After the Zombie

So what I can tell you about the story I wrote in the previous post? Well, for starters, I thought it would be a lot shorter than it actually turned out to be. I made a deal a little while ago to write 250-words a day–to keep myself writing–and I’ve exceeded that. I really exceeded it with this piece here. I remember an author–I think, yes it was Neil again–stating that if you wrote 300-words a day you would eventually have a novel. And while I haven’t written a novel in a long time, sometimes I feel dangerously close to do that again.

But let us deal with the danger of zombies first. While the walking dead in themselves are terrifying, you have to consider that in a zombie apocalypse there are other terrifying aspects to consider as well. For instance, imagine you have mostly been acclimated to living indoors and your job deals almost solely with paperwork or writing. You may have a really powerful imagination, but imagination doesn’t equal exercise, discipline and hard physical work. Those things can be additional, but they are not automatic.

You have to also consider: just how many people have actual survivalist skills? Who camps without at least one convenience or modern washroom? Where will you get your food? It takes a while to grow it and you will need something immediate. Do you have combat abilities and reflexes? Do you have skills that can be implemented for immediate survival? These are some of the questions and issues I’ve encountered in zombie apocalypse stories and that I went through when I wrote this.

Strangely, I often write these from the perspectives of the zombies themselves, so this was different for me in that I was trying to go for realism. But there is more. You see, imagine all that above stuff and then think of a person dependent on anti-anxiety medication, or who is a “shut-in” or has medical issues of organic or psychological dimensions. Imagine the social modern world of streets and cars being stressful enough for them and then take that all away and have them try to survive being eaten by zombies and surviving in disparate groups of people who are just trying to make it through the insanity.

Some of these people might take a while to adjust. Most would probably not make it. It would be very difficult for someone on medication, for instance, if they couldn’t access any new batches and went into a powerful kind of withdrawal: especially from the anti-anxiety medication that our modern culture likes to espouse. Some might see it in some ways as a kind of liberation. I imagine you wouldn’t stand on too much ceremony in a place without what is considered modern civilization anymore. With a character like Malcolm Ecker, I see a very intelligent but inexperienced person who in a rebuilding period and even for entertainment purposes would be crucial for spiritual and psychological survival. But the problem is that his group is not in that period. They are in the hiding and hoarding period where people need to hone their practical skills: skills he is bad it. It also doesn’t help that the leader of his group is abusive to him and the others do in some ways see him as dead weight.

Being rejected and humiliated by a group would be even more devastating in a zombie apocalypse because–honestly–where can you go? You can fight back, it’s true and claim your place, and potentially cause strife. But when you are a person who is mostly shut-in and quiet and you have only written papers and gamed–when you are cripplingly shy–that is a lot against you right there. The cold hard fact of the matter is that the group in a survivalist situation will leave whatever dead weight is behind them and Malcolm is intelligent enough to realize that: to know that right now and in a future where the future is immediate survival he is just dragging people down: if only with his low self-esteem being exacerbated by all the horror and stress around him.

With actual encouragement and more time, who knows what could have happened to him. But that is not how the world always works: even now during our non-apocalyptic time. Yet in the end he does make an affirmative choice. He considers the group’s well-being over his own. I won’t say he’s altruistic, because he’s not and he is being motivated by emotion, but the group does play a part in his decision.

The setting for this story was a little difficult too to create, but I decided to make my creatures similar to the ones in Max Brooks’ world and a great cemetery park was a perfect place for survivors to camp in: with few freshly dead around and those that were, buried deep underneath the earth. I also made it clear how that would change too as more survivors got infected or were tracked by the creatures there.

The motivation for this entire story was that in most zombie stories I’ve seen, we see strong individuals or people who overcome adversity, or keep hiding, or have a last few moments of glory. We also see ridiculous teenagers and people doing dumb things and are mostly one-dimensional stereotypes. I wanted to write a character who was inept in this environment, had some humiliating disabilities, and was afraid but not stupid. I wanted to show an actual person and how an actual person would deal with all of this: how he or she might just tag along with the group to survive but get in the way and deal with the psychological consequences of “not fitting in.” I wanted to show that the “Other” is not just the zombie, but how the zombie’s mere existence or presence is symbolic of how one person in a time of stress can be their own worst enemy.

I wanted to write a story about a realistic person in a zombie apocalypse and what they might do. It does look grim at the end but, who knows: maybe Malcolm Ecker’s story isn’t done yet. That is entirely up to me.

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