Posted by jchambers on October 1st, 2012
I’m certain I’m not the only horror writer who’s ever wondered what they would do if they found themselves in the real-life equivalent of a chainsaw slasher flick. I’d venture, in fact, that this is something horror writers spend far more time considering than the average non-horror writer. We probably spend slightly more time thinking about this than figuring out our survival plan for a zombie apocalypse but not quite as much time as we spend imagining what we’d do if we were vampires. However, I think it’s also safe to say not many horror writers ever get to learn the answer firsthand.
This Halloween I want to say I know damn well what I’d do if I was being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac.
I came by the knowledge back in ’95, or maybe it was ’96. I was living in Boca Raton, Florida. I was writing and editing comic books for Tekno*Comix, and because I was a recent New York transplant, all my friends were work friends, which meant all my friends were writers and artists and other creative folks who loved books, comics, movies—and Halloween. This led to a few Halloween parties that now live in infamy, but my real-life brush with terror came about on a Halloween road trip.
We’d heard about a fantastic event put on by Universal Studios theme park. At that time it had been going on for only a few years. I think it was called Halloween Havoc, maybe Halloween Horror Nights, but the people we knew who’d been to it said it was not to be missed. Of course, a plan was hatched, a group gathered, and a date was set. But for reasons lost to the fog of memory, what should’ve been a large group (safety in numbers!) dwindled and fell apart until only I and my good friend Chris, a writer and editor from Maine, were left.
That October weekend, we set out on the long drive north to Orlando and spent the day at Universal Studios riding the rides and taking in the park. Chris and I had bought special tickets that allowed us to stay in the park between the daytime closing and the start of the Halloween festivities. The transformation was amazing. As the sun set and the park shifted gears, a strange mist rolled in and awkward shambling figures appeared down the path. The happy daylight place faded into a theme park that seemed to have sprung from the minds of Mario Bava and George Romero. Lurid lighting came on everywhere, zombies wandered in, the fog got thick—and the clowns, my god, the evil giant-headed clowns…!
By the time Chris and I started touring the various haunted houses and mazes, we were primed and ready for some good, fun scares. It was in the third haunted maze that the terror came.
Most haunted attractions fall well within my thresholds for acceptable jumps and frights. These haunted mazes were definitely a cut above, but not so intense they weren’t fun. That is, except for one stretch in the third maze that felt… different. Whether it was the decorations, or the deep darkness, or a feral growl in the sound effects at that point, I can’t say. When I started down that part of the maze, though, something about the horror show tweaked my anxiety to the red line, and all the stuff going on—the phony dripping blood, the recorded shrieks and screams, the flashing strobe lights—somehow became very real and very threatening.
That’s when three guys with chainsaws jumped out from behind me and Chris, revved the motors to a full kill-hack-kill roar, and rushed us from across the room
That little voice in my head laughing and repeating “it’s only a haunted attraction, it’s only a haunted attraction” wavered. An odd thought (a horror writer thought) occurred to me: What if some real chainsaw-wielding maniacs disguised as part of the show snuck in here so they could hack up some tourists? After all, these guys were coming at us fast and hard. Their chainsaws were LOUD, the roar unmistakably real, and I was confused because I figured they were using props. What pushed me over the edge was the sudden, acrid scent of gasoline and oil.
That smell—that’s when I knew the chainsaws weren’t props, and for the next fifteen seconds or so, I was convinced down to my bones that the guys chasing us were disgruntled employees, or backwoods maniacs on a daytrip, or local Satanists with the night off from working concessions at Disneyworld…
…and that they were going to kill me and Chris—Chris, who was in front of me, not frightened at all, oblivious to our impending doom—and even worse, blocking the only door out!
That’s when I learned the shocking, horrible truth of what I’d do when being chased by three chainsaw killers: I shoved Chris out of my way and ran.
Embarrassing, but true.
I’m convinced that the only reason that didn’t end my friendship with Chris is because afterward he got to make me feel like an idiot. See, Chris grew up in Maine near the woods and was well acquainted with how chainsaws work. I grew up in suburban Long Island and was well acquainted with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When I explained to Chris why I pushed him into a decapitated manikin and left him behind as maniac bait, he just shrugged and said, “Yeah, sure, the chainsaws were real. They took off the chains. Perfectly safe, and they can still rev the motors. You thought they left the chains on? That’s stupid.”
My secret is out, and fair warning: If you ever find yourself ahead of me in a dark place, and we’re being chased by three chainsaw-wielding killers…
…I will push you out of my way and run.
Welcome to Halloween Haunts 2012!
Those of you who were brave enough to spend Halloween with the horror writers on this blog last year have an idea of what to expect from Halloween Haunts. This year we have an even bigger lineup of posts, excerpts, and giveaways to make October fun and help horror readers connect with some of today’s top horror writers. Authors such as Linda Addison, Allyson Bird, Charles Day, Benjamin K. Ethridge, J.G. Faherty, Brad Hodson, Joe McKinney, Lisa Morton, Stefan Petrucha, John Skipp, Hugh Sterbakov, John D. Taff, Patrick Thomas, Rocky Wood, and many others have all contributed posts or interviews to bring you a daily dose of treats for this Halloween season. And if you’re a horror writer reading this and you’re not ye a member of the Horror Writers Association, I hope Halloween Haunts will entice you to check out the HWA and consider joining. The HWA offers writers many benefits, including mentoring, networking, market news, and professional resources, and it presents the annual Bram Stoker Awards®.
You can learn more about joining here: http://www.horror.org/joinhwa.htm.
Pulling together this year’s Halloween Haunts has been a great experience. It’s often said around the halls of horror conventions, and it’s very true: Horror writers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I want to thank all of the HWA members who contributed blog posts, excerpts, and giveaways this year as well the recipients of the 2011 Bram Stoker Awards who kindly gave us interviews. This event would not have been possible without the efforts and support of HWA President Rocky Wood, Lisa Morton, Brad Hodson, and Angel Leigh McCoy. A special thanks goes to Anita Siraki, who coordinated advertising and blog promotions, and Greg Chapman who designed the Halloween Haunts ads running in Bewitching Books, Daily Dead, Hellnotes, and Parajunkee, as well as the event Facebook banner. You can pick the banner up here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/james.chambers if you’d like to run it on your FB page. I encourage all members of the HWA to help spread the word about Halloween Haunts this month. I also want to extend thanks to Jonathan James at Daily Dead and Christopher Payne and David Silva at Hellnotes for their help and support in spreading the word.
Lastly, a few words to explain the giveaways. If an author is offering a giveaway with their post, it will be noted and the format specified (print or e-book). Enter for the prize by posting in the comments section. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail. You may enter once for each giveaway, and all entrants may be considered for other giveaways if they don’t win on the day they post. You may also enter by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and putting HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: James Chambers is giving away one signed paperback edition of The Engines of Sacrifice and one signed paperback two-pack of Corpse Fauna: The Dead Bear Witness and Corpse Fauna: Tears of Blood.
James Chambers’ tales of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines. In 2011 Dark Regions Press published his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice. Publisher’s Weekly described it as “chillingly evocative.” Most recently, Dark Quest Books has published his zombie novellas, The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, the first two volumes in the Corpse Fauna novella series; volume three, The Dead in Their Masses, is scheduled for publication in 2013. Chambers is also the author of the short story collections Resurrection House, published in 2009 by Dark Regions Press, and The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales with illustrator Jason Whitley. His stories have appeared in the award-winning anthology series Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future, and he has also written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House, and The Midnight Hour. He is online at: www.jameschambersonline.com.