All Hallow’s Eve. Lost, we creep along a dark road toward a lighted porch. A chilly wind rushes past, dry leaves dancing in its wake. We shiver. Is it the cold? Or is it fear? A dog howls. We hear rustling in the brush.
“Hurry!” We almost reach the porch. My foot is on the step. The porch light begins to flicker. Behind us, the rustling becomes shuffling and scratching. I turn to see horrifying creatures descending upon us, staggering, groaning, screeching, grunting, howling and hungry. “Let us in,” we bang on the door.
What are these monsters? Zombies! We’re doomed.
Zombies have taken over the scary scene, devouring all of the other frightening creatures in the night. Ghosts, vampires, witches? Old news. There are even acting and make-up classes for zombies to get that just-dead look in the eyes and the right amount of blood dripping from the mouth.
But what is a zombie? Popular culture says it’s a flesh-eating re-animated dead person. But the original flesh-eating creature is the ghoul, from the Arabic ghul, which means “to seize.” A ghoul is an evil spirit or revived corpse that robs graves and feeds on human corpses.
Zombies traditionally weren’t cannibals. Zombie refers to the “living dead” who were revived by sorcerers, according to folklore. Others never died but had their souls stolen by evil magicians. Zombies are docile, have glassy, empty eyes and lack will, memory or emotion. They aren’t the flesh-thirsty demons of the movies. A neurotoxin from a saltwater fish, called tetrodotoxin, can also induce a zombie-like state and may have led to some zombie stories.
Why are people so fascinated with zombies.? Could it be that their vacant humanity can be more frightening than any alien monster? The worst zombie (actually a ghoul) is someone you once loved who has now turned on you. Who can’t relate to that horror? Scores of books and movies have been written and made on the subject. Last year, a nephew requested “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead” for Christmas. You never know when a zombie might show up looking for more than a turkey leg.