Happy Halloween! Enjoy Trevor Campbell’s “St. Jesus of the Zombies.”
When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to do a school project on ghosts. My mother, a fervent Catholic, was horrified. At age ten, my concept of ghosts focused mainly on vengeful hauntings and bumps in the night—the kind of stories that my friends and I read in the young reader anthologies we found in the St. Marguerite D’Youville school library. Ghosts were cool and, as I was still afraid of the dark, they had credibility. This didn’t seem to matter to my mom. In her eyes, researching them would leave me vulnerable to corruption (best-case scenario) or possession (worst) so she nudged me in a new direction.
Why didn’t I do a project on saints, instead? They were ghosts, after all. St. Francis of Assisi may not have had the popular appeal of Bloody Mary, but why was I so interested in being frightened, anyway? What was wrong with me? There were enough supernatural threats to contend with without inventing lurid stories that obscured the facts and made spiritual warfare seem like a joke. Men of God don’t do school projects on the spurned phantom mistress of Robert Christie.
Powerless against her “suggestion,” I achieved mental compromise by imagining biblical figures in a different, more macabre manner than before. The supposedly incorrupt body of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, which refused to properly decompose even decades after death—she was much more than a canonized saint. Bernadette was equal parts mummy and zombie, with skin like a soft-rind cheese and an internal populace of spiders and bugs not unlike what I’d seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The Virgin Mary had been luring children into haunted grottos for millennia with the promise of posthumous reward. Like the song of the sirens or, more prosaically, a tootsie pop offered from the passenger window of a suburban panel van, this phantom mistress convinced plenty of children to bend an ear. In the early 20th century, she fed enough war strategy to a trio of Portuguese shepherd children to land them in jail. Within three years, two of them were dead from the flu (and one of which became a mummy-zombie like Bernadette).
Not even Lazarus’s own rise from the grave could best that of JC, who crawled from his scarcely-sealed tomb to dare his incredulous friends to stick their fingers into his open wounds.
And Jesus, king of the saints, was legendary for his time spent as one of the walking dead. Not even Lazarus’s own rise from the grave could best that of JC, who crawled from his scarcely-sealed tomb to dare his incredulous friends to stick their fingers into his open wounds. Incidentally, undead Jesus is the type of spirit that the Ghostbusters would identify as a Class IV haunting due to its similarity to a recognizable human being (and a spectre most reliably banished by direct verbal communication, according to the 1986 dice-based Ghostbusters roleplaying game).
In the end, linking Catholic lore to ghost stories became my way of unravelling and reckoning with them both. I began to realize that there was nothing to fear from the dead and buried. Their stories were just that: stories. As I got older, my fears bled toward more secular interests—such as an obsessive childhood phobia of Charles Manson after accidentally watching the entirety of Helter Skelter on TBS.
There’s plenty of undisputed evil in the world, and every time I’m drawn to an especially dark story I remember my mom’s own fears. While she was wrong about a lot, some of her questions were bang on: Why was I so interested in being frightened? What was wrong with me? And: weren’t there enough threats to contend with without inventing stories that obscured the facts?
I’m Trevor Campbell, a designer, writer, and teacher who likes to spend my time thinking about the way we tell stories about ourselves and the places we call home. My curiosity has led me to travel to almost 40 countries and live and work across North America, Europe, and Asia. I’ve written about arts and culture for NOW Magazine and Metropolis (in Tokyo, Japan). I also wrote a short book about the residents of an apartment building (35 Salisbury Lane) and am currently working on a travel guide to a fictional city (Come to Fittzburg) and my first novel (untitled).