The white zombie had, apparently, haunted the American hinterlands since The Collapse. Not everyone knew about him, or, if they did, gave much of a shit. Only a relative few had seen him wending his way through this or that horde and, of those, very few had actually taken shots at him or tried to ram a pike through his face, or at least that’s the general assumption, because it’s just as possible that many more had seen him, though it’s hard to say because so many of the convoys were so competitive with one another and just as likely to open fire on one another as to share information about the comings and goings of any one commodity—no matter how notable his markings.
Everyone had heard that hordes had decimated a number of outfits lately out here on the fringes, but survivors or acquaintances of these survivors recounting stories at various outposts around the coastal bioregion weren’t exactly concerned with any one zombie, since the more memorable terror came, as a general rule, when hundreds or even thousands of anonymous demons, an entire small town or city demographic, suddenly descended on your position from a silver bank of fog. The lucky survivors were generally more likely to attribute any bloodbath to the many rather than the few—blinded by the 99 filling up your field of vision, never even seeing the 1.
And yet there was an uncanny number of men who claimed to have seen him and taken pot shots at him. It wasn’t just because he was a zombie—anyone alive at this point had already seen more zombies than they could have counted—but because he was something much more disconcerting: a zombie that stood out. There was something troubling in it, as if the natural order had been subverted, as if the poles had flipped and compasses were spinning the wrong way. He was the shining white one among the drab gray many, a petty celebrity both celebrated and reviled for being exactly the thing they had made him. His continued existence seemed to gall them. Which is why men had apparently been making a game of trying to catch or kill him, and why it must have been so frustrating to them that they could not end him, because, as the rumors had it, those who went after him tended to end up dead (or worse). As some men locked eyes on the white zombie, it seemed almost to hypnotize them—his bumbling, arrhythmic gate, the way he seemed to breathe through his mouth—allowing other, more anonymous automatons to fall on them from behind. Others had simply saved the Dork for last, almost as a kind of prize, mowing down dozens of others before looking and being unable to find him anywhere. He’d simply vanish like a figment of their imagination. Some had looked at his awkward gait and scrawny frame and simply didn’t take this albino doofus seriously, even made sport out of trying to beat him to death with their bare hands, beating and beating and beating, but always somehow unable to deliver the finishing blow, so that, rumor had it, he would keep getting up, keep getting up, keep getting up, until others of his kind stumbled into view and his assailants, suddenly outnumbered, had no choice but to retreat, then, back at camp, they would always find a little nick in their hand, a toothmarks in their wrist. But how? when? They didn’t remember any moment in the fight when the Dork’s teeth were near enough to do this. It seemed so impossible that they might even deny that they were going to die (or worse) when the piece of shit white zombie was still out there roaming around, and yet there it was: incontrovertible proof. You just couldn’t deny it anymore. The white zombie had a weird, nerdy kind of fame that just didn’t make any fucking sense, that you just couldn’t understand for the life of you, some kind of inexplicable star power that somehow rendered him invincible while you—who thought you were so fucking singular and indispensable, who thought you were going to come out of this thing triumphant, revered, immortal—were always just jack shit.
Of course, some of these accounts were bullshit, imbued with the weirdest hints of zombo sorcery you ever heard. For instance, some of our crew said they’d heard others tell stories about men who knew for sure that Moby-Dork was ubiquitous, that he’d actually been in more than one place at a time: a siege in Auburn, a roundup in Walla Walla, and walking in almost thoughtful solitude along the coast in Bellingham. They were obviously a little overly credulous, but superstitious roughnecks are particularly fond of nonsense so long as it’s presented with an air of fact, like, for instance, how aliens obviously used zombies to clear out our population before colonizing our planet and, since this Moby-Dork was their admiral, they had given him some kind of teleportation device. After all, if aliens could travel millions of light years and turn people into zombies, why was it so hard to believe in teleportation? Others seemed a little more plausible on their face, of course, but even those usually fell apart under the least bit of scrutiny. For instance, there are caves around here that haven’t been 100% spelunked, so maybe the white zombie stumbled into one of these caves that gave him a more direct route between various far-flung locales? Though, how a zombie might travel faster underground than on the surface was anybody’s guess. I once heard another possibility proposed: what if there were three white zombies? This seemed almost reasonable by comparison to others. After all, once you’d swallowed the bitter pill that the vast majority of America had turned into murderous, mindless automatons, was it so hard to believe that there might have been three albinos in a huge metro area? And yet, even this was highly unlikely. Occam’s Razor should have led us to the simplest explanation: that the white zombie simply wasn’t spotted in three places at once and the story itself was bunk.
All surmisings aside, the white zombie, as I would personally learn later, was also just freaky to look at. One whole side of his head remained forever peppered with buckshot from Custer’s shotgun, that side of his jaw knocked a bit off kilter, torn away down to the bone. Something had happened to his clothes, so he wandered around half nude, in all (or most of) his milky glory, but always, I heard, in a pair of generic blue canvas sneakers, his body so streaked and mottled and peppered with bullet holes and scorch marks that he looked almost like a marble statue of himself. You almost had to pity him. There was something in him so eminently … bullyable. Yes, he was incredibly pale, his underlying skin pale to the hundredth power of pale, white as gypsum, but there were other features less widely known: like, he also didn’t have a particularly pronounced chin, or much of a chin at all—actually, he kind of looked like a turkey; and his mouth hung open just a little bit all the time, as if, before turning, he’d been one of those people who breathed through it rather than his nose; as for his tongue, he didn’t really have much control over it and it just sort of sat there dead, pressing out his bottom lip, so that his mouth tended to collect flies, and therefore flies’ eggs, and maggots—like the ultimate mouthbreather, or any number of old people you used to see in stores, gawking upward at signs.
He was under six feet tall, thin, but utterly without muscle tone. There was also something uneconomical about the way he walked: he didn’t move his arms the normal way, that is, the way most people do, but kept them always pinned to his sides like he was carrying around a couple of briefcases filled with action figures or comic books and the effect was that all this invisible nerd ballast caused him to always lean a few degrees too far forward, as if he were always trying to catch up to himself. Or maybe the strangest part of it was that he was so deeply unaware of all this. No hip nerd, no jock cultivating his inner goofball to score emo chicks, Moby-Dork was an oaf through and through, bumbling along entirely unaware of his own body or the fact that he had long ago been not only judged but marked.
I don’t think I can belabor this point enough: in life, he had been a huge fucking dork, and something about dorks tended to bring out the worst in other people around them. Sure, some people were assholes, petty tyrants whose lives revolved around picking on the weak, kicking people when they were down, and the like. But let’s get real: nerd-bashing wasn’t reserved exclusively for professed bullies but anyone who ever harbored a secret fleeting desire to strangle to death that one guy at the Renaissance Fair who was always strutting around in the historically accurate doublet and cloak, the one with that smug look on his red, pudgy face, the one with the awkward entourage of skinny, acne-covered boys and a couple goofy but oddly sexy damsels in period finery who actually did what he bid, hailing him High Lord Peter of Vastmoreland, that is, the very same dude who was constantly cramming funnel cakes in his mouth in between bouts of mad medieval shit-talking—with a pronounced lisp. A dork always operated on a plain of exile, doing whatever floated his or her boat without giving a second thought to whatever anyone else thought and this ability to not give a shit was somehow very dangerous to the ego of a non-dork, who spent so much of his time making sure he didn’t become an exile himself. Exile always equated to death in the deepest recesses of the brain, from prehistory to times of plenty. Ergo, the dork had to get mocked constantly. The dork had to get kicked in the ass. The dork had to get strangled. His deep knowledge of—and obsession with—gaining actual knowledge about math or science or history or whatever up to and including ancient Klingon sexual rites somehow posed a threat to the social order in which non-Klingon-speakers rose to be cops and judges and real estate moguls and hedgefund managers and city attorneys and elected politicians. His very existence threatened the precarious tottering of all those institutions simply because he survived and, in his very survival, proved that the supposed One Way of Being was not the only way to be. So too, in our time of chaos, Moby-Dork, that alabaster embodiment of a whole other state of continued existence, had come to pose an outsized threat to what little order remained.
Think now how confusing it must have been for all those strong hunters, those alleged Darwinian winners—the Captain Custers of the world—who found themselves locked in death battles with such a pale-ass doofus. What a strange and ironic turn of events. What a shocker. Indeed, about that fight: it was said that, with his previous convoy overrun, and manly men bleeding out all around, screaming, begging for their mommies in the last moments before passing over that dark threshold into the unknown, our Captain Custer, his shotgun useless and cast to one side, had unsheathed his knife, rushed forward, and plunged six inches of blade directly into the heart of just such an albino.
Moby-Dork, in perfect dork fashion, stumbled, and tripped over his own fucking shoelace. They tumbled together to the ground, splashing about in murky, gore-filled puddles. Somehow, in this struggle, the white zombie, Dorkus Supremus, had wrenched around and bit into the captain’s exposed ankle and, summoning every last ounce of fury, drawing on all the frustration of what must have been a miserable, lonely life, a life ended in even lonelier misery, savagely tore apart the mightier man’s leg, splitting it nearly in two.
Custer’s blood had gushed, fountained out of him like oil into a gulf. No Taliban or Al Qaeda could have ever hurt him will more seeming malice. He’d managed to escape into a humvee and, so they said, had no choice but to hack and hack and hack away at his own infected limb until it fell away in a torrent of hot blood.
Custer, they said, had kept his wits long enough to cauterize himself with fire and shrapnel before passing out and waking again to the pain and the white specter passing by the window—again—again—again—
Of course, Custer had been rescued. Another man from his crew, a man the others called Mohawk—not because he came from the Mohawk tribe, no Mohican was he, but because he wore his hair in an unkempt mohawk that always flopped over to one side—eventually fought his way into the truck and, looking back on the floor beneath the turret, saw Custer writhing in agony, spitting curses and mucous against the panes of blast-proof glass.
They’d plowed through dozens, made their way out of that fateful ravine, scavenged gas in a nearby town, old bottles of painkillers, antibiotics.
They had to take a long, circuitous path back to the outpost, which took nearly two weeks, not only to get to the next bridge over the river, but around one of the largest hordes in recent memory. During that trip, rumor has it, this other survivor was forced to lash Custer to the back seat while he thrashed about convulsing and calling down curses in the names of gods no one had muttered in thousands of years.
And yet, for all his possession, by the time they made it back to the outpost, all that fury had quickened into a subtler narcotic glower and, over the course of the coming months, Custer had healed in his own tent at the outpost. The screaming madness had passed like the autumn storms, but a hurricane was continuously stirring inside. Outpost personnel checked on him, of course, but nothing concerned them over-much. Had someone walked in on him one day trying to sew another living man’s foreleg onto his stump with fishing line, they’d have worried; if they’d caught him skinning a zombie in order to make a sharp ensemble for the coming spring season, they’d have probably put him out of his misery; but sawing a leg off a zombie and making a new lower leg for himself out of its tibia seemed a fairly reasonable—by our standards an almost normal—response to almost dying alone surrounded by thousands of uncaring eyes and then, let’s not forget, having to chop one’s own leg off because of what this white zombie had done to him.
And yet many men found it disturbing to hear how, for weeks, Custer kept an oddly familiar-looking zombie chained to a post in his tent, a white zombie, but not so white as the one gnawing at his soul, a zombie with a flopped-over mohawk, the poor damned thing’s left leg hacked off at the knee, eyelids stitched with sinew to eyebrows so the thing had no choice but to watch the captain night after night as he poured all his mortal fury into meticulously scrimshawing intricate all-white battle scenes elaborated down to the gaping mouths of dying men etched into what used to be the zombie’s own tibia but would soon become Custer’s new leg, a peg of gleaming white.