Johnny America


Scare­crow and Zombie


Gin­ny was a scare­crow. Her messy blond hair was al­ready pass­able for straw,
so noth­ing need­ed to be done there. She wore a flan­nel shirt, a pair of
worn-out jeans from the Good­will store, and some broom­sticks duct-taped to her
arms. Com­bined with her nat­u­ral­ly lanky frame, it made a fair­ly de­cent costume,
if not a com­fort­able one. She had want­ed to be a princess, but Mom ve­toed that
idea be­cause she had been a princess last year.

A view­ing of The Wiz­ard of Oz pro­vid­ed the in­spi­ra­tion for Ginny’s second
cos­tume choice. “If I can’t be a princess,” she said, “then I guess a scarecrow
is the next best thing.”

I was a zom­bie. I was a zom­bie every year but for some rea­son Mom never
ob­ject­ed to that. It seemed like an ob­vi­ous dou­ble-stan­dard but it worked out
in my fa­vor. I loved zom­bies. I had seen Night of the Liv­ing Dead up
through Day of the Dead by age 12 thanks to my best friend Ryan’s overly-permissive
par­ents and hor­ror-ob­sessed old­er broth­er. My cos­tume con­sist­ed pri­mar­i­ly of
some strips of fake flesh peel­ing off my face, fake blood ap­plied liberally
around my mouth, and an arm I am­pu­tat­ed from one of Ginny’s dolls over her loud
ob­jec­tions. I would oc­ca­sion­al­ly nib­ble on the doll arm, which made the adults
dol­ing out can­dy slight­ly uneasy.

I had want­ed to go trick-or-treat­ing in Ryan’s neigh­bor­hood but was instead
giv­en the task of es­cort­ing Gin­ny around ours. This was es­pe­cial­ly disappointing
giv­en that it would prob­a­bly be my last year trick-or-treat­ing. It was sort of
an un­writ­ten rule that once you hit your teens it’s just re­al­ly un­cool to go
door to door ask­ing for can­dy. The few teenagers in our neigh­bor­hood who still
did it, a few of them brazen enough to try to pull off jeans and a hoody as a
cos­tume, were met with over­whelm­ing dis­dain. Odd­ly enough, though, I nev­er saw
any­one ac­tu­al­ly refuse to give them can­dy. They just ac­com­pa­nied the can­dy with
pro­nounced frowns and oc­ca­sion­al eye rolling.

Adding to the dis­ap­point­ment of this par­tic­u­lar Hal­loween was how few houses
were giv­ing away can­dy. A bad econ­o­my had tak­en its toll and at best one out of
every three hous­es were lit up. With the re­main­ing hous­es, one could see the
amor­phous, bluish light of the tele­vi­sion screens bounc­ing off the walls as
fam­i­lies kept the rest of their lights off as the uni­ver­sal sign that they were
par­ty-poop­ers. Gin­ny and I had made our way around al­most the entire
neigh­bor­hood and had on­ly half-full pil­low­cas­es to show for it. We were also
run­ning way ahead of sched­ule due to skip­ping so many hous­es, so I fig­ured we
had time to take a de­tour in­to the neighborhood’s haunt­ed house.

In the movies, haunt­ed hous­es are al­ways ag­ing Vic­to­ri­an homes ei­ther in New
Eng­land or the Deep South. In the Mid­west­ern sub­urb I lived in, the oldest
house stand­ing was built around 1980. The best can­di­date for a haunt­ed house
was a mod­est split-lev­el home that had fall­en in­to a state of dis­re­pair even
be­fore the pre­vi­ous own­ers had giv­en up try­ing to pay their mort­gage or sell
the house and had in­stead sim­ply packed their bags and left town. The lawn was
rel­a­tive­ly well-main­tained by the sur­round­ing neigh­bors, who did not want the
stig­ma of hav­ing an aban­doned, run-down house next door. There were things they
could not fix, though, like the moldy shin­gles on the roof, the bro­ken windows,
or the cracked and peel­ing paint.

I point­ed at the house and an­nounced to Gin­ny, “We’re go­ing in there.”

Her eyes widened and she took a step back­ward. “Nuh uh,” she said. “That’s

I rolled my eyes. “That’s why we’re go­ing in. It’s Hal­loween. You’re
sup­posed to be scared.”

Gin­ny protest­ed fur­ther, but I grabbed her by her hand and dragged her
to­ward the house’s side yard.

“Where are we go­ing?” she whined.

“One of the win­dows over here is bust­ed open. We can get in through there.”

“I’m not tall enough!”

“I’ll lift you through.”

I walked over to the win­dow and pushed up on the cracked and cloudy glass.
It slid up­ward eas­i­ly but with­out any­thing to prop it up I was stuck hold­ing it
open. I mo­tioned Gin­ny over and told her to bring me a branch that was on the
ground a few feet away. I snapped a few inch­es off the end and then jammed it
in­to the win­dow frame.

“OK,” I said. “Now I can lift you up in­to there.”


I lift­ed her through and then fol­lowed her in, then reached in­to her bag and
pulled out the Hal­loween flash­light with the plas­tic Jack-O-Lantern on the end
that Mom had bought for her at the dol­lar store. I flicked it on and it cast an
ane­mic glow on the walls around us.

“It’s still too dark,” Gin­ny protested.

“Scaredy cat,” I taunt­ed her.

“Am not!” she cried and stalked off ahead of me. I fol­lowed close­ly behind,
not want­i­ng her to get swal­lowed up by the darkness.

Soon I could make out the re­mains of the kitchen. Every ap­pli­ance had been
stripped from it, but you could see the emp­ty spaces where the re­frig­er­a­tor and
stove had once been. The smell of rot­ting food hung in the air, caus­ing us both
to gag a bit. As we made our way across the room, I heard a thump­ing noise
com­ing from in­side one of the cabinets.

Gin­ny jumped. “What’s that?”

I flung the cab­i­net door wide open and a mouse scur­ried out of it, down to
the floor and away past Ginny’s feet. Gin­ny shrieked and start­ed crying.

“Hey, don’t wor­ry,” I told her, putting my hand on her shoul­der. “It was
just a mouse. It’s gone now.”

“It’s not gone,” she snif­fled. “It’s still around here some­where, wait­ing to
run out and eat my toes.”

I laughed. “Oh my god. It is not go­ing to eat your toes. Where did you get
that idea?”

“I saw it on TV,” she said. “They found a dead body and mice were eat­ing its
fin­gers and toes and so the po­lice couldn’t find out who it was by the
fin­ger­prints and toe prints and they had to pull out the dead person’s teeth to
find out who it was.”

“That’s just a TV show. It’s not re­al.” I gave her the sternest brotherly
look I could muster. “Be­sides, you shouldn’t be watch­ing that stuff anyway.
You’re too young and impressionistic.”

“Mom and Dad let me!” she protested.

Just then, we heard a loud clang­ing sound from down­stairs in the base­ment. I
whirled around in fright as if the source of the noise were right next to me
and Gin­ny shrieked.

“More mice?” she sug­gest­ed hopefully.

“I don’t know. Let’s go find out.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Be­cause it is scary and there­fore it is fun. Come on.”

I worked my way along the wall, look­ing for the door that led to the
base­ment. Af­ter open­ing the doors to a few clos­ets and a bath­room, I found the
right one. I mo­tioned for Gin­ny to fol­low me and then care­ful­ly made my way

The base­ment reeked of mildew, rot, and a faint smoky smell. I caught a hint
of move­ment in a cor­ner at the far end of the room. I trained the flash­light on
that spot and could vague­ly make out the shape of what looked like a person
hud­dled in the cor­ner. The per­son coughed.

“Zom­bie!” I shout­ed. “Run!”

We both turned around and bolt­ed back up­stairs. I slammed the base­ment door
shut, grabbed Gin­ny and head­ed to­ward the win­dow. With­out say­ing a word, I lifted
her through the win­dow and then fol­lowed be­hind her. We ran hand-in-hand from
the house and were a cou­ple of blocks away be­fore I fi­nal­ly stopped to catch my

I looked down at Gin­ny and tears were stream­ing out of her eyes. “I’m
scared,” she cried. “Is the zom­bie com­ing to get us?”

I wiped the tears off her face. “No, it’s not com­ing to get us. It wasn’t
even a zom­bie, re­al­ly. It can’t be a zom­bie be­cause zom­bies aren’t re­al. I just
got scared be­cause it was so dark in there. Be­sides, zom­bies don’t cough.”

Gin­ny snif­fled and at­tempt­ed to give me a hug, giv­ing up when she realized
she couldn’t bend her arms be­cause of her cos­tume. “Ok. If you say so.”

“Look. I need to go back there. If there’s some­one sick in the basement,
they might need help. You don’t have to come if you don’t want. I can walk you
home first.”

Ginny’s eyes widened. “What if it’s a murderer?”

“I don’t think it is, but if so I’ve got an or­ange belt in Kung Fu so I
could prob­a­bly take him.”

Gin­ny looked at me and thought about it for a mo­ment. “OK. Let’s go back.”

Walk­ing the few blocks back to the aban­doned house, we passed a group of
kids go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion who were dressed up as pi­rates. They all
seemed to have bought the same cos­tume from the Hal­loween store, which actually
made them look slight­ly scari­er, like a hoard of pi­rate clones. I didn’t
rec­og­nize any of the kids, so we passed by them with­out a word.

“Yarrr!” I heard one of them yell when they were about a block away.

“Yo ho!” an­oth­er replied.

We got back to the house and en­tered through the same win­dow we had gone in
be­fore. I nav­i­gat­ed my way back to the base­ment door with Gin­ny close­ly behind
me and then we made our way down­stairs. As we de­scend­ed the stairs, I thought
about what Gin­ny said about this per­son in the base­ment maybe be­ing a murderer.
Sure I had Kung Fu train­ing, but if the per­son had a gun then we were in big
trou­ble. I didn’t want to wimp out, though, so I tried not to think about it
too hard.

“Hel­lo?” I called when we reached the bot­tom of the stairs. “Is there
some­one down there?”

“What are you ask­ing that for?” a woman’s voice re­spond­ed. “You al­ready seen

I point­ed the flash­light to where the voice was com­ing from and saw the same
vague, per­son-like shape I had seen be­fore. I slow­ly moved clos­er to it un­til I
could see the woman.

“Umm… hi,” I said to her.

“Psssh,” she responded.

As I looked the woman over, the idea that she might be a zom­bie briefly
re­turned to my mind. She was wear­ing dirty, tat­tered clothes and looked like
she hadn’t bathed in weeks. Her face was sunken and her hair was greasy and
mat­ted. I was afraid she might start try­ing to claw out my in­ter­nal or­gans at
any giv­en mo­ment. How­ev­er, rather than make a move to­ward me she remained
col­lapsed in a heap on the floor look­ing like she wouldn’t have the en­er­gy to
stand up let alone evis­cer­ate me.

“What are you do­ing down here, la­dy?” Gin­ny asked. “Nobody’s sup­posed to
live here.”

“I was sleep­ing, god­damnit,” the woman mut­tered ir­ri­ta­bly. “What are you
kids do­ing in here? And why are you dressed so god­damn funny?”

“It’s Hal­loween,” I told her. “We came in here be­cause we thought the house
might be haunted.”

The woman snick­ered. “Wooooo,” she said. “Wooooooooo!”

I looked at the floor around where she was sit­ting. There were a cou­ple of
emp­ty vod­ka bot­tles, a small pile of cig­a­rette butts, and some syringes.

“What’s your name?” I asked the woman.

“Leia,” she replied. “Princess Leia. What’s yours?”

“What are the nee­dles for?” I asked her, de­lib­er­ate­ly avoid­ing her question.

“Med­i­cine. I’m re­al sick.”

“They’re for drugs,” Gin­ny whis­pered to me. “I saw it on TV. She puts the
drugs in her arm and be­tween her toes.”

“Lis­ten,” the woman said. “You two aren’t tat­tle­tales, are you? I mean,
you’re not go­ing to go telling oth­er peo­ple that I’m here, right? I ain’t
hurtin’ no­body, just tryin’ to live, you know? No­body was us­ing this house
any­way and I fig­ured if no­body else, why not me?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “If you’re sick, maybe you should get some help.”

“Nobody’s gonna help me,” the woman sneered. “They just want to put me in
jail for us­ing my own med­i­cine in­stead of theirs. No­body, no­body, nobody’s
gonna help me. So keep them away. Keep. Them. Away.”

“Are you re­al­ly a princess?” Gin­ny asked.

The woman looked con­fused. “What? A princess? Huh?”

I took Gin­ny aside. “You’re right. This woman is on drugs. That’s why she’s
act­ing so crazy. I think it’s mar­i­jua­na. You can tell by the nee­dles. We need
to go home and tell Mom and Dad so they can call the police.”

Gin­ny start­ed cry­ing. “What will hap­pen to Princess Leia if we call the

“I don’t know,” I said grave­ly. “I think they have spe­cial jails for drug
users and she’ll go there so they can get her off the drugs.”

Gin­ny cried loud­er. “She just wants to live!”

“Lis­ten to your sis­ter,” the woman said. “She knows what she’s talking

“OK, la­dy,” I told her, “we’re go­ing to leave and we won’t tell anyone
you’re here.”

“Re­al­ly?” she asked. “Aww shit, you kids are cool. Hey, lit­tle girl, why do
you got broom­sticks taped to her arms?”

“We’ve got to go now,” I said. “Good­bye.”

“Hey, peace be with you,” the woman said with a drowsy grin.

I grabbed Gin­ny and head­ed back to­ward the stairs. She snif­fled and waved
good­bye to the woman as we as­cend­ed the steps. The woman didn’t seem to see

“OK,” I said when we had made our way back out­side. “We need to hur­ry home
and tell Mom and Dad.”

Ginny’s eyes widened. “I thought we weren’t go­ing to tattle!”

“I just said that so she wouldn’t try to hurt us. Drug users are dangerous.
Come on, let’s go.”

We hadn’t got­ten far when we ran in­to the pi­rates again. They seemed to have
got­ten row­di­er and in­creased in num­bers since the last time we saw them. At the
front of the pack, one of the pi­rates was jab­bing a cap­tive in the back with a
plas­tic cut­lass while the rest of the group shout­ed, “Walk the plank! Walk the

The cap­tive was a scrawny boy dressed as a were­wolf. He was tied up with
bungee cords and looked like he had been cry­ing. Be­ing old­er than these kids, I
de­cid­ed to intervene.

“What are you do­ing to that were­wolf?” I asked. “You need to let him go.”

“He’s our pris­on­er!” shout­ed one of the pi­rates. “We’re go­ing to make him
walk the plank!”

“Yeah!” joined in a few of the oth­er pirates.

“Go home, you lit­tle twerps,” I told them. I grabbed the were­wolf and pulled
him away from his cap­tors. This was met with howls of outrage.

“He’s try­ing to take our pris­on­er!” shout­ed one.

“Get him!” screamed another.

The gang of pi­rates rushed me, plas­tic swords drawn. Sud­den­ly I was being
buf­fet­ed by small fists and plas­tic swords. Gin­ny yelled hys­ter­i­cal­ly at them
to stop, but I soon found my­self on the ground be­ing kicked all over my body
with an oc­ca­sion­al blow land­ing on my head. I felt on the verge unconsciousness
when some­one shout­ed, “Zom­bie!” and the kicks all stopped at once. I heard the
foot­steps of the pi­rates as they all ran in uni­son and I felt a wave of relief
wash over me. Zom­bie or not, at least I was fi­nal­ly safe from that vi­cious gang
of pre­teen pirates.

“Oh hi, Princess Leia!” I heard Gin­ny say above me.

I pushed my­self up off the ground slow­ly, feel­ing bat­tered and bro­ken. Blood
trick­led out of my nose and on­to the pave­ment be­low. I had lost a few fights
be­fore, but nev­er had I been beat­en up as bad­ly as I was by those miniature
ma­raud­ers. The woman from the base­ment of the aban­doned house was stand­ing a
few feet away and shak­ing her head.

“It’s a sad state of af­fairs when pi­rates are al­lowed to roam the streets,
beat­ing the tar out of in­no­cent chil­dren,” she said grimly.

“What are you do­ing here, Princess?” Gin­ny asked. “Did you come out here to
save my big brother?”

The woman looked con­fus­ed­ly at Gin­ny. “I’m out of med­i­cine. Time to move on.
Ain’t nowhere to buy it in this neigh­bor­hood that I can find.”

With that, the woman pat­ted Gin­ny on the head and walked off down the
street. Gin­ny waved stiffly at her and then turned her at­ten­tion to­ward the boy
in the were­wolf cos­tume, who was still tied up and had not yet spo­ken a word.

“Are you OK?” she asked him.

He nod­ded mute­ly and then point­ed at me.

“That’s my big broth­er,” Gin­ny said. “He knows Kung Fu.”

I un­tied the boy. He nod­ded in thanks and then walked off.

“Let’s go home,” I said to Gin­ny, winc­ing a bit as I start­ed to walk.

She smiled, took my hand, and led the way as I limped along be­side her.

Filed under Zombies, of or Relating to on May 22nd, 2011

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