This is it. The waning minutes before nightfall in downtown Salem, the moment before a zombie attacks. It is the split heartbeat in which the man before you on the side walk is either your neighbor out for a stroll or a brain-devouring, flesh-craving cannibal crawled out of his own grave.
And this is the moment Salem found itself in on Thursday October 22 at 5:59, when it was unclear whether the city would embrace its own inherent zombie-ness, or chalk another cross-community effort up to one more thing that has failed to stick in this town.
To be sure, Salem was more than ready for a zombie attack – for its families and singles and professionals and maybe even a few commuters from neighboring communities to stop drooling and shuffling and start consuming the city’s cultural products.
You know, Salem’s brains.
And it is clear that Salem has a lot on common with zombies. Yes, zombies lack the sexiness of other monster archetypes, just as Salem struggles still to find a sexiness that will get pulses racing without scaring off moms. But the most compelling new zombie incarnations in popular culture aren’t mindless cannibals controlled by an evil force – they really just want to eat your brains.
I am happy to report that the dead have risen in Salem and the brains taste good.
More actual life graced the streets of downtown Salem during the Culture Shock Community Project’s 13 Nights of Halloween than enliven these storied boulevards on most Saturday nights.
I finally saw the signs of a pulse I have been waiting for – starting with the zombie walk, and continuing with zombie yoga, an Ed Wood film festival at the Salem Cinema, a presentation on Haunted Salem, and a screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show, just to name a few – in Salem last month.
But we are still a city that is desperate to be lured out of its self-imposed cemetery by even the most fleeting signs of life.
At 5:30 p.m. the Saturday after the zombie parade, I stood on the breezeway over Chemeketa Street as a few dozen dancers – their eyes blackened, their teeth oozing, their clothes mere rags – pushed themselves up from the asphalt and reenacted the dance sequence from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video for eleven full minutes. Around them, four hundred people, baby buggies and all, watched and cheered as the dancers transformed that everyday zombie shuffle into MJ’s iconic moves.
Zombies always have it in them to move a crowd.
Afterward, a friend and I walked through Salem. We stopped at a convenience store on Liberty Street that was inconveniently closed. We were pushed promptly out of Engelberg Antiks, though the store’s staff had forgotten to lock its doors. We laughed and snarked about how lame Salem can get on a Saturday night.
And then it struck me: Zombies don’t let a little thing like a closed store stop them from finding life. They tear down walls, they scratch through doors. Their hunger for brains is so complete and unrelenting that it drives their every step.
So I leaned on my left foot, dragged my right. My mouth watered, and I shuffled my way to the Book Bin.
A real zombie always needs more brains.