Should a 16 year old be allowed to drive around in 2 ½ tons of snarling steel?
You can thank Driver’s Ed classes for that ill-advised decision. Dicey situation at best, right? Now add a bottle of cheap wine, some blotter acid and a carload of drunk, pot-puffing pals. What does that sound like to you? An accident waiting to happen? A recipe for disaster?
I called it Halloween.
My Uncle Jimmy had recently managed to get himself killed by busting his head in a fall. In his apartment. Dead drunk. He left me his car in the will. It was awesomeness itself: A white, convertible 1963 Buick Electra 225 with black leather upholstery, six-way power seats and a turbine drive rocket under the hood, powered by 325 snorting ponies. 0-60 in 8.4 seconds. For a car that weighed over 5,000 pounds with a full boat of teenage asshats. As Eric Cartman would say, “Helli-cool.”
We were well past the trick-or-treat stage of life, and me and my buds were looking for something fun and frightening to do that Halloween night.
“Night of the Living Dead is playing at the drive-in,” one suggested.
“Yeah!” echoed the rest, puffing joints, swigging beer and lounging quite comfortably on the sofa-wide seats, which easily sat three across.
I was the only one who seemed the least bit reluctant, probably due to the fact that I had recently dropped (actually chewed) some low-grade acid. I’d tripped enough times at that point (yes, at 16 years old) to know that a horror movie was probably not the best scenario for a pleasant psychedelic experience. But WTF…I had the keys and the awesome car full of friends and we had to do something for Halloween, right?
As I’ve said before, I’m a meat and potatoes horror fan, so I’m usually up for anything on the terror ticket. But I’d heard that Night of the Living Dead was really scary and there was that whole acid thing and I didn’t want my poor young brain to be scarred for life. Still, I bravely tried to convince myself that I’d be fine and dandy.
How bad could it be?
It was absolutely terrifying. Black and white. Grainy. A normal picket fence world turned upside down in a single day and night. When the first zombie made his appearance in the cemetery I cringed with fear. The acid made every nuance more extreme: the vision of him staggering toward the couple who had come to lay flowers on a grave; the voice of witless Johnny teasing his girlfriend, “He’s coming to get you Barbara!”
When the attack came I wanted to turn the ignition and floor it out there with the speaker still attached to the window. I managed to sit. And stay. For the whole thing. After it was blessedly over, I dropped my friends off one by one, each of them joking as they climbed out with variations of the same farewell, “Good luck when you get home, man.”
Why were they saying creepy things like that? Because I lived in a cemetery. My parents owned it. A big, old stone house far from the city lights. Surrounded by headstones. Graves. Occupied graves. Lots and lots of occupied graves. Row after row after row. Each and every one of them containing all the necessary ingredients for a zombie resurrection.
When I pulled up and parked, I didn’t want to get out of the car and I didn’t want to stay inside. I wasn’t allowed to park in the driveway. That was for dad. My parking space was reserved in Section 6 of the graveyard. It was the oldest section of the cemetery. Graves from the time of Poe and even earlier, some of the names eroded from years of rain, the headstones tilting, some shaped in that classic rounded-at-the-top style. R.I.P. Rest in peace. I really hoped so. I truly did.
My car wasn’t far from the house, but I would have to walk. There were no lights at all, in the graveyard or the house. It was late. Everyone was asleep. And I was tripping hard, my pupils so dilated that I could see with a black cat’s night vision. The headstones were swaying. They shouldn’t be swaying. The echoes of my footsteps on the gravel sounded like zombies dragging their lifeless feet behind me. I told myself over and over that NOTLD was just a movie, and these were the same graves I buried people in every day without a care in the world (yes, I was a 16 year old gravedigger). Everything was going to be okay. Zombies aren’t real. I’d be safe inside the house in just a minute.
And of course, that’s exactly what happened. What were you expecting? This is a true story. Zombies aren’t real. I went inside and climbed into bed and pulled the covers right up to my neck and listened to the old house creak and the leafless branches of the trees scrape against my windows.
Wait. What was that? Something in the distance. Dragging in the gravel. And a voice? No, more than one. Groans. So many.
“They’re coming to get you Richard! They’re coming to get you!”
Thank god my parent’s bedroom was on the first floor.
Have a Helli-Halloween!