As the wind grows ever colder, and the days shorter – there is an awakening of sorts in our collective psyche. For as long as recorded history, human beings have seemingly shared a common observation as summer turns to fall – and the long dark quickens its approach.
While the frigid bite of winter may seem cold and lifeless, it is during autumn’s twilight that the spirits begin their restless dance.
Regardless of culture or creed – it is during this time that we think back to the departed, and in many instances honour the dead in celebrations that vary throughout the world. In addition to paying tribute to our ancestors – it is also considered (by some) to be a timeless contract with the things that lurk within the darkness.
A means of compensating that which rips us from the fabric of our dreams and plunges us into the depths of our worst nightmares. A means of appeasing the restless denizens of the afterlife so that they might allow us to dream once more.
In Kingston Ontario, the management and staff of Fort Henry National Historic Site have been holding an annual event that allows us to tap into the dark recesses of our imagination – and conquer fear itself. Yes, dear reader – I’m talking about the freakish and fun undead extravaganza – otherwise known as Fort Fright!
Our friends at the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, triple-dog-dared Heidi and I to venture into Fort Fright and write a story about the chilling experience. Before we get started, readers, I hope you appreciate the extremes that we endure (like journeying into the underworld) – in order to deliver you a story. It seemed like a rough job – but we were up to the challenge!
And so, Our Nightmare Begins
When we first arrived at the fort, night had descended upon the Limestone City. It was a particularly chilly night, with an onyx and starless sky overhead. Prior to arriving – Heidi and I were pretty freaked out at the idea of braving the fort alone. Luckily, we would have two Fort Fright veterans to be our hosts for the evening.
After exhausting all my attempts at stalling, we made our way down to the inner trench surrounding Fort Henry: also known as the ditch.
It was time for our adventure to get underway!
Night Terrors and a Frantic Plea for Help
At the entrance to the ditch, we were immediately met with an odd scene that gradually unfolded itself before us. A middle-aged gentleman was walking about in a confused manner. Nearby, a child’s bedroom was set up, in the ditch of Fort Henry. A little girl was sleeping in the bed, and the man’s pacing began to quicken and grow more agitated.
Awkwardly, I tried to make a joke. “Nice. Is this part of the show?” I asked, turning toward Steph. She was shaking her head. I felt a chill run the length of my spine as the man looked directly at me. Right into my soul.
“Oh, good you’re here. Are you the paranormal investigators? Can you help me?” His pleading voice was shaky and his tone quite frantic. Before I could answer, he turned to the bed and continued talking.
“Sarah’s been having night terrors you see… I’m not sure how to make them stop. Can you help her?” He asked again as he set a stuffed toy down beside his sleeping child.
I was about to crack another sarcastic joke when something messed up started happening. I can’t quite explain it – but it seemed like a rift…or portal opened. I know it sounds crazy, but there it is. A doorway, seemingly into his daughter’s mind.
Suddenly, a series of bizarre things manifested themselves. Nightmarish visions, horrific sounds.. giant spiders.. clowns.
I thought at first it was just some kind of projection. You know, special effects. But that was before this strange guy was literally possessed by something. It was like Sarah’s father wasn’t behind the wheel anymore. Something or someone else was wearing his skin.
Before I had enough time to contemplate further he threw open a large door in the wall and yelled: “Into the nightmare! The only way out is to GO THROUGH!”
Heidi turned to me. “Are you ready to go through?” She asked.
“No,” I replied.
The Trench of the Dead
We reluctantly stepped through the door, venturing away from the safety of reality and into the dark cavernous confines of the ditch. Flanked on either side by the tall walls of the fort’s trench, it was obvious that Sarah’s father was right. The only way out of here, was to go straight through. We’d never be able to climb out.
Besides, something told me we weren’t in “Kansas anymore.”
As we traversed the ditch we were faced with a dark and macabre series of nightmares made flesh. This wasn’t your average fun house experience – but rather a vivid and visceral variety of horrifying representations of our worst fears. Walking corpses shambled about aimlessly. Snarling werewolves prowled the shadows, and other heinous abominations waited behind each and every turn.
I could hear these vile minions laughing, and giggling with sadistic amusement at my every scream and frightened whimper. As we stepped with increasing trepidation, from one pulse-pounding scenario to the next, I could feel the fabric between fiction and reality begin to fray. Without completely spoiling the experience, the ditch is best described as a stroll through a lucid Lovecraftian lair.
After what seemed a small slice of eternity, we had arrived at the other end of the ditch, and what appeared to be our salvation.
Man, was I wrong.
Out of the Frying Pan, and Into the Fire
After escaping the ditch, and the horrors within, we moved on toward the parade square. It was a good moment to take a breath of fresh air. And yet, in that moment of seeming respite, we soon realized that our path now led us into the walls of the fort’s interior. I felt an icy sweat creep up my spine, along with an equally chilling realization that our journey was far from over.
Our harrowing ordeal through the ditch was merely an appetizer. Now it was time for the main course.
The interior portion of Fort Fright’s second chapter was a psychedelic and gruesome gallery of ghastly scenes that make a Rob Zombie video look like Romper Room. From demonic shadow realms to morgues, and morbidly claustrophobic meat lockers – we were subjected to a delightfully disparate maze of blood-curdling rooms.
Each section we passed through was uniquely representative of everything that makes your skin crawl. Visually, audibly and physically – Fort Fright had managed to freak me out at each level of the senses. What made Fort Fright even scarier was how it messed with me psychologically. Just when I thought it was safe a carefully designed scare would be waiting to push me back outside my comfort zone.
There were moments that felt predictable, so naturally, I would prepare for something to jump up and scare the crap out of me. I’d turn the corner, however, only to find an eerie silence. These moments made the experience all the more frightening. I’ll refrain from providing any further details of what we encountered – but it suffices to say, we miraculously survived Fort Fright and escaped the nightmare within.
Carnival Games, Improbable Escapes and more to explore
After successfully navigating the second half of Fort Fright, we found ourselves in a fantastic carnival area situated on the outer fringes of the nightmare. There were several picnic tables arranged in a rest area, surrounded by an assortment of fun games including a unique escape room designed by the creative team at Improbable Escapes.
In addition to the games, and confections there was an opportunity to pose for pictures, with several of the scare actors, and come face to face with a rather chatty animated corpse. It was a great chance to rest for a bit, and share some freaky Instagram pics or tweet a few terrifying tales to the Twitterverse.
What’s more – if Fort Fright isn’t freaky enough – you can take a guided ghost tour through another portion of the fort alongside a paranormal guide from the Haunted Walk of Kingston!
We Made it!
Whew! We did it. We survived FortFright!
We bravely faced our fears and came out alive on the other side. What would have been an otherwise typical Sunday night, had turned into a fleeting and frantic journey into the jaws of our darkest fears, and through a fun and fantastically freakish reminder of why we love the things that go bump in the night.
If you think you have what it takes – we openly dare you to bring friends or family (maybe get a sitter for small children however) and take the journey for yourself. Fort Fright is definitely not for the faint of heart – but if you love a good scare it should definitely be on your radar this fall.
As always, thanks for reading!
Photos by Heidi Csernak, Mike Hector and Steph Brown