Husk Chronicles, #6 – tweaking zombies

How do you tweak a zombie?

Pinch his behind and run like hell.

Thank all that’s holy that joke didn’t make it into the book.

Once again, with feeling; how do you tweak a zombie?

In a previous post, I wrote of my fondness for the zombie as the ultimate monster (he is us, he is metaphor, etc). I also committed the cardinal sin of admitting that, as personalities, zombies are really boring. In regards to the thinking zombie, your cinematic pickings are slim: there was Bub in Day of the Dead, he has glimmerings of an internal monologue; Big Daddy in Land of the Dead almost led an undead revolution; and Fido in Fido becomes a beloved family pet. But even in those instances, it’s still all groans and moans and shuffling and appetite. There is some actual thought into the morality of the undead in Return of the Living Dead, where two men become infected, die, and still walk about conversing and wondering what the hell is happening to them, but even there (SPOILERS), the full zombie effect soon hits one (resulting in drooling attacks of the cannibalistic nature), and the other cremates himself before he can lose all control.

No, if you want to have your zombie become a main character, with motivations and personal issues and qualms and questions of morality versus the need for brunch, you’re going to have to:

  1. write a book, because you need the expansiveness of paper to fully delve into psychological ramblings, and
  2. do some serious rejiggering on the mythology.

Or at least I did, and I’m hardly the first; check out the spectacular anthology The Living Dead for a cornucopia of talented authors pushing at the limits of zombie literature. David Wellington threw some curveballs in his Monster trilogy, Robin Becker kept an innate intelligence functioning behind the decaying brain of her hero in Brains: A Zombie Memoir, and although I haven’t gotten to read it yet, I’ve heard very interesting things about S.G. Browne’s Breathers.

For my own take on it, I wanted to make sure that Sheldon Funk (my zombitagonist) retained the basic elements of the classic undead; he had to eat people. He could feel conflicted, he could debate the morality, but in the end he needed to feast on the sweet sweet tang of human flesh, or rot away to nothing. A little wish-wash namby-pambiness was fine, but I needed Sheldon to be a monster, albeit a monster you can relate to. Darn it, I wanted the guy to be nice. Without that, there would be no reason to follow his adventures.

So I kept far more aspects of humanity intact after Sheldon’s resurrection, and made him out to be my ‘patient zero,’ my Typhoid Mary. He would wield those certain character traits that any objective observer might classify as ‘ghoulish’ (the biting, the rotting, the possibility of infection, the lack of a heartbeat), but he would still retain the capacity for rational thought and intelligent speech (although the second is far harder than you’d think). People can then react to him either as a man or a demon, as he contains aspects of both.

This is what I call ‘tweaking,’ and what others may call ‘distortion’ or ‘outright wrong.’ But I feel that if a certain bestselling author can create a cult around vampires who twinkle in the daytime, I should be allowed a great deal of latitude with how a reanimated corpse might behave. Personally, rather than admit any ancestry to Twilight’s horribly bland shampires, I feel Sheldon is far more a cousin to Steven Sherril’s sad and lonely Greek monster in the wonderful The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, slaving away through eternity as a short-order cook.

If you do have a problem with my taking of zombie liberties, I can only suggest that, rather than complain, you write your own book on the subject.

That’ll show me.