It Has To Happen Fast

As much as I love the zombie apocalypse genre, it has one glaring major flaw: in a world where horror movies, and specifically zombie movies, exist a zombie apocalypse isn’t likely to happen.  If you were to ask ten random people on the street how to kill a zombie, nine and a half of them will probably know how – aim for the head, destroy the brain, etc.  This, in fact, is one of the things I tend to hate most about various zombie stories.  The movie Scream was fantastic because it subverted the genre of horror films by allowing its character to know about horror films when the norm is for people to wander around in the dark by themselves even after discovering that other people have been killed while wandering around in the dark by themselves.

Unwillingness to Kill

The primary crutch that most zombie stories rely on is the reluctance of people to kill other people, especially friends and family members.  I’m fairly certain most of my friends and family are aware that if they become infected, I might keep them around as long as they are useful but once they turn I’m going to put a spike through their brain.  And while I know there are people out there who would be all protective of their recently dead loved ones, I think the education provided by the cautionary tales of zombie films would be enough to make that rare.

Of course, the real obstacle is a well prepared military.  If the world were to suddenly have pockets of zombies crop up, squads of the National Guard (assuming they aren’t in the Middle East) would be dispatched to deal with the situation.  At the very least they would round-up and contain the undead while researchers worked on possible solutions.  In fact, the real threat here is political, as people in Washington jockey for position concerning the rights of Undead Americans and slow down the response and effectiveness of those trained to deal with situations of a violent nature.

Spread of Infection

Depending on the source, another hill for a zombie apocalypse to shamble over is the nature of the infection.  Traditionally, after the initial turning of corpses or people into flesh-eating monsters, the zombification spreads through bite.  In most stories, the initial cause is a localized accident, either a chemical spill or natural event.  From there and moving to a pass-through-bite scenario, suddenly it seems kind of silly that an apocalypse is even possible.  An event of that sort should take a couple of hours to clean up, maybe a day.

Other stories are more ambitious and use either a specific global event (pass through the tail of a comet) or just go with a generic “the dead started getting up everywhere, all at once, and we don’t know why” nebulous unknown source.  This, at least, has potential.  If you get dozens, hundreds or even thousands of locations with zombies simultaneously, you begin to plausibly stress the available response resources.  You also gain the ability to have pockets of infection go unnoticed and get out of control.

How Would I Do It*

I’ve thought about it a lot.  Obviously, I mean, the title of my blog is “Aim for the Head” and the logo is a zombie.  And as the title of this post says, it has to happen fast.  In my version, the infection that causes the zombies happens in stages.  The first is a virus, the most contagious ever seen.  It’s airborne, it’s in the water, passed by contact and blood.  It is literally everywhere, and it kills 10% of those infected.  Literally a decimation of the world population.  However, those who don’t die appear to be immune to further infection.  That fact, combined with the contagion level of the virus, leads to the decision to stop trying to stop it and instead simply to allow everyone to get infected, killing one out of ten people but leaving the remaining nine immune.

Years later, when people are finally beginning to forget the horror of the Decimation Virus, people start dropping dead.  It’s just like before, people panic that the Decimation is back, everything goes nuts, and in the confusion, people don’t notice right away that the people who died aren’t staying dead.  Within hours, approximately one tenth of the world’s population is one of the walking dead, and that percentage is rising.

The point is, it has to be everywhere, all at once, with relatively high-speed in order to outstrip the ability to respond, so that bolting the front door and staying inside is the smartest decision that too many people will not make.  It has to happen fast.

* If you decide to steal this idea, let me know, perhaps we can collaborate, or maybe we can settle on you just giving me some credit.


  1. Interesting. Your method has the additional advantage of absolute uncertainty about your allies. We’re all infected by the virus. It seems to NOT affect us, but it does seem to randomly cause death/zombification in others… so why not you? me? that guy down the street? could it just happen overnight?

    Its a total sudden shift in dynamic. In traditional tales, the survivors gather together, barricade out the shambling hordes, and try to survive together. If someone’s bit or otherwise injured, there’s a fear of him becoming “one of them” and all the dillemma that causes, but otherwise, its “band together and keep out the threat.”

    Yours suddenly brings paranoia to a whole new level. Wherever you are, no matter what the defenses in your compound may be, there’s always a chance that someone will ‘die and change’ overnight, while you sleep. You can’t trust the perimeter guards. You can’t trust your most trusted friend, as he’ll have no control over it if it does happen. You can’t even reasonably expect anyone to trust you.

    You could become a total isolate… and be more vulnerable to the randomly-encountered hordes… or you can find some way to band together but sleep in with guards not just watching the perimeter, but the sleepers… and each other… and in each morning, making sure every person is still himself. Hopefully, these zombies are the ‘slow, shambling dead’ sort… if it was a fast-mover, I’d be pretty nervous about standing too close to anyone that hasn’t awakened… just in case.

  2. My spin, inspired by yours, trying to justify a less-sudden outbreak.

    There is an infection with a long incubation period. It doesn’t have any outward symptoms, so it doesn’t cause any immediate alarm. Unlike yours, it never causes a decimation, or need to spread to 100% infection. The infection follows normal outbreak vectors– concentrated more in dense population centers, particularly transporation hubs.

    The first signs that something’s wrong is when epidemiologists notice reports of increased mental illness. Because the initial outbreak centers on urban developed areas (places with global transporation), this uptick is initially attributed to the stress of living in the hyperdeveloped world. We’re not talking psycho-axe-murderers here– Irritability, auditory hallucinations, and changes of personality start things off… and only for a small portion of the infected. They’ll progressively grow worse… but more on them later.

    Eventually, scientists isolate the virus… but it appears in so many healthy people that the pattern isn’t clear cut. In the few brain biopsies of the few that went mad and died (accidents mostly– step onto a busy street, etc) some of the neurons appear infected, but autopsies of “sane” virus-carriers show no passage through the “blood-brain barrier.” A picture starts to emerge, but there are so few samples (brain biopsies on the living is, after all, a pretty extreme step to take) and the info is so new that there room for a great deal of skepticism and debate. The CDC and WHO finally have the data to suggest something’s happening, but not enough to say with any certainty what it is or what needs done. Many argue the finds are a worthless red herring, but others believe in this quite strongly… and wonder what would happen if more neurons were infected. REAL scientific studies suggest that the permeability of the blood-brain barrier changes (allergies, colds, injuries, and extreme stress are all known factors.) What would happen if some sort of trigger made more of the brain infected?

    Well before even this realization gets broad attention, tales of the “walking dead’ had made some circulation in certain circles. Most were written off as just drugged out crazies or the tales told by unreliable (perhaps mentally-ill) eyewitnesses.

    The pieces of the puzzle are just barely coming together when the next flu season officially starts.

    It happens fast. The flu proves to be a perfect stressor to affect the blood-brain barrier for many people. Even the flu shot proves effective at stressing others… and for some, the sheer stress of the outbreak is enough to trigger the change. Those bitten are infected through the saliva with both the virus (if they don’t already have it) and the stressor (as if being bitten wasn’t stressful enough) and often change (but sometimes don’t… just to add to the uncertainty and give people a reason to hold onto hope that their now-bitten-loved-one WILL come through). Dying (or near-death) itself proves to be a very common infection-stressor, leading people to characterize these beings as the “walking dead.”

    Soon, they’re everywhere.

    Survivors try to band together, but don’t know who to trust. Some people, particularly those that have people with medical expertise, can run blood tests for the virus, and only allow those that aren’t carriers. Some hucksters also gain prominence in groups by PRETENDING to have a test for the virus. Other places are filled with “carriers” banding together, hoping that they won’t change… paranoid of changes in the people they rely on for help… and not….trusting… anyone (is that paranoia natural or part of the slow-infection seen above?) Some assume that everyone bitten will change and some bear the bite marks and carry the virus but never change (or will they change when the next flu season comes arround… or when their hay fever crops up this summer…)

    There are no absolutes– fear and uncertainty abound.

    And, remember those early-infected “madmen?” They’re still around. The gradual infection process they encountered gives the infected brain better access to the motor controls. They move faster, maintain more dexterity, and have very normal hand-eye coordination. Some even, all this time later, still maintain the ability to speak and even maintain their appearance. Heck, they could even probably pass as normals…. but they ARE still driven by the unquenchable hunger and they WILL kill without remorse when you let your guard down…

    Good luck figuring out who to trust.

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