It’s nightfall, and the girl in long sleeves sitting on a low railing with three friends sees the clown staring at them again in the distance.
Only this time, the dumpy fellow with the milk-white face and arched brows is closer to them.
“He’s looking at us,” says MaKenna Cronin, 13, nudging the 15-year-old scrunched next to her, Esther Rivera.
The four 13- to 15-year-old girls from Haverhill and Lawrence go back to chatting, demonstrating the dab dance, and scanning the crowd for friends and foes.
The girls are here at Canobie Lake Park’s Screeemfest on a Friday night to be teenagers and get scared.
On a given night, thousands of visitors slip through the Salem, N.H., amusement park gates seeking a shocked, fearful effect — or ducking the experience. (The park sells $5 multicolored Monster B’Gone necklaces, creep armor that wards off unwanted attention from the dark side.)
All visitors get to enter claustrophobic haunted houses and witness gothic sideshows, to dance to tribute bands such as the Prince act, and to climb into stomach-dropping rides and aboard bright vintage carousel horses as old as the park itself — 1902.
There’s even a casket ride, not for the fainthearted. It has had few takers, only about 20 or so riders so far this season. Those who dare take off their shoes, lay their bodies in a real wooden casket and rest their heads on a pillow. The “funeral director” closes the lid with a light thud.
For two minutes, they recline in the dark. Organ music plays, and a flower scent rises up. The casket shakes, and a rattling sound brings to mind dirt and depth.
Management says Screeemfest allows the park to pump life into the grounds beyond the golden summer. The fall attraction operates on Friday nights and Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 30.
More than 500 people work here, about half of them in concessions, rides, maintenance and such. The other half make up the Screeemfest cast and crew, including makeup artists, walk-around monsters, dancers and sideshow acts that mortify the crowd.
Some of them have taken up residence in Canobie Lake Hotel, located across from the teens lounging on the low railing.
Next to the hotel is another haunt, Carnivus, home to evil clowns, its door a big clown’s mouth. People tend to fear clowns, so its lines are typically shorter than its neighbor’s.
Whirling carnival music plays counterpoint to humming conversations. A periodic shriek interrupts the sound pattern when odd men and women embed themselves among those waiting in line.
Walk-arounds, they are called, denizens of Canobie.
By day, they are moms and college students and music teachers and people drawn to the offbeat and gothic.
Earlier, in the same makeup room at the Canobie Lake Dance Hall, where Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington once prepared for their swing and big band gigs, the mobcap-wearing Salem mom Rebecca Lowe got green moss, and a starfish plastered to her face.
The mother of three daughters, 3, 6 and 7, was preparing for her walk-around role as a shipwrecked maiden. Her character, yet to fully reveal itself to her, is leaning toward being wenchlike, Lowe said.
“I always loved going out there and doing something different,” said Lowe, a 2001 graduate of Salem High School in New Hampshire who was active in drama and dance.
Seated at the makeup mirror was a character of the unclassifiable sort, he with the head and neck halo and red brains revealed on top.
By day, Darryl Messier of North Andover is a graduate student at Salem State University, studying to become an elementary school guidance counselor.
As a child, he hated horror and remembers his father taking him deep-sea fishing the day after he saw the movie “Jaws.”
Here at Screeemfest, his favorite aspect in playing the part of Dr. Trauma is “scaring the daylights” out of people.
On the Midway Stage, a husband-and-wife team from Las Vegas mortify themselves and the crowd with their “SwingShift SideShow.”
Andrew S. and Kelvikta the Blade team up in theatrical performance art, joined by music and dancers. Andrew S. swallows swords and 2-foot-long drill bits and weaves plastic hoses and curlicue wires through his nostrils and out his mouth.
Andrew has a Guinness World Record for his Mr. Screwface feat.
“As soon as we hear that music, we know what to do,” Kelvikta said.
The walk-arounds fall into character with or without the music, typically moving slowly with aimless purpose or standing still.
They are clowns, zombies and the unclassifiable, clad in a mixture of loud, dated and formal attire.
Back at the Canobie Lake Hotel haunt, an excitable man waving a chain saw lunges at the line behind the metal barrier.
He rattles the saw’s teeth against the barrier.
A girl screams and whips around, only to face a big horned beast with long, angular teeth and a smile.
Across the walkway, the clown with the milk-white face appears 10 feet away from MaKenna and her friends.
“Who does your brows?” MaKenna jokes.
The clown remains silent. He arches a single brow.
Meanwhile, as the girls are distracted by the clown, a ventriloquist dummy with his sectional mouth and eyes the color of a Siberian husky steals behind them.
The middle girl, Esther Rivera, also of Haverhill, senses someone behind her and turns to see the bow tie-wearing dummy. For the third time that night, she screams.
IF YOU GO
What: Screeemfest at Canobie Lake Park
When: Through Oct. 30. Open Fridays, 6 to 11 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 to 11 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 8 p.m.
Where: 85 N. Policy St., Salem, N.H.
How much: Admission varies from $23 to $38; children 3 and under get in free
More information: 603-893-3506 or www.canobie.com/screeemfest