There were zombies everywhere -- creepy, twisted zombies.
The visual-art classroom at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts was filled with them. Teenagers leaned over the wretched figures, adding a little more blood here a bit more ooze there, figuring out ways to make them more disgusting.
"Kyle, it's not bad," visual-arts teacher Chad Burnette called out to one student, "but there's not a real good bone on the end."
Tenth-grader Kyle Gilbert and some of his classmates were creating zombie figures for display at Lake WinnepeSpookah, the Halloween extravaganza at Lake Winnepesaukah.
Using fake skeletons (think science class), the students added nylon stockings, latex paint, rubber, plastic and paint to make the gaunt creatures look more human.
"It's really fun, and it's also creepy, which is a plus for me," said self-proclaimed zombie enthusiast Kyle. He said he enjoys the dimensions latex can add to the skeleton. "It gives it more depth and skin-looking stuff," he noted.
Burnette said he was approached several years ago by former CCA teacher Allan Ledford, who asked if the students would like to help create a proper Halloween atmosphere at the amusement park. They started out making skulls, Burnette said, then earlier this year it was eyeballs. Now, it's zombies.
Paige Barnes and Libby Michael, both sophomores, worked on a zombie that was goopy-looking and mottled with gray matter and speckled with red. Libby hot-glued his mouth, while Paige helped her by holding the jaw open.
"We need to stick something in there," Paige said, "to make him smile more."
Next to them, a fork stuck in the eye of the zombie belonging to Riley Hunnewell, another 10th-grader. The fork, Riley said, was actually a solution to an unexpected problem with the zombie's optical cavity.
"I wanted to make it look creepy," he said.
Creating the image of torn flesh is not new to these students. "We use rubber cement to make fake wounds on ourselves," Paige said.
Burnette said his students are dedicated to their art, decomposing flesh and all. "It was a part of one of the classes," he said, "but I see most of the kids several times a day. During their off time they were working on it, even though it was for a class."
And how, exactly, does one give a grade for a zombie?
"The same way you would judge a painting," Burnette said. "You look at it, you see if it's complex, does it have realistic tone? You judge on creativity. That's what we do, is create rubrics around all sorts of different things in order to judge artwork or zombies."
The art studio, filled with its creepy hosts, is a must-see stop on parents' night, Burnette noted.
"They all want to show their parents the gross zombies they're making," he said.
Of course, it's not parents alone who will see the creations. "They're far more motivated by the fact that these will be seen by thousands of people than by any kind of grade I can give them," Burnette said.
Ledford said this year's crop of zombies "blew his socks off," and praised the "amazing" young artists.
But Burnette, in addition to nurturing creative young minds, must also make sure his charges don't meet a similar fate as their bloody creations.
"Knives are not toys," he reprimands one student as she tears through the room amid the zombies.
"I was just being Wolverine," she protested. "I wasn't throwing them like darts."