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Memoirs of Fright-Fest!

I wrote this blog in 2011, however after reading it again for the first time in many years I realize it is even more relevant for today and our “cultural climate”.

The truth about fears, distractions and focus… Memoirs of fright fest. 

During these tumultuous  times we live there are so many distractions coupled with fear to not only hold us back, but to sometimes even completely derail us. How many times recently have you heard some outlandish claim, unreasonable suggestion or degrading and insulting comment that made you stop dead in your tracks and wonder “what is going on, how does this effect me?, how bad is this going to get? , and how am I to respond.”. If you’re like me, the news, social media, community, country, world, and my own family struggles all play a huge part in the undoing of Janie. I loose my focus as fear of the unknown, fear of retribution, fear of personal loss,and fear of all the “what if’s” of life become distractions. I lose my focus as I allow the distractions of the “world” to get the best of me – . But, one pre-halloween evening I had an experience that changed my view of fear, distractions, and focus forever.

A few years ago I worked for a company that had an office in Los Angeles, CA where I often had to travel to meet with my boss and other team members. On this occasion I had traveled to LA only to have our meetings cut short, and as my co-workers lived in the area, I found myself alone in my hotel room at 4:00 PM that afternoon with nothing to do. It was close to Halloween and my hotel was just a few miles from Knotts Berry Farm where I had gone several times when I was younger, but hadn’t been back in over 15 years.  How I loved going there for the amusement rides, see the shows, and dine on Mrs. Knotts famous chicken dinner.

From the moment I had arrived in LA I had seen signs about Knotts Berry Farm and had thought I’d love to go back if I had the chance. But to do this alone, heavens no. That would be scary. And as I observed the advertisements more closely I realized that this friendly amusement park had been transformed into a place of horror as they celebrated Fright Fest! I had heard about the popularity of Fright Fest and seen it on TV as one of the top 10 most frightening places to go for Halloween. I quickly determined that was not something I was interested in going to and especially alone.

As I sat in my hotel room wondering what I would do for the rest of the evening, I had a crazy thought run through my head. The kind you get when you know God is prompting you to act… It said “you need to go to Fright Fest.” What?, I argued, and quickly began to list all the cons of going. Con – I’m not terribly familiar with the rental car I was using. Con – could be dangerous driving in the dark. Con – I have to drive to Knotts Berry Farm with no GPS and try to find my way in uncharted territory. Con – Parking at those amusement parks are a “nightmare.” Con – I’d have to walk through a dark parking lot alone and Ted (my husband) has always warned me not to do that. Con – I’ll have to go through haunted houses with out someone to hold my hand and when I scream there will be no one to console me. The cons staked up. The voice persisted and I decided to list the pros. Pro – I like Mrs’ Knotts Chicken. Pro – I could just relax in Mrs. Knotts Restaurant. Pro – I needed to eat anyway. That was about it for the pros’ of going to Fright Fest. The cons definitely outweighed the pros. But no matter how hard I tried to get it out of my mind, the voice persisted “try it, I will be with you.”

So after much deliberation (I think it was more like arguing with myself and God,) I reluctantly caved, but,with the full intent of only going to the restaurant to get Mrs’. Knotts famous fried chicken dinner.

One of my cons was immediately realized when I got lost driving to Knotts Berry Farm even though there were signs everywhere. How I kept making wrong turns I’ll never know. But eventually one of the wrong turns landed me in a parking lot that was right at the front entry way to the amusement park. All the other signs around the vicinity had been directing the onslaught of cars to parking lots on the outskirts which would have meant a 4 block walk to the entrance. That was one con turned pro! Next, the parking lot was packed and there was a huge line of cars waiting for the parking attendant to usher them to a spot. I could see it now, I would be at the back of the lot. Ted was not going to be happy to hear that I had to walk by myself in a dark parking lot. But as my turn came for the parking attendant to show me the way, they opened a parking lot that was completely empty right at the front. Another con turned pro! As I parked my car and made my way way through the lot there were hundreds of people strolling in so I saddled up beside them for the jaunt to the park entrance, hence turning a third con into a pro! This was already turning out to be a positive experience and I hadn’t even approached the entrance.

When I got close to the entrance my plan was to make a beeline for Mrs. Knotts restaurant which had an entry on the outside of the amusement park. I wouldn’t even have to go inside! But when I got to the restaurant they were closing for dinner and said there was another restaurant inside the park that served the same food. Darn, I was going to have to go inside after all.

As I approached the entrance I could see on the outside ghoulish creatures, disturbing Halloween animated scenes, and hear screams and screeching from within. I thought about turning around and going back to the hotel. (I liked room service anyway.) But I had that really good parking spot and my mouth was watering for Mrs Knotts famous fried chicken dinner. So I decided to venture inside the haunted park with a mission to find the restaurant.

When I got inside it was a confusing mess of people, frightening scenes, screaming and howling and evil laughing. The park was huge and when I asked for help to the restaurant someone shoved a park map in my hand and said this should help and circled the restaurant. Then turned to help the next person.

I was on my own in this huge disarray of mayhem. What else was I too do. Too late turn back now plus it cost me $30.00 bucks to get in. So, I set out thinking I’d find the “chicken” and ignore everything else along the way. I would laugh in the face of danger and heckle at the creatures that tried to scare me. But as I rounded the first corner the fog was so intense I couldn’t see anything  more than about 2 feet in front, and as the first zombie on a skate board flew past me as if he would run me over and bellowed his haunting taunt, all my bravery went out the door. I screamed and ran. Ran right into a group of teenagers that laughed at me not at the zombie. I felt silly and really out of place as I followed them for a while pretending to be part of their group so the villains would leave me alone. I thought there would be safety in numbers. Every once in a while the teenagers would hear me scream and look back as if to say who is the weirdo following us. I would quickly stop and pretend to be looking the other way at some oddity in an attempt to divert their attention. I was afraid they’d ask me to quit following them, and the last thing I wanted was to be on my own. I ventured a few more minutes with this group but eventually got separated from them in the fog (I think they intentionally lost me.)

There was no end to the creepy characters and haunting scenes as I continued to run into more ghouls, ghosts and vampires at every turn. Everyone was screaming as we made our way through the park.

I finally found the restaurant, which appeared to be in “Never Never Land”” from the amount of time it took me to get to it. And none too soon as I was just about ready to be attacked by a whole group of mummies, when I quickly darted in the restaurant door and said “one please!” completely out of breath. I think the mummies could see I was easy prey. They actually looked disappointed when I turned around as if to say to them, I’m safe now. You can’t get me in here. (I did some of my own heckling when I was in safety.)

Once at my table I could still hear the sounds of terror in the streets but I was safe. I boldly called my family and told them where I was, bragging about how brave I had been and making them jealous that they were not with me to indulge in the chicken dinner.

As I finished my meal I began to get a little nervous about the prospect of having to make my way back through this creepy venue to the entrance so I could get to my car and back to the safety of my hotel.  I decided to order dessert to prolong the inevitable. I eventually got to full to eat anymore and figured I’d better move along, as it continued to get darker and the screaming persisted. I paid the bill and as I was leaving the hostess said “enjoy the festivities”. Yeah right…I was going home! I pulled out my trusty map and started back to the entrance. But,somewhere along the way I made several wrong turns and when the fog lifted a bit I realized I was standing in a line for a haunted house.

At Fright Fest the big draw is that they convert their traditional rides and shows into haunted houses and mazes. The houses of horror are abundant, and each one of them are a different theme. One is a clown haunted house (clowns are scary), one is a meat factory, one is a baby Chucky type theme, and they go on and on. There are probably 20+ different themed haunted house opportunities, even the wild west show was turned into the walking dead show.

There I was in the line for the “fun house” haunted maze. I did some positive self talk ,”Janie stop being such a baby” and “your already here how bad can a fun house be”, and “the boys (our sons) would certainly be making fun of you if they could see you now after all the bragging you did moments ago in the safety of the restaurant”. My self talk was convincing, so I stayed in line.

The lines were about a half hour long so you get to know the people in front and behind you rather well. And everyone said the same thing, your alone? They thought I was crazy and so did I! We walked slowly through the line that seamed more like we were going to pay penance rather than have fun. As I got closer to the entrance of the haunted house the screams from within got louder and louder. I braced myself for something absolutely horrifying and thought I hope I don’t faint cuz I did when I was a kid at the Radio Station haunted house in our neighborhood and my dad had to carry me out the back door. There was no one here to carry me out.

It was finally my turn to go through the turnstile and once you do there is no turning back. I saw several people chicken out at the last minute, which actually crossed my mind several times. But I had come this far I was going to brave it…alone.

Haunted houses always start out with ghoulish creatures welcoming and pleading for you to come in, your the guest of honor, come see what I have in store for you…blah, blah, blah. They typically then bring you into a room of headless people, villains, torture scenes, and several creatures that look like mannequins who ultimately come to life as they jump out at you to get the element of surprise going and fear juices flowing. You then wander into a strobe light room, where you become completely disoriented and more monsters jump out at you. You also notice the faces of people you are sure were standing in line with you who are now on the chopping block (literally) or hanging from some spike on the wall. After passing through a hall of black plastic tarps you then proceed to a graveyard of sorts with RIP on the tombstones, or here lies so and so, and ghosts ascending from the graves. Lastly some witch beckons you to “come back again. We’ll have you for dinner.” And you walk out completely horrified.

As I write these attributes of a haunted house they sound rather silly, but when you are there, in the heat of the moment, there is nothing silly about it. And, if the staged ghoulish sounds are not bad enough – the screaming and crying from the other haunted house goers is sure to complete the fear package.

The first haunted house I went through was a nightmare. I had never seen such theatrics and well planned horror scenes in my life. (What did I expect I was in LA.) There was nothing fun about the fun house, and it included some pretty scary clowns. I was screaming so loud and was so upset by the time I got out my blood pressure was racing and fear was written all over my face. I was breathless. What had I just done? I told myself -“ Janie, you are the one who has terrible nightmares watching some cheesy 1940 Bella Lugosi vampire movie and now these graphic scenes, you’ll never sleep tonight. I was very upset. I had succumbed to every theatric and trick the people running the haunted house had sent my way. The screams and sound of taunting, howling and tempting were the worst. And I decided I’d had enough.

However, as I walked a few more feet there was another haunted house and that voice inside me said, “try it again.” Really…??

So there I was back in another half hour line trying to get my courage up to endure the meat factory maze. As I stood in line I could hear the taunting and screams coming from within and I was dreading my turn to go through the turnstile. Suddenly in the midst of the terror, as if all the screaming and voices had been somehow  blocked from my hearing, I heard that little voice once again, “Janie, pay no attention to the screams. Pay no attention to the taunting and temptations. Keep your eyes forward. Do not look to where the screams are coming from or from who they come from, just stay the course, with the goal of looking ahead and getting through the haunted maze.” The sounds of terror returned and I realized I had just heard from God as to how I was to get through this haunting experience. Pay no attention to the screams he said. Pay no attention to the fear you see around you. It is not real. It is only there to try and trip you up, to scare you, to keep you from moving forward.

As I stood there in awe of the message I had just received, a dad and his children were ahead of me in line and the dad said, “Are you alone? You can walk through the haunted house with us.”

When we went through the turnstile I grabbed hold of the hand of one of the kids and off we went. This haunted house was more graphic and twisted than the last, and my first inclination was oh no here I am again and wanted to let out a scream. But then I remembered…”pay no attention to the screams.” So I blocked them out. When they screamed I looked beyond the scream. I did not look from where it was coming. I stayed on course. I did not get lured into chambers of horror, I went through focused on the goal, coming out the other side with my blood pressure down and not being afraid. The little boy I was holding hands with got scared a few times and each time I would say, “Sweetheart, pay no attention to the screams”, and he would settle down. When we made it out the other side, the family asked if I wanted to continue going through other haunted houses with them but I declined. I had found a new way to get through the haunted houses without fear and unscathed.

That night I preceded to go through 9 different haunted houses and mazes, mostly alone, and each time remembering to pay no attention to the screams, keep focused on the goal. I eventually got to a point where I could actually go through the haunting with a smile on my face and enjoying the innovation and ingenuity that had gone into each scene.

As I made my way back to the car that night, totally exhausted, I was filled with joy as I had discovered a new life lesson…Pay no attention to the screams of life, the things that seem scary, the people that taunt you, and the situations around you that appear overwhelming and impossible. The Lord showed me to keep my focus on the goal that is ahead. And, with God as my focus, all things are possible through Christ to strengthen to me. 

As you go through the “haunted houses” of your life, they will all look different with a little different that distraction technique, look and feel. Scenes will come and go, situations change and can become distractions that are seemingly insurmountable, overwhelming, and potentially fearful. You will hear screaming and fear will attempt to set in. Just remember the screams cannot harm you. They are fake. Put your trust in God, focus on the goal – glorifying HIM in all that you do, and pay no attention to the screams!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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