An excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Other Side of Truth, which will be published in November (just in time for Christmas – hint hint!):
When I was a kid, my family used to go on vacation to Prince Edward Island, the small province across the Northumberland Strait from Nova Scotia. It was always an adventure because back then, before the federal government built a massive bridge that connected PEI to the mainland in 1997, you could only get to PEI via one of two car ferries, and the Island itself had a magical, timeless quality. To a young boy from the city, it was a rural paradise, full of mystery, like something out of a Hardy Boys novel.
PEI has always been best known for its pristine beaches, its potatoes, and of course Anne of Green Gables, but it also had a number of family-friendly attractions back then – small-town, low-budget “theme parks” like Rainbow Haven, Santa’s Village and Fairyland (where the highlights included things like petting zoos and slides bigger than the ones you could find in your schoolyard back home). In the years since, much larger and flashier amusement parks have replaced these older gems from my childhood years, and I think that PEI lost something in the bargain. As a kid, we relied on our imagination; now the attractions do much of the imagining for you. Some people call it progress, but I’m not one of them.
In the 1970s, however, there was definitely a slower pace, and my brother and sister and I had all sorts of adventures because we had imagination to spare. One of my favourite places to visit was a small attraction in Harrington, a speck on the map just outside the capital of Charlottetown. Looking back, I realize that it was a pretty small-scale operation, even by the standards of PEI at the time, but it had the one thing that I remember above all others – a house of horrors!
Actually, in hindsight I realize that it was more of a “mobile home of horrors”, but to a nine year old boy, it seemed a lot bigger than it really was. I remember the first time we went there like it was yesterday. There was spooky music and sounds playing as we walked up to the “house”, just like the kind my Dad still blares out the windows on an old record player every Halloween from a well-worn K-Tel album of spooky sounds. The building just kind of sat there, next to the parking lot. Some fake cobwebs were strewn around the entrance, and a skeleton as well, but there really wasn’t a whole lot else. Nevertheless, it was all too real and frightening to me. For several minutes, I refused to go in. Even after my Dad pointed out that my younger siblings had made it through unscathed, I was convinced that I would go in and never come out.
Finally, I screwed up the courage to face both the monsters within the haunted “house”, and the fear within me. As I recall, it was not the reassurance by my Mom and Dad that got me through the front door; rather, it was my brother’s taunting from the other side of the fence that separated those who had gone through the building from those who had not. With one too many “‘fraidy cat” jibes still ringing in my ears, I decided that I would rather face demons from Hell than spend the rest of the vacation listening to Jim make fun of me. So in I went.
And then out I came. It was pretty scary, but I made it through in one piece (although I did scrape my elbow when I turned around suddenly as a witch puppet popped out from a wall). Before we left, I went through again. It wasn’t nearly as frightening the second time around, because I knew what was going to happen, and therefore most of the anticipatory dread was gone. But my encounter with the “haunted house of Harrington” has stayed locked in my memory ever since, even as many others from my childhood have faded or disappeared altogether. It was the thrill that was scary, and the scare that was thrilling, the kind of experience that speaks to us all on the most primal of levels.