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(Enlarge) 16-year-old Leia Price of Manchester also gets made up by Patty Frock for a role in the haunted house. (Staff photo by Todd Spoth)

I've learned over the years that people can become a bit uneasy around newspaper reporters.

Apparently, screaming at them while toting a chainsaw doesn't help.

Nevertheless, I arrive at the Lineboro Vol. Fire Department on a Saturday evening to get a taste of what it's like to be part of Bedlam in the Boro, the popular house of horror run each year by the Lineboro department.

Tom Myers, who co-organizes the event, is happy to oblige a guest ghoul.

"I got just the thing for you," he says while chowing down a pre-spook dinner.

My chief duty, he says, will be to give the first real scare of the night, with the aide of an electronic chainsaw, to guests of the house.

"The first couple things you do sets the mood," Myers says.

That "mood" is important, and is one of the things that keeps people coming back to Bedlam year after year. The event is one of the Lineboro Vol. Fire Department's biggest fundraisers.

While many fire companies in Carroll County host carnivals to raise money for operating expenses, Lineboro long ago decided it was just as fun, and profitable, to scare up a few dollars this way.

A quick tour gives me an appreciation of what it takes to build this haunted house. Myers says an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 people will come to Bedlam's haunted house and hayride each year.

It takes about 20 minutes for people to navigate through all of the rooms, with about five people in each group.

John Froch of Reese helps run the house. He says it never gets old, and he loves it "just for the thrill of scaring people."

He shows me my disguise for the night: a costume of "Billy," the menacing puppet in the "Saw" horror movies.

Like "paper or plastic," I have the choice of mask or makeup — and choose makeup. I hate masks and, besides, there's something frightening about a human face — or at least my human face — filled with expression and psychotic eyes. Just ask my parents.

He places the chainsaw in my hands and shows me how to operate it. A flick of a switch and the saw starts up and a black button makes it sound as if it's ready to chop anything in its path.

Without giving much away, the house is filled with devious devices and ghastly gimmicks.

Myers and company are a kind of shadetree mechanics for horror gadgets. Many of the items are built by him and other volunteers, involving airbags, hydraulics, an air cannon, sensors and even some classic gags.

The fire department has an estimated $40,000 budget to keep the house filled with ... er, fun.

When all the elements of the house come together for a good fright, it's a beautiful thing, says Myers. Though it can be hard to maintain composure.

"Sometimes you just gotta crack up," he says.

"Do people actually pee their pants here?" I ask, trying to gauge how scary this house could be.

"Oh yeah," he says.

John Bindas, 16, of Manchester, is helping with the house for his second year and says he gets surprised himself -- even though he knows what's coming.

"Other workers will be in here, and they'll still scare the crap out of me," he says.

Heeeeeere's Johnny!

Moments before the doors open, Bill Beam of Lineboro gives me the skinny on what makes a perfect fright.

Beam, portraying a hotel doorman, plays a critical role as the set-up man for my gag.

Let's just say it involves me, the chainsaw, an elevator, some revving noise, running, screaming and things being cut.

(OK, OK. The blade is fake, but in the heat of the moment, you'll forget that ... trust me.)

It's all about timing, Beam says. Turn the chainsaw on too soon, and it deflates the moment. Extend the gag too long, and it doesn't work either. The first group comes in ... and I turn it on too soon.

Within minutes, though, I'm an old pro.

A menacing, psychotic old pro.

"Ohhhhhhh, that was good, that was good," says one teen, cheerfully. "Knuckles, knuckles."

I oblige for a fist-bump.

Hey, even the undead get props. Who knew?

A couple people look as if they are inconvenienced and perhaps shouldn't have come. A lot of the 900 people I see this night laugh, which can quickly turn into a sociology and psychology debate.

Are they laughing because they're scared? Are they laughing because they're with a group of friends and are masking their feelings? Or did someone else get spooked and the joke is on them? Is it me?

Whatever it is, it is enjoyable.

Others, of course, turned Casper white, and their reactions are also interesting.

"I think I have to go to the bathroom," blurts one girl.

I start to lose my voice after about the fourth group and have to start finding different registers in my voice that don't hurt.

After a few hours, I begin to wonder what I'm going to do next. It's hard to keep the gag fresh.

But the basic formula — scare, scream, slice — works just fine.

'Cutting-edge' entertainment

The best to scare, Beam explains, are 13-year-old girls. They shriek, shrill and easily scare.

Oh, how he is right.

A group of four girls scream at the top of their lungs and cling to each other for their lives, backing into a corner.

I switch the saw off after the gag and let the girls pass. But in this case, as they walk down the hallway, I turn the saw on again and give chase. They jump and scream again.

Apparently, twentysomething college guys scare easily, too. One such group stands around their friend, who I apparently catch off guard. He falls to his back and curls into the fetal position in the corner. All I can see of his face is his eyes, shinning with fear. (Name withheld.)

As the final group passes through the house shortly before midnight, I am exhausted and relieved that I survived.

Volunteers put in long hours to make the house a success, and some are not even involved with the fire department.

The help is greatly appreciated. Myers says that if a nonprofit group can regularly staff people to help out, the fire department will donate $500 to their group.

For a few extreme cases, it seems like hazard pay. Myers says some volunteers have been punched or kicked by frightened visitors. They can't help it — people either run when they're scared, or they fight.

"It's the fight or flight reaction," he explains, noting that those who really can't control themselves are asked to leave.

Some parents bring children to the attraction, and the staff tries to show concern for very small ones. (There's a non-scary hayride that's encouraged for small children. See box at right.)

On this night, one little boy is so scared that he had to go. A few others try to retreat, but their parents push them onward, assuring that everything will be fine.

Throughout the evening, Beam tips me off when little kids are looking scared, so I do my "gag" real quickly.

The worst of the night is a 3-year-old girl with blonde curls, dressed in a pink jacket. As I suddenly appear in front of her, she doesn't scream or cry, but her eyes grow as big as a pair of full moons.

I was more scared than her.

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