An Unfinished Story - Part One
The following is a mostly true story about the end of the world. You may argue, and perhaps rightly so, that if somebody is reading this story, it can’t be true since the world can’t have ended if anybody is left to read this mostly true story about the end of the world. If such an argument were presented, I would probably counter it by suggesting that just because somebody is left around, it doesn’t mean that it’s not all over. It’s like the last few die-hard drunks left in the bar after the band stops playing, or the last handful of aboriginal peoples whose culture has been eradicated by progress who pathetically ape the customs of the perpetrators of their genocide; it’s over all right, and all will be swept beyond sight and memory by whatever clumsy force that set God’s creation spinning to begin with.
Of course, there are other ways to think about the truth. In the multiple universes interpretation of Quantum Theory, all outcomes that have any probabilistic value will occur, resulting in new, divergent paths of reality creating whole new worlds; so maybe this story is a mostly true story about the end of one of those worlds, not this world. Or maybe it is about the end of this world but it is being read by someone, perhaps you, in one of those other worlds. Or perhaps it is simply a mostly true story about the end of the world which does not concern itself with truth or endings or other such peripheral issues, but rather focuses mostly on essential elements like flesh-eating zombies, juvenile humor, rebellious teenagers and the dark horror that inevitably lies at the heart of all human experience.
So where do you begin when telling a story about the end of the world; do you begin at the beginning, or begin at the beginning of the end, or just begin with the good part, and can you clearly say which is which? It might be argued that the end of the world began when the world began, since every beginning plants the seed of its own end, but that would probably just be an ironic tautology that wouldn’t give much context to the fact that it was actually early morning in America on a Tuesday in October when the first sketchy news reports and jerky, grainy video from exotic and poverty-stricken locales aired on television suggesting that something damned weird was going on. Inevitably some of you will waggishly observe that you have seen this movie before and that if I’m going to tell a mostly true story about the end of the world, I should at least make it mostly original, but the fact is that this is how it happened, mostly, and just because others saw it happen this same way at different points in time doesn’t mean I’ve stolen someone else’s nightmare. Anyway, the reports were that there was some affliction spreading amongst isolated populations, cause unknown, which resulted in violently aggressive behavior and cannibalistic urges. The first reports were brief and far from comprehensive and made no mention of the dead returning to life or any other similarly outrageous claims which, at that point, would only have been believed by the ambiguous majority of the population who will generally believe most anything.
It soon became clear, however, that this time the irrational fears of our nation’s ignorant and paranoid masses were completely justified. The outbreaks spread rapidly throughout Asia and Africa, began occurring on a smaller scale in Europe and South America and eventually showed up in America’s largest cities. Only Australia, possibly due to its relative physical isolation, or perhaps its pugilistic attitude, was spared from the initial wave of infection that broke over the planet. Physicians, politicians and the world’s military establishments were at a loss to diagnose or control the progress of the disease and the unusual character of the symptoms lead to some decidedly non-scientific speculation as to what was occurring. End-of-the-world cults and numerous religious authorities world-wide pronounced the crisis to be God’s judgment, or the precursor to an alien invasion, and stock markets plunged, sales of alcohol and ammunition soared and generally uncivil behavior among the uninfected population increased dramatically.
The root of the world’s concern lay in the bizarre combination of facts surrounding the outbreak. The condition appeared to follow no discernable vectoring pattern as infection randomly manifested itself in widely separated areas which had experienced no contact with previously infected locations. The unusual pattern of infection at first suggested the possibility of some malevolent human link to the outbreak, but the political indifference of the geographic progress of the emerging pandemic soon demonstrated that to be unlikely. No religious or ethnic group was immune to the contagion; no long-standing grievance or blood-feud was furthered more than any other and no policy objective short of madness could possibly be served by the disease. Most thoughtful persons concluded that the event was of presently unexplained, but probably natural, origin, but many who suspected they knew something of the depth to which human depravity could sink still insisted that somebody somewhere was responsible.
The condition itself initially affected the elderly and those already seriously ill or severely injured. At first it didn’t occur to the authorities that these groups also fell into the soon-to-be or recently dead category and in the beginning there was no suggestion that the dead were returning to life. Victims of the disease displayed a brief period of flu-like symptoms followed by extreme listlessness, or even catatonia, followed shortly thereafter by an outburst of violently aggressive, assaultive behavior which principally manifested itself in the chasing, grabbing and biting of other human-beings. What also soon became evident is that the affected persons were not just biting, but eating their victims, consuming random amounts of flesh before being distracted by new victims or wandering off without obvious reason. It also became apparent that once a victim was bitten, they were, without exception, doomed to be infected and affected in the same manner as their attacker, even if they had sustained catastrophic injury during the attack.
The infected were not imbued with any super-human qualities or extraordinary abilities; in fact, they functioned pretty much as you might expect an elderly, ill or injured person to do, except that they were damn near impossible to kill; but it was the single-minded determination of the infected to attack, injure and consume parts of as many healthy humans as they could that was the really depressing part. We all know that the most dangerous enemy is the one who acts without regard for their own preservation, which is fortunately rare, since even dangerously demented people generally fear serious injury or death. The infected, however, seemed to not understand that you must be present to win. They persisted in assaulting any available victim until they were physically restrained or forcibly terminated. They ate nothing but their victims, drank nothing, did not sleep, took no bathroom breaks and cared naught for wealth or power.
It is estimated that on an average day in the United States of America approximately 6,800 people die. World wide the total is over 156,000. This is each and every day of each and every week. That is over 200,000 deaths in an average month in the U.S. alone. Many of these deaths occur in structured environments with plenty of oversight, like hospitals and hospices where death can be anticipated, perhaps even planned, and the bodies of the deceased can be quickly confined or destroyed. Other deaths, however, are random and unexpected. Heart attacks, strokes, accidents and violence account for large numbers of deaths each day. These events are largely unpredictable, leaving corpses unattended, and even undiscovered, for long periods of time. This is not a good thing when the dead begin to rise up and stagger off in search of victims.
Needless to say, there were no average months is the U.S. after the outbreak began. American Civilization, to the extent that it was previously credibly present in any definable sense, began its slow descent into medievalism and chaos almost immediately after the public became aware of the true scope and nature of the crisis. Human fear, always the real monster in any horror story, began its corrosive intrusion into the world’s psyche with the first wild rumors of the dead walking, and the rest is a tale as old as time.