Special Effects

Jessica Miller


Darkwood Mansion, the old and creepy Victorian house was called, and to me, it’s practically a second home. Frightened shrieks and the faint sound of crackling electricity could always be heard from within. Despite the weathered signs that clearly read “BEWARE”, there’s always a group of people with money in their hands and anticipation in their hearts as they make their way up the gravel walkway with both nervousness and excitement. Darkwood Mansion is the most famous haunted attraction for miles around. There are plenty of scares that await within, and my friends and I are the ones that deliver them. 

Our haunted mansion relies on more old-fashioned themes to scare our guests, so my teammates and I all play the parts of classic horror-movie monsters, ones that have been in the public’s minds for generations. As customers walk through our spooky mansion, they never fail to be scared by at least one encounter with a monster from the past. Branson, with his tall frame and deep, booming voice, appears in the flickering shadows of the living room as a stately, but blood-covered Dracula. In the bedroom, Tony slinks out from a wardrobe, wrapped in strips of linen as a mummy. What makes him more unnerving is the fact that he’s a contortionist, able to twist and turn his limbs in unnatural ways. Rosalyn, the only girl in our group of Darkwood employees, uses her artistic magic to transform herself into a shaggy werewolf.  

But what everyone always talks about is my act. My real name is Victor, but in Darkwood Mansion, I play Frankenstein’s monster. Near the end of the tour, the guests find themselves in what we call “Dr. Frankenstein’s Laboratory”. Dressed in blood-splattered lab coats, my buddies, Henry and Dom play Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, respectively. As guests walk by them in their lab, with the flickering green lights, the strange animal and human parts pickled in jars of slime, and the broken surgical equipment, Dom as Igor would appear to the guests, hunched over and wide-eyed, warning them of the monster who had escaped. Henry, with his googles and bloodied gloves would shriek insanely, “Beware! It’s alive! It’s alive!” The trembling guests would then scream in terror as, with a flash of bright light, I would dash at them from the darkness, roaring and chasing them back down the corridor. They’d madly scramble out of the laboratory where, in order to finish the tour, they have to backtrack through the entire mansion and encounter the other monsters all over again. Guests always leave the mansion terrified and shaking, but exhilarated.   

As Frankenstein’s monster, I’d be dressed in a ripped strait-jacket, and my face would be the signature shades of green, but with far more bloody stitches and swollen bruises than Boris Karloff had back in his day. I knew how to make myself appear a frightful and hideous monster. I had taught myself how to master the art of special-effects makeup. I always show up to work early, perfecting my look before the others arrive. Everyone always asks me to help them put the finishing touches to their own looks, so that nothing looks fake or cheap. I always help Tony the mummy make his flesh appear rotting, Branson as Dracula apply the fake blood, and Dom as Igor add scars to his face. All of us have a tight and special bond, as we spend the year scaring the daylights out of people for a living. 

I worry, though, what will happen when it’s time for us to move on. We can’t stay at  

Darkwood forever. I wish I could though. Here is not only where I get paid to be a monster and frighten people, but where everyone is comfortable with me being a monster. 

I don’t like to brag, but my look as Frankenstein’s monster is extremely convincing. A huge gash with oozing blood is slashed across my face, held by several stitches. Another gash crosses my forehead. Several deep scars cut across my cheeks and neck, one even deforming my lips. Add different shades of green, some contact lenses, a couple of bruises, and the costume, and I’m no longer Victor, but Frankenstein’s monster. It never fails to frighten.  

But I fear that one day, it’ll frighten my friends at Darkwood. Sure, they work in a haunted mansion, can tolerate the sight of blood, and binge-watch horror films, barely flinching at the jump-scares. But that stuff is all fake, right? It’s all just pretend. It’s carried out in controlled environments and rehearsed acts. It’s all just special effects.  

When I say I’m good at special effects makeup, it’s only partially true. Most of it is already done for me. Just have to add some fake blood here, some fake stitches there. Lay down green paint and replace the bruises that have long since faded away. When my friends arrive for work, I’m already there, as Frankenstein’s monster. It’s only after they leave for the night that the blood comes off, the green washes away in the sink, and the costume is hung back up in the closet. The special effects are gone.  

My friends never ask why I arrive to work super early, and I never tell them. I never tell them how I got to be so good at special effects makeup. I never tell them the real reason why I can never go out for dinner with any of them or visit their homes for game nights or horror-movie marathons. I never tell them that I once had a wife who left me after that terrible accident six months ago. I never tell them that I didn’t have the money for the plastic surgery to fix what had been horribly ruined. And I certainly never tell them that this is the only future I can see for myself, and I can’t bear the thought of losing any of them.  

Maybe one day I’ll tell them. Reveal my real self to them without the special effects. Maybe they’ll be frightened. Or maybe they’ll accept me anyway. Maybe…I just don’t know. I’m too scared to take a chance. Not much in life scares me…except the thought of scaring away the only friends I have. At Darkwood, I’m Frankenstein’s monster. At home, I’m just Victor, still deformed. Still with two huge gashes marked across my face.  

Still a hideous monster.

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