Granny's parlor looks the same as it has for years: faded carpets, bookshelves lined with yellow-paged tomes and a rocking chair in the center of the room to unwind after a long day. As you step closer to Granny, who sits rocking back and forth as she always has, something doesn't seem quite right.
All of a sudden, with a speed and agility you've never seen, Granny jumps from her chair and lunges toward you with a knife. Her normally cherubic face looks melted, streaked with acid and out of place in the warm, familiar setting. You run screaming out of the room, but this is only the beginning.
The scary senior citizen isn't the product of a horror movie or remnants from last night's nightmare; Granny is the beginning of a community-created haunted house aptly titled Trail of Terror. Spearheaded by Cydney Richardson and her son, Sagan, this year's haunted house was held at the Grange Hall and drew 525 guests on Sunday, Oct. 30.
"I really feel like this is a tribute to the families in our community," said Cydney, who estimated that 150 hours were spent creating the haunted house. "It was truly a remarkable community event. We got donations, borrowed stuff…it was all these families that helped build it and run it."
Fifty-one people, including 32 students, portrayed tour guides, creepy chefs, vampires, human-pigs and, of course, Granny, at the haunted house. Residents were charged $4 to travel through seven different scary scenes for "family-friendly" spooking. The Richardsons and their team of Halloween ghouls and ghosts collected over $2,000 which was then split between Vista Grande Elementary and Los Cerros Middle schools, much to the school's surprise.
"The schools are always asking for donations and we thought it would be a good thing to do," said 13-year-old Sagan, a seventh grader at Los Cerros. "It's always good to help the community…it was the community that helped us rent the Grange so it was giving back to them."
What started as a small, backyard haunted house three years ago has become what Cydney calls "a locomotive." Each year the Richardsons have given the proceeds of their haunted house to schools, but surprised principals at Los Cerros and Vista Grande with this year's sizable donation.
"They did this to raise money for schools, which is incredible. It's everything we talk about in our five Cs in our district -- creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. I'm overwhelmed with everything (Cydney) told me about it," said Vista Grande Principal Pat Hansen.
The money was donated to a program called PIE, or the traditional program, which helps pay for para-professionals at Vista Grande. Although Sagan didn't know that the haunted house money would be put toward teacher's aides, he said he appreciated the extra help during his elementary years.
"I know that our kids have all been involved in this and I know that they've always had a lot of fun doing it. I had no idea how detailed it was until Mom came in and talked to me about it after, but next year I won't miss it," Hansen said of Trail of Terror.
Los Cerros Principal Phyllis Roach was also surprised by the $1,000 donation, which Sangan presented in cash, fanned out for emphasis. The money will go to Tech 4 LC, a technology purchasing fund which is currently looking at iPads and new responder systems for student use in the classroom.
"This sets a good example for community and character building," Roach said.
Although Cydney and Sagan aimed to give back to schools and help Boy Scouts -- many of which guided patrons out of the haunted house to earn activity badges -- the Richardson family was overall excited to put on a fun community event that could involve people of all ages.
For Sagan, that meant enlisting his friends to play ghost dancers, macabre magicians and take over as the scary Chef Roja when he realized he was too tall to properly hide and scare people.
"My friends really liked being in it, everybody that I know about had a good time doing it," Sagan said, adding that he already has classmates asking to be part of next year's production.
Cydney is busy writing next year's script, which will include additional wacky wedding and hazmat scenes. "It would be crazy not to do it next year," she said.
The two hope to get more teenagers to attend the event but are careful not to advertise the haunted house too much. Cydney wants to keep Trail of Terror a locals-only event, one which provides fun for the San Ramon Valley exclusively and keeps local money in local schools. Still, other communities might be missing out.
"We don't ever want it to be a typical haunted house. Themes were Circ de Sobad, Hell's Kitchen, they were creative ideas that allowed for something really exciting to happen," Cydney said of the terror trail.