While travelling through deep South Jersey on a solo birding trip, I found myself dining in a little luncheonette in the sleepy shore town of Sandy Springs. It’s a pleasant little burg with the usual array of homes, shops and eateries. Everything there is local, though. There are no golden arches or chain stores full of cheap clothing. In fact, the hardware store is still family owned. Try to find one of them these days!
While finishing my last cup of coffee, my eyes wandered over to a small table near the cashier that contained a group of stuffed dolls, pennants and T-shirts. As I went up to pay the bill, I inquired about the merchandise.
“Oh,” said the cashier, in the usual South Jersey drawl. “That’s Undead Ted! He’s a fireman.”
“Is he a real person?” I asked.
“A real zombie person,” she said. “He’s been part of the fire company for a while now. Ted’s a local hero here and real popular. Why, this past Halloween, all the kids, boy or girl, dressed as Undead Ted. Actually, one girl dressed as some internet character name of Carnage, but she wasn’t out long.”
Intrigued by her story, I identified myself as a correspondent for the internet site Bloody Whisper and wondered if there was someone who could give me more information about Ted.
“Well, you could go down to the firehouse and talk to the Chief. I don’t understand though. You said something about Blondie Whispers. Now, I read the funnies every Sunday and Blondie seems to be yelling at Dagwood all the time.”
Rather than explain myself further, I thanked her for her help, purchased one of the dolls, and headed out the door. As is the case in many small towns, there was a sign directing people to the police and fire stations. Leaving my car in the parking lot, I walked down the street to the fire company. It took all of ten minutes to get there.
I stood before a sign that read “Home of Undead Ted – Fire Company 587B.” Ted was getting top billing at the firehouse. I walked into the office and spoke to the receptionist. I told her that I was with Bloody Whisper, an internet site that dealt with horror and I wanted to do a story on Undead Ted. She asked me to take a seat and she would call the Chief.
She dialed the Chief’s extension.
“Yes, Chief? There’s some man here from a thing called Bloody Whiskers. He wants to do a story on Undead Ted. Yeah, I thought that too, but what can I say?”
Turning to me, she told me the Chief would be right out. A rather large individual strode into the office and offered me his hand.
“I’m Chief Wayne St. David. I hear you want to do an article on Undead Ted. Why would a British website about facial hair want to do a story on Ted? He’s a zombie. He can’t grow a beard!”
“Not Whiskers,” I corrected him, “Bloody Whisper. We write about horror.”
“Oh,” said the man. “That makes more sense.”
After a few moments, the Chief settled down and began to talk about Ted.
“Yeah, Ted shambled into town about nine months ago. Like any zombie, he was trying to make a free meal out of one of our citizens. With such a small population, we really didn’t have anyone to spare. The townsfolk chased after him and were going to burn him. But, funny enough, he wasn’t afraid of fire. That gave me an idea.
“I captured him and brought him around to the firehouse. The other firemen were a little skeptical of what I had planned, but I’m the Fire Chief and they knew better than to question me. The next time we had a fire, I brought Ted along. It was the Kissling residence and we knew that one of the kids was still somewhere in the house. So, we dressed Ted up in a flame retardant suit, strapped a body cam to him and a rope and sent him in to find the kid. Sure enough, he did. Thank goodness we also put a visor on him or he would have eaten the boy. We were able to send a fireman in and grab the kid. We reeled Ted in and the rest is history.
“Since then, Ted has been a big part of the department. He has already saved several lives. He is very popular with the town. As a matter of fact, he’s gonna be Santa Claus in our Thanksgiving Day Parade here. This past Halloween, nearly every kid was Ted. The only one who didn’t dress as Ted was that girl who dressed as some internet person named Carnage. Man, she was weird.”
I told him I had heard about that.
“Being a zombie, doesn’t he have a need for flesh? How do you keep him from eating the other firemen?”
“We had a time trying to figure that one out. A friend of mine at the Highway and Streets Department came up with a solution. All road kill in the township is sent here and used to feed Ted. And he eats them all. Sometimes, the locals provide food for him. During deer hunting season, Mr. Kissling sent over a deer he shot to thank Ted for saving his son. The local deli sends over all its expired cold cuts. Yeah, Ted is living high on the hog. Is living the right word?”
It looked as though they had thought of everything. Then the Chief made an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Would you like to meet Ted?” he asked.
I jumped at the chance.
Chief St. David led me to the back of the fire hall. There was a small house there. He unlocked the front door and we entered to find bars running the length of the floor. They ended at a door that appeared to be locked and bolted. Behind it, was a zombie, dressed in a fire department uniform. His badge was polished and had the monogram “UT.” He looked at the two of us and moved toward the bars. He extended his arms, trying to grab whoever was nearest.
“Ted’s a little feisty today. His dinner hasn’t come yet.”
“He can’t get out of this, can he?” I asked.
“No. There is only one key and I have it on me at all time. The bars are reinforced steel. And the door was once part of the local prison.”
I was about to take a picture of Ted with my phone, but the Chief asked me not to. Apparently, Ted’s image is copyrighted and the dolls, T-shirts and other Ted merchandise are dependent on that copyright being enforced. In spite of that, he was willing to sell me an 8 X 10 glossy of Ted, autographed.
How do you get a zombie to autograph a picture?
I thanked the Chief for his time and his information. I told him that the article would appear on our website, BloodyWhisper.com.
“BloodyWhimpers.com?” he asked. “Is the site is about crying children? You know that girl who dressed like that Carnage character took last place at the Halloween Costume Contest. She might be on that site.”