I’m part of a leadership class for my job and, as I’m sure many of you have done at camp or job training or seminars or whatever, we played a word game meant to establish team building. Only mine took a really dark turn really fast and I found it really interesting.
The game is this – everyone in your group gets in a circle, the facilitator gives you the first few words of a story and everyone then goes around the circle saying one word a piece. It’s meant to establish how different people think in very different way. In my case, the start of the story was “A girl was running in the woods.”
By the time my group was done the girl had died, been eaten by a bear and zombies, had prostethetic legs for some reason and then the zombies had ridden on horses through a lake, I think. It was the end of the day and I was a little punchy but here’s why I bring it up – the story turned to horror almost immediately.
Why? I’ve got some theories (some of which pertain to this particular group but that’s not important) but the main one is that horror stories can be easy. Easier than love stories or human dramas anyway. If the girl is running in the woods, she’s running away from something and while it might be her feelings or her sense of self or something else philosophical or frilly it’s more fun to tell the group she’s running from a bear or a zombie. Or in my case, both.
It was interesting and I would imagine most of this group don’t watch horror films or read horror books on a regular basis which makes it more interesting. When forced to tell a story, even if it’s just one word, everyone picked a horror story because it can be the fastest way to be interesting. Plus, who doesn’t like hearing about a zombie versus a bear? I wrote a short story based on the excercise (I’m already the weirdo of the group) and thought you might get a kick out of it knowing the back story.
Once A Girl Went Running in the Forest
By Mike Bockoven
The bear was confused. The zombie, much more so.
Both creatures, ravenous and desperate but for very different reasons, had stumbled upon the girl in the middle of the forest. Somewhere, deep inside the zombie’s brain in that part where the human had once felt things other than hunger, he felt a pang of something he couldn’t identify but he once knew as sadness. The girl, young and in the prime of her life, had obviously gone running to escape the madness and fires and blood that had consumed the world and had made it into the forest but then things got…weird.
Her legs did not give off the “meat” smell that drove the zombie forward, forward, forward. They weren’t meat. They were something else and even the zombie’s brain, driven only by hunger, stopped for a moment to try to figure out what he was dealing with. The bear, once mighty but now thin and weak, who was near the girls head, was struggling with something entirely different. The girl’s head was tangled up tangle of delicate white fabric. If the bear possessed the words for “wedding dress” it wouldn’t have mattered to him one bit. It was obscuring the best meal he’d seen in weeks.
Several feet behind the zombie was a stump. A sharp stick was protruding from the girls head. A few hundred yards back, a bouquet of flowers had rotted, leaving only stems and a decorative cloth that held them together. If the bear had a little more brain capacity, it would be easy to see what happened, and tragic.
It had been her wedding day after all. She had wanted to get married before the world ended, before the hoards came shambling down her street. She had loved her boyfriend with all she had and the thought of not being his bride before her life ended filled her with more dread than the end himself. But the slapdash ceremony had been too late, the love of her life had fled leaving her there and she had run into the forest, crying, desperate and clumsy. Her end had been swift and had ended a lot of suffering.
But the bear didn’t know any of that and, instead, was thinking about was his meal and how whatever was in front of him was not going to take it. The bear knew enough to not eat the zombie and that he was dangerous.
The zombie tried to find something to eat. It was harder than he thought it would be. The prosthetic legs that had failed the girl and led to her death were attached with straps and snaps and harnesses that led up her body covering more of what the zombie wanted. It wasn’t until the bear had grabbed the girl’s head and pulled that the zombie realized this wasn’t a meal. It was a fight. Plus a bear was as good a meal as anything.
Shambling toward the bear, the zombie felt nothing but hunger, the hunger that defined his existence. If he were smart he’d have realized he was no match for the bears but he wasn’t and the fight was over in seconds, the bear’s weak paw still powerful enough to destroy the zombie’s head in one blow. As he had with every victory in his life, the bear let out a sharp, loud growl, letting his fallen enemy know he had made a mistake.
And as the bear drug the body of the girl back to his cave, seven other zombies who had heard the growl started to their slow, shambling pursuit.