"This was definitely one of Graham's better ideas," Gemma said with a grin as they waited in line for their second 'haunt' of the night.
Smiling back, Neil grabbed her hands, jumping up and down happily.
"I know, I'm so excited," he almost shouted, causing the attendant to look over in disapproval. He was just like a little kid when he was enjoying himself and his enthusiasm was infectious. Unfortunately, the attendant seemed immune, scowling at the two of them.
Glancing over apologetically, Gemma tried to tame Neil's exuberance until they had at least reached the end of the queue. This was supposed to be the scariest 'haunt' in the park and no way was she going to miss it.
When Graham had first suggested a trip to the 'haunted farm', Gemma had been doubtful. How scary could it be? After all, at the end of the day a bunch of actors dressed as zombies, a tractor ride and a couple of mazes didn't sound particularly terrifying.
She'd been pleasantly surprised by the first 'haunt' though. Whilst it hasn't been exactly scary, it had been fun, the actors jumping out from behind bushes to attack the trailer, and that chainsaw had looked (and smelt) worrying realistic as the crazed zombie had chased them down the track.
Sometimes the simple things were the best.
This haunt also sounded simple, they'd have to follow a rope guide through a dark maze whilst wearing an executioners hood. Plenty of potential for scares as the screams from within attested to.
Ryan and Graham had decided to visit the haunted cellar instead. Ryan was mildly claustrophobic and Graham, having spent the previous night here on some corporate event, had volunteered to keep him company so it was just her and Neil in the queue. Oh and about a hundred other excited visitors.
The attendant sat perched on a fence, calling people forward in groups of 6 and handing them the heavy black hoods to cover their heads. As they got closer to the head of the queue, the atmosphere seemed to change, even Neil became more subdued as he was handed his hood.
The air felt cooler here as well and Gemma shivered as the attendant looked directly at her as he explained the rules.
"I am the executioner," he whispered in a husky voice, his voice quiet enough that they had to press closer just to hear his words.
"You have been judged. You have been found guilty. Tonight you will all die."
He paused for effect as he locked eyes with each and every one of them in turn. When he reached Gemma, she shuddered. His eyes were an unnatural yellow with a red ring around the iris that seemed to glow and flicker like a flame. Although she knew they must be contact lenses, the effect was startlingly realistic.
A chill snaked up her spine as the silence stretched, his eyes searching hers until she felt that he was truly looking into her soul, judging her in a way he hadn't the others. She felt a sudden urge to wrench her gaze from his and run, but she fought it. After all, it was only a Halloween theme park, what's the worst that could happen?
After what felt like an eternity he looked away and Gemma took a deep shuddering gasp of air, realising that she'd been holding her breath all the time. Raising her hands, she saw they were shaking. Well Graham did say this was the best 'haunt'. If the actors inside were anything like this guy then they were in for a good time.
Painting a smile on her face to hide her fear, Gemma forced herself to concentrate on what the creepy eyed executioner had to say as her hands gripped more tightly to the hood crumpled between her stuff fingers.
"This is your last chance for redemption," the actor continued. The rasp of his voice reminded Gemma of the way burn victims spoke on the news. Like his throat had been scarred by fire to the extent that talking became almost impossible.
She didn't know where that thought had come from, perhaps those weird contacts had given her the idea. In fact as she looked more closely at the shadowy depths of his face within his cloak she thought she saw twisted melted flesh where his nose should have been, sunken scar tissue instead of cheeks.
Mentally shaking herself, Gemma tore her eyes from the image of a monster hiding inside that concealing cape. She was letting her imagination run away with her. At worst he was wearing good stage makeup. The effect was still rather chilling though.
"Through this door," the creature whispered, "is the gateway to Hell.
In this world you have been judged for the actions of your bodies and you have been found guilty.
Once you pass these gates, it is not your actions that count. The demons that dwell in the underworld care little for what you did when you were alive. They care only for your souls.
You will journey through the underworld, through the four elements, Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. As you do, you will encounter temptation, evil, your souls will be tested. You must not let go of the rope. If you do then you will be forever lost.
The lucky ones amongst you will pass through unscathed to emerge into the light at the end. The rest of you, well lets just say the rest of you will not be so lucky!"
Gemma felt his eyes burning into her skull as he laughed cruelly but she refused to meet his gaze, instead staring resolutely at the hood she was twisting back and forth between her clenched fingers, her breathing shallow and loud in the sudden silence.
With icy fingers of fear creeping up her spine she followed the others through the rusted iron gates. She could still feel his eyes on her as she walked away and the temptation to turn around was almost unbearable.
Instead she walked on, responding to Neil's excited chattering in a distracted manner as they were instructed to don their hoods and take a hold of the rope.
A recorded voice went through what she recognised as the standard health and safety blurb, not suitable for people suffering from epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disease and pregnancy. Make sure you keep hold of the rope. Don't touch the creatures you encounter and they won't touch you. And finally, good luck.
The mundanity of the message helped to calm her nerves as she waited for the instruction to move. To her surprise she found she could see faintly through the heavy material off her hood, just able to make out the shape of Neil in front of her as her hands clung tightly to the rope, the rough material scratching her palms as she tentatively began to step forward.
As they left the comfort of the entrance hall behind Gemma could feel a noticeable drop in temperature and the air became damp and cloying, the smell of the mud beneath her feet squelching with each step she took.
Her head darting nervously back and forth, she picked up vague movements in the darkness behind the rope.
It sounded like they were outside, the faint sound of crickets in the background tempered with a strange clicking noise from her left.
In front of her she heard a hissing, followed by a high pitched scream and then nervous giggles as the girl recovered from whatever startled her.
So this must be the 'earth' element.
The unexpected sensation of someone blowing across the back of her neck made her tense as she whipped her head around, her hands automatically losing their grip on the rope as she searched in the blackness for the person she knew must be there.
"Don't let go of the rope!"
The harsh, whispered voice in her ear made her turn again, her hands searching frantically for the guide rope and gripping it tightly between both hands.
Disorientated, she tried to remember which way was forward. She thought the rope had been on her left side at the start but now she couldn't be sure.
Listening carefully she heard another distant scream from somewhere in front. So she was heading the right way, but she was way behind the main group now.
Hurrying to catch up she moved her hands one over the other, the rope twisting and turning around corners unexpectedly, making her have to stop and feel her way more slowly lest she lose it all together.
More worryingly, she had the horrible sensation that she was being followed, hunted.
Every now and again she felt cold breath against the back of her neck, her cheek. She tried to write it off as a draught, wind perhaps, but the way it touched her skin so specifically made her question her own judgement.
Besides, shouldn't breath be hot?
Stumbling on, Gemma felt the floor beneath her feet change to something more solid. So she'd survived 'earth', what was next? She couldn't remember. Wind? Water?
"Are you certain you're going the right way?" A soft voice whispered in her ear and she jumped, letting out a small scream as she quickened her step.
Out of nowhere a blast of cold air hit her, almost knocking her off her feet. It was unnaturally strong, like walking into a wind tunnel, that answered her question of what was next at least.
Fighting against the wind, Gemma found herself using the rope to pull herself along, her legs not strong enough to move her on their own.
"Is your soul pure, little girl," the voice came from in front of her, just to the right.
Tugging harder on the rope, Gemma tried to increase her speed, to escape from this voice that seemed intent on following her throughout this maze.