REDLANDS -- An eerie specter appeared over the Hillside Memorial Park grave of Chris Long Friday night. A crowd of pale, bloody figures surrounded the headstone just as the sun was setting, a tribute to the zombie-loving boy who died at age 22 after a 10-hour battle with leukemia.
"I know he would have loved this, celebrating his life in this most fabulous and unusual way," said Long's step father, Stan Waite, as he raised a shot glass over the grave with his fake festering, gashed arm.
The motley crew of blood-covered zombies each raised a glass, paid their respects to Long and began the slow ramble back down the streets of Redlands to the Waite's nearby home. Dressed in makeup and their best zombie attire, the group of family and friends was remembering Long on the fifth anniversary of his death in a way that would mean the most to him.
A lover of horror films, rock music and all things zombie, Long died in 2008 at Redlands Community Hospital. His sister, Rhiannon Waite, had taken him there after Long spent almost a week fighting what he thought was the flu. Long's parents were a continent away on vacation in Scotland.
"He didn't look any different to me (before we left)," Long's mother, Julie Waite, said.
However, after running a blood test doctors found that his white blood cell counts were "off the charts," Julie said.
The doctor contacted the couple asking them to immediately come home.
"We literally got off the phone with American Express to book the tickets and then the doctor called saying that he had passed," Julie said.
It had been 10 hours from the time he entered the hospital doors till his death.
"That trip back was the longest 36 hours of my life," Stan added.
Five years later, the wounds are still painful and the Waites are still healing in their own way.
"We try to do things he would appreciate," Julie said of the Friday night celebration.
The Redlands High School and Orangewood High School alumus was fascinated by all things zombie, according to his parents. The pale, starving face of a bloodied zombie was tattooed on Long's calf. He had hoped one day to use his love of zombies, film, rock music and all things counter-culture to start his own film production company.
"I have a passion for film," Long said on his MySpace page. "Lots of movies in every genre, lots of which I guarantee you have never heard of. "
The MySpace quotes detailing his love of music, film, midi keyboards, rain, forests, snow, beaches and Nintendo DS now fill the pages of coffee table books that sit next to some of his ashes in the Waite home. Long's ashes have been partially interred at Hillside Memorial Park, with other small handfuls sprinkled at the Coachella Music Festival in Indio and at Huntington Beach.
"We want him to know, we are thinking about you," Stan said before leaving for the cemetery.
"And that we miss you," Rhiannon added.
After a few words had been said, the zombies left the cemetery and shuffled back down the streets of Redlands to enjoy Cuca's burritos at Waite's home.
"They were another of Chris' favorites," Julie said.