"Are you sure you want to enter?" It was the third time he had asked me that question, every time flashing at me the kind of ivory-teeth smile found only among those who have access to someone else's money for the expensive dental work. I wouldn't realize until later-when the nervous shaking had stopped and my racing heart had eased up on the gas-that a smile in the face of such frightening things would be a metaphor for all that was to follow.
"I'm... I'm sure," I finally stammered, and the man smiled even more broadly as he slapped me (stabbed me?) on the back and motioned that I was to follow.
I'd been to all the other Halloween Haunted Houses. The local high school's low-budget, heavy-on-the-fog machine production. The big name amusement park's night of over-the-top, scream-inducing special effects, where the horror began with the $37.50 entry fee. But this seemed more dreadful than any of them, disguised as that which is most horrifying always is-as something innocuous, even beneficial to me. All I had to do was just step this way!
I inched forward, my guide smiling like a game show host and pointing at the door emblazoned with gold leaf lettering reading, "Board Room of Doom." Sure, I had heard the dark rumors in the past at late-night sessions in the conference hotel bar, but had never really believed the cautious whispers that such a room really existed. Like the Lock Safe Monster or the Repossessed Big Foot Truck, I thought it was just another credit union myth.
The doorknob was ice cold to the touch and the heavy door swung open smoothly and quietly, closing behind us without warning. I heard a heavy clicking. "Did the door just lock?" I nervously asked my host. "The scariest board meetings are always behind locked doors, away from the members," he replied matter of factly. There was a large, exorbitant-looking table in the room, its borders guarded like rolling sentinels by a dozen burgundy-colored, plush, high-backed office chairs. My host, who said he would decline to provide a name unless I was planning to write a check, motioned me to sit down in the chairman's seat, proudly noting the credit union had had to cancel the free coffee for members and dog treats for pets, not to mention raises for the tellers, to offset the cost of its redesigned executive boardroom.
"The seat doesn't move, doesn't swivel," I pointed out after sitting. "Is it broken?"
My host laughed the first of what would be many cold, dismissive laughs at my expense. "In the Board Room of Doom the chairman never changes, never adjusts," the host explained. "He-and it's usually he-never changes his view."
Instead, I changed mine, scrambling from the chair's chair only to encounter a spider-web-encrusted skeleton in the vice chair's seat. "Wow, that's really realistic, as good as any special effect I've seen at Universal Studios," I offered. My host chortled dismissively at me again. "It's not a special effect," he replied. "Actually, that IS the vice chairman, and he's been dead for nearly a decade. The Board Room of Doom doesn't like new blood."
"Or any blood," I replied, hastily moving along to the other end of the table. Suddenly, it was dark as a crypt. "I can't see a thing," I cried out to the creepy blackness.
"You're not supposed to," came the answer. "This is where the charter conversion committee meets. They don't like anything to be in the daylight, especially any of their correspondence with me on certain rewards that await them-and not the members who elected them."
I reached out in the darkness for a chair to steady myself. This was more frightening than any demon, more blood-curdling than Dracula, more chilling than the undead. "That means you're...you're a...you're a conversion consultant," I sputtered. His laugh was icy. "I prefer charter-enhancer," he answered.
"For the sake of all credit unions, I ought to drive a stake in your heart right now," I threatened. But he answered with another frigid, fractured laugh: "Surely you must know I don't have a heart!"
Blindly I pushed the papers on the table out into the light. It was all there: "disclosures" that never disclose that little goblin of a word, "bank"; spooky math claiming a 30%-plus tax rate somehow wouldn't affect loan or savings rates; advice on how to convince the owners to give up the ghost of ownership. I stared on in horror, before the bright lights caused all the conversion documents to start fading like an apparition.
Breathlessly, I moved on to the other director chairs in the Board Room of Doom, noticing for the first time that my host's reflection could not be seen in the mirror-like table top. There were chairs reserved for the micromanager, the fiefdom builder, and numerous chairs reserved for board members who like to sit quietly and not ask uncomfortable questions. Soon I had staggered back to the chairman's seat.
"All I've done is gone in circles," I gasped to the satisfied smile of my host.
"That's why it's the Board Room of Doom," he answered smugly. "The room is so richly appointed, why ever leave? There's no need to go out and meet members, no need to hear other views. Just sit back and get comfortable. Very comfortable. Let me do the talking. You're getting sleepy, very sleepy..."
Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.