Why I Don’t Watch Scary Movies

I was driving by myself to meet friends after school one day this week. As I neared a normally-busy intersection, I was startled to realize my car was the only one in sight in all four directions. In the ninety seconds between this stop sign and my arrival at the next intersection – a five points crossroad with traffic lights – I’d convinced myself there was one explanation for why I hadn’t passed a single person or vehicle….

The zombie apocalypse had started.

I locked my car doors, gripped my steering wheel with white knuckles and tried to persuade myself not to run the red light. Peering out my windshield at the sidewalks, I found apocalyptic proof in the windowboxes of mums, the cornstalks tied to porches, and pumpkins on front steps.

By the time I reached the restaurant my breath was coming in hiccups and my pounding pulse had turned my face and neck all sorts of splotchy red. When my friends asked if I was okay, I took a deep breath, looked around at the street – now milling with people pushing strollers and carrying briefcases and shopping bags – and nodded. How could I begin to explain that I’d envisioned zombies overtaking our sleepy town at 4:00 on a sunny Tuesday afternoon?

My imagination is overactive. Like Max’s in Where the Wild Things Are or Harold’s in The Purple Crayon. This isn’t such a bad thing when dreaming of princesses or unicorns, but a mere mention of those things that lurk once the lights go off and they become tangible and terrifying.

I’ve always been this way. My father taught me a passage from Dune while I was in elementary school and each night as I took our dog out before heading up to bed, I’d whisper into the darkness:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past
I will turn my inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

Halloween is a challenge for children like me. We pick the friendly costumes –- I believe I was a puppy on four separate years. We skirt the houses with spooky décor and haunted music – no candy bar is worth the trauma. We seek out friends who won’t laugh if we scream, or cry, or want to go home early. And despite all of these preparations, there’s always that older kid hiding in the bushes with the bloody mask, or the parent who’s cut a hole in the bottom of the candy bowl, so when you reach in to take a Tootsie Pop, she reaches up and grabs your hand. The bowls I sent flying with candy scattered everywhere, were so not my fault.

Family stories debate whether it was Child’s Play the movie or just a preview I happened across early one morning when I was seven and up too early for my own good. It doesn’t really matter if it was a two-minute ad or the whole film, because the result was the same: my younger brother’s My Buddy doll made me hyperventilate. We had to get rid of it.

In middle school I watched Poltergeist at a Halloween party. I have slept with my closet door shut every single night since then.

For the most part, as long as I avoid scary situations, everything goes well, but some times scary sneaks in. In high school, scary was suddenly “cool.” Despite parental warnings and don’t-you-complain-when-you-can’t-sleep threats, I went with a group of friends to see Scream.

I didn’t complain to my parents, but after they went to bed, I turned on every light in the house and waited for my older sister to come home from her date. Then I begged to sleep on the floor of her room. And whined further until she let me turn her closet light on too – of course the closet door had to be shut.

And scary movie DATES? Disaster. Guys tended to love that I gripped their hands with all the strength in mine. The fact that I flinched against their shoulders, buried my face in their shirts, and shrieked – that was ‘adorable.’

But afterward? Linger in a car for post-movie conversation and kisses? Had they seen the same movie I had? Cars are not monster-proof. And when they walked me to my door, all I could think about was getting safely on the other side of it and throwing the deadbolt. And, if I’m going to admit I’m a wimp to the level of infinity, I might as well confess the ultimate scary movie date blunder.

Um, I bit someone. Not like a vampire. It was just that my hand was being held and I needed it to cover my eyes. My frantic tugging was interpreted a sign to hold my fingers tighter. On the screen a knife had been unsheathed; blood was imminent. I was in a state of panic where words were not an option, and in this state, applying my teeth to the back of his hand seemed completely logical.

There was not a second date.

St. Matt and I have seen one scary movie together. Make that ½ a scary movie. Less than an hour into the film, I decided I’d had enough. I told him I needed a breather, released his hand from my circulation-stopping death grip, and ran for the lobby.

I headed for the cardboard marquis of a Disney movie, planning to stare at cartooned innocence until the credits played. Before I reached it, someone grabbed my arm from behind. I screamed. As every patron in the lobby turned toward the white-face teen in front of The Tigger Movie display, I turned and found St. Matt suppressing a grin.

“You’re scared. Let’s go back to campus,” he said – holding out his hand. How could I not kiss him right there in the lobby? (And marry him four years later).

So, I read scary stories during daylight hours. My jack o’lanterns have smiles. My Halloween decorations are cute instead of creepy. The only Stephen King I’ve read is On Writing and you can cross Zombieland off the list of places you’ll run into me.

If, by some miracle, you manage to drag me to a scary movie someday and I bite you, please keep in mind that this isn’t a sign of the zombie apocalypse. Just let me cover my eyes and no one will get hurt.

Better yet, meet me in the lobby after it’s over. I’ll be the one hiding behind the G-rated marquis and repeating I must not fear in a voice that’s slightly quivery.

The Forest of Hands & Teeth (and getting NO sleep!)

Remember that zombie thing I wrote about the other day? How I said I felt like my life was overrun by them? It’s baaaack.

Today, to celebrate being done with the play, I figured I’d stop by my local bookstore and treat myself to a book. Okay, three books. I may have also ordered two more…

One of the books I bought was Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Feet. There’s been such buzz about it on Twitter & the blogs, and it even has a snazzy u-tube video.

And it’s about zombies.

Yeah, I missed that part. Even after I saw the video, I was thinking more along the lines of M. Night Shayamalan’s The Village or Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time. I didn’t think of zombies. Clearly, this was an oversight on my part. I should constantly be thinking about zombies these days. In fact, if I have two consecutive non-zombie thoughts, someone should come bop me on the forehead like they do on the V8 commercials and ask me what I was thinking!

Except, prior to this fall I had never read or seen anything featuring a zombie – unless you count the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which I don’t. I’ve still never seen a zombie movie – which should make March 20th interesting.

Zombies. Except, I don’t believe they’re actually called zombies anywhere in the The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is amazing, by the way. Also, it’s finished, or rather, I’ve finished it. I decided to read a few pages before I went to bed tonight. Now it’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m too scared to sleep. Since I’d have to get up in less than 30 minutes anyway, there’s no point in chancing nightmares.

This is not a story of slow immersion, one where you gradually get used to the characters and plot. This is a story that you cannonball into and gasp for breath as you hit the icy waters. You continue to gasp for breath because there’s no getting comfortable in a world where someone is always – literally – waiting to grab at you from all angles.

The characters are complex and conflicted – you want to shake them and tell them what to do – but you understand their complexities and conflicts. I found myself empathizing even when I disagreed and weighted by the choices Mary faced.

One particular aspect of this book that I loved was Mary’s character; she is so remarkable, admirable and strong. She not defined by a man, nor is she completed by one. Mary’s goals and longings may be affected by love, but she doesn’t dissolve and become an extension of the hero.

Bravo, Carrie Ryan! I hope you’re getting lots of writing done in that Irish castle because I can’t wait to see what you come out with next.

So back to zombies. I think I might need to read more of the Zombie Survival Guide. Maybe even buy my own copy.

Of course, if the zombie apocalypse started today, I’m totally out of luck. There’s not enough caffeine in the world to combat the zombifying effects of fear-inspired sleep-deprivation.

These are life lessons, people!

And survival skills too.

It was math class and my students were diligently working their way through some operations with positive and negative numbers. I was playing with the Sony e-book reader that my colleague, Mr. Techie, had dropped off for me to explore as I continue to dither about if and what type of e-book reader I want/need.

I answered a question, handed out a few ‘good jobs’ and a ‘get back to work’ as I paged through Techie’s book selections. He had Pride & Prejudice, so I gave him + 10 cool points. He had all the Meyers books, which just made me laugh.

And then I got to last page in his catalogue and gasped: “Schmidites. Writer’s notebooks. Front rug. Nooow!”

Did I mention it was math class? And that I didn’t even have my whole homeroom and that some of the kids didn’t even have writer’s notebooks? Whatever. It’s called problem-solving.

The kids assembled themselves on our sharing rug; they were full of anticipation and questions: “What’s up?” “What’s going on?”

“I have something important I need to teach you. Now. This might be the most important thing I teach you all year.”

“What is it?”

“Kiddos, get the lights. “

And then I began to read to them from: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

“There’s no such thing as safe,” I read to them, “only safer.”

We read about forms of transmission: bites, an open wound exposed to the virus (this begged for the comment: “Oh, so the next time I get a papercut, I shouldn’t go rub it on the nearest zombie?”), or if a zombie explodes on you. We read about the timeline of the disease’s progression: starting with fever, eventually death, then reanimation.

And then math class was over. “Writer’s notebooks!” I announced as the rest of my homeroom stumbled back in, bleary-eyed and drained from pre-algebra. Come to think of it, they looked a little zombified until they read the buzz of excitement and ran for their notebooks.

After we’d read about how to evaluate your zombie killing weapon, how to protect your home & school, and the list of items to have on hand (our favorite: earplugs to block out zombie moans), I turned the lights on and shared their writing prompt: “In your notebook, respond to the following: Zombies, dangerous or not?”

They would’ve written all afternoon if I let them. Many of them will write all weekend and share their zombie stories on Monday.

I felt like this was a book I had to read. After all, zombies are attacking… or at least infiltrating. Prior to October I’d lived a zombie-free life.

Now…

  • There’s the Austen thing
  • Then there’s Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (Kiss of Life comes out in May). I read this book in one night in October. I gave it to a co-worker the next day and haven’t seen it again because it’s been passed from one reader to the next.
  • And what about Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry? This doesn’t come out until March 3rd, but I was lucky enough to read it early. You need to buy it on Tuesday (along with a copy of Brook’s book).

And who would have thought I’d plan on attending a zombie night – complete with zombie movies? Now that I’ve read the Zombie Survival Guide, I know I can handle it. (I hope). If you see me there, feel free to sit next to me. I’ll gladly keep you safe… until I run from the room screaming and crying for my mom.

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