Scream Hollow by Author J.N. Powell
Outside of Austin, about an hour away in Smithville, on a lonely, remote road that leads to an even more lonely and remote plot of land, there is a magical place called Scream Hollow Wicked Halloween Park. Like the fairy land of Celtic lore that reveals itself at twilight, Scream Hollow is only open to visitors during the most magical month of all. October.
Last year, my friend Meghan visited me from Canada, and we decided to rendezvous in Austin for the Texas Book Festival. Despite her being terrified of haunted houses, I convinced her to accompany me to Scream Hollow in the dead of night, in their final hours of being open. She’s a really, really good friend.
Upon entrance, a black-lipped Goth Girl gifted us a single glow stick to light our way through the four haunted houses. This did nothing in terms of illumination; what it did was create a target for the haunters to follow, like a reverse anglerfish situation.
We challenged the Wicked Darkness Maze first, advertised as a place where the planes of reality and the paranormal commingle. Its intimidating entrance summoned to mind one word: Hell. Standing guard at its gate loomed a red-eyed demon, silent and staring. We laughed nervously and entered the black maw, squeezing through the inflated walls that simulated a demonic birth canal, and into a cold, cavernous expanse. Whispers and foot-shuffles followed our every move as we felt our way through the darkness, not unlike Clarice feeling her way through Buffalo Bill’s basement.
Meghan clung to my neck, my shoulders, my back, my hands, my arms, my waist, and probably my legs, too. She screamed for her life in my ears, which, of course, made me scream for mine tenfold. By the end of the night and our conquering of the four houses, we were sweaty, red-faced, and covered in dirt (we collapsed to the ground a time or two), chased by undead zombies, taunted by black-hooded ghouls, and stalked by a backwoods, chainsaw-wielding maniac. But we survived. WE SURVIVED.
Amidst all this terrifying horror, there was kindness. When I lost our glow stick, a noble and blood-covered clown gave us a new one. When Meghan’s frantic clinging opened my backpack and my wallet fell out, a chivalrous, homicidal mutant went searching for it on our behalf. Even a fanged rabbit-man offered to take a photo of us and then joined in for the world’s most epic selfie.
Surrounded by the screams of patrons lost in the Slaughterhouse and running for their lives in Zombie City, Meghan and I experienced something that people often forget when faced with the strange and unfamiliar. Beyond the mask, the disability, the “other,” there is a person.
It’s easy to let our fears get the better of us, but I hope that as I enjoy the spine-tingling joys of October, All Hallow’s Eve, and Dia de Los Muertos, I cling (as Meghan clinged) to what I learned at Scream Hollow, almost exactly one year ago: Behind every painted face and rubber disguise hides a human underneath.
What about you? When the doorbell rings and you open the door with candy in hand, is it a ‘what’ that you see? Or a ‘who’?
According to J.N., why small moments matter: Often we get caught up in the big moments and life-changing events—and we should because they're important—but that's not really where life exists. Life is found in the little things.
Bio: J.N. Powell is a teacher
and writer living in Midland, Texas. She is a Fiction Editor for James Gunn's
Ad Astra speculative fiction magazine, Submissions Editor for Clockhouse
literary journal, and book reviewer for Sci-Fi Movie Page. Her work has appeared
in Typehouse, The Overcast, and The Future Fire, and is forthcoming in the
Transcendent anthology from Transmundane Press. Read more of her work on her website.
Brave Tutu Note: I met Jalyn at the Permian Basin Writers' Workshop in Midland, Texas. She showed me true kindness and I was so impressed by her writing knowledge. I am thrilled to share her words and talent with Brave Tutu with this special Halloween piece. It’s scary good, right?
Your Brave Tutu (You’re brave, too-too!)
-Take courage in delight. Discover power
in small moments.