What It’s Like to Be a Zombie
It starts with a look. You select your desired shade, a light base of white. Then, you add black and blue bruising, deep tissue scarring, cuts. Slowly, a back story begins to develop. The red mark on your hand is from a bite. A hoard of them cornered you, or a stray one came out from nowhere and decided to feast. You pulled him off, but within a few hours, you were cold and still, but only for a moment.The bandage around your head is from a fatal wound that never was totally fatal. Somehow, you still woke up. Your body started moving in heavy, jerking motions and cannot seem to stop.
You might have been at work when it happened, crossing children to or from school. Maybe you are a famous singer or actor, still in costume, hair done up, iconic threads, torn and bloody. Or, maybe you’re just in your everyday clothes, a bathrobe and slippers, yoga pants and a halter top, t-shirt and jeans, or a football jersey. We were all in different places, doing different things when it all went down.
There is a primal nature to us now, mainly hunger and shuffling. We hunt in packs, though it’s never a team effort. There is a pre-determined meeting place. We gather in public areas, familiar yet useless in our altered state: the mall, the town square. We drive or walk, milling about in large numbers, some standing out from the rest, others in light make up, maybe a bloody shirt or torn jacket. There’s no right or wrong way to look. Some are decayed to the look of ground meat. Others are subtly changed. There is music and games in the leafy, fall air. It’s usually warm and sunny, juxtaposing the image of death and decay.
We bring canned food as an offering for the living. It’s no longer important to us. We drop it off for those who can still taste corn, who would prefer to sink their teeth into a bowl of macaroni rather than a chubby forearm.
Blood is left on everything: sidewalks, billboards, bathroom sinks. Pints drip from milk cartons, capsules are bit down, red liquid pours from bright lips. Tennis shoes track blood across pavement, inside tiled floors. Fingers are stained pink.
At mealtimes, we line up in crooked paths, wait our turn for the food of the living, above golden arches, inside donut shops, lines out the door to get a corned beef sandwich and beer with cole slaw and French fries on top. At the Auntie Anne’s in the mall, a deceased Where’s Waldo stepped up to the counter and ordered in a gravelly voice, “prrrret…zole”. We once ate chicken nuggets and fries on the corner in town, watching a group paw at a fake limb on the road.
At dusk, we line up and start to moan, beginning our full transition, whether outside the front doors of the mall or on the street corner, about to reveal our mob to passing cars. Babies with white faces begin to squirm in strollers. Dogs in costumes pant and wag. All posture is lost. Limbs go limp. Heads feel heavy. Eyelids flutter and never open fully.
Once the sun has gone and the full, blue light of night showers the buildings, it’s time to shuffle. Shuffle and moan. Pebbles slide under the soles of shoes. Fabric swishes on clothes. The rush of transforming flows through, like a stage actor’s desire to transform, that freeing nature, the relaxing looseness of the body, the clearing of the mind. It feels like therapy. Hypnosis. Shuffle and moan and look. Look at the crowd around you. Emulate those who are doing it right. Reach for the living, standing on the sidelines, looking back at you. Notice the blood still smeared on everything we’ve touched. Hands streak against glass, leaving pink and red marks on the closed shop windows. Gates are rattled. Moans turn to grunts at the sight of living flesh, workers both in awe and taken aback by the image, hundreds of tiny little pieces of beings formed into one. Sometimes a stray word will pop out in slow, painful grunts, “brrraiiiiins…fooood…liiiiving…”
We don’t know what we’re doing until we do it. We think of nothing but shuffling, moaning, and eating, never satisfied, never ending. The most human parts of us remain dead. The most feral parts of us are overloaded, believing that food should be constant, that movement should never stop. There are no feelings, no sleeping, no peace, just desire pulling us along, the urge to eat and eat and eat, to feed on ourselves, each other. To take a few bites, sample a little of everyone, realize after a few mouthfuls that this tastes awful, so we seek out another to try while the last one joins the group. The smell of life makes our senses thrive, brings out an aggression we can’t control. No thinking. No sense.
We chase a city bus down the street, slapping at the windows with cold, bloody hands, terrifying the people inside. We make cars slow down and beep. When one trips and falls, dozens follow, toppling over one another like toys that have fallen over, but the key in their backs are still turning. A cop in uniform with a rifle gets taken over by a hoard. They pull his weapon away and go to town. He sinks to the ground like a puddle of rain on the pavement.
We stay where it’s familiar, rotting, never changing, just staying in one line, in one place, till we get to the end of the walk and realize we’ve come full circle. Then, we snap out of it one by one, wipe at the makeup on our faces, start to disassemble our costumes. The blood rushes back to our limbs as we stand straight again. It’s warm and awakening on the way back to the car. The line of undead disperses. We rejoin the living on the other side of the street, having escaped from the mundane life with a pulse for a couple of hours.