Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is a writer and associate English professor in Pennsylvania. Her creative work has appeared in many places including the horror publications Ink Stains: A Dark Fiction Literary Anthology, Eerie Christmas 2666: Dark Drabbles, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Black Petals Horror/Science Fiction Magazine. 

She holds a Doctorate of Education with a Literacy Specialization from the University of Delaware and is working toward an MFA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. Additionally, she is the current fiction editor at River and South Review.


by Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar


One dark eyebrow raised, Zach looked at his girlfriend. “You know this is stupid, right? Can’t we just turn around and go to the movies or something?” He focused his attention back on the road.

Running her fingers through her long, curly brown hair, Julie said, “Come on. It’ll be fun. And Bobby and Andrea are meeting us there. Aren’t you always saying you want to do something different?”

Zach sighed, frustrated that he always caved in to Julie’s demands. “Fine. We’ll go. But don’t you think we’re getting a little old for this?” He nodded to the dashboard on which the garish flyer lay.

“I think it looks fun,” Julie replied, picking up the advertisement. A bloody, decapitated head with vacant eyes stared back at her as she read the caption aloud in a deep, dramatic voice: “House of Screams. Get ready for a night of pure terror. We’re dying to meet you.”

When Zach did not respond, she said, “All right, it’s not very original, but it’s only twenty bucks per person, and the other ones I checked out were, like, at least twice as much. Trust me, it’ll be fun.” She smiled, her eyes pleading. A horror buff, she loved this sort of thing, whereas her boyfriend would have preferred to go park by the river and fool around.

“Whatever. But don’t expect me to scream. And if it’s lame, we’re doing something else, okay?”

“Deal.” Julie liked getting her way and was excited to leave town, away from the regular high school parties and football games. It was almost Halloween, after all; why not get into the spirit of things?


They pulled into a long, gravel driveway thirty minutes later. The disembodied voice of the GPS announced, “You have reached your destination.”

Zach furrowed his brow. “Are you sure this is where we’re supposed to go? Shouldn’t there be a sign or something? I’d just feel better if I could get a signal on my phone and use my Maps app. The GPS on my car is old.”

Pursing her lips, Julie said, “This has to be it. This is the only place around.” She waved her arms to indicate the miles of Pennsylvania farmland surrounding them.

On the cool, crisp October day, with the setting sun illuminating the red and gold leaves falling upon rolling green hills, Julie felt a frisson of excitement to embark upon such a festive and spooky activity. “Look,” she said, pointing out the goose bumps on her arm, “I’m scared already.”

“That makes one of us,” Zach muttered as he parked his ancient Ford and turned off the engine.

The couple got out of the car, stretching their limbs after the trip. “Are we the only ones here? Shouldn’t there be other cars?” he asked.

Julie checked her phone again to see if Andrea had texted, but there was no cell reception this far out in the country. “Or maybe we’re supposed to park near that huge barn over there? And I can’t say I’m surprised that we beat Bobby and Andrea. She always takes forever to get ready. Like she needs to look all gorgeous to impress the guys dressed up as zombies?”

Julie felt annoyed by the familiar antics of the girl she didn’t really care for that much, but the foursome spent considerable time together since Bobby and Zach were best friends. “We’re here, so let’s go. It’s cold and I don’t feel like waiting around. They can catch up with us inside, I guess. That must be the place.”

The farmhouse, a slanted structure, gave the impression of abandonment, with several broken windows and rotting boards. Likewise, the surrounding grounds, despite the lush autumnal colors, appeared unkempt and in need of work, the grass long and dry.

“It looks like a haunted house, anyway,” Zach said. “I wonder if they just found an old place or did stuff to make it look that way.”

“It’s probably special effects. It wouldn’t pass the inspection if they used a real place. You know, safety hazards.” Julie had no idea whether or not haunted house attractions needed any sort of government regulation, but she figured Zach would feel better if the place at least sounded like a legit attraction.

“Right. Let’s get this over with.” Zach scanned the area once more for the familiar green boat of Bobby’s rusty Chevy Malibu in case it was somehow camouflaged behind one of the many skinny trees. “Let’s give this place some much needed business.”

Their sneakers crunched in the gravel as they walked, the only sound in the silence. Julie rubbed her hands together to stay warm.

“Where are the people who work here?” Zach asked. “You’d think they’d be up our butts by now trying to get our money. We’re, like, their only customers.”

Julie smiled, moving her eyebrows up and down. “I bet it’s all part of their thing. You know, to make it seem real. They want us to think we’re really about to go into a haunted house.”

“If you ask me, this place needs better marketing. People probably get lost on their way here all the time, especially since they don’t even have a sign. How do they get any business, anyway?”

“I don’t know, Zach. Let’s just get inside.” Julie’s tone was short. She had expected a carnival atmosphere; she’d been to “haunted” houses before with long lines, cotton candy stands, and the ever-present screeching of thirteen-year-old girls. Something didn’t feel right about this place. Where was everyone?

“Where’s the ticket booth?” Julie asked, now that they had reached the door. “Do we just go inside? I don’t know what to make of this. Do you think it’s closed or something? Maybe that’s why it’s empty.”

“They wouldn’t send out the flyers if they weren’t open. It costs money, and it looks like this place can use some, since no one’s here.” Zach stared into Julie’s eyes, sensing her uneasiness. “I’m sure there’s a killer clown ready to collect our cash when we go inside.”

As he twisted the knob, the door opened with a loud creak.

“Oh, that smell is awful!” Julie said in a small, strained voice as the odor of something rotten assaulted their nostrils.

His eyes tearing, Zach nodded, keeping his voice low, as if he were in a library. “You can buy these sprays to smell like stuff. I saw it on TV. That’s foul.”

They stepped forward, waiting to be surprised by the haunted house workers. “Ugh! It’s sticky!” Leaning on Zach for support, Julie picked up her foot to see what she had stepped in, but the room’s only light was the twilight glow through a hole in the ceiling. “Gross. I don’t like that. It’s like going to that three-dollar movie theater in town, that nasty one.”

“I think it’s supposed to be blood,” Zach whispered. “Pretty freaky, I guess, but now we’re gonna track that into my car.”

“What’s that sound?” Julie asked, not really caring about whether or not they would further besmirch Zach’s beast of a vehicle. She cocked her head to the side to listen.

Now Zach was the one repulsed as he heard the buzzing. “It’s flies.” Sure enough, as their eyes adjusted, they could see the shapes of what must have been hundreds of the dirty little insects flying around in circles and landing back in the residue of the floor.

He batted the flies away. “Let’s get out of here. I’m not even scared; I just feel like I could puke.”

“Okay,” Julie agreed, as her stomach was beginning to feel queasy; the pizza she had eaten a couple of hours earlier threatened to make a reappearance. She turned back to the door and twisted the knob. “I can’t open it.”

“Lemme try.” Zach pushed his girlfriend aside and struggled in vain. “It’s locked somehow!” The fingers of real fear crept up his spine. “Who could’ve locked it? We haven’t even seen anyone.”

“Maybe we have to get all the way through the house,” Julie said, her voice panicked, shooing the flies away.

“No way,” Zach said. “I’ll break down the door if I have to.”

He kicked at the door again and again to no avail. “What the hell? This thing is solid. I can’t knock it down.”

“Oh my god, and there’s no windows!” Julie cried.

“Looks like we have to find a way out. Hopefully we’ll find a side exit.”

They trudged through the congealing puddles. “I think we’re in some sort of kitchen,” Zach whispered. In the dim lighting, they could make out a long wooden table with a ceramic bowl of what had once been fruit but was now only a fuzzy, gelatinous mass. The flies hovered in a black cloud over the rot. The table was bare except for this and one other object: a meat cleaver.

“Keep walking,” Julie said, shaking, her voice barely audible. “Let’s get out of here.”

“It’s thicker now,” Zach said in a calm voice, referring to the substance on the floor. It was more of an effort to raise and lower their feet each time, but they wanted to get out, had to get out, back to the safety of their normal, comfortable world. “There’s something—”

He stopped when his eyes rested upon the object blocking his way, a large, solid item. It looked like a pretty realistic prop, one made of fetid, decomposing flesh. Zach opened his mouth to scream, but no sound emerged.

And then they heard the footsteps, slow and measured, along with the scrape of metal across wood as their pursuer located his weapon.

Zach and Julie registered the grizzled man in front of them. He was filthy, with long, tangled hair and torn clothing. He smiled, a demented grin.

“Welcome,” he said. “I’d tell the wife to fix you a lemonade, but you can see she’s not up to the task.” He gestured to the dead, mutilated carcass on the floor. He fingered his weapon as if to test its sharpness.

“Look,” Zach said. “We’ve changed our minds. We don’t want to go through this haunted house. But don’t worry! We’ll still give you the forty dollars. We just want to leave. My girlfriend isn’t feeling very well.”

“Please, just let us leave,” Julie managed, voice trembling. “We won’t tell anyone.”

The man coughed out a laugh. “Ha! Not sure why you two showed up, all the way out in the boonies, but you’ll have to stay a while. A long while. Forever, in fact.”

Lunging forward with his meat cleaver, the killer brought the weapon down forcefully, slicing through Zach’s shoulder. Zach screamed but seemed in shock, as though he couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. He was frozen in place as his arm fell to the floor. Blood spurted and splashed over Julie.

With her mouth forming an O of horror, Julie began to run blindly through the dim, unfamiliar house. She didn’t hear anything more from Zach, which terrified her further, but she had to try to save herself. There was nothing she could do for her boyfriend anymore.

Julie bounced off a wall that she didn’t see and changed course to enter another room. She frantically searched for some sort of way out, or, at the very least, a place to hide.

Was that a back door? She lunged toward it only to be stopped mid-stride by the cleaver chopping into her chest.


“Where are they?” Andrea checked her phone for about the thirtieth time in two minutes.  “This is sooooo annoying. How long do they think we’re gonna wait for them? Didn’t you tell them 7:00?”

Bobby urged, “Let’s just wait a couple minutes longer.” It wasn’t like Zach to be late, but maybe he had a flat or something. Bobby watched the line to the admission stand get longer and longer. Man, this place is making a killing tonight, he thought.

“We’re gonna be waiting an hour to get in if we don’t get in line now!” Andrea’s nagging voice sounded shrill even over the roar of the hundreds of customers eager to enter House of Screams, a popular “haunted house” attraction. The sweet odors of kettle corn and funnel cake permeated the air along with the rich, earthy smells of the farmland on which House of Screams was constructed every year.

“Maybe they got lost,” Bobby suggested. But the huge, flashing sign with the zombie head announced to everyone for at least a mile around where they could find House of Screams. How could they miss it?

Andrea gave Bobby a long look. “All right,” he said. “I guess we’ll catch up with them later.”

But no one would ever see Zach or Julie again. Their corpses would rot away in the small, remote farmhouse, where the farmer would eventually succumb to his own madness and join his victims in death and decay.

Zach and Julie would miss the cheap thrills their friends would enjoy, but thanks to an outdated GPS system and the unluckiness of walking into a murder scene, they had found their own House of Screams.