I've been interviewed quite a bit lately (PR for my new hardcover, UNDEAD AND UNRETURNABLE, a feel-good Christmas story with vampires) and a question that's come up more than once is, "What is your greatest fear?" The journalists assume I'm a mature woman without brain damage, so they're probably expecting something reasonable like, "Terrorism," or "Weapons of mass destruction". But my answer is always the same: zombies.
Seriously. I have an unreasonable fear of the undead, which is ironic, given what I do for a living. I never walk into a dark room. I always check for the living dead when I'm letting the dog out. Friggin' ALWAYS. I'm probably the only person on the planet who thought "Sean of the Dead" was frightening.
It doesn't help that our house has a basement right out of every horror movie you've ever seen: crumbling, damp cement walls, cement floor, shadowy corners, spiderwebs, nooks, crannies, vampire bats. We've been in this place a year and I can count on one hand how often I've been downstairs.
I think it's because, coming from a long line of blue collar workers, I'm only afraid of something that won't die. To put it another way, I only faced practical problems as a kid and young adult. Paying the bills, staying within the grocery budget, those are actual problems. A zombie sort of wrecks everything you're working for. Coming from a hunting and fishing background, I was regularly helping put meat on my family's table by the time I was twelve (I guess we can start the whole "hunting is immoral" debate now, but e-mail me on that subject once you've tried Hamburger Helper without the helper). Watching my parents struggle with the bills was a practical problem which I knew could be fixed, would be fixed. But how do you take care of a zombie moaning and slobbering at the back door?
My friends, of course, know all about my unreasonable, lame fear. Heck, I was giving my friend Carrie a tour of the house last year and the first thing she did was run into the basement and stand, facing the wall, in the darkest corner, a la The Blair Witch Project. I was all, "And this is the--aaagghh! Carrie! What are you doing? Get out of the corner! AAAAGGGGHHHH!" Because if there's one thing (almost) worse than zombies, it's a sociopathic witch who lives in the woods.
Are my friends calmly sympathetic and helpful? No. They DRESS UP THEIR KIDS AS ZOMBIES AND SEND THEM TO MY HOUSE. I mean, cripes. Berkley Breathed put it best: "Friends are such a mixed blessing."
Last night, being Halloween, was especially stressful for me. Stephen King does it the smart way: every year he packs up his family on the 31st and leaves town. Why didn't I think of that? Well, I just didn't, so let's move on.
So I'm minding my own business, typing away, when: WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
My husband goes to answer it. I'm thinking: "Cripes, you kids. How much candy do you need?"
My husband calls, "Hon? It's for you?"
Oh. Probably my friend Stacy. She said she'd stop by with her kids. Unlike her to knock so aggressively, but whatever. Suspecting nothing, off I go. I swing open the door. There is, of course, a zombie standing there, clawing for me: "Urgh! Gah!"
I handled it maturely: shrieked like a firebell. My heart rocketed into my chest. The kid standing next to the zombie, a good-looking teen thankfully out of costume, started cracking up. The zombie takes off his face: it's Carrie's kid, who's almost as tall as I am. Stupid puberty! I liked this kid a lot more when he only weighed as much as a bag of Purina. Meanwhile, I'm still screaming. My kids are cracking up. My husband is cracking up. The zombie's cracking up.
I threw candy at them and fled, after yelling at both kids, my husband, the dog, all the guilty parties. It took about half an hour for my heart rate to return to normal?
After the undead left (with several miniature Almond Joy bars) I said, "I've got to stop telling people I'm afraid of zombies." Then, of course, I blogged about it. I guess I'm a little on the dim side. You know: like the undead.
Next year I'm definitely pulling a Stephen King and getting the hell out of Dodge. Meanwhile, the next holiday is much less frightening. Unless you're a turkey. But that's a whole other thing.