No one has yet been able to explain why the dead began to rise that Friday night, but no one denied for a moment that they had returned to the semblance of life; whether the means were mystical or scientific was really a secondary issue. The din in morgues across the country as hungry, desperate corpses scrabbled for a way out was probably the most overt manifestation, but most people had a story of their own to tell of how they discovered that the world had gone wrong.
Of course, the vast majority of those stories were second- or even third-hand. Very few people actually saw one of the dead creeping in search of a living meal. Some people, whose house lay near a cemetery, were afflicted with memories of the stifled subterranean moans of the recently interred. Most people in that situation departed for temporary shelter, either a hotel or a family member’s spare room, until the crews came to excavate the graves, remove the concrete caps, breech the coffins and return the trapped bodies to their final rest. All those who reported seeing a ghoul claw its way free of a grave were briskly discounted as charlatans or authors looking to make a quick buck.
The very few reports of dead actually wandering in the streets were the result of mischance. There is a well-documented tale of a funeral disrupted by its object sitting up and reaching with greedy fingers for the startled eulogist. Most other stories of this sort contain more speculation, but there is a similarity of theme—some lonely individual had died unattended in their home, and before they were discovered the wave of reanimation passed over them. A composite image of the undead found on the streets would be of an elderly person in an untied housecoat with the marks of post-mortem lividity on the backs of their thighs.
These few hungry corpses did manage to cause substantial upset when they were discovered, slouching along boulevards and patting at windows. The first night of the event shows a rise in calls to the police/fire emergency line in many cities and there were unprecedented levels of the posting of videos to social media, resulting in some brief server failures.
Many were surprised in the aftermath of the event that it had not developed into the expected “zombie apocalypse,” although it was easy to understand why. The years of films and comics which put the very notion of a zombie apocalypse into so many minds had also served to prepare people for the event. Such was the background count of the idea in popular culture that even people who had never seen one of the movies knew to aim for the head. Those lurching grandmothers were scarcely able to shamble off the end of their own driveway before they were set upon by bands of neighbourhood defenders, swinging bats and clad in bite-resistant leather and denim. A few, nervous at the prospect of misinterpreting the symptoms, would throw a blanket over the gnashing ghoul’s head and pin it to the ground until a police officer could attend to dispatching it with official sanction.
This is not to say that a few extremely unwary people, mostly rather young or very drunk, were not bitten by the zombies, although there is not one documented instance of anyone being consumed. A few of these unfortunates were killed by well-meaning friends and relatives, and rather more attempted some sort of skull-injuring suicide. The belated discovery that the bite of the undead transmitted no more than the same kind of roaring infection any human mouth could deliver was perhaps the most upsetting element of the whole event.
By Monday morning, the few lively dead who had gotten out and about had been returned to immobility. Some of the less fortunate zombie fighters awaited arraignment for over-enthusiastic responses; a relatively small proportion in connection with manslaughter compared to the cases of looting, vandalism and theft. The first backhoe and crowbar crews were dispatched to cemeteries that afternoon.
We all remained vigilant, since the dead continued to need convincing. Neighbours began to take an interest each other’s health in a way hardly ever known before. The rate of stress leave taken by ambulance and fire crews went up substantially, particularly with the former who have a tricky choice to make at any serious call-out; conventional treatment or a sharp rap with a hammer? Overall, though, life went on much as before.
In our self-absorbed way, we neglected how matters might develop in the world’s war zones and famine belts. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes, and it wasn’t until much too late that the silence of foreign correspondents became a matter of concern.
“The Inconvenient Weekend of the Dead” ©2015 Dirck de Lint