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How would you like to die?
ZOMBIE JAMES17-10-11-13-LT
James Burns attracted plenty of attention as a zombie at DellOsso Farms in Lathrop. - photo by HIME ROMERO

“We can make your eye pop out of the socket and hang there up against your cheek. ... I’ve got a brain you can carry around. ... We can also make it look like the bone is popping out.”

Cheryl Airrington specializes in raising the dead.

With a touch of paint and some tattered clothing, the makeup artist at Dell’Osso Family Farms promised she could take a healthy, very-much-alive person and transform them into a zombie in less than two hours.

So I called her bluff.

Sign me up.

The dangling eye ball and exposed bone sounded cool enough. Mix in the fact that this transformation would take place at Dell’Osso Family Farms, where I could haunt my children and others at sunset, and I was all in.

Airrington proceeded to take my measurements for the costume fitting. How tall are you? What size clothing do you normally wear? Do you have ratty shoes?

Then, she smiled sinisterly before asking one last question:

“Have you given any thought to how you would like to die?”

Her question stopped me dead in my tracks. Excuse me? I began to fidget with the business cards on the front counter. For the last 33 years, I’d spent every last bit of my being trying to stay alive.

“Some people like a bullet hole in their head,” she said pressing her index finger into that space between her eyebrows. “Others like to have their throat slashed. Or we could make it look like you were burned.”

I had never thought about my end-game, but a bullet between the eyes wasn’t very high on the list.

Lord knows I’ve dodged a few along the way, though.

There was the time my brother-in-law and I were wrestling atop an old wooden footbridge at a cut-your-own Christmas tree lot somewhere in the foothills. I pushed him. He pushed me. And around we went, a couple of alpha males looking to claim that span as their own.

Below, the creek had gone dry, revealing a sharp rock bed. One stiff shove sent me crashing through the railing and over the edge, until my brother-in-law snatched me by the chest of my sweater.

My toes caught the very lip of the bridge.

My life was literally in his hands.

“You better not let me go!” I said.

Then there were the times in college that I celebrated a little too hard and woke up the next morning feeling like death warmed over. The Sunday morning zombie wore Greek letters, house shoes and pillow hair, and prayed Gatorade would bring him back to life.

My most harrowing brush with death, however, occurred in the fast lane on Highway 99 in Livingston just a few years back.

I was rear-ended.

The car was on my bumper in a hurry, so quickly I had very little time to react. I tried to veer into another lane, but it was too late. The car folded my trunk and cab like an accordion as my head slammed into the steering wheel and then snapped back.

For a split-second, I thought I was a goner. My immediate thoughts were with my wife and children, and the lives I didn’t want to miss.

Which probably explains my hesitation and uneasiness with Airrington’s question: How would you like to die?

I don’t.

I’d prefer not to tempt fate by dreaming up some graphic, wonderfully horrific death scenario.

But you can’t become a member of the walking dead without a tragic death of some sort. Every zombie needs a story, a reason to re-enter the land of the living and terrorize those with a pulse.

A colleague suggested my death come via an airborne virus during an apocalyptic event, following traditional zombie tales.

My 5-year-old son offered a variety of different scenarios, all of which sounded conspicuously like cartoon and superhero battles. I could die in a sword fight. An arrow could pierce my chest. The Hulk could SMASH! me.

Alas, I drew on the one mistake my mother said would haunt me the rest of my life.

Without going into great detail, I burned my upper arm with a red-hot poker while on a camping trip with some buddies. At the time, I told my parents it was a show of strength, to which they shook their head and offered their disappointment.

“You’ll regret it,” my mother said of the keloid scarring.

All these years later, she’s right – and it’s my burden to bear. 

So how would I like to die, Cheryl?

Burns, I guess.