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.

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Elizabeth Eslami is the author of the novel Bone Worship (Pegasus). Her work has appeared in over a dozen journals, including G.W. Review, Minnesota Review, Crab Orchard Review, Matador Travel, and The Millions. She’s currently at work on a collection of short stories and a second novel. You can visit her website at www.elizabetheslami.com

22 responses to “Me or the Zombie”

  1. M.J. Fievre says:

    That WAS quite creepy and I would be very upset!

  2. Mary Richert says:

    Leading up to Halloween, I was thinking about how we “like” to be scared. Only, we don’t like the things we’re actually scared of. We dress up like otherworldly things, fantasy creatures, cartoon characters, ghosts and zombies, and those things can gross you out and all that. But you know what really scares me? Rape. That is way scarier and way more real. I think those kids crossed a line. I don’t know if the zombie understood what he was saying at the moment. It’s quite possible that the second it left his mouth, he thought, “Oh shit. that was a stupid thing to say.” Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he thought that was totally an OK thing to say. Either way, I’m pretty sure a Halloween haunted house is not supposed to include sexual intimidation.

    On the bright side (yeah, awkward), you did a really great job of writing this.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Mary.

      I agree. If he’s just a teenager fucking around, that’s one thing. But what if it was really that he felt emboldened because he was wearing a mask, if he thought anonymity gave him permission to do/say whatever he wanted? That truly is scary.

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Elizabeth,

    Ever since that new zombies series started, I’ve been clutching my heart every time something jumps out, or actually just moves into my line of sight now.
    He was definitely a zombie.
    It’s lucky you didn’t have to blow him, cause I’m pretty sure you’d turn into a zombie too, and there are so many nicer things to be.

    • Elizabeth says:

      You mean a zombie can get it up?

      By the way, I’ve been watching that show too, and now I can’t help but notice how many joggers run like zombies. Very unsettling.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Oh, I do wish you hadn’t pointed that out, Elizabeth!

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        This is a good news/bad news observation. They likely can still get it up but, depending on their level of decomposition, the added weight of an engorged member is usually enough to make it detach from the rotted torso so it’s really a bit of a paper tiger.

        Head shots, ladies, head shots. And not just for joggers, either, but for zombies as well.

        • Elizabeth says:

          Clearly you’ve given this a lot of thought, Andrew.

          I figure the old school zombies probably couldn’t get it up, considering they couldn’t even climb stairs or ladders. But these new guys are fast moving, so they probably multi-task, squeezing in erections between flesh consumption.

          Either way, it’s a relief to contemplate the zombie-as-eunuch, so thank you for that.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Ha. Happy to have been of comfort. And it’s not like I’ve spent that much time contemplating zombie genitalia. It’s just, well, my kids don’t ever sleep and my wife and I are one step above Romero shamblers more often than not. Makes a guy think, is all…. Cough…. [scrapes foot around in dirt] Goin’ back to my bunker, now….

          🙂

  4. So, so unsettling. Yeesh. I’ve contended that nothing Halloween ever scares me, but this actually would.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Yikes – that is definitely creepy. I agree they crossed line. Like Mary said above – Halloween stuff isn’t really scary because it isn’t really real. Rape is real, and really really scary.

    It’s also disconcerting to think that the anonymity afforded them by their costumes emboldened them. Like it was okay, because they couldn’t get caught. If they were this bold with an adult, how were they treating the teenage girls? Wow, rereading those last lines; boy am I old… but I digress.

    Yes it was creepy, and I really like the way you wrote this. I especially like how you identify what it was that really frightened you about the incident – the uncertainty about what just really transpired.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks so much, Cheryl! Don’t feel bad about the “old” comment. When it happened, I had the urge to say “Hey, what would your mothers think?” which definitely makes me feel old. Hmm. Maybe I should have boxed their ears or something.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Actually, yeah, don’t bother boxing their ears–maybe the trick here is to go straight to the zombie’s mom. If you were going to tell anyone, it should be her.

      (I’m very sad that this kind of crap happens.)

      • Elizabeth says:

        You make an excellent point, Aaron, but I only saw grandmas around at the time. And call me a coward, but I couldn’t bring myself to say “dick” in front of a grandma. They’re sweet and they smell like cookies.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    Elizabeth, I want you to know that ‘marivaudage’ is my new very favourite word.

  8. Matt says:

    Oh, ick. That’s just not cool.

    With luck, this is just some young punk who hasn’t have the best grasp of civilized behavior. On the other hand, that this might be some young punk who hasn’t YET developed a grasp of civilized behavior is worrisome.

    I used to love haunted houses, but somewhere along the line (in keeping the popularity of the Saw film franchise, I suppose) they went from being scary to just being gruesome. Which I don’t find terribly fun. Though it’s still better than being indecently proposed to by someone in a rubber mask.

    • Elizabeth says:

      It’s true! There is a definite change in the tone of these things, though I had never connected it with the Saw movies. I remember the old days when most of the ghouls stayed in one place, on medieval racks or groaning behind bars. Now they all have to jump out at you and get in your face. Plus they scream at you at full volume. I think I lose a certain percentage of my hearing each year. (So says the cranky old lady.)

      I’ve also noticed they don’t put much thought into the logic of their creatures. A clown with a chainsaw? Doesn’t quite make sense. However, I did watch a Best Haunted Houses show on television recently, and they had a man in a rabbit costume (probably circa Donnie Darko) with an ax, and that scared the hell out of me.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    That stuff IS upsetting. Once, when I was abroad, I had a cab driver try to kiss me. He was very aggressive, very persistent. I kept saying, “no, please,” but he wouldn’t listen. And even though he didn’t get very far with me, it was still incredibly frightening.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Oh my god, Marni. That is beyond frightening! I can’t imagine being in a foreign country and having something like that happen. I’m sorry you had such a scare.

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