Published in Cellstories in 2010
The zombie apocalypse began on a frigid February morning in Chicago when Mildred Cavanagh, age 82, slipped and fell while attempting to step around bum’s puke that crystallized on the sidewalk. When Cavanagh came to a few moments later, she raised herself from the ground, gathered the groceries that had fallen out of her cart, and faintly murmured the word “brains”. Cavanagh was shot six hours later by Officer Mike Kowalski as she attempted to suck her son-in-law’s brain through a straw she’d bored in his skull.
The apocalypse lasted decades longer than it does in the movies: three weeks after Cavanagh’s fall, only 23% of Chicago’s population had joined the undead. The zombies continued with their day-to-day tasks, harvesting brains under the cover of night. Undead teachers went to school, CTA employees continued to drive their buses, and city workers drank coffee on the side of blocked streets during rush hour. In the early days, it was difficult to tell who was or was not a zombie: there were polite zombies, asshole zombies, plumber zombies and day-trading zombies, Jew zombies and goy zombies, gruff meatpacking zombies on the South Side and college-student zombies who brained their roommates with bongs.
At first, police tried to kill zombies they caught in the act of harvesting brains, since attempting arrest was too dangerous. This became impractical after their population grew over 20%. A handful of senators argued that Chicago be quarantined, but that was tabled since shutting down a major urban center would negatively affect the U.S. economy. The CDC attempted to develop a vaccine, but the cause for the zombie infection remained elusive, and their efforts were unsuccessful.
The zombies became an influential demographic. Jeffrey Steward, alderman for the 35th ward and himself undead, made an impassioned plea for zombie representation in the state and federal government. Toby Foods Inc., identifying an emerging market, began to sell brain stew at grocery stores throughout the Great Lakes area. Effectively making the case that brain stew was a far more humane alternative, Toby Foods Inc. won favor with both the zombie and non-zombie population. The first version of the product, produced exclusively from cow and pig brain, was poorly received. When scientists at the company found through focus group testing that there was a property in human brains that the zombies preferred, they came up with a second recipe that mixed cow and pig brain with a synthetic substitute including brain procured from homeless people who had been found dead on the street. When the family of Yazmina Perez, aged 93, found that their deceased mother’s brain had been sent to Toby Foods Inc. for processing, the family sued both the company and the admitting hospital. The case was settled outside of court for an undisclosed sum. On the whole, zombies were content with Toby Foods Inc.’s brain products, save for a handful of “bad apples” who continued to kill human citizens. Such events were rare, however, and were no more than a rounding error on the country’s already-inflated murder rate. The undead became mainstream: reality television show Dancing With a Zombie was hailed by advocacy groups as a sign that their population was enjoying greater acceptance in society.
There were skeptics, of course. Pastor Andrew Mayles became a prominent public figure, claiming that zombies were producing and distributing snuff films over the Internet in which college students were initiated into the undead. When Mayles was revealed to himself be undead, activist groups derided him as a “self-hating zombie”. Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis thought there was a kernel of potential in Mayles’ idea, and produced a series of videos named Zombies Gone Wild in which undead co-eds bared their tits in exchange for beads.
There were less tangible societal effects. Families were torn apart, as husbands and wives found it difficult to relate with one another once one of them joined the ranks of the undead. Within a year, the world’s birthrate had dropped precipitously. The major problems wouldn’t begin for another three years. The company’s “humane and sensible” approach to sourcing human brains could not scale with the demand, leading to shortages and an increase in zombie-on-human violence. By that time, the undead had risen to 48% of the voting population, and a pro-zombie ticket took the White House atop a populist movement. Albert Greenview, the first zombie leader of the Free World, drove the United States entered into a pre-emptive war with the newly-unified Latin Americas. Greenview’s administration contended that the country was unethically sourcing its human brain supplies and was stealing from the United States supply. No compelling evidence of this was presented and in retrospect the war is considered a blatant attempt to source brains from foreign soil. Boasting superior firepower, the United States quickly won the engagement, leading to a brain trade agreement that many in the Latin American government claimed was inequitable. Scholars warned of an impending shortage dubbed “peak brain”: as the zombie population grew, and birthrates plummeted, there would be no way to meet demand. At the time, such claims were derided as unsubstantiated fear-mongering; few recognized how quickly this would come true. The following two decades were marked by war, as the populations of entire continents were decimated, their corpses harvested by Toby Foods Inc. and its competitors to produce more brain stew. The company adopted a slogan, “It’s what keeps us civilzed,” that drew heat from both anti-war activists and stockholders, who considered their mass-market brain stew far from civilized, as opposed to upmarket offerings from the likes of Templeton’s and U.A.D. Holdings.
Due to numerous wars of attrition and unsuccessful attempts to create a synthetic brain substitute, it had become clear, forty years after Mildred Cavanagh’s fateful fall, that the zombie population’s need for brains was unsustainable. The human population, now a mere 32% of the world’s population, was splintering. While many humans continued to go about their lives, an extremist contingent argued that the only way to survive was to arm a militia and fight back against the zombie hordes, comfortable in their seats in the United Nations and in Corporate America’s boardrooms. This movement was unable to gain traction, however: its extremist rhetoric was off-putting to most people, even as the fought for their survival.
Three years later, most of the major brain suppliers went out of business, when it was revealed that they had lowered the percentage of brain in their products to barely-measurable levels. It was quickly havok on every street the world over, as the undead, depleted from their lack of nutrients, methodically shuffled from their day jobs, tore off their ties and work-wear, and roamed the streets looking for fresh human brain. It was shock to zombie and human alike when they discovered that the zombie stomach had evolved in their short time on Earth, and that they could no longer consume pure human brain. A small percentage of the zombies thrived, but the rest failed quickly, unable to procure brains from urban areas where humans had all but disappeared.
Even though the odds had been improved for the continued survival of the human race, there was no doubt that the zombie apocalypse had come: society had ground to a halt, and basic utilities were no longer available. The remaining zombie population was fractured, with some attempting to return to the lives they had once enjoyed, living on stockpiles of brain stew, while others roamed the streets looking for humans to attack.
58 years after Iris Cavanagh’s fall, the few of us remaining humans escaped underground. The remaining undead, slow-moving and spent, were unable to follow. Fellow refugees tell of horrible sights as they escaped: zombies feasting upon all sort of mammal, to no satisfaction. Desperate attempts to find substitutes, such as crushing cockroaches and blending thousands of their centimeter-wide brains in factories once used to produce hot dogs; the cavities of human skulls scraped for the last, fleeting, taste of brain. But it was for naught: Within a year the last zombie fell to the ground spent, leaving the world silent, save for our faint murmurs below the cement.