The roads around the village of Lineboro are very dark, lighted only by distant houses on a hill or set back in the woods.
At this time of year, however, the darkness is pierced by screams of agony and terror amid the noise of tractor engines as Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department creates its annual Bedlam in the Boro haunted hayride.
"Going on the ride?" Jim Buckley, Fire Department historian, asks visitors.
"Yes," they reply.
"I hope you make it back," he tells them. "We lose only 10 percent of our riders."
He tells another group, "Anybody you don't like? Give the driver $5 and down in the quarry they go."
The comments don't deter hundreds of children, teens and adults from climbing aboard one of the nine wagons that take them through the darkest back roads of north Carroll County.
The horror begins before the ride -- getting tickets can be unnerving. Go through the white tent to the ticket booth, but watch for illusions on the way.
Climb aboard for the fright ride. First stop is a boy having nightmares -- that come true.
Then, as the woods close in on the narrow road, stay alert for surprises from all directions (read: watch your head).
The haunted hayride has been the Fire Department's largest annual fund-raiser for the past four years. The company uses the proceeds for its building fund and general expenses, said Buckley.
Last weekend, 1,839 people rode the wagons. They came from all over -- Carroll County, Glen Burnie, Perry Hall, southern Pennsylvania and New York, Buckley said.
The hayride has proved so popular that the fire company this year installed a phone line -- 410-239-GHOST -- and Web site -- www.lineborovfd.com -- that are continually busy, Buckley said.
"The station sent John Krebs and Levere Kopp to Chicago last March to a Halloween convention and they came back with new ideas," Buckley said. "Half of this year's ride is new stuff."
Krebs, hayride chairman, said the two got a lot of ideas from the five-day event that included seminars and a trade show. The Fire Department added a third weekend, "in case we get some bad weather," he said.
Bob and Sue Yingling of Hampstead noticed the new "attractions." They brought their son and his friend and other relatives.
"We saw some new little skits and they've moved some things around," Sue Yingling said.
Mary Klunk of New Oxford, Pa., brought her two grown sons and a daughter-in-law.
"I think I'm going back to my second childhood," Klunk joked. "We all had a good time."
Mary Geary, Marlene Pruitt, Barbara Summers and Teresa Weedon -- sisters from southeast Carroll -- brought their children and friends, ranging from age 4 to age 13, for the ride.
"It was great, cool, very creative," chorused the youths, who included Elizabeth Pruitt, Claire McCall, Kori Chaney, Lauren Hild, Chris Koch, all 12, Jason Summers, 13, Aubrey Koch, 10, and Laura Geary, 4.
"Exciting, inviting and delighting," was how Angie Machlinski and Jason Blumenberg from Glen Burnie described their ride.
Kim Lineberry of Perry Hall acknowledged, "It was very scary -- I was afraid I wasn't going to make it." She was there with her husband, Ben, and daughter Brittaney.
The haunted hayride continues today and tomorrow and Thursday through Oct. 30. Hours are from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Tickets are $7 for ages 9 and older and $3 for children age 8 and younger and go on sale about 6: 15 p.m.
For those waiting for the first wagon to leave, the firehouse has supper and games of chance for various fees.
An older tradition, about 50 years old, continues at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 when the Fire Department holds its annual costume parade. Local youngsters are invited to dress up and parade around the town.