The Lasting Impact of The Walking Dead

Zombies? Seriously?

I enter work through the garage, LED-lit, bright, white light, always illuminated because of confusing signage.  A white placard above the light switch, black lettering highlighted yellow: “This Light Must Stay On.” I interpret this to mean during working hours, but the cleaning crew takes it literally. They leave the light on all night. I unlock the door each morning and walk into a huge, well-lit garage.

Two parking bays sit side by side: one houses a delivery van, the other, home to thousands of donated books waiting to be sorted, boxed and stored. They will be sold next July to raise money for the library. I walk through the garage, confident, comfortable, and without a second thought.

I leave the garage into a dark hallway. When the door closes behind me, it’s pitch black, but only for a second. The ghost image of the knob before me seared into my brain shows me where to reach, how to escape this nightmare tomb. My skin crawls, my neck tingles, Zombies emerge from the expandable shelving behind me, the kind of shelves that move as you crank them open and closed to form an aisle where ever you want one. It’s where we store our lightly used books, our unpopular supplies, and any flesh-eating monsters looking for an easy mark. For an instant, I’m in danger. Then I pass through the door.

The next room is dark, not pitch, but shadowy, with hidden figures potentially lurking in the corners. A clever coworker could arrange a jump-scare that would stop my heart. I could flip on the lights, but I arrive an hour before anyone else. That’s a long time to burn electricity for no purpose. I’m the finance guy, I set the example.

I stopped watching the Walking Dead three years ago. Turned off by its inherent racism, and the crushing boredom of continuously watching the characters kill zombies. I have my limits. But dark rooms still set me on edge.

Back in 2018, as I binged the show trying to get caught up, I worked in a building with storage lockers in the basement. We archived financial records there. The central room, large, the walls lined with doorways, some open, some closed, was lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. A damp cinder block passageway angled off from the corner of the room, the dinge disappeared into dark. On occasion, I stood at the mouth of the passage. staring into the gloom, looking for movement, listening for shuffling feet. I never entered that passage, man that basement creeped me out.

In 1999, I watched the movie The Sixth Sense. Haley Joel Osment couldn’t help but see the ghosts that forever surround us. One, a child missing half his head, confronts Haley. “Wanna see where my dad keeps his guns?” That little boy haunts my house. I feel his presence when I use the bathroom in the middle of the night. On these trips, I never look in the mirror, there’s too much I don’t want to see.

1990, my girlfriend and I sat on our bed watching a Blockbuster rental of Pet Sematary on our twenty-inch TV. Our apartment building, with three renters plus the landlord’s family, had an unspoken rule: keep your laundry moving. Midway through the movie, one of us needed to go to the basement to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. After a bit of fearful negotiating, we decided that I (the man) should be the one to brave the basement alone. By the time I returned to my apartment, my nerves failed. I never finished the movie.

Does it seem strange that a sensible adult, a guy pushing sixty, should fear the boogeyman? As a child with OCD, I did a lot of rifling through closets and peaking under beds making sure that no one and nothing lurked waiting for me to let down my guard. Maybe my zombie fear is a natural extension of those childhood habits. Maybe it’s my overactive imagination, the part of me that loves science fiction books and started worrying about the coming pandemic in 1997. Maybe I’m just immature, and I never grew up. Regardless, zombie shows like The Walking Dead have an outsized effect on my general state of mind that I just can’t shake.

Each morning my blood gets a little extra push as I negotiate the unlighted rooms and hallways while making my way to my office. With summer winding down and the days obviously shortening, my shadowy treks through the building expand. By November, the entire trip is in the dark.

Photo by Eléonore Kemmel on Unsplash

22 thoughts on “The Lasting Impact of The Walking Dead

  1. Today I was on the trails running and the weather was completely terrible. So much heat and humidity I had chafing everywhere when I was done. I was just running in a bowl of soup. I do not like running outside in the summer but since Bob has taken over the basement I find that outside is now the only place I like to run. In the morning, we are all regulars. I know who I am going to see and when, with a few oddballs in there. I feel comfortable listening to an audiobook as I run since someone is always in sight. Because of the awful weather today, or for some other reason, the crowd had thinned and there were parts of my run that I could not see someone else in front of or behind me. That is when that fear kicks in for me. Girl with headphones with no one around. The parking garage, the empty running trail, the washer machine in the basement of my college and after college apartments – my zombies took a different form but terrified me just the same and always made me aware of my surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your boogeyman (actual predators) greatly outweigh mine (mythical zombies). Strangely, when I’m out deep in the woods alone, I’m not afraid even though there’s at least some chance that I might meet a predator. But then I start thinking about supernatural threats and I get creeped out and wary.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe I’m the oddball because I *don’t* get scared. I think it has to do with seeing and experiencing so many horrible things, and living through them, that I just don’t get scared anymore🤷🏼‍♀️
    I think you secretly like to flirt with fear cuz they make keychain flashlights, and our phones have them too😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or I could flip on the freaking light. I think part of it is that I know there’s nothing to fear so I don’t let myself avoid that fear by taking sensible action (like turning on a light). When everything was shut down due to the pandemic, I browsed our library shelves via flashlight. Man, that was scary.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For some*, horror films are like dark stepping stones along a dark passage; they might become a trapdoor at any moment, plunging us through the floorboards separating life and nightmare. Such is the legacy of childhood fear, I fear.

    * including the respondent

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve watched a total of one horror movie in the past ten years. Eli loves them and wanted to watch one with me. Luckily it was pretty stupid and hard to build up any real fear, but even while watching that movie I worried about having to navigate a darkened house after the movie. I’m simply a wimp.

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  4. It seems like youa re working on your fear of the dark each morning when you leave the garage each morning and enter the darkness. I have an unhealthy fear of alligators, so I have some sense of what you experience with regards to the boogeyman…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t quite understand the popularity of zombie movies. The original “Night of the Living Dead” was scary because it was so bad that it almost seemed like a documentary. I assume zombies and vampires express something about our humanity, but I don’t get it myself.

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  6. I despise horror movies. I feel like there is enough to scare the sh*t out of me in real life. I’m not so afraid of the dark though. I used to close my eyes as a kid and navigate blindly around my house and even my neighborhood, just to prove to myself that I could. I think it was because of the Helen Keller biography that I read. I don’t do that so much now that I live in NYC!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I was a kid, I loved horror movies. Something flipped over in my adult life. Once in college quite late at night and with the help of ‘concentration aids’ a group of friends and I explored my college campus blindfolded. Interesting experience. Something else that’s better left to youth.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m still afraid of the dark, although not nearly as much as when I believed demons were a real thing (they made me afraid in the light sometimes too). I know there’s nothing there now but it’s much better if I can see.

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  8. I’m instantly bored by anything zombie. Unless it’s a story about them like this! They just bore me so much but I have no doubt that if I were to get past my boredom enough to actually watch a zombie movie I would be really, really scared. And, no question, I’d be creeped out walking in the darkness of an empty library. No way would I do that. I think you are actually incredibly brave to show up an hour before everyone else AND walk through the darkness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I worked for a while in a charter school (really old school building). One time, alone in the building, clear as a bell, a child’s voice right behind me said ‘hello’, *That* freaked me out. I had a hard time being in that building alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve come to believe (at nearly 65) that aging alters how we perceive things like scary movies or threats of violence (real or imagined). When younger, I was able to watch scary/violent movies, being suitably scared/repulsed but without any lingering issues invading my dreams (or keeping me awake). Maybe there’s a thrill-seeking aspect that our younger selves enjoys when watching frightening and violent scenes in films, making us feel…alive, brave, and ultimately safe in our boring lives? Now, I can’t stomach any of it. Maybe that’s the result of greater sensitivity as a more mature adult who has seen/read too much of how bad some people can be to others. Or maybe it’s from the supersaturation of tragedy-filled news in our daily lives – why pile on when life is scary enough in real time?

    I’ve seen this shift play out in the novels I read. No more thrillers, despite reading nothing but those in my twenties and thirties (think James Patterson and similar stuff). Only lighter fare now. Maybe in my seventies and eighties I’ll read nothing but humor!

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    • Years ago, my wife stopped reading novels depicting personal strife, Her thinking: I’m reading for pleasure, why make myself unhappy with it? Me, on the other hand, I’m constantly upsetting myself with the books I take out from the library. I keep telling myself to stop, but I never do. Even when I read humor, I usually find something to bum out about.

      Liked by 1 person

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