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So this past weekend the son and I hosted our sixth-straight elementary school haunted house out here in Southern California.

it’s a bit strange, because I haven’t had a kid in elementary school is 2 1/2 years. But because it’s a strong fund raiser, and because we’re always asked back, and because making kids cry is preposterously fun (truly, it is), we keep returning.

This year we had about 20 volunteers—mostly middle schoolers, with a few high schoolers, too (I mandate you can’t be younger than sixth grade). The “house” is actually the elementary school’s stage, which is set behind curtains in a multi-purpose room. I start setting up at around 10 am, and Emmett (who gets to leave school early) comes at 1. There are tons of costumes, tons of props, always some loose narrative (this year it was the butcher).

But, if you’re gonna have one thing at a haunted house for elementary school kids, it should be this …

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Yes, Psycho Elmo.

We always have an Elmo. Elmo with a knife. Elmo with a sword. Elmo slashing a throat. This year it was Elmo in a closet with an axe, chopping off a boy’s head.

The kiddies will never embrace Elmo again.

Jeff Pearlman is a writer.