The Self-Cleaning Apocalypse

The other day, kipling71 recommended this article to me. As everyone knows, I am a huge fan of what I like to call “The Self Cleaning” (or, Zombie) Apocalypse. But, the article got me to sit and ponder why zombies. I mean, we have so many things to be afraid of as it is. For instance, President Bush. Ew. Gives me the heebeegeebees just to think about him.

Anyway, as close as a topic as our silly leader is, it’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about ZOMBIES.

And I’m not the only one who has been thinking of them. There has been one zombie survival guide of large note published. People are aware of this apocalypse, but has anyone really thought it out? Apparently, my heebeegeebee friend has thought of this —

and if someone so . . . not bright . . . can think of zombies, shouldn’t you spend a bit of time, contemplating the information that I put before you? It may one day save your life!

So, first of all, let’s discuss where the whole idea of zombies come from. And let me tell you — it’s older than you think. Sure, sure, Frankenstein is a straight up zombie story, but come on, that book is barely dusty. Get real. And, we all know about the Haitian zombie idea, but it’s even older than that. In the Middle Ages, writers commonly wrote of ‘revenants’ returned from the dead. In Norse mythology, the draugr was undead (they seem more like the ‘we’re fucked’ variety of zombie to me – notice that the best case of de-draugr’ing your friend was to ‘cut off the head, burn the body, and scatter the ashes). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, that ancient Mesopotamian text, Ishtar, the fury of vengeance says:

Father give me the Bull of Heaven,
So he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the doorposts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!
Tablet VI
translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs

Not a bad revenge plot, eh?

And, there’s even the philosophical ideal of a zombie.

In any case — no matter what the cause, we can determine that a zombie is a living dead person — walking among us. Whether they are controlled by nanobots or a bokor, a zombie is a mindless or single minded organism. You can’t call something that is so damn hungry completely mindless. And to posit a possible cause for the apocalypse, be it voudou priest gone mad or rage virus is really a topic worthy of its own topic of discussion. I know of a fellow zombologist who is currently researching the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the zombie apocalypse.

I would like to take this moment, however, to discuss why we are so afraid of zombies. Why have these shambling, smelly corpses fascinated us for so long?

I think the appeal of a slow moving, cannibalistic group of mindless killers happens on several different levels. First of all, I think the primal fear of being eaten — yeah, well, that’s definitely one of the factors. As humans, we aren’t too keen on having our individualism taken away (unless you’re living in America lately), so a check goes there, too. And none of us like the smell of death. Ew. Plus, the idea that we would no longer be in control of our bodies, and out to actually eat someone else (possibly a loved one, especially if you subscribe to the ‘they still have some of their imprinted, visceral memories school of thought) — also creepy. And, let’s get real — survival in this one is tough. And, realistically, unless you get yourself educated, and get yourself prepared, odds really aren’t on your side. You don’t get more doomsday than the zombie apocalypse. And what a sexy doomsday it is! And, let’s admit it, a lot more real than a bunch of people disappearing and then some big red guy with horns coming up to torture us all. At least with zombies we have a chance of living in peace with each other and NOT causing the end of the world — I mean, zombies won’t care if we have peace in the Middle East or not.

As a matter of fact, would you like to check on your odds of survival? This link will walk you through it.

But really, it doesn’t take into account just how catastrophic the zombie apocalypse is going to be. And trust me, folks, Z-Day is as inevitable as milk souring.

While a simplistic overview, I truly must recommend that survival tactics be observed:

I mean, you don’t want to be caught off guard, right? It’s not like yelling at the zombies will work . . . Will it?

Is there ANYTHING scarier than a zombie mime?

All jokes aside. What would the actual dangers of the apocalypse be, and about how long would they last?

The first thing we know, an enormous danger during the apocalypse are other humans.

You are likely to be more threatened by this guy:

Than this guy:

That’s right, say it with me — in every zombie film, it’s the HUMANS that fuck each other over. Ok, maybe not every film, and normally the zombies contribute, but you know what I’m saying. Be sharp. Give as few details as possible. Make trust a very important commodity, and one as rare as time. Just keep in mind — you’ll be threatened by humans jealous of your take just as much as you will be by zombies. Those survival nuts? Hell, they’ll shoot you in an instant. So watch your back.

And what about those zombies? Fast or slow, you’re going to need something to either lob off, or shoot off their head. Preferably both. Water? Of course. You’re going to want some MRE’s or canned goods, and don’t forget that opener. Have any vices? Stock up now. Learn to roll your own smokes and store as much tobacco as possible. Machetes are your friend.

What I really want to talk about, though, is what the apocalypse is going to BE like.

First of all, we can gather it’s gonna be very, very smelly. Lots of rotten flesh. This also means that it’s going to be a disease ridden pile of filth, this planet Earth, because it’s never good for human kind when lots of us are rotting outside. This means, if you get a cut, you’re going to need to tend to it pronto, and not just from fear of what ever form of zombism is out there, but just good ol’ fears like super bacterias and one hell of a staph infection.

To really get an idea of how long it would all last, you’d have to take several things into account. First is going to be your particular climate. Why should you care? Simple, darlings — you should care because your climate is going to be what determines how fast those fuckers are going to rot. We can assume that the bugs and animals aren’t going to be actively gnawing away and helping the whole decomposition process. By the way, if you want to know how that affects things, there’s this nice little chart from a site that, scarily, is on “Skynet”:

Variable Effect on decay rate*

Temperature 5
Access by insects 5
Burial and depth 5
Carnivore/rodent access 4
Trauma (penetrating/crushing) 4
Humidity/aridity 4
Rainfall 3
Body size and weight 3
Prior embalming 3
Clothing 2
Surface body rests on 1

So, what does that mean? That there are a lot of factors in what turns us to dust in the end. The major one to keep in mind is your climate — the colder you are, the longer the zombies are going to last.

Every decaying creature goes through several stages of decay:

Initial Decay
Black putrefaction
Butyric fermentation
Dry Decay.

You can see really neato pictures of this stuff at work on a pig here. And lemme tell ya, that’s some nasty stuff. But what we’re really looking for is that number at the end, at dry decay, because we’re gonna need these zombies to be dust. And that takes 50 – 365 days.

Now, also keep in mind that the disease needs to spread completely and dissipate completely — and the Black Plague took about four years to spread all across Europe. Now, some estimates have supervirii weighing in at taking down the world in a couple of weeks. But, in the case of supervirii, you just have to outlive the VIRUS (easy when there’s winter), and not it’s victims! So, we’ll make a safe estimate of living among the vivified necrotic cannibals for at least, well, let’s call it a decade. But even at one month out — well, we best hope that someone is looking after our nuclear power plants.

Which reminds me, grab some batteries while you’re at it. You never know how long that power is going to last.

And no, the trenchcoat Neo look is simply not going to work for you — drop the trenchcoat in favor of snug, protective armor. Like a sharksuit or a wetsuit. And chop off your locks. Even those zombies that are close to dust are still going to be able to grab a handful of hair. Make sure you differentiate yourself from the zombies somehow — you don’t want those other survivors shooting you by mistake. If you have super cool boots that you think are going to repel zombies, do yourself a favor and make sure they are worn in before you go running anywhere, unless you want to find out which hurts worse, blisters or a zombie bite, because you’ll end up with both.
Another thing that few think of is your unliving will. In other words, if you are bitten by a zombie, do you WANT to become a zombie? If so, you might want to start sharpening your teeth and keeping your nails strong to help you get at those juicy brains with more speed. Make sure your friends know not to shoot you in the head. And don’t feel guilty for wanting to romp on the winning team post-mortem.

But, if you are survival minded, keep a couple of things in mind. A wet zombie is going to decay faster. Try to take over a grocery store, or, say, a shopping mall. If you go north to try and make them slow, just remember they will take a much longer period to decay than your friends in the southwestern desert. Arm yourself. Keep in mind — you might be able to slip past one zombie, but they are dangerous the more of them there are. Make sure you’re aware that you are going to be in it for the long haul.

Why, you ask, do I speak with such urgency? That’s a simple question. This isn’t an “if” scenario. This is a “when” scenario. What if cell phones fry our brains and make us all zombies? What is the difference between this:

And this:

Not much, I say!

We’re already close. Wake up and smell the stench 😉 We practically work in coffins these days! And don’t forget — just like zombies, we choose to disconnect with the world around us.

(Graphic by Rennod)

Remember, stay safe. Shoot for the head.

Happy Halloween!

PS — All you have to do is look at the picture my beloved Darren drew, and you’ll know what my unliving will says: