August 21, 2011

Reflections of a Zombie

The following is a first-person character study for a third-person novel I plan to write:

He calls the concoction a “suicide,” and surrenders his taste buds to the random sample of corn syrup and coloring. His is a world of plastic fragments and vivid chemicals.  It's a fountain whose blue is too vivid for any natural competition.

We cram into the plastic shell of the SUV and begin the journey of release. While other boys will be dressing as zombies and using extortion for free Fun Size Snickers, we’ll be celebrating the autumn equinox by breathing in the steamy vitality of life, recognizing the vapor of existence and the illusion of eternity forged in plastic.

He’ll cry.

I did the first time.

On some level, I still do. It’s just that surrounded by a hyper-macho group of men, tears are not an option and within minutes of the Flesh Feast, I experience the paradoxical sense of losing and gaining, living and dying, destroying and creating.

Still, it will be harder for a child raised around pets and petting zoos and animated cartoons. He understands personification without ever knowing the meaning of person, uninhibited and unfettered. He experiences animation without knowing the animism that makes his story real.

He’ll sink his canines into the raw flesh and feel the steamy sanguine fluid dripping down his lips. He will be at once repulsed and intrigued and in the process he will know something about humanity buried under the pavement of the Magical Kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong. We won’t kill a human.  Zombies aren’t canabalistic. We are human.

We don’t go on murder binges and terrorize cities.  I suppose some of that might have been true in the past. We would line up in rows and hunt an entire village. However, one must consider the cultural context. This was an age when Aztecs would sacrifice prisoners to their gods and Europeans would burn those who didn’t agree with their theology and slavery, rape and mass genocide were all fair game in war.

This was before the Age of Progress. We’ve developed antiseptic ways of committing mass murder. Nowadays, we press buttons and hit targets and use drones, but I suppose shrapnel is simply a more evolved version of an arrow - one that allows the user to sit comfortably from a plush chair in an air-conditioned room, drinking Red Bull or stale coffee with fake creamer.

We’ve evolved.

Zombies, however, have not evolved. We still use our canines for cutting meat. I know it sounds primitive and upsetting that we hunt with our hands and suck the warm blood in the moment. Instead of thinking “backwards” and “primitive,” consider it “vintage” or “classic.” We’re organic. We’re into raw food. It’s just that we tend to go omnivorous and sometimes that means attacking large game. (Incidentally, no one seems offended by our collective cultural salad binges)

You can fault us for eating meat that runs free range. I suppose if killing is wrong, then we are murderers. But the human body requires death. We are covered with bacteria. We inhale micro-organisms. You can’t go a minute without participating in the life cycle. So we’re all killers, I guess.

However, I miss the ethical argument that it’s better to eat meat that was once crammed into a tiny space and is now chopped up, days later, and placed on styrofoam and wrapped in cellophane. The Zombie culture doesn’t have quite the same affinity for petroleum-based products that one finds in most of the Western world.

If it were raw fish wrapped in seaweed, we would be trendy hipsters on the cutting edge. If it’s a wildebeest or a deer or a polar bear and we’re attacking as a pack, well then it’s repulsive. Note to self: next time we attack a wildebeest, make sure that we don a flea market jacket, an ironic t-shirt and waver between self-loathing whining and sardonic comments about the world. Maybe we’ll play a vintage record and politely pull apart the animal flesh while discussing whether or not the Green Party is a viable option in this next election.

Or maybe we’ll just pump it full of phosphates and toss it onto the grill, cover it in some artificially-flavored corn syrup mix and then toss place it on a paper plate. I’m sure the earth will understand.

Another misconception is the intellectual capacity of the Zombie culture. This again stems from the inherent xenophobia and ethnocentricism of European missionaries. Our language is nuanced and layered in metaphor. Missionaries missed that, claiming we mindlessly grunted about in lined formations.

It takes awhile to grasp the guttural sounds or to decipher the tonal language. In some ways, our language is actually more developed in the Latin-based languages that are all the rage in Europe. We have not only a second person plural (missing in English) but also a verb tense that allows for the second person to be addressed while removed from the first person. We also have verb tenses differentiating between definite, paradox, contradictory thoughts and cognitive dissonance. Layers. It takes awhile to comprehend the language.

Now, what about the myth of stealing the minds of humans and turning them into mindless walkers? It’s true that we are reminded that "the mind is a feast."  But we've never asked anyone to drink our blood or break our body.

What about the inconsistencies of slow and fast zombies?  We meditate.  We experience a collective trance.  Then we explode in shared energy, being fully present, full active.  We become the living dead, the voice of autumn.  

Yes, we believe in magic. We believe in a world surrounded by animism. Superstition, you call it. And maybe you are right. But we are under no illusion that the dots and ones and zeroes are the same as the flesh and blood terrestrial terrain of our human condition. We stare at the stars. You stare at a screen. Both of us believe in magic.

Perhaps the Zombie culture is indeed backward. Perhaps I am being ethnocentric in my own right. However, last time I checked, it is more inhuman to split apart and atom and blow away a city than to attack large game with our bare teeth.


  1. John this is fucking amazing. You suceeded in humanizing the zombie race. I think its interesting how mystical it sounds. Full of tradition and history. For a moment I forgot we were talking about zombies. While this is more of a monologue I'm curious what the dialogue is going to sound like. Grunts and moans? Haha. I suck at writing dialogue so grunts and moans would work well for me.

  2. I definitely think they speak a guttural language.

  3. Holy shit, John. First of all, I tried reading this twice while eating food. Don't do it. You will have to either put the food or the story down and either way you feel a little empty for doing so. But once my stomach and time harmonized, my mind blew; I blame this:

    "It takes awhile to grasp the guttural sounds or to decipher the tonal language. In some ways, our language is actually more developed in the Latin-based languages that are all the rage in Europe. We have not only a second person plural (missing in English) but also a verb tense that allows for the second person to be addressed while removed from the first person. We also have verb tenses differentiating between definite, paradox, contradictory thoughts and cognitive dissonance. Layers. It takes awhile to comprehend the language."

    No seriously, it's fucking brilliant. I'm stoked for scenes!

  4. Thanks, Abbie.

    We're keeping it quiet, but Christy and I are actually co-writing a work of fiction as well. It's a much more hopeful book and one that I'm probably more excited about than this one.

  5. Okay, so Quinn and Abbie:

    Should the story actually be written from the perspective of the dad? I was going to go with 3rd person omniscient, but this has me thinking . . .

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  7. I think it would serve the heart of the writing well if it came from the perspective of the dad. The whole story is about fleshing-out and truly humanizing something that gets such a stereotypical wrap, and I think you can still cover what you want to cover commentary/plot-wise while keeping to a more limited voice. However, there will be definite challenges in that. Third person omniscient will help to make the story more pliable, but I think you might lose some of that style that's really refreshing in this glimpse. I have confidence in your ability to pull off either, but as a reader I'd prefer a more personal element to anchor me while confronting more intellectual, large-scale cultural commentaries.

  8. Here's my fear: I originally wanted this to be a YA novel. It feels hard to keep the son as the main character and do this well. Possible, but very difficult. I also fear that the tone and style (especially what I've written so far) might be tougher for the YA audience.

  9. Maybe try writing one scene from the two perspectives and see what you can really run with. Or, though a tad bit more experimental, you could really make it a story that switches perspectives between the two. Though I wouldn't recommend that to a lot of people, I think you can do it tastefully and with a purpose. Because I think you're right, it might end up being a bit more adult if you stick to just the dad's point of view--though I don't see that as a bad thing.

    I think if you tell it from a first person perspective but switch between the son and the dad, it could actually give you the flexibility you want while also helping to keep it balanced and appropriate for a younger audience. Perhaps a bit of faux pas to suggest, but I think it actually could be done well here and suit the story well.

  10. I think the idea of this being a YA novel is brutal haha. Just the ideas are a bit heavy for a youth audience. I think I agree with abbs about the dad being the voice. As for the external voice I would use what many zombie stories use and that is the media. You can be funny and use the radio and commercials to move the plot along. But I was struck by the human voice and I think you have do first person.