Our town's elementary school hosted a Halloween party this past Saturday, and it went very well. The high point was a haunted house organized and run by fifth and sixth graders, and I wanted to note it here because of its game nature.
The kids had wanted to make a Halloween event that was different from previous years' offerings. After being tasked with it, another parent and I met with these fifth and sixth graders off and on for the past couple of months, eliciting ideas, and facilitating the growth of an elaborate plan.
Here's how it played out: Saturday night, around 5 pm, kids arrived in many costumes, along with their parents. The school's librarian and I started off things by each reading a story: she did Neil Gaiman's Wolves in the Walls for the younger kids, me doing "The Monkey's Paw" for the older ones.
Then the haunted house began. Really, it was a haunted forest. Earlier in the day the kids and some parents met to select and walk out the terrain, blocking positions in daylight for that evening's event. Around 4 pm, students and adults started work in the forest south of the school, hanging banners, blazes, posters, dolls along an established path. Just before 5 pm about fifteen kids in costumes ran quietly into the forest, taking up their positions, getting into their roles. The first tour guide (more on this in a minute), a quiet, subtle boy named Eban, took up position at the trailhead, and a few grownups brought the first ten younger kids to him. Two older kids joined the group. I added myself to them, as did my son.
The first guide read a couple of paragraphs that he and some colleagues had written, describing a scary history concerning the forest. There was no sign that this was fiction. It read more like an urban legend or ARG. Apparently a couple of kids had been lured into the woods, years ago, in search of treasure, but things had ended... badly. On that note, we set off along the darkening trail.
Eban the first guide led us into the forest, along a path. Weird noises came from deeper in, shrieks and gibbering, hoots and growls, growing louder. The two older kids in our group started acting strangely. The guide reassured us, calming us. A couple of dark figures rushed through the trees next to our group - what were they? We took one turn in the path, then another, and came up a tall figure with a dark helmet, breathing heavily... Darth Vader! The kids yelled, then, and as we turned left and away from him on the path, a couple of capering monsters (could they have been children, once?) swooped in and dragged away our guide, who hollered, but could not escape. We stood, stunned, until a new kid appeared from the dark. "I'm your new guide," Gwynneth said, "and I'm very sorry about the horrible death of your first one. Follow me - it gets scarier here."
On it went, deeper and deeper into the darkening forest. Cannibals came and ate one of our party. A figure all in black swept around and through us, whispering. Gwynneth was dragged away by mysterious, howling figures, and we received our third guide. Guide 3 took us along a long, broad lane in the trees, which looked safe. But we were deceived, as corpses started up from the ground, weird creatures yowled from high up in the trees, maniacs leaped from large boxes, and more, more figures ran to and though us, giggling and growling. Guide 3 lasted a few minutes, then guide 4 saw us to the end. There, where the path let onto the school's playing field, a group of girls sang and danced merrily, next to some lights, to release us back from the dark horrors.
We ran through the whole sequence four times. The party grew in size, swollen partly by repeats and, I guess, by other kids and adults. Some kids freaked out and bailed, running along a path we'd set up about 1/3rd of the way in. Some of them came back to try again.
The kids running the affair had a blast, and did a great job, really working into their roles and sticking to 'em. The younger kids enjoyed themselves. The adults, who had been tired of indoor Halloween parties, told me they were very surprised and impressed. I'm extremely pleased.