True confession time.
For a long time, all I ever wanted was to write a horror novel with such pop-culture resonance that it would be turned into a pinball machine.
I’ve seen the Hellraiser pinball game, so I knew that existed. To my knowledge, there’s never been a Stephen King novel turned into a pinball game, though it seems like a no-brainer. Imagine the It pinball game, with Pennywise the Clown popping up from underneath the sewers; or the Cujo pinball game, a slathering, rabies-stricken face with flippers for ears and growling, snarling sound effects–plus actual dialog from the movie (”Cujo…?”) Or for that matter, an H.P. Lovecraft game.
Hot, hot, hot, as Buster Poindexter might have said.
But I’m beyond all that now. My sensibilities, I’m pleased to say, have ripened. I’ll be turning forty in a couple of weeks, and in my artistic maturity, I’m proud to say that I no longer aspire to such casual fripperies.
Now I want to write a book that could be turned into a haunted house.
In the semi-rural area of central Pennsylvania where I live, there are several “haunted attractions” that open their doors this time of year. Most occupy large tracts of unused farmland whose layout offers the perfect combinations of cornfield and barns. In spring and summer these places offer fertile ground for paintball skirmishes. In the fall, they translate perfectly to that wonderful redheaded stepchild of American seasonal phenomena, the Spook Show. These places have names like Field of Screams and Jason’s Woods, and every year between haunted hayrides, they manage to lure a few second-tier horror movie celebrities out to sign autographs and pose for pictures. The local rock radio stations do a remote broadcast. Blood drips. A good time is had by all.
So I got to thinking, if I had an endless string of credit at Home Depot, access to unlimited resources and a loyal and unquestioning team of builders at my beck and call (many of my best ideas start with this opening conceit–it’s a kind of rallying call for the unconscious) what would I build?
There’s a wonderful Clive Barker story where a man with wealth beyond imagining builds a perfect replica of Hell, to tempt Satan into appearing. Not one to disappoint, his infernal majesty inevitably appears.
My own house of horrors would be slightly more modest. The toughest nut to crack would be deciding which book to choose. Imagine a No Doors, No Windows haunted house–a Shirley Jackson mansion whose dimensions are notably bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. A house where those who were brave enough to enter could wander without a chaperone through the hallways of its many levels, looking at the odd, unsettling curvature where the walls and ceilings don’t quite conjoin at ninety-degree angles. Where emptiness doesn’t feel quite empty, and old music crackles distantly down the hall. Where the scratching noises behind the red flocked wallpaper seem to get louder and more urgent. All very mild, really, until you realize that you’ve lost sight of the rest of your party, you don’t know how you got in there, and you have no idea how to get out.
Then there’s Death Troopers.
Somewhere, in an old issue of Starlog or Fangoria long lost to childhood, I remember reading about a guy out in LA who put together phenomenal movie-based haunted houses every year. In that particular year, he was doing an Alien-inspired house. I remember reading about how he went to carpet warehouses buying up the empty cardboard tubes to line the walls of his attraction with authentically futuristic power and water conduits.
Oh ho ho, I so wanted to be that guy.
Imagine stepping through a central Pennsylvania barn door, between two members of the 501st, and suddenly finding yourself inside an abandoned Star Destroyer. The familiar outside smells of October hay and pumpkins and cider are abruptly replaced by the odd, sterile combination of long-chain polymers, malfunctioning electronics and canned death. It’s silent in here. You can feel the harsh void of space pushing in, attacking the integrity of the ship. The Destroyer is vast around you, mirage of forced perspective. Endless concourses stretch out in front of you. Empty navigation suites, lights flashing against the darkness. The horrors of the medlab and what waits inside it, swinging from chains and not quite dead.
No, not dead at all.
As children we may lay on fields of green, staring up at the stars and dreaming, and men may dream of grander things. But this Halloween the boy and the man are dreaming of the same thing–a stretch of October road, a sign that says HAUNTED HOUSE, and an open door that dares you to step inside the world that I dreamed up for you, waiting.
End of confession.