Hunger of the Dead

Of course I remember the night that 500,000 zombies appeared in the city. I was there when it happened. Everyone panicked and fled like it was the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and wouldn’t you have, too? Isn’t it a conditioned response at this point, the frenzied reaction to an attack by zombies? We have all seen the scenario played out so many times in movies and comic books and video games that when, behold, it suddenly occurs in real life, we can at least say we all know exactly what to do next, right? Run! Here come the shuffling, wheezing hordes of walking dead, hungry for human brains and flesh! They’re impervious to pain! They’re relentless in their pursuit! A few people resist but are quickly overwhelmed; everybody else takes flight or boards themselves into their houses. That’s the familiar narrative; that’s what everyone knows, and so on that day when it truly began to happen they just followed the playbook, so to speak.

Like I said: I remember it. I was there.

It was cold, but Halloween was still two weeks away. The people of the small, innocent city of Wisteria drew back in horror at the decaying creatures that came shambling down their streets moaning and panting. The bravest Wisterians, armed with handguns and shovels, formed hasty platoons and launched a surprise flanking attack.

The zombies were stunned. They fell back, and for about fifteen minutes it looked like it was going to be a rout. Of course, the people had an advantage because they already knew (like everybody knows, thanks to popular entertainment) that the way to permanently kill a zombie is to attack the head—don’t waste effort on the body, go for the head. Decapitate it, blast it open like a meaty water balloon, squash it with your back tire, whatever. It won’t get up after that. The ad hoc platoons became consumed with a triumphant fervor as they saw how easily they were able to apply this principle and overcome the ghastly hordes.

Then things changed. The zombies counterattacked with overwhelming aggressiveness. Much to the people’s chagrin, the zombies began to duck when anyone attacked their heads.

“Hey!” cried Deputy Cheeks Dowd from the top of his patrol car. “They’re duckin’!”

From the police headquarters balcony Chief Frank Blunt shouted down in reply, “They’ve analyzed our attack! They realize what we’re doing!”

Deputy Dowd emptied his pistol into a moaning zombie’s hoary scalp as it tried to scrabble up the windshield. “That’s crazy! You mean they know what their secret weakness is?!?”

“Dammit, Deputy Dowd, have you got any better suggestions? If they didn’t somehow know that a severe blow to their heads could kill them then why do they keep ducking?”

But Dowd couldn’t answer—he was out of bullets, and out of time.

He screamed “Chief! Chiiiieeef!” as the living dead finally overran his patrol car and buried him beneath a pile of squirming, peeling zombie flesh. Chief Blunt could only stare in horror.

It wasn’t long before more and more corpses of the defenders of Wisteria began to litter the streets. The less able retreated into their houses, their shops, their garages, boarding up windows and holding their children close.

But who are we kidding, really? In this day and age, in the United States of America, 500,000 zombies might do some initial damage and cause a big scare, sure, but how long do you think it would take before the national military machine would bring its full force to bear on the threat?

Mere hours, it turned out. Thousand of soldiers, in full combat gear, all of them armed with hand grenades, M16s, Squad Automatic Weapons, and endless, endless rounds. There were Humvees topped with 50 caliber machine guns, there were tanks, there were helicopters loaded down with red screaming rockets. It all amounted to a whole lot of headless zombies. I saw it; I was there. Now, out of the original half million walking dead there are exactly four. They managed to escape the city, shuffling as fast as their stiff, gray-green legs could carry them to an abandoned farmhouse. That’s where we are now.

I’m still shaking my head over the whole thing. Honestly, I have to put some of the blame on all those movies and comic books and their ubiquitous images of mindless walking dead on the prowl for living human flesh. We weren’t hungry for human flesh—that’s ridiculous! We were just hungry. Our entire city of Hambledown, just ten minutes’ walking distance from Wisteria, had been consumed by a flesh-eating disease in less than an hour, and though it rendered our digestive systems useless we still had appetites, for God’s sake! Can you imagine how maddening that would be? We came to Wisteria looking for help, and instead everyone began trying to chop off our heads with machetes! What the hell ever happened to “love thy neighbor”?!

And there’s no going back now, no way, that’s for sure. Everybody in Wisteria was deeply offended that an innocent group of starving, diseased people might actually try to defend themselves when attacked. Now it’s “oh no, the evil zombies are coming to kill us all!” As you can guess, it did no good whatsoever to try to discuss all this, since our vocal chords were half rotted away and everything we tried to say just came out in sickening, gurgling groans. So, thanks a lot, Entertainment Industry! We never had a chance, and now no one will ever think we were anything but Satan’s undead minions.

At least my wife and I are still together. That’s a blessing. As I board up these last few windows in the farmhouse she reaches down tenderly and yanks out of my buttocks an arrow with which some ten-year-old kid shot me as we scuttled across the countryside. I never felt it, naturally—we have a flesh-eating disease that numbs our nerve endings, remember? I appreciate my wife’s gesture, though, and I gurgle lovingly to her. She smiles back, and her lower jaw dislodges.

Nick, my next door neighbor, grunts frantically like Frankenstein’s monster. He is pointing through a crack between boards. Farmers are coming, armed with torches and steel pitchforks.

Bill Waters, who worked at our library, helps me hammer in the last nails on a hodgepodge barricade over the farmhouse door.

Shouts grow louder as the rural mob approaches. The four of us retreat into a corner; my left leg now drags along uselessly. Boy, I’m hungry.

Fists begin to pound upon the farmhouse door. People are cursing at us through the boards: “You zombie scum demons from Hell! You can’t get away! We’ll teach you to eat us!”

My wife snuffles and croaks in fear, clutching at my side with ghoulish, claw-like hands.

The smell of gasoline blends with the warm scent of hay. A black camping lantern is hurled against the side of the farmhouse and soon we all smell the smoke.

How did this happen to us? How did we get this disease? Was chemical waste being illegally emptied into our water reservoirs? Had we all unknowingly been drinking the milk of radioactive cows? I just don’t know.

My hope and prayer is that somehow, someday, people will find out the truth. Not just the truth about the cause of the disease but, more importantly, the truth that just because people look like hell doesn’t mean that’s where they’re from!

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