"Come on, it'll be fun!" Penny wheedles.
In a shocking twist, flat-out begging doesn't work. Howard's been going on for like an hour about how he needs to hit as many bars as possible; apparently he only needs one more nurse to complete his Halloween Hook-up bingo card. Raj fled to the bathroom the first time she mentioned chainsaws. He hasn't been back since.
Leonard... Oh, Leonard. He says he'll go with her but she recognizes the pained look on his face. The one that all but screams How am I going to get out of this one? It's the same face he's given every single time she invites him to one of her way-too-rare performances and he doesn't want to hurt her feelings.
She lets him stew for a while but finally sighs and tells him to forget it.
Sometimes it really sucks that none of them are actively trying to get in her pants anymore.
The free passes she got from one of the dishwashers at work (currently playing Chainsaw Zombie #3 at this particular haunted house) burn a hole in her pocket for the next three days. Until Sheldon is unlucky enough to be the only one home when she barrels through the door, that is.
"Remember how you still owe me for finding you Star Wars sheets that don't keep you up all night?"
His narrow-eyed glare clearly says he does.
"Look, it'll be two hours, tops. You can think about magnets or whatever while we go through!" She turns up the brightness of her smile and even tries batting her lashes for good measure. Not that it's ever worked on him, but hey, you gotta go with what you know.
Sheldon flips a page in his notebook and goes back to writing whatever she interrupted. "I have no desire to subject myself to fear-mongering revolving around the seven deadly sins."
"And the idea of enduring yet another attempt to convert me to-"
Penny waves her arms. "Whoa, no. It's not that kind of haunted house! No Baby Jesus waiting for us at the end, I swear."
"Go on," he prods, closing his notebook and turning away from his desk to face her. "I'll go if you can give me one reason why I would enjoy it."
She looks at him for a minute, trying to figure out what might work. "It's here in Old Town. We could walk over."
"Well, that's hardly convincing. The jail is also within walking distance - should we spend an evening there?"
"They have hot apple cider, the kind with the cinnamon sticks."
"Beverages of unknown provenance with potentially non-existent quality controls? Please."
"It's a non-option-"
Sheldon narrows his eyes at her before she can finish. "If that's the case, then why did the others turn you down?"
Damn. It sounds like she's gotten all the mileage out of that one that she can. After taking a minute to mourn the one and only surefire guilt trip she has left, Penny thinks fast. She hasn't been to this particular haunted house herself yet but Mike's been talking about it nonstop for weeks. "I think they've got Jar Jar Binks in one of the torture chambers?"
Sheldon jumps to his feet so fast that his chair rolls almost the whole way back to the coffee table. "Well, why didn't you say so?!"
After all that, it still takes Sheldon another thirty minutes to actually leave. She rearranges a bunch of the balls on the DNA thingy so she can hear him freak out about it later while he practically runs back to his room and starts throwing things around behind his closed door. When he finally comes back, he's dressed up as.... Well, actually she doesn't know what he's dressed as. It looks kind of like his red Flash outfit through the shoulders and chest, but it's gold lamé with a swishy purple mini-dress over it. There's a gold headband crossing over his forehead, what looks like one of her grandma's wall decorations around his neck and - is that a stuffed animal under his arm?
When she stops laughing long enough to speak, she asks, "What are you supposed to be?"
"We just watched the movie version of this character last week!" he snaps.
They watched a lot of stuff last week, and she fell asleep on the couch for most of it. It's not her fault that they keep picking these weird old sci-fi movies where everyone's climbing into shiny silver rockets and fighting rubber monsters. But she knows she would remember this if she'd seen it.
He fidgets with his big gold belt. "'Who watches the watchers?' 'Conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them?'" he prompts.
"I'm Ozymandias," he sighs. "Original comic book version, though. The movie costume was too-" he shudders "Schumacher."
"Oh, yeah, totally," she agrees, just to get this over with so they can get going. Although she's not so sure anymore she's okay with going out in public with him dressed like that. But what the hell, it's California, they live in the nerd capital of the United States, and it's the Friday before Halloween. It's not like he's going to stand out that much.
"Where's your costume?" he asks as he locks his door behind them. "Aren't you going to change?"
"Um, you're not actually supposed to dress up to go to a haunted house."
"But it's Halloween," he says, like that's explanation enough, and then stands at the top of the stairs and looks at her until she throws her hands in the air.
"Fine. I'll be back in like two seconds."
He's well into an explanation of how that's physically (and physics-ally, she guesses) impossible by the time she manages to get her key in the lock. She throws on the clothes she wore the last time she went dancing and hurries back outside.
"I'm Britney Spears, pre-KFed," she bluffs before he can protest that she's technically not wearing a costume.
He squints. "...does that have anything to do with your radio head?"
The walk over is nice, if 'nice' is the right word to use for a six-block hike in really uncomfortable but totally cute shoes and a skirt that keeps trying to turn itself into a belt.
The honking and hooting from passing cars is definitely nice, until she realizes that the majority of them are from guys who only have eyes for Sheldon's disco look. He, of course, thinks they're signaling some sort of impending traffic disaster and twitches away from the curb every time.
"It's a good thing we didn't drive," he says after a particularly appreciative driver nearly deafens them with his horn. "I never put much stock in the old wives' tale that the full moon inspires irrational behavior but there may be some truth to it after all."
She thinks about telling him what's really going on for all of about two seconds before she decides it's just not worth the hassle. Instead she starts laying down the ground rules for how he's supposed to act once they get there.
"Oh! And I know you'll know how they're doing all the tricks, just please don't talk about them until we're all the way through, okay?"
"Why should I do that?" He sounds offended, like she's ruining his whole night by insisting he not ruin hers.
"Because it will ruin the suspense, Sheldon! The whole point is to get scared."
"By rubber monster masks and jerky animatronics?" He snorts. "Please."
The passes Mike gave her are VIP so they don't even have to wait in line, which is better than awesome because her feet are freaking killing her.
That, and the looks Sheldon's getting from the people who are in line are starting to weird her out. If she has to start beating more deranged grad students off of him, she's going to start charging him for bodyguard services.
As Penny follows him down the narrow stone steps, the fake torches on the wall throw off weak light that glitters on his lamé leggings. All that gold makes her think of Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard for some reason, which she guesses makes her Kevin Costner, but with way better hair (and acting abilities, let's face it). She almost falls down the stairs, she's laughing so hard.
At the bottom, Sheldon peers at her in the gloom. "Are you frightened already? Missy had a similar response to the Hell Houses we were forced to attend."
She manages a choking noise that she hopes he'll take as a yes, because it's going to be a lot easier than explaining whatever the hell's going on in her head.
Sheldon nods, and switches the stuffed animal - a bio-engineered lynx, apparently - to his other arm. Then, he holds out his hand to her. She stares at it for a minute, then up at him.
"I'm trying to avoid the inevitable moment when your terror overcomes you and you cling to the nearest outstreched hand, only to find that you've inadvertently latched on to one of the characters or a plastic skeleton," he explains. When Penny still doesn't do anything but stand there gaping at him, he reaches over and takes her hand. "Again, Missy had a similar response in our childhood."
His hand is warm and a little damp around hers. Penny wiggles her fingers around until she's got a better grip on him and smiles. "If you wanted to hold hands, you could have just said so."
"I assure you-" he stutters to a stop and makes a face. "Is that sarcasm?"
"Honestly, I have no idea," she mumbles as a mummy looms up out of the darkness.
"Dudes, make out on your own time. You're kinda holding things up," it says, and points them down a dark hallway.
Penny is, in her own not-so-humble opinion, something of an expert on haunted houses. She's been to nearly every single one in about a thirty mile radius, and she never missed a weekend at the huge one at the fairgrounds every year back in Omaha.
For some reason, though, this place is totally freaking her out. She jumps and shrieks and squeezes Sheldon's hand every single time something pops out at her from behind a curtain, and there was a touch and go moment in the pitch-black maze where she thought she was seriously about to wet herself. On top of everything else, Sheldon dropped his stuffed lynx in the torture room when Jar Jar started babbling and reaching for them from his restraints. Penny hopes they get it back at the end because she feels really bad about screaming so loud that he complained about his ringing ears for the next three rooms, and because she doesn't have the slightest clue where she'd be able to buy a replacement.
They push through yet another spiderweb-covered doorway and somewhere in the distance she can hear the buzz of a chainsaw.
She tugs on Sheldon's hand so he stops walking and turns back toward her. "Let's just ask somebody where the nearest emergency exit is," she says, trying and totally failing to keep the thread of panic out of her voice.
"Don't be ridiculous," Sheldon chides. "We're nearly done. Honestly, I don't know why you're acting so OH MY GOD NO!"
As he screams, Sheldon drops her hand and turns to flee. She hooks a hand in his belt and hauls him back toward her. No way is he leaving her here to face whatever horrible thing she can hear panting behind her. The skin from her waist to her neck starts crawling as its hot breath washes over her. She squeezes her eyes closed and whimpers.
Something brushes past them, knocking Sheldon into her. They cling to each other, and someone says, "Oh my God, get a room."
Penny cracks open one eye. A freckle-faced kid is standing next to them, his mask and curly white wig pushed up onto his forehead.
"Seriously, I have to kick you out if you're trying to have sex in here," he says before he pulls his mask back down. When he turns to go back to wherever he'd been hiding, one of the strobe lights shines directly on a dark exit sign and the words printed on the back of his costume.
Whatever the hell Starving Morlocks are, Penny wants no part of them. She peels herself off of Sheldon and grabs his hand again, steering him past the lights to where she thinks the door is.
It's still not quite dark outside when they stumble out into the alley. Penny's sweating and panting like she just fought off the crowd at a DSW sale, and Sheldon doesn't look much better. They walk back around to the front of the building where she asks the girl taking tickets if anyone's found Sheldon's stuffed animal. The girl gets on a walkie-talkie and within minutes another girl, this one with hideous bloody, peeling skin hanging off her face, hands her the doll. Her sunny smile looks absolutely grotesque.
About halfway home, Penny realizes she's still holding Sheldon's hand. She thinks about dropping it but hasn't quite made up her mind when a flurry of honks distracts her. Both of them stop and turn to look, and it takes a minute for Penny to recognize Raj, Howard, and Leonard in the car pulled up at the curb.
"Hey guys!" Penny lifts up her hand to wave, only noticing at the last second that it's the one still attached to Sheldon.
"Uh," two of them respond. Raj gulps and waves in return.
"Oh good," Sheldon says, "you can drive us the rest of the way home."
He marches toward the rear passenger door, pulling Penny along with him. Raj scrambles backward across the seat to get out of their way, and Howard and Leonard both swivel in their seats, jaws hanging wide open.
"Well don't just gawk at us," Sheldon commands, "let's go! It's almost time for the Batman marathon on Starz."
Okay, now Penny remembers the Ozzymantis guy. He was the one who kept telling everybody what to do at the end of the movie, after he blew up like half the planet.
Leonard turns back around and puts the car in gear. As he pulls out into traffic, Howard gives their entwined hands one more open-mouthed look and whips back around in his seat. After a minute or two, Raj leans forward and crams his face in the narrow space between Leonard's headrest and his seatbelt's upper strap. He whispers something and Leonard shakes his head. Penny sees his eyes flick toward her in the rearview mirror and she readjusts her grip on Sheldon's hand.
Raj whispers something else, and Leonard replies in the loudest whisper she's ever heard: "Just be glad he didn't go as Doctor Manhattan."
"Excuse me!" Sheldon exclaims. "Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a brilliant scientist."