Just a few weeks after my overnight stay and ghost hunt, I returned once again to the Asylum 49. A combination of the haunt and a family reunion brought me back with a dozen others in tow. As unluck would have it, it was also Extreme Haunt night.
Asylum 49 already embraces a full contact haunt and is a pioneer in this area. One signs a waiver essentially stating you can be touched but you cannot touch back. Full contact makes many less willing to attend. For others, interactivity adds a dimension beyond passive viewing and gives them the feeling they are the cast of a horror film and not just viewing it on screen. Done correctly, the experience is more frightening and entertaining.
Extreme haunts are a whole other level of interactivity; one that exceeds normal bounds of moderation. One that many consider abusive and shouldn't exist. They have a point. Extreme haunts attempt to destroy ones mental defenses by different means that, without a strong and certain waiver, would be grounds for a civil, if not a criminal action. My research already judged them to be a negative thing. I made this clear when asked if I would opt for this experience instead of the regular experience. I guess bad press doesn't exist for things like this.
My existing bias notwithstanding, my incessant curiosity that helps me to be ever learning and often in trouble has a dangerous power over me. I already had a near 100 percent certainty that I would not enjoy this. I forgot that I would also have a matching uncertainty about my ability to endure the experience. This ultimately brought me with much hesitation to agree to the experience.
I like to rate haunts using the Scoville scale as they do for peppers. The higher the Scoville, the greater the intensity. The reason why is that with peppers, you give up something in the overall flavor of the food with each increase in Scovilles. If all you have is heat, you get little in the way of a positive dining experience. Likewise, the more intensely the haunt tries to break down your defenses, the more it gives up in the overall entertainment.
My tolerance for both peppers and haunts rank on the low to moderate range of Scovilles. I do not require a Ghost Pepper to enjoy spicy heat or spooky haunts. Fortunately for me, by the time we got to Asylum 49 they had sold out of the Extreme Haunt experiences. I was let off the hook to enjoy a milder and more entertaining haunt; a red chile mixed with a little jalapeno in terms of Scovilles.
Unfortunately for me, I know a guy, or more accurately, a guy knows me. So when I approached the entrance without the extreme option, I was asked why and explained the sellout. Two minutes later, I had the extreme ticket in my hand and was about to experience the Ghost Pepper of haunts (not to be confused with Pepper’s Ghost in haunts).
My guy looked at me not with a sense of satisfaction, but of mischief. He was the photographer of the event; I'm sure he "assisted" me out of pure self-interest.
With no excuse, pressuring curiosity, and a belief that whatever I experienced, I would not be physically injured, I donned the extreme ticket, a large shirt with a giant "X" on the front and back. As I stood there dressed in my shirt, I was reminded of a classic Gary Larson cartoon.
I have only heard stories of unconditioned people attempting to eat a Ghost Pepper. The endings range from blisters to days of sickness, to hospitalization. They all have one theme: regret. From the moment I entered the extreme experience, I was convinced I made a mistake; a feeling usually reserved for bridge jumpers.
My entrance was met with a "greeting" from Dr. Fear. A large, strong and wholly intimidating character for anybody that doesn't own a UFC championship belt. He is both the mascot for Asylum 49 and it's most fear-inducing character.
In a normal haunt, if Dr. Fear physically handled me like this I would start to laugh a nervous laugh and might even respond sarcastically to the in-your-face shoutings he uses to immediately put you off-balance. At this moment, I knew that such a response will only increase whatever lies ahead.
It began with a stay in a bathroom that smelled and looked like literal shit (sorry, but hygienic terms like "fecal matter" don't work here). A latex prop may be easy to overlook, but the smell offends your senses whether it comes from a chemistry set or a more organic source. I sat on an unflushed toilet being yelled at for the existing mess. I was ordered to mop up the place which I did just to quit sitting on a disgusting seat.
The mop was sticky, as was the tub I was forced to lie in where a frat house hazing ritual ensued. Whatever they painted on me was also sticky and before long I was worried about my eyes getting stuck closed during a blink.
This process continued and repeated itself: getting shouted at, getting punished, getting sticky. The substances included lots and lots of blood. It may not be actual blood, at least I hope it wasn't, but the discomfort of the experience lingered in my mind and on my skin. Before long, it didn't matter if their coatings were real or not. It mattered that it was injuring my stability.
In between coatings were other experiences. One was upsetting in the Dr. Frankenfurter way. Others were CIA inspired. I stood in the cold rain on multiple occasions. I was physically handled in ways I would normally not accept without handcuffs and the reading of my rights.
By the time I made it through the haunt I was ready to call it quits. I came out to the laughter of family members who immediately wanted to know what it was like. I found it difficult to describe. The words I wouldn't use include fun, cool, or must-try. Extreme haunts aren't for everyone and I question whether they're for anyone.
Trying to get my thoughts together while still in the lobby of Asylum 49 was a mistake. Here, you risk getting pulled back in if you stick around. An unknown creature accosted me and dragged me back into the haunt. They subjected me to more of the same, but they upped the intensity. They also did some new things they didn't do before. I didn't appreciate the novelty.
I had one saving grace. I spent some spare time this year studying and practicing mindfulness and meditation. I didn't even consider it the first time through, but this time I started to focus on tools used in integrative medicine to manage pain and anxiety. It's the first time I ever felt the need to use it for this purpose. It helped me keep it together, but I knew that my faculties were still being chipped away.
Something else happened between the abuses I endured. The walkthrough used the same path as the regular haunt and so I saw the same attractions. Things that would have been mildly frightening and entertaining normally, were now scaring me. Anything that popped-out unexpectedly created skips in my heart. Cast characters that approached me made me nervous. Even attendees who accidentally bumped into me saw me respond with my hands up and fight or flight ready to fire. I had become more fragile and reactive.
The exit came a second time and I now looked like a Stephen King prom queen. If I had the same abilities, tales of a burning haunted attraction and unconfirmed deaths would have been the top news story that evening. I was exhausted, wet, sticky, grossed-out, and breaking, but not fully broken. I experienced actual pain and actual panic. I could have handled more, but my curiosity was beyond satiated, and my belief that I would not enjoy this was more than confirmed.
This time when I reached the exit, I went straight past the family to get beyond the boundaries of the hospital. As I passed the family I heard one of them say, "He's coming for you." I responded with a run. I was in complete "F*ck This" mode.
I remained in that mode till I got home where I took a hot shower, followed by a long bath, and ended by binge-watching Hallmark Christmas Specials.
I can't say that this type of haunt is patently wrong even though others were saying it for me. I didn't enjoy it, but I couldn't stop talking about it. Others wanted to know how it was and I had to share. Whether it was for therapy or attention I couldn't say. I know that I cannot recommend this to others, but I also know that a small segment of people being advised to stay away will do the opposite. They'll see my non-endorsement as a challenge and that's the point.
To that end, the extreme haunters succeeded. But as I now think about it, the success is incomplete. For all of the efforts made to break me emotionally, I actually think they waste a rare opportunity to do something truly special.