Home > The Zombie Survival Guide(3)

The Zombie Survival Guide(3)
Author: Max Brooks

B. Emotions

Feelings of any kind are not known to the walking dead. Every form of psychological warfare, from attempts at enraging the undead to provoking pity have all met with disaster. Joy, sadness, confidence, anxiety, love, hatred, fear—all of these feelings and thousands more that make up the human “heart” are as useless to the living dead as the organ of the same name. Who knows if this is humanity’s greatest weakness or strength? The debate continues, and probably will forever.

C. Memories

A modern conceit is that a zombie retains the knowledge of its former life. We hear stories of the dead returning to their places of residence or work, operating familiar machinery, or even showing acts of mercy to loved ones. In truth, not a shred of proof exists to support this wishful thinking. Zombies could not possibly retain memories of their former lives in either the conscious or subconscious mind, because neither exist! A ghoul will not be distracted by the family pet, living relatives, familiar surroundings, etc. No matter who a person was in his former life, that person is gone, replaced by a mindless automaton with no instinct other than for feeding. This begs the question: Why do zombies prefer urban areas to the countryside? First, the undead do not prefer cities, but simply remain where they are reanimated. Second, the main reason zombies tend to stay in cities instead of fanning out into the countryside is because an urban zone holds the highest concentration of prey.

D. Physical Needs

Other than hunger (discussed later), the dead have shown none of the physical wants or needs expressed in mortal life. Zombies have never been observed to sleep or rest under any circumstances. They have not reacted to extreme heat or cold. In harsh weather, they have never sought shelter. Even something as simple as thirst is unknown to the living dead. Defying all laws of science, Solanum has created what could be described as a completely self-sufficient organism.

E. Communication

Zombies have no language skills. Although their vocal cords are capable of speech, their brain is not. The only vocal ability appears to be a deep-throated moan. This moan is released when zombies identify prey. The sound will remain low and steady until physical contact is made. It will then shift in tone and volume as the zombie commences its attack. This eerie sound, so typically associated with the walking dead, serves as a rallying cry for other zombies and, as has been recently discovered, is a potent psychological weapon. (See “On the Defense.”)

F. Social Dynamics

Theories have always proliferated that the undead function as a collective force, from an army controlled by Satan to an insect-like pheromone-driven hive to the most recent notion that they achieve group consensus by telepathy. The truth is that zombies have no social organization to speak of. There is no hierarchy, no chain of command, no drive toward any type of collectivization. A horde of the undead, regardless of size, regardless of appearance, is simply a mass of individuals. If several hundred ghouls converge on a victim’s location, it is because each one is drawn by its own instinct. Zombies appear to be unaware of one another. Individuals have never been observed to react to the sight of one another at any range. This goes back to the question of sense: How does a zombie distinguish between one of its own and a human or other prey at the same range? The

answer has yet to be found. Zombies do avoid one another in the same way they avoid inanimate objects. When they bump into one another, they make no attempt to connect or communicate. Zombies feasting on the same corpse will tug repeatedly on the meat in question rather than shove a competitor out of the way. The only suggestion of communal effort is seen in notorious swarm attacks: the moan of a ghoul calling others within earshot. Once they hear the wail, other walking dead will almost always converge on its source. An early study theorized that this was a deliberate act, that a scout used its moan to signal the others to attack. However, we now know that it happens purely by accident. The ghoul that moans at the detection of prey does so as an instinctive reaction, not as an alert.

G. Hunting

Zombies are migratory organisms, with no regard for territory or concept ofhome. They will travel miles and perhaps, given time, cross continents in their search for food. Their hunting pattern is random. Ghouls will feed at night and during the day. They will stumble through an area rather than deliberately searching it. Certain zones or structures will not be singled out as more likely to contain prey. For example, some have been known to search farmhouses and other rural structures while others in the same group have moved by without even a glance. Urban zones take more time to explore, which is why the undead remain longer in these areas, but no building will take precedence over another. Zombies appear to be totally unaware of their surroundings. They do not, for example, move their eyes in a way that would take in the information of a new setting. Shuffling silently, with a thousand-yard stare, they will wander aimlessly, regardless of location, until prey is detected. As discussed earlier, the undead possess an uncanny ability to home in on a victim’s precise location. Once contact is made, the previously silent, oblivious automaton transforms into something more closely related to a guided missile. The head turns immediately in the direction of its victim. The jaw drops, lips retract, and, from the depths of its diaphragm, comes the moan. Once contact is made, zombies cannot be distracted by any means. They will continue to pursue their prey, stopping only if they lose contact, make a successful kill, or are destroyed.

H. Motivation

Why do the undead prey upon the living? If it has been proven that human flesh serves no nutritional purpose, why does their instinct drive them to murder? The truth eludes us. Modern science, combined with historical data, has shown that living humans are not the only delights on the undead menu. Rescue teams entering an infested area have consistently reported them stripped of all life. Any creatures, no matter what their size or species, will be consumed by an attacking zombie. Human flesh, however, will always be preferable to other life forms. One experiment presented a captured specimen with two identical cubes of meat: one human, one animal. The zombie repeatedly chose the human. Reasons for this are still unknown. What can be confirmed, beyond any shadow of doubt, is that instinct brought on by Solanum drives the undead to kill and devour any living creature they discover. There appear to be no exceptions.

I. Killing the Dead

While destroying a zombie may be simple, it is far from easy. As we have seen, zombies require none of the physiological functions that humans need to survive. Destruction or severe damage of the circulatory, digestive, or respiratory system would do nothing to a member of the walking dead, as these functions no longer support the brain. Simply put, there are thousands of ways to kill a human—and only one to kill a zombie. The brain must be obliterated, by any means possible.

J. Disposal

Studies have shown that Solanum can still inhabit the body of a terminated zombie for up to forty-eight hours. Exercise extreme care when disposing of undead corpses. The head in particular possesses the most serious hazard, given its concentration of the virus. Never handle an undead corpse without protective clothing. Treat it as you would any toxic, highly lethal material. Cremation is the safest, most effective way of disposal. Despite rumors that a pile of burning corpses will spread Solanum in a cloud of smoking plague, common sense would dictate that any virus is unable to survive intense heat, to say nothing of an open flame.

K. Domestication?

To reiterate, the zombie brain has proved, so far, to be tamper-proof. Experiments ranging from chemicals to surgery to electromagnetic waves have yielded negative results. Behavioral modification therapy and other such attempts to train the living dead like some kind of pack animal have similarly met with failure. Again, the machine cannot be rewired. It will exist as is, or it will not exist at all.

The Voodoo Zombie

If zombies are the creation of a virus and not black magic, then how does this explain the so-called “voodoo zombie,” a person who has died, been raised from his grave, and is doomed to spend eternity as a slave of the living? Yes, it is true that the word “zombie” originally comes from the Kimbundu word “nzúmbe,” a term describing a dead person’s soul, and yes, zombies and zombification are integral parts of the Afro-Caribbean religion known as voodoo. However, the origin of their name is the only similarity between the voodoo zombie and the viral zombie. Although it is said that voodoo houngans (priests) can turn humans into zombies by magical means, the practice is rooted in hard, undeniable science. “Zombie powder,” the tool used by the houngan for zombification, contains a very powerful neurotoxin (the exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret). The toxin temporarily paralyzes the human nervous system, creating a state of extreme hibernation. With the heart, lungs, and all other bodily functions operating at minimal

levels, it would be understandable if an inexperienced coroner declared the paralyzed subject to be dead. Many humans have been buried while in such a state, only to awaken screaming in the pitch darkness of their coffin. So what makes this living human being a zombie? The answer is simple: brain damage. Many who are buried alive quickly use up the air inside their coffins. Those that are recovered (if they are lucky) almost always suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen. These poor souls shamble about with little cognitive skills, or, indeed, free will, and are often mistaken for the living dead. How can you distinguish a voodoo zombie from the genuine article? The telltale signs are obvious.

1. Voodoo zombies show emotion. People suffering from zombie powder–induced brain damage are still capable of all normal human feelings. They smile, cry, even growl with anger if hurt or otherwise provoked (something real zombies would never do).

2. Voodoo zombies exhibit thought. As has been stated before, when a real zombie encounters you it will immediately home in like a smart bomb. A voodoo zombie will take a moment to try to figure out who or what you are. Maybe it will come toward you, maybe it will recoil, maybe it will continue its observation as its damaged brain attempts to analyze the information given it. What a voodoo zombie willnot do is raise its arms, drop its jaw, unleash a hellish moan, and stumble directly toward you.

3. Voodoo zombies feel pain. A voodoo zombie that trips and falls will undoubtedly hold its bruised knee and whimper. Likewise, one already suffering from some other wound will nurse it, or, at the very least, be aware of the wound’s existence. Voodoo zombies will not ignore deep gashes in their bodies like a real zombie would.

4. Voodoo zombies recognize fire. This is not to say that they are afraid of open flames. Some that have suffered severe brain damage may not remember what fire is. They will stop to examine it, perhaps even reach out to touch it, but they will recoil once they realize it causes pain.

5. Voodoo zombies recognize their surroundings. Unlike real zombies, who only recognize prey, voodoo zombies will react to sudden changes in light, sound, taste, and smell. Voodoo zombies have been observed watching television or brightly flashing lights, listening to music, cringing at thunder, and even taking notice of one another. This last fact has been critical in several cases of mis-identification. Had the zombies in question not reacted to each other (they looked at each other, made noises, even touched each other’s faces), they might have been accidentally exterminated.

6. Voodoo zombies do NOT have hypersense. A human who has suffered the debilitating effects of zombie powder is still a sight-dependent human. He cannot operate perfectly in the dark, hear a footstep at 500 yards, or smell a living being on the wind. Voodoo zombies can actually be surprised by someone walking up behind them. This is not recommended, however, as a frightened zombie might react in anger.

7. Voodoo zombies can communicate. While this is not always the case, many of these individuals can respond to audiovisual signals. Many understand words; some even comprehend simple sentences. Many voodoo zombies possess the ability to speak, simply, of course, and rarely for extended conversations.

8. Voodoo zombies can be controlled. While not always true, many brain damaged humans have lost much of their self-realization, making them very susceptible to suggestion. Simply shouting for a subject to halt or even go away can be enough to get rid of a voodoo zombie. This has created the dangerous situation of confused people believing they could control or train true zombies. Several times headstrong humans have insisted they could simply command their living dead attackers to stop. As cold, rotting hands grabbed their limbs and dirty, worn teeth bit into their flesh, these people discovered, too late, what they were truly dealing with.

These guidelines should give you a good idea of how to tell a voodoo zombie from a true zombie. One final note: Voodoo zombies are almost always encountered in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the southern United States. Although it is not impossible to find someone who has been turned into a zombie by a houngan elsewhere, the chances of such an encounter are slim.

The Hollywood Zombie

Since the living dead first stepped onto the silver screen, their greatest enemy has not been hunters, but critics. Scholars, scientists, even concerned citizens have all argued that these movies depict the living dead in a fantastic, unrealistic fashion. Visually stunning weapons, physically impossible action sequences, larger-than-life human characters, and, above all, magical, invincible, even comical ghouls have all added their colors to the controversial rainbow that is “the Zombie Movie.” Further criticism argues that this “style over substance” approach to somnambulist cinema teaches human viewers lessons that may get them killed in a real encounter. These serious charges demand an equally serious defense. While some zombie movies are based on actual events*, their goal, indeed the goal of almost every movie in every genre, has always been, first and foremost, to entertain. Unless we are discussing pure documentaries (and even some of those are “sweetened”), moviemakers must take some artistic license to make their work more palatable to the audience. Even movies that are based on actual events will sacrifice pure reality for good storytelling. Certain characters will be an amalgam of real-life individuals. Others may be purely fictional in order to explain certain facts, facilitate the plotline, or simply add flavor to the scene. One might argue that the role of the artist is to challenge, educate, and enlighten her audience. That may be true, but try imparting knowledge to an audience who has either left or fallen asleep within the first ten minutes

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