To be fair, it was dark, and he might not have been a zombie.
He lurched and lunged like a zombie, albeit a post-Romero zombie. Herky-jerky twitching between lulls of ominous looming. Never more than an inch from my face, he demonstrated a blatant disregard for the persnickety personal space issues of the living.
But there were also a few zombie incongruities. He had fully functioning vocal cords and the verbosity of Freddy Krueger. When he spoke, it was more of a marivaudage than a series of groans or the occasional call for brains. His mask gave him the look of freshly thawed pork, definitely a plus in the Freddy column. Beneath it, his eyes darted menacingly. Sans striped sweater, finger knives, and jaunty hat, it seemed as if he’d been late to work and had to throw something on in the car on the drive over. He wasn’t your typical zombie. A Freddy-zombie hybrid, hedging his demonic bets.
It was hard to make sense of anything in the general chaos of grown men running around with real chainsaws (stripped of chains, but spewing gas fumes) and small children leaping about, screaming their lungs out in Halloween sanctioned bad behavior. I had been separated from my husband and was about to be ushered after him into a plywood coffin.
Suddenly I was alone.
“What’s the matter?” the zombie asked, leaning close enough that I could see his tongue through the mask.
“Nothing,” I said. He was about an inch from my face, and I was aware of two guys behind me. In the midst of the chainsaws and screaming, it was suddenly very quiet.
I don’t spook easily. In what can only be an affront to the Department of Children’s Services, my mother let me watch The Exorcist when I was ten. All of the Halloween movies, all of the Friday the 13ths, in the prelapsarian, pre-teen years. You know those studies where scientists record how many movie deaths the average child has seen? I would have been a great test subject. I was desensitized.
Naturally I have a great affinity for haunted houses. Haunted houses and waterslides, the last bastions of youth. I gave up roller coasters two years ago, grudgingly, when I walked away feeling like all the rattling had bruised my ribs. Waterslides may well be next, now that I’ve reached that awkward adult stage when my tailbone cracks the pool bottom upon descent. I have never believed, however, in sacrificing my beloved haunted houses to the squeamishness of middle age. To future decades of apathy, marshalling children to lame Halloween parties, seeing if my husband has fired up the family barbecue. Waving at a neighbor in a half-baked Scream costume. That crap is not for me.
“You look scared,” the zombie said. He wasn’t growling, just speaking in a normal voice. Which made him seem strangely terrifying.
“Don’t worry,” one of the other guys assured me. I could feel his breath against my hair. “He had his nuts chopped off a long time ago.” The zombie made as if he was going to grab me, but stopped short. There were signs. Don’t touch the actors and they won’t touch you.
“I guess that sucks for you,” I said to the zombie in question.
“No,” he said. “You know what would be good? If you sucked my dick.”
About this time, the coffin door opened, and I crawled into pitch blackness.
I was inside on my hands and knees for maybe six seconds, long enough to think about what happened. They were teenagers. What else could you expect? I knew I should just laugh it off, but it didn’t feel funny. Maybe it was because I was alone, surrounded by three guys, all of them towering over me. In masks. Inside a haunted house, you’re supposed to be afraid, but it’s okay because you trust it isn’t real. Suddenly I wasn’t sure. It seemed like what was real was behind the mask. Like being on Santa’s lap and having him ask if you’re seeing anyone.
When I finally emerged, I walked through the maze of werewolves and mad scientists, but it had stopped being fun. As we dodged the cast of The Strangers, I told my husband what had happened. He suggested we tell someone, one of the adults waiting at the end.
When we got there, there were just three elderly women. “Did you have a good time?” one of them asked. “Did you see my granddaughters? They were the ones in the kaleidoscope room.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, especially since I wasn’t even sure what happened. “We hope you’ll come back next year!” the ladies shouted after us.
Usually we go to at least three haunted houses each Halloween. This year we went to one.
What puzzles me most about the experience is that I’m not sure how I feel about it. Then or now. I wasn’t offended. I’ve been told far, far worse. I’ve been shoved by strangers, cursed at, threatened. What scares me is being the kind of person, the kind of woman, who doesn’t know where the line is.
When I crawled out of the coffin, I was grateful to see my husband, but more than anything, I wished there had been a woman nearby. Someone I could turn to and ask, did you find this upsetting? Should we do something about this? Is this wrong?
The fear was in not knowing the difference.