Employee handbooks don’t have protocols for apocalyptic episodes.
A fire, cuts, falls, earthquakes and other natural disasters – yes.
The advent of the walking dead, however … yeah, good luck troubleshooting that.
So imagine the guts it took for the security guard at Dell’Osso Family Farms to chase away a zombie with the smoldering flesh and a graveyard scent.
With nothing more than a fluorescent vest and “Security” hat, the gentleman single-handedly warded off Thursday’s invasion at the popular pumpkin and fall attraction along Interstate 5.
He tugged on his belt and summoned the courage to approach the walking dead – me in costume – near the entrance to Kiddie Land. By now, I had my family in tow and had forgotten I was still in costume.
“Sir, a manager has asked that you not scare as many people.”
Nearby, Dell’Osso employee and face-painter extraordinaire Cheryl Airrington was preparing for a pumpkin painting class.
She smiled as I sauntered by, playfully stretching my arms out in front of me and dragging my feet through the dirt.
While the warning was genuine, it was also a nod to the creative genius of Airrington.
I was scary without even trying.
Just two hours earlier, Airrington had begun creating this masterpiece in her face-painting tent, transforming me into a zombie with layers of fake rubber skin, makeup and paint, a tattered black tuxedo and a wig.
The end result was truly horrifying. I was unrecognizable to even those that know me best – my family.
My son, well aware of this transformation, wouldn’t come within 5 feet of me until I had taken off the costume. He cowered behind his mother, who also refused her love until later. My daughter ran in the other direction, finding a quick getaway in the alley behind the petting zoo.
“Is that really your skin?” they’d ask.
Flesh hung from my face. Maggots played in the wound on my left cheek. My teeth had rotted colors yellow and black, and there was exposed bone on chest, arms and legs. My hair was disheveled and tossed.
Management was right. Kids were scared at the sight of this creature of the dark, some to the point of paralysis.
In his haste to escape me, one boy got his foot wedged between pumpkins trying to jump aisles back to the safety of his parents. He was stuck, and as I drew near, he froze.
Not a sound. Not a last-ditch effort to free himself. Not so much as a single blink of his eyes.
He was frozen in fear.
But let’s not lose sight of one thing: For reasons I can’t explain, people – young, old and in between – love zombies like they love their celebrities.
Globally, there is a cult following bleeding into mainstream appeal. How else can you explain the number of zombie fun runs, TV shows and blockbuster movies?
Locally, people stopped in their tracks, stared and pointed, and a few even gravitated toward me.
Suffice to say, the crowd on Thursday evening was intrigued by this zombie, limping and moaning about the grounds, lurking in the corn stalks.
For over an hour, I was no different than a character at Disneyland or Great America. Unwittingly, I had become an ambassador for the pumpkin patch.
I was an attraction, or at the very least, a reason to use your digital and cell phone cameras.
A chaperone from Modesto’s Beard Elementary School organized a class photo with my dead alter-ego. Students stood to my left and right, focused more on the makeup on my face than the camera.
One little boy teased me: “I’m not scared of the dead-less zombie.” He later begged Airrington for the same custom paint job. “I want a zombie face like his.”
Bless his soul.
A little girl with a sporty ponytail simply offered a wave of her hand, while an employee working the spinning pumpkins ride marveled at my dental work … or the lack thereof.
Thursday’s adventure as a zombie confirmed two suspicions:
One, Airrington is really good with a set of paints and brushes.
And secondly, management might have been spooked by the editor masquerading as a zombie … but the people loved it.