No relation to the TV show, before you ask.
Something I’ve seen a few times, especially in zombie comedies, is a scene where the heroes sneak through the zombie horde undetected by mimicking their shambling gait and moaning a bit. Today’s story takes that idea and plays it utterly seriously.
Here’s your Essay Question: how low are you willing to sink to survive?
This is also a rare story that uses second person prose to great effect. It takes the form of you being told what you would need to do to survive in a world where zombies have overrun everything, and the only way to keep living is to blend in. To stop thinking. To let your clothes turn to tatters and your body caked with blood and dirt and filth and never be able to scrape any of it off. To not react to anything, not even when you turn a corner and almost trip over a maggot-ridden – but still flailing – body. Not even when you find somewhere to sleep and a couple of zombies curl up next to you for warmth.
Now find a supermarket that still has stuff on the shelves. You can if you look hard enough; the Dead arrived too quickly for the Living to loot everything there was. Pick three or four cans off the shelves, cut them open, and eat whatever you find inside. Don’t care whether they’re soup, meat, vegetables, or dog food. Eat robotically, tasting nothing, registering nothing but the moment when you’re full. Someday, picking a can at random, you may drink some drain cleaner or eat some rat poison. Chance alone will decide when that happens. But it won’t matter when it does. Your existence won’t change a bit. You’ll just convulse, fall over, lie still a while, and then get up, magically transformed into one of the zombies you’ve pretended to be for so long. No fuss, no muss. You won’t even have any reason to notice it when it happens. Maybe it’s already happened.
It’s not so much a story with a narrative as it is an immersion into the horrific life necessary to maintain the pretence. The second person prose only enhances its power, forcing on you the question of whether you would really want to survive rather than succumb. There’s not much more I can say about this without using the word ‘immersive’ several more times.
Dead Like Me by Adam Troy-Castro
Availability: free online, print
Word count: 3,500
First published: A Desperate, Decaying Darkness, collection, 2000, Wildside Press
Where to find it: It is posted in its entirety on the website for The Living Dead anthology below (link here)
The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams, 2008, Night Shade Books
Mondo Zombie, edited by John Mason Skipp, 2006, Cemetery Dance Publications
Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead, edited by John Skipp, 2009, Black Dog & Leventhal