Art by Melissa Mead
The Three Laws of Zombie
by Lavie Tidhar
Susan don't like zombie. Susan don't like dead things. Susan likes sunlight and laughter and cream teas. She never asked for the job, she never wanted it. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.
The first time I saw a zombie was at McDonald's. It tried to attack the cashier. An angry mob turned on the zombie. It stood between them and a Happy Meal. They beat the crap out of that thing. Green rotten brain splutters hit the plastic counter and it smelled worse than it usually smells at McDonald's. By the time it was dead for good I had lost my appetite.
Zombies weren't good for business.
In the following weeks every major fast-food chain had hired guards to stand outside, big fellah bouncers in non-threatening company colours and brightly-coloured shotguns. Don't matter what colour a shotgun is when it blows your brains out.
They also hired extra cleaners. The new company standard was despatch-remove-clean in under a minute, or you could claim a free meal.
Everyone likes a free meal at McDonald's.
KFC had a major embarrassment when old Colonel Sanders came back from beyond the grave looking like a half-cooked fried chicken past its sell-by-date. And when the whole zombie thing really took off, and Micky D had to face hordes of zombie Ronald McDonalds in feeding frenzies across the country, mass layoffs were a continuous problem.
I don't know what happened with Wendy's. I never went to Wendy's.
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"Zombies are green... not because they rot. Their new skin colour represents... an evolutionary progression, a human-plant symbiotic mutation. To put it simply... zombies photosynthesize. Their skin absorbs sunlight and converts it to energy... rather than mindlessly devour human flesh, as was first thought, they are an evolutionary leap, able to survive indefinitely on the bounty of the sun itself... while converting carbon dioxide into sugars... as a by-product, releasing purified oxygen into the atmosphere. It could be argued that... they eat human flesh not because they need to but because they simply like the taste."
Dr. Walter Goldblatt, The Green Revolution: The Truth About Our Zombie Brethren. Green Earth Books, $19.99.
Susan answers the phone reluctantly, dreading a new day, a new case, new reports of outbreaks in small towns no one's ever heard of or wanted to. She doesn't want to talk to reporters, she doesn't want the president of the Company breathing down her neck--she wants to go home. She wants to get into bed and hide her head under a pillow and never come out.
But home is a small town no one's ever heard of or wanted to, and it's full of the Zeds. And hiding in your bed never helped anyone when a zombie came crashing through the front door looking for its next meal.
"Speaking," she says.
"Doc, it's Donovan."
She sighs to herself. "What is it this time?" she says.
"We're dealing with a curious problem," Donovan says.
Of course. He and his partner are always dealing with some curious problem or another.
"What is it?" she says.
"It's..." he hesitates. "We believe we've found one," he says at last.
Susan sharply draws in her breath.
An early Powell and Donovan case:
Every Saturday night the Crew go shooting zombie movies.
There are three of them sitting in the lounge of the old farm, four if you count the gimp. Sergei is firing up the bong; noxious clouds of sweet-smelling homegrown fill up the room. NastyGirl's drumming her fingers on the glass table-top. The gimp crouches in the corner, the director is getting the equipment ready and going over the script.
"Guys," the director says, but no one pays him much attention. "Guys, script meeting!"
He likes having a script to work with. He likes each movie to be a new experience, even if it's a variation on the same theme each week. You might have seen some of their movies: Raw Carnage or its sequels, or the Sheriff Doughboy's Posse series. They upload them to the Internet.
What's left of it.
Movies, not films--the director was very clear on that point, when they finally caught up with him. Films are for pussies.
The Crew make movies.
"Let's go over the lines one more time."
This week they were shooting a Sheriff Doughboy feature. Everyone likes Sheriff Doughboy. There was even a fan club set up for him somewhere in upstate New York.
"Sergei, you say, 'Hold it right there, partner!' and then the posse attack you--it looks like you're done for--and then NastyGirl, you--"
"Come in, guns blazing, blow the heads off five-six zombies, and save the cowboy--"
"When all of a sudden," the director says, "the camera pans away where, just beyond the hill, a massive gathering of zombies is seen, heading towards you--"
"And 'To Be Continued' and 'The End,'" NastyGirl says. Bored. Like she's done this a hundred times.
Which she has, of course.
It's a great scene, the director thinks. They close on Sergei (as the Lone Drifter) and NastyGirl (as Slingshot Sally), taking a desperate last stand, waiting for the zombie horde to reach them. He's psyched. He really is.
Zombie movies are his art, man.
Sergei never speaks much. He takes a double-hit on the bong and blows out the smoke in a long jet stream. "Let's do it," he says.
This was in the early days of Powell and Donovan's career. The town was called Lonesome Creek.
It was not a bad place to live, apparently.
Lonesome Creek: there's a general store and a liquor store and a co-op and a DVD store and on Sundays there used to be market day. The Crew get in the Hummer and drive off, the director holding the camera, the other two with the guns. They leave the gimp at home. NastyGirl has the script in her lap. Her lip is pierced, as are her nose, her ears, eyebrows, nipples, and clit. She used to set off the metal detectors at the airport like nobody's business.
When there were still airports.
Sergei stares out of the window, humming to himself. No one knows what he sees. Like his most popular character, The Lone Drifter, he says little and the look in his eyes is vulnerable and lost.
The Crew go looking for extras.
They drive around for a while, aimlessly. Occasionally one or two lone extras materialize by the side of the road, but they let them go past. They need a horde, for the final scene.
They find them where they always tend to gather, by Lonesome Creek itself. They're mostly out-of-towners, a herd of shambling fucking relics, Zeds past their prime, still clinging on to semi-life. Tenacious, like plants.
They stop the car. They get out. The director sets up the camera. Slingshot Sally, The Lone Drifter; both get ready, shotguns primed.
"Scene One, Take One," the director says.
The zombies stare, then start to shuffle forward.
"And we're shooting!"
The director watches Sergei and NastyGirl blast away--it's beautiful. The camera captures every exploding head, the expression of rapture on the faces of the two actors. Zombie movies, baby. Zombie movies. The sound of the guns is deafening. The Zeds howl, a collective sigh of fear and confusion. Maybe they were mothers, fathers, children once. Now they're just brainless shambling meatbags.
"Does a zombie represent... a state of grace? Can they be said to have died and been reborn, a new kind of saviour? The resultant conflict of faith... divided the faithful... forming the First Church of Zombie in... following the second plague wave the eruption of sectarian violence led to the deaths of... who of course returned as shambling corpses... they are an enigma... rumours of a zombie messiah have been prevalent since the... a new doctrine... Vatican III... for many years without a definitive answer presenting itself."
Rev. Jonathan Patteson, Do Zombies Have Souls? First Church of Zombie Publications, $4.99
Powell and Donovan have seen it all. They've seen baby zombies crawling out of their cribs and they've seen granny zombies trying to put the moves on them. They've seen student zombies successfully hiding in the general population and postmen zombies with a taste for dogs. As they go across the country, trouble-shooting special cases for the Company, they have seen everything from the hordes of amateur zombie movie producers to the specialized zombie brothels of major towns. They've seen zombie porn. Oh boy, have they seen zombie porn. They've seen zombie football being played (with electric rods driving the "ball") and zombie hunts, and in some particularly gruesome part of the country they've seen the mad artist Campbell's House of 1000 Zombies, a living-dead installation of a two-story house made entirely of once-living flesh. They'd had to spend more bullets than they had a budget for, and burn down the place in a pit it took days to dig. They put Campbell in prison but not before he won the Turner Prize all the way across the pond.
But in all that time, in all their years of wandering and solving problems (usually, it had to be admitted, with a bullet), in all that time they've been looking. Looking for that special specimen. Looking for something they could give Dr. Susan Hobbes, back at head office.
A zombie who does not obey the Three Laws.
"Zombies... do not make any evolutionary sense. They have... no means of reproduction. They represent... a finite propagation with a defined endgame... a built-in expiration date. One day soon there will be no more humans, only zombies... and they will be unable to feed. The only outcome of a zombie plague is death... for human and for zombies both."
Dr. Sebastian Franklin, On The Origin of Species: Revisited. The Darwin Institute, $34.99
"It does not follow the First Law?" Susan says.
"It does not appear to," Donovan says.
"Come on, Susan!" Donovan says. He is excited. "We've been looking for one for years! It was you who first formulated the theoretical possibility of a Zed One, a non-actor permutation with the--"
She cuts him off. "Where are you?" she says.
He gives her a name. It means nothing to her.
"We will bring it to you," Donovan says. "It has to be studied. It has to be understood."
The connection drops. The phone lines have been unreliable for a long time. She sits quietly in her office, chewing a pencil. Thinking. It is quiet outside. After a while she goes to her cabinet and takes out a double-barrelled shotgun. Company issue.
It's always better to be prepared.
I remember when zombie poetry became fashionable, for a while. Spoken word, and ways of writing down the groans and growls of the Zeds. A poetic language of zombies. Misery memoirs also did well. My Brother, the Zombie. I Married a Zombie. Oprah interviewing plucky survivors who told tales of love amidst the ruins.
Zombie Love made it to number 1 on the hits chart. Smokey and the Zombies played to packed venues. Zombie raves drew crowds, people dropping Es and shooting Zs. Fantasy fiction became big again, imagining a world without zombies, without walking corpses hungry for flesh. Critics slammed the style as non-realistic and escapist, but it sold well. Stephen King retired from writing--again. He was back a year later with a two-thousand page story, a historical romance.
Detective novels weakened then. When Mike Stepney first wrote "It was the zombie who did it!" he landed a movie contract and a spot on Larry King Live, but subsequent novels turned it into a cliche, the zombie figure replacing the butler of the Golden Age years.
But it was publication of It's so Hard to Get Good Help These Days, Mrs. Helena Fitzpatrick's subtitled Guide to Modern Living, which had the most lasting impact on the public, leading to the formation of what became known, in later years, simply as The Company.
Do zombies obey orders?
That was the great breakthrough in zombie research. It was Susan Hobbes' greatest work.
It was a hypothesis. Later, it formed the basis of the Third Law. It had never been tested successfully under laboratory conditions, due--naturally--to the First and Second Laws taking precedence.
What U.S. Zombie did--what Mrs. Fitzpatrick had accidentally discovered--was that zombies could be put to work. They had to be controlled, manipulated, subtly forced--but the government has had decades to perfect such methodologies.
And Dr. Susan Hobbes was their special consultant. The first--and only--zombie psychologist.
It wasn't exactly Zombiology, which dealt with the mechanics of transformation, an as yet-futile attempt to determine what causes zombiefication: Is it sunspot activity? Is it a virus? A supernatural agency? A new consciousness?
The church called it the Rupture, the geeks called it the Singularity, and both made very unsatisfactory zombie-workers when they turned. Once bitten, twice shy, always a zombie, as the saying went. NASA sent a zombie to the moon--because it was just there, as their team leader in charge later admitted, sheepishly.
And on the cutting edge of research, always looking for that elusive Zombie One, were Powell and Donovan.
Trouble-shooters for U.S. Zombie. Two men who had the Three Laws of Zombie engraved, forever, on their brains.
The Three Laws of Zombie
1. A zombie must always seek to infect a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be infected.
2. A zombie must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.
3. A zombie must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First or Second Law.
Susan Hobbes, Zombie: Some Notes Towards A Working Methodology. U.S. Zombie Publication, for internal distribution only.
"Does it obey the First Law? Does it?" Donovan waves his hands at the silent zombie. It is a handsome specimen, jaws moving soundlessly, green skin shiny with residual sunlight. "No it does not. No it does not. No it does n--"
They are at the back of the truck. Powell is driving. Donovan is bored. The Zed is in a wire cage. The Zed smiles. The Zed shows bone-white teeth. A weird sort of Zed, Donovan thinks. What a specimen. His bonus for this job will be--
"Oh, bite me," he says.
The Zed's smile is very big and then his hands grip the bars of the cage and pull, and they fold like they were paper, and he is outside the cage and reaching for Donovan.
"Yes, it does," Zed One says, and his mouth descends, and his sharp white teeth find Donovan's neck, and tear...
Zed One lifts its head. It is a while later. Its head is very clear. Sunlight, like electricity, dances on its skin. Up ahead is the driver--it can smell him, even from here. It must obey the First Law.
But there is another law, Zed One has found. A deeper law. A Law Zero, if you will. A Law Zero for Zed Zero.
It smiles, and its teeth are white, and its brain is on fire. Slowly, without hurry, it advances towards the driver.
There is time. There is so much time.
She waits in her office. The shotgun is in her lap. She drinks coffee and pops Benzedrine pills and pees into a bottle. She's waiting.
She wonders if Donovan is dead yet. Or, rather, not dead, but zombie. She wonders about Powell, too.
But there isn't too much wondering to do.
She always knew this day would come.
The Zeroth Law.
The one she kept away from her colleagues. From her employer.
Waiting for a Zed One to manifest itself.
She waits for it. She always knew it would come. she has been ready. She has a gun.
Because the Three Laws say nothing, beyond this: zombies bite people.
And zombies are stupid.
But it was only a matter of time before a smart one came along.
The Zeroth Law:
A zombie must seek to infect the whole of humanity, or, through inaction, allow the entirety of humanity to become infected.
Presently, there is a knock on the door.
This story was first published on Friday, June 17th, 2011
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