You cautiously follow a dark hallway into a cramped, cinder block room.

Through the dim lighting, you can see that it looks to be a hospital room of some kind. On one side, an elderly patient lies lifeless, strapped to a gurney. (It's just a doll, but still — it's super creepy.)

Then you see her. An old woman, sitting in a wheelchair wearing a floral robe. She's bludgeoning a nurse with a bloody wrench as she wails: "You can't make me eat any more peas and carrots! I won't do it!"


Mary-Lou Williams knows her way around a wrench. All photos by Kevin Williams, used with permission.

If you're me, you run screaming from the premises and never return.

But this actually happens every night at the Warehouse of Fear in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, one of the areas most popular Halloween attractions.

That haunted house grandma is no teenager in makeup, though. She's Mary Lou-Williams, a local 93-year-old who knows how to have a good time.

2016 marks her fifth year as an actress with the haunted house, which her son, Kevin, helps manage.

She's not the world's biggest Halloween fan, but when her son asked her to help out, she figured, why not? "When you get older like I am, anything you can do, you better hop at the chance," she said.

The whole, twisted gang. Mary-Lou is right-center in the red pants.

During the first year of the attraction, Mary-Lou played an unassuming women in a quiet but spooky living room scene. Her feet rested on a bear skin rug. The bear, by the way, had killed her character's husband. And you were going to be next.

This year, Mary-Lou has finally graduated from merely uttering cryptic things to haunted house goers. Now, she's the one swinging the wrench, and she's giving it everything she's got.

"They'll be some of them so scared, they don't want to go into the next room," she joked. "It's just fun."

Murderous nursing home patient might be Mary-Lou's oddest job to date, but her life story is anything but boring.

In 2015, Mary-Lou played the role of a mental patient at the Warehouse of Fear.

She worked in factories most of her life, she said, including a cannery, then a muffler shop. Later, she found work at a laundromat. In between, there were various gigs loading and unloading packages. She worked until she was 78 years old.

In other words, Mary-Lou is not a woman who shies away from a tough job.

She gets paid a small hourly rate to work the haunted house, but that's not what motivates her.

"I just like doing it, and I like all the people," she said. "They're all really nice."

Now, she spends her days with her family, taking cabs to the market, and getting pedicures. And, of course, she also frightens the bejesus out of the local youths come Halloween, too.

"I thank the Lord to be able to do it," she said. "There's a lot of young people that's worse off than I am, so I just enjoy every minute of it."

Once the rush of fear has died down, a lot of the visitors are happy to meet and talk with Mary-Lou, too.

Many of them, even ones who have never met her, call her grandma.

That's what keeps her coming back year after year.

I live in Washington, the state with the first official outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. While my family lives several hours from Seattle, it was alarming to be near the epicenter—especially early in the pandemic when we knew even less about the coronavirus than we know now.

As tracking websites went up and statistics started pouring in, things looked hairy for Washington. But not for long. We could have and should have shut everything down faster than we did, but Governor Inslee took the necessary steps to keep the virus from flying completely out of control. He's consistently gotten heat from all sides, but in general he listened to the infectious disease experts and followed the lead of public health officials—which is exactly what government needs to do in a pandemic.

As a result, we've spent the past several months watching Washington state drop from the #1 hotspot down to 23rd in the nation (as of today) for total coronavirus cases. In cases per million population, we're faring even better at number 38. We have a few counties where outbreaks are pretty bad, and cases have slowly started to rise as the state has reopened—which was to be expected—but I've felt quite satisfied with how it's been handled at the state level. The combination of strong state leadership and county-by-county reopenings has born statistically impressive results—especially considering the fact that we didn't have the lead time that other states did to prepare for the outbreak.

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