By Karen Hall
Tonight is your first chance to get scared out of your wits, while helping raise money for the Autism Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The Trail of Horror, at 1833 Old Farmington Road, will be open from 7: 30 to 11 p.m. tonight, and every Friday and Saturday night for the rest of October, with the grand finale on Halloween night, Thursday, Oct. 31.
Longtime Marshall County residents will remember Becky Hill's House of Horrors, which she ran on Holly Grove Road for 11 years. Now she's back in the fright business for a very special reason.
Hill's grandson Will, 4, who she's raised since he was seven weeks old, was diagnosed with autism in January. Will said "ma-ma" and "da-da" when he was about 18 months old, but now he is non-verbal.
"If he could talk we could get somewhere," Hill said. "The therapist doesn't think he'll ever talk," though he has learned sign language to convey "more," "please," "thank you," and "I love you."
"I'd never heard of it (autism) before until I realized something was wrong with Will," said Hill. Now she's something of an expert, pointing out one in 88 children is autistic, and more boys than girls are affected.
"There is help," she said. "But you have to look for it." Hill has found the Autism Foundation of Middle Tennessee in Nashville.
"They work with donations and grants, that's all they work with," she said, so on the spur of the moment, about three weeks ago, Hill got the idea to put on a Trail of Horror to raise money for the foundation.
It would spoil the surprise to tell you what is included in the Trail of Horror, which winds through the woods next to Hill's home, but it was a little bit scary even in broad daylight. After dark, lit by strobe lights, and populated with 12 to 15 volunteer actors and actresses, it could be truly terrifying.
"It's really something at night," Hill promised. "It's short, but we have a lot in store for them. It's pretty much a zombie thing."
Hill has had a lot of help construction the Trail of Horrors from her fiancÚ, Bernie Jett.
"He's the leader of all the stuff we're doing," Hill said.
The couple have known each other for almost 20 years, and have been together for five.
"Every time we plan to get married, something happens," Hill said. A plan to get married this month was put on hold after Jett's father, William R. Jett, died Oct. 6.
Hill is also raising Bernie Jett's daughter, seven-year-old Laura Beth.
Laura Beth will grow up and make the normal progression through education, work, marriage, and children, but Will's life can never be like that.
"I'm not sending him away to a home," exclaims Hill. "It's pitiful when they cannot communicate with you. Sometimes he plays, and sometimes he just wants to be by himself."
So for Will, and all the other autistic children helped by the Autism Foundation of Middle Tennessee, please make the trip out Old Farmington Road to the Trail of Horror, and get scared for a good cause.