Nights of Fear

I usually have to do some explaining when someone finds out that my official title is Head of On-Site Security.

Most people assume that the title means that I’m in charge of all of the security aspects of the amusement park I’m employed at.  That isn’t actually the case.  The security department is divided into two divisions.  The division that I’m the head of, On-Site Security, is the one that is out in the park handling issues that come up, which the majority of the time are caused by the park guests.  My team takes care of things such as personal belongings being stolen, breaking up arguments and fights, and removing drunk people from the park.

The other division, Operations Security, handles the security issues that are more business-related.  Verification of the validity of park passes, loss prevention in the stores and restaurants, monitoring employee activities, those sorts of things.  There’s surprisingly little overlap between the duties of the two sides of the department.

The big exception to this is during the annual Halloween events that are held in the park, specifically those that take place after sundown.  This is by far the most difficult time of the year for security, and it requires both divisions to be temporarily combined into one to make sure that there’s enough coverage and manpower for the issues that inevitably occur.  There’s a tricky balance between allowing guests to have a good time during the more adult-oriented event and making sure that both they and the park itself are safe while they do so.

Before I go any further, I should mention that I’m bound by a large number of non-disclosure agreements.  Breaking those would inevitably lead to a number of lawsuits and possibly criminal prosecution, and I have a family to think about.  Because of this, I can’t give the name of the amusement park that I work for or mention any real names.  There should be enough here to connect the dots, however.

What I can say is that, while it’s a smaller park than, say, the various Disney and Universal parks, it is large enough that it attracts a high number of visitors each year during the summer season.  That number goes down sharply once school starts in the fall.  Due to this decline, the park shifts to only being open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until it shuts down completely for the winter beginning the first week of November.

Starting in September, the park is given a Halloween-themed makeover.  That makeover is kept family-friendly during the daylight operating hours.  The various cartoon mascots that wander the park wear costumes, tents are set up that children can trick-or-treat at, and decorations cover pretty much everything.  While the water rides are already closed for the season, the water inside of them is temporarily dyed orange or green.  A maze made of hay bales is constructed near the park’s side entrance.  It really is a good time for both children and their parents.

Just before sundown, the park is closed for an hour.  Crews work during this time to remove or modify many of the decorations to make the park look and feel much more sinister.  A small army of actors arrive dressed in macabre costumes.  New haunted house attractions are prepped for visitors, and menus at the various restaurants and food stops are changed to include less food and far more alcoholic options.

This is the park’s annual Nights of Fear promotion.  Again, not the actual name, but close enough for you to connect the dots.  Open to anyone eighteen or old, it’s a huge moneymaker that is also a huge pain in the ass for security.  The atmosphere is designed to be creepy as well as rather adult-oriented.  The actors that are hired for the season roam the park in designated areas called scare zones, where they jump out at unsuspecting guests and try to look threatening instead of ridiculous.  Others work inside of attractions that are basically flashier versions of those haunted houses or haunted walks that pop up around Halloween.

Here’s how this all breaks down with regards to the… incident.  You have a security team that has been greatly reduced in size because the park is only open three days a week, not to mention one that isn’t used to working together because it’s been cobbled together from two different divisions.  The event takes place at night, which is far more difficult to monitor than the activities that take place during the day.  There’s an influx of temporary employees in the form of the scare actors.  The park itself has been decorated, often with large and complex displays that can block cameras and create blind spots.  Finally, there’s alcohol.  Lots and lots of alcohol.

It’s a difficult situation for everyone behind the scenes.  The security staff is stretched thin and there are inevitably incidents every single night, many of which we don’t find out about until the next day.  To say that it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation is putting it mildly.

Nine days ago, we had just passed the eleven o’clock mark during one such night.  Normally I patrol the park with the majority of the other security guards during event nights; there’s a lot of ground to cover and not many people to do it with.  I need to coordinate security while also handling issues personally.  It’s one of the few things that I enjoy about the Nights of Fear event.  I get to be outside in the fresh air instead of seated behind my desk in my stuffy office.

I had just returned to the office to swap out a dead walkie-talkie.  We typically use cellphones to communicate, but some of the haunted house attractions don’t play well with digital signals so we carry the walkies as well.  I belted on the new unit and turned to go back out the door, but I was stopped when one of the two guards watching the security camera feeds called me over.

He quickly rewound a clip and played it back for me.  It was in black and white, which was typical when the cameras switched themselves over to night vision mode.  A small group of people walked by a store that I recognized as one of the gift shops in the back half of the park.  There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, and I opened my mouth to say so.  I closed it again and frowned as a figure walked into view.

It was a person dressed in a costume.  It was hard to tell from the position of the camera, but he seemed to be wearing a pumpkin-like mask and was dressed in a long black coat.  He was holding either a baseball bat or some kind of long club.

I picked up a clipboard that was hanging from a nearby hook and quickly scanned through the contents.  It was a complete listing of all the actors and the costumes that they had been assigned.  Each was themed to a particular area of the park.  Zombie costumes outside of the Rave from the Grave haunted house, werewolf costumes for the Pack Hunt scare zone, that sort of thing.  There was nothing on the list that fit the description of what I was seeing on the video.

With an annoyed sigh I went back out into the park.  If it wasn’t one of the actors, it was a guest wearing a costume.  There were strict rules against that to make sure that everyone knew who was part of the event and who wasn’t.  During the day the children were allowed to dress up, but no adults were allowed to wear costumes at any time.

Most of the other guards in the park were busy, and the office wasn’t far from the place where the camera had recorded the individual.  I decided that I’d take care of it myself.  It shouldn’t take long, and from that general area of the park I could easily make my way over to the heavier traffic areas.

I radioed for the control room to send a copy of the video over to my phone.  If the guest was no longer wearing the mask, I might still be able to track him down based on the clothes he was wearing.  As I walked past the entrance to one of the roller coasters, an actor dressed as a deranged clown stepped out of the shrubs.  I nodded at him and pointed at the green glow-in-the-dark lanyard around my neck.  He returned the nod and went back into the bushes.

All of the park staff were wearing the same lanyard.  They were a variation of the lanyards that guests could purchase if they didn’t want to be jump scared in the various scare zones throughout the park.  Those guests were issued glowing orange ones, and the staff wore green.

I followed along the path wrapping around the roller coaster, passing by groups of guests as I went.  I looked closely at each person, but I didn’t see anyone that matched what I had seen on the camera feed.

Roughly ten minutes after leaving the office, I arrived at my destination.  The store wasn’t one of the ones that was open for Nights of Fear.  The windows were dark, and a large Closed sign hung on the door.

I hadn’t really expected the costumed guest to still be there, and he wasn’t.  Still, it was a place to start.

My cellphone vibrated as it received the camera feed video.  I stepped off of the path and into the store doorway so that I was out of the way of the crowd.  Digging my phone out of my pocket, I watched the video again.

I noticed something that I hadn’t the first time.  Right before the figure walked out of frame, he turned slightly and walked at an angle that would take him off the main path.  I looked in the direction he had gone in.  There was a gate in the fence that separated the public from a maintenance area.  The gate was closed, but the padlock was lying on the concrete in front of it.

I retrieved the lock and examined it closely.  It hadn’t been unlocked.  It had been broken.

This was no longer a simple matter of a guest wearing a costume.  I pulled the walkie-talkie off of my belt and radioed the control room to request backup.  One of the most important rules of Nights of Fear security was to never go into a potentially dangerous situation alone.

It took a while for anyone to answer, much longer than it should have.  When someone finally got back to me, I was informed that a brawl had broken out between two groups of college kids at the other side of the park.  Everyone was either committed there or was dealing with one of the other smaller issues that were happening.

That meant that I had to make a choice.  Either I continued my search alone, going against both policy and common sense, or I risked losing the trespasser by waiting for other security guards to become available.  Under normal circumstances I would have gladly opted for the latter instead of the former.  The problem was that this wasn’t a normal circumstance.

The maintenance area that had been broken into went directly under one of the roller coasters.  If you were familiar with it, the area was safe enough.  If you weren’t, however, there were multiple places where the coaster track came down to ground level at the bottom of large hills.  At the speed that they traveled at, the cars could easily injure or kill a person in their path.  There was a very good reason that maintenance areas like this one were only to be used when the ride was shut down.

Even if the trespasser was able to avoid being struck by the ride, what if he somehow caused damage to the track, or obstructed it in some way?  That would endanger the riders.

I considered things for a moment before swearing in frustration and radioing the office to have the roller coaster temporarily stopped.  I would have to go in, sweep the area to make sure that no one was still in there, and lock it back down.  There was a time limit as well.  A lot of inebriated people would be waiting in line, and for the sake of the park employees operating the ride it was best to make sure they weren’t waiting too long.

I waited for a few minutes before I got confirmation from the office that the ride was stopped and that all cars were off the track.  At the same time, I watched as the green lights above the roller coaster’s station turned red.  Nodding to myself, I took out my flashlight and proceeded into the maintenance area.

It was oddly quiet.  Out in the main areas of the park the guests and rides kept up a constant high level of noise.  The maintenance area was fenced off which, combined with the coaster being shut down, muted much of the cacophony of sounds.  It was almost a shock when I realized that I could hear my own footsteps.

I had only been walking for a minute or two when I noticed another noise.  It was the sound of metal scraping on concrete.  Because of the way it echoed it was difficult to pin down where it was coming from.  I stopped and listened while I got my bearings.  Most of the area under the roller coaster was hard compacted dirt rather than concrete.  The only places where the sound could be coming from were around the support struts from the ride, which seemed unlikely, or the large poured pad that the maintenance sheds were secured to.

There weren’t a lot of lights, and the ones that were spaced throughout the maintenance area didn’t do much.  I was used to walking through the park at night long after the last guest had left.  A lot of people would find that unnerving or, I don’t know, creepy, but I’ve always found it to be relaxing.

This was different.  I grew more and more nervous with each step, and I started to get jumpy around every shadow.  I stopped walking and mentally scolded myself for acting like a child before continuing on.

The noise stopped as I came to the sheds.  It was replaced by a new sound, a low and almost inaudible whimpering.  I hurried forward.  Clearly someone was hurt.

I came to a six-foot wide gap between two of the sheds and abruptly halted.  I couldn’t tell what I was looking at.  The space was dark, but I could just make out a large figure standing at the far end with his back turned towards me.  Remembering the flashlight that I was holding, I shined the beam forward just in time to see the person raise his arm up over his head.

The light reflected off something metal in the person’s hand as the arm swung downward.  It was a thick piece of rebar.  The pole struck something that I couldn’t see around due to the man’s bulk.  The whimpering abruptly ceased.

I pulled my taser free from its holster.  While security at the park didn’t typically carry weapons of any kind, an exception was made during the Nights of Fear events.  This was because the crimes that happened during those events tended to be more violent and were sometimes threatening to the guards themselves.

I identified myself and ordered the figure to turn around and face me.  There was a long pause where nothing happened.  I was just about to give the order again when the man slowly did as he had been told.

I nearly dropped the taser.  The man was tall, nearly seven feet.  He was wearing a long black coat that was buttoned up to his neck, and he had the pants and boots to match.  His hands were gloved, and in his right hand was the rebar pole that I had caught a glimpse of.

All of these details I took in peripherally.  My gaze was locked on his head.  The security feed had made me think that he was wearing a pumpkin mask.  This wasn’t the case.  His head was shaved, and it was painted with orange and black makeup that made it resemble a warped jack-o’-lantern.

His eyes, though…  They just weren’t there.  I don’t know how to describe it.  Where his eyes should have been were two dark voids that the light from the flashlight couldn’t penetrate.  I stared at them, not really comprehending what I was looking at.

His appearance was so striking that it took me a bit to notice the blood dripping from the rebar.  I lowered the flashlight slightly so that the beam was focused on the metal.  Bits of flesh and hair were stuck to it.  I remembered the whimpering that had been silenced and tilted my head to look beyond the man.  I could barely make out the remains of a person on the ground.  The head had been mangled to the point that it was barely recognizable as human.

The man started to advance towards me.  With every step that he took forward, I took two back.  I still had the taser pointed at him, but I doubted that it would do any good.  Not only was the man massive, but he was also heavily clothed from his neck down.  The probes would have a hard time making a good connection.

I had to try, though, and it needed to be before he got too close.  I pointed the taser at his center of mass and fired.  The probes sank into his coat in the chest region and the electricity began to flow.  The man stopped moving and looked down at them.  He brushed at them with his hand like they were flies, and they came free of the coat and clattered to the ground.  With that done, he started to come towards me once again, the rebar still clutched in his hand.

I hurriedly backed out of the way as he approached, ready to run at any moment, but when he reached the end of the small alley he simply walked past me without pausing.  I stared up at him in confusion as he went by.

My walkie-talkie emitted a burst of static.  With surprising speed, the man turned, reached out, and pulled it free of my belt.  He squeezed his hand and crushed the device flat.  The noise ceased.  He opened his fingers and let the broken parts fall to the ground before continuing on his way.

Taking one last look at him, I hurried down the short path to the body on the ground.  To my surprise, the person was still alive.  I wouldn’t have thought that anyone could have survived the wounds that they had suffered, but it was clear that wouldn’t be the case for much longer.  The bludgeoning had been so thorough that it wasn’t possible to determine things such as gender and age.  They were just this… this lump of blood and flesh.

I looked back over my shoulder at the man as he turned and disappeared behind one of the sheds.  The amount of strength that this horrible act required was unbelievable.

I thought back to his eyes, those black holes with nothing in them, and I shuddered.

The remains of the person died a few minutes later.  There wasn’t anything that I could do for them except make sure that they didn’t die alone.

Once they were gone I hurried out of the space between the sheds to try to find the killer, but he was no longer there.  With my radio broken I didn’t have much of a choice about how to proceed.  I rushed back to the office and called the local police.

Over the next few hours, my staff and I looked through the security camera footage as closely as humanly possible.  There was no sign of the man, and we couldn’t find any video of him leaving the maintenance area.  When the police searched it for the rest of the night and into the morning, they came up empty-handed.  Everyone was at a loss as to how he had disappeared.

Because of what had happened, the local police began to patrol with the security staff every night the park was open.  That was nine days ago.

A week after the first killing, we caught sight of the man on the security cameras again.  This time it was in a different part of the park, just outside of one of the haunted house attractions.  I took three other guards with me and rushed over, but he was gone again by the time we got there.  Behind the house, pushed up against a dumpster hidden from view of the guests, was another dead body.

Last night was the third killing.  The staff watching the cameras didn’t see the man initially, but a mutilated corpse was found at the top of a waterfall in one of the water attractions.  We reviewed the tapes, and we discovered a clip of less than a second where you could see the man walk behind one of the rocks in the attraction.

Tonight, a member of my staff and a police officer managed to catch the man in the act.  He had dragged a woman in her early twenties behind a carousel by her hair.  They got there just as he was about to stab her with a broken bottle.  The officer immediately opened fire with his sidearm, and two of the shots connected with the target.  The man staggered before falling to one knee.  The officer put his empty gun back into its holster and took out a pair of handcuffs to arrest him as the security guard radioed in for backup and to have the ride stopped.

When he got close, the man suddenly stood back up and grabbed the officer by the throat.  He turned to one side and held out the struggling officer out towards the still-spinning carousel.  One of the horses came racing by and smashed in the side of his head.  I could hear the riders screaming all the way from the park entrance.

None of this was caught by the cameras.  It was relayed to me by the security guard that witnessed it.  The man left him alive for reasons that I don’t understand.  He did, however, pause long enough to jam the remains of the broken bottle into the woman’s chest before disappearing once again into the night.

Today is Sunday.  The park will be closed for the next four days.  When Friday comes around again, though, I have to believe that there will be more killing.  Before I sat down to write this, I put in a call to the head of operations for the company that owns the amusement park.  I’m still trying to process what he told me.

Despite the danger to the guests, the park won’t be canceling the Nights of Fear event.  It all comes down to dollars and cents, you see.  This is one of the most profitable times of the year for the park, and attendance has actually gone up since the killings started.  I don’t know if people think it’s just a publicity stunt, or if it simply makes it more exciting for them to think that they’re in the presence of a real serial killer.  Whatever the case, the police won’t be shutting it down, either.  The event is good for the local economy, not just the park.  The people who make the decisions here in town aren’t willing to give up their cash cow.

I’m going to be ordering my staff not to engage with the face-painted man.  So far he hasn’t attacked any of us, although I think he was close to doing so when I used my taser on him.  We’re going to stay out of his way and hope that the police present at the park will be able to stop him.  I’m not willing to needlessly throw away the lives of my people.

Someone is stalking the Nights of Fear, and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it.

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