LEWISTON — It was an unsettling night in the Twin Cities.
The ghouls started to arrive before 5 p.m. Friday — witches, clowns, zombies, skeletons and various creatures of the night. They were there for the Run Like Hell 5K costume party, but they weren’t there to race, oh no. These ghastly beings were out to cause fear and unease — and the more of it, the better.
“We’re here to scare the runners,” said Ron Lawlor, a Poland man in a yellow rain suit and a gas mask. His face was smeared with faux blood and his hair was streaked with it. “We’ll find little hiding spots along the route and when they run by, we’ll jump out and scare them.”
Some had a specific strategy in mind; some were winging it.
“I’m just going to jump out and scream,” said a Lewiston woman who calls herself Evil Jane. Her shredded clothes were absolutely drenched in gore. “I’ll be as scary as I can be.”
James Tolman-Dahlke walked upon the scene and was enlisted to join in with this squadron of scare. He didn’t have a costume of his own, so they dribbled some fake blood around his mouth and splashed some into his hair for good measure. Scare somebody real good, he was told, and you might cause one of the runners to wet his or her pants.
“Oh, that would be pretty funny,” James said. Then a new thought occurred. “I just don’t want to get punched.”
The event, sponsored by the United Way of Androscoggin County, saw 85 runners moving along a 5K course that meandered into Auburn and then back to the Franco-American Heritage Center, where ghouls and runners alike were gathered.
There was just one problem: most of the runners hadn’t been told that the course would be haunted by zombies, vampires, demented clowns and walking corpses. It’s the kind of thing that can wreak havoc with the emotional equilibrium needed for a long run.
“What, really?” said 22-year-old Loren Lachapelle of Auburn. She had come to run, not to be frightened out of her sneakers. “Oh, well. I’m just going to try to finish. I’ll just plug in my iPod and I’m good to go.”
She didn’t look entirely convinced.
In another part of the Franco Center, a runner named Steve, from Lisbon, was warming up. He also was surprised to learn that messy inhabitants of the 5K course were out to get him. Not that he was worried.
“They’ve got to try and keep up with us,” he said. “When I run, I’m really just in the zone. As long as they don’t try to tackle me, I’ll be OK.”
Sure, Steve. Sure you will.
The work of the ghouls went on unabated. In the minutes before the race began, they put final touches on their costumes, adding extra doses of blood or making their faces peel in just the right way.
“It’s oatmeal,” said Heidi Masselli of the apparent rot that had taken over her face. “And latex.”
She was a horrifying sight with dripping flesh and crimson rags hanging from her frame. She had a plan to inspire fear and loathing among the runners.
“I’m going to move slow,” she said. “I’m going to be lurking, mostly because I don’t want to have to run.”
Nearby, Lucas Masselli stood waiting, another nasty character with pale flesh and blood-drenched clothes. He was taking his role seriously. This was a ghoul with a goal.
“I just want to get a good scream out of somebody,” he said. “That would be awesome.”
The Tinpanic Steel Band played a raucous tune in the grass outside the Franco Center. Inside, the main room was bedecked with streamers and cobwebs, pumpkins and bats, plastic spiders and leering skulls. This was a party meant to last beyond the length of the run. When it was over, the Time Machine Cover Band would play deep into the night.
There was a lot going on at the Run Like Hell event, and word was spreading far and wide.
Alisa Cowen came with her daughter and two friends from Scarborough. They had heard about the event and thought it sounded like a blast. She wasn’t concerned about the fiendish plot to frighten the runners along their route. Not much, anyway.
“I’m OK with zombies,” Cowen said. “It’s the clowns I don’t like.”
Tough luck. The very first person she met was adorned in a clown outfit, with a wicked, painted smile and wild, staring eyes. Cowen quickly moved toward the safety of the crowds, more eager than ever to start running.