Living Dead, The by Adams, John Joseph, ed., 2008
It is unfortunate, but I think that there are a lot of zombie literature readers out there who do not realize that there are actually two types of zombie stories. On one hand you have the gory, flesh-and-brain eating type stories. Those seem to be the most popular, they are what all of the zombie films deal with, and they probably sell the most books. They tend to deal more with zombie uprisings, catastrophe and the like. But there is a second type of zombie story that I personally find easier to relate to. Those are the stories about the pathetic side of death. In them you will often find more humane treatment of the dead - though that is not always the case - and you might even realize something new about the human condition. As a died-in-the-wool zombie aficionado I find something of interest in both types of stories. This collection, which provides the latest and greatest word on both (but also gives some historical perspective), is one of the most enjoyable anthologies I have read in some time – certainly the best this year. It is also a spectacular follow-up to the editor’s first anthology, Wastelands
This Year's Class Picture, by Dan Simmons, 1992, originally published in Still Dead: Ms. Geiss, a sixty year old, tough-as-nails public school teacher of severely at risk children found a way to cope with "the Tribulations," that had turned virtually everyone on the Earth to an undead monster: She captured children that wandered into her fortified public-school compound with a pole and lasso device for catching animals, removed their teeth and nails with pliers, chained them to chairs at desks that were wired with electricity, and tried to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic by using positive and negative reinforcement. The electricity provided the negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement came in the form of tiny people-nuggets that she and her now-dead custodian, Donnie, had made at the local chicken nugget plant out of the corpses of teachers and administrators who could not take the stress of apocalypse and committed suicide. Despite the premise, it's only slightly tongue-in-cheek.
(In order to clear houses from around the school, to have a clear "killing zone" for approaching zombies), Ms. Geiss had driven out to the line shack near the unfinished section of the Interstate and come back with the dynamite, blasting caps, detonators, priming cord, and a Caterpillar D-7 bulldozer. Ms. Geiss had never driven a bulldozer, never exploded dynamite, but there were manuals at the line shack, and books in the Carnegie Library. Ms. Geiss had always been amazed at people's ignorance of how much knowledge and useful information there was in books.
Ms. Geiss spent much of her days frustrated at the uselessness of her labors, and thinking about better times. Most of her "better times" were recollections of helping those poor kids she taught previously. Many of them still sat in her class. Despite their horrible stories - AIDS children, victims of parental neglect, abuse, beatings and rape, cancer patients – as living children they all learned useful things in her class. Now they just stared at her with what would have been blank expressions had their hunger not been so obvious to her. One evening Ms. woke from a dream wherein one of her children told her in a fearful voice that "they are coming to get us!" Unable to return to sleep she mounted her watch-tower and saw hundreds of zombies approaching the school. Zombie carnage ensued. After it was over, and Ms. Weiss had destroyed all the zombies, she went to her classroom and set the children free. Resigned to a purposeless life, Ms. Weiss was shocked and heartened when the zombie children wandered back into the classroom and took their seats.
This story could be about Pavlovian conditioning, but I think its really about a good teacher who does a marvelous job sitting in loco parentis. The zombies that attacked at the end of the story seemed to want to get into the school and get the kids, not eat Ms. Weiss. They were probably the remaining parents of the children ("remaining," because Ms. Weiss has put many of them to the gun already). In the end Ms. Weiss' purpose was reaffirmed. The story is only remotely about survival; in major part it's about transformation, or at least reaffirmation and preservation. It was a fantastic story to begin the book with. I point that out mainly because it's true, but also because I slammed the editor last time for starting off with a bad choice. Zombies, Dreams, Psi Powers, Education, Post Apocalypse, Survival; Stoker, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial and Seiun Award; Adapted to stage in France; 4 Stars
Some Zombie Contingency Plans, by Kelly Link, 2005, originally published in Magic for Beginners: Soap, a loner ex-con and habitual party-crasher, crashes a random party in suburbia and meets Carly, a beautiful under-aged girl.
Link tells her story in a slightly jerky, unencumbered style that works pretty well for short fiction, and was reminiscent of noir crime novels;
It's not his name, but let's call him Soap. That's what they called him in prison, although not for the reasons you're thinking. When he was a kid, he'd read a book about a boy named Soap. So he didn't mind the nickname. It was better than Oatmeal, which is what one guy ended up getting called. You don't want to know why Oatmeal got called Oatmeal. It would put you off oatmeal.
and managed to be funny, too.
Soap's older sister, Becka, was the only family member who ever came to visit him in prison. Becka was an actress-waitress who had once been in a low-budget zombie movie. Soap had watched it once and wasn't sure which was stranger; seeing your sister naked, or seeing your naked sister get eaten by zombies.
Soap spent his time in prison thinking about what to do if the zombies ever attacked, even though in the world of this story zombies did not exist. At this party, and probably since he and his partner in crime, Mike, were released from jail, Soap thought about the things in his life that he could do nothing about. For example, his pretty sister who wasn't pretty enough; his mother who hated him for getting caught; his washed up dad who would probably die in surgery in a foreign country the next day; the reason that he and Mike got caught; those damn little soaps that smelled like artificial food that his mother made for her store in Huntington Beach and refused to stop sending to him the entire time he was in prison; how nice Carly would look naked (actually, he almost got something done about that). Soap has an interesting story that is too circuitous to reveal here. The story is not really about zombies. It’s about transference, deception and crime, about how your past sins follow you around and influence your future, and, probably, insanity. The zombie hook is about Soap’s delusions, and those delusions are actually what help move the story along. It's very, very well written and would have been perfect for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, however I found it to be so strikingly off-topic that I question whether it should have even been included here. Zombies, Crimes, Psychology, Fate; 2.5 Stars
Death and Suffrage, by Dale Bailey, 2002, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: Yea! A Dale Bailey story!
The dead have been voting in Chicago elections since long before Richard J. Daley took office, one wag wrote in the next morning's Tribune, but yesterday's events bring a whole new meaning to the tradition.
As the story began Robert, a campaign adviser to a doomed Democrat presidential candidate in Chicago is boning up his resume, when a co-worker, Lewis, dragged him outside to witness zombies descending on the poling place across the street. The zombies wanted to vote, and all of them, across the entire nation, were Democrats! After the Democrat candidate, Burton, won the election – in a landslide, no less - the dead just shambled off to local cemeteries, bothering nobody, on an unknown errand; it later turned out that they were freeing the recently dead from their graves. Some in the Burton campaign blamed Robert for everything that happened. The day before, in the heat of passion over a school shooting, Robert said on national television that his candidate would melt every gun in the U.S. into pig iron, and when challenged by the Republican candidate's campaign adviser who spouted off about second amendment rights Robert yelled "if there's any justice in the universe, Dana Maguire (the dead little girl) will rise up from her grave to haunt you!"
But because he was very good at his job, Robert got a reprieve when the sitting president ordered that the election take place again; the Republicans argued that the dead had no franchise. The Democrats worried that the mere fact that the dead were at poling places may have kept voters away, so this time the dead would cast no ballots. When the rest of the campaign got interested in education vouchers, social security and campaign finance reform, and when their opponent started gaining steam in the Midwest and south, Robert threw Burton’s entire team for a loop by forcing the one topic that everyone was purposefully and willfully ignoring: The dead were walking around.
We got zombies in the street and you guys are worried about going negative?
Once he had their attention, he told them to get Dana Maguire, the little dead girl. So they found her and made a disgusting, self-serving advertisement for Burton about how Dana had come back from the dead to speak, urging the voters to vote along the same lines as their own dead loved ones had, because to do anything else would be a sin and dishonor their memory. Bailey would probably have done well enough to leave the story there. I'd bet money that part of this one was inspired by the Johnson campaign's nuclear-explosion-on-top-of-a-cute-little-girl ad in the 1960's - the advertisement just felt that sleazy and shocking. But once the ad aired the dead in an unmarked grave on the Tibetan plateau, and then from mass graves in Kosovo and Rwanda started to rise - the corpses of women and children assassinated in wars of genocide, silently shouting volumes about social issues by their mere presence.
As usual for this author, this story was fantastic. It started out as a joke about how some politicians use shills to vote in the place of then newly deceased, turned into a story about a soulless political aide who may have discovered his heart, moved into the realm of blatant opportunism and fear-mongering with the facts of a catastrophe, then took a sharp right-hand turn and became a metaphor for social justice. On top of that it was about how one confused individual went about healing the deepest kind of psychic wounds one person can endure.
Bailey did a fantastic job of telling roberts story by slowly an tantalizingly revealing elements of his personality and history. Robert was shocked to tears by little Dana's murder. He was also dealing with personal regret over leaving his "Gran" to die in a home in Long Beach while he was on the campaign trail. So he was a sympathetic character. But with what was going on it was not too long before his political fangs came out. The amazing thing here is that Bailey’s character has an aggressive and somewhat sleazy side, but the fact of the matter is that his sleaze and aggression are all about his need for atonement, and before the end of the story the reasons for that will roll over you like a Mack truck. I was horrified at the tastelessness of Robert’s advertisement. But the ad is the rack upon Bailey twists and stretches his readers, and the story would not have been the same without it. For the first time in my entire life I had trouble finishing a story because it was too powerful.
For a zombie story, this one casts a lot of light on the unsavory aspects of our own world. In fact, its stands as an excellent metaphor for how crazy our world has become. You will ask yourself the question "is it nuttier that women and children were murdered by the hundreds in Addis Ababa for no other reason then to enslave boy children and frighten men, or that the dead want to vote in Chicago?" Tell me how to answer that question, and I'll thank you finely, because I cannot on my own. There is another story nested in here, about how Robert sorts out the truths of his life while drinking himself to a real problem with decent scotch and piss-poor beer. That part of the story is a metaphor for the way that the past never stays dead, and can rise and circle back to haunt you at the weirdest times. The story is funny, moving and personal. I laughed, then looked down at my feet, then choked up a bit. I cannot believe that this author is not a bigger player. Zombies, Politics, Law, Justice; International Horror Guild Award; Adapted to television; 5+ Stars
Ghost Dance, by Sherman Alexie, 2003, originally published in McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales: Two cops in Montana, a big fat old racist and a young, dumb,indifferent moron murdered two native Americans that they found hitchhiking at the Custer cemetery along I-90 at Little Big Horn. After the native's blood soaked into the soil in the cemetery, the Seventh Cavalry rose from the dead and feasted on the cops.
Alerted by tourists to the fact of the empty graves later that night by other tourists the FBI dispatched a team headed by Edgar Smith to investigate all the radicals in the area. The feds wanted those bodies back. They theorized that the white cops surprised some local Indians while desecrating the graves and were killed. They were at a loss to explain why the cops were eaten, but that fact seemed unimportant to the crack team of agents. Oddly, Edgar had dreamed of Custer while the cops were being eaten the night before.
After fleeing their grave sites the 256 soldiers, who had run off in forty different directions, started attacking others in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Edgar, though a mental power he never knew that he had, watched mental images of the zombies horribly mutilating hundreds of people, but in one instance where two soldiers were trying to eat a young girl whom they had treed, Edgar psychically commanded them to leave her alone and they did. Once Edgar had figured that out he got into psychic contact with other potential victims and helped them through it all.
Alexie, who was noted by the editor to be a fantastic and heavily praised and awarded author, delivered decent writing with some stupid mistakes.
Backpedaling, stepping side to side, the little cop dodged arms and tongueless mouths as he fired his revolver fifteen times.
Must had a few fast loaders with him, huh? The hook in Alexie's story was about long-standing racial conflict in that part of the world. But once the zombies broke free, anyone was game, so the message changed, strangely, to the need for unity. I'm not sure this is a really good story. It reads to me like a first draft. The timing was way off, the resolution was hokey and did not follow with the beginning, and character motivations were completely absent. It was short too, so putting it in the number four spot as a sweeper was probably a bad idea, though I suspect it got that spot because it was extremely gory. It was probably an ideal choice for McSweeney's. Zombies, Racism, Cannibalism, Dreams, Psi Powers, Survival; 2.5 Stars
Blossom, by David J. Schow, 1989, originally published in Book of the Dead: Amelia, an slutty secretary at a bank, has hooked a rich bank customer, Quinn. The two were having dinner when Amelia reveals that she has an "aberration." Enticed by the revelation, Quinn watched as Amelia ate a flower from the vase on a side table. Encouraged by the kink factor, Quinn moves in. Turns out Quinn's "aberration" was silk scarves and executioner's masks. Quinn was obviously a novice, as the two did not agree on a safety word. Amelia died during their activities, but Quinn failed to notice. Finishing just as Amelia passed, Quinn washed up and decided to have another go, not really caring that he did not see her breathing. Once she reanimated though, things kind of changed for him. This one answers that never asked question, "what would it be like to have sex with the undead?" Major kink, so watch out. Zombies, Sex; 2 Stars
The Third Dead Body, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, 1993, originally published in The Ultimate Zombie: A young African American Louisianan hooker, Tawanda Foote/Mary Jefferson/Sheila (real name/hooker handle/power name), woke up in the Pacific Northwest wilderness after having been murdered by the Green River Killer, a guy named Richie. Tawanda felt no pain despite the realization that her teeth had been knocked out and her fingers burned badly. None of that really mattered to her; all that did matter was what she felt in her dead heart.
As a child Mary was molested by her gran-pere. When he was taken away, her voodoo practicing Grannie put a curse on her: "May you love that thing that hurts you, even after it kills you." Tawanda had spent the remainder of her living days going from one abusive man to another, so it was no surprise when she woke longing for Richie. Possessed of some nifty undead powers, she “felt” his presence in Seattle, so she set out for the city. She was a mess - the Green River Killer was not known for his kindness - but she happened across a woman named Marti who helped her. She took the name Shelia, which was her own private "power name" for herself. Feeling a dark psychic connection with Richie, Sheila told Marti where to drive. When they got there Sheila ran off, but Marti got the cops and they busted the Green River Killer. Sheila helped the cops and broke the spell. In the end Sheila showed them her own grave - with two other girls in it - before returning to it herself on the sly as the cops taped off the area.
This story was about the dead talking to the living about who killed them. Dr. Michael Baden would probably love this one. But it was also probably intended to be a voice of support to women who don’t feel that they can get out of abusive relationships. Here Sheila, the ultimate victim, did just that without doing harm or violence to anyone else. It was also a story of empowerment as the main character described her various lives under three different aliases', and her three metaphorical and real deaths. Four actually, if you count the final one when she lay down in the grave again. Zombies, Murder, Crimes, Curses, Witches; 3 Stars
The Dead, by Michael Swanwick, 1996, originally published in Starlight 1: The story opens as Courtney and Donald, ex-lovers, shared a business dinner in a very fine restaurant staffed by beautiful zombies. Courtney wanted to hire Donald for her corporate employer, Loed-Soffner, which had just bought a company that figured out a way to mass produce the reanimated dead for cheap. They plan to flood cities with them and dominate labor markets. Their plan was to contract with African warlords for supply - with a plan on "going domestic" as soon as possible with a reverse-mortgage type of arrangement with the soon-to-be-unemployed - so that they could sell reanimated corpses to businesses as cheap labor. During his interview with Koestler, Courtney's boss, Donald was asked to imagine a sales call:
"Wait, I've got a factory. Three thousand positions under me. I've got a motivated workforce. They'd walk through fire to keep their jobs. Pilferage is at zero. Sick time practically the same. Give me one advantage your product has over my current workforce. Sell me on it. I'll give you thirty seconds."
I wasn't in sales and the job had been explicitly promised to me already. But by reaching for the pen, I had admitted I wanted the position. And we all knew whose hand carried the whip.
"They can be catheterized," I said - "no toilet breaks."
For a long instant Koestler just stared at me blankly. Then he exploded with laughter. "By God, that's a new one! You have a great future ahead of you, Donald. Welcome aboard."
This is a new economy type tale, where a character is given an opportunity to jump into the next thing that will dominate/redefine the market. He hesitated because of his moral reservations, but saw the light and went for it. In a classic “sell-your-soul-before-you-realize-it” scenario he realized that his fears were only ground-floor type worries, and that the moral corruption would go much, much further before he reached the bottom of the rabbit-hole. But even after imagining entire cities of the dead, and being given his own dead whore, Donald was still torn. Zombies, Commerce, Ethics, Corporations, Economics, Proletarian; 4 Stars
The Dead Kid, by Darrell Schweitzer, 2002, originally published in The Book of More Flesh: David grew up in a small town and attended grammar school with a flunky psychopathic kid named Luke. One day Luke gathered up David and his younger brother and took them out into his gang's fort in the woods. In the fort was a big refrigerator box, and in the box was a weak zombie boy. David's little brother was freaked out by the experience and went into counseling. Nobody believed him. David, fed up with his weak parents, decided that Luke knew a thing or two and tried to join the gang. He wanted to be thought of as unassailable, like Luke, and unlike his dad. As an initiation Luke made David spend the night in the fort with zombie kid. David did that but the next morning Luke and his gang tried to get David to torch the dead kid. He refused and they gang pushed him away. When he went home in a depression his kid brother convinced David to help him save the dead kid, so they got him, helped him and took him to an abandoned mansion that he disappeared into. The moral of the story was that the dead and the living can help save each other. This read to me like a nonsarcastic Stephen King short story. Zombies, Coming-of-Age; 3.5 Stars
Malthusian's Zombie, by Jeffrey Ford, 2000, originally published in SCI FICTION: An unnamed English professor on sabbatical welcomed a new resident to his neighborhood; an eccentric old man named Malthusian. The old man was a behavioral psychologist, formerly in the employ of a shadowy U.S. Government project. One day Malthusian gave the man's daughter, Lyda, a drawing he had done of a blank-faced man titled "Malthusian's Zombie."
After the two came to become friends Malthusian took sick, and confessed his sins to the man. In the 1960's Malthusian was a part of a project to develop the perfect assassin. Through a combination of behaviorist conditioning and a surgical process to widen a certain connection between the hemispheres of the subjects brain, Malthusian created a zombie-like that would do whatever it was he commanded it to do. He could command the zombie to learn a foreign language in a week, develop a photographic memory, stop aging or shrink in stature, and the zombie would do it. When the project ended after the Cold War the government ordered Malthusian to destroy the zombie, but Malthusian found that he could not bring himself to do it. He secreted the zombie away from the government labs and told his new friend that he had ordered it to slowly change back to its original personality and assume the body it would have had if it had never been kidnapped. He had it in his basement and nursed it through the change. Malthusian knew he was dying and one day sat down with the man and asked for help. He told the man his own story; that he was a refugee from some European country devastated by war, and that the U.S. Government had allowed his family to immigrate if he would do this project. As a codicil to the contract he had to agree to never see them again. Leaving his beloved family was the hardest thing that Malthusian ever had to do, but in the end he decided that their peril was too great to ignore. He agreed to abandon his family for the project, even though it broke his heart to do so.
He told the man that the zombie had the same story: He was a man kidnapped off the street who had a wife and child. Malthusian asked the man to watch the zombie as it transformed after he died so that the poor sap could become human again and return to his family. The man ran away in horror. A few weeks later when Malthusian died of a heart attack, "Tom," Malthusian's zombie, knocked on the back door and moved in. As Tom started aging again he began remembering his own personality. He fit in pretty well, doing chores and providing a little comic relief. Each day Tom looked older and older, so the man knew that the transformation was progressing. After the Tom’s original personality started to reassert itself the man eventually decided to take Tom home. He put Tom in the car one day and drove to his last known address. When Tom got out of the car the professor was shocked to see that the transformation was complete. He was even more shocked to see that Tom had transformed into Malthusian, who walked up to the door of his own family's home. Malthusian had known that his family probably missed him as much as he missed them, so he sent the zombie to fill his shoes and make them happy. Altogether an interesting twist on familial love and longing. Psychology, Behaviorism, Espionage; 3 Stars
Beautiful Stuff, by Susan Palwick, 2004, originally published in SCI FICTION: Rusty Kerfuffle, who in life was a cheating, backstabbing, philandering jerk, and who was killed in terrorist bombing attacks, has been reanimated by a corporation seeking to use his death to motivate politicians. Reanimation technology had existed for some time, but never really caught on, mainly because the dead are very, very childish.
(T)hey had very little interest in the machinations of the living. Other things drew them. They loved flowers and animals. They loved to play with food. Running faucets enchanted them. The first dead person to be revived, a Mr. Otis Magruder, who had killed himself running into a tree while skiing, spent his twenty-four hour second life sitting in his driveway making mud pies while his wife and children told him how much they loved him. Each time one of his relatives delivered another impassioned statement of devotion, Otis nodded and said "Uh-huh." And then he ran his fingers through more mud and smiled. At hour eighteen, when his wife, despairing, asked if there was anything she could tell him, anything she could give him, he cocked his head and said, "Do you have a plastic pail?"
The dead were spacey, yes, but honest. They never lied, even if they were the worst people imaginable when living. The dead were also fascinated with stupid little things, like paperweights, reflections and colorful bandannas. In this story the corporate honchos cajoled Rusty with a shiny paperweight into delivering belligerent rhetoric at an upcoming rally. They wanted him to whip the people up into a frenzy - to make it seem like the wars that they were launching to avenge the attack that killed him were justified. It was all part of a plan to maximize their profits, as they sold material to the U.S. Government. Instead Rusty, who was not awakened individually but instead with a large group of dead from the attack, found two of the culprits who also died - Muslim suicide bombers who planted the bombs that killed everyone - and convinced them to stand up on stage with him and tell everyone that they realized that they had done wrong, that there was no paradise, no virgins, and that dying really, really hurt. The author here contrasted the experiences of the dead with the living to show how beautiful life was. She did it by simplifying the zombies to an almost imbecilic level of intellect with their rapt fascination with baubles and trinkets. The effect of that alone probably would have been too child-like to move anyone, but when the terrorist zombies found the wherewithal to speak honestly about their experiences, it all came home in a rush. This story was good enough, but should have been longer. Strong 9/11 imagery. Zombies, Politics; 3.5 Stars
Sex, Death and Starshine, by Clive Barker, 1984, originally published in Books of Blood, Volume I: Terry, a mid-thirties, philandering, low-level theater director is having trouble keeping control of his crew during their production of a terrible soap-operatic version of Twelfth Night. Terry, despite only being 36, is starting to feels his years, and especially his failures. He tried many times in his youth to make something of himself, but failed every time.
One day while mediating an argument between actors and set designers, Terry noticed that someone came into the theater, watched them, and then left. Perturbed that he was not told who was in his theater, Terry went to find out who it was. He later encounters Lichfield, who sat on the board of Terry's theater, the Elysium. Lichfield tells him that the theater is getting old and that the accountant, Hammersmith, wants to close it down. In fact this production of Twelfth Night is to be the last ever in the Elysium. Lichfield thought that Terry would want to know that everyone would be watching him, hoping that this production would be suitable as a last show. With that news Terry set out to stage as good a production as possible. The problem was that his lead actress, Diane, who played Viola was terrible and needed to go. Too bad Terry was sleeping with her, and that she was fantastic in bed. On his way out of the theater that evening Tallulah, the septuagenarian ticket-taker mentioned to Terry that Lichfield's young wife, Constantia, who died while young of cancer, was an acting prodigy and her best role was of Viola. It only made Terry want to please Lichfield all the more. After Terry left Lichfield showed up to greet Tallulah, and on his arm was his dead wife Constantia!
The story here was Lichfield's as much as it was Terry's. Terry had to figure out how to stage the show in a way that audience members would remember it. Lichfield wanted to do the same thing, so he attacked Diane and put her into a coma, and offered Constantia as an understudy. Lichfield, who was himself undead (how could it be otherwise with a name like Lichfield?) wished to take over the production and invite other undead to the production. They did so, then burned the theater down as they were taking their bows. Everyone died, then came back as a traveling show. They decided to go to Glasgow next because the stage manager's mother had died before he entered the profession, and he wanted to show her what he could do.
The story reminded me a great deal of another tale of a stage production that was plagued with inhuman actors called The Darfstellar, by Walter Miller, Jr. That one was every bit as good as this one. Barker did an excellent job bringing Terry's troubles to life, and breathed life into every one of his characters, even the undead ones. I found the tale fascinating. Zombies, Theater, Actors; 4 Stars
Stockholm Syndrome, by David Tallerman, 2007, originally published in Pseudopod: An unnamed man has taken up residence in a small town in an abandoned house across the street from another house with a family in it. Zombies are everywhere, shambling about, waiting for the humans to come out. They attack individually which causes little damage or injury usually, but occasionally they mass up and can get into houses. As the man waited in his new house he noticed a zombie in a suit with a carnation in the lapel wander into town. The zombie reminds the man of his son, Billy, who died of self-inflicted wounds years ago. The man cannot help feel an attraction to the zombie, and even begins calling him Billy. One day the zombies massed and got into the house across the street. The man watched as Billy ate the face off of a twelve year old girl. The man shot Billy and the girl with a high-powered rifle, and after doing so realized how confused he was about what was going on. As the story ended he was contemplating his own suicide. This was a very short story that was the perfect length. The author delved into the manner that humans identify with power, and the psychological changes that come with feelings of hopelessness. Zombies, Catastrophe, Family, Psychology, Post Apocalypse, Suicide, Mourning; 4 Stars
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead, by Joe Hill, 2005, originally published in Postscripts #5: For those of you who have not been paying attention, Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. He has become a very popular new author in the last few years, and first editions of his books - especially those published before his pseudonym was cracked - fetch record prices. Bobby, a failed actor who after high school went out west but now lives above his parent's garage, and Harriet, his ex-lover from high school, met up fortuitously in zombie make-up on the set of Dawn of the Dead in 1977. Harriet was married and had a kid, also named Bobby, who was there in make-up too. The elder Bobby remarked what a fantastic job Tom Savini had done on little Bobby's make up - he was surprised to see that Savini had managed to make it look like three of little Bobby's fingers were missing. Big Bobby was shocked and embarrassed when little Bobby said:
My fingers got cut off on Dad's table saw and I bled to death.
I wondered immediately if the kid meant in reality or as part of his character's background. Big Bobby went to lunch with Harriet's family, including husband Dean. He spent the entire time comparing himself to Dean - feeling superior the whole time - and wondering just how much his relationship with Harriet really had to do with the kid's name. Anyway, Harriet and her family were even weirder than big Bobby. After lunch Bobby and Harriet talk about where fate has taken them both. Harriet does not really love Dean, but he was very "patient" with Bobby, so she stayed. Big Bobby couldn't believe that his beautiful ex-girlfriend had settled for such a lame, idiotic, short old man, and told Harriet so. Harriet of course was pissed, but stuck around with big Bobby to film their parts in the movie. As the day wore on it became obvious to the two adults that they were still in love, and that the Bobbys would get along just fine.
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead is a subtle love story with passable genre elements, depending on how you squint your eyes. Conroy was the adult, not the boy, but it's possible that the boy was a zombie. It’s also possible that he was big Bobby's son. Hill did a wonderful job with character motivation, and I absolutely loved that Tom Savini and George Romero were characters in the story. It's probably not something that I would have sought out, but based on this story, and the few others by Hill that I read a few years ago, its obvious to me that not only is Hill a much better author than his father, but that he is a great one all around. Zombies (barely), Family, Love, Children; 3.5 Stars
Those Who Seek Forgiveness, by Laurell K. Hamilton, 2006, originally published in Strange Candy: I've seen this particular author's shoddy looking serial novels all over the place, and based on the sexy covers I have never had any interest in them. They look like erotica to me, so I have never bothered. The introductory blurb from Adams announced that this was the first story in her "best-selling Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series." With trepidation I started the story, and within a page or two I decided that I had made the right choice years ago. In this story Mr. Fiske has come to Anita's office, distraught over the death of her husband. Blake's agency had a process for bringing the dead back as zombies, but warned Fiske that it would be ugly, and get uglier quickly. Blake also admonished Fiske for suggesting that she bring her husband back as a vampire because, as we all know, "vampires are illegal." Fiske decided to go with the zombie. She said that she had an affair that killed her Arthur when he found out about it and wanted to ask his forgiveness. Here is what the reader is in store for:
Arthur Fiske was only recently dead, so from the box in the trunk I took only a jar of homemade ointment and a machete. The ointment was pale off-white with flecks of greenish light in it. The glowing flecks were graveyard mold. You wouldn't find it in this cemetery. It only grew in graveyards that had stood for at least a hundred years. The ointment also contained the obligatory spider webs and other noisome things, plus herbs and spices to hide the smell and aid the magic. If it was magic.
Congratulations, Hamilton. Not one thing answered there, not one end tied up, not one thing adequately described. This is always the problem with magic stories. There is no explanation whatsoever. The author nine times out of ten just figures that the reader has read enough of this to understand that "graveyard mold" must be magical and hard to find, and that everyone knew it only had power when 100 years old. Anyway, Anita then spilled some chicken blood and chanted "Come to me, Arthur!" Ugh! This story was an absolute mess. My favorite eye-rolley part was when Anita wondered if it really was magic that reanimated the dead, or some other force, then watched as a corpse clawed out of a casket, moisture box and six feet of compacted earth in two seconds, and later fell back into it like it was quicksand. Maybe it was that device from Ringworld that let ships move through solid scrith? Avoid. Zombies, Family, Magic, Fantasy, Occult, Suicide, Forgiveness; 1 Star
In Beauty, Like the Night, by Norman Partridge, 1992, originally published in Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales: As the story begins Nathan, an extremely rich pornographer and owner of Grimesgirl magazine, studies through binoculars the undead form of Miss December, Kara North, from the protected heights of his Caribbean villa on Grimes Island. Nathan's plan upon hearing of the outbreak was to immediately transport twelve "actresses" from his last year's production to his island, wait for things to calm down, then flood the market with Grimesgirls: From Hell to Paradise videos. But something went wrong, the plane crashed, zombie porn-models emerged, and now he and Ronnie (Miss October from three years ago) were the only two humans left. Everyone else - twelve "supermodels" and several others - wanted to eat Nathan and Ronnie (and not in the good way). But these zombies were different. The women were trying to seduce Nathan to get to him; playing coquettish games from a distance, hiding their burned and destroyed body parts until they could get close to him.
After destroying the Kara North zombie, a zombie pilot from the helicopter showed up with baggies of coke: Ronnie's mule trying to finish its job. The thing talked, but Nathan knew what it was. Before he could kill it Ronnie decked him from behind, thinking that the pilot was alive. When he came to the pilot was chasing Ronnie through the house. It got Ronnie and ate her a bit, but one of the survivors from the chopper showed up then and chopped the pilot's head off. Grateful for being saved, Nathan went crazy after that. I love zombie gore, and this one if full of it. It also presents a new twist on the zombie legend. Nathan theorized that everyone died on the plane when it landed during a storm. They awoke from death thinking that they had merely been knocked out, then did not become flesh-crazed zombies until they actually saw living people. There were a few problems with this story, particularly with the timing – I wondered why most of the other zombies did not turn into flesh-craving lunatics when they saw Nathan; unless of course the author was trying to make a point about the cold, dead heart that one may find in a pornographer’s chest. In the end Nathan locked himself away from the beauties on the beach that were tempting him. Zombies, Hermits, Cannibalism, Beauty, Catastrophe, Survival; 3 Stars
Prairie, by Brian Evenson, 1997, originally published in The Silver Web #14: Told in the form of diary entries, this story is the tale of a perverse exploration across what appears to be American lands by Europeans either in the 16th or 17th century. As the party moves across the landscape they encounter weirder and more gruesome people. The further they travel the larger populations of the dead they encounter.
During the night, Latour harnessed a dead woman, for we have been long on the road. Devoid of resilience, she came too rapidly asunder beneath his hips. Even with eyes gritted shut he could gain no satisfaction. The paroch refused his confession.
As the party moves across a vast prairie they encounter entire herds of the dead, and one or two unmanned and empty slaughtering stations stacked with their organs. Someone is sacrificing the living and turning them into zombies by the thousands. The party eventually came so far inland that they ran out of stocks and were forced to capture the living and eat them before they reanimated. I think that the most twisted thing about that is that this may be the only instance of living man eating living man in this entire cannibalism-soaked volume.
At times one discovers the living hidden among the dead, which can be discerned by the color manifest in their flesh, the sentience of their regard. They crouch to the center of a drove, allowing the dead to sweep them along.
One, we managed to capture. When he made pretense of death, the physician pierced him with his instruments until the man could not but grow bloody and roar.
We jointed his limbs, packed them in salt. His eyes shuttered and then opened again, his torso regaining a torpid motion. We watched his body struggle out and away from us. His boxed limbs thumped against the lid, grinding the salt.
Sick and vile, this story was really well written. The story just kind of ended without ceremony, but when you think about it there really is only one thing that could become of these explorers. Zombies, Exploration, Adventures, Sacrifice, Cannibalism; 3.5 Stars
Everything is Better with Zombies, by Hanna Wolf Bowen, 2006, originally published in Phantom #0: A couple of death-obsessed high school students, Emily and Lion, like to hang out in cemeteries. Emily thinks she might be a zombie, but isn't really sure. One day in a familiar cemetery the two find a disturbed grave marked "Emily Fitzhugh, 1987 - _," with a set of footprints in the mud around it. Excited and scared they set out to see if Emily #2 has risen and walked away by tracking the foot prints. Pointless and somewhat boring. The living Emily posits how zombies would change things if they were real. Bowen only hints at the discovery of the undead and delivers nothing in the end. Zombies (barely), Coming of Age; 1.5 Stars
Home Delivery, by Stephen King, 1989, originally published in Book of the Dead: Odd to find SK sandwiched here between a couple of authors I have never heard of. Here two hopelessly indecisive Maine women, Maddie and her mother, lost their direction in life when Maddie's domineering and slightly abusive father George died. They did not find their way again until Maddie married and moved in with a kind commercial lobsterman with dreams of financial success, Jack. Shortly thereafter Maddie became pregnant. Twenty-seven days later Jack died at sea while lobstering. After that, the zombie uprising occurred. Maddie thought that she was lucky because the island she was living on, Jenny, only had one cemetery, and most of the caskets in that one were empty (lobstermen, dying at sea all the time, right?)
Home Delivery is as full of country, northeast sentimentality and heroic sarcasm as anything else King put out during this era, which in my estimation was not his best, but probably his most prolific.
Money wasn't the problem; George had believed passionately in insurance, and when he dropped down dead ensuring the tiebreaker frame of the League Bowl-Offs at Big Duke's Big Ten in Machian, his wife had come into better than a hundred thousand dollars. And island life was cheap, if you owned your place and kept your garden tended and knew how to put by your own vegetables come fall. The problem was having nothing to focus on. The problem was how the center seemed to have dropped out of their lives when George went facedown in his Island Amoco bowling shirt just over the foul line of lane nineteen (and goddam if he hadn't picked up the spare his team needed to win, too).
The catalyst for this zombie apocalypse was a poorly explained alien invasion. The cemetery on Jenny vomited up its dead late in the game, and by the time it happened the men of the island were ready with chainsaws and rifles. Zombie carnage ensued. While the men handled the dead from the cemetery Jack came back from Davey Jones' Locker, and Maddie learned to cope with his death and her own indecisiveness by beheading him, chopping up his sea-rotted corpse and dumping it into an unused cistern. Like most SK stories this one is about the town more than it’s about anyone in it, but Maddie's story is almost feminist in nature. Zombies, Alien Invasion, Catastrophe, War, Love, Family; 3 Stars
Less Than Zombie, by Douglas E. Winter, 1989, originally published in Book of the Dead: A tweaker hipster in Beverly Hills recalls last summer's zombie uprising, but before he does he takes us on a journey through the uselessness of his own drug-addled existence. It’s told in that annoying voice of the girl from American Pie that went to band-camp, only druggier and more depressed. Zombies, Sex, Drugs; 1 Star
Sparks Fly Upward, by Lisa Morton, 2005, originally published in Mondo Zombie:
There was one thing I had to ask, though, as morbid a thought as it was. I had to know if - I had to be sure Dale had - God! I can't even write it.
But he knew what I was asking, and as he stripped off the gloves he told me that I didn't have to worry. None of the ones aborted had ever come back. The rest of us had to be cremated or have the brain destroyed upon death, or we'd resurrect.
How ironic, I thought, that this was how we would finally lay to rest the Great Debate. They weren't human enough to come back. Abortion isn't murder.
A year after a zombie uprising a colony of survivors in Northern California is taking stock of their situation. The story is set in the near future and global warming has rendered the central latitudes and in fact much of the tropics uninhabitable. The colonists believe that holes in the ozone layer started the zombie problem. Doc Freeman, the agricultural scientist who led the colony in the early days, is planning a first year celebration. Their first crops have come in and they recently raided a liquor store for its booze. Space and resources are at a premium, and Doc believes that with hard work they will be able to expand the colony in three years. That means that the fifty-odd couples there have to be careful, lest the woman become pregnant. Unfortunately one of the women became pregnant. After a talk with the medical doctor and Doc Freeman everyone agreed that was best to abort the fetus. On the way to a family planning clinic a number of miles away (the clinic at the colony was not set up for much), the doctor pulled the Jeep over and explained that many of the zombies, after feeding, returned to the places that they spent a lot of time in when alive.
As the Jeep arrived at the clinic the party found twenty or so zombies wearing "Operation SoulSave" t-shirts. Some were even still holding anti-abortion signs. The narrator compared the feelings and impressions she had from the past, when she helped a friend of hers go trough an abortion where the Operation SoulSave protesters were waiting with the gauntlet the three had to run to get past the Operation SoulSave zombies this time. She concluded that there was not much difference, though I note this time she got to kill them.
This was one of those really good stories where death imitates life. You will find a few of them in this volume, not the least of which is the Dale Bailey story above. Unlike the Bailey story above Sparks Fly Upward does not have anything to teach us, but it is somewhat cathartic and it makes an excellent point or two about an important debate. The woman - the unnamed main character - was given the chance to clear the abortion clinic of protesters with a 30-30. She took that opportunity and blew them all away in the end, saving the founder-priest-zombie for last. I found some poetic justice in this story. Politics, Abortion, Diary, Zombies, Ecology; 4.5 Stars
Meathouse Man, by George R. R. Martin, 1976, originally published in Orbit 18: Trager is a young man who works as a "corpse handler," or one who controls other brainless workers, at a mine on a planet called Skrakky. Actually, the workers were not brainless. They had their original removed and had artificial "synthabrains" installed so that they would remain technically alive and could work. They were nothing more than marionettes, mindless slaves under the control of the box at the corpse handler’s belt. As the story began Trager and his co-workers were in a brothel, called a meathouse, where for a modest price one could buy some time with a corpse who was directed by another corpse handler to respond to erotic stimulation. Blown away by the intensity of the encounter, Trager felt disgusted with himself. He was naturally a bit of an outcast - a bookish sort of kid - and he longed for the ease of sex with the dead, but he loathed himself so much for it. After repeated visits he fell in love with the image he had built up in his mind of the corpse handler who was running the meathouse, and he daydreamed about running off and falling in love with her. He admitted this to his coworkers who laughed at him. They told him that the meathouse was automated, and a device in the bedroom matched his desires to make the experience intense - it worked on the same principles that allowed Trager to send corpses to work in the mine. As it were, corpse-handlers were the only ones who could use the equipment in the brothel right; most others considered the corpses to be lifeless; Trager was really only masturbating, when he thought he was having proxy sex. Confusing? Sure.
Eventually Trager met Josie, and fell in love. Josie was an amazing girl who threw parties all the time and showed Trager parts of Skrakky he never knew existed. She was full of life and love and let Trager in, but only as a friend. Trager longed for her, but she always pulled away from him. One day he told her that he was in love with her, and she refused him. So he ran away and got a job in another place called Gidyon running a team of corpses that logged the forest. Gidyon was on a planet called Vendalia, which was the heart of corpse production. All the unwanted losers, the kidnapped, the prisoners and the dregs of other worlds were sent to Vendalia to become corpse slaves. While in the main city on vacation Trager met Laurel and this time the love was reciprocated. Trager took a job running a company of corpse-actors in the city so that they could be near one another. Eventually Trager's best friend Donnelly came to work the theater with him, and wound up stealing Laurel from Trager. Trager found solace again in the meathouses.
This is an decent story of the coming of age of a damaged boy who wants love, but whose soul and heart have already been destroyed by using brain-dead prostitutes and working zombie men down to the bone. Josie refused Trager because she thought what he did was ugly, and she wanted no part of it or him. But Trager knew that it was not what he did that made him ugly. It was how he thought of himself that did that. It was something inherent in him, not like a coat he could take on and off. Trager felt the wages of his sin, and believed it colored his soul so darkly that love would forever evade him. He longed for love, but was a self-loather that found solace only in emotionless sex. I found the story to be compelling and interesting, but Trager's emotional swings and intensified search for love to be incredibly juvenile. So juvenile in fact that it became a bit boring, waiting for Trager to wake up stop preening around about love. In the end Trager refuses to grow up by refusing to recognize that love exists. These where some of the thoughts that I had when I was 13, when I had no idea who I was or what love was. This feels like a coming-of-age story, but quite frankly Trager never matured. He just got more complicated and harder to know. Sex, Love, Zombies, Coming-of-Age, Slavery; 3 Stars
Deadman's Road, by Joe R. Lansdale, 2007, originally published in Weird Tales: The Reverend Jedidiah Rains, a God-hating, run-down cowpoke finds himself in need of a place to sleep while on the trail with his nag one evening. Appealing to the better nature of an old local, he was given a meal and offered a place to sleep in a barn with a federal marshal, Jim Taylor, and a man in irons. Taylor offers the Reverend a job helping him watch the man back to Nacogdoches for trial for murder and horse thievery
Old Timer sat with a double barrel shotgun resting on his leg, pointed in the general direction of the manacled man. The deputy told all that his prisoner had done while he ate. Murdered women and children, shot a dog and a horse, and just for the hell of it, shot a cat off a fence, and set fire to an outhouse with a woman in it. He had also raped women, stuck a stick up a sheriff's ass, and killed him, and most likely shot other animals that might have been some good to somebody. Overall, he was tough on human beings, and equally as tough on livestock.
The host of the party told the deputy that the road to Nacogdoches would take two days, but admitted that a short-cut through Deadman's Road would shave a day off that trip. The deputy resigned to go that way, but the host urged him not to. There were old gods up that way, older than the Indians, and haunts all around. The Reverend, who was on a mission from God to fight evil, expressed his willingness to follow that road so that he could do the duty that he had come to hate for the God that he had come to loathe. The Old Timer told the story of an Indian curse; an old woman who called the old gods to destroy a man who raped and killed her daughter, and who gave her own life in sacrifice as part of the deal. Ever since that man's corpse was found ripped to shreds it had been seen shambling around its property, taking people whenever it could. Jedidiah, the deputy and the criminal left to cross Deadman's Road that night.
Lansdale's main character, the Reverend, is meant to sound weary and strong, harsh and tired, all at the same time, but the way it came off in the execution of the story was wooden and preachy.
"Jesus," said the deputy.
"Jesus won't help a bit," Jedidiah said.
"It's Gimet, ain't it? He...it...really is dead," the deputy said.
"Undead," Jedidiah said. "I believe he is toying with us. Waiting for when he plans to strike."
"Strike?" Bill said. "Why?"
"Because that is his purpose," Jedidiah said, "as is mine to strike back. Gird your loins, men, you soon will be fighting for your life."
That is not to say that the story is bad. It’s an occult western, and those kinds of attitudes are to be found there. But the characterization could have been better. Like it or not though, Lansdale has a huge following, and it seems to be well deserved. The introduction noted that this character appeared in a few other Lansdale stories. I'd say on the strength of this story that they may be worth seeking out. Western, Zombie, Humor, Revenge, Gods & Demons, Religion; 3 Stars
The Skull-Faced Boy, by David Barr Kirtley, 2000, originally published in Gothic.net: Two college friends, Jack and Dustin, were driving one night, fighting about whom should get to make a play for Ashley. She had already dated and tired of Dustin, and Jack thought he had a chance. As they rounded a corner they stuck a man and wrecked the car, dying in the process. Jack and Dustin both reanimated, and as their brains had not rotted in the grave or been eaten by zombies, they were both themselves. Dustin had lost his face in the accident, and was looking quite horrific, so he decided quickly that the living were now his enemy. The two separated to go their own ways, so Jack drove in another car to his dad's house where he was taken in. Jack's dad as a matter of fact started a safe-house and took many others in. One day he took in two hunters who had a message for Jack from Ashley, asking him to visit her if he could. They also told a story about a skull-faced boy who had trained the dead to go after friends and family so that the victims would be unlikely to fight back. When the hunters realized that Jack was undead too they wanted to kill him, but Jack's dad chased him away before that could happen. Jack sought Dustin and joined his army. When Dustin asked about where he had been and suggested that he knew that Jack's dad lived to the north Jack begged him to leave the old man alone, and told him that Ashley was in Freeport to the east. Dustin turned his army to get Ashley, raided her home, killed her without destroying her brain, and then ate her face off so that she would be faceless like him. This story says something about stalker violence, and gave a pretty ruthless closing to a love-triangle. Zombies, Love; 3.5 Stars
The Age of Sorrow, by Nancy Kilpatrick, 2007, originally published in Postscripts #10: A pre-menopausal forty-something American woman has created a compound in New Zealand. She believes that she is the only person in the world who is still alive. She fled to New Zealand when the zombie epidemic started, and was trapped when nuclear exchange decimated much of the rest of the world. Now she lives on a hill all alone between two villages full of the dead who want nothing more than to eat her brains. The woman, who like many others in this book is left unnamed, is starting the change of life, and cannot shake the malaise that has really slowed her down. The zombies are photophobic, so she has the days to do as she wishes, but instead of fortifying her compound or searching for others she whiles away entire days going over and over the regrets of her former life, like her philandering ex-husband, and the abortion she had at twenty-one. Compounded by her loneliness, fear and depression, it's easy to see at the beginning of the story that this one does not have long to live. Kilpatrick did an excellent job with her character, and also with world-building. It’s so depressing thought that don’t think that I could have taken much more of it. This is definitely not novel material, but it’s very good otherwise. Zombies, Post Apocalypse, Feminist, Psychology, Depression; 4 Stars
Bitter Grounds, by Neil Gaiman, 2003, originally published in Mojo: Conjure Stories: A directionless, future-less Samaritan picked up a stranded anthropologist, Jackson Anderton, and by a mundane twist of fate wound up stealing the anthropologist’s identity. He travelled to New Orleans so that he could present the anthropologist’s paper on a group of little girls in Haiti who delivered coffee to workmen’s homes at sunrise, and who were rumored to be zombies. The fake Anderton claimed to be a below-average bullshitter. Fortunately his audience was either unwise or uninterested. The night before his presentation the fake Anderton met a ghostly woman who gave ghost tours of New Orleans, encountered a few men who looked like animals, and watched some drunken kids puke in the gutter. The night after the presentation he dreamed about the ghost woman, then was visited by a coffee-girl zombie. I think that the conceit here was that the man had given up on life, but did not take that final step towards death until he fell into the clutches of the undead. There was also a bit in here about the zombie powder that enslaved the zombie girls. It stood here as a metaphor for drugs: A substance that enslaves you and kills you. The story is surreal, lushly described and tantalizingly disjointed, but still kind of ho-hum in the end. Gaimen usually strikes me this way: He either knocks it out of the park or fails to deliver strongly. Magic, Dreams, Drugs; 2 stars
She's Taking Her Tits to the Grave, by Catherine Cheek, 2008, originally published in Ideomancer: Melanie, a Barbie-Doll like trophy wife who died during a "routine tummy-tuck," woke up a few days after being buried. She was convinced that someone had raised her, so she visited her boyfriend first. Convinced it wasn't him who raised her from the dead she went home to her husband, only to find his buxom secretary with her car keys. After she chased the secretary off she waited for her husband to come home. Five days and two cases of Remy later he showed up and freaked out. It obviously wasn’t him. Melanie was decomposing badly, and it did not help her any when she was in a car accident and her face got torn off.
Obviously a story called She’s Taking Her Tits to the Grave is going to be funny. I was not disappointed at all, though most of it was subtle and slightly devious. Cheek wrote Melanie like Ed McMahon – the straight man – to her own Johnny Carson.
She took the crow’s path, cutting across lawns and parking lots and once over a chain link fence despite a “No Trespassing” sign. What was the point of following city ordinances when you weren’t even obeying the laws of nature?
Melanie never saw the humor in her own situation even though she played her role like a woman who might have just accidentally peed herself instead of waking up a zombie. She never saw the humor, for example, in calling 411 and asking for a yellow page number for a necromancer. She wondered if anyone in LA had ever asked for that before. I wish it had gone on longer. Zombies, Beauty, Humor, Magic, Death, Immortality; 3 Stars
Dead Like Me, by Adam-Troy Castro, 2000, originally published in A Desperate, Decaying Darkness: Dead Like Me is a cautionary tale. Actually, its near 100% caution – as in virtually every word of it is a warning. Told in the second person (if that is even a distinction), the voice of the narrator warns a human being repeatedly to empty his mind of thoughts, and to just act like a mindless zombie. The zombies in this story cannot smell their victims. Instead they focus on the psi-energy of the thoughts of the living. Those who think, love, fear, scream, or even perceive more than what is directly in front of their faces are quickly become zombie bait. Many humans have realized this, so they spend their lives wandering in their own filth, stopping only occasionally to eat out of supermarkets before rejoining the hordes of the dead. Other living humans can spot the fakers and regularly beat them. A measure of one’s success as a fake zombie may be measured by blanking out the pain of such a beating and just lying there, waiting for the people to go away.
It’s a quiet world, now. And if you’re to remain part of it, you’re going to have to be quiet too. Even if your throat catches fire and you breath turns a ragged as sandpaper and your sweat pools in a puddle beneath you and your ribs scrape together every time you draw a breath and the naked mannequins sharing this refuge with you take on the look of Nina and Mark and Kathy and Ben and everyone else who mattered to you and the look on their faces becomes one of utter disgust and you start to hear their voices saying that you’re nothing and that you were always nothing but that they’d never known you were as much as a nothing as you’ve turned out to be. Shut up. Even if you want to tell them, these people who once meant everything to you, that you held on as long as any normal man could be expected to hold on, but there are limits and you exceeded those limits, you really did, but there was just another set of limits beyond them, and another beyond those, and the new world kept making all these impossible demands on you and there were only so many impossible things you could bear. Be silent. Even if you hear Nina shrieking your name and Mark telling you he’s afraid and Kathy screaming for you to save her. Even if you hear Ben demanding that you stand up like a man, for once.
Endure the pain. Ignore the fever. Don’t listen to what your family is trying to tell you.
Why should you listen to their advice? It didn’t help them.
It’s intense and brooding, and full of run on sentences designed to make it all sound breathless. I liked this one quite a bit, even though it struck me as an amateurish effort. The story struck me as one that Harold Lauder would have written. Zombies, Catastrophe, Psi-Powers, Post-Apocalypse; 3 Stars
Zora and the Zombie, by Andy Duncan, 2001, originally published in SCI FICTION: Zora, an American doctor, travels to Haiti in the 1940s to investigate a woman who may be a zombie. I found this one to be kind of boring, though this author has a great reputation. Zombies, Communication; 1.5 Stars
Calcutta, Lord of Nerves, by Poppy Z. Brite, 1992, originally published in Still Dead: Shocking, lush, beautiful and sublime, Lord of Nerves is a record of the experiences of a half American/half Indian young man as he wanders through the zombie infested wasteland of Calcutta. The boy watches time and time again as the zombies catch those who are too shocked to run away and devour the soft parts of them, starting usually with the genitals. I don’t think I have ever read a story that blends birth, death and sex metaphors so expertly.
I headed toward Chowringhee Road, the broad main thoroughfare of the city. Halfway up my street, hunched under the awning of a mattress factory, I saw one of the catatonic young mothers. They had already taken the baby from her arms and eaten through the soft part at the top of the skull. Vacuous bloody faces rose and dipped. Curds of tender young brain fell from the slack mouths. The mother sat on the curb nearby, her arms cradling nothing. She wore a filthy green sari that was ripped across the chest. The woman’s breasts protruded heavily, swollen with milk. When the dead finished with her baby they would start on her, and she would make no resistance. I had seen it before. I knew how the milk would spurt and then gush as they tore into her breasts. I knew how hungrily they would lap up the twin rivers of blood and milk.
Eww. Why do I like this stuff so much?
The young man excels at being invisible in crowds, so the dead and living alike for the most part leave him alone. As he wandered through the city he realized that the dead were worshiping Kali, an Indian goddess of death. Subsequent to that the young man realizes that death is worse than he thought it might be. This one might be a necrophiliac’s delight. Zombies, Sex, Indian Mysticism, Religion, Eschatology, Catastrophe; 3.5 Stars
Followed, by Will McIntosh, 2007, originally published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #18: A strange little story that blends the concepts of environmentalism and parenthood. Zombies in this story are fairly benign, and most of them are children or old men from the third world. They have a habit of ganging up on those who are not environmentally conscious, but instead of eating them the zombies just follow them around. The current president, who swears that no foreign power will ever dictate the terms of the American lifestyle, is followed by eighty or so. The main character of this story is a very environmentally conscious college professor who one day realized that that a twelve year old dead Indian girl was following him around. She tailed him for several days until he could take the stress and humiliation no longer and broke down. After he got himself together he changed his mind about the girl and made the best of the situation. It certainly was the cutest story in the book. Zombies, Ecology, Psychology; 2.5 Stars
The Song the Zombie Sang, by Harlan Ellison & Robert Silverberg, 1970, originally published in Somewhere, I’m sure: A maestro musician is the captive of unscrupulous performs who keep him drugged and on ice, then break him out for performances and control his galvanic responses with electrical current. A couple of poor children from the pauper’s section of a theater manage to come face to face with him after a performance, and help him make the ultimate escape. Zombie, Death, Music; 2 Stars
Passion Play, by Nancy Holder, 1992, originally published in Still Dead: This story’s genesis is the passion play of the crucifixion of Christ put on by people in Germany as a way of asking for forgiveness for whatever sin caused God to loose the bubonic plague on Europe in the seventeenth century. Legend holds that in 1634 the Bavarian town of Oberammergau staged a passion play, and thereafter the plague left them for good. They, out of all the villages and towns that did the same, still put the play on today in the 21st Century. In this play the German people have turned their backs on the zombie victims. The pope had declared that they are not humans and have no souls, but one priest, Father Meyer, argues for them.
“The Vatican is wrong.” Father Meyer turned anguished eyes toward the young cardinal. “Everyone is wrong. Your Eminence, I’ve spent time among these Leichname. I – I feel they are my ministry. They aren’t merely corpses, as science would have us believe. I hear their hearts, though they cannot speak. They seek the Father, as we all do. They hope for love, and mercy, and justice.”
As the time for the next Oberammergau passion play approached, a zombie epidemic spread. Eventually it was brought under control and the zombies were corralled outside of town. Mueller, one of the elders of Oberammergau who was responsible for the annual staging of the passion play decided to use a zombie in the crucifixion scene so that they could have an “actor” who was actually nailed to the cross. The church wanted only to make Christ’s suffering more apparent to the people. Meyer objected to the suffering they caused to the zombies, which he thought only served their pride in the play. In the end Father Meyer and the entire town were consumed with a new plague, and Meyer was beaten, drawn and quartered all the while begging God to forgive the people of Oberammergau who “didn’t know what they were doing.” Sure, it’s a cheesy recasting of the passion of Christ, but it was also one of the more interesting stories in the book. Zombies, Religion, Theater; Stars; 3 Stars
Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man, by Scott Edelman, 2007, originally published in Postscripts #12: Finely written story, told in the third person omniscient, in which the narrator’s impressions of the characters feelings and motivations are used to tell the story. I found this story boring too. I’m beginning to believe that this anthologist always puts two to three more stories than he should into his anthologies. Zombies, Catastrophe, Literary; 4 Stars
How the Day Runs Down, by John Langan, 2008, originally published in The Living Dead: Wastelands ended with a story by this author as well. I thought that story, Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers had enormous potential, but little meat on its bones. In this story, How the Day Runs Down, the author took liberties with Thorton Wilder’s Our Town by updating the themes to reflect contemporary suburban life and adding zombie tropes. The Stage Manager/narrator told the story of the town of Goodhope Crossing from a divine perspective: The narrator was a version of St. Peter, but he also shot into the action once or twice with a long-barreled pistol to save some poor human from becoming zombie snacks.
More then any other story in this entire book Langan’s story is about the human cost of catastrophe, both in terms of lost potential and damaged psyches. For example Langan took the time to explain what went through a mother’s head as her children were killed and eaten after her stupid mistake that put them in harm’s way. Any of the other authors in this book describing the same scene would probably only have told you what happened and let you come to that conclusion on your own. The result is a piece that is orders of magnitude more humane, and which hits the heart with a truer arrow. It is also the first time that I have ever seen a zombie author state that the newer graves – the ones that by municipal regulation required a vault – trap the newly dead, so they only have to fight the older more ratty zombies. In my opinion this little bit of funerary trivia and the way that every other author forgets it is what gives the entire subgenre major credibility problems – and yes, I am aware of the irony in that statement. Zombies, Catastrophe, Post Catastrophe, Theater, Psychology; 4.5 Stars