The Haunting

Hayli May Cox


We are wired to crave fear, the sensation, the hormonal high of neurotransmitters pulsing through a molecular crowd. It has always been this way. Since the Greek cannibal giant Laestrygonias. Since soul-sucking Nachzehrer. Since Black Annis, the blue-skinned horror who ate children of the English countryside. Enter werewolves. Vampires. Succubae. Enter every creature who ever crawled behind your sleeping lids.

Enter you and me, separated by a wall so thin I can hear you breathe.

My haunted attraction is part of a several-million-dollar industry that feeds on thrill seekers and the unwilling friends they drag along. I tried out for this role, this opportunity to terrify. I found ways to make my small body scare, practiced until my voice went hoarse. Your friends paid ten dollars each to enter, spent hours convincing you to come, and here you are, hands trembling as you stumble through this dark maze of temporary walls.

My job is to give you the proper stimulus—a loud noise, an eerie touch, the frightening and unexpected sight of my latex-altered face. I look as though I should be still, buried some place. I watch as neurotransmitters take hold of your body, imagine your blood surging as it diverts oxygen to your every extremity. I watch your arms tense, your face screw inward, your body shake. You are wet with your own sweat.

You’re not like the others, adrenaline junkies who make up most of my clientele. They thrive, like me, on epinephrine, on the exquisite excretions of the adrenal medulla in moments of alarm. A cliff, a coaster, a tight corner in a fast car, the dank darkness of a haunted house. We get high on neurotransmitters and favor risk, stress, and shock over the dullness of the every-day. We require that distraction. We are tantalized by creaking doors and the darkness of a moonless night.

Most visitors are overcome by the orgasmic sensation they feel when I appear. It’s our affair. The encounter intoxicates. It titillates. Like me, they are addicted. Bathe in the sensation.

When I emerge from my dark corner, your friends understand—remember they paid for this. But your body gave you a different context, told you there was danger, that the red corn syrup seeping from my wounds might be something real. I am making some noise, twitching my neck and flashing the whites of my eyes beneath the din of artificial light. I wait for your sound to fill the air, to mingle with mine in the dampness of this converted barn. Instead, I am left to stare into the disgruntled masses of your hair. You crumple into the sweatpants of someone nearby, clawing for an opening, a place to hide, pleading them to make it stop.

Their ambivalent laughter flattens your stooped form, and I recognize that position. What it means to forget consent, to disregard it. When I hold out my hand to you, tell you my name, you remain hollow. I want to tell you that it’s okay, that the fight-or-flight response is misleadingly named. That you’re trapped in the in-between. Sometimes you are paralyzed. Like the possum, playing dead. You will not look at me. You cover your ears.

 And I return to a different haunt, myself curled in the same position in another cold place, another kind of blood.



Hayli May Cox is a PhD student of English at the University of Missouri, though she’s really a Michigander.