Through the miracle of poor scheduling, here’s another zombie story that asks the reader what you would be willing to do to survive. Troy-Castro’s story gave an overview of the life you would lead in order to successfully blend in with a horde of zombies. Today’s story is from the more conventional perspective of a human survivor. But the means by which she and the others survive is one of the most disturbing tactics I’ve come across; and, with judicious use of the second person, asks you directly if you could really do it.
Warning: you may find this an uncomfortable read. I know I did. (Which is why my class came up with an amusing conclusion, which I’ll tell you about at the end.)
The story takes the form of three meditations on life surviving the zombies. The first is about how the survivors work together, creating warning systems out of dying cell phones, and how even the highly organized can succumb to zombies if they’re unlucky just once. The third is about survivors holed up in a hospital, trying through trial and error to find some way to cure zombies, using the hospital’s patients as lab animals. Both are effective, and the latter has a nice folkloric resonance. But the most memorable imagery comes from the second section.
It starts with telling you to find a large sturdy belt, preferably a policeman’s or a workman’s tool belt. You get plenty of bootlaces – this isn’t a problem, there are shoes on dead feet everywhere – which are weak enough that you can snap with a firm yank. Then you trap your animals. There are plenty of ex-house pets running around freely by now, so put down a tin of cat food and you should be able to get a few kittens and puppies that you can then tie onto your belt with the bootlaces like a gunslinger.
So, with a full, squirming belt, then just go about living in your usual manner, and, whenever it happens – and it will – that you’re making that mad dash away from whatever horde you’ve stumbled onto, and they’re gaining like they always do, then all you have to do is, without breaking stride, pull on the cat or puppy by whatever your dominant hand is, and splash it down onto the ground. The idea is that you want some of that blood in the air. And, if you’ve broken this pet’s legs, then of course the lead zombie (there’s always a runner) will be on it like a flash, its maw buried in the gore, and if you’ve tied them together, then it’s pretty much the same result.
I also like the legend she mentions of a man who wears bandoliers across his chest, a suckling kitten thumbed into each cartridge space, a bottle of milk in his pocket to keep them alive. As for the rest of the section, it moves away from the theoretical and into how the narrator brings herself to use the belt. After all, with small fuzzy creatures nestled against your body for days, having been bred for centuries to be adorable to people, it’s human nature to give them names and have favorites, and to hope you will never use them until that split second when you do.
Stephen Graham Jones was my second week teacher at Clarion West 2012, and this post is part of the 2013 Write-a-thon. See here for more details.
I mentioned that my class had an amusing conclusion to all this. Well, it’s tradition to give your teachers strange and appropriate gifts at the end of each week. Stephen had read this story to us earlier, so someone came up with the idea of giving Stephen his own belt. We promptly raided a toy store for small fluffy animals and the like, and lashed them to a belt. He was surprised. (I think there’s a video of his reaction somewhere.) So every time I think of this story, I can’t help but also associate it with a parade of teddies and whatever the new generation of beanie babies is, and that sanitizes this story to a significant extent.
Notes from the Apocalypse by Stephen Graham Jones
Word count: 3,000
First published: Weird Tales, Winter 2012