I know what you’re thinking: only a pervert with a gauze fetish would find his soulmate at Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland, southern New Jersey’s #4 haunted attraction. But for me, a guy with mainstream sexual compulsions, the love of my life showed up where I least expected it: inside a rusty dumpster loaded with 1,000 gallons of syrupy green goo.
My story starts, like many, with an office romance. I’d been making serious eye contact with my co-worker Denise (a fellow over-the-phone psychic consultant) for most of the summer, although neither of us had the nerve to speak up. One autumn day I ran into her by the water cooler, and I decided to finally make a move.
“Staring contest?” I proposed, immediately locking eyes with Denise’s. After twenty seconds, I let her win by blinking. (If I was trying, I could have lasted seven minutes, at least.) “You win!” I said, gaining confidence. “That was a lot of fun. You know what else might be fun? Checking out Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland this Saturday night.” And just like that, it was a date.
Beneath the goo, the shrieking, and the chemical-grease smell, I saw a pair of hazel eyes as pure as diamonds in the harsh fluorescent light.
Wearing my finest button-down and bolo tie, I pulled up to Denise’s place precisely at eight. She seemed anxious, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell if she was nervous about the date or about Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland, which Yelp reviewers had described as “spine-tingling,” “pungent,” and “neither legal nor illegal.”
In any case, Denise and I got down to some more serious talk during the ride over, and for a conversation between two psychics, there were quite a few surprises. As it turns out, we’re both twins (in my case, formerly a triplet), and we share the uncommon opinion that GMOs just aren’t that big of a deal. We really hit it off in the car, but little did we know, none of it would matter once we were on the other side of Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland.
Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland is your standard haunted house, set up as a series of ten rooms depicting daily life after a nuclear fallout. There’s a laboratory, a carnival, an old time barbershop, etc., and each space features an impressive mix of lighting effects, animatronics, and live performers. (On the whole, though, it lacks the spatial continuity that might bump it up to #3 or #2.) As we signed our releases, Denise was clearly getting worried, and she held onto my arm when we entered the first room, a post-apocalyptic EDM rave. The dancefloor was filled with violently gyrating twentysomething corpses, covered in the most garish shades of neon and a spattering of fake blood. I tried to get Denise to dance with me in the undead mass, but she was eager to move on.
She dragged me into the next area, a radioactive dog park, where we were pursued by what appeared to be authentically rabies-infected German Shepherds. Before one could sink its teeth into us, we ran ahead to safety, avoiding the night’s most realistic threat, by far. We continued to progress through the wasteland scenarios—the psych ward, the driving range, the cruise ship buffet—without much talk. I was convinced the glow-in-the-dark shrimp were edible. Denise disagreed. I didn’t try them to avoid embarrassing her for being wrong.
I liked Denise fine, but it became more obvious by the minute that she wasn’t cut out for attractions like Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland. And maybe, I realized, she wasn’t cut out for me.
At long last, we reached the final room, a perfect replica of a McDonald’s parking lot, every inch covered in “toxic” substances. Darren G. had imported a specialty fragrance from Japan, an aromatic blend of french fry oil and ammonia, that was being pumped into the space. The room was eerily silent, and Denise, shivering, clutched my hand. In the last moment before we reached the exit, a closed dumpster popped open with the intensity of a gunshot. A figure sprang from within, a female zombie soaked in an emerald mucous, screaming like a German bog witch.
Denise promptly fainted. Me? I felt the puncture of Cupid’s arrow.
Beneath the goo, the shrieking, and the chemical-grease smell, I saw a pair of hazel eyes as pure as diamonds in the harsh fluorescent light, and suddenly, the scariest thing about Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland was the idea that I would never see those eyes again.
So, as Denise lay on the gravel beside me, I professed my love to this undead woman.
“Excuse me, miss? I think you’re the one. I know this isn’t the reaction you were expecting. You’re probably used to people screaming or crying or peeing their pants. Or fainting, even,” I said, gesturing down to Denise with an aw-shucks smile. “But the second you emerged from that dumpster, I saw our whole lives together: four kids, a pet pug, a time share in Kissimmee, Forida, Thanksgiving at your mom’s house.”
She was disarmed. She didn’t say a word, which I attribute to her not wanting to break character. Denise was coming to, so I needed to seal the deal quickly to avoid the situation becoming awkward.
“I know all of that sounds crazy, but I’m literally a psychic, so I’m fairly confident it’ll happen.” I handed this zombie Aphrodite my card, and told her, “Give this number a call and ask for Mason if you want to hear about your future—or the way I see it, ours.”
I lifted Denise to her feet, cast one last glance at those hazel eyes, and walked out of Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland, a man hopelessly in love.
In the car, I broke the news to Denise that I’d met someone else and wouldn’t be able to take her out again. I challenged her to one last staring contest, for the road. Her heart wasn’t in it, so I won pretty easily. We ended the night with a friendly fist bump and an agreement to keep some distance at work.
It’s Monday now, and I still haven’t heard from my soulmate. But I can’t lose hope. I’ve built my life on three core tenets: optimism, self-assurance, and clairvoyance, and getting rejected by my dumpster queen would be a harsh blow to all three. After all, it’s peak season at Darren G.’s Radioactive Wasteland and will be until after El Dia de los Muertos. She’s probably busy.
My brother Jason thinks we should go back this weekend so I can talk to her again, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I don’t want to seem desperate.