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The 13th Door: Our (more or less) fearless reporter makes it all the way through

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The legend has it that some guy named Barrington had a nephew who was a bad gambler, his debts causing him freak out when his uncle refused to help him. So he boarded up the exits of The Barrington Hotel during the annual Hallow's Eve Ball and set fire to it in 1912. The only guy who made it out alive and unburned was said to have found "The 13th Door" -- which of course doesn't really exist. On the other hand, there are a lot of exit doors -- and if you're anything like me, you may very well need them. For once, I didn't.

The attraction begins inside an elevator and meanders through the rooms of the haunted hotel. Our tour guide, Chuckles, showed us through the maze before the actors arrived, and we took our time walking through. I noted the exits; apparently it's required to have one every fifty feet -- sadly, the hotel of legend apparently did not have the same policy.

Despite the lack of people jumping out of corners, it was creepy walking through a sedated version of the normal experience. I was able to catch my breath in the bloody laundry room because there is nothing scary about washing out blood stains. Plus, I was certain that no deranged man could possibly jump out of the washing machine, because it was too small. Unless they were a midget, which, actually, I'm guessing midgets are in high demand during the season. Or a child, who unfortunately would not be allowed to work these kind of "slave jobs" thanks to certain "laws."

After the preliminary walk-through, we waited for the doors to open and Chuckles asked us, "What's the worst spot to be?" For me, the answer was front or back. When you're two people, there is no getting around being the front or back -- but if you're walking in a group, people generally feel safer being the meat of the sandwich; I know I do.

When it was finally time to go in, I employed a time-tested strategy for getting through (last time, I didn't even make it inside the door) -- I walked behind our photographer and basically used his backpack as a mask, until the very end, when I had to run from the chainsaw guy. We were half way across the parking lot when his wallet exploded a confetti of business cards, and I finally started laughing. It was a relief to know that his Safeway card was more important than killing me.

I had to hydrate before entering the next one, and my throat was hoarse from screaming like a girl, but maybe I was just stalling. Next door to The 13th Door is its sister haunt, Curse of Slaughterhouse Gulch. The premise of it involves all the bad guys from popular horror movies. Freddy, Jason, Hannibal Lector, you get the idea. Before entering, I asked the guy playing Jason, who's been in the biz for seven years, how he's dedicated all that time to it. He laughed and said, "It's cathartic." That's a good word for it.

"Plus," he added, "it's just so damned funny."

Now it was my turn to lead the way and enter first. And though I'd finally made it all the way through one haunted house, the prospect of leading the way through another had me clutching my Bic in front of me like a shiv -- if anyone needed to get stabbed, I'd be ready.

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