Flash back ten months ago. It is the summer of 2010 and I’ve just been issued a challenge I’m determined to refuse.
The challenge doesn’t involve crazy aerobatics, unnatural physical endurance, or intense focus and commitment. No: the challenge is simply to write a zombie love short story.
I read through my friend’s email challenging me to take part, scowl in disgust, and hit ‘reply’. In the subject line I write ‘absolutely not!’ and in the body of the email I write:
“10 Things I Hate About Zombies”
1. They’re infectious
Nothing creeps me out more than disease. Remember that really cheesy film Mission Impossible II, where Tom Cruise has to destroy the genetically modified disease ‘Chimera’? Yeah. That gave me nightmares.
2. They’re insatiable
There really is no way to reason with these chaps. You know how the Athenians used to send 14 youths every so often to placate the Minotaur? That wouldn’t work here. Zombies will always be hungry for more.
3. They’re unstoppable
Combine reasons 1 and 2 and you get an unstoppable monster. Scientists have run projections on how a zombie virus would spread, and come to the conclusion that if it ever happened, we’d all be screwed. Great. So our options are either to become a zombie, or die while killing zombies? I’m taking the first spaceship out of here.
4. They’re disgusting
Zombies have no panache, no style. With zombies, you have all the issues of a decaying corpse: maggots, the smell, the exposed bone and sinew... ew! At least vampires look good while they’re doing their thing.
5. They’re the living dead
No one likes to be reminded of their own mortality, and zombies do just that: they show you how fragile your hold on life is. Their bodies are a full-colour moving model of what’ll happen to you when you die (minus the brain-hunger, hopefully).
6. They’re faithless
Zombies have no loyalty, no friends. The moment the infection sets in, everything—hopes, loves, relationships, dreams, goals—ceases to exist, replaced only by hunger. A zombie doesn’t even care what happens to another zombie.
7. They never give up
Zombies don’t get bored or impatient, or, you know, just plain tired of the whole hunting thing. Pretty soon you’ll run out of food and supplies, open your front door, and bam! They’ll be there, waiting. You wouldn’t want to queue behind these guys.”
That’s when I hit a roadblock. I was missing three reasons and my mind had gone blank.
I reread through the list, searching for inspiration, and all of a sudden I found myself wondering: What if zombies don’t have to be this way? What if they can feel emotion, fall in love? What if they are just as sad and lonely and human as the rest of us?
‘What if’: the two words that always mark the beginning of a story. I saved the email to drafts, opened a new document, and began writing.
One story turned into two, two into three. I kept my list handy and tried to break the rules. Swimming zombies, married zombies, zombie swans, zombies who fall in love.... The possibilities were endless.
Flash forward to today, and I’ve published an anthology of zombie love short stories I never thought I’d write.
I guess I don’t hate zombies after all.
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1889 LABS, http://1889.ca/books/hungry-for-you/