By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
King Henry VIII was on the throne, working his way through Anne Boleyn on his wife-littered path to notoriety. The village of Scarborough, England, was under siege, not from power-hungry French or Spanish kings but from a virus of unknown origin. Without warning, entire families turned into zombies, gnashing at each other until every household was infected. And Whiskey Grimes, monster hunter in training, was on the front lines of the resistance.
Grunting and groaning like the achy-breaky undead that they were, a family of newly minted zombies staggered toward spry warrior Whiskey, stumbling across the grassy yard of the local sword smith. To Whiskey's right, a fortune-teller seemed bemused by her predicament; Whiskey took solace in the seer's indifference. "Surely, if I were destined to be maimed, the fortune-teller would be preparing to come to my aid," thought Whiskey—or she would at least call Ye Olde 911.
Whiskey stood at the ready, slightly crouched with her right hand hovering over the mallet she would need to drive sharp wooden stakes into zombie brains, ensuring their return to their natural corpse state. But as their glazed expressions came ever sharper into focus with each step, Whiskey was paralyzed by flashbacks of the traumatic night when her family was consumed by the zombie virus, dying and then becoming terrifyingly resurrected before her very eyes. She remembered looking back as she ran from her small English village, recalling the all too vivid and painful image of her loving father tearing a massive chunk of flesh out of her mother's arm with his rotten teeth.
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And so Whiskey fled these approaching zombies and hid behind the nearest tree. She could only hope that her mentor, the legendary Sir Daniel Raptus, could save them both from the heinous plague of zombie undeath. Just in time, Sir Daniel swooped before the zombies, black cape casting a long shadow in the setting sun. Still dripping with the fresh blood of their kin, the zombies halted at his command. Sir Daniel had vanquished these kinds of creatures before and would again. After all, it was his duty as the world's most famous slayer of monsters and hunter of ethereal beings. As for Whiskey, she would maintain her title: Magnificently Mediocre Monster Hunter in Training.
That is perhaps how the great zombie plague of 1533 would be remembered were it to be immortalized on parchment in the Mythical Monster Museum, an immersive magical attraction at Waxahachie's Scarborough Renaissance Festival, which is often called Scarborough Faire. But what really happened on one pleasant weekend in May 2008 was slightly less dramatic: A girl in a velvet corset ran from a family of wrap-around sunglasses enthusiasts, ducking and covering as a towering man in a wide-brimmed black hat looked on with feigned dismay. The corseted girl was me, and the family had been enticed into mock zombification for my monster training education by my instructor, the man in the cape known as Sir Daniel Raptus.
'Tis the beauty of the Ren fair. If you'll pay $20 to walk around and look at blown glass, overpriced swords and people in feathered caps, you're likely to do just about anything for entertainment—including act like a zombie. Lucky for this family, they encountered the best thing about Scarborough—the mythical monster hunters played by artists-actors-designers-craftsmen-and-special-effects-gurus Daniel Carro and Allen Hopps. As Sir Daniel Raptus and Magnus Krane, respectively, the men spend eight weekends a year slaying monsters and educating the public on the potential dangers of fairies, ogres and vampires.
Their jobs combine live theater, improvisational comedy and on-the-spot family counseling as they wander the festival giving impromptu lectures, executing slapstick bits and making the occasional child cry for no apparent reason. Ever brave and courageous, Raptus, the God-fearing medieval superman, and Krane, styling himself a 16th-century Crocodile Hunter, agreed to take on an apprentice in this reporter. They dubbed me Whiskey Grimes (named for my cat) and armed me with a rusty ax. I wanted to specialize in zombie hunting, and I knew I would be able to find no better teachers than these. But more than having the knowledge necessary to save myself and others from the brain-num-num-numming hordes, I wanted to possess the power held by Raptus and Krane: the ability to entice both the cynical and the credulous into moments of pure belief in their realm of monsters and ghosts.
In the most dangerous assignment of my career, I embedded with Raptus and Krane, vowing to face whatever came our way. There would be times of trial, encountering trolls and vampires with sinister plans and barely beating out World of Warcraft geeks in monster trivia contests. Most disconcertingly, I would begin referring to the entire event as "Faire," the painfully nerdy, assumptive term with no preceding article used by regulars to mean a field full of corseted women rather than a place with corny dogs and cotton candy. My mouth, busy with monster business, just couldn't be bothered to say the whole thing.
But the ultimate challenge for this fledgling monster hunter would be a battle of summer blockbuster proportion. Magnus Krane, captured by a 10-foot-tall ogre, would have to rely on his pupil to rescue him from certain death. Would Whiskey Grimes rise to the occasion, becoming the fearless monster hunter she dreamed of being? Or would she fail miserably, leaving her mentor to die at the hand of a bloodthirsty beast as people sipping from Styrofoam cups of Dr Pepper looked on in horror? That would all depend on my ability to suspend reality.