Written by Kerry E.B. Black
We held hands, my daughter, Dylan, and I, as we quaked with anticipation. We knew we could run 5K, but undead obstacles sought to prevent us.
“We’ll get through this together.”
She nodded, her throat working the fright through.
I checked her belt and tightened my own. “Keep the flags close. We’ll cluster. They won’t know who to attack if we stay in a group.”
Our nostrils flared, filled with wafts of hay, autumn leaves, mud, and sweat. The cool air caressed like a blessing. We anticipated heart-racing sweat for our toils. I confess to momentary reconsideration. My car, with its comfortable leather seats, waited parked nearby. My sprint could as easily restore me to it as run the obstacle course that lay before me.
Around me, people half my age stretched limber legs. I hoped my sports bra held up to the challenge to come.
An organizer yelled for quiet. We heard moaning from beyond the field, but in the interest of understanding the rules, I focused on her words. “Stay on the course. No contact. There are safe water stations at miles 1 and 2. If you lose all three flags, you can choose to finish or join the ranks of the undead. FX makeup artists from local schools are on-hand, volunteering their time. No charge, but they’d appreciate tips.” She glanced at her cellular phone. “Well, I guess that’s it. See you at the end, and have fun!”
I felt an intense desire to cry or throw up. “I’m too old for this,” I muttered.
A gun sounded the beginning of the race. People swarmed with swells of enthusiasm around my slower pace. My own footfalls betrayed me. Not only was I thereby committed to run a 5K, a challenge to my ailing body, but I needed to do so while scaling walls, wading through vats of red-dyed, cold water, and worst of all, being pursued by zombies.
Fight or flight kicked in when the first ambling bad-guys reached for our flags. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and sprinted. She squealed. I pressed my lips together in disgust, struggling to control my breathing. The makeup served to frighten, even on this bright, autumn afternoon. A swarm threatened to overtake us, but we kept moving, huddling into a group.
We thundered to a wall from which knotted ropes dangled. We scaled the ropes and drop to the other side. My shoulders burned as I pulled my bulk up and over, regretting every sweet I’d ever ingested.
Dylan looked refreshed when our feet touched the ground. She set off at a lope. I followed.
“This is all your fault, young lady,” I thought. I breathed, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
“You and your crazy ideas. See if I introduce you to a subcultural genre ever again.” For years, we curled up on the couch to enjoy such shows as “The Walking Dead” and “Supernatural” together, sparking her interest and leading to this day.
Dylan begged, “Please, it will be fun!” As I dodged animated corpses seeking to seize the red flags looped over my belt, I realized the folly of her statement. Curling up on a couch with a good book, a cup of tea, and my children playing safely nearby was fun. This, this Zombie Run served as self-inflicted
Two nuns dripped gore from opened mouths onto their black and white habits and closed on us.
Dylan and I somehow separated, and both snatched a “life” flag from my waist. Two gone at one encounter. I pushed my tree-stump thick legs forward to the first check point, a safe place to get water.
Runners exchanged excited “war stories” about close encounters with lethal foes.
I leaned against a tent pole, hating the tight feeling in my chest. “I’ll just stay here. Come back for me at the end,” I said.
My bright-eyed nineteen year old laughed. “We’re a third of the way done! Come on!” She still had all three of her flags.
I sighed. We drained our clear plastic cups and set off.
As we rounded a corner, a crush of activity made me wish to break the rules. It looked bloody ahead, a knot of arms and legs and bodies. We skirted to the left. I imagined myself invisible, camouflaged by the trees and underbrush. We made it through unnoticed, I thought.
Just beyond, a group of three zombies with collected red flags tight-clenched in their fists spun and pursued. Fight or flight instinct operational, I fled. Primal survival instincts pushed me, and I felt tears roll down my cheeks from the exertion.
We avoided another crush and several straggling lone operators and reached checkpoint two.
Water cooled my burning throat and replaced the moisture pouring from my brown and down my back.
I paced as I sipped, hopped up on adrenaline and struggling with a stitch in my left side.
“Hope I don’t have a heart attack,” I huffed.
Dylan turned a critical assessment on me. “There’s an ambulance over there if you want to talk to the EMT?”
I brushed off her worry with a wave of my hand. “Let’s get this over with.” We set off to dodge more zombies. Dylan’s cheeks shone angry red from exertion, but we kept pace. In a knoll where birds sung, a dozen bodies lay, resembling a killing field. My stomach clenched. “Careful,” I said. As we danced through, careful to avoid the apparently dead, Romero’s nightmare closed in. I groaned. We picked our way through.
Dylan is just five feet tall. As she jumped a woman lying on the ground, the woman reached up and snatched a life flag.
We had no time to be horrified. We pressed on.
Another obstacle caused us to slow our pace. We crawled through metal tubes.
A sea of the undead bathed in fake blood blocked the finish line. My girl and I took a slide in the mud to sneak by. It felt dreadful, with mud creeping into crevices. My manicure alone would never be the same.
“Dead this way, living there.” We took the path to the right. “Congratulations,” a young woman said, draping our necks with thick, crimson ribbons hung with a cheap medals. We feasted on cold water, sliced fruit, and crackers, grateful for our survival.
The staff presented awards for best costumes, most kills, and the like at an after party similar to a Halloween bash on steroids.
“Will you do it again?” another guest asked.
“Me? No.” Been there, done that, earned the bloody medal.
Dylan looked disappointed, but she’s young. She’ll get over it. Besides, she has another year or so to work on my resolve. If nothing else, I can serve as civilian support and cheer her on from a hydration check point. I understand the runs always welcome fresh blooded volunteers.
*First published at Halloween Forevermore.