Ghosts hang from leafless trees. Straw-stuffed dummies line the driveway -- one holds its head in the crook of its arm. Pumpkins with toothless grins and triangular eyes call from the Dungeon of Terror.
Residents of the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville have transformed the grounds and 2,000 square feet inside into a little gym of horrors. Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddie Kruger and Jason of hockey mask fame make guest appearances.
The residents are having a haunting tonight through Monday, and they are inviting all to meet their spirits of Halloween.
"Come in at your own risk," said Randy Morton, a counselor at the center for teen-age boys placed by the Department of Juvenile Services.
Mr. Morton designed the dungeon and organized the student crew that put it together over the past two weeks.
Sheets of slitted black plastic hang from the ceiling and darken the windows. Pull back a grungy curtain and prepare for terror.
Cobwebs, iridescent skulls and papier mache masks, made in the center's art classes, add touches of macabre to the atmosphere.
Ghoulish groans howl -- from a tape playing in the background. Stepping on hidden buttons triggers more screams. The students have engaged a fortune teller for those brave enough to peer into a frightful future.
Before eyes adjust to the darkness, characters from the nether world appear from secret sectors. Masked guides, with flashlights, lead the unsuspecting to scenes full of campy horror.
A maze of makeshift hallways winds its way to Dracula in his coffin, the phantom playing his stark white piano, and a huge, hairy gorilla ripping his cage apart.
"Is that an ax murderer?" someone yells.
No, it's the maintenance supervisor getting into character.
"It's like wearing a furnace on your head," said David Miller as he removed a huge, life-like mask and put down his plastic ax.
A doctor's office is decorated with blood-stained curtains and jars of preserved heads and hearts. A red devil, so still he seems unreal, moves suddenly and pulls victims into hell.
The walk-through takes about 15 fright-filled minutes. It weaves around ominous heads protruding erratically through unseen openings and startling those matriculating the dungeon.
"Don't step on the snakes," Mr. Morton warns. "They feel real."
The walk ends outside in the haunted forest, complete with a dismal swamp and a row of tombstones marking the graves of the notorious.
"I have never put something like this together before," said 17-year-old Jason, who thinks he knows all the hidden horrors. "I am going to come through myself."
The students promise to tone the terror down for younger visitors. They tested the trek on Mr. Morton's 4-year-old daughter.
"We don't want to scare anybody too much," said Rodney, 17.
Four students worked with Mr. Morton to put the dungeon together. Ten other students will be guides and haunters.
"It was a change to put the Halloween spirit into people," said Daniel, a 17-year-old resident. "I hope it's an opportunity to get to know more people in the community."
Adina Hipp, residential counselor, promises a safe environment to celebrate Halloween.
"The students have all been working so hard and they really have come through," she said.
The Dungeon of Terror is open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. today and tomorrow and 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children and students with school IDs. The center is at 7960 Henryton Road. Information: 549-6330.