Chapter 53

To call Screamtopia a building would be akin to calling quantum physics mildly complicated. It was a compound, a series of warehouses that had been built upon and interjoined many years previous. After the original owner’s company collapsed, a few men with vision (as well as stolen plans and financial records from other haunted houses) saw what it could become and made the necessary alterations. Now it stood as a mecca for the Halloween devotees in California, people driving for hours to wander through its eerily enchanted hallways and yelp in terror. It wasn’t just the leaping actors that made it a special kind of scary; Screamtopia worked hard to create an entire atmosphere of fear. Visitors were allowed to come through in carefully limited groups so that they experienced a sense of isolation, a few Supers were kept on staff to bend the limits of what was and wasn’t possible in key areas, and of course there was the maze.

“Thews a mwaze?”

“For the love of god, man, give it up,” Nick said. All of Team One was walking through the parking lot, trying not to be intimidated by the daunting line jutting out from the surprisingly well-lit building. The seven students were in anything but normal garb, each costumed into a Halloween persona, some closer to the truth than others.

“Sahwy,” Vince replied, awkwardly spitting the plastic fangs into his hand. He wore a black cape and faux crushed velvet vest. His normally disheveled hair was slicked back, and a cheap plastic necklace hung around his neck. Even without the fangs he was easily recognizable as a classic vampire.

“To answer your question, yeah, the maze is a big part of the appeal here. It runs across a few floors of the complex, and there are tons of routes that force you to split up. All of them eventually lead to the end, but the first one of a group to finish it gets a free drink at the lounge,” explained Hershel the prisoner. The mummy costume had been a bust, and eventually he’d settled on a simple orange jumpsuit prisoner costume. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but it was functional and easy to move in, which was really all Hershel wanted. He usually got his fill of costumes from LARPing; for Hershel, Halloween was about the mystical sense of fear.

“Not that we can drink anyway,” Princess Mary pointed out. She wore a purple dress that trailed the ground and a glittery tiara in her hair. “This is a respectable business, not a frat party with lax rules.”

“If I’ve learned one thing about this town, it’s that the local population has the resourcefulness of black ops agents when it comes to finding ways to drink,” Alice the devil observed. She wore a tight pair of black leather pants and a black corset, pressing her noticeable chest upward. It was a corset with shoulders, and one that still left plenty to the imagination. Alice might be breaking out of her protected shell, but her risqué limit was still well below others her age. Atop her head was a pair of red horns that almost seemed natural, her voluminous locks hiding the string that held them in place.

Camille could have pointed out that such a thing could be said of college students anywhere, but as usual she stayed silent. Her own costume was a pair of green scrubs and a white lab coat. There had been a stethoscope as part of the costume too, but she’d left it in her dorm rather than keep up with it all night. In truth, she wasn’t much of a fan of haunted houses, and had Stella and Violet not forced her to come, she doubted she would have left home. They were going to the frat party with their team, yet the two girls had been relentless in pressuring Camille to join in her group’s festivities. She craned her head, wishing she were taller so she could see her friends amidst the crowd. Her team was supposed to meet Will, Jill, and Selena near the entrance so they could all go in together.

“In that spirit, my flask is more than decorative,” Nick said, his hand briefly touching the wooden gourd that hung on his hip next to his fake sword. He wore a flowing white shirt, black pants, and a pair of cuffed boots that were basic, but the coat and all of its buttons and pockets really brought the costume together. A few accessories such as a bandanna and the flask had been added for flair; however, they were hardly necessary. Even with the sunglasses Nick couldn’t have been mistaken for anything but a pirate.

“Why am I not surprised?” Mary sighed. Ye gods, she really did feel like the mom of this group, and they were far from easy to parent.

“I don’t see any of the others,” Vince said, craning around. “What are they dressed as?”

“Jill is an Amazonian and Selena is a pimp. I don’t think Will was going to wear a costume,” Alex supplied.

“I don’t suppose you can pick them out of the crowd?” Hershel asked Mary.

“You’re kidding, right? With this many people, this amped up, it’s like trying to hear one voice at a concert.”

“Just asking,” Hershel said.

“No worries, I found them,” Alex said. He was, surprisingly, not doing an encore of last year’s Jedi costume. Instead he wore a red shirt with the Federation insignia stitched on it.

Mary gave him a speculative look. She knew he wasn’t lying,  he didn’t have any reason to do so in a situation like this, but she wasn’t sure how it was possible he’d singled out those minds so easily. Mary had at first thought that she and Alex merely had different talents in different areas, but she was increasingly beginning to suspect their abilities worked in fundamentally different ways. It would be impossible to confirm so it was ultimately pointless, yet still it nagged at her every now and then.

“Hey, guys,” Vince hollered, waving at the familiar forms as they came into view. His hand stopped abruptly and fell to his side. It didn’t take long for the others to see why. It seemed Selena, Will, and Jill had brought the others from Team Two with them. Standing there, looking equally unsure about how they would get through this line, were Chad, Julia, Rich, and the reason Vince’s hand had dropped like an anchor: Sasha.

Vince wondered if it was too late to make a run for the car.