It was a television preacher in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead who said, "When hell is full, the dead will walk the earth."
As tourist season gets in gear, it does appear that hell could be overflowing. There's a vacancy in people's eyes as they stumble blindly along Beale Street, groping for beer and blues while the sun beats horribly down. It almost seems as if the living dead are already walking among us.
On Friday, May 25th, at 6:45 p.m. sharp, in front of the Old Daisy Theater, zombies will appear among the denizens of Beale and begin a slow, inexorable march through downtown Memphis.
Should you run in fear? Two of the zombie army's leaders say no. In fact, they say that their march depends upon mass participation, and they invite you to join them.
"Anyone is welcome," says Lindsey Turner, 25. "Children too! We want to see zombie families!"
"We want this to be a public spectacle," says S.S., 29, who prefers to keep her identity under wraps.
If you wish to join the horde, there are two ways to go about it. The first is by being devoured. If this dramatic reenactment of Night of the Living Dead appeals to you, prominently wear a piece of duct tape on your clothing and wait along the route. The zombies will then slowly descend upon and "consume" you, artfully ripping your clothing and applying copious amounts of fake blood.
The second option is for those who would rather walk undetected among the undead. Show up in front of the Old Daisy between 6:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., already in costume. Zombies, though dangerous and hard to stop, are creatures of conformity and have been known to let people who look like fellow zombies go unharmed. (Currently, the search is on for a zombie prom queen.)
Participants will stumble down Beale Street and toward the South Main Arts District, where plans are to walk along the South Main Art Trolley Tour. Groaning and calling out for brains, they will "attack" people stationed along the route and drift in and out of local businesses and galleries. When the march concludes on G.E. Patterson, there will be an after-party at Ernestine and Hazel's for the 21-and-up set. The event will proceed rain or shine. After all, zombies don't care about the weather.
But is there a method to all this madness? Could the zombies have some political or commercial motivation behind their organized undead march? The zombie leaders say no.
"I have to say that there's really no message or cause," S.S. says with a shrug. "The message is just that this is a public spectacle. This is absurdism."
"Plus, I think it would be great to freak out the people on Beale Street," says Turner, laughing.
There are a few ground rules in place to ensure that everyone has a good time and doesn't get arrested. No drinking during the march. No touching or harassing bystanders. No blocking traffic or damaging property. No scaring children. "And no eating brains without sharing," insists S.S.
So instead of staying home or going to a bar next Friday, take to the street. Zombies want to multiply, and for that, they need you. Don't be scared. After the first bite, it doesn't hurt anymore.
To volunteer or for more information, go to zombiesinvadememphis.blogspot.com. Wanted: experienced makeup artists.