Attention, passengers! I need you all to listen to me right now! Put down your souvenir Smallwood Farms cider mugs and pay attention. There can’t be any uncertainty surrounding what I’m about to say to you: This is not a haunted hayride, and the horrific events of the last fifteen minutes were not planned or scripted in any way.

Truly, none of the madness that you have witnessed today was intended as part of our Fall Fun Time Hayride. Not the strands of animal entrails decorating this remote stretch of forest, not the sinister laughter echoing around us, and most crucially, not the berserk individuals who have been raiding our hayride wagon. Actually, it would, in fact, appear that these maniacs wish us very real harm.

This isn’t a joke. We are all in terrible danger.

Yes, I understand that Spooky Acres, Fright Forest, and various other attractions in the area operate haunted hayrides during the Halloween season, but please take my word that this is not one of them. Our hayride is a family-friendly excursion consisting of hot apple cider, group sing-a-longs, and some of the most beautiful autumn foliage upstate New York has to offer. It does not involve a swarm of deranged men flitting through the trees around us and shouting horrible threats while gleefully mutilating themselves with broken bottles.

Those men are not Smallwood Farms employees.

I wish you had listened. But when I first aired my concerns after seeing that the wooden bridge leading back to Smallwood Headquarters had mysteriously collapsed, leaving us to follow the direction offered by that crudely fashioned detour sign, it was clear from your “knowing” chuckles that you believed this to be part of a rehearsed performance. Similarly, you cheerfully ogled the increasingly appalling warning signs: the occult symbols carved into the surrounding tree trunks, that gruesome altar, the large piece of plywood with GO HOME FEDS scrawled on it in glaring red letters. The evidence strongly indicated that we had wandered into some sort of depraved backwoods murder haven—cause for alarm, not something for you to eagerly Instagram.

That pile of human heads was almost certainly real.

Still, you couldn’t stop “oohing” and “aahing,” even when the first wave of gibbering lunatics mounted our wagon and set upon our driver, slicing his throat from ear to ear as he begged for mercy. Let me assure you right now that none of that was “special effects.” There are no special effects. This is a cart being pulled by a tractor, and Patrick is dead, god damn you, his body dragged off into the woods for some kind of unimaginable desecration while you all applauded like fools.

And not to belabor the point, but I would think that the frantic nature of my own confrontation with that machete-wielding behemoth as he and I desperately wrestled for control of his blade would have suggested the profoundly dire nature of this hayride, particularly that part in the fight where I upended our tureen of scalding hot apple cider onto his deformed face while screaming, “Die, you son of a bitch! Die!” Rest assured that I did not mean any of that in a fun or “spooky” way.

Nonetheless, casting blame is not a luxury we have at our disposal at the moment. This wild pack of hillbilly psychotics knows that we’re on the run—yes, they’ve got a taste for it now. And once they regroup and take another pass at us, we’ll have two options: fight them off, or join them in the dark heart of the woods as unwilling participants in some Satanic rite that the civilized mind cannot comprehend. That is the choice as it stands before you on this grim Smallwood Farms afternoon.

Oh, I can hear them now. Scrambling through the woods, moaning and slavering like something out of a fever dream. They’ll be here soon, and when they arrive, I say beat them back with your fists, with your souvenir mugs, tear the planks from our besieged caravan and bludgeon these savages back into the darkest corridors of Hell. Do this, and you may yet return to a world in which the monsters are imagined and true evil but a gray shadow skulking in the woods. Kill them! Kill them. Can you freaks hear me out there? I hope that you can. Happy Halloween, you diseased maniacs!