“Please come in. We’re so happy to have you for the tour. Watch that third step up to the porch. It’s broken. One of the owners thinks the place needs to look dilapidated though I keep arguing that the house is not what our guests come to see. After all, we don’t deal in amusement park fakery. We’re the real thing.
I’ll take your entrance fees in the front hall. Four hundred dollars each—cash. I hope you were told we don’t take credit cards. Less discerning people don’t understand what we do here, so we prefer not to be too easy for the vulgar to find.
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, is it? —you have prepaid tickets. Excellent!
Now, you all need to sign our release. It’s standard legalese protecting us from liability in case of injury or accident, plus some special waivers for heart attack, insanity, PTSD, etcetera, and the provision that our company can dispose, respectfully of course, of your body if you should pass over during the tour.
Yes, we’re serious, Mrs. Taylor. You’re not the first to think our agreement is a gimmick, but please go ahead and sign the paper. Why, Mr. Taylor, you already have a preliminary agreement all signed and ready. It’s good to have people who are well-prepared.
And now we’ll have a brief wait before your tour. We want only one group at a time in the house. While we wait, I’ll tell you about the history of our organization. I think there’s a chair over there, Mrs. Taylor, and let me just say how I admire your stunning suit–the purple is absolutely regal.
Ultimate Experiences, Inc. has been in existence seventy years, not in this location of course. We move around so people in various locales can take advantage of the unique experience you’re about to have.
Our founder was Miss Lucia Ferrari, one of the most gifted mediums of her day. Miss Ferrari made an important discovery about ghosts—or as we call them attendant spirits or simply attendants. They are not, as many people think, attached to or resident at particular places. The ghost who haunts the place she was murdered is a character of legend. Actually, they are quite mobile, some very restless.
Miss Ferrari’s genius was to realize that many attendants will agree to take up residence in a place like this house for an agreed period. So you will be seeing, hearing, and feeling real, genuine spirits of the dead. We use nothing mechanical, cinematic, or holographic, although lighting is sometimes controlled to produce maximum effect.
No, no—don’t worry, Mrs. Taylor. Like you, visitors are sometimes concerned that the attendants are somehow being exploited. Most of them are happy to have a place to settle for a time. With the recently deceased, we even provide a stipend to living family members, which is a great comfort to the new attendant.
It’s almost time for your tour. You begin right through the door at the end of the hall.
Here are your maps with four possible routes. All of them lead to the backdoor where our custodian, Jim, will be waiting to accompany you to the front gate. Jim is the large man who admitted you, a person of few words, but a multitude of talents. Let me caution you: If you break into sub-groups, have at least three people together.
No, Mrs. Taylor, there’s no danger from the ghosts, but your reaction to them is another matter. It’s better to have support in case of disconcerting circumstances.
Just a few tips about the tour, and off you go. You’ll see on your maps that the rooms on the third floor are temporarily closed to tours. We’re making some personnel changes right now. We’ll be delighted to welcome you back in the spring when we’ll be fully staffed and ready for an extended version of our Ultimate Tour. Just go on up past the third floor to the attic where there’s a wonderful new area, ‘The Murdered and the Murderers.’ Especially don’t miss Nina, the knife-wielding housemaid.
Many people like to leave the Nursery till the end, and some people skip it entirely because it’s the most frightening part of the tour. Baby attendants are very active, often tactile, unpredictable, and shrill, potentially exciting but not for the faint of heart.
Across the hall from the Nursery is the Old Folks’ Parlor, which is a calmer end for your tour. The elderly attendants often simply sit staring, lost in their memories. If they are playing cards or otherwise interacting, they won’t pay any attention to you, but don’t try to listen to their whispers. It’s a quiet way to end your tour, though occasionally someone has a tiny problem afterwards with despair.
Well, it’s time. I think you’ll see why we call this “The Ultimate Tour.” You all have your maps? Good. Right through this door.
Oh, I don’t accompany you, Mrs. Taylor. You’re on your own with the map. If you would just move through a bit more, I’ll be able to close the door. Please . . . stop . . . clutching. Let me help you move your arm . . .and . . . the door is closed.”
“Back so soon, Mrs. Taylor? Let me welcome you to your new status. I see you’ve already gotten the hang of passing through locked doors. You wouldn’t believe how hard that is for some people. You must be a natural.
Yes, I heard the scream but, my dear, this is a haunted house, you know.
Yes—yes—you don’t have to go into detail, dear. I know in a general way what Jim does back there, though he seems to have made rather a mess of it, that unfortunate blood stain on your beautiful purple jacket. Still, it may be an effective detail, depending on the area you are assigned to attend.
Don’t worry about Mr. Taylor. All the others who started the tour with you got to the exit. You were the only one recruited.
Now, Mrs. Taylor, threats and insults will get you nowhere with me. Believe me, I understand there’s an adjustment period for a new attendant.
You’ll soon get over the weeping, too—unless it’s a useful part of your attendance. If you’ll excuse me, I have another tour coming soon. I don’t imagine you want to see Jim again so soon, though you’ll find he can be a sweet, sweet man. Just find your own way up to the third floor and take any unoccupied room. We’ll check on you in a day or two to see how you’re settling in.
That’s right, dear—just through the door where you came in. But before you go, it might be a comfort to know that Mr. Taylor will receive a stipend every month that you’re with us. Let me see. Here’s the preliminary agreement—one of our highest ones, $475 a month! Actually, we started with a much lower figure, but Mr. Taylor is quite a negotiator. You can be proud of that husband of yours.”
BIO: Anne Sherman has worked as a reference librarian and later practiced labor law before discovering her true vocation of life and work with adults with intellectual disabilities. She has lived places varying from Portland, OR, to Morgantown, WV, and from Washington, DC, to Mobile, AL. She now lives in Erie, PA, where she enjoys Lake Erie. Her poems and stories have appeared in Gingerbread House and New Myths.