A Ride That Never Ends - Horror Short
Updated: Aug 19, 2018
There is a place where nightmares are supposed to exist—a magnet of darkness by design, where screams of terror and peals of laughter are meant to intertwine, to complement and contrast one another This place would be a mecca for the macabre, an idea born of bringing fear to reality.
But some ideas were never meant to come to life.
Imagine, for a moment, a place where every house is haunted, where every patch of grass is an ancient burial ground, where demons and poltergeists are welcomed with open arms, all for a modest entry fee of $49.99.
It sounds exciting, right? That famous haunted hotel as an attraction you could ride through, experiencing rooms of blood and hallways stalked by creepy twins. How about boat rides on the lake of a kids’ camp where the masked murderer floats up to chase you, machete in hand? There would be thrills for the kids, too—candy apples rotted with gummy worms, a haunted laser tag maze with cartoonish ghosts.
It was meant to be a haven for horror lovers, a place where we could celebrate and experience our addictions to heart-pounding, dread-inducing scares. A place where we could meet our nightmares, face them head-on, even get their autographs.
Now, imagine all the things that could go wrong, and you’ll have a glimpse of what Crimson Ridge was like during its very brief first—and last—season. Maybe you even remember it, if you were lucky enough to get early tickets.
I wanted to write a piece on Crimson Ridge, just a listicle, I’d thought, a fun little post about the mysteries of a doomed horror theme park, but what I found was completely beyond what I could even imagine.
What I found was deeper than just a park, or a movie, or a film director. It was a link—a door, you could say—to a ride that never ends.
When I first heard about Crimson Ridge, I remember being pumped, like getting-your-Hogwarts-letter pumped. Prolific horror director Ido Santiago—the twisted mind behind modern classics like Crimson Ridge and Homecoming High, had purchased eighty acres of land to develop a theme park dedicated to the macabre, the horrifying, and the downright eerie.
He managed to secure permissions from most of the top horror IPs ever, and I watched along with the rest of the world as the iconic houses, forests, and monsters from all my favorite movies were brought to life.
The pièce de resistance, as it were, would be a full reproduction of the high school from Santiago’s own Homecoming High series, with actors hired to play as students tortured by the spirit of Nora Wray, the wronged homecoming queen enacting her revenge after being murdered.
In a few words? So freaking cool.
The buzz was everywhere when the park hosted its VIP opening weekend, a chance for industry members to see everything in action.
I watched the live stream from Santiago’s YouTube channel as it took us through the park. The entrance was a small town modeled after Salem, Massachusetts during the Witch Trials. Every fifteen minutes, a witch was burned at a stake in the center of the village square, some writhing in painful, horrible deaths, while others would reveal themselves as witches and “fly” off into the woods with horrific cackles.
The park then unraveled into various areas. There were the haunted houses and hospitals, the hotels and forests. There were the slashers—kids’ camps and small towns, dream worlds and teen dances. There were European-inspired horror torture-porn destinations, and there was a kid-friendly zone based on a cartoon ghost series.
Every feed from every creator and reviewer showcased the brilliant exteriors and to-die-for food, but the insides of the buildings were left as mysteries. You had to go to the park to see them, and based on the discussion surrounding the rides, you had to go to the park to experience them. Many a top-ten list was crowned that year by Crimson Ridge and its horrific wonders.
And then something strange happened. Happened isn’t even the right word, it was more like it unfolded.
A new-egg Twitter account—@homecominghigh—began tweeting photos and events from the Homecoming Exhibit as if they were living day-to-day life…for real.
The first photo was tagged: Ready for some pep! #GoTomaHawks!
It featured one girl wearing the green and yellow of Homecoming High painted in stripes on her face. She was stunning, with a billowing, natural afro, and cheeks dotted with freckles. In every picture she was smiling, glowing, happy.
But when other “students” started to show up in her photos, they looked anything but. In posts with tags like: English class with my fave girls! They were pale, wide-eyed, with greasy hair and dark under-eye circles. It was like they were sick insomniacs overshadowed by this golden girl.
She called herself Danielle.
Most people ignored the account, at first, or assumed it was a staged marketing campaign for the park, and maybe—fingers crossed—a new Homecoming movie. There were a few threads that popped up on Reddit, but in the end, no one could find any clues leading to anything consequential, so it fell by the wayside.
Crimson Ridge held its official opening weekend to a ton of success. Tickets were sold out for weeks, then months, and Homecoming High: The Ride was praised as the most immersive horror experience ever to exist.
The ride was more like a museum than anything, but gave patrons the ability to witness and experience the events of the movie: the iconic school-chapel scene, the bloody cafeteria, the change-rooms. The actors were perfect. They simply went through their days, not talking or even acknowledging the customers, except for the leads, who held hourly autograph and photo sessions.
And everyone wanted selfies with Danielle, who was confirmed as one of the main cast members, a little blue checkmark following on her Twitter account. Verified. She beamed in every photo, holding her fingers out in peace signs and pursing her lips duck-face style.
She gathered an online following, growing quickly to thousands, then tens of thousands of followers.
There was just one thing, though. She didn’t have any other accounts, or if she did, she hid them well, and she never talked about the “real world.” It was as if Hometown High was her real world.
Most people, myself included, assumed she was super dedicated, a method actor, and that we were sure to get another movie soon with her as the star. She was definitely putting in her dues, working pretty much every day the park was open.
Her social media presence only grew from there. Her photos began to warp, becoming more and more frightening. Her “friends” all looked emaciated, gaunt. People started noticing, and the leading online theories shifted from “marketing campaign” to “kidnapped,” or a fringe group convinced they were a test group of next-level androids.
Here were the facts: the pictures were all taken at night, after park hours, according to the meta-data, and “Danielle” seemed to be the only cast member doing any social media. There was a cast list on the Crimson Ridge website, but none of the actors had their own websites or social media profiles; there was nothing to prove they even existed beyond the HH ride.
Around this time, at sweet sixteen, I finally convinced my parents to let me go. My love for horror was already strong. In a weird way, I’ll admit. When my friends were going to the mall to try on makeup and clothes, I was catching marathons of Nightmare on Elm Street at our local vintage theatre.
Where my peers were on their phones, texting about boys and girls, getting drunk and high on weekends, I was reading and watching, voraciously devouring everything King and Koontz wrote, every remake and B movie. I’d even started writing my own stories, scaring myself out of sleep in the process.
I was addicted.
So Crimson Ridge was like my Disney World. I managed to convince my brothers to take a weekend off from college partying and take me. I was finally going to take part in the ride.
That was the first weekend Homecoming High was closed.
The signs all read: “Due to technical difficulties,” and “for the safety of everyone.”
Needless to say, I was colossally disappointed. Here I was, finally in the vicinity of my favorite movie world ever, and I couldn’t even get a selfie with Danielle.
Don’t judge me.
I wish I could say I found my way into the school anyway, that I was a badass and wriggled my way through the vents or found a secret passageway, but instead I made my way through the rest of the park, though not without a severe case of FOMO.
The ride remained closed the next week, and then the week after that, and then things really got weird, as if they weren’t enough ,already.
Despite Hometown High being shut down, Danielle was still posting updates.
What was slightly strange in months previous—students looking tired and ill, photos only being at night, the inability to pinpoint real-life online habits—transformed into an absolute nightmare.
You see, Ido Santiago had always followed one specific trope with his movies, and in my opinion, it’s what makes his movies so great. In every Homecoming High film, the main character is an unreliable narrator.
You’d think that would get boring or predictable after a while, but Santiago always managed to make it exciting and fresh.
In the first Homecoming High, we follow Nora Wray as students in her school are viciously murdered. Through Acts I-III, we feel like Nora is the next to be killed, when really, Nora is already dead. She has always been dead. Her angry spirit has been killing those who wronged her, but we, as the audience, don’t realize we’re seeing it through that lens until the final act.
Then, in Homecoming High 2, the events of the past repeat themselves with main character Gia. Near the end, we find out the male lead, Josh, is actually Nora’s son she’d had and given up for adoption before the first film, but he’s not the one causing the spiritual activity, Gia is. She does a ritual to bring Nora’s spirit back, and even manages to escape her wrath after Nora’s ghost unknowingly kills her own son.
So, as photo after photo kept appearing online, and in each one, the students of the school looked closer to death, the buzz began to travel. Was this Santiago’s next film? Was Danielle the successor to the HH throne?
Social media is serious business, folks.
I tried to get permission to access the ruins of Crimson Ridge, but it was fenced in and boarded up, left to rot after the disaster of what happened. I was told the site was too dangerous to allow anyone in.
But I still went for a drive, stopping beside the decrepit old sign that still boasted: “Live the Horror!”
We all know what happened next, but there’s more to it than what’s officially recorded.
Isn’t there always?
Soon after the closure of the ride, reports of Ido Santiago’s death swirled the Internet. There were accounts that he’d starved to death, so malnourished, it was like the life was sucked right out of him.
Finally, after so many rumors, an official press release confirmed his death to “natural causes.”
He was 52 years old and in fantastic shape, or at least that’s how he presented himself online, so what “natural causes” could have been his demise?
Theories abounded on the web. There were entire websites dedicated to Santiago’s death, whether it happened, whether it didn’t, whether it was murder, whether it was suicide. The message boards were the kinds of places you scrolled through with trepidation, like walking through a cemetery at night.
You never knew the kinds of people you would find in there, or the pictures or ideas presented. A lot of it was weird. A lot of it was gross.
Eventually, someone managed to get copies of what ended up being crime-scene photos. The media couldn’t make sense of them, and they spread online like a virus.
The photos were horrifying, atrocious, and yet eerily familiar. Santiago’s body was laid out on the floor of one of his loft apartments, naked. His skin was pale and gaunt, darkness seeping under his eyes, blood streaking his face as if he’d cried it out. He looked like he hadn’t slept or eaten for weeks.
It looked like there were markings on his skin, but the pictures were too blurry to tell. He was a tattoo addict, but this looked like…writing on his skin.
There was no follow-up report. His representatives stated publicly that the photos were fake, and that the prolific director had suffered a heart attack from stress, overwork, and malnutrition. There would be no further statements.
The entire park was closed down for good soon after. Even though the park was independent from the Santiago estate, he’d apparently begun the process of closing Crimson Ridge even before his untimely death.
But then, to the shocked horror of everyone still paying attention…
There was another photo.
It was of Danielle smiling, eyes wide. It was captioned: Your turn!
The cops were called in to break into the “school,” and what they found would turn the legacy of Hometown High into a morbid media circus.
Bodies. There were lifeless bodies everywhere, drained and empty, just like Santiago’s had been.
The gruesome story unfolded from there. It turned out the entire thing was some experiment by Santiago at first, a bunch of people paid to live a false life to give the public an experience, like a creepy movie zoo.
There were rules. Don’t talk to the guests. Don’t break character. Don’t reveal anything. Don’t go on social media.
As far as the spokesperson for the park was concerned, the actors went home after the park closed and came back in the morning for another day, but the autopsies showed a different story. The bodies had been there for months, some of them apparently dead even when the ride had been open.
No one ever really figured out what happened after that. Danielle’s body was never found. Did she ever really exist? Did she kill everyone? Who posted that last photo?
But my trip to the park led to a discovery. Or maybe it was less of a discovery and more an act of fate, something left for me to find and uncover.
Hastily taped to the back of the Crimson Ridge sign was an old newspaper article, its edges flapping in the cool breeze. The main story reported the death of a local teen, a promising, beautiful homecoming queen found murdered in the forest off the very highway I was standing on.
Chills ran down my spine as the wind seemingly picked up around me.
She was beautiful, smart, and talented, and loved by all, especially her younger brother. A photo in the article showed the two of them opening Christmas presents, giant smiles lighting up their young, innocent faces.
The caption read: Daniella and Ivan Hernandez, Christmas.
My heart pounded. Even as a child, it was impossible not to recognize the intense stare of Ido Sanitago, or should I say—Ivan Herandez.
Daniella Hernandez was a cheerleader and a dancer, and she was looking forward to applying to nursing school after her senior year of high school. She had a boyfriend—a football player—and a gaggle of friends who were always together in yearbook photos.
Her murder was a shock to the community. After going missing for two weeks, a period of time chronicled in the local paper by fervent search parties and investigations, she was found in the forest off the highway, naked, her limbs tied to different tree trunks so she hung in eternal suspension.
Eventually, the boyfriend was found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison for her murder. There were no accomplices, and his family did not seem to want to defend him.
It was right there in black and white—Daniella had been Ido’s sister. A murdered homecoming queen. She’d been the inspiration for Homecoming High, the real life inspiration. How had he kept this hidden his entire life?
My body shook as I stood there, wondering if the paper’s appearance was happenstance, or if it had been left specifically for me. It seems ridiculous to even think about, but how else could I explain it to myself? I shuffled back to my car and locked the doors.
I whipped out my phone and searched for an online version of the article, for an obituary, anything, but there was nothing. Not a trace of the murder, not a trace of Danielle, or Ido as Ivan Hernandez.
It was like he was a ghost.
On the drive home, I couldn’t shake this strange feeling from my mind, like a shadow that had gripped my spine and wouldn’t leave me.
Something was off about all this.
When I got back to my apartment, where I’m typing this now, I logged on to my preferred Crimson Ridge theory message board. My finger hovered over the mouse before submitted a new topic: Who was Ido Santiago?
Immediately I received a direct message from the admin. My topic had been deleted.
Then my cell phone rang. It was an unknown number.
I stared at it for a long time before answering it. Could it be related?
“Hello?” I said, voice quivering as I answered.
“Lark, 23, 987 Clarke Street, Unit B,” a disguised voice spoke.
It was my name, my age, and my address.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“If you really want to get into this, look. But be aware; once you’re in, you’re in.”
The line clicked. They hung up.
I pulled my phone from my ear to find a link texted to me from the same number.
I had a choice to make, here. I could ignore the link, delete it, break my phone, throw it away, and pretend this all never happened, or I could follow it, and maybe find some answers. This was everything I’d been preparing for my entire life, an answer chosen for me via years of horror and mystery films and books.
I clicked the link.
There were two photos. Two bodies. One was labeled Daniella Hernandez, the other Ido Santiago.
Even though the photo of Daniella’s body was significantly older, I could make out the strange occult markings that covered her body, as though someone drew them out with soot. I’d never seen anything like them, though they were geometric in nature, but I could feel them, feel the evil intent in them. I could imagine myself in Daniella’s body that night, the fear that coursed through her as she was chased through the forest, as she was choked to death and strung up by her ankles and wrists.
And Ido’s, or Ivan’s body looked exactly the same way. Even the position of the markings was identical, I could see, now that I’d been supplied a higher resolution photo.
There was a finality to it, like a circle had been ended.
I pulled up the Homecoming High Twitter account and looked through the photos. There was no doubt about it. Danielle was Daniella Hernandez. Everything about the body in the photo and in the paper and the girl who’d been starring in an alternate reality theme park was the same. Her hair, her freckles, her eyes.
The only question that remained in my mind was how he’d figured it out. How had a teen boy discovered how to sacrifice his sister for power, for a successful career?
He hadn’t just been inspired by his sister’s death. He’d caused his sister’s death.
No doubt you’re wondering: how do I know?
There was one last, incredible detail in the photo of Ido’s body. There was a cardboard coffee cup in the photo, just fallen from Santiago’s hand. On it was hastily scratched, I’m sorry.
I looked down at Daniella’s last post. It was just a photo of her, and she was smiling. Based on the look of the room in the background, the pattern of the wallpaper and the tile of the floor, it was the same room where Ido had been killed.
And her caption read,
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