FORGOT ME. The other girls just kept playing round after round without me being ever found.
It was the best, because I had the relief of getting to stand paralyzed and "safe" in my hiding place for the better part of 45 minutes. No having to pick my way through the creatures and villains that no doubt lay in wait for me to stumble upon them in the dark.
But it was also the worst because THEY FORGOT ME, and though I sort of liked being safe in my little nook, my creepy-senses started tingling and all the rustling branches, the loud sound of my own breath, and snapping twigs started to resemble the sounds of all the THINGS coming to get me.
You just can't win can you?
Eventually I heard Elsa say, "Wait…where's Louise?" and I sheepishly picked my way out of my hiding place. When I asked why I didn't EVER come out, I just smiled too big and laughed unnaturally, "Ha. Ha. Ha. I liked it." And that was my last Elsa Small slumber party. Thank God.
So when I heard about "The Great Horror Campout," my first thoughts were "WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO DO THAT?" and then "I might…"
But looking over the specs of the camp, if I went, I think I might have another "Hide-and-Freak Out" experience. Here's the lowdown:
The Great Horror Campout is this traveling camp that sets up in various cities in the U.S. Those strong of mind and bladder and can buy tickets for a "12-hour, overnight, interactive horror camping adventure."
According to the website, "It can be extreme horror adventure or a more mild horror adventure. It's completely up to the camper."
The "Lower Octane" adventure actually sounds pretty relaxed, even a tad dull. It includes "horror movies, roasting marshmallows, camp sing-a-longs, ghost story telling, arts & crafts." Apparently the part of the camp you wander into dictates the "level of engagement" you will experience. If you're in the "Yellow Tent Zone" or "Chicken Zone," you're safe to watch horror movies, make lanyards, and sing "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" to your (weak) heart's content. If you go into one of the "High Startle" or "Interactive, Highly Immersive Terror" zones, you are "Fair Game." These more immersive zones include, but are not limited to, all other sleeping tents, (so yeah they can enter your tent if you book a "scary tent"), the mess hall, and the bathrooms. Yeah, THE BATHROOMS.
If you think you might be able to handle the "High Octane or VERY EXTREME Horror Experience," this is part of what you could have in store for you:
It can get even more interactive for the campers who find themselves up to their eyeballs in the “Hell Hunt” where they will compete for the coveted title of “Hellmaster.” It will take strategy and cerebral game play to find the mandatory SCAG items. [SCAG = Sh*t Campers All Get -- it's a scavenger hunt.] Campers will bathe in the “Blood of A Popelick,” bow to “Lords” for a secret word, engage in voodoo rituals and much more. Throughout all of this our Camp Headmaster will continuously throw a wrench into their game with rule changes and spontaneous challenges that will slowly weed out the imposters and eventually expose the true “Hellmasters.”
And if you decide to join the "Hell Hunt" and look for SCAG, there is but one rule you need to remember:
We can change the rules. When we want, for any reason we want and without any notice. You’ll need to be listening for the camp announcements for the rule changes if you have any hope of escaping elimination.
And don't worry, campers, if it gets to be too much, just yell "I WANT MY MOMMY" and your marauders will retreat.
I know that all of this might be just a glorified amusement park fright fest, with the same jump-frights and college theatre students in lots of latex makeup (I regret nothing).
But the fact that it's all night, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., and that you sleep there adds an unrelenting quality to the festivities that might wear a person down. Did I mention that "kidnapping" is fair game?
Nowhere is "safe," you're always being watched, and even if you know it's fake, your mind might start playing tricks on you -- like mine did when I was standing in "the woods" at Elsa's house.
So as intriguing as it sounds I just don't think I could pay $99 or more for someone to play on my greatest fears/annoy me all night long. Could you?
Has anyone ever done this or something like it? The next ones are in San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and San Bernardino.
Who's going camping?
"Only the dawning sun will save you."