OXNARD — It's a moonless October night, and while many of the good souls of Oxnard are home watching "Seinfeld" reruns, ghouls are prowling inside an abandoned school.
Armed with dark clothes, bloodied knives and rebel yells, they lurk--ready to terrify those foolish enough to venture onto their turf.
Of course, it's just a haunted house, and their frightening appearance is courtesy of carefully applied makeup. But these kids, assigned to "scare duty" by the Oxnard Police Activities League, mean business. They volunteer every night that the "Nightmare at PAL" house is open, dutifully frighten visitors, and are thrilled to hear compliments like, "You're better than Knott's Scary Farm."
And at $5 a head, guests get plenty of boo for their buck, said organizer Marie Briggs, a PAL board member.
The league, which runs after-school programs to keep troubled young people in Oxnard off the streets, has joined the ranks of Rotarians and other service clubs that run most of Ventura County's nonprofit haunted houses. Briggs, along with Officer Manny Vega of the Oxnard Police Department and several adult volunteers, decided last year that Oxnard kids could do with a haunted house.
Other haunted houses are operating in Ventura, Santa Paula and Moorpark.
Now in its second year, the Oxnard haunted house takes over 18 rooms of the old Oxnard High School on 5th Street and draws a few hundred visitors each night, plus scores of young volunteers who transform themselves into severed heads and zombies.
Some of the rooms can be downright scary, so organizers request that visitors age 10 and younger be accompanied by an adult.
With the low admission price, Briggs said PAL will be happy if it simply covers expenses and has something left over.
The house is mostly geared to give Oxnard teens some safe fun on October nights.
The house only needs about 30 ghouls a night, but some evenings nearly twice that many youths show up, Briggs said. Organizers always find something for them to do.
"We make up things," she said. "We have kids beat on the walls, anything we can think of."
The volunteers arrive well before the 7 p.m. start time to don costumes and makeup, and practice their screams.
Then they man their stations in the warren of rooms that make up the house.
There's the spider room, which is, of course, full of spiders; the maze-with-strobe-lights room; the mandatory autopsy room; and everyone's favorite, the polka-dot room.
Some of the room's dots move, some don't, said Briggs' 10-year-old son, Derrick, who works there some nights.
Glow-in-the-dark dots have been affixed to its black walls. Meanwhile, youths such as Derrick wear black costumes that are also affixed with glowing dots.
At first, the youths stay still so they blend in with the walls, but then they slowly move into the crowd.
"It really freaks people out," Marie Briggs said.
PAL received seed money to help run the event from the Oxnard Police Community Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for community activities, Briggs said.
With makeup, construction and props, the event costs about $5,000 to stage.
Profits go to PAL and to City Corps, another nonprofit organization for Oxnard youth.
Monster Maze and Haunted Hayride: Tierra Rejada Family Farms, 3370 Moorpark Road. Opens at 5 p.m. on Friday, noon on Saturday and Sunday. Cost: $7, $5 for children age 12 and under. Sponsored by the Moorpark Rotary Club.
Nightmare at PAL: Old Oxnard High School, 937 W. 5th St. Opens at 7 p.m. nightly starting Wednesday, 5 p.m. on Halloween. Cost: $5. Children 10 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Sponsored by Oxnard Police Activities League.
Ninth Annual Halloween Carnival and Haunted House. Santa Paula Community Center, 530 W. Main St. 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 31. Cost: $1 for 10 carnival tickets. Haunted House is an additional $1. For children ages 13 and under. Sponsored by the Santa Paula Community Services Department.
Haunted Harbor House: Ventura Harbor Village, 1559 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 106. 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 27 to Oct. 31. Cost: $3. For children age 12 and under. Sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura.