The undead are among us. Or at least they will be, on Sunday.
If you're one of the undead, you should already know that Sunday is World Zombie Day. And you probably know all about zombie walks, that unsettling phenomenon where hordes of the mobile dead gather in one place and walk to another, terrifying (or at least piquing the curiosity of) the unsuspecting living along the way.
If you're not yet among the undead but have been itching to give the lifestyle a try, here's your chance. Rip up some old clothes, slather on lots of red paint and other gloppy makeup, practice walking with arms outstretched and one leg dragging behind the other, and scream the word "BRAINS" a lot (it's what zombies eat). For more tips, check out "Zombieland," a comedy of zombie hunting that was the No. 1 movie in America last week.
Being undead has never been more in, as zombie walks scheduled Sunday throughout the U.S. and Europe attest.
"The zombie thing is red-hot now," says Mark Menold, a Pittsburgh musician and TV host who has been organizing zombie walks in his hometown since 2006, affording the ungrateful dead (or those willing to dress like them) the chance to lumber along city streets, arms outstretched, looking for people to terrorize and brains to eat. "Vampires are big right now, too, but they're more of a romantic kind of monster. The zombie, he's just a maniac, he doesn't care. He's always looking to eat."
In Baltimore, zombies and zombie wannabes will gather outside the Inner Harbor Barnes & Noble at 1 p.m. Sunday, then walk through the Inner Harbor area to Geppi's Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards. In Westminster, they'll be massing, also at 1 p.m., at the 140 Village Shopping Center, then shuffle on relentlessly, as zombies always do, until they reach the Carroll Arts Center, for a free screening of every zombie's favorite flick, George Romero's set-in-Pittsburgh "Night of the Living Dead."
(To prove zombies aren't heartless, walkers are asked to bring along a canned food item or something else to benefit charity.)
It's all perfectly grisly: gangs of rotting, but ambulatory, corpses gathering for a stroll. People gawk, little kids cover their eyes, dogs bark. And all the while, the undead just keep walking, walking, walking.
The key, zombie walkers agree, is keeping in character. Don't walk when you can stutter-step (exceptions are made when crossing busy city streets). Don't smile when a vacant stare is still possible. Don't shake a hand when you can gnaw on it. And whenever there's a shop window or car windshield handy, be sure to press your face up against it, looking crazed - and hungry.
"People love to dress up and be something different," says Charlie Ruckus, a 27-year-old film producer who's organizing his third Westminster zombie stroll. "We actually have a lot of kids who come out for the zombie walks. We get people of all ages.
In Baltimore, both the citizenry and the zombies got a peek at what was to come last month, when some 50 zombies gathered on a warm Friday evening at Patterson Park, then walked along Eastern Avenue to the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Southeast Anchor branch. Then, flush with enthusiasm, they continued on to the Walgreens drugstore a few blocks away, where they mixed happily with neighborhood residents out looking for a box of Band-Aids, or maybe an emergency bag of potato chips.
The zombies, finding no brains on the shelves, contented themselves with a soda or other refreshing drink. It was, after all, a hot night, and this zombie-playing bit could only go so far.
"It was great, the looks we were getting from people was priceless," said 26-year-old Heather Leyden of Columbia, who ruined a perfectly good white sweater with gobs of red makeup and refused to break character even once, no matter how many kids went screaming into the night.
"Yeah, we felt so bad for this one kid, he ran into the street and almost got hit by a car," she said.
Her boyfriend, Casey Driskill, 24 and even more horrifying looking, agreed. "Man, he ripped his hand away from his mother and fell into the street. It was amazing."
All along the avenue, people came out of their stores to stare. Jessica Rojas, who works at a smoke shop, couldn't wait to join in. Employees at a local psychic offered prayers for the zombies' souls.
"I say keep it going man," said a smiling Mario James as a stream of zombies passed by. "I think it was really funny, man," agreed his friend, Chris Jackson, 19.
But not everyone was so impressed.
"This is why our economy" is in the tank, said an unsmiling Frank Palizzolo, waiting for a haircut and clearly disgusted by the unholy parade passing by. "People have nothing better to do than this, walking around like [jerks]? Why don't they get jobs?"
Palizzolo's real language was considerably saltier, and he clearly had no time for such shenanigans. But the zombies didn't care. There was still more lurching to be done, more brains to be eaten, more kids to terrify.
"It was fun to watch how the citizens of Highlandtown reacted to having zombies invade their area," said Vince Wilson, 35, a freelance writer who organized the Baltimore walk and is getting ready for the next one Sunday. "The weirdest reactions we got were from individuals who would look up, see zombies walking down the street and not react at all. Like it was something they saw every day."