Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Welcome to My Nightmare

So you may know that I’m not a huge fan of horror.

Back in grade 10, we would usually have some time after our year end exams before the busses came, especially if they were only morning exams, so we’d often go over to a classmates’ place and hang out. One time, we decided to watch a movie. The title – The Hills Have Eyes – wasn’t one that I recognized, but what could be so bad about it?

After 5 minutes and one scene, I decided that that was all I needed to see. Forever. So I said I was hungry and was going to grab something at the restaurant. That’s been the most of any horror movie I’ve ever seen still to this day. I’ve watched the occasional thriller, like Shutter Island and Disturbia, but those had a mystery component and very minimal gore, so I found them very interesting.

It’s not just movies, either. I try to avoid all scary situations. I don’t want to be scared. Being scared is not a pleasant feeling. During my teaching practicum, I wouldn’t even go into the Haunted House with the grade 7’s and 8’s, just in case it was too much for me. It’s a kid’s haunted house, and I still wouldn’t even go in with a large group of people.

Which makes my next experience just a little inconsistent.

For my honeymoon, Janelle and I took a river cruise on the Danube from Munich, Germany, through several stops in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, ending up in Budapest, Hungary. It was about two weeks and one of the coolest vacations I had ever been on. But there was one tiny part that I’d rather not have done.

While we were in the Czech Republic, in a small, fairy-tale-esque town called Cesky Krumlov, we decided to plan out our next few hours so we wouldn’t miss anything we were interested in. It was our only day in the Czech Republic, anyways, so we wanted to get out of it as much as we could. Glancing at our tourist map, I noticed the giant castle in the centre, the armoury and mint for the castle, and the castle gardens. Then I hear some of the people talking about the torture museum and joking about going to it. I guess Janelle heard this too, because she then said, “Ooh, that sounds like fun! Let’s go to that.”

At this point, I’m fairly aware that this spot will not be my cup of tea. You want to talk about the goriest and scariest period of history? That would be torture in Medieval Europe, and it doesn’t get much more medieval that the Czech Republic. But Janelle is interested in seeing this, and really, how bad could a torture museum be? A bunch of glass cases with old, rusted instruments, with a short write-up about their usage? With this in mind, I agreed. At least I’d be there with my wife.

We saved this stop for the very end of our walk around the town, since it was close to our tour meeting spot. However, there were a few subtle signs that this museum may not have been what we were expecting when we went to go buy the tickets. The foyer was a bit on the dark and gloomy side, with a stone floor and walls; not your typical polished museum, but it could have just been a 300-year-old building, since that’s pretty normal for Europe. Then the cashier asked if we wanted to buy the joint ticket with the wax museum for a discounted price.

Dolls are creepy. Marionettes are creepier. Wax figures of very realistic people that look like they could move at any moment are deeply unsettling. No, we’ll just stick with the torture museum, thank you.

That was the first sign.

The second came almost immediately after, when the cashier directed us to go through the red curtain down a flight of stone stairs, into what looked remarkably like a dungeon.

And the third was when we heard the soundtrack, which confirmed that we were entering into a dungeon. There was the sounds of chains clinking, water dripping, metal scraping, and the moans and soft cries of prisoners. 

We haven’t even really entered the displays, and I’m already unsettled.

Then there was the first display.

It was a scene, created with wax figurines, of a prisoner sprawled over a stretching rack, while a torturer stood over him, seemingly pulling on the mechanism to stretch the guy out. I stood staring at the scene for a few minutes, picking out the details of what I was seeing while also regretting spending money on this.

We were then directed to a more typical museum room (though still very much in a stone dungeon) with glass cases that displayed some old, rusted torture instruments, paired with a short write-up on their use. I poured over every instrument in the room, reading its full description, not because I was incredibly interested in them, but I had seen that there was another room that I couldn’t see in, and was unsure if I wanted to. The creepiest ones were the tools used to pull off, or slip a needle under the fingernail. I’ve had splinters there and couldn’t conceal a shudder while reading. I then looked up to find that Janelle was long gone and I was alone in this room. I guess I’ll spend the rest of the time reading here, then.

Janelle then poked her head from the next room, asking if I was finished reading. I sighed, mentally prepared myself and followed my wife into the next room.

It was filled with wax figures. Freaking wax figures.

To my right and up some stairs was a “witch” being burnt at the stake. In front of me, another “witch” was poking her head out of the top of a pile of bricks, apparently having been built inside by her accusers. To my left were a few more instruments, but much larger than the previous room, such as the breaking wheel, the mule, the judas chair, the iron chair, and just a giant saw that could be used to cut down trees, but wasn’t.

Side note: I remembered what these looked like, but to get the names right, I googled them while writing this. Now I feel sick all over again. I just don’t seem to learn.

And finally, to my far right was some sort of scene that I couldn’t see, but could hear birds cawing and waves splashing. So I went over to the terrifying instruments to read about them. I found it somewhat interesting how many different methods were used to torture alleged witches. I might have found it more so had I not had to shudder after reading every single description. I looked up to see Janelle coming down from the mystery shoreline, and hoping that I could guarantee our passage out of this accursed room, I asked casually, “So, is there anything up there?”

“Ya, come on up!” She said, then turned around and went back up to the display.

Crap, did that ever backfire.

I again mentally prepared myself then followed my lovely wife up the stairs to the scene, which wasn’t overly terrible, except for the two or three heads that had been impaled on spikes. There may have been more, but I didn’t count. I was engrossed in trying to figure out if the tent on the side was a full tent or just half a tent reflected in a mirror.

(It was a mirror)

Janelle then took me to a part I hadn’t noticed before- a small display beside the burning witch, which was a jail cell for waiting prisoners. The soundtrack was now playing the sobs of the men who awaited their fate. By this point, I was partly convinced that one of these wax figures was actually a person dressed up in period clothes and that he was going to move at any second, in which case I would need to change my pants. There was one scene in particular that Janelle pointed out. A man sat in the foreground, uncomfortably close to the wall separating me, crouched over, but looked relatively unscathed. I turned to Janelle and asked, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

“I think he’s missing a hand,” she replied coolly, then turned to leave to the next room, once again leaving me alone. Sure enough, he was missing a hand, but I was unconvinced that this was the only thing here. I ever so slowly peered around the corner of the jail cell to see if there was anything else here. Thankfully, there was not, as I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do if there was something extra.

Even though I had found no extra surprises, I was still completely done. There was nothing I wanted more than to leave this dungeon, breathe the fresh air and completely forget the mental trauma I was currently experiencing. And then there it was.

The exit.

To my left at the end of a long, very tiny hallway were the stairs that ascended to a revolving door, which leaked sunlight all over the dreary corridor. It was beautiful.

But then I looked to my right to see Janelle going down a set of stairs. Into a room that I could not see what was displayed. Now, I had two options. I could ditch my wife to the unknown horrors of whatever was kept down there and ending my living nightmare, or be a supportive husband and accompany my wife wherever she went.

I guess I’ll be a good husband.

However, my body didn’t seem to want to support my decision. As I started to descend the stairs and follow my wonderful wife, I felt my knees having trouble bending. My hand also would not release its death grip on the railing at my side. I could barely hold my head up to see what was at the bottom of the stairs, instead focussing on the steps at my feet. One step after another. At long last, I finally reached the bottom step. I looked up to see a skeleton sitting in a cage, within a prison cell, and Janelle casually perusing it from a much closer distance than I was going to move. I still hadn’t stepped off the final step.

This wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. It’s just a fake looking skeleton (I hope). After a few seconds, Janelle turned to me and asked, “Ready to leave?”

Oh my yes. Like an hour ago.

Suddenly, my legs and hands sprang to life. I spun around and made strong, powerful strides up to the exit, making sure not to walk too quickly and reveal my hidden distress. Upon exiting, we found ourselves in a little cafĂ© on the street, which I thought ironic, since who could actually eat after that tour? Funny enough, we actually found some of the people we were on tour with enjoying a light lunch here, and we joked with them about how the “museum” had been not what we expected.
No kidding. It was a living nightmare.

So if you ever find yourself in the small town of Cesky Krumlov and find that you have a bit of time to kill, DO NO go to the torture museum. You can thank me later.  

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