Horror Writers Association

Halloween Haunts: Trick-or-Treating of the Dead, A True Account by T. Fox Dunham


Dunham_cover_StreetMartyrFew of you know that I am a real zombie. It’s true. I hide it. Now, I don’t eat brains or human flesh though. I generally dress well, though my suit jacket is a bit tattered and ruined; my Allison plans to fix all that. I do stumble when I walk at times without my cane, and I still get a glazed look in my eye now and again, mostly from medications or Long Islands. Oh. And I’ve been legally dead a few times and come back, not in a messiah-way but more in a—my-heart-didn’t-know-when-to-quit-to-kind-of-way.

I feel nothing as a zombie. For the better part of the year, I had endured the zombification process: first they blow you out of your brains by telling you that the zombie tumors are eating your body, then these ‘mad’ doctors inject toxic industrial chemicals into your body and next is the worst: Ol’ Doctor Sullivan comes along with his pet Lucifer, a linear accelerator, that zaps you with cosmic waves born at the formation of the universe. These rays are the final conversation element. Real zombification is not a fast fever as depicted in Romero flicks. It’s a slow, long and drawn out treatment. You feel yourself slipping away, and instead of a ravenous drive to chew on human flesh, you feel nearly nothing, desire little: all except the constant gnaw of the pain and wish just that it would end. I think this constitutes the basic moribund constitution of a constituent of the undead.

Halloween always reminds me of this time lost in stasis—dying but not dead, walking in a trance, reaching for the warm living, needing but not knowing what I needed. This is the month I died. This is the month I came back; and I have for a decade been lost in the ‘tween places between life and death like such undead creatures of my writing. Doctors burned me in four places daily for five months, searing my body: head, neck and chest. I’d dropped down to 50 pounds and shambled about, drinking cappuccino. I’ve always loved Halloween, and as a pagan, a bard, I also celebrate it as my new year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what was happening to me was part of the cycle of becoming a bard, a shaman. Shamans exist in both worlds and at some point in their nascent times must experience death. And so I did, in the hospital for weeks in October, admitted directly after a gothic horror D&D session playing Ravenloft. I don’t remember much from those weeks. The cancer wasn’t killing me; I could no longer handle the treatment. My body just resigned, and I was brought back. I still have zombie fog from it.

After that defining moment of death, I saw life like a stunned newborn, an alien visiting this world for the first time. The effect has still not left me. I claw at the sun, growling. Cars roar by me and frighten me. Don’t get me started on torchlight and things like pop music. I stumble through the streets, carrying my laptop, beating the keys, wearing my tattered black suit jacket and sporting a growth of beard. Somehow by memory, by instinct, my keystrokes turn into prose and those prose become narratives. It’s all instinct, I assure you. Zombies really can’t write.

Dunham_cvrI was released from hospital on Halloween, Samhain. I couldn’t walk with the same graceful ease, being a freshly created zombie. The world stunned me. I sat with two dear friends, Ed and Jon, who had been there on that last night before the hospital. We watched horror movies and listened to the kids outside the apartment as they searched for fattening sugars. As a zombie, I’d forgotten laughter, the fun of dressing up, wearing a face over the mask we all carve for ourselves in childhood. Halloween has been through a transition, founded by the celebration of the pagan new year, the cycle of the sun and the eclipse of the fey otherworld. Christianity founded in the Europe and changed the natural imagery to horror, and I like to celebrate both sides of the holiday. I celebrate fear, the excitement of that evolved response, and I venerate the harvest, the turning of the year.

Just now at Starbucks:           

“Your cancer isn’t coming back, right honey?” Allison said to me.

“I can’t help worrying this time of year. The last time I went to this kind of specialist, I walked out with Lymphoma,” I responded.

“We’re going to celebrate rebirth,” she said. “Not death.”

Back then:      

“Let’s go trick-or-treating,” I said to Ed and Jon. They both looked at me, thinking the same thing: We’re too old! It would be silly. We’d look like asses. We had no outfits or masks. We’d given up trick-or-treating years ago, growing up. But I had left conventions behind. Why couldn’t we go out? They knew what I was thinking. They got it. I brought them this understanding, the emancipation that comes with dying.

Dunham_bioWe rummaged through the apartment, found some make up, old clothing, a broom. Ed went as a gangster. Jon pushed a broom as a janitor. I went as a zombie-cancer patient, and I still looked emaciated with no hair. It was a fine costume and terrifying. I wore truth as a mask, and it was probably the scariest outfit that night. We went out at nine, so most of the kids had gone home; and my neighbors just wanted to be rid of their extra candy. We filled shopping bags with candy just within a few blocks. I weakened and it didn’t want to go too far; so we paused for a bit then switched outfits, going back to the same doors. We doubled up on our candy then returned back to the apartment to finish our movie session.

I couldn’t eat the candy. My throat had swollen with scar tissue, and I could only drink milk and cappuccino. My throat is still sore years later. I peeled off the labels then pressed the chocolate and corn sugar to my face, smelling the sweetness, the savory flavor. My senses were so alive, enriched and desperate. I couldn’t eat the candy, but I didn’t waste it. I was alive and knew one more Halloween night.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: In celebration of Halloween, the Horror Writers Association is offering one free, e-book copy of Freak Show edited F. Paul Wilson. Comment below to enter or e-mail membership@horror.org with “HH Entry” in the subject line.

Blog: http://tfoxdunham.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham

Fox True Ghost Tales Project: http://foxghosttales.blogspot.com/



3 comments on “Halloween Haunts: Trick-or-Treating of the Dead, A True Account by T. Fox Dunham

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