When you see the sign that says HOUSE OF HORRORS FOR WOMEN IN THEIR EARLY THIRTIES, you scoff. Your generation has lived through 9/11, an economic crash, and a pandemic all before your midlife crisis. How scary could this really be?
You dare to enter.
As you make your way to the house, a crowd of Gen-Zers blocks your path. All of them are dressed in crop tops that you could never pull off and make more from their monetized TikToks than you do with a bachelor’s in economics and ten years in the workforce. To get inside, you must survive dozens of mean-spirited remarks about your skinny jeans and side part.
You step into the darkness. The door immediately slams behind you and your ears are blasted with the 2008 problematic dance anthem “Don’t Trust Me” by 3OH!3. Your stomach twists in agony remembering that time in twelfth grade when you drunkenly sang every offensive lyric off-key at Kelsey B.’s graduation party.
A spotlight illuminates an antique mirror directly to your left. The mirror’s cursed reflection shows you what the stipple-shaded peony tattoo you got on your arm in 2017 will look like when you are seventy-five. It looks even worse than your mother predicted.
“Don’t Trust Me” fades away and is replaced by a different, softer song that slowly builds to a crescendo. It’s Vivaldi’s “Spring”—the hold music for the Blue Cross Blue Shield call center. An unseen entity grabs your ankles and drags you to the ground, then cackles, “That baseline blood panel your doctor recommended was charged to your deductible. Remit $237 within the next fifteen days to avoid being sent to collections.”
After scrambling to your feet, you begin to walk down the hall. Demonic voices whisper horrifying questions at you as you fumble through the darkness: “Did you remember to refill your Lexapro?” “Have you thought more about getting orthotic inserts?” “When was the last time you used your gym membership?”
You stumble into the living room, where the corpse of your third-grade piano teacher sits at a baby grand, playing the same minor chord over and over. She turns to you and murmurs, “Maybe if you’d actually practiced your scales, you’d have learned enough discipline to stick with your law school applications, Miss ‘I’ll-Take-the-LSATs-Next-Year.’”
Behind you, a black light turns on. An arrow and the words THIS WAY appear on the floor in a bloody scrawl. Subsequent bloody messages materialize as you walk down the hall, revealing terrifying truths: your grandparents will die before you forgive them for voting for Trump; your 401K cannot sustain you in retirement; you are too old to become an Olympic figure skater.
Your heart pounds with dread as you follow the arrows into the kitchen. All the lights are on, and every wall is covered in that Rae Dunn-TJMaxx shit you’ve been secretly afraid that you’ll begin to accumulate in ten years. There are signs that say things like GATHER, and LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE, and MAMA’S KITCHEN. A shudder rockets through your body as you realize the one that says IT’S WINE O’CLOCK would look cute next to your microwave.
On the table, between two burning pumpkin-scented candles in ceramic holders that say AUTUMN, there is a silver plate with a domed lid. Behind you, a woman’s voice beckons, “Open it.”
You spin around. It’s Kelsey B. She’s wearing a tailored Banana Republic suit, just in case you forgot that she actually followed through on law school.
You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remove the lid. The smell of pickled jalapeño and nacho cheese makes your skin crawl.
“No,” you whisper. “Not stadium nachos.”
“Oh, yes,” she hisses. “It’s snack time, bitch. Prepare for an eternity of dairy-induced gas, followed by esophagus-roasting heartburn. There are no Lactaid or omeprazole tablets in Hell.”
You run screaming toward the front door with Kelsey B.’s footfalls right behind you.
Your hand is on the doorknob and just as you’re about to exit, sweat dripping down your forehead, Kelsey B. grabs by the throat and says, “I still have those pictures of you drinking underage and I’m going to tag you in them on LinkedIn.”
You push her away, open the door, and tumble onto the porch. You shove past the herd of Gen-Zers who sarcastically snipe, “Aw, little millennial girl is so scared. Are you going to watch your ‘comfort show’ Friends, you obsessed-with-the-nineties loser?”
Finally, you’re free. You survived the scariest haunted house imaginable.
But then, you remember the reason you first pulled over.
There’s a FOR SALE sign in the front yard. Resting under it is a box of informational fliers. With trembling hands, you take one. It says the house is less than one thousand square feet and was built in the 1970s. It has original carpet and known foundation issues. The listing reads, “As-is fixer-up charmer—buyer to do own due diligence.”
A bloodcurdling scream pierces the cool October air.
It’s your own scream.
You just saw the price of the house.