Celia Jacobs and her friends went to the local haunted trail every year. It was cheesy, that was for sure, but it was also a lot of fun. It was the last big local activity before Halloween, and besides that they’d be scattered come next fall. Only her and Jasmine were going to the same college, and their friend group would never quite be the same once they were apart. So that was how they all came to be in line that particularly chilly October night, drinking hot chocolate and goofing off.

“I can’t believe we got here so late,” Celia commented, taking a swig from her cup. The cocoa was watered down and bland, but it kept her hands warm which was really all she cared about. The weather was a wild card this time of year, and they had simply gotten unlucky. “We’ve never been so far back in line before.”

Jeremiah, the tallest of the group and the only one dumb enough to not be wearing a warm layer, nodded his head and rubbed his hands together. “They cut the line off at a quarter to eleven too, if you’re beyond the yellow marker. We better hope we make it.”

Somehow the six of them did got through though, squeaking just past the aforementioned marker as staff members came to cut off the line. The unfortunate folks behind them were turned away, while they dug out their money to pay for entry. They were near the front now, and though Celia knew she’d never make it home by curfew, she figured her parents would understand. This was their last time doing this together, and she was staying no matter what.

Finally they were waved through the entrance, which was just a tall archway made out of PCV pipe and heavy black plastic that was cut into strips. Once through they found themselves on a winding path through the woods, lit here and there by strobe lights and tiki torches. Every few feet there was a scene of some sort; everything from a Michael Meyers who lumbered into your path, to a chainsaw wielding maniac who fired up his saw and came chasing after you. Lame as it was they were having a blast, shrieking and laughing at every turn.

Midway through the trail they had to enter a large tent full of clowns, which Celia had to admit was pretty creepy, and she felt a bit disoriented as they exited the brightness of clown hell and entered back into the dimly lit woods. In fact this area wasn’t lit at all, the quarter moon their only guide as they picked their way along. Creepy music came from the woods, and then they heard a girl screaming. The scene then opened up on their left, ominously dark and shadowy.

A man wearing a hoodie stood over a girl who was clutching at anything she could grab onto in a bid to get away. He had a knife in his hand, and he kept plunging into her back. Every time he did she’d scream, and the sound sent a real shiver down Celia’s spine.

“Oh, man,” Elliot whispered, putting his arm around Jasmine’s shoulders. “That’s the scariest freaking thing I’ve ever seen. They upped their game this year, huh? Must have gotten sick of everyone complaining about how hokey it all was.”

“Guess they saved the best for last, too,” Jeremiah pointed out, the parking lot just a few yards ahead of them, well lit and beckoning.

Celia grabbed his sleeve and pulled him along, her mouth fixed in a frown. “I didn’t like that,” she confessed as they entered the lot, fishing her car keys from her back pocket. “Too real. I like my Halloween cheesy and lame, the way it’s mean to be.”

Elliot smiled then, shaking off any heebie jeebies he might have been feeling. He punched her gently in the shoulder, waggling his eyebrows at her. “Relax, Celia. It’s just good fun, no harm done. Think we have time to swing by McDonald’s? I’m starving.”

The group fell into conversation then about where to stop, and if they even had time. Celia remained quiet though, driving them through McDonald’s before dropping everyone off and returning home. As expected her mother gently admonished her, but didn’t ground her for breaking curfew. She showered and went to bed, still thinking about that last scare and how eerie it had been.

She slept in late the next morning, it was Sunday after all, and might have just stayed in bed if Jasmine hadn’t called her twice in a row. When she answered her best friend was frantic, telling her to turn on the local news. Celia grumbled but sat up and did as asked, her brain taking a moment to catch up to what the reporter was saying.

“Breaking news out of Hopestead Township. A missing girl, Lanie Logan, was found dead last night at the Crystal Cavern Haunted Trail. She was reportedly found by two employees who were closing down the local attraction for the night, after reports from several attendees that the last scene on the trail was too realistic and tasteless. They claimed that the last haunt was simply a tent full of clowns, nothing intended to make light of such a situation, and upon further investigation found the girl. There are no more details available at this time, though local police are set to give a press conference within the next fifteen minutes…”

“Jasmine…last night…is that…”

“What we saw? Yeah, it was. It wasn’t part of the haunt, Celia, it was real. We really saw a girl getting murdered, us and about forty other people, and none of us knew it was real. Not a single damn one of us.”

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