As you’re walking down a path mostly obscured by shadow, surrounded by cornstalks taller than most men, the fog begins to roll in. The field is quiet, but your ears are primed for anything — the snap of a twig cracks like a gunshot in your jumpy nerves. It doesn’t take much imagination to start scaring yourself, but you play it cool.
That is, until the brash whine of a chainsaw immediately shatters what cool you had left, and you’re running somewhere — away is the goal — before you can register what it is you saw.
This is the goal of the group of dedicated professionals lurking within the Fritz Corn Maze on U.S. Highway 2: to remove the need for imagination to make the maze spookier.
“I think people have this engrained need to feel a little adrenaline,” said Chris Fritz, owner and operator of the corn maze with his wife, Heidi. “I watch the kids, even on the cow train, just in the regular maze, and I think that’s just something people like. A part of humanity is feeling that little bit of exhilaration.”
An affable and generous farmer, Fritz transforms from his everyday persona into the embodiment of fear and terror. He’s one of the frighteners in the maze, the people dressed as the undead or the semi-dead or the fully-alive-but-seem-to-want-you-dead who scare the willing participants on the Haunted Trail and Haunted Barn.
The Fritzes haunt their corn maze and barn for the last couple weekends in October — Oct. 21-23 was the opening weekend that, despite rain on Friday, was a total success. It will be haunted again from Oct. 28-31.
“When we do get rainy years like this, the fog starts coming in, that’s pretty cool — it makes it pretty eerie,” Fritz said. “We had great numbers for Saturday.”
Dustin Goss, 18, has been a frightener at the maze for three seasons now, after he and his brothers were hired through LC Staffing. The brothers took the scary ball and ran with it; Goss said he visits places like Scarywood at Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho and professional haunted houses in bigger cities to see “how they’re doing it.”
The way he describes it, haunting a corn maze is the natural progression of wearing costumes while trick-or-treating. While many of us outgrow the childhood tradition, some take those passions and apply them elsewhere, and with more intensity.
“Halloween is my favorite holiday,” Goss said. “This is literally the best thing an adult can do on Halloween.”
“When I think about how I’m going to celebrate Halloween,” he added, “what could be better than going out into a haunted maze and scaring people?”
The first year, Goss was a phantom of sorts who would leap hay bales the way he jumps around town as part of a local parkour group. Last year, he dressed as an undead Rick Grimes, the sheriff character from the popular zombie show, “The Walking Dead.”
“My original inspiration was Rick Grimes, but then I gave the outfit a bloody ax instead of a handgun,” Goss said. “I was more like a crazed, deep-South sheriff.”
As the first creature visitors met in the relatively new haunted barn, Goss was a hit, according to the sheer terror he saw reflected in people’s faces.
“Last year, (Chris Fritz) gave us the barn to use; immediately I was jumping out and screaming at people before their eyes even adjusted,” Goss said. “There’s no downtime for them.”
And since the corn maze is typically cut differently every year, there are new opportunities to scare people. Fritz, who during the rest of the year works and harvests the land upon which he now scares the snot out of people, said some of his best work is in the maze.
“I’m a veteran at this now; I think that’s where I’m best served,” Fritz said, laughing. “I’m usually just a zombie or something, or a skull man. I just try to fill in the dead spots. I usually get a scare out of maybe 99 percent of them.”
How does he manage such a high scare rate?
“Do something unexpected, really,” he said. “It can be as simple as just falling over, and they think you’re fake and you’re not. Or if you come crawling out and you’re limping and you’re fast and you come at their legs.”
Goss and his brothers have a group outfit planned for this year’s festivities, and while the scaring is definitely the most fun part of it all, he said it’s also a good time to hang out with the other frighteners in between.
“My brothers and my friends, when we’re in the maze together, when a group comes through we get out and scare them; then when they go through, I’m back to my laughing, happy self,” Goss said. “I just really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fritz said the things that scare him tend to deal more with finances than frighteners, but those cornfields have held a surprise or two for him as well.
“I guess what does scare me is when I’m all alone in the field and maybe I come across a skunk or something,” Fritz said, still laughing. “That scares me. I screamed like a little girl when there was a little baby skunk I almost stepped on.”
The Fritz Corn Maze will offer the Haunted Trail — covered in straw to avoid mud — from Oct. 28-31, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., $7 a person. The maze is located on Birch Grove Road E. off U.S. Highway 2, a mile south of Glacier Park International Airport. Visit fritzcornmaze.weebly.com or call 406-755-4210.