NORTH CONWAY — I’ve been afraid of ghosts, vampires, werewolves and zombies for my entire life. While other kids watched horror movies at birthday slumber parties, I hid behind the sofa, and pretended to pick lint balls off the rug. After reading “Rosemary’s Baby” during high school, I slept upright wearing a headlamp.
So it only made sense that, with plenty of hotel options in the Mount Washington Valley, where I’d come to sample fall activities, I picked the one my soul dreaded most: The Haunted Castle at Adventure Suites.
It would be kindly-scary, I told myself — a G-rated spine-tingling adventure. Maybe we’d get little gifts from the front desk, such as sour balls in the shape of human skulls.
We checked in at 11 p.m. on a Friday, with no one else in the lobby except for the night clerk, an animatronic clown that announced the hotel’s regulations, a couple playing pool who looked like off-duty ghosts, and plastic skeletons carrying a coffin — things one might find if Halloween occurred year-round.
“Don’t worry,” the concierge said. “Nothing here will touch you.”
“How much sleep will I get?”
“How much sleep do you want?” she asked.
Because I was too timid to read the brochure before we arrived, I had no idea what was in store for me and three family members I brought for personal protection, secondarily for their enjoyment of things that scare me silly.
They would sleep in the suite’s spookiest rooms, where cannibalistic zombies would probably eat them while I snored nearby in a comfortable normal room.
The interior changed dramatically when I turned the golden hand that serves as a doorknob on the castle door.
Before me was a dark hallway, dimly lit by skull sconces with flickering candles, and plaster casts of gargoyles depicting the seven deadly sins — gluttony, lust, anger, envy, greed, pride and sloth — lining the wall like family portraits. Missing was fear, so often overlooked.
The bathroom had a beautiful mosaic of an unknown breed of poisonous spider, as well as a haunted toilet. (I won’t explain how I determined this.) There are three bathrooms in the castle, all with haunted toilets. My advice: Bring a bedpan if you’re that concerned.
I entered the kitchen, which looked harmless enough, but which I later discovered was haunted by someone who passed away while making tea. At least there were brand new appliances — plus a vintage fridge tall enough to store a corpse.
“You can look in there if you want,” the concierge said.
I showed her my cooler.
A tasteful green pitcher near the microwave was the ideal size for storing cremated remains.
The dining area had a banquet table that could comfortably seat 12 . The surface had been distressed by a thousand blunt knives and perhaps a tenderizing mallet. I stared at the centerpiece: a twisted rattlesnake skeleton. Two life-size suits of medieval armor, one with a rat skeleton emerging from the visor, stood guard by the only emergency exit, wielding battleaxes.
We carried our luggage up a narrow dark stairway. At the top was a chained closet lit by undulating shades of green and purple — with a glass door for viewing what lay within: an asylum chair where guests could receive lobotomies followed by electric shocks, and various implements employed by suspect physicians of yesteryear.
At that point I stood on a landing which required me to make a choice, always a risk in edgy places: Go ahead to a winding staircase, or turn left into a cavernous chamber, also insufficiently lit.
Moments passed while I was frozen by indecision. I selected the stairs which led to a balcony, and an overlook featuring an armchair made of spines and skulls, aptly called “The Bone Throne.”
“I’m OK with this,” I said to make myself prophylactically cheerful while the chair spun around with me in it.
I stared down at a dimly-lit cavern — obviously the family room — with a wrap-around couch that could accommodate 20 people sitting chock-a-block for protection. The distorted wall clock was stuck at midnight. Forget about checking my cellphone in this crypt-like darkness. This is where special events occur at midnight, announced by a tolling bell.
The upstairs bedrooms contained a sleeping arrangement for children — or the adults in your party who lose at rock, paper, scissors: The Dormatorium, with three levels of double-wide coffin-beds, with names such as Combustible, Flammable, and Blaze.
The master suite sported a comfortable king-size platform bed, plus ample air conditioning to keep body parts chilled for future use.
There’s something about that king mattress that jolts in the darkest entrails of night. You might also see flashing red lights, which I mistook for an ambulance coming to rescue me. I stayed awake to see if anything else would happen. It did. But I stayed the course.
My husband got off easy because his fits of snoring scared off the ghosts assigned to him.
When we thought it was daybreak, it was actually 9:30 am, and we were all surprisingly intact.
A quick check in the hallway mirror showed bags under my eyes the size of carry-on luggage. This I took to be evidence of what I long suspected — an allergy to invisible forces.
At breakfast, everyone else looked like an extra from “The Walking Dead” while smiling like the Mona Lisa. We were sad to checkout, and agreed we would return, with unsuspecting relatives.
My 24-year-old and her boyfriend wanted to purchase a timeshare. I breathed a sigh of relief. Just as long I didn’t have to sign on a vanishing bottom line in invisible ink.
The Haunted Castle can be reserved for birthdays, sleepovers, anniversaries, family reunions and getaways. The total price for six to eight guests, including a modest buffet breakfast, and a hot tub with a view of the Moat Mountains, is $1,500. For 18 people during October, the price is $2,300 ($3,000 for Halloween night).
There are other theme accommodations at Adventure Suites, all with memorable environments. Prices for economy suites start at $159. For more information, go to www.AdventureSuites.com or call 356-9744.