Surprises — few of them pleasant — lurk around every corner at Erebus, the four-story haunted house in downtown Pontiac. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Ed Terebus says that if you run your finger along his tongue, you can still feel the ridge where a doctor sewed the severed end back on.
It gets worse. He says his earliest childhood memory is staring up at a ring of heads — other doctors, interested in how the tricky procedure might work out — and watching what seemed like a gigantic set of pliers descending toward his mouth while someone pinned his 3-year-old shoulders to the table.
Terebus, 50, grew up to co-own one of the nation’s largest, best-known and creepiest haunted houses, the four floors of fiendishly inventive mayhem in Pontiac known as Erebus. He spends all year pondering new ways to separate customers from their wits and, occasionally, certain bodily fluids.
It’s unclear whether his career choice was influenced by toppling off his dad’s sedan and landing on his chin at the precise unhappy moment when his tongue was protruding from his mouth.
There’s no doubt, however, that the accident fueled his other personal crusade, the one that goes hand-in-mummified-hand with his occupation.
Evil clowns? No problem. Bloody chainsaws? Rev ’em up. Snakes? The more the merrier.
Nope. No use for them.
Impediment led to bullying
Everybody gets teased. Kids are ghoulish that way: show a weakness, and they sink their fangs into it like vampires.
There’s a difference, though, between teasing and tormenting.
As one of seven kids in a blue-collar family from Warren, Terebus could have lived with a few pokes at his low-budget wardrobe.
What made elementary school unbearable was his speech impediment. With his reconstituted tongue, Rs were impossible and much of the rest of the language was difficult. It was bad enough that his dad would sometimes turn to his mother and ask, “What’s he saying?”
The schoolkids didn’t care; they’d just shove him.
“I’d get my butt kicked every day,” he says. It’s hard to picture now, when he’s 6-feet-1 and 230 pounds with a shaved head and a goatee. But he’d hear the announcement on the loudspeaker at Beaver Elementary — “Ed Terebus to speech class” — and know the next recess was going to be hell.
When sixth grade ended, so did the need for speech therapy, which helped. He grew 12 inches in junior high, which also helped. And early in seventh grade, when the alpha dog on campus aimed a karate kick at him, Terebus caught the kid’s foot, yanked it upward and dumped him on his back.
The taunting stopped ... but he can still hear the echoes
Customers faint often
Terebus is an artist and sculptor who made a living as a locksmith until he and his engineer brother turned their hobby into full-time careers.
They started with a 1,200-square-foot trailer and kept growing until 2000, when they gulped hard, sold (Ed) or remortgaged (Jim) their houses, borrowed from everyone they knew, and bought a former taxi barn and bowling alley at 18 S. Perry St.
Now they have seven other full-time employees, hordes of seasonals, and a new digital scoreboard near the entrance that tallies how many wimps have bought a ticket but declined to enter (217 this year, 6,612 overall), and how many customers have fainted, vomited or wet themselves (880, including 20 since September).
The staff takes pride in the numbers. “Fear is fun in a haunted house,” Terebus says — “but not outside.”
Not at school, or on a block, or at home. We read about the worst cases, the kids so tormented they kill themselves or someone else. We don’t know about all the kids like Ed who live in quiet dread.
Erebus has joined a national campaign called Don’t Be a Monster that offers free, 30-minute anti-bullying assemblies for middle schools. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not an uncommon theme these days, but maybe the message will resonate louder when it comes from characters in latex masks.
Terebus hopes so. Life can be scary enough already.