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Most of the Darling family begins the two-week-long process of building Nightmare Grove. From left are Brian, Evan and Holly. Mason, 2 years, is in back. (Bulletin photo by Toni Lambert)

'Nightmare Grove'

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It started with candy at the front door, moved to the garage, then the driveway and this year, Nightmare Grove will totally surround the house at 9042 Upper 81st Street in Cottage Grove.

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Nightmare Grove, a growing creation designed by Brian and Holly Darling, now has a 30-foot tunnel, a Room of Death, a graveyard, a Monster in a Box that shakes ominously when approached, fog machines, black and strobe lights, skeletons, a giant coffin, huge spiders, rats, bats, cats and cockroaches all dancing to the sounds of a chain saw and unearthly screams.

"We're both Halloween enthusiasts," Holly Darling said. "Candy was too boring. After the first year, we decided to make the evening more interesting.

"It's fun to watch people -- adults included -- stand in the street trying to decide if they want to walk through," Holly said. "Lots are scared by the screams of those inside. It's the feeling you get just before taking a giant roller coaster ride -- butterflies in your stomach, a cold sweat.

"Some kids come out so scared they forget to take the free candy," she said.

Brian Darling has fond memories of a neighborhood family that built something similar when he was a kid. Now, he spends two weeks part time and the last three days full time building his own Halloween set. He takes advantage of the sales after Halloween to buy more props and has convinced a friend to store the larger pieces outside of town. Everything else goes into his garage rafters.

Holly's parents, brother Scott Pederson, and a large group of friends help operate various points of Nightmare Grove. "When we see younger kids coming through, we lighten up a little bit on the screams," Brian said. "We do have young-kid friendly areas. I've tried to involve Evan [his 5-year-old son] in the sets, and, while he goes through the tunnel in daylight, he won't step foot in at night," Brian said.

"I just like the thrill," Holly said. "I used to get scared at Halloween but now it's nice to be on the other side. It's so much fun."

Nightmare Grove is open to all from 6 to 10 p.m. Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31. The show is free and the Darlings will accept nonperishable food for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park. For those who make it all the way around the house, there's candy waiting. For details, go to the Web site at www.nightmareGrove.com.

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