Thursday, October 3, 2013

ZOMBIES: Julie Ann Dawson

It is a not so well kept secret that I have a zombie phobia. I’m not proud of it. It’s actually a source of embarrassment. The mighty Sith Witch can be sent running like a horrified four year old from a room by something as mundane as the sight of a commercial for The Walking Dead.

I can’t trace the phobia to any childhood trauma. It’s not like I witnessed the death of my family at the hands of a zombie horde or anything.  In fact, I was raised on horror. My childhood was filled with Stephen King novels and shows like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside. My parents used to take us to the local drive-in movie theatre for such horror fare as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. One of my fondest childhood memories is returning home from a movie one evening to the sound of a chainsaw starting behind the barn. My sister and I never ran to the house so fast in our lives. Apparently my father and uncle had planned for my uncle to hide behind the barn until we got home, and then start up the chainsaw.

Today, they would probably call that emotional abuse. In the late 1970’s, we called it family bonding.

The point is, if I was going to have a phobia about anything, it should be something like…well…chainsaws. Or crazy men in masks wielding chainsaws. Or crazy uncles wielding chainsaws. Not zombies.

Which brings me to the Week of Nightmares.

It was early spring 2002. Resident Evil had just been released. My boyfriend, Mike, is a huge fan of the video game franchise. So he wanted to see the movie. It had actually been several years since my last phobic-episode involving zombies, though in retrospect I should have realized this was simply because I had avoided all things zombie and not actually gotten braver. But I had managed to watch commercials for the movie without incident. And after all, it was a movie based on a video game. How scary could it be?

Besides, I had yet to inform Mike that I was a zombie-phobe. We hadn’t been dating that long. There are certain things a girl keeps to herself, you know?

So we went to see Resident Evil. Ten minutes into the movie, my head was buried in his shoulder. By the half hour point, my fingernails had left permanent damage to the armrest of my seat. By the end of the movie, I was shaking. Mike gave me his jacket. Dear man thought I was just cold. It’s hard to recognize a nervous breakdown in a dark movie theatre, I suppose.

At the end of the movie, I made my way to the ladies room while Mike hung around to see if there was anything after the credits. This worked to my advantage, as it gave me time to regain some measure of composure. By the time Mike came out of the theatre, I was waiting for him with a smile on my face and no obvious sign of my recent trauma. We went to dinner and enjoyed the rest of the evening. All was well.

Then I went to sleep.

Rephrase, I tried to go to sleep.

 I am both blessed and cursed with the ability to know when I am dreaming. I have rather vivid dreams, and usually I am aware that I am in the dream. This usually gives me the opportunity to shape my dreams so even if I am having a nightmare; I have a certain level of control during the dream. Werwolf charging me? Let me just conjure up my crossbow with silver bolts. Vampire trying to attack? Oh look, I just conjured up a Super Soaker filled with Holy Water. Great wyrm red dragon attacking the village I am in? How fortunate that I just happened to find this Ring of Ultimate Fire Protection and a Dragonlance.

But the problem with this is that when you are in this aware-state, your normal thought processes continue to run as they would when you were awake. So, for example, if you have a phobia say of…zombies…in the waking world, you are going to have that same phobia in the dreaming one. So even if you know you are dreaming, you are dreaming about zombies, and your brain responds accordingly.

And so when I found myself standing in front of the mansion and heard the first sounds of something shuffling through the nearby bushes towards me, I froze. I couldn’t turn my head to confirm my suspicions of what was coming. I couldn’t close my eyes to avoid seeing what was coming. I just stood there, locked to the spot with the sounds of something I knew instinctive to be undead making its way toward me. I could smell the rotting of the animated corpse. I could hear that horrible, sticky, slurping sound its mouth made as it opened and closed.

I managed to force myself awake. I sat in the dark in that half-conscious, half-dreaming state and for a brief moment heard the sounds of zombies around me even though I knew I was sitting in my bed. I was afraid to even get up and turn on the light because I irrationally feared a zombie under the bed might grab my ankle and pull me to my doom.

Such a stupid movie. Stupid plot. Bad acting. No real character development. Of course it is all Mike wanted to talk about the next day when we were hanging out with our mutual friends. Just listening to them talk excitedly about specific zombie-filled scenes sent me scurrying for the kitchen under the pretense of getting another cup of coffee. Thankfully, I’ve always drank a lot of coffee, so nobody found this suspicious.

It wasn’t until the third day of the Week of Nightmares that Mike actually realized something was seriously wrong. I was barely sleeping. I actually called out of work sick because if I had tried to drive I probably would have had an accident. He sat me down and asked me what was wrong.

I started crying like a little schoolgirl. He listened politely as I blabbered on for a good ten minutes.

He took a deep breath. “You know zombies aren’t real, right?”

 It was something my dad had said to me in the past during earlier…um…episodes. I growled. “That’s why it’s a PHOBIA! It’s an irrational fear!” I exclaimed, as if my explanation should have been the end of it.  Instead, he just laughed.

It wasn’t a mean laugh. It wasn’t even the “what the hell have I gotten myself into with this woman?” laugh I had secretly feared. It was a sweet, amused laugh.

“You’re weird,” he said and kissed me. “No more zombie movies for you. You’re flagged.”

The mansion continued to haunt my dreams for the rest of the week. I finally managed to purge it from my mind with a combination of coffee, chocolate ice cream, and a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon. That night I found myself on a normal-looking suburban street. A walked by a group of girls jumping rope and singing “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.” I looked at the street sign nearby.

“Yes!” I exclaimed and looked around for the ice cream truck.

Julie Ann Dawson is an author, editor, publisher, RPG designer, and advocate for writers who may occasionally require the services of someone with access to Force Lightning (and in case it was not obvious, a bit of a geek).

Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital media, including such diverse publications as the New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Black Bough, RPG Times, Poetry Magazine, Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Demonground, Sabledrake Magazine, Umbrella Stories, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. In 2002 she started her own publishing company, Bards and Sages. The company has gone from having two titles to over one hundred titles between their print and digital products.

In 2009, she launched the Bards and Sages Quarterly, a literary journal of speculative fiction. In 2012 and 2013, she served as a judge for the IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards.


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  1. Thanks for your story. I did grin and giggle but from a place of understanding and kinship :-)

  2. It made me grin too. I love reading things from a woman's perspective! Great job.