- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chris Kirby’s weekend job is a scream — at least he hopes so.

Mr. Kirby, 27, and a crew of 140 persons don costumes each weekend in October to give visitors to Paramount’s Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., a spook.

“I’m a fairly conservative person,” he says. “This lets me be someone else for a while.”

Mr. Kirby has returned for his third year of scaring visitors at Kings Dominion’s FearFest, an event on October weekends where the amusement park full of fog, dim lights and spooky haunted houses.

FearFest, in its sixth year, typically draws about 40 percent of its audience from the Washington area. On the fest’s opening day earlier this month, light rain kept the turnout low.

With an ominous glare or a jolting surprise, Mr. Kirby and the “creepers,” as they are called, walk through the crowd, targeting too-tough teens and Halloween thrill seekers.

Mr. Kirby’s costume consists of all black clothes, spikes on his shoulders and fake blood on his face. It’s not a conventional monster or goblin, but screaming children and teens vouch for its creepiness.

Mr. Kirby, who by day is an iron worker in Richmond, is typically assigned to be a “slider.” They wear slippery kneepads, with a smooth surface similar to a hockey puck, to slide along the pavement. Their boots, with metal toes, make nails-on-a-chalkboard noises and send sparks when they slide in front of unsuspecting park visitors. But on this day the ground is wet from recent rain and the sliders wouldn’t be able to stop, so they have to walk around instead.

For Mr. Kirby, the weekend job is fun. He enjoys terrifying people.

“I’d probably do it even if they didn’t pay me,” he says. “People are paying a lot of money for these tickets. I try to give them what they’re paying for.”

The only downfall, he says, is the weather. They are outside whether its warm or chilly and wet, like on this night.

Creepers roam the park from 7 p.m. to closing time — 9 p.m. on Sundays and 11 p.m. on Saturdays. The creepers staff, most wearing homemade costumes, is made up of high school and college students, aspiring actors as well as people who just really love scaring people during Halloween.

Many roam the “central stalkway” a low-lit walkway filled with fog, perfect for hiding creepers.

He prefers creeping to being part of the parks’ four monster-filled haunted mazes.

“I’d be too bored confined to a haunted house,” he says.

In Kings Dominion’s Scare 101 training course, they learn to spot the scaredy cats in a group: those that walk toward the center of the pack, people nervously looking over their shoulder, and of course, teenage girls — “clearly they’re terrified” Mr. Kirby says of the list of easy targets.

Park rules say they can’t touch guests and recommend they avoid scaring young children.

Veteran creepers patiently blend into their surroundings, waiting for the perfect moment to startle a visitor, and know the creepiness of an ominous stare. Newer creepers, overeager for screams, tend to go for startling visitors by running up behind them.

The more experienced creepers stay away from older visitors and guys walking with their girlfriends — they are known to punch or hit creepers to look tough in front of their dates, Mr. Kirby says.

“I’ve been slapped, punched and poked in the eye with a [toy] light saber,” he says. “I guess that’s what I get for getting in people’s faces.”

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