Halloween is my favorite time of year. Before the white sheet falls across northeast Ohio, the trees paint the landscape with vibrant autumn colors. The air gets cool, crisp, and the leaves crunch beneath your feet.
When I first moved here from Virginia Beach, I was regaled with spooky stories of local legends and haunted sites. I was enthralled with the rich history (and yes, perhaps a few urban legends) of the area.
One of my favorite stories involves Zombieland.
If you're a local, I'm sure you know where Zombieland is. It's the place that isn't a place, located somewhere in a triangle between Lowellville, Poland and Mahoning townships, where the river meets U.S. Route 224 and stretching across the Pennsylvania border.
Its dark, winding roads with creepy animal sounds and overall spooky vibe form a local haunt for people who want to meet with a good scare.
My friends told me how you enter Zombieland of your own will, but you don't leave until it's done with you. They described the times where the driver would turn off the headlights for a second or two, resulting in screams.
Between fits of laughter and bouts of terror, Zombieland is a place to go to scare yourself and those dear to you, they said.
I knew I had to go there and experience it for myself.
We entered Zombieland somewhere in Lowellville. I recall a house that had a lighted statue of the Virgin Mary at the entrance. Right away, it felt like we were entering another land.
The familiar chirping of crickets and other insects became strange and ominous, and each time we entered Zombieland, there would be a strange figure walking down a desolate street. The figure (probably a resident going about his or her day-to-day business) would stop and stare as we passed, a haunted look on the face and a seemingly hollow look in the eyes (probably sick of seeing giggling teens and 20- to 30-somethings driving past his home). We could feel the weight of their gaze as Zombieland stretched before us.
We didn't have a destination in mind; we didn't use navigation or keep track of the turns we made. We just drove, took random turns, and squealed in mock terror (OK, some of it was real) when something made us jump in our seats. Some of the roads are so dark and twisty, they'd be the perfect place for a horror film.
While some of the houses are large and well-kept, smaller houses and run-down barns are sprinkled in between, some of them seemingly unfit to live in. Electric fences run around some of the properties with no animals in sight.
Is it to keep the prisoners from escaping, we wonder aloud, and then shriek when the car starts to slow down. But it's just our driver messing with us, and we laugh as the car picks up speed once more. But the thought lingers: What would we do if the car broke down here?
How long would we survive? Who would die first, and did something just peer out from the only lit window in that shack? (How does that place even have electricity?)
On one trip, we grew brave. We pulled off to the side of the road and contemplated a game of basketball in the parking lot of a church where the basketball net was bordered by a graveyard. We thought better of it, as none of us was brave enough to as much as unlock the car door.
Another time, we did muster the courage to venture forth from the vehicle (the daylight may have helped). We walked along a desolate bike trail, one that led us to a spot that overlooked a small ravine. We peered out over the drop-off, realizing we were cornered if a monster decided we'd make for a nice dinner.
But we weren't really scared until we noticed the littering of shotgun shells beneath our feet.
We picked one up for closer inspection, wondering what, or who, they were shooting at.
Just as we were asking that, we heard the revving of four-wheelers coming closer, and decided the shooters were returning to finish what they started.
We screamed and ran down the path, and I'm ashamed to say I tripped a few times along the way. A most ungraceful escape from an untimely demise.
But, needless to say, I lived to write another day, as Zombieland deemed to release us back into the normal world.
The normal world can be quite boring at times, but that's what we have Zombieland for.
Have you been to Zombieland? Click on this story at tribtoday.com or scare me with your tale at firstname.lastname@example.org.