There is only an understanding of life exists. No unequivocal definition has ever been agreed upon. Like your tasty brain, it’s just too damn complicated. But what is that understanding I hear you ask? To be alive encompasses all or most (I want you to remember the word most there) of seven characteristics—being constructed of one or more cells, the ability to respond to stimuli, to grow, to adapt, to regulate an internal environment, to transform energy and finally to be able to reproduce. This is to be my opening statement in the High Court. Which, as it happens, is where I am now, facing a monolithic monstrosity straight out of a horror novel. I stand on white marble steps before two large wooden doors. I’m alone in their shadow, but only physically, for I feel the planet’s zombies giving me well wishes, trust and luck. It’s them I fight for.
Because the world thinks it has a problem. There’s a new life form for humanity to contend with. Men, women and children, of all races and religions—it doesn’t matter. They die and then rise again. Un-dead. Zombies. Wonderful in all their decaying beauty. And I, Henry Waterford, am proud to be a member of this new race and to fight for its rights.
I’ll be honest, the beginning was a mess. In fact, it was more than that, it was a complete and utter fuck- up. In hospitals, funeral homes, cemeteries, high streets, the workplace; all over the country the recently deceased were being born again (as long as the brain was still intact, obviously). There was bedlam on the streets. Humans didn’t know what was happening. Christ, zombies didn’t know what was going on either. Confusion all around—trust me, I know, I was there. One minute you’re in sweet oblivion, there’s nothing but bliss, no worries about broken hearts, or money, or how small (or large in my case) your manhood is, and then suddenly you’re brought kicking and screaming into life for the second time.
Me, I was missing my left arm. I was frightfully unlucky, a one in a million. I’d have escaped the piano too if only I hadn’t slipped. It was being hoisted by rope and pulley to the second floor of a dance studio. I’d stood for a minute, watching it swaying in the wind like the pendulum of a grandfather clock while red-faced ‘strong’ men struggled to pull and lift it and pull again. I shook my head, laughed silently at the futility of the whole episode, brushed past the barriers enclosing the working area and, because I was twenty-four, thought myself indestructible plus I was late for a meeting. Barriers didn’t matter to me; I was on top of the world, having recently been taken on by a local law firm. The rope didn’t care; it snapped, the piano fell, I slipped and it amputated me at the shoulder while playing its final, perfect note. Blood loss and shock ended my human life in three minutes flat.
My new life began twenty minutes later. I was on a stretcher, on my way to the ambulance when I sat up. The paramedics screamed, I screamed, we all bloody screamed. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said asking for help. They strapped me down. Took me to hospital for tests. Even in the face of the impossible horror of my awakening they looked after me. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
In the birth of this new lifeform, others were not so lucky. Both humans and zombies perished. It was inevitable, really. In all walks of life, in every race, there are bad eggs. Zombies were shot, beaten, or burnt alive. We were hunted like animals and when captured, toyed with. Fingers, toes, legs and arms were amputated; then organs were excavated—the heart, stomach, intestines, all of them one by one until just the heads remained, still completely conscious and easily mounted on walls as trophies.
It was taken further by some. They wanted to see how much our bodies could withstand. I wish I was joking when I say zombies were dropped from great heights just to see what happened. And not just from the tops of houses either (which is bad enough). It was most commonly seen in London but, unfortunately for the women of the capital, it wasn’t raining men but zombies of all shapes and sizes as they were let loose off skyscrapers like the Shard and even Big Ben. Umbrellas, carried by many to ward off rain, aren’t meant to withstand zombies falling on them from three hundred feet, are they? The result? A zompie (I can’t take credit for that little bit of genius)—two flattened zombies whose broken bodies had fused together.
Let me think. There were other atrocities. Ah yes. We were used as crash-test dummies. Old bangers filled with fireworks, driven at high speed towards a derelict building (I was told any old wall would do) and, a hundred feet before impact, the driver bails. Quite spectacular I’m sure. Others were placed upon bonfires and transformed into Guy Fawkes himself, just to see how long we could survive. Not long is the answer. Like a hamster placed to dry off in a microwave by an unwitting owner, zombies explode after only a single minute. We do okay in the cold, though. A few were thrown in large freezers, where they were transformed into large zombie popsicles but, minus a few fingers and toes, quickly thawed out when released. The army got involved, but they thought themselves a law unto themselves. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ the zombies cried pleading for mercy. It made no difference, hundreds of zombies were rounded up and used for weapons training. And yes, it’s true, some were even painted like clowns and shot from a cannon. Just for fun they said. So that’s okay then!
Zombies fought back. What choice did we have? We’d been backed into a corner with no food and nowhere to go. We came out at night, took people, ate; like every other organism we need to eat to survive. Isn’t eating the most basic of instincts? Hunger hurts us just like you, but it’s more. And yes we have preferences. You’re generally meat eaters, for the protein, for energy and sustenance. We crave meat too, only not animal—we crave human meat. The hunger is always there, whether awake or asleep, gnawing away at our consciences. It’s what drives us, excites us. Like men are thought to think of sex every minute, so do we think of meat and yes, stereotypically, brains too. Most ate just enough to survive, while others, lost to the hunger, gorged themselves. Every day, all over the country, like a bloody Pamplona bull run, there was a chase for life on the streets of England. Human killed zombie, zombie killed human, which in turn gave birth to yet another zombie. It was an endless game.
But for the moment the game has been paused. Whether anyone wants it to or not, life moves ever on, stopping for nobody. Emergency laws have been passed. There’s peace and the killings have largely stopped. Now it’s my time. I have to make use of my past life as a lawyer to forge a future for the zombie race. I have a date in the High Court and if I don’t succeed I fear for our future. We’re scared, petrified that the world will turn against us once more, and this time, eradicate us like vermin.
I take a deep breath. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just nerves, because I’m shaking like a leaf. But I’m strong, I move purposefully, both arms and legs allow me to reach the doors. I shuffle awkwardly but don’t care. Why should I try to walk like a human? I’m a zombie and won’t hide away any longer. I throw the doors open. Cameras flashbulbs temporarily blind me amidst the clamour of voices, shouting questions that drill into my brain, distort my hearing. The world’s media is here in force. This case will have ramifications for everyone.
Society as it exists now isn’t working Imaginary barriers have been erected that are as strong as diamond. Integration is non-existent. The vast majority of zombies want to work, contribute to society, make a life for themselves and maybe have a family. To begin with jobs were given—you would see zombies working in offices, factories and restaurants; even wearing long fluorescent jackets, holding lollypop sticks and guiding schoolchildren safely across busy roads. Zombies worked in every facet of life. Employers loved to hire us. We never get tired, don’t need to sleep and because there are no governing laws, receive no wage. Humans protested in their millions, saying were taking their jobs and their livings, forcing them to lose their homes, so putting them and their children on the streets. Society broke down, strikes followed along with rioting and death. And then there were the reservations with giant stone walls and watchtowers patrolled by guards and guns. The government said they were there for our own protection, set up to house us, where we’re fed, safe, and in my opinion, controlled like animals.
Humans are scared of the unknown, of what they don’t understand; zombies, and what we represent - us, they don’t understand. We’re discriminated against. We’re called the un-dead, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We are capable of being everything a human is, possess a full range of emotions—anger, jealousy, love. I take the insults to heart, yes, a heart that doesn’t beat, but it’s still a heart. I’m a walking, talking reminder of death to humans and they can’t cope. People flee from me and curse, use violence against me. Bloody uncalled for it is.
An example: for your pleasure. Picture me, a one-armed zombie, suited and booted (that’s how I roll), gaunt and proud, off for a midnight stumble under sweet moonlight in a local park to be at one with nature (as you do). It was quiet and warm; I was loving life. And I come across a pair of starry-eyed lovers on a wooden bench squeaked and creaked like a bird being strangled. Both of them in their early twenties, each wearing shorts and a t-shirt showing lots of skin. I can’t deny that I salivated, aching for a second to taste their flesh, pop an eyeball in my mouth or have a smidgen of brain. However, just like human males (and a fair percentage of females too) who kept their fantasies in line, just like most humans don’t rape to enact sexual fantasies, us zombies don’t eat any old human to satisfy the hunger. I kept my appetite in check. Hey, I couldn’t have attacked them even if I’d wanted to. They shone bright like shooting stars. They were in their own world, attacking each other with passion, grabbing handfuls of hair, breast and arse, sucking at each other’s faces, slurping and smacking lips.
They didn’t see me coming. I surprised them, caught them in their moment and made them jump. That contributed to the episode, I know it did. I dragged them back to a cold hard reality, but their words cut deep, through flesh and nerves, right to the bone. He said the ‘d’ word. ‘Fuck off deado,’ he’d said, ‘stay the hell away.’ I held my only arm out, fingers splayed wide showing my innocence and apologised. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said. It didn’t help. ‘John, get the deado away,’ screamed the girl, ‘bits are falling off him. I’m gonna hurl.’ Let’s get this straight I can’t help the bits falling off; like breathing is natural for humans, decomposition is part of being a zombie. Eating slows the rate of decay down, means we won’t lose a limb or our heads any time soon, just an ear here, a toe there. In the end we will fall to pieces and die. I don’t mind. None of us do, it’s the natural way of all entities that live. The threat of death makes life more beautiful, don’t you think?
During her extravagant performance the girl was so engrossed in my bits and pieces that she was oblivious to her purse falling from her handbag. Arm still out, I stumbled forward hoping to point it out to her, to be her hero and prove that we are not deserving of the ‘d’ word. ‘Christ, he’s coming for us!’ the girl said.
And then I knew my mistake, I should have told her my honest intentions. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said, saying that I only wanted to return her purse. The girl screamed. I didn’t know her problem. Did she love herself so much that she thought I wanted to snack on her? Please. She was stick thin. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her whole body. If I was going to taste the forbidden fruit it would be a fat kid with at least three chins, a stomach that carried on wobbling for minutes after it started and who couldn’t run very far. Some say the fun is in the chase. I say bollocks to that. Who really wants to get hot and sweaty before a meal? That’s irrelevant though, isn’t it? I would never eat a fat kid. Honest.
John, her boyfriend, stayed put. He visibly shook while a dark stain spread from his crotch, fainted and fell from the bench with a thud. His body twitched with convulsions before becoming still. He was in trouble. Death surrounded him. I knew it; death and zombies are good friends.
The girl, still putting her lungs through their paces, was oblivious to her boyfriend’s peril. The purse now gone from my brain (yes… mmm, brain), I rushed forward as fast as a zombie can (about the speed of a toddler) and fell to the floor by John with the grace of an elephant partaking in a little ballet. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said telling the girl John needed help or he would surely die. It was too much for her, she turned sticks and ran out of the scene. I didn’t care. I placed my ear over John’s mouth. He wasn’t breathing. I started one handed chest compressions, and after every thirty, pinched his nose, planted my mouth over his, drew breath for the first time as a zombie, and blew.
I saved that man’s life. His eyes opened, he spluttered and threw me away just as the girl returned with a squad of ‘herders’—a special branch of the police created to deal with zombie-related disturbances. Fitted from head to toe with Kevlar, they are ‘bite’ proof and, with an array of new weapons, were feared by all zombies. They never asked questions. And with the lies of the girl in their ears they didn’t see a misunderstanding, they saw a one armed zombie attacking a human. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I shouted, telling them it wasn’t how it looked. I pleaded for them to listen, to understand that I was helping. I may as well have been talking a different language. Their answer—a steel net that immobilised me instantly (handcuffs are never used on zombies, they’re no good when a hand can be chewed off).
The herders dragged me to their waiting van. It was degrading. I only wished to curl into a ball and disappear, but a well-placed kick every few minutes kept me awake to remind me of the nightmare. At their headquarters I was thrown into a dark cell and left for the night. It was painful. The cell was little more than a cupboard and, while I’m not tall by any means, I couldn’t stand and I couldn’t lie down either. Yes, even though we zombies don’t sleep, we like to lie down, to switch off for a time. A way of remembering that we all used to be human.
Hours later, I was unceremoniously dragged from the cell and put back on the street. I sat watching the sunrise, feeling its warmth on my skin, and if it had been possible, I would have cried. Not because I was free, or that I was alive, or even the sheer beauty of life being lit on fire before my very eyes, but because there was still hope. John had come to his senses. Saw that I only tried to help and had told the herders so. He could have condemned me to the hammer (the preferred means of zombie execution). At least that’s what I like to think, that there’s some decency in humans towards zombies. Yes there will always be a minority who will never change, but for the majority, there was a chance we could all be seen as equals.
In the courthouse I fight my way through the reporters shoving microphones and cameras in my face. I don’t say a word. It would be pointless. It doesn’t matter what you say, they take your words for their own, tearing and twisting them until they fit their agenda to sell as many papers as possible. The possibility that someone from a new race, a zombie, could be hurt in the process never enters their mind. Money, that’s what it’s all about, what leads to such as headlines as ‘Will the dead take over the world?’, ‘A zombie ate my mum’, ‘Zombies love brains like large kids love cake’. I leave them in my wake. They are nothing to me. I don’t look back as I enter the packed courtroom. There’s not a single zombie in sight and you could hear a pin drop, such was the utter silence. I close my eyes and think of starting my journey back to the reservation, of the bus, of Emily and her teddy bear.
From the herders’ station I had to get back to the reservation. It was all that I could think of. During the morning register I would be missed. I was one of the few who had the ‘privilege’ of being allowed outside. I am one of the chosen and didn’t want my absence to give the overseers any excuse to rescind anyone’s privileges. We see very little of the overseers. They are skinny souls who wear black from head to toe and are filled with hate. I’ve never seen such unappetizing humans. They don’t refer to me by my name, I’m a zombie, less than nothing to them. But I’m the lawyer. I have to be let out to formulate my case. Thank Christ I am.
The reservations are hard places, hurriedly constructed camps with little or no real plans apart from to fit in as much accommodation as possible, to contain as many zombies as possible. There are a minimum of ten zombies to a tent, a tent that in a human campsite would house two human adults. I know, I’ve seen them. Like an expert spy, I kept to the shadows, hid behind trees and sat in leafy bushes for hours watching a couple sit by their tent and barbecue, laughing and smiling all the time. It was the happiness that I craved. The reservation with its poor sanitation, lack of food and space, it sucks you dry of positivity, steals away smiles, leaving frowns and dread in its wake. It’s why I needed to rush back. If my privilege to leave was taken away, if I had to stay in the reservation indefinitely I would go insane. It’s the days travelling on buses to nowhere in particular that keep me going. I know all the bus stops in the area—they are my real home, places where I can feel safe. And that morning, bathed in sunlight, I soon found my way home.
The bus stop was packed with humans. There wasn’t a zombie in sight. My whole body burned with their stares. I heard more than one ‘deado’ said under hushed breath. I didn’t let it deter me. I stood tall and proud, ignoring their insults. A bus arrived and the driver waved me on. I stumbled along the aisle and stood at the back in what is nothing more than a holding pen. There were no seats, just poles to hold on to. This isn’t the exception, it’s the norm. There are separate zombie toilets (yes, we piss and crap like the rest of you), separate sections in cinemas, bars, restaurants: even in football stadia there are now zombie sections to go with the home and away support areas. We’re separated for our own good, says the Prime Minister. I say, if there is segregation, then how can there be integration?
That bus journey though was out of this world, it was magical. Why? Wasn’t I locked away like an animal? Not this time I wasn’t. By pure chance the driver had forgotten to lock the door to the zombie area. I hadn’t noticed any difference, but someone else had. I was watching the world go by when I felt a tiny hand in mine. I looked down and saw a little human girl with the biggest, brightest eyes staring back. She was but a few years old with curly golden hair, a button nose, rosy cheeks and wearing a pink flowery dress; more than anything else she gave off a powerful positive energy that would trump all the drugs in the world. She made me want to smile and I did, I did smile. Being self-conscious about the skin on my cheeks splitting never entered my head. I just smiled.
In one hand she carried a beaten teddy bear and with the other, with those four stubby fingers and one glistening thumb she actually held my cold hand. She smiled a big gummy smile and uttered the sweetest sound possible—a child’s laughter. ‘My name Emily. What yours?’
‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said, telling Emily that my name was George.
‘You’re nice. I like you George. Teddy does too, even more than dancing,’ she said while moving her teddy along the floor pretending it was doing a little dance.
‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I said, saying that teddy danced better than me (but I can bust a groove I can tell you).
After a minute of bliss, when the hunger disappeared, when time stopped and everything shone with beauty, Emily let go of my hand and skipped back to the door, her golden hair flying in her wake. ‘I’ve got go now. Mummy be lookin’ for us won’t she, teddy?’ The bear’s head nodded up and down in agreement. ‘Bye-bye George, nice meetin’ you.’ Then her thumb was back in her mouth, she laughed a big belly laugh bending back on her tip toes and she was gone. I had waved good-bye but couldn’t say a word. I was choked up. It was then that I knew there would be a future for all. That zombies and humans can live together, and I owe it all to a little human girl called Emily who treated me no different to everyone else.
I think of my impending speech, of the characteristics of life, and of how zombies are very much alive. How every minute of every day we respond to stimuli by turning to the sun to feel its warmth, returning a smile to a child, chasing a fat kid for dinner and countless more ways. Yes, we can’t grow physically, but what of growing mentally? Zombies shoot to the sky, reaching up to be stronger, happier, better zombies. To do this we adapt and learn, hoping never to repeat mistakes. We’re made of millions of cells just like humans: the cells can’t regulate internal temperatures, but neither can cold-blooded reptiles and they are as alive as you or I are. We eat, we consume and devour; the hunger drives us. Energy is transformed into movement, thought and emotion. And finally reproduction—doesn’t a zombie infecting a human by bite or scratch cover this aspect of life? While not desirable, it is possible, just like a human dying from a freak accident with a piano and being born again a zombie and with one less arm.
In the courtroom I take the stand before five human judges wearing long red robes and silver, curly wigs. ‘Speak,’ they say in a single voice. ‘Prove to us beyond reasonable doubt that zombies are alive and as such, worthy of a place upon this Earth.’
I shuffle my papers and cough, feeling the tension coursing through my being; it causes shivers along my skin, puts my hair on end and I’ve never felt so alive. I smile, open my mouth and begin to speak. ‘Aaaargh ug arghhh,’ I say.