There resides a local legend in Salem, Alabama. One tucked far away in the corner of rural America. Far off the beaten path. Far from even the middle of nowhere. A legend that rears its head only once a year: Pope’s Haunted Farm.

For over twenty-five years, Pope’s has made a killing in my area. I’d call it a mom-and-pop Halloween stop, but Pope’s is so much more elaborate than that. Not to mention pricier. But the money is worth it.

I haven’t been since I was a kid, but I can still remember Pope’s being quite the set-up. It wasn’t just local drunks in clown masks either. I mean they had that too… but Pope’s offered something more. Tunnels full of billowing smoke. Rooms with distorted mirrors. Haunted trailers scattered about a dark, haunted forest. You get the idea. In addition to the obligatory jump scares, Pope’s gave you a harrowing atmosphere. You really felt like you were lost and disoriented on this terrifying farm. Trapped in a hillbilly nightmare.

And shit, in Columbus, Georgia, Pope’s was the closest place to get our Halloween kicks. It sounds crazy considering Columbus is ten times the size of Salem. But it’s true.

Pope’s was only a thirty mile drive. And there wasn’t anything else in Salem anyway. Just getting lost out in that rural wasteland would give you chills. I mean it’s nothing but empty fields and abandoned buildings. Honestly, they should’ve just called the “city” Popeland. But then again, Salem is a pretty appropriate name as well.

During October, my friends and I were serious about going the Friday before Halloween. But as the weeks rolled by, our crew fell apart one by one. Everyone bailed. Like they did every year.

By the time that fateful Friday arrived, all we had left were the reliables: Me, my girlfriend Veronica, and Veronica’s eighteen-year-old brother JJ. Veronica and I had been dating for well over a year, so the three of us had gotten pretty close by now. JJ didn’t mind being the third wheel either. Then again, why would he considering we supplied the alcohol and paid his way most of the time?

An hour before take-off, me, Veronica, and JJ were waiting on Veronica’s best friend Lauren. We’d already gotten a table at a Mexican restaurant. Pre-game for the show. This wasn’t even counting all the alcohol we already had stored in Veronica’s SUV.

Supposedly, Lauren and her boyfriend were gonna show… but they cancelled at the last minute. In epic bitch fashion, I might add.

Dejected, Veronica wondered if we should still go. It was already ten and they stopped selling tickets at eleven. And Salem was a twenty minute drive.

I pleaded with Veronica that we still had time. Salem was an hour behind us, I reminded her. We still had almost two hours to get tix.

And then like a message from the Halloween Gods, Veronica got a text from her other bestie Carty. Carty hadn’t hung out with us in months. Sure, her and Veronica had talked, but this came out of nowhere. And she actually wanted to go to Pope’s with us.

This surprised me since Carty wasn’t one for getting scared. Hell, she never even bothered going to horror movies with us. She was more like the romantic comedy type. But fuck it, she liked to drink and we now had a real group for the night’s festivities. Me and Veronica were Nicki fans but hey, we liked to party with Carty.

Around 10:30, the four of us left in Veronica’s SUV. I sat in the back with JJ while Veronica and Carty were up front. We had over an hour and a half to get tickets, so we took our time. Not for the scenic atmosphere. But to drink!

Me and JJ had a 12-pack to share. The girls countless mini-bottles of liquor. I didn’t know Carty all that well aside from our drunken nights spent at Outlaw’s and other bars, but she was always nice to me. From what I understand, her boyfriend Josh was a real douche though… I never pressed Veronica for more info, but the problems seemed to lean toward abuse. Either way, I was glad Carty came tonight. She mentioned just wanting to get away from Josh, so I was glad she joined. After all, getting scared is always more fun with a group.

We crossed the state line around 10:45. I was buzzed, and I was sure everyone else was. Veronica is thankfully an expert drunk driver though, so I wasn’t too worried about that. Not that it mattered much since no one else was on the road anyway. I mean not a single car.

I looked over and saw Veronica’s cell phone sitting in her lap. The GPS showed the address for Pope’s: 13 Farm Road.

As we got closer to our destination, I could feel the excitement growing inside both me and the car. I played my Halloween mix much to Veronica’s annoyance. Hey, at least everyone else was enjoying it.

Amidst the playlist of screaming sound effects and Halloween jams, I could tell Carty was nervous moreso from dread than excitement. Veronica teased her about it during the drive. And from my perspective, the booze didn’t seem to be helping Carty’s nerves any.

Veronica grinned at Carty. “Don’t be nervous. I got your back, girl.”

“You better!” Carty replied.

Smiling, I watched their playful banter. I didn’t wanna tell Carty this, but she was so fucked when we got there. Pope’s could sniff out fear faster than an intimidating convict. These kind of places made their money off people they could easily scare. If there weren’t any kids or pre-teens, Carty was gonna be the number one target.

I saw Veronica turn onto a dirt road. Sure, this was where the GPS was taking us, but somehow, it seemed weird. Unfamiliar. Then again, maybe I was just drunk. I remembered seeing the usual array of shit barns and trailers on the way to Pope’s. But out here, there was nothing. Just a dense forest. No one else seemed to care though, so I didn’t let it bother me. Even when I realized there were no other cars around us.

“Werewolves Of London” played on the radio, leading us all into a chorus of drunken howls. But it didn’t distract me from my unease. Why weren’t there any signs for Pope’s? They usually had weirdos walking around in costumes to guide you too.

JJ handed me another beer. “Hey, you want this?”

Grabbing the can, I looked over at Carty. She was quiet and gripping a mini-bottle like it was a weapon.

“Carty, just relax,” Veronica told her.

Carty let out a chuckle. An obvious nervous tic.

I leaned in toward Veronica. “How far away are we?”

Veronica stole a glance at her phone. Confusion hit her. “Shit. It says we’re already here.”

“What?”

Nervous, Veronica held her phone up. And she was right. Destination was supposed to be on the left.

“But I don’t see anything,” Veronica said. She looked out the windshield.

“That’s weird,” Carty said.

I followed Veronica’s gaze. The headlights only showed the desolate dirt road and surrounding forest.

A can being crushed startled me and Carty. I looked over to see JJ holding an empty can. At least, the situation wasn’t bothering him.

“Are we almost there?” JJ asked in a drunken, lackadaisical tone.

“You don’t remember how to get there?” Veronica asked me. She turned down the radio. A sign she meant business.

I looked out the windshield. “I don’t know, there should be a sign or something.”

“Oh my God!” Carty yelled in fright.

We all saw it up ahead. A small light waving on the left. A bright, glowing lantern shaped like a grinning pumpkin.

“That’s gotta be it,” Veronica said. She pulled in toward the light.

As we got closer, I saw Carty sink back in her seat faster than a child watching a scary movie.

I looked over and saw what scared her.

Holding the lantern, a lumbering clown stood near a dark side road. The road appeared to be a long dirt driveway.

Like a discount Pennywise, the clown wore ragged colorful clothing. As if he were from a 1930s circus. Or at least wearing apparel from that era. The lantern looked just as old. It was a handmade lantern… someone had carved it like it was a real pumpkin.

But it had to be the clown’s face that sent Carty into cardiac arrest. He had on a heavy mask. Faded red and white paint was all over it. His painted expression an indifferent glare. The fresh make-up around his mouth and eyes was pointed rather than round. At a circus, the man would’ve been fired for doing a half-ass job. But out here in the dark, he was fucking terrifying.

Uneasy, JJ leaned in toward Veronica. “You sure we should like pull over?”

Ignoring him, Veronica stopped near the clown and rolled down the window. “Hey there,” she said.

The man just stared at us like he was studying our crew. Dead silent.

“Is this Pope’s?” Veronica asked, doing her best to stifle her shaky voice.

No answer. Even the forest was totally silent. I heard no cars, no laughter. No screams. Not even a damn animal.

I leaned in closer to support Veronica. “The GPS took us here,” I said to the clown.

Instead of an answer, the clown just looked over at Carty. Like he was drawn to her obvious fear.

Terrified, Carty squirmed back in her seat.

“Hey!” Veronica demanded.

Moving slower than a mime, the clown confronted her.

“Where do we park?” Veronica said.

With startling quickness, the clown reached toward Veronica.

I started to lunge out my seat. “Hey, asshole!”

“Whoa, hold on!” a voice of obnoxious friendliness echoed toward us.

Startled, we all saw a blonde-haired man wrap an arm around the clown. The man looked to be in his 30s. He was dressed like an old carnival barker. Checkered vest and bow tie. Apparently, Popes’s theme this year was Great Depression-era carnivals.

The blonde had that look of an ultra friendly street performer. You know, a con artist. All fast talk and charisma, no sincerity. A permanent smile on his face.

Displeased, the clown didn’t show any sign of friendliness toward the man. He just kept his cold eyes on Carty.

“Hey, I’m Joey,” the blonde told us in a shit shooter tone. He squeezed the clown’s shoulder, further aggravating the masked man. “I’m sorry about Bozo here. He don’t talk too much.”

“No, that’s fine,” Veronica said.

Joey pointed down the side road. “Just pull on in there. Park anywhere you like.”

Hesitant, Veronica looked down the dark road. It looked bumpy and rough. More like a trail than a road. “It doesn’t look crowded.”

“No, y’all got here a little late!” Joey insisted. He leaned in closer. His face resembled an enthusiastic ventriloquist’s dummy. Like a walking cartoon. “But y’all still got a few more hours.” He turned his grin toward Carty. “It’s Friday night after all.”

Her discomfort obvious, Carty did her best to avoid looking at Joey’s beaming smile.

“Thanks,” Veronica said.

“If y’all need anything, just let me know,” Joey said. He grabbed the clown’s arm. “Let’s go, Bozo.”

The two “friends” made their way back toward the woods. They were a strange pairing. On totally opposite ends on the customer service archetypes.

Veronica looked over at me. “Well, we’re already here.”

“Yeah, let’s go!” JJ chimed in with drunken excitement.

Veronica faced Carty. “What do you think?”

Smiling, Carty pulled another mini-bottle from her bag. “Fuck it.”

We all laughed as Veronica turned onto the side road.

Our crew jumped with each bump the SUV hit. I noticed the darkness here stemmed not from anything supernatural, but from how the tall trees spiraled into one another to form a collective roof over the road.

Feeling buzzed, I stole a look back. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw a figure standing a few feet behind us. They watched us drive off, a great big smile on their face. An undeniable smile that had to be Joey’s.

Soon, we parked in a field that had been converted into a makeshift parking lot. A few scattered jack o’lanterns were the only source of light. Not optimal, but hey, the atmosphere was cool.

Not many people were left. I counted less than ten cars. Strange for a Friday night in October, I thought.

In the car, Veronica and Carty polished off their remaining mini-bottles. Needless to say, me and JJ were still lit. Hell, we all were. I reminded everyone they’d stop selling tickets soon, and we made our way out. The night was just getting started.

We walked up to the front entrance. It was just an old shed with Haunted Farm painted across the top of it. A small open window was the place’s makeshift ticket booth. Like the parking lot, this was so grass roots.

No one was in line. Behind the entrance gate, I could make out a conglomeration of sheds and old buildings. Needless to say, it was pretty dark. And empty. The looming forest surrounded us for miles. I guess the Haunted Farm was our closest avenue to civilization. And I wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

I wrapped my arm tight around Veronica. She giggled as she teased Carty about all the scary shit that awaited us. JJ’s drunken laughter blared through the night.

A cool breeze swept through our group, sending us chills. I held onto Veronica just to stay warm. All I had on was a hoodie… Pope’s had to be at least ten degrees cooler than Columbus.

At the “ticket booth,” a kind lady sold us our tix. I paid for everyone with cash. I didn’t mind as it was so much cheaper than I remembered!

“You came on a lucky night,” the lady told us. A lit jack o’lantern was the only light inside her shed.

The lady herself looked to be too young to be one of those senior citizen volunteers, but too old to be a minimum-wage coed. Regardless of her wrinkles and lack of make-up, she was quite cute. A nice smile plastered on her face. The jack o’lantern basked her in a favorable yet mysterious light. Just how she wanted it, I figured.

Like Joey, she wore the same strange 1930s carnival barker outfit. Even her name tag used a flashy font fit for that era’s marquees: FAY. HAUNTED FARM CURATOR.

“Why’s it our lucky night?” JJ chuckled.

With a wide smile that rivaled Joey’s, Fay handed him a ticket. “It’s half-price this weekend.”

“Shit, that’s crazy!” I blurted out.

Veronica gave me a light punch on the shoulder. “Patrick.”

Fay’s smile never vanished. “Just don’t use that language when you’re out there getting scared,” she teased.

“Oh, I won’t,” I responded.

“Yeah, right!” Veronica joked.

Everyone but Carty chuckled. Her nervous gaze stayed fixated on the haunted farm. Her look reminiscent of a terrified solider looking on at a battlefield.

Fay sat in her chair. “I’d recommend going through the barn first.” She motioned off toward the very back of the farm. Toward the woods. “Then save the haunted forest for last. They’re the last ones to close.”

“Awesome,” I commented.

Reverberating with drunken excitement, JJ was ready to lead the way. “Alright, let’s go!”

Veronica gave me a sloppy wet kiss. “You gone protect me?”

“I’ll do my best,” I quipped.

As if she sensed her fear, Fay looked right at Carty. “Is this your first time?”

Startled, Carty looked at her like a student who’d just been ambushed by a suspicious teacher. “Uh, yeah. I usually don’t do these sorts of things.”

“Why’d you tell her!” Veronica joked.

We all laughed. Fay’s laugh was pleasant if louder than all of ours combined.

“Well, you’ll have fun,” Fay told Carty. “This farm’s been here for years.”

“But they can’t like touch us, right?” the nervous Carty asked.

Confused, Fay stared right at Carty. “What do you mean?”

“Oh shit!” JJ joked.

Chuckling, Veronica wrapped an arm around Carty. “I got you, girlie!”

As we entered through the gate opening, Veronica did her best to comfort Carty. I suspected Veronica knew her efforts would be in vain, but she had to be the supportive best friend.

I stole a look back at Fay. But the booth was empty. The jack o’lantern’s light had been put out. I guess we really were the last customers.

I realized that like Joey, Fay resembled another caricature. Rather than a shit shooting barker, she reminded me of those gentle caretakers you see in the movies. You know the ones who either take care of cemeteries or oddball attractions like this.

Once we got to the farm, the breeze picked up. And so did the chills. I had flashbacks to my first trip to this farm. There was the large barn. The eerie stables. A cornfield populated by abandoned wagons and tall stalks. A small bathroom. Even a concessions stand positioned under a red tent. The whole area itself was lit up by nothing more than an army of jack o’lanterns.

We stopped next to a stable. Tall skeleton figurines and mannequins stood inside it. Most of them female. The sight was more glorious than a Halloween manger scene. 

Me, Veronica, and JJ enjoyed checking out the farm. On the other hand, Carty was scared shitless.

However, things still looked different to me. It felt different at least. I remembered Pope’s being a little more modern. There were vending machines, constant rock and party music blaring on the speakers. Here, the farm was quiet. Either Pope’s had downsized or they really were pushing this *AHS: Freak Show* shit four years too late.

I counted more workers than customers. More monsters than customers too. 

There was Joey lurking by the concession stand. He gave us that never-ending smile, practically begging us to come buy an overpriced drink. 

A few more carnies were near us as well. Their uniforms all just as outrageous Joey and Fay’s. I even saw a few kid carnies complete with their own little uniforms. One of them even had a cheesy carnival barker cane.

Then there were the “monsters.” Their masks were quite impressive. The place had everything from walking scarecrows to aliens to a tall werewolf. Most of them stayed in the shadows. Probably navigating through all the attractions, I figured. Either way, they seemed to enjoy gawking at us. Their way of pre-game intimidation.

Michael Myers popped up right next to Carty. The dude even carried a real butcher knife. This farm wasn’t fucking around.

Shrieking, Carty snatched JJ’s arm.

“That’s just gonna make Michael jealous,” I joked to her.

With that, Mikey stormed off into the forest.

“I think you’re the one pissing him off,” Veronica said to me.

Annoyed, Carty took a deep breath. “God, this shit is freaking me out, guys.”

“Yo, look over there!” JJ yelled.

We all turned to see our clown friend from earlier walking off into the cornfield. The lantern swung back-and-forth in his grip like a pendulum.

“Oh God!” Carty exclaimed.

“Looks like he’s waiting on us,” I joked in a mock-horror-host voice.

Like he heard me through the cold silence, Bozo stopped and faced us with that glaring mask. His staredown long and intense.

I noticed Carty’s grip squeeze the blood from JJ’s arm. His cringing face made it obvious.

“Hey, man!” I yelled to the clown in all my drunken obnoxious glory.

The clown held the lantern to his face and waved me over. Not a taunting wave. Like one a friendly neighbor gives you.

What the fuck, I thought…

Veronica gave me a deserved punch on the shoulder. “Chill, babe.”

“I am,” I replied. I looked back at the cornfield. But the clown was gone.

Emerging from the stable, a tall female skeleton staggered toward Carty. Apparently, they weren’t all mannequins and figurines.

Yelling with Final Girl lungs, Carty jumped back in fright.

“Shit!” I yelled.

Like a pleading mime, the female skeleton held her gloved hands out toward us. Her anguished skull mask stared back at me and Veronica. The eyes behind it even more pitiful. Sympathetic even.

“Hey, let’s go, man,” JJ said.

He led us toward the barn in a hurry.

Lagging behind, Veronica stared at the skeleton.

The skeleton woman stayed by the stable. But she kept her eyes on us. She extended a hand out toward Veronica in a timid gesture.

“Come on, Veronica!” JJ called to her.

I grabbed Veronica’s hand. “Let’s go.”

Together, we followed JJ and Carty. But neither of us could stop looking back at that melancholy skeleton. She wasn’t even trying to scare us. She wanted our attention.

The first few attractions were awesome. I loved the fucking barn. I’d forgotten just how huge it was… the thing was like a rickety barn on the outside and a warehouse of corridors on the inside. There were elaborate rooms full of smoke and fog. A clown section. Hospital operating tables. And yes, a guy with a chainsaw. But it all felt so cinematic. The motherfuckers even had a mental-asylum-breakdown scenario play out. The mummified woman holding a crying baby really got me… then again, it got everyone. I thought I even heard JJ screaming more than Carty. Even as veterans of the scare scene, me and Veronica couldn’t help it either. We fucking screamed like crazy too. I heard one of the carnies bark across the barn for me to stop cussing. But hey, I couldn’t help it.

Surprisingly, the “monsters” weren’t even the scariest part. They mostly stayed in their lane. None of them even really jumped out for cheap scares either. At least, they didn’t seem to be trying to. Most of the scares came from the atmosphere and situations which I can appreciate.

More of the same happened on the hayride through the haunted cornfield. The field’s dilapidated sheds housed all sorts of creepy scenes: seances, cult rituals, etc. The cornfield itself housed plenty of the “monsters” as well. Only none of them jumped out at us or ambushed us like I expected. I remembered Pope’s being known for that. What a pleasant surprise, I figured.

And the fucking scarecrows! Holy shit, we could never tell which were fake and which were “planted” until the carnie drove us right next to them. We screamed and screamed again. 

During the hayride, Carty was clinging to both Veronica and JJ’s arms, squeezing the life out of the siblings. I’m glad I had a corner seat. God knows, her screams were rupturing my eardrums bad enough as is.

And she’d been screaming all night. Like bees on honey, the “monsters” followed us around the entire time. They *gravitated* to Carty. Michael Myers in particular wouldn’t let up. Sure, they all kept their distance and didn’t touch us… they just stalked in the shadows. This was awesome for me and Veronica. And a total nightmare for Carty.

But something still bothered me inside. Sure, there were cars in the parking lot. *Some* cars. But where the fuck was everyone at? Wouldn’t employee parking be elsewhere?

Throughout the attractions, I only saw a family. Two middle-aged parents and their young son and daughter. Both the son and daughter wore glasses and black Halloween sweaters. They all looked like a bunch of suburbanites. A nuclear family straight out of a sitcom.

Like Carty, those kids didn’t have a chance. The “monsters” gravitated toward them. And all the Animatronic props seemed to specifically target them.

Together, their shrill screams formed a reoccurring soundtrack for the farm.

It was getting close to one A.M. by the time we were ready to embark on the haunted forest. We made our way up to the bathrooms for a quick piss break. And sure enough, Mikey Myers was following us. 

The jack o’lantern lighting shined off his vicious knife. I noticed the light also illuminated his scarred, craggy hands. So many cuts and scars ran along the man’s thick fingers. None of the wounds looked fake either.

At least, he kept about a five foot distance between us. Not that that helped Carty’s nerves any. Anxious, she kept glancing back like a squad car was trailing her.

I looked around for the sitcom family, but they were now gone. Come to think of it, they weren’t on the hayride either. Maybe they left early? Apparently, like all the other damn customers had. 

So now here we were. Just us, the workers. And the creatures of Pope’s farm.

“Who’s ready for the haunted forest?” I asked.

“The final attraction,” JJ said with a smile.

Veronica chuckled.

Shivering, Carty zipped up her jacket.

As we kept walking, Veronica pulled me in closer. Her seductive smile caught my eye. We shared another kiss.

Grinning, I looked back. No monsters were behind us now. Not even Michael.

“Hey, I think we’re safe now, Carty,” I joked.

The bathrooms were surprisingly clean. Too clean… especially for a haunted farm. Then again, judging by tonight’s showing, they must’ve been hardly used. 

JJ and I each took a beer-powered piss. I walked up to the mirror and tried to straighten my hair. Unlike the rest of the farm, at least the bathroom had real lighting. Loud, humming bulbs lit it up like a clinical lab.

JJ headed for the door. “I’ll be outside.”

“Alright,” I replied.

I was all alone. Right before I was gonna leave, the bathroom door swung open. I turned to see the werewolf stop in front of the doorway. The tall dude was dressed in black robes, his face disguised by a furry mask. Big ears, long snout.

Scared by the sudden entrance, I staggered back. “Whoa, you scared me,” I said with a smile.

The wolfman just stood there. His dark eyes looked on at me, never blinking.

“Nice mask,” I added.

And then the werewolf walked into one of the stalls.

I watched him close the door and lock it. An overpowering stream of urine was heard hitting the toilet water.

All I saw was his wild hair sticking up above the stall walls. The crazy fucker left his mask on. Hopefully, he wouldn’t piss on himself.

Then another stall door opened up and out walked Michael Myers. The *same* Michael Myers we just saw earlier. His scarred hand still held that long knife.

Uneasy, I watched him march up to me. He’d never taken his mask off either. And right now his stoic eyes were marking me. Just like the blade was.

As he got closer, Mikey raised the sharp knife. His other  cut-up hand reached out toward me.

Fuck it. I hate to admit when I’m scared, but right then I was terrified. I bolted for the door, leaving the restroom in a hurry.

Outside, Veronica and them were waiting. 

Concerned, Veronica grabbed my shoulder. “Hey, are you okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah.” Turning, I looked back at the bathroom. To my relief, Michael hadn’t followed me out. “I’m fine.”

“Let’s go to the haunted trail before they close,” JJ said.

Carty took a deep breath. “The last one, right?”

Chuckling, Veronica hugged her. “We’ll make it.”

The three of them walked toward the trail. 

The haunted forest’s banner showed cackling monster faces and jack o’lanterns amongst all the other Halloween caricatures. All of them were on the banner’s canvas of an illustrated forest.

I looked over at the bathroom for a moment. But no one ever came out. No wolfman. No Michael Myers.

“Come on, Patrick!” I heard Veronica yell.

Nervous, I followed after them. There was no point in being alone… especially if any of those motherfuckers ever came out the bathroom. Besides. We still had the haunted forest after all.

We made our way onto the haunted trail. No one was there to take a ticket or anything. No lines. Only the jack o’lanterns and our phones gave us any light.

Amidst the darkness, we navigated through an array of scattered decorations. Hanging skulls. Plastic bats. Fake bloodied limbs.

I stumbled on the uneven dirt trail. I felt drunker and sicker by the second. Thank God, Veronica and JJ helped keep me balanced.

“Drunkass,” Veronica joked.

“Where are we supposed to go?” I asked her.

Gazing around the forest, I didn’t see any “monsters.” No Michael Myers. Not even any animatronic jump scares. It was just us lost in the wilderness. A *Blair Witch Project* theme, I wondered.

“Just follow the path,” Veronica said.

Walking in the middle of all of us, Carty never said a word. 

Her timid fear had somehow gotten worse.

I thought I heard footsteps near us. A cluster of footsteps. “Did you hear that?” I asked.

“Babe, shut up,” Veronica said.

“Well, where the fuck are we supposed to go!” I yelled.

More footsteps and heavy breathing swept toward me like a gust of wind. I searched around the dark forest but I couldn’t see shit. And maybe that was for the best.

“Dude, chill!” said JJ.

Like a quivering child, Carty cuddled up next to Veronica.

“Hey, it’s cool,” Veronica comforted Carty. She wrapped her arm around Carty. “It’s okay.”

Up ahead, we saw a trailer. A single wide piece of shit right in the middle of our path. Like Pope’s Haunted Farm’s most disturbed residents had decided to move onto the property for good.

A fake graveyard lined up in front of it. Or at least I hoped it was fake. The trailer’s door was wide open. Strobe lights flickered inside.

Veronica smiled at Carty. “You ready?”

“Yeah, protect me, girl,” Carty pleaded.

Lagging behind them, I heard more soft footsteps coming from the woods.

I looked all around me. But I saw nothing. Maybe this was all just a normal haunted trail, after all. A really, *really* elaborate one. Or maybe I was just drunk?

Creeped out, I ran after the others. “Hey, wait up!”

We stepped inside the trailer. It was hard to see much through the hypnotic strobe lights. Even the random strands of orange Halloween lights didn’t help much. Neither did the sign off noise blaring on one of those old hundred-pound T.V.s.

Everything was staged like a redneck haunted trailer. Blood spelled out RUN and SCREAM on the walls. Fake (hopefully) animal carcasses were scattered about like trophies. 

Positioned like a torch, a large hatchet stuck out of a corner wall.

I would say the empty longnecks and cans littering the floor reminded me of Veronica’s SUV. But not when these bad boys were filled to the brim with thick red blood.

Disoriented, we all staggered around in this trailer of terror. We weren’t sure where to go… all I could see was a narrow doorway in the back. I felt like we’d entered a funhouse fueled by psychedelics and pure evil.

“Just hang onto me,” I heard Veronica tell Carty.

JJ nearly stumbled over a busted coffee table.

Taking his drunken lead, I bumped into a recliner. My hand fell into a huge tear. The soft, fluffy fabric stuck to my fingertips.

“Shit,” I muttered. I shielded my eyes from the blinding lights as I leaned up from the recliner.

A gloved hand snatched my wrist.

Crying out, I looked on at the female skeleton. She’d been sitting there this entire time. The tormented expression on her mask focused on me. And she wasn’t letting go.

“What the fuck!” I screamed. I tried to pull away from her tight grip.

“Patrick!” I heard Veronica yell.

JJ rushed toward me. “What happened?”

With the methodical slowness of Dracula rising from his coffin, the female skeleton stood up off the recliner.

JJ jumped back, horrified. “Oh fuck!”

Carty screamed.

I kept struggling to break away from the skeleton. “She won’t let go!” I yelled.

And all the skeleton did was stare at me. The mask may have been fake. But the desperate emotion in her eyes wasn’t. She wanted me to stay.

Before Veronica could reach me, I heard more movement swirl around us.

“What the fuck!” JJ yelled.

Appearing out of nowhere, a swarm of masked “monsters” emerged from the strobe lights.

Much to my horror, I realized the living room had quite a few torn couches and loveseats. The costumed creatures had been around us the entire time. Waiting.

There was the clown, a scarecrow. Even a small bat creature boy and a gill-monster little girl. They both resembled children who’d been created on Dr. Moreau’s island of animal hybrids.

I could hear Carty’s frantic screams over the T.V.’s sign off noise.

The monsters ambushed my friends. They grabbed at them and tried to pull them closer. The clown grabbed Veronica’s arm.

And the creatures never said a word. They weren’t even pretending to scare us with sudden screams or movement. This was an outright attack.

“Let go of her, asshole!” I screamed at Bozo.

Panicking, stumbled against the coffee table, knocking that piece of shit straight into the T.V.

An explosion of sparks and shattered glass erupted. At least, that Goddamn blaring noise was over. Now I heard Carty weeping.

“Veronica!” I screamed.

I saw Carty run toward the back doorway.

“Wait, Carty!” Veronica yelled after her.

In a desperate yank, JJ unplugged the strobe lights.

And then the skeleton pulled me in right up to her. I was nose-to-nose with her unnerving mask. And I could hear her speak to me. A muffled voice.

“What…” I muttered.

“Let go of him!” Veronica screamed.

A whack to the head sent the skeleton back onto the recliner. Her body still.

I turned to see Veronica wielding a piece of the coffee table. “Come on!” she commanded.

JJ rushed up to us.

Facing all the monsters, Veronica kept them at bay with the stick.

“Where’s Carty!” JJ asked.

Veronica motioned toward the narrow doorway in the back. “She ran that way!”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the skeleton. There was something off about her. My drunken curiosity got the best of me.

Veronica tried to pull me off to the other room. “Let’s go!”

But I had to see. I broke away from my girlfriend and reached toward the skeleton’s mask.

“Patrick!” Veronica yelled.

“Let’s go, man!” JJ begged.

I grabbed the mask and tugged. The skull face wouldn’t come off easy. As if she’d attached it straight to her flesh through plastic surgery.

“Patrick, Goddammit!” I heard Veronica plead.

Using both hands, I yanked off the mask. It slid off the woman’s face like an unraveling curtain.

I stared at the sight before me, stunned. “Holy shit…”

JJ and Veronica leaned in toward me.

Under the skull face was Fay. Fay the ticket booth lady. The farm’s “curator.” She was knocked unconscious. But beneath all the slices and gashes, her identity was unmistakable. Her mouth had been sewn shut with crude precision. Sewn tight to form a weak smile.

“Oh my God!” Veronica yelled. “That’s the lady at the booth.”

Popping up like an apparition, the clown reached out and grabbed JJ’s shoulder. Screaming, JJ watched the clown hold the lantern up to his frightened face.

Like a warrior, Veronica wielded the stick toward them. “Let him go!”

I noticed the two creepy kids approaching us in a methodical march.

JJ struggled with the clown. “Let go, man!” JJ’s frenetic hands grabbed at Bozo’s mask.

The mask slid off in his grasp. JJ stared at the face beneath it, stunned. The clown’s real face.

Joey. The blonde employee.

“No fucking way…” JJ mumbled.

Shocked, Veronica and I looked on at Joey. Like Fay, there were slices all over his face. His mouth sewn shut to form a permanent smile.

With wide eyes, Joey kept trying to talk to us. His attempt desperate but futile. All we could hear were muffled cries.

“I’m sorry,” JJ said. He held Joey back. “I’m fucking sorry, man…”

Together, the three of us stared at Joey and all the masked monsters.

Keeping their distance, they held their arms out toward us. They made no attempt to scare. Just a plea for help. Their chorus of muffled voices echoed through the room.

“Let’s just go!” JJ yelled. “Fuck this shit!”

Calm, the bat-creature boy walked up to me.

I looked down at his creepy bat face. I made the choice right then and there. I had to see more.

Determined, I ripped off the mask and dropped it in horror.

The suburban boy was wearing this outfit. The little boy we saw earlier. He still had his glasses on… the glasses the only thing not desecrated on his innocent face. There were slices all over him. His mouth nothing more than a stitched grin.

Tears slid all down his face, intermingling with the fresh blood. His cries and whimpers subdued by that nasty sewing job.

Veronica forced me back. “Patrick, please.” She grabbed the boy’s shoulder. “We’re gonna get you help, okay. Just wait right here!”

Still traumatized by the sight of the wounded child, I let Veronica and JJ lead me to the door.

The boy, Joey, and the other monsters stumbled after us. Their arms outstretched for help. They were desperate like a group of starving orphans.

“I’m sorry!” Veronica said to them.

We ran through the doorway.

I turned and saw the creatures getting closer. They needed us. We were their salvation. But we had to get the fuck off this farm.

Combined with the ferocious footsteps, I could hear their tortured cries. Their muffled sobs.

Grabbing the door, Veronica looked on at the pitiful onslaught. “I’m sorry,” she said.

With that, Veronica closed the door. JJ locked it.

We heard a flurry of claws and scratches hit the door. The prisoners of Pope’s Haunted Farm were trying to get in.

The door rattled but didn’t budge. Not yet at least.

“What the Hell happened to them?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Veronica replied. She tightly gripped the wooden stick. Our only weapon.

We turned and looked around the room. We were in a barren bedroom. The only thing in here was a small mattress on the floor. Countless cuts and tears all over it.

“Hey!” JJ yelled. He pointed us to an open door in the back. Beyond it was the forest and trail. Our way out.

“Where’s Carty?” Veronica asked.

And then we heard soft sobbing. A tortured weeping with the devastating power of sad classical music.

All of our eyes looked toward a dark corner. There, a sobbing Carty was crouched on the ground, turned away from us.

“Carty,” Veronica said.

Cautious, we approached the weeping mess lying before us.

“It’s just us, Carty,” Veronica continued.

Like a cowering child, Carty remained turned away from us. Still sobbing.

“Carty,” Veronica said. She placed a hand on Carty’s shoulder.

In a frenzied turn, Carty shoved her hand away. “Don’t fucking touch me!” she screamed.

All of us staggered back in fear.

Carty’s eyes were shut. Not by stitches but by her own willpower. She wasn’t opening them and yet tears kept flooding out like water seeping from a cracking dam.

Choking up, Carty pointed right at us. As if she could sense where we were. “Don’t touch me, Josh!”

“Carty, Josh isn’t here,” Veronica said.

“Don’t touch me, asshole!”

“Carty-”

Like a patient reaching their breaking point, Carty stood up with ferocity. “You’re not touching me again, you sick fuck!”

Veronica grabbed Carty by the shoulders. “Goddammit, Carty-”

Crying out, Carty gave Veronica a harsh shove.

“Shit!” I yelled. I grabbed Veronica before she could stumble to the ground.

“You’re not hitting me, asshole!” Carty continued. “I’m not your little whore, you hear me!”

Each of us were stunned by the outburst. This wasn’t party with Carty. Or frightened Carty. This was Carty on a rampage. She had the Hellfire and brimstone of a blind preacher. Only her anger was powerful. Like it was conjured up from her deepest, most painful memories. Memories she couldn’t escape.

“You rapist fuck! You sick fuck! Goddamn you, Josh!” Carty erupted in a battle cry. Even with her eyes shut, her raw emotion was well on display. Rage on overdrive. “You fucking pig! Dickless swine! I’ll kill you! I’ll fucking kill you!”

I looked over at Veronica, scared shitless.

Carty stopped crying but her eyes stayed shut. “Burn in Hell!” she screamed.

Veronica stepped toward her. “Carty-”

The door to the living room burst open with a roaring thud.

Veronica and I turned to see Joey leading the monsters inside. Their desperate eyes fixated on us.

A loud scream shattered us from the sight.

We turned just in time to see Carty run out the back door. Running faster than I ever knew she was capable of. Faster than I knew any human was capable of.

“Carty!” Veronica yelled.

“Run!” JJ screamed.

Together, we bolted outside.

And there we were. Back on the trail. There was no sign of Carty anywhere amongst the jack o’lantern lighting. She was gone without a trace… except for her disturbed screaming echoing all around us like a banshee’s wail.

Veronica stopped and looked around, desperately in search of her friend. “Oh God…”

The screams blared through the night. Rather than Carty’s scared screams from earlier, these were wilder and crazier. They weren’t from the joy of getting scared. They were from a ravaged soul.

I turned and looked back. Joey and the others were now outside. They were getting closer and closer.

“We’ve gotta go, babe!” I said to Veronica.

Tears falling down her face, Veronica looked at me. “But what about Carty!”

“There’s no time.” I gave Veronica a tender kiss. One full of genuine affection. Like it was our last kiss. And at the time, I thought it would be. 

“We gotta fucking go!” JJ said.

Footsteps erupted from the forest.

Alarmed, we turned and saw the workers descending upon us. The barkers and carnies. They were all smiling. All of them holding sharp knives and hatchets. This wasn’t part of the Pope theatrics. This was something else. Something deadly.

“Run!” JJ screamed.

We took off down the haunted trail. With the terrible lighting, we just stayed focused on the spiraling path before us. All the while, we did our best to ignore Carty’s agonizing screams… but I could tell it was upsetting Veronica.

I grabbed a hold of Veronica’s hand in a firm, supportive grip. 

And like a gorgeous mirage, we saw the farm up ahead. The front gate. The ticket booth.

Exhausted, I stole a look back. I saw nothing behind us. No carnies. No Joey. No costumes.

“I think we’re okay,” I said.

“Fuck that, just keep going,” Veronica commented.

In a burst of anger, JJ kicked one of the jack o’lanterns off into the woods. The orange behemoth smashed into the shrubbery. The flame from its candle started a small campfire.

Carty’s painful screams erupted once more. They sounded so far away now. And Carty sounded like she was enduring more suffering than any of us wanted to imagine.

I squeezed Veronica’s hand. She avoided eye contact with me. Out the corner of my eye, I saw her swipe away tears.

Finally, we left the haunted forest. The sheer force of our frantic running blew the trail’s banner down.

I saw it hit the ground. All those cartoony grins mocked me like an evil taunt.

I felt relief wash over me once we reached the front gate. For once, we were out of earshot of Carty’s cries. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. But at least we weren’t constantly being reminded of the fact that one of our friends was gone and suffering in immense pain.

Right before we reached the parking lot, Fay emerged from the ticket booth. She still had her uniform on. And her mouth wasn’t sewn shut. No cuts on her face. No skeleton costume. 

Instead, a harsh glare contrasted her continual smile. Her expression itself hadn’t changed much from earlier. Like her face was an illustrated recreation of every cheesy carnival barker cliche.

Moving swiftly, she stopped right in front of us. The sight of a large scalpel in her hands made us all come to a nervous stop.

“Where do you think y’all are going?” Fay asked in her polite tone. She hoisted up the blood-stained scalpel. The blade was rusty yet still oh so sharp. Her weapon of choice over God knows how many years. “No one ever wants to leave my haunted farm.”

“Ain’t that right, Fay,” an eager voice exclaimed behind us.

Startled, we turned to see Joey closing in on us. He too held an all too often used scalpel. And like Fay, there were no marks on him. His playful expression hadn’t changed either. Neither had his confident smile.

Joey put the weapon to my face. “Now why would y’all wanna leave now?”

Carty’s screams echoed from the dark forest.

Horrified, Veronica and I looked off at the woods. Beyond the trees was our friend. Lost somewhere in that void of darkness.

Joey waved the scalpel at JJ’s petrified face.

“Your friend ain’t gonna leave now,” Joey teased. “Y’all hear her out there!” He leaned in closer toward JJ. “So why don’t y’all come join her?”

Crying out, Veronica hurled the stick back and whacked Joey straight in the face. Her battle cry was as startling as that ferocious THWACK. I’d seen Veronica pissed. But never *violent.*

Joey’s entire face dangled off. His flesh hanging on by a thread.

Horrified, we all looked at Joey as he confronted us.

Beneath the flesh was the clown. Bozo. The clown we saw earlier. Only now he was ten times scarier. His red make-up was clearly made from blood. His teeth nothing but black fangs. The blackest eyes you’d ever see. Pointed ears. What we saw earlier was nothing more than a mask. This was a real face. 

I knew the real Joey was somewhere trapped back in the woods. What stood before us now was a monster.

With a smile of fangs, the clown tore off the rest of the “Joey” mask and hurled it to the ground.

I glanced down. The mask laid there in the dirt, staring right at me. Like a piece from a busted sculpture. And still the mask’s features never changed. The smile was still there. And it would always be there. Just like the rest of the mask’s plastic features.

Ferocious, Veronica gave the monster another whack.

The clown fell back to the ground. Right next to the mask.

Veronica pulled on my arm. “Let’s go!”

We whirled around and saw Fay just a few feet away. Well, what used to be Fay. In one hand, she held the scalpel. In the other, a plastic mask with that fake smile and even faker features. She was holding the Fay mask.

What actually was Fay was a horrific moldy female skeleton. A face similar to the one that the real Fay had been forced to wear. Only this one was grimier and nastier. A skeleton with remnants of flesh still stuck around her eye sockets and mouth.

The skeleton cackled at us. Black ooze poured out of her mouth, accompanying her unnerving laughter.

“What the fuck…” JJ exclaimed.

Lurching forward, the skeleton swung the scalpel right at JJ.

Before the blade could slice into his vulnerable flesh, Veronica took charge.

One hit to the skeleton’s leg sent her to the ground. The impact bashed her “leg” in. Beneath the plastic skin, real bone could be seen. And like the skull, the bone looked rotten. Like it’d been excavated from a centuries-old grave.

Veronica shoved JJ toward the parking lot. The final run for our lives had commenced. We hauled ass straight toward the SUV. As fast as we could.

I gave one last look back at the haunted farm. The site of my dreams and nightmares. A cherished childhood landmark that was now a fucking freakshow. A *terrifying* fucking freakshow.

Thankfully (and somehow), none of the cars in the parking lot had been damaged.

Veronica tossed her stick to the ground. Moving quick, me and her hopped into the SUV’s front seats, JJ in the back.

Veronica cranked the car and floored it down the side road. 

In a thunderous roar, my Halloween mix came back on. “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads.

With a harsh turn on the volume knob, Veronica killed the radio. She kept her focus on the road. All of us sat in tense silence.

Even with just the headlights on, I could see dirt and dust scatter about everywhere. We jumped out of our seats with every harsh bump this fucking road had to offer. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. There was nothing to talk about for now. We just needed to get away from Pope’s Haunted Farm.

And all the while, I couldn’t shake the disturbing sights of what we’d witnessed. The farm’s monsters really weren’t monsters. They were prisoners. And as for Popes’s other employees. Well. Y’all know what they really were. They wore the cleverest costumes of all: human beings.

Veronica turned back onto Farm Road. We rode off into the night. Back to civilization.

Veronica’s stern command broke through our shared silence. “Call the police.”

Hours later, the police took us back to Pope’s. Only we ended up somewhere different. Somewhere on Farm Road. Not that odd dirt driveway. This Pope’s looked familiar to me. This was the one I went to as a kid. Everything looked old on purpose. 

The barns and stables, all of it wreaked of artificial creepiness. And they even had vending machines.

There wasn’t anyone there. Granted, it was four in the morning, so we ended up calling the owners and woke them up. To our stunned horror, the place had stopped selling tickets at eleven eastern standard time. Not central like I had thought. We bought our tickets well after eleven. The owners told us it wasn’t possible for us to get in that late…

Later on, a few Pope’s workers showed up. They didn’t recognize us, and we didn’t recognize them. There was no Fay, no Joey. And most importantly, no Carty.

We managed to convince the skeptical police officers to take us to that side road. The haunted farm’s driveway. But when we got there, there was nothing. Just a derelict piece of overgrown property. Hell, the stables weren’t even there. 

I listened for Carty’s screams. All I got was serene silence. 

Morning arrived, and there was still nothing. Everybody thought we were crazy or playing some sort of prank. When Carty didn’t show up, we became suspects.

Over the next few days, Josh kept harassing us. Of course, the police had his back. He was “the grieving boyfriend” in all this. Even though whatever the farm had made Carty see, whatever horrific flashback she re-experienced, stemmed from that piece of shit.

And now today’s Halloween. Me, Veronica, and JJ originally planned to stay in and binge watch the Freddy movies (I got my fix for Michael at the farm). But something strange arrived in Veronica’s mail this morning.

A flyer. Not a flyer for Pope’s Haunted Farm. It just said Haunted Farm. Tickets for sale until midnight. 

Amongst the flyer’s terrifying images of the clown, Michael Myers, and the little gill-monster girl was a new monster: a Vampire Bride.

I didn’t even have to tell JJ or Veronica who it was. Beneath the pale make-up and blood stains, we recognized Carty. I even saw a faint outline of stitches running across her mouth. The crazy thing is people would probably believe it was all just part of her costume.

And deep down in my sickened gut, I knew there would be an employee there that’d look just like Carty. But they sure as Hell wouldn’t be her.

We took the flyer over to the police. Not to our surprise, they shunned us. They chocked it all up to PhotoShop. The sheriff in particular told me he’d be talking to me real soon. He suggested I get a lawyer… fucking clown.

So our Halloween plans have changed. The three of us are now about to leave the house. We’re going back to the Haunted Farm after all. I suspect we’ll find it again. But this time, we’ll be prepared. We’re bringing a Hell of a lot more than a piece off a broken coffee table. We’re determined to bring Carty back. At all costs.

And just in case we don’t make it back, I want to give everyone a final warning. I want to warn y’all about that place in Salem, Alabama. It’s fucking scary. It’s fucking real. It’s fucking dangerous. And it’s not Pope’s. 

Happy Halloween, everyone. I hope to see y’all soon.