We’d gone down to the playground to mess around, but somebody was already there. He looked homeless.
“Maybe he’s a zombie,” laughed Bennett. School was out for the summer and without schoolwork we’d had nothing to talk about but the epidemic down in the South. Here in the Pacific Northwest there’d only been isolated cases.
The messed-up guy in the park stopped looking up at the birds fighting loudly in the trees, and shuffled awkwardly, slowly, towards a furry lump perched on the slide. He looked like he might fall over any minute.
Bennett’s eyes widened. “Dude…he’s…”
The furry lump turned out to be a raccoon carcass. And the messed-up guy was eating it.
He was a zombie. A first for Corvallis, if not our whole county.
We ran to my house, told my mom about the guy eating the raccoon. “Is that all?” she said. “Poor soul probably hasn’t had a hot meal in ages.” Believing there was a real zombie was not in the cards for her, obviously, but she found one of her food bank pamphlets and a public transit schedule and followed us to the park to offer him some direction.
The zombie was still there, wrestling with what was left of the raccoon. Mom’s hands flew to her cheeks, the pamphlets scattering to the ground.
“You didn’t tell me the raccoon was raw!” she exclaimed.
She called Dad, out of town on business, then wrangled together all the neighbors who were at home on a Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.
The residents talked, huddled in a group about 40 feet from the zombie. Lorrie Stouffer didn’t like that all the peer-reviewed studies on zombie subconscious had been inconclusive, and we might be consigning a sentient human to death. Jeff Neblinski wanted to assess the real threat the zombie offered before reporting it.
“But they do eat people,” Mom said. “Us. We’re people.”
Most of the neighbors shrugged.
Jeff volunteered to keep the zombie sated with small animals, like a snake owner feeding his reptile on hamsters. By then the zombie had finished with the raccoon and was leaning against the monkey bars like a morose dad waiting for his child.
“I have a GPS transmitter we can tag him with!” said Darren Cox. He’d just moved from Texas. For a student at the university he had a surprising amount of time on his hands.
“I’d really like to see if we couldn’t heal it,” said Lorrie. “I have these crystals…”
In the end, everyone agreed to turn a blind eye to the zombie in the park for a week while Jeff, Lorrie, Darren, and a few others sought the truth for themselves. They jokingly dubbed it Rob Zombie, and quickly shortened it just to Rob, so we no longer had to gossip furtively about the macabre phenomenon in the park, and instead spoke of him like an eccentric and ailing neighbor.
“Did you see Rob this morning?” asked Bennett’s mom when I came over for lunch. “Parked right next to the swing set, eyeing the birds again.”
Of course, Bennett and I saw Rob every morning. He spent almost all his time at the playground, and we weren’t going to let a little thing like a zombie take over our summer hangout spot. So we sat on the sidewalk, about 30 feet from Rob, scratching in the dirt with sticks, talking, and watching the zombie turn in drunken circles as he blindly sniffed the air.
Jeff had been right; keeping Rob well-fed kept him docile. Rob also, to our amusement, needed glasses, and without hunger to drive him, he was content to rest in one place. In public, everyone was enthusiastically supportive of Rob’s continued existence, or respectfully silent on the matter.
At home, though, I heard the term “zombie apologists” more than once.
At night, sometimes we’d hear a dull scraping against the front door, or a garbled moan, slowly moving up the street. This was usually followed by a breathless phone call from Lorrie or Jeff or Darren.
“Just letting you know Rob’s going for a walk. Don’t worry, we’re watching the GPS. He’s heading up Foxtail as of now.”
They handled Rob’s comings and goings clumsily, but with Rob being equally clumsy, and half blind to boot, it worked out just fine. The week ended, and stretched into 10 days. Jeff needed more time for his humanity experiments to prove conclusive. Lorrie’s crystals hadn’t worked, so she was waiting for some better healing crystals to arrive.
For two kids who, until Rob’s appearance, had been looking forward to spending all summer talking about becoming middle schoolers in the fall, the turn of events was electrifying. When we got tired of talking about preparing for the zombie apocalypse, we hypothesized who Rob was before he zombified. When we got tired of that, we talked about who we’d eat first if we got zombified (Tyler from soccer, we agreed). To top it all off, the whole event had been shrouded in secrecy, to keep Rob safe from the outside authorities. How could it be any better?
We were especially fond of Rob, the two of us. After all, we’d found him first. We had ownership.
Dad got back from his business trip on Day 12 of Rob’s appearance. It was six o’clock in the evening and we were on our way back from the airport when we cruised past the park. Dad stared out the window at the unkempt figure by the swingset.
“You know it,” Mom said. Dad grunted.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”
Dad was up early the next morning. He rummaged around in the garage, and let out a muffled yell for the shovel. Mom shrugged.
“I think we sold it last year,” she said. “What do we need a shovel for? It’s an HOA.”
“I’m going to check out the thing at the park.”
“Rob?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Dad. “That thing.”
Dad was still gone an hour later. Bennett had passed by on the way to our place and said Dad was just sitting there, watching Rob. We had breakfast, then headed to the park as usual.
Rob had found the opossum carcass that Jeff had left for him, and was slowly working away at it under the oak tree. Dad sat about 20 feet away on the slide, his eyes never moving from Rob. The screwdriver he’d brought from the garage was idle in his hand.
Without looking, he shook an arm at us.
“Stay back, kids.”
We slowed, and stopped about five feet from Dad, then sat cross-legged in the dry grass.
“It’s just Rob, Dad. He’s half-blind anyway,” I said.
Bennett nodded. “If you just stay 30 feet back or so he won’t even know we’re here.”
Dad nodded, and finally turned to look at us, flicking a finger toward Rob.
“That there is Christopher Rodriguez. I went to high school with him. He was half-blind then, too.”
Dad convened the neighbors that evening. He said Rob needed to be reported. Christopher Rodriguez was gone, utterly gone. The shell that lived in the park needed to be gone, too.
“My crystals just arrived,” moaned Lorrie. “Can you just, like, ignore him for three more days?”
“Do you want to report him?” Darren asked Dad. “’Cause I sure as heck ain’t.”
Jeff requested three more days as well, just three days to get in a few more experiments. But they all agreed they were not going to report Rob. Not yet.
“Fine,” said Dad. “That’s just fine. Everyone has to do what they think is right.” Then he took the car and didn’t come back home til late. I heard the garage door open and watched the headlights pull in from my bedroom window.
I didn’t sleep well that night.
The next morning, Rob was gone, said Bennett. She hadn’t seen him on her way over for breakfast.
“Darren’s got the GPS tracker, though,” I said. “If we don’t find him we can always go to Darren.”
We stopped at the park but he wasn’t there, just like Bennett said. We looked for him for over an hour, scouring the neighborhood, before stopping at Darren’s house.
“Well, girls,” said Darren, pointing to his GPS. “Looks like Rob is hanging out as usual. Did you already look by the oak tree?”
Bennett nodded. “Yes sir, about 20 minutes ago.”
“Well he’s there now,” shrugged Darren. “Go catch him.”
Rob wasn’t at the oak tree. There was just a fresh pile of dirt.
“I don’t understand,” I told Mom. “He was supposed to have three more days.” She pulled me and Bennett close, into a soft, warm hug. She looked tired.
“You know what, sweetie? When you’re this young, sometimes there’s no explaining.”
Dad came downstairs, his coffee mug in hand.
“Rob’s gone, Dad. Someone…there’s just dirt where Rob’s supposed to be.”
Dad came and stroked my hair. He rubbed Bennett’s shoulder as she sniffled.
“His name was Christopher, girls.” Dad said.
We told Darren what we’d found. He shook his head from side to side but didn’t really say anything. He did tell Jeff and Lorrie though.
Lorrie gasped, and looked at me, then Bennett, then back at me. When we left, Jeff was lamenting to Darren and Lorrie about how his experiments had been “so close.”
When we got back home, Mom was loading some stuff into the back of the car.
“What are you doing, Mom?”
She put a box in the trunk. “Just a thrift store run, sweetie. Lots of stuff we don’t need—” she heaved a long-handled shovel in, then closed it tight, and smiled brightly. “Like that.”
“Honestly,” she said. “What do we need a shovel for? This is an HOA.”
Zombie Photography by Kristin Hayes
Local artist Kristin Hayes’ eerily realistic zombie photographs, created in collaboration with makeup artist Kayla Nissen, evoke a wide variety of emotions—the inevitable feelings of visceral terror (zombies!!!!) give way to sheer awe at the artist’s uncanny ability to induce such feelings with a single photograph.
“Photography is my chosen medium of showing others how I view the world; how I view people,” writes Kristin. “My goal is to not only create tender candid moments, but to also make imaginative, provocative, and captivating pieces of art. I firmly believe there is always room for improvement. There are no boundaries or limits as to how far I will go with my work.”
Hayes’ photography does extend into the realm of our own zombie-free (for now) world—she is available to photograph weddings, children and families, and senior portraits, along with fashion and boudoir. She will also be hosting a free photo booth at the Launch Party for Midnight Muse Magazine on April 13, 6 – 9 p.m. at Imagine Coffee.
To contact Hayes, email email@example.com or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kristinhayesphotography.
To contact makeup artist Nissen, visit http://www.facebook.com/KaylaElizabethMakeup.
by Mica Habarad