Visitors to a haunted house in Delray Beach last weekend were greeted by a mermaid living in a trash heap and pictures of a polluted ocean projected onto the wall.
The next room was even more bleak. The polar ice caps had melted, and everyone in coastal areas drowned.
Further into the house, a girl left bloody handprints as she banged on a window from the outside, and a boy lay on a gurney, spinning an electric drill and mumbling about applesauce. They were both driven mad by a new epidemic gripping the post-apocalyptic world.
The haunted house was conceptualized by high school students who wanted to scare their visitors — into action. The theme: environmental disaster and climate change.
"We want to scare them with reality," said Olivia Katz, 14, is a ninth grader at Space Of Mind, a non-traditional educational space where students who are technically homeschooled come together to learn.
"Most haunted houses — you go in, you go out. You're like, 'Oh, that's never gonna happen, because it's all fake," said Katz, who lives in Boca Raton. "But with our haunted house, we want people to walk out and be like, … 'They're not joking. Like, this could actually happen.'"
Katz is focusing on music in her studies and helped design the soundtrack for a few of the rooms in the haunted house. For "the radiation room," she included sounds of explosions.
There was a room called "SOM-phora" — a play on the school's name, Space Of Mind, or "SOM," and the makeup store Sephora — that focuses on the sometimes harmful chemicals in makeup and shampoo that end up in water systems. For that room, she added cash register noises and people talking to the music, to make it sound like a retail store.
The theme for the haunted house came out of the students' science lessons about sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change.
"The past generations haven't really dealt with it," Katz said. "And I think our generation needs to take a step and solve these problems — or at least try to — because the world can end in something really bad."
The students said they hoped the haunted house would raise awareness about the dangerous effects of climate change.
"We're, what, nine or so blocks from the beach?" said Lee Picciocca, 17, a senior who lives in Delray Beach. "If there's a natural disaster that has to do with the ocean, we could be underwater. We're definitely at risk."
Picciocca helped create the props, decor and other visual elements of the haunted house by "upcycling" — finding materials that are considered trash and reusing them.
Delray Beach community member Doreen Jewell visited the haunted house dressed up like a fairy, with a pink sparkly dress and matching face makeup.
She said she got the message the kids were hoping to convey.
"If we don't do something to change, if we don't do some sort of alternative — we're gonna lose everything," she said.
The haunted house raised more than $4,000 for a new nonprofit based at the school called the Community Classroom Project, according to the organizers. The nonprofit's mission is to relieve school-related stress, and it will be located in the school's new science building that's under construction next door to its main house.