Every year around Halloween, the various troops around the South Florida area would get together in one place for one purpose: Scare the bejeezus out of people. The setting for this haunted trail was a section of a large campground whose name I've long since forgotten. Each troop that showed up got to dress up an area in any way they pleased: a cemetery, a mad doctor's laboratory, the site of a werewolf attack. Anything the troop could cook up was fair game. The more troops that joined in, the longer the trail became.
The first and only time I visited this once-a-year attraction, I visited as a spectator. At 11, I was too young to help out behind the scenes, but I was just the right age to walk on through. I was excited about the event, but terrified too. On the drive through the campground, I was so scared that I thought I could see ghosts in the trees.
I don't remember much about the Haunted Forest now. Eleven years is a long time and my memory isn't the best anyway. But I do remember one thing pretty clearly: I was scared out of my mind. As a kid that age, I just couldn't differentiate the fake from reality. I didn't care that the blood and guts were rubber and ketchup, I thought the zombies were really going to eat me. It may have been some teen in a mask, but that plastic machete looked 100% real to me. My fear made every shadow darker and every monster scarier. And you wanna know something? I had a blast. Don't get me wrong, at the time, after the walk-through, I cried like a baby. But looking back now, I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything. As we say around these parts, isn't it fun to be a little scared sometimes?
As a man of 22, I freely admit that I'm still scared of haunted house trails to this day. While the concept of Halloween Horror Nights fascinates me, I have no doubt that I'd need about 15 pairs of pants to change into throughout the night. Whatever else the Haunted Forest was, it was still frightening and it embedded deep within me a fear of those kinds of attractions. Still, I'm a guy who believes fears were made to be faced. Maybe next year I'll have to build my courage and head for a few new haunts.