You never forget those first frights—the creak of the pendulum in the Poe-based film, The Pit and the Pendulum…. the scare from reading Stephen King's Pet Sematary— and the dog decides to make a noise at a crucial moment… staying up all night reading when the house starts making strange noises…
I've filled my mind with enough "gruesome" over the years that it's no surprise it's started to bleed out in my own writing, though I tend to take a "lighter" approach with the blood and gore. Then I got attracted to zombies. Yes, dead things. Dead people walking.
Nothing new, of course. I've long been a fan of old 1930's horror movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy, both with Boris Karloff (and both could be considered the first "living dead"), along with White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. Then I saw George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and was initially creeped out, but later fascinated. Horror, and zombies and monsters, even in all their gruesomeness are like a car accident—you can't stop looking.
What many people, even those who typically don't like horror, find compelling is the humanity. It's the people and what happens to them in the movies or series like The Walking Dead that keeps them coming back. It's the way that the story makes you nearly jump out of your chair, despite the gruesomeness of it.
Romero is credited with starting the flesh-eating zombie, quite different than the voodoo-made zombies in a trance state from Haitian legend and in the early films. But… could it be real? Journalist William Buehler Seabrook is credited with introducing the term "zombi" (without an e) to the public through his 1929 book on Haitian voodoo, The Magic Island, where he describes reportedly seeing actual zombies. Of course, he also had an alcoholism problem and later dabbled in the occult, too. But some sources have pointed to certain toxins, like from the puffer fish, as being able to paralyze a person and turn them into a "zombie". Haitian witch doctors also reportedly have used plant toxins to render persons into semi-conscious "zombies" in addition to casting voodoo spells on them. (See CNN report.)
In fiction, of course, zombies are often the heartless killers, all vestiges of humanity gone and forgotten. Or some authors, including me with my book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, have created zombie characters that still hang on to some of their humanity and struggle to survive in a different form, with a different reality.
Whichever approach, zombies usually are scary; the real life boogeymen of today. They're the representation of all things evil. They're devourers and symbols of the end.
Thank God they're not real…. right?
Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie
Young Adult winner in the 2013 Halloween Book Festival
Life can suck when you're sixteen. It can suck even worse when you're not- quite- dead.
Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Herrera Hayes faces every teenager's biggest nightmares: bad skin, bad hair, and worse . . . turning into one of the living dead.
Becca's life changes forever when her cousin Spence comes back to their small Wisconsin town carrying a deadly secret—he's becoming a zombie, a fate he shares with her through an accidental scratch.
The Z infection, however, has mutated, affecting younger persons like her, or those treated early enough, differently. Now she must cope with weird physical changes and habits no girl wants to be noticed for. Then she meets Gabe, a good-looking part-Z like her, and fears falling for him. After all, how can he, who shows hardly any Z symptoms, be interested in someone like her?
But time is running out... Becca needs his help as she and her cousin Carm search for their missing mothers and fight off hungry Zs.
Most of all, she needs to find something, anything, to stop this deadly transformation before it is forever too late...
Christine Verstraete is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who also likes to write fiction on the scary side.
Her book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, was recently named the Young Adult winner of the Halloween Book Festival. Her short stories and flash fiction stories have appeared in various anthologies.