I am standing in my kitchen, covered in a thin layer of latex and blood, sautéing chicken hearts in a pan. I have this niggling feeling that this is not a normal way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but I’m trying to get myself into character for my attempt to brave the Toronto Zombie Walk.
I’ll admit this now: I’m not a zombie fan. Hell, I’m not even that good with horror movies. The scariest thing I can handle is Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and even then I find myself peeking out between my fingers at scenes where the make-up guy’s hand can be seen darting in to reapply ketchup to a screaming extra. Nonetheless, I’ve never been terribly interested in smearing myself in Karo Syrup and wandering around downtown, screaming at passers-by, or at least, not while sober.But here I am, biking down Dundas with a face covered in fake latex and sticky blood. ‘Huh,’ I can’t help but think, ‘this must be what a condom feels like.’ I pass by a car where a zombie bride and groom are exiting. They look at me. Wait, how do zombies greet each other? I wave at them. “Brains!” I yell cheerfully. “Uh… brains?” They smile. Success! I’m slowly being accepted. This is so much easier than high school.A few days beforehand, I get the chance to speak to Thea Munster, the creator of the zombie walk. In 2003, she threw up some posters around the city hoping to get some people in on a zombie walk, which ended up bringing in a whopping total of six people. Somehow, I feel like seeing only seven zombies would be mildly terrifying, just because no one had tried to stop them yet. She confirms this thought: “The first walk was on a grey and gloomy day a week before Halloween. The streets were dead, literally. For a small handful of zombies we made a lot of noise. People out for a Sunday stroll would hear the moaning and dragging of limbs, turn around and then quickly take off. I think it was a pretty scary experience for some unsuspecting passers by.”The walk grew in size each year, with her expecting almost 8,000 people to come out this Saturday.“So uh, why zombies? Is it because Twilight ruined vampires, or because mummies have yet to be cool again?”Thea responds in an email, “I like all monsters, but for me zombies are social creatures. Alone, they are powerless. But when a zombie is in a horde, it’s powerful. I like the idea of individually styled monsters who works together in groups for a common goal: to devour the flesh of the living. [Also], a lot of horror fans may be upset with me, but I would argue that mummies fit under the zombie umbrella.”On the day of the walk, coming over the ridge at Trinity Bellwoods with a toe tag pinned jauntily to my backpack, and I am suddenly faced by a horde of zombies. Thousands of people are crushed together in the grassy bowl, and as I weave my way through the crowd, I am soon covered in a fine mist of red goo and Spirit Gum. People have really gone all out for this, and my costume pales in comparison. A little fake skin here, a little neck gash there, and bam, I’m a zombie with an expensive camera around my neck. I have no theme or catch, so in comparison to some of the more detail-oriented zombies, I look like somewhat of a novice. I’ll probably get the last serving of brains and not get picked to go do the team slaughter of innocents or something. A guy with a whisk sticking out of his short walks by me and growls.
“Uh… uh… brains?” I stutter. “Yeah, uh… brains.” He is unmoved. I turn around to see the lead singer from GWAR onstage with a t-shirt covering his giant fake penis. Wait, what? He tosses a head into the crowd and declares the parade open. Onward, zombie brethren! Let us destroy the bourgeois an — wait, that’s communists.Part of what intrigues me the most is the creativity of some of the costumes. There are a fair number of run-of-the-mill zombies, asking for brains and whatnot, but within the first ten minutes of being there I find a zombie cow, zombie Snooki, zombie baby Spiderman, zombie Sailor Mini Moon, and about fifteen zombie Lady Gagas, all of whom are in different costumes from various videos. Do these people call each other in advance and plan this out?We start heading down Dundas as a slow, shuffling mass, and I can’t help but feel… well, kind of stupid. I have yet to get into the mindset, and working my way around the crowd I realize that I can barely get a shot in edgewise thanks to the other 500 photographers lining the road. Suddenly, I have an idea. I edge back into the horde and turn my camera towards the mass of photographers.“CHEESE,” I growl at the crowd. “CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE.” People seem amused by the zombie photographer. “Uh… FIIIIIIIIILM. SAAAAAY CHEEEEEEEEESE.”The giggling of the crowd helps me to get into it a little more, as I feel my body start to slip into a limp and my left leg starts to drag. Throwing inhibitions (and possibly my dignity) to the wind, I start to relish in my newfound zombie persona. “CHEEEEEEEESE,” I moan. “CHEEEEEEEEEEESE… uh… BRAINS. NO WAIT, CHEEEEEEEESE.”I get more into it as time goes on, waving my camera in the faces of the spectators, but the walk starts to really drag out by the time we get onto Bathurst. Starving, I pull a sandwich out of my bag. It’s squished as hell, but all this talk of internal organs has now made me mildly hungry, and it’s been awhile since those chicken hearts. A couple zombie soldiers look at my sandwich and me. I brandish it at them, “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM.”It starts to rain, and I can feel the fake blood start to run down my chest. I jog home, kick open the door, and am immediately greeted by, “Hey Al-OH MY GOD WHAT IN THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?”Wiping fake blood out of my eyes, I say only one word: “Varsity.”“Oh god, I should’ve known,” says my boyfriend. “Can’t you report on normal things that don’t require you covering the entire bathroom in putty and latex?”