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HILLSVILLE — What has it taken for a zombie nurse named Ingaborg Twitch to become a recognizable local figure in a world full of creeps?
The short answer is blood, sweat and urine.
While the sweat is real enough, the blood is fake and the urine belongs to those who get particularly shocked by Lesley Catron and the scare troupe Reeking Havok.
Fright fame might seem like just an apparition for many haunted house spooks, but Hillsville hosts a real local “scare-lebrity.”
A love of the observance of Halloween spawned over the years into an obsession for businesswoman Lesley Catron, owner of the Hair Shack on Main Street in Hillsville, and for her husband, Scott.
She, with her bubbly personality and bright smile, does not resemble in the slightest her signature character of Twitch — the quietly menacing, shuffling, undead nurse clad in bloody hospital scrubs.
“I really like going up to and scaring somebody I know who doesn’t have any idea who I am,” Lesley said, made possible due to the effectiveness of her costume. “I didn’t want anybody to know who I was. I wanted to immerse myself in the character.”
“When I first started doing Twitch and got my first scream, I was hooked,” Lesley Catron explained to The Gazette.
The undead nurse has developed a kind of following over Catron’s four years as a horror character.
For example, several people at the Blacksburg zombie walk took out their cameras and followed her from the Drillfield on Virginia Tech’s campus through the Solstice Festival that the creatures overran.
Her performance is as much a part of the character as the makeup. Twitch lives up to her name, moving with a halting, staggeringly twitchy shamble.
More than 250 people feel brave enough to follow Twitch digitally, becoming her friends on Facebook.
Reeking Havok as a whole has been cutting a frightful path across southwestern Virginia, first gathering at Major Graham’s Mansion in Wythe County and then spreading like a noxious ooze to Spirit Halloween, Mercer Mall, the WyVa Con sci-fi convention in Wytheville, television news and, most recently, Gary Bowling’s House of Art in Bluefield, W.Va.
Troupe members work pretty hard to freak out haunted house attendees, Lesley said. They do their own make-up, build their own props and work from before dusk to well past the witching hour.
It takes her about 45 minutes to apply her make up, which includes lots of fake blood and some unnerving white contacts.
Twitch isn’t above sneaking up, jumping out and getting in peoples’ faces in order to get a horrified response.
“Making men hide behind their wives is immensely entertaining,” Lesley said, laughing. “The big brave guys are who we like to target, and they’re usually the ones to fall the fastest.”
While the occasional guest does lose bladder control, too, other attendees really get into the spirit of Reeking Havok’s haunted houses.
They may ask for a kiss from Twitch or want to dance with her or pose together for a photo.
“When I first started, I wanted her to be scary but I learned that it doesn’t work for everybody,” Lesley explained. “I really try to throw in fun and comedy. If people aren’t scared, they want to be entertained. If we can’t make them scream, we make them laugh.”
She believes that one of her secrets to success involves never breaking her macabre character.
“She’s her own person and when I become Twitch, I don’t know who Lesley is,” Catron explained. “She takes over and it’s her world.”
Now the Reeking Havok troupe is looking to haunt a new place, as members are seeking out their own permanent venue somewhere in Carroll, Wythe or Bland.
They want to create a haunted house that’s affordable for the locals, that’s enjoyable for the children and parents.
Haunts have been springing up around the region, and Lesley believes that fright tourism could enhance the destinations like the Blue Ridge Parkway and other attractions in bringing visitors in.
Creative people would turn this area into a haunted house hub.
Reeking Havok continues looking for the right place. “The outside facade has nothing to do with it either c the scare’s inside,” Lesley said. “We can take a broom closet and make it scary.”
Most of Lesley’s family members don’t attend her scare factories, but accept her pastime.
“At first they thought we were a little crazy, but they weren’t surprised because they know how much we like Halloween,” she said.
But after seeing Lesley’s character’s face on a T-shirt, her family members realized that Reeking Havok had caught on and have followed their exploits from afar.
“My family said, ‘Okay, maybe this is something that you’re good at,’” Lesley said. “They’re behind us — just way behind us.”
Halloween Costume Contest
Reeking Havok members continue to hold fund-raising events in order to open their “From the Ashes” venue in 2014.
A Halloween costume party will be held Nov. 2 at the Ramada Inn in Wytheville from 8 p.m. until midnight for $10 a person.
Catron is selling tickets at the Hair Shack in Hillsville and Carter’s Beverage Company in Wytheville.
The event is for ages 18 and older. Food and drink will be available (sorry, no brains) and there is an adjacent bar area in the hotel. The night includes a DJ, dancing and costume contest.
The Ramada Inn is at 955 Peppers Ferry Road in Wytheville.