This is Part 4 of Caro and Susan’s foray into the land of bookselling. Here are the earlier segments:
Shortly before the auction-where-we-bought-all-those-books, we got a phone call from T. You know T., the man who lured us into even thinking that starting a used book store was a spiffy idea? His message was, ‘since you practically, almost, have a store downtown how would you like to participate in the Retail Trades Haunted House?’ All proceeds go to promote the downtown businesses. Only six days in duration, only five or six hours each day! Plus setting it all up and taking it all down, of course. And he suggested that having a haunted book store as a way of pre-advertizing our soon-to-be business. He actually talked us into this.
Now the problem with that is I have never really seen the point of haunted houses, which is basically paying big bucks to get the crap scared out of you. And I’d never even actually been to one up to that point And six hours is a long time to do anything in a place that does not have a working bathroom (there was a blue potty-in-a-box outside) or heat. But T. is a silver tongued devil and he offered to help. So we spent most of September gathering props. Some of it was remarkably easy. We had the bookcase from the college auction, and the stools. We had material for curtains and swags. We hit eBay for various props. And we went through our cheepie books and pulled out everything with a black or red cover, or/and that had a dripping knife or a skeleton on the front. Gotta tell you, there are more of those than I ever imagined. Found a lovely tall book on plagues to feature on a book easel. We even had a spooky branch to cast ominous shadows on the wall.
And then there were those things we used that were just sitting around. We accidentally acquire…odd things. Sometime I’ll tell about the time we bought a medical skeleton at a local garage sale, and sold it on eBay. At any rate, we had sitting about the shed, yard, and closets: two halves of a manikin we call “Chip” for the crack in his head and the state of his legs, several hundred glow sticks, a fake stuffed cat and an even more fake owl, a creepy candlestick holder in the shape of a chicken, a vintage artificial leg, flashlights, a wicker lamp and some rubber spiders.
So we set it up the bookcase of gory books, draped the windows, experimented with black light, and at the table we dressed up the top half of Chip as Death. He had an open phone book in front of him and a spider sandwich beside him. Death just dropped by to look up YOUR address, we would say in a hissing or cackling voice. We got to dress up as crazy old ladies. It was not a stretch.
Turns out that T. had scrounged up an actual haunted house to use. Or at least, a long abandoned apartment building. We were assigned the corner room of a two room suite. I’m not saying it was old, but the outlets in the kitchen room didn’t take regular prongs, they were round. I think the building was new in the 1920’s. Fortunately the outlets in our room were more up to date and we actually had electricity. The folks assigned to the kitchen next to us enthusiastically posed dolls in pots of “boiling” water amid flickering red lights. They were pretty good neighbors if you could ignore the shrieks and the implied cannibalism.
There was no heat. It was the end of October. It was loud. The vapor from the fake smoke collected in the corners. In other rooms there were screams and the roar of chain saws. Teenagers dressed in black with fake blood artistically applied staggered the corridors. The group running the place fed us free BBQ sandwiches, in between the kids hour and the four hours of adult fright we provided every night. Tours went through at regular intervals. A shout would warn us to be ready, and we would throw down our books, take our places and as the group toured through, do our thing. After they left, there would be another ten minutes before the next group came through. We read mysteries and science fiction by flashlight. Wouldn’t you? And some nights we wore gloves. And did you know, you can get gloves with glow-in-the-dark designs of hand bones on the back?
We learned so much. We learned that even with an hour set aside for the younger kids, there are adults who bring their toddlers and young children through haunted houses in the more frightening hours, and pay five bucks to have them screech. This offended my librarian genes. So for the youngest visitors we would crack a glow stick, make it into a bracelet and put it on the little wrist. We told the kiddies that a haunted house was all pretend, and they could hold onto this magic bracelet and nothing could hurt them. Oh, and we learned how to joke with the drunks. It seems a fairly large number of people sitting around in bars impulsively decide to go tour a haunted house on Friday nights.
One night, we even sold one of the books, and thought it pretty good for two old ladies who didn’t actually have a book store yet!