The Time I Stumbled Upon Britannia Manor Part II

This is Part II of the story, catch up with Part I here!

We turned down the road that passes right by the construction site for Mark III, though it was hard to see much in the dark.  When we reached the intersection where I had turned around and left during my previous visit, we now found a man in a neon security vest with a flashlight.  We rolled down our window and he asked us what event we were there for.  That seemed like a weird question at the time (what else would we be there for?), so we assumed maybe it was part of the act or something.  We said “Scare for a Cure,” and he told us to head down the road and park.

We parked in a long row of other cars along the side of the mountain road, by a guardrail, and walked down to a registration table where we signed up and signed some safety and liability forms.  We basically had to acknowledge that the actors might physically interact with us, and that the haunted house itself was physically demanding, and it wasn’t their fault if we got hurt.  We were put with a group according to the time we bought tickets for and waited for the next step:  a big yellow school bus ride to take us much further down the mountain.

At the end of the ride, we were finally at our destination and joined a line right outside of the actual haunted house area itself, waiting to get verified and get our red-level armbands (these let the actors know that we had signed up for the extreme version).  Keep in mind that pretty much everything from here on out is outdoors in the forest and in open-air.  This waiting area was already pretty heavily decorated, the zombie apocalypse theme strongly represented.  Creepy actors weaved their way through our line, already spooking (and I use that term lightly) some of the jumpier guests, nearly running them out of the line all together.  We could see beyond the line was some sort of holding area and we could hear lots of unusual sounds, including live music.  At one point, a nearby car literally caught on fire.

It was at this point, while waiting in line, that we started to notice something strange.  Some guests started walking up to the area looking confused and out-of-place.  Lots of middle-aged couples wearing clothes that clearly said “I do not expect to have fake blood splattered on me this evening.”  A few of them approached us asking if we were there for the play.  As entertaining of a mix-up as that would have been, we dutifully notified them that we were waiting for a haunted house and weren’t aware of any play.  We were all wondering if they were part of the act somehow, but it turned out that they really were confused guests looking for a play.  In addition to under-construction mansions and seasonal haunted houses, Garriott’s property is also home to a replica Elizabethan outdoor theater called The Curtain (of course it is), and there was a performance that night.  This also explained the security person’s question at the beginning.

The Curtain Theater
The Curtain Theater

After a short wait, we were let inside to the next area, called The Outpost.  It was themed as a refugee camp for survivors of the zombie virus outbreak, but the real purpose of the area was to entertain guests and catch them up on backstory while they waited for their group to be called.  I only realized this after the fact, because The Outpost definitely didn’t feel like a waiting room.  The setting was incredible and the actors and their interactions with guests were unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced at a haunted house.

In the 20-30 minutes we spent in The Outpost, we witnessed and experienced some very interesting things.  When they had us sign that waiver at the beginning about physical contact, they weren’t joking around.  We saw guests literally being picked up and carried off to participate in a high-stakes trivia game.  Actors relentlessly chased terrified guests around the area.  A man in a clown costume swung my husband around like a rag doll, “dancing” with him in front of the live band.  This place was so unique and well-executed it really left a lasting impression.

Eventually, we were called over to meet our Scout, the one who would lead us through the forest to Sanctuary (a fabled refuge where a cure for the zombie virus had been found).  He was an Indiana Jones type of character and seemed savvy enough to protect us.  We left the Outpost through the back of a camping tent and made our way out into the forest.  A few zombies appeared pretty early on, but our Scout was a crack shot and took care of them effortlessly.

Things were going smoothly, and we had almost made our way to a rendez-vous point with a vehicle.  Suddenly, some zombies appeared!  No problem, we thought confidently, our amazing Scout will protect us!  But to our horror, he was quickly overtaken, yelling at us to run and find the vehicle as he was dragged down by the zombies.  He was gone, and we were alone with only his less-than-trustworthy and very aloof assistant to point us in the direction of the driver we were supposed to meet.  This part really took me by surprise, I’ve never lost my guide in a haunted house before!

We made our way down a short hill and saw a truck/van waiting there.  Our Scout’s assistant told us to hurry and get in.  Something was off, we weren’t sure if we could trust her.  I noticed a logo on the side of the truck that seemed familiar.  Something we had heard mentioned by one of the characters at The Outpost, perhaps?  We were all hesitant.

But soon our decision was made for us, as hordes of zombies rose up out of the scenery about forty yards away and began running straight for us at break-neck speeds.  We all scrambled into the back of the truck, struggling to get in before the zombies reached us.  As soon as we closed the door, we heard the thud of zombie hands against the metal of the truck.  We had barely made it!  Suddenly, the van took off and began to speed through the forest, our group of six taking a bewildered seat.  One of the people in our group exclaimed “This is awesome!”, expressing all of our excited feelings as we realized just how cool it all was.  (Of course, this was before we noticed the zombie locked up in the corner of the truck.)

When we finally reached our destination, we exited the truck to find that our suspicions had been correct.  Our faithful Scout had actually sold us to an evil genetic research company studying the virus.  We were going to be test subjects.

From that point, the rest of the haunted house path weaved its way through what I have to assume was the skeleton of the southern plot of Britannia Manor Mark III.  Lots of concrete walls, construction materials strewn about, metal steps up to second floors, rooms missing roofs, etc.  It all fit the theme pretty perfectly, so I didn’t even really realize where we must have been at the time.  (Check out the group’s Flickr pool to see some awesome behind-the-scenes shots of haunted house construction inside a mansion construction zone!)

I won’t go into every detail of the rest of the haunted house, but at one point we found ourselves in a sort of control/security room where we were supposed to produce a code to shut down a security system.  We failed.  We heard a warning announcement saying something like “Meltdown imminent,” and alarms started ringing.  At that point, one of the lab coat-wearing actors yelled something like “Watch out!” and pointed up at the open ceiling of the room.  We turned around and there it was, the mysterious concrete tower that had brought me there in the first place, rising ominously above us against the black night sky.

And then it exploded.

Well, technically it was an explosion pyrotechnic.  But it was very impressive.  We didn’t have long to admire the tower, as we were rushed out of that area pretty quickly (there was a meltdown after all!) and through the rest of the haunted house.

The rest of SCARE was pretty amazing, ending with one of the strangest and coolest experiences I’ve ever had (1. Be instructed to crawl into a small dark tunnel, 2. Crawl in and eventually get stuck as there is no more space, hear a door shut behind you, 3. Notice movement and realize you have actually crawled into the back of a truck that is now driving somewhere).  We came out on the other end pretty much covered in fake blood and with huge smiles on our faces.  It’s definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone, and if I ever get the chance to visit Austin again I’m going to make sure it’s in October so I can go to SCARE again.

Fake blood post-Scare for a Cure
Red-level tickets indeed! Covered in fake blood after Scare for a Cure


After that night, I didn’t have any further encounters with Britannia Manor, and we left Austin about three months later.  According to Wikipedia, construction has basically been on hold since 2008 when Garriott’s primary interests shifted to space exploration.  Britannia Manor Mark II, Garriott’s original gargoyle-guarded mansion, is actually up for sale at a cool 4.1 mil.  Check out the Re/max listing for all the amazing details, features, and photos.  It’s even off the grid!

As for checking out Mark III, as far as I know Scare for a Cure is still being held on Garriott’s property, and it’s certainly worth attending even if you aren’t interested in checking out any mansion construction.  I also recently discovered (much to my disappointment since we don’t live in Austin anymore) that Garriott has designed an elaborate, several-part, puzzle-based geocache called “Necropolois – Britannia Manor III“, or “The Guardian’s Quest”, which spans several miles, ending somewhere on the property of Mark III.  One of the more interesting instructions on the cache reads:

“It is requested that you bring with your expedition, offerings to enhance the ambiance of the environment around the final cache. It is built upon my private property, and therefore such offerings will be appreciated and not considered litter. Bones & Skulls real or plastic are of the style which would be in keeping with other offerings which have come before you.”

Makes me want to plan an Austin trip just to do the geocache! Also, I really hope this generosity of Garriott’s to curious guests continues on after he has completed the mansion, as there are some very interested mystery bloggers out there who would love a tour someday!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my story.  The moral is that if you see something that seems mysterious, go check it out!  You never know what you might find =)