Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Zombies

By Beth Terrell

Several posts ago, I wrote about dreams--how they fascinate me, how a number of writers have had the plots of their novels come to them in dreams. Where do dreams come from? What function do they serve? If dreams are a reflection of the dreamer, what does this one say about me? It's one of my favorites, one of my few first-person dreams. Usually, I dream in third person, and the story unfolds like a movie.

The invasion happened overnight. One day everything was normal. The next, the world was overrun by zombies. In some ways, they were just like you saw in the movies--slow and stupid--and at first they were easy to avoid. But beneath the stupid and behind the glazed expression, there was hatred. It wasn't brains they wanted. It was flesh. That, and maybe new converts. You'd see them shuffling along in herds, heads lolling, mouths agape, ragged clothes grimy with dirt and blood. They were slow, but they had perseverance. You had to give them that. I mean, they never slept, so it was inevitable that, sooner or later, they would pick off a few of the careless or weak. Someone who fell asleep in a park or left a door unlocked, or who just happened to have a fatal lapse of concentration. They'd close their eyes and wake up--if you could call it that--with great chunks ripped from their bodies and a wash of blood down the front of their shirts.

Their ranks swelled, and it got harder and harder to stay away from them. They were everywhere.

Then they got smart. They moved a little faster. Looked a little less empty around the eyes. They seemed less like herds than like packs. We kept on the move, never staying in one place too long, because that was how they got you. Smelled you maybe. Or maybe they had some weird kind of extra sense, like bats. Not sonar, exactly, but something that told them when they were in the presence of prey--even when it was carefully concealed.

There were twelve of us. We traveled in a pack of our own, steering wide of what were once human settlements and hiding from roving zombies and gangs of still-human predators.

Then one day, they got Bill. Before the invasion, Bill was my financial advisor. We went to college together. I still don't know how they got him. We just turned around, and he was gone.

Now, any reasonable person would have realized it was too late to do anything for Bill. Friend or no friend, he was a goner. But there was no blood on the ground where he disappeared, and no one had heard him cry out. I wondered if there was a chance he was still alive. None of us had ever heard of zombies taking prisoners, but they were doing lots of things they'd never done before. They could I say it?...They were evolving.

We crept to the nearest colony. There were groups of zombies wandering around the area. We crossed a narrow wooden bridge, and my stomach clenched when I looked down and saw what looked like sharks thrashing in the water below. A bloody stain spread across the surface of the water.

"Don't look down," said my friend David. "They can't hurt us up here."

We found Bill behind a building that had once been a warehouse. He was still alive, splayed flat on his back and tied by his wrists and ankles to stakes set in the ground. A pile of dried wood piled beside him suggested he'd been invited to a bonfire--probably as the roast. We looked around. Zombies all around, closing in on us. They didn't seem to know we were there, but if we stayed put, it was just a matter of time.

Behind us, a slurred voice said, "I can help you."

Startled, we spun to face the speaker. It was Bill. But Bill was bound and staked to the ground. How...?

We looked closer at the speaker. It was Bill, but not Bill. They say everyone has a double somewhere. Bill's must have got zombie-fied awhile back.

"I can help you," it said again.

Bill's undead double crept over to where Bill lay, untied him with fumbling fingers, and plopped into his place. There was a hint of emotion on the Double's face, but it was impossible to tell what it was. Fear? Resignation? Quickly, we thanked him and slipped the bonds around his ankles and wrists, tying them loosely so that the Double might have a chance to escape. None of us had ever seen a thing like this. Self-sacrifice? From a zombie? That was awfully nice of him.

We looked around. The area was thick with undead. Since there was no way out, we ducked into the old warehouse and hoped for the best.

There were zombies inside too. We ducked down the aisles, between shelving units, getting separated, occasionally seeing glimpses of each other. Finally, only David and I were left. I told myself the others had escaped. That they would be just fine. But David and I were in trouble. The zombies were closing in, herding us toward the side door of the warehouse. I looked outside and saw a milling crowd of zombies. Zombies in front of us, zombies behind. If we stayed where we were, the ones inside would catch us for sure. If we stepped outside, the ones on the porch and in the yard would see us and close in for the kill.

We looked at each other.

"What now?" David asked.

I shook my head. Hopeless. I said, "We go out there and pretend to be dead."

"It's a long shot."

"It's all we can do."

He nodded. We let our heads loll, tried to look hollow inside, and shuffled outside. He moved out among the zombies. I sat on the porch steps beside a zombie in bloodstained overalls. He was a little bit chubby, a little bit bald, with boyish features. Kind of cute, in an undead sort of way. Our gazes met, and I realized with a shiver of fear that he knew I was still alive.

I looked around again. There were zombies everywhere. There was no place to run.

"I brought you something," he said. "I've been trying to give it to you." He held up an oversized T-shirt. It was long enough to be a dress. Yellow, with a giant smiley face on the front. He said, "I wondered if I could take you to the dance."

A dance. A zombie dance. It was a heck of a lot better than being eaten. I reached for the T-shirt and said, "I guess I could do that."

He smiled. Stiffly, like rigor mortis had set in. But still, a smile was a smile.

The zombies had begun to move less like Herman Munster and more like just plain people. I suddenly understood that it was the quickness of our movements that had frightened them and driven them mad. Now that they were catching up with us, they felt more kindly toward us. Which was a big improvement.

I closed my eyes and saw how it would be. Humans and zombies, living and working side by side. I heard music, something jazzy, saw an apartment building. Through the windows I could see people dancing. In one room, a zombie in a black sweater, black trousers, and a red beret spun and dipped his wife, a June Cleaver-ish zombie in a poplin dress and an apron. They danced as they waited for the toaster to release their English muffins. A human girl stood on her father's feet as they waltzed in their living room. On the next floor, a mixed group of humans and zombies pulsed to heavy metal music, eating hors d'oeuvres and swilling beers.

It was a wonderful world.

Where do dreams come from? The same place stories come from: the subconscious mind. You see, writers are always writing, even in their sleep.


Jean Henry Mead said...

After reading your zombie post, I'm afraid I'm going to have nightmares. :)

Anonymous said...

That is one scary post. I'm confused. Did you dream it? If so, did you wake up in a cold sweat?
Pat Browning

Mark W. Danielson said...

The interesting thing about dreams is if you can immediately jot something down, you'll never forget them. On the other hand, ignore them and they are lost forever. Perhaps some dreams are meant to be forgotten.

Beth Terrell said...

I did dream it exactly as it is here, but I didn't wake up in a cold sweat. It started out scary, but then at the end, it got kind of sweet and funny (with the musical montage and everything).

That was what I found interesting. It was like my mind started out to have a nightmare and then decided it couldn't go through with it. "Oh, no, we're not going THERE.Here, let's make these zombies NICE.":)