Halloween confessions: My life as a zombie

by Brian Clarey

I look in the mirror and what I see is not pretty. My nose is half rotted off and my lips have receded from decay. My flesh is withered and thin. A scabrous ulcer the size of a domino decorates my cheek. My hair’… oh man, my hair’… it’s bushed out like Einstein and stiff with goo.

But the most hideous thing about it is the tie ‘— a hideous stripy blue number that I wouldn’t use to fish a quarter out of the sewer.

‘“Do I have to wear this?’” I ask.

The girl nods sheepishly.

‘“He likes everyone to be’… authentic.’”

I had heard him say it earlier: ‘“All zombies wear ties.’”

This was during the pre-show frenzy at the Original Hollywood Horror Show way out in Snow Camp, when the haunted house’s proprietor Starr Jones was affixing the zombie mask to my face in the makeup loft with medical adhesive that smelled vaguely like rubber cement.

In the chair next to me another makeup artist affixed Dracula’s chiropteran visage to the face of Gene Long, who’s in his first year as a volunteer monster at the best haunted house in North Carolina. The next chair over holds an evil clown in full whiteface who’s having a beard put on. On the shelves and ledges all around us were the disembodied heads of various zombies, monsters and ghouls, including that of a mummy, Jason Voorhees (think hockey mask) and another oozing with blood from perhaps a dozen nails piercing his cheeks and head.

Starr and his brother Dean both grew up near Snow Camp before they became big-shot Hollywood makeup men. Millions saw their work on the series ‘“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’” and each has worked on dozens of films (Starr recently worked with Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Toby Hooper and Dean is currently in Bermuda filming the next two installments of Pirates of the Caribbean) and been nominated for Emmys. They are busy men.

Yet every year for the last 16 the brothers have returned to Alamance County to put on their big Halloween freak-out. They haven’t missed a year yet. And when Starr Jones tells me to wear the ugly blue tie, I’m gonna wear the tie.

And now out by the break table in the woods, my fellow creatures of the night and I get one last gaggle before the crowds roll in.

We’re talking about scaring people, me and the crew of youngsters that ranges in age from 13 to perhaps 40, most of them teenagers and most of them gleeful at the prospect of scaring the rubes when they file through the spooky rooms. They take unusual pride in scaring people to the point where the show must be interrupted to escort the frightened out of the house. They call it a ‘“code white.’”

‘“I’ve already had 13 code whites,’” says Wesley Horton, 15, who works in the room with the electric chair. Hellraiser, aka Dustin Bridges, claims to have inspired ‘“at least 18’” code whites since the attraction opened this year at the end of September. He’s 16 years old. Dracula, enjoying a last smoke before showtime, is having a particularly good week at the fright game.

‘“You ever see a four-hundred-pound man run for his life?’” he asks. ‘“I saw that last night.’”

He also says that same evening a woman punched him in the throat when he jumped out to scare her.

‘“I didn’t get mad at her though.’”

He’s a benevolent vampire.

Out in the woods, Bud Williams walks me to the graveyard I’ll be haunting tonight and gives me some tips.

‘“Find you a shadow,’” he says. ‘“Of course you’ll be a zombie, so you’ll be moving real slow’… let’s see’… you can set up right here.’” He motions towards a dark spot behind a crypt-like gate that appears to be made of granite but is actually a kind of foam. I ask him what I should do when the people come through.

‘“You seen zombie movies?’” he asks. ‘“Well there you go.’”

Williams slinks off in his long black robe and my fellow zombies, David Messick, 24, and Adam Niebes, 13, show me their zombie walks. I work on my own, a combination of something from Michael Jackson’s ‘“Thriller’” video and the slow shuffle I used to employ walking home late at night when I lived in the French Quarter.

We take our places.

The beam from a flashlight flickers on the ground and a group walks through. I creep from the shadows towards them and’… nothing. I think one of them even laughed.

‘“You’ve got to come out sooner,’” Messick tells me. And he offers another tip: ‘“They don’t like it when you follow them. Especially the girls.’”

I find a new spot in a dark corner and for the next few groups I slither out behind them and just kind of follow them. He’s right ‘— they don’t like it.

Niebes, meanwhile, takes a position inside a propped-up coffin. With a withered old man’s head atop his 13-year-old body, he looks a bit like the corpse of Ross Perot and when he jumps to life as they pass he makes people gasp and even scream.

This kid is gold.

‘“We don’t really have so many code whites out here [in the graveyard],’” says Adrian Rutherford, one of the attraction’s full-time employees. ‘“The crypt room is good’… the chainsaw. A lot of people are scared of clowns.’” She’s out on the grounds making a sweep of the horror show, attending to the needs of the players and spreading a little gossip. It seems there was a code white earlier tonight, in the funeral tent by the exit.

My fellow zombies and I rub our hands together in glee.

Then we see the flicker of flashlights through the trees. Adam climbs into the coffin and David takes his position over by the corpse bride. I recede into the shadows and get my zombie on. As the group enters the dirt path the graveyard comes to life.

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