THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN
zombie: a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of the reanimation of the dead do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as carriers, radiation, mental diseases, vectors, pathogens, scientific accidents, etc.
Don’t look them in the eyes.
The eyes are where they start being human, and when they start being human, you go soft. The way you keep from being afraid is not to look them in eye. This is what my mother taught me. She was born before they came. She remembered a world full of tomorrows, but she didn’t talk about it much. She was not the kind of mother who told you sit up straight and eat all your vegetables. She was not the kind of mother who flashed the porchlight three times to call you in for dinner. Those were the kinds of things they did in that world ripe with tomorrows and next weeks and next years. They went to grocery stores then, and I know my mother went to those grocery stores when she lived in that great big yesterday because she knew all the names of all the hollowed out concrete husks we sometimes camped in when I was a child. Stop & Shops were different from Shop Rites were different from Whole Foods, and Fresh Market, and King Kullen - they were different to my mother because she knew what they were before. I only knew them by their shelf sizes, because sometimes, when I was small enough, I would sleep on them in a bundle of threadbare blankets and my mother’s clothes. They were mostly the same, but my mother knew their names.
My mother could not be the kind of mother who stood in line at the deli counter or stuffed fruit into thin plastic bags. She was, instead, the kind of mother who dug through the weeds outside the broken of shell of what used to be a Waldbaum’s and showed me what plants were safe to eat. She was the kind of mother who threw food scraps up in trees and wrapped thin wire like a fence around our house each night. She was the kind of mother who traded fresh grown tomatoes and cucumbers and sweet peppers with neighbors so that we could share their apples and their lemons and their almonds and tea leaves. She was the kind of mother who ate berries right off the wild bush, and she was the kind of mother who taught me not to look them in the eye.
“Are they people?” I asked her sometimes, and she would get this really somber look on her face - like she see the whole world and all its problems and she was overwhelmed by all the ways she absolutely could not fix it - and then she would sigh.
“They were,” she said. “Once.”
But the eyes, she told me, stay human.
My mother would never talk about that world she grew up in, the one where all the postcard pictures of bright, rolling landscapes and smiling faces came from. She would talk about The Beginning. She would talk about the day she knew she would never get her world back.
She would talk about the eyes.
My mother taught me all about their teeth, too. That was the first thing she ever taught me. You don’t go near them, and if they get near you, you don’t let their teeth get close. Their teeth is were the sickness lives. That’s how my mother explained it. They sink their ugly teeth into your skin and swallow pieces of you down into their bellies. If they don’t finish you off then you get the sickness, too. My mother taught it was better if they finished you off.
“They suffer,” she said. “Before they’re them.”
Before they’re them, they’re still people, and bitten people come down with fevers so high they scream out in the night. Their whole bodies hurt because the sickness eats them from the outside out.
“They eat you,” my mother said, “it’s from the outside, in.”
She thought that this was better, because you’d probably pass out and not feel it when you died. If they left you, then you felt it, every single second of it, before you become one of them.
I’d seen bitten people before. My mother took me with her when she went to help a neighbor. They said that their son was sick. My mother was a nurse in the world of tomorrows, so people were always calling her when someone took sick. They said that is was a fever. They said maybe it was the flu. They forgot to mention that their son had fallen into the creek and that one of them was swimming there. It grabbed him, and it bit him, and my mother took one look at him and got pinch-faced mad. She dragged the parents into another room to talk to them - she said talk, like, “Shelley, I’m going in there to talk to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, you sit tight and I’ll be right back” - but I heard her voice getting louder.
“They’re mad at me,” the sick kid said. His voice was really weak and he wheezed as he sucked in air. His eyes were rimmed watery and he was shaking all over, like he was cold, only there was sweat slicking up his forehead and pouring all over his skin, so much sweat it was like the sun had laser-eyes on him.
“I don’t think at you,” I said.
“Can you get me some water?” the sick kid asked. Our neighbors lived in a tiny one-floor ranch, and there was a jug of water in the kitchen right outside his room. I went to get him some, and was handing him a plastic cup when my mother came back in. The sick kid had forgotten about the water. He was shaking really hard then, so hard the bed shook, too, and his mother starting crying. Her cries sounded more like screams.
“Shelley, get out,” my mother said, and she shoved me so hard out the door I spilled the water glass. The door shut behind me before anybody noticed. I heard muffled crying on the other side, and more screaming that could have been crying, and my mother’s voice still half-mad and sharp-edged.
It was a long time before she came back. On the walk home, she told me about the eyes.
I’ve learned how to kill them. My mother was the kind of mother who taught me how to kill. We had shotguns and rifles and revolvers, we had a crossbow that we used for hunting, we had thick knives and penknives and everything in between. You had to know how to kill in this world. The world that was born in was broken and dying, and if you didn’t know how to kill the things that broke it, they’d take you down, too.
My mother is gone now. Not becomes of the things, but because her time ran out. Or rather, her heart did. It seized up right in her chest when she was gardening - an unspectacular end for what I’d always considered the most spectacular life. It didn’t fit her, and on the rare occasions I have to tell her story, I leave out the way it ended.
I don’t ever lookthem in eye, just like my mother said.
Not until I have to.
Not until I’m trapped inside an old hunting shack surrounded by dead things. They are pounding their gray fists against the walls, the door, the windows. The building is low and I can their faces through the mossy, grimy glass. Their mouths open and close like guppies. I am safely away from their teeth. Their eyes, though, I cannot avoid.
A gnarled hand breaks the window and the glass shatters at my feet. They all swarm like bees at the sound, and they fight each other to take the first peek inside. One round head wins. It pops through the opening, not caring as the broken glass slits its skin. No blood comes out of the cuts.
The eyes find me.
I have no choice but to look back, to see them for the first time in my twenty-five years.
They are blue and glassy and clouded with edge. The eyes don’t move inside their sockets, even as the jaw works up and down the teeth gnash against each other. They are still. They may as well be marbles stuck inside a skull.
My mother was the wisest woman I’ve ever known, but she was wrong about one thing. She was wrong about those eyes. They’re not human. They haven’t made me soft. The longer I look at them, the more I know that they are anything but human, and I am anything but soft.
Those are monster eyes. The kinds you see in the woods at night when your parents swear it’s just the light playing tricks. I grab my knife and charge - charge at the broken glass and those broken eyes - and I jam the blade right through one, if only to stop it from staring at me - to stop it from making me look.