- PHOTO BY CLEMENTINE GRAY
- CREEPY!: Dead children freak out the man-beard-girl outside the haunted house!
It’s noon on the most gloriously sunny Saturday, Oct. 27, and I’m about to embark on the haunted Halloween ghost tour at the Point San Luis Lighthouse, near Avila Beach. The beaming sunshine doesn’t bode well for creating a haunting atmosphere.
I am the worst person for horror. I hate it. I do like Halloween, though, as I really like Reese’s Cups and they do them in a fun novelty pumpkin shape, which is right up my street. Anyway, fears aside, I board the lighthouse trolley, where a lady with a blue net over her head and a sign saying “catch of the day” is our trolley host. She is directing us to the charming pre-scare snacks: apple cider and edible spiders. Discussing the treats means I make friends with a trio of ladies, and this means I have someone to sit next to on the trolley up to the lighthouse, and that’s nothing to be sniffed at on a haunted house tour!
The lady wearing the net over her head gives us a brief history of the lighthouse on the trolley. Built in 1890, it has been painstakingly restored due to the excellent work of the Point San Luis Lighthouse nonprofit corporation. Luckily, and most unexpectedly, the last girl who lived in the lighthouse is on board our trolley! Spooky! She left when she was 5, but we all want to press her for horror stories from the house. Well, I want to but, she’s sitting five seats ahead of me, and I don’t have a handy novelty skeleton hand with which to prod her and ask. So I content myself with looking at the spider decorations that plaster the trolley and talking to our driver, who has a gloriously crafted handlebar mustache. I don’t know if it’s part of his costume or everyday attire, but the good news, he tells me, is I just have to apply handlebar wax every morning and soon I can have one just like his!! I’m not sure if this is a compliment or a horrible case of mistaken gender identity. Ah well, it’s Halloween! And this year, I am a man-beard-girl!
As we’re arriving at the lighthouse, a host of zombies is staggering up from the dramatic coastline to greet us. I giggle nervously. I don’t like zombies, but at least it’s daylight and thankfully, one attacks another member of the tour, wrestling him to the ground where they flail their legs in the air, and the zombie is eating his stomach? I don’t know, but I think the victim is an actor. No one stops to help him, but maybe that’s how things go in zombie films. I wouldn’t know, as I never watch them. I rue the day I switched off Shaun of the Dead. I want to curse loudly, but I can’t as there are small children and my sense of British politeness always prevents a rollicking swear word in public. I step over the zombie and his victim.
We are now split into three groups, each led by a demon guide. Mine is a grim reaper, with face paint and long skirts. We are climbing the steps of the lighthouse tower whilst the grim reaper is kindly explaining the mechanics of the lighthouse workings. My eye is caught by two children by the cliffs, clutching teddy bears. They are slowly turning around and look very pasty—like me, with my white English skin here in California, only I don’t have a bloodstain … oh phew! It’s just more creepy child actors! Off we walk into the adjacent haunted house, which is blacked out and very hot, and there is a lady singing over a plate of liver in the candlelit kitchen. It is very dark, but luckily her baby has bright red eyes! She rushes up to me and asks, “Did you drop my baby? He SAID you did!” I am scared and say, “No. I think it was the man next to me.” This is tactical and clever, as attention is diverted to the burly man who is taller than this horrifying witch lady, and thus far trickier to intimidate. I don’t like the smell of the liver.
We are walking through a parlor when a girl grabs my ankles and pleads, “Don’t tell her I’m here.” We watch awkwardly whilst she keeps begging, and then the paternal figure of our demon says, “Come along now,” and we are heading to the basement. I keep saying, “After you” to the people in my group, but they keep politely insisting I go first. Great. Off into the torture chamber, where a girl is being cut up on a bench and a boy is being electrocuted by a man wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. He is coming close to me, so I say, “I don’t like your face!” and he walks away. The girl being butchered on the bench is either giggling or crying. It’s a dodgy situation that I can’t interpret. We are now being escorted upstairs, where we see a child in a room screaming “Getoutgetoutgetout!!” So we get out. I later meet her on the cliffs outside the haunted houses, and she poses for a photo.
The most bizarre feature of the tour is meeting the Central Coast Paranormal Investigators, who keep insisting they are “normal guys.” They show us some footage of a white light floating around in the room we were in, shot at night. They explain it was likely to be the ghost of a person who died of polio on the site. I keep plaguing them with intriguing questions such as, “What’s the best joke a ghost has ever told you?” but our demon tells me it is time to move on. We finish our tour with an informative explanation of the lighthouse history in the main sunlit history room complete with archive pictures. There is a lingering dead lighthouse boy who keeps me company, standing by my shoulder.
I am walking back to the trolley and ask one of the many zombies to pose for a photo overlooking the ocean. He responds by trying to attack me. Being mauled by him would be a pain in the neck, so I run to the trolley early. I think I like haunted houses. Community theater! Costume! Epic scenery! Friendly guides dressed as demons!! I’m so excited for the next costume tour: Fangsgiving!
New Times contributor Clementine Gray can be reached via Arts Editor Anna Weltner at firstname.lastname@example.org.