-A-

Zombology 101

Zombie. Zombi. Zomboid. Zomboy. Zombro. Zombitch. Zombrat. Zombum. Zealot. Zagnut. Zachariah. Zack. Zedediah. Zed. Ezekial. Zeke. Z. The Dead. The Undead. The Walking Dead. The Living Dead. The Dead-Alive. Deadhead. Revenant. Automaton. Drone. Ghoul. Fiend. Monster. Creature. Beast. Walker. Shell. Husk. Host. The Infected. The Reanimated. The Damned. The Doppelgäng. Demon. Gutbag. Gutsack. Meatbag. Meatsack. Meatpuppet. Roamer. Wanderer. Berserker. Bumbler. Anklebiter. Grabber. Groper. Creeper. Sleeper. Tweeker. Freaker. Freak. Geek. Savage. Barbarian. Gangsta. Rioter. Thug. Rabblerouser. Malingerer. Interloper. Loiterer. Bum. Biter. Teether. Twitcher. Wannabe. Lurker. Lecher. Leper. Lazarus. Misanthrope. Troglodyte. Philistine. Party Animal. People Person. Ne’er Do Well. They. Them. The Others. The Dipshits. The Dumbfucks. The Fucktards. Those Motherfucking Motherfuckers. Homo Sapiens Horribilis. Corpus Animata.

As you probably know if you have stumbled upon this library, my bibliobunker, and discovered this manuscript, in the years subsequent to The Collapse it was an almost ubiquitous feature of camps that men could be found carrying on late into the night, sitting around fires or hunkered in tree branches or attics, endlessly talking, obsessing over zombie-related everything. This pastime made obvious sense. Survival has always depended on knowing the things that were most likely to kill you, and not only knowing them, but intimately, down to their core, without illusion. Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist of the late 20th and early 21st centuries who won the prize (at least in my book) for writing the most brilliantly austere novels about how few shits the geologic world gave about humans and their struggles, probably said it best in The Road: “Dreams of peril are the right dreams for men in peril. Everything else is languor and death.” That’s probably a distortion of what the man actually wrote, of course, as this library, my home for so many years now, only had one of McCarthy’s books left on the shelves, Blood Meridian, so I can’t find a copy to check the quote and therefore had to resurrect it from the dusty mausoleum of my skull, which suffices for my present purposes, since my version is probably close enough—not Cormac McCarthy-level work, perhaps, but good enough for a manuscript that, should I even be lucky enough to complete it, some zombie (maybe even a future iteration of myself) will probably decompose all over—and anyway it is not the nuances of his literary aesthetic I am concerned with capturing here so much as a crude categorical of thought, just as I am trying to capture the crude categorical of the zombological family tree.

 

Which is weird for me. In the old days, I was primarily concerned with nuances. Before the braindead hordes consumed, or subsumed, the all and everything, I believed aesthetics offered a kind of ethic, could actually help tell you what was right and wrong, so that, for instance, it should have been clear to all of us in the years before they showed up on the scene that a zombie apocalypse was never an appropriate thing to fantasize about, but it’s no longer a matter of theory; no, the others have crept, crawled, clawed their way so deeply into the nether caverns of my unconscious that they’ve pushed out all the other more poetic things so that I’m rarely patient enough anymore to capture much more than the gist or the grist or the gristle of a thing, so that all I seem capable of doing in these latter days is sinking my teeth into a subject, tearing at it and chewing and working it over really hard for a short time before spitting out some gray cud of empty calories, walking away, and never looking back, but at any rate, as I was saying: if the denizens of some far-flung future camp, by some fluke, eventually get their grubby hands on a copy of this, they probably won’t be what we used to call “literati” and they certainly won’t care about the difference between a botched Cormac McCarthy quote and a proper one [1]. Indeed, my whole original point was that it doesn’t matter anyway. The men were always just engaging in the art of discussing “dreams of peril.” If you ever watched people talking about zombies, they would just sit there with their faces glowing orange in the firelight, casting long shadows out into the cosmos, mixing and remixing every dream, every fact, every story, every fantasy, every little scrap of information they’d ever heard about zombies true or untrue, every interaction they’d ever had or almost had or heard someone else may have possibly had, all of them trying, as they sometimes say, to “sort this shit the fuck out,” but never trying to drill down, as I intend to do here, toward anything like a useful taxonomy. 

Forgive the diversion, but, if you were alive before The Collapse, then you probably know that there were actually people who, knowing nothing of the actuality of zombies, used to have nearly the same conversations while sitting in front of computers, endlessly picking apart not only movies and TV shows and books about zombies but also reviews of movies and TV shows and books about zombies and responses to reviews of movies and TV shows and books about zombies and even responses to responses to responses on and on till the end of time; those goofy fuckers would disappear into the wasteland of the internet for days and ramble on and on about anything that so much as included a single use of the word zombie or bore the faintest resemblance to our antagonists, our inhuman doppelgängers, whose cinematic images we so used to love in our ignorant innocence, but now only fear and loathe, though, some nights, I do suspect that, even then, we must have foreseen something like this coming and secretly loathed ourselves for loving the coming of our end. 

Indeed, even before The Collapse—that is, when zombies still only existed as shadowy figments of our collective unconscious—I must have heard the word zombie a billion times and for all the rambling and arguing and verbal diarrhea—all that desperate, verbal unburdening in the wake of this scourge, all the obsessive, angry debates night after night, month after month, year after year—I’ve never once seen a thorough taxonomy of zombiekind or even a serious attempt to outline the basic framework of the zomboid family tree, not even on a scrap of cardboard—as if zombie were a monolith. It seems crazy that I even have to say this, but I have seen men who have saved one another from zombies—I’m talking about saving each other in total Medal of Honor fashion here—later punch each other not to death but nearly to it simply because they could not agree about whether the particular zombies they had just dispatched were the “dead kind” or the “infected kind” or the “slow kind” or the “fast kind” or any of the other more interstitial varieties I will attempt to outline below. 

 

“Boys,” I might have screamed, and of course it almost always was boys, “does it matter whether a zombie fell on that spectrum a little to the left or a little to the right of whatever dividing line you have drawn inside your mind?”

“What a stupid question, Professor Fuckface! of course it does!” these men would scoff, teeth missing, blood straining through their mustaches and beards.

“Friends,” I might have said, “if all this matters so much, if parsing these differences is truly a valuable way to spend our very limited time on earth, why can’t we at least argue about the finer gradations?”

“Finer gradations? of zombiehood? Ha!” they’d laugh, these guys who almost punched each other to death, now wrapping their arms around one another, shoulder-to-shoulder against not only zombiekind but Professor Fuckface’s overly analytical questioning, their various wounds already festering, going septic, gangrenous—even then, despite their best efforts, slipping into zombitosis. They were marked, sure as shit. And so they’d gone as bosom buddies into the biggest bosom buddyhood of all, forgetting whatever progress they ever made in understanding the truer nature of things, waging all that collective zombic stupidity against all the rest of us, especially those of us who still possess that humanest of qualities, that inchoate ability to be aware, to cogitate—that is, to be something slightly better than so many animated flaps of skin.

But I digress. 

As you’ll notice below, I’ve outlined a few broad categories. But I don’t want to suggest these are the categories others have ascribed to, or that these are the terms people should adopt going forward. I am only a pioneer of sorts, laying the groundwork for ever more intricate taxonomies to be made in any future that may conceivably exist; as such, I am more interested in identifying rudimentary categories as simple aids to understanding—useful fictions, as it were—and not in any absolutist way, but simply with an appreciation that categories, faulty though they may be, exist as a means of helping our primitive brains sort through and process manageable chunks of infinitely complex systems we could never grasp in full. Which is to say these categories are, at best, starting points for a picture of the undead slowly coming into focus.

It should be further noted that, as with any categorization, few, if any, zombies will ever fit perfectly into any one of the following categories. There is bound to be some overlap. This is nothing new. Many might treat it as a revelation but it is hardly different than how we treated racial categories, because many acted as if there were distinct lines between them but, in fact, there was never a representative black man who embodied all the characteristics of the category Black Man, no median Black Man, except in the realm of philosophy or those jokes our racist uncles told right after declaring “I’m not racist, but…”; and this of course is the same as with gender categories, where only Gender Fundamentalists seemed oblivious to the obvious state of things, which is that there were always more or less feminine women and more or less masculine women, and effeminate men and macho men, but also much finer gradations that were so exquisitely fine that a thinking person quickly have realized that the mere act of calling one set of characteristics Feminine and another Masculine was nothing more than a convenient way for people to make sense of a world of phenomena so fluid that most things defied precise definition, all of this median-seeking and meaning-making nothing more than a pathetic, flimsy, fallibly human attempt to make a little sense out of a universe that never made any fucking sense since the first quark or node of light split and the universe exploded into nebulas and planets and people and, apparently, zeople. 

Which is all to say the categories below are at best humble sketches, rough outlines of admittedly nonexistent median types that even I am sure will feel somehow apocryphal and even to fall apart around the edges just as soon as they are scribbled on the page, each blending into the next into the next into the next so that it eventually becomes clear that any feeble human attempt to divide them is little more than a crude attempt to give different names to each of the electrons circling the nucleus of an atom:

I

 

§ Dead Type. In the lore surrounding Haitian Vodoun, zombies were quite literally corpses brought back to life to serve the purposes of some living master, or Bokor; since the American conception of the zombie stemmed from a colonialist appropriation (or taking) of that tradition, so it is that most people, when faced with gore-slathered zombies during the first days of The Collapse, immediately associated those bodies with the reanimated dead; it was as if the whole history of white European slavery had come full circle in a kind of necrotic slave revolt. Indeed, it’s hard to see them as anything other than dead bodies sometimes—or even most of the time. I think they are dead. I often refer to them as the dead. And yet … I don’t know for sure, not in every case (see “living type” below). And yet, even those of us who retain some doubt about whether or not they are technically dead have a difficult time looking at a bipedal humanoid with vacant or poked-out eyes caped with flayed folds of their own flesh, some so perforated with great yawning wounds that one is incredulous to the thought that this perambulating slab of meat might still be alive, and not immediately associating such a thing with dead things in general. Surely there is no one alive in this day and age who hasn’t witnessed a zombie knuckling along after being run over by a truck, the entire contents of its abdomen strewn out behind like a trail leading back to that fateful moment when its whole world came apart. I mean, how could something that fucked-up be alive? An absurdity! And yet if one chances a closer look—out of morbid curiosity, boredom, self-destructive impulses—nine times out of ten it’s evident that that enigmatic flicker of light in the eyes, the minute dilations that we always took for signs of life, will have ceased all function and the eyes will not so much look back but only roll around or flit back and forth in the sockets, irises, pupils fixed, lifeless as prosthetic eyes or clouded marbles; or if you ever get a zombie tied up and try to check for a pulse, good luck finding it; or if you hold a mirror up to its mouth there’s a distinct possibility that it won’t fog up even if the thing is blinking and looking at you for an hour; or if, by some fluke, you get a chance to hold a stethoscope to its breast, try to register any thump more rhythmical or louder than the thrashings of that wild unliving thing against its restraints! These creatures are dead, men will argue till they are themselves blue in the face: dead, dead, dead! One has to admit there is a certain clearheaded reason to this assumption. What else besides their own absence of life could make them so despise us, so begrudge us our lives? And in some ways, it is simply more convenient to think of them as dead, because what could be more fundamentally different in kind than living and dead? If they are dead, they are not us, and we owe them nothing, and as we wage war on them, there’s a certain poeticism to the fight in that, as we fire a round through a forehead or jam a blade deep into an eyesocket until it stops at the back of the skull, we are not, in that moment, doing anything so wrong—only killing death.  

§ Living Type. But let’s not be overly hasty! or extrapolate from biased samples! Maybe there is a lot of evidence that they are not living people but dead things, but even in my above example I could say that only nine out of ten zombies’ eyes have ceased the kinds of pupil dilations we associate with life. Nine out of ten? That’s a large percentage. You won’t get any argument out of me on that point. But what about the other, inconvenient one? would we simply deny its existence? I testify that I have seen, with my own eyes, a zombie’s eyes dilating! It’s true: for every sample group proving that zombies are only revenants, there are always those cases of zombies that seem no more dead than you or me. Perhaps this can be explained away as a fluke at some later date, but, for now, what do we gain by refusing to consider the possibility that this is nothing but an infection or curse or heretofore unknown form of brainwashing or spell-craft? I say, does the fact that they attack us mean they are, without a doubt, dead? No. Living people have always attacked living people; that has been a rule for far longer than zombies even existed. Or is it more that they seem not to express, or even possess, emotions? Well, to that I say I knew plenty of unfeeling people before The Collapse and read extensively about those people like Adolf Eichmann with so little human feeling inside them that they were able to condemn whole peoples to death as if they were organizing nothing more than train schedules—in fact, this cold kind of logistical calculation made such acts all the more chilling precisely because timetable-making is such a uniquely human occupation. Or is it, rather, that zombies’ flesh is so often mortified, gross, gray, ulcerated, lacerated, torched, peeled away? In other words, did the death-pallor and obvious decay prove they were dead? Certainly not! Ask any field medic who ever went to war or, for that matter, anyone who ever worked in a hospital, if they ever saw a person whose body was so torn and broken that their very heartbeat defied all logic: those who’d been frozen under water for hours; those who’d been shot point-blank in the face; those whose legs and arms had been blown off by bombs or landmines but who were plucked from war zones and eventually outfitted with space-age artificial limbs; those whose chests were filling up with fluids and puss and rot but continued to live for days and weeks defying all expectations and finally begging for mercy. Yes, I know, it seems unlikely that the zombies might be yet alive—especially if these “special cases” of living ghouls, making up some tenth of the whole, must then number in the millions. Maybe it seems unlikely that there would be two such incompatible types extant, but, then again, doesn’t this whole plague strike you as unlikely? How is it that a thing we can call a zombie will sometimes have a pulse? or come up from being tossed in a pool or river, gasping for air? Don’t believe it? Like I said, I’ve felt the former, and heard about the latter—from more than one reputable source. Still, I understand the lobby I’m up against. I understand that there are many who refuse to believe that it is possible that a living thing could impale itself on a pike, be set on fire, endure a barrage of bullets so thoroughly peppering its body as to make it resemble a piece of burned cheese with all the blisters bubbled and popped and still be a living creature much less a human deserving that most basic inalienable right to go on existing, and to this all I can say is perhaps there are some things a living body cannot endure, but why is it that, in a world we agree has gone all topsy-turvy, it is somewhere written that all zombies must be dead or all zombies living? It’s inconvenient and frustrating to think this might not be one calamity but two running parallel and even, at times, intersecting, just when we thought we starting to understand what we were up against. 

II

Ah, but beyond this broadest categorical breakdown, between dead and infected, there are yet other taxonomical considerations widely debated and disputed and perhaps only marginally related to states of death or life, something that some people consider to be more fundamental to their nature. For instance, consider “slow type” zombies and “fast type” zombies and their myriad subtypes:

§ Slow Type. When people utter the word “zombie,” this is what the word generally conjures: some mangled dude in a suit or some lipless chick in a wedding dress lurching after you with all the speed and coordination of some angsty teenager who just huffed a few cans of red spray paint. True, there seem to be a lot of this type. Inertia seems to be the only thing moving them forward sometimes so you’ll see a horde of them out in the distance, moving at a geriatric pace, as if some governing mechanism in their brain is making sure they don’t walk any faster than the slowest among them is capable, never aspiring to be like the best among them, but always catering to the lowest common denominator, the dregs of troglodyte society. 

I said above that there is no median character among any zombotype, and it’s true. It would be easy to assume, as many do, that the slower type is also the primary type, but even if you humor such an assumption, even if you accept that these might very well make up the majority of zombies, and even if you disregard the obvious logical fallacy of assuming that “the norm” is simply that most reproduced at a given point in time, if you just whip out your binoculars and look down on a horde, really study their faces, try to ignore your various insular prejudices, you’re likely to recognize any number of familiar characters who foil your expectations. How can you say that only those walking at a certain pace within this horde are truly among the horde? what about the stragglers ten blocks or five miles back, the ones that look like they’re jogging but can’t seem to maintain anything you’d call momentum? the ones that look like those old lady joggers you used to see who almost seemed like they weren’t even outpacing the turning of the earth on its axis? or conversely, what about the ones ten blocks ahead that aren’t running but happen to be particularly fast walkers? like the old ladies you used to see walking malls? are they not also “among the horde”? Zombies may be more than a little Ayn Randian, in that they don’t seem to give a shit about their brothers and sisters who had both legs crushed by a forklift, and are dragging themselves through the dirt, far behind the crowd, but does that mean only those that happen to trapped in the middle of the horde “count”? 

Some would probably read that and jump the gun and decide “slow” and “fast” are simply not good enough categories to begin with, that a slow zombie is simply a degenerated fast zombie—in essence, that all zombies have a kernel of potentiality in them—and inner fast-zombieness—that has only been thwarted by the particularities of various environmental conditions and individual experiences, just as most people start out with bodies that could very well be strong well into old age but who eat too many onion rings or get hit by a car in a crosswalk or ingest too much lead from their city’s water supply or take shrapnel in the hip and back during any number of wars. Perhaps they are right. Maybe slow zombies are just broken fast ones in the end, but that’s the exact sort of thing I want some energetic zombologist to apply to this problem at a later date, rendering my own crude rumination obsolete, but until then, for the sake of moving forward, let’s just forge on, and say that, of the “slow type,” you will also sometimes come across these familiar subtypes: 

—Walkers. So many of them walk, never seem to stop walking, without purpose, without any particular thing driving them on. You see them everywhere. Maybe they hated to walk in life. They were the type who drove around endlessly in a store parking lot looking for the closest parking space to the door, when they could have parked half an hour before and walked only a couple car length’s further, burning off some of that unsightly flab and the weird wattle below their chins. But now? Now they walk. Endlessly walk. Tirelessly walk. They walk so much their shoes have worn through. Walk so far they’ve worn the decaying flesh from the pads of their feet. Where are they going? Are they employing some kind of zombie tracking sense? following footprints or tire tracks in the dirt? or the fair scents of life? No. If you set them free going west, and if they never heard people, never saw anything to attack, they’d keep walking, right through rivers, right over the tops of mountains, eventually to the sea. Then they’d likely turn and walk down the coast all the way to the very tip of South America, Cape Horn—cultural ambassadors, they are, always walking, never stopping, night of the living dead, dawn of the dead, day of the dead, and dusk. They’ll wear their shoes all the way off, then they’ll wear off their feet. They’ll keep walking on their ankle nubs, knee nubs, and then they’ll just drag themselves along until their knuckles are worn down to the wrist, the elbow, and beyond, just walking, walking, walking, without purpose or inner compass. But the second they hear you? Well, that sets their compass fast. Suddenly they’re full of purpose. Suddenly they’re obsessed. Suddenly every other zombie can sense a kind of duty on them, almost like they’re following a pheromone trail, the way pine bark beetles followed the scent of fellow beetles as they wiped out the ponderosa forests of the Rocky Mountain west as the planet heated up. If you walked all the way to the coast, the walkers would follow you all the way to the coast, straggling at times, but always pursuing, unless you outpaced them long enough that they could no longer sense you and even then they’d keep walking in the same direction though you turned off a hundred miles before; yes, like wind-up dolls, they’d keep going that same way forever, or at least until they walked into an ocean, or find some other unlucky person to follow. Call it the inertia of the damned.

 

—Sleepers. Not all of them walk, of course. Some seem perfectly content to stand or sit or lie down in a field somewhere. Eyes open or closed, it doesn’t matter. They’re lost in that strange hypnosis, almost a state of hibernation. Not like bears. They don’t stir when the snow melts in the mountains and the first of the leaves begin to bud, but only because a person happens by, catalyzing whatever zombic mechanisms had cycled down, so that the head turns to one side, ligaments grinding, bones cracking, vision blurred as a person waking from a coma, eyelids crusted with sleep. You think it’s hard to wake up on a cold morning when your muscles are tight and your joints stiff? Imagine being catatonic for weeks on end, all the desires of the mundane body having withdrawn into the center of the mind to lie dormant in that cozy nest just to prepare again for this unfortunate moment when impulses fire and all the needs of existence crackle through the body at once like a surge of electricity causing broken fingers to twitch and the legs to jolt and the mouth to open to let out a terrible groan like some incoherent sounds that, only seconds before, were spoken in such a lovely, lovely dream…. It’s best not to be the one who wakes them. They were content to slip endlessly into subconscious realms but now worldly hunger is upon them and they won’t quit until all the wide-eyed alert ones who broke their peace disappear inside them. 

—Sages. Some would deny these exist, but I’ve seen them with my own eyes, and know others who have as well, torsos tangled for years in barbed wire, or lying among blackberry bushes that, over the seasons, have grown through their ribs and pelvises and sinuses and eye sockets, so that all they can do is lie there gazing out or smelling or hearing or maybe none of the above. Maybe at some point they squirmed. But they haven’t in a very long time. They’re grown over with moss, lichen, mushrooms. It’s easy to imagine that they never did move, that they were lying there long before the apocalypse began, harbingers long ago grown from tangles of human trash or natural earthworks, almost as if they were put on this planet merely to exist through whatever, to bear a kind of silent, unjudging witness. They seem to have attained a sublime inner peace. If you move your hand in front of their mouths, even if the coils of razor wire (if they are mechazombies so entwined) or computer cables (if they are technozombies of some lost room of remote servers) or interlaced roots (if they are ecozombies grown through with brambles) aren’t too tightly wrapped around their jaws, they won’t even try to bite. Certain monks could go long periods without eating, lost in meditations. But that’s child’s play by comparison. These sages will stay there motionless as long as it takes for the elements to completely dissolve the last cohesive molecules of their bodies down to nothing—and they’ll give zero fucks. Dangerous? No. Disconcerting? Extremely. If you’ve ever tried to meditate and failed, you feel now like ten times the failure, seeing a zombie do it so well; maybe you could even come to envy a creature such as this. Some might argue that they are not strictly a “slow type” zombie, that perhaps they could have started out as Fast Type>>Berserkers (see below) and only winnowed away over time to this stage. True, true. But to this, I would say the state one is in at the present is what one is—in the ontological and perhaps metaphysical senses. Say the aggressive thrashing beasts undergoes a long and arduous process of transformation and arrives one day at this state of perfect tranquility and permanent quietude; are we to look upon this sage and deny him such esteemed status because, at one point, many years before, he may have been all agro? Of course not. Imagine someone arguing that a zombie is a human because he used to be human! or that a dead person is alive because she was once alive! It’s preposterous. A thing is what a thing is. Whether these sages exhibited sage-like characteristics before this moment, or whether they only came to be in this state of perfect peaceful tranquility because they found themselves suddenly trapped and had to accept their new bondage as a permanent state and seek peace within it, there is no way of knowing. 

These sages are rare. So very rare. Unicorns of a sort. Before I made sanctuary in this library, I only met a handful of others who had seen them twisted up in fences or mainframes or vines. So maybe I make more of them than I should out of a personal sort of envy, because that state is one I always expected to reach some day, perhaps in the last year of my life when my body’s own decrepitude finally emerges as a kind of inescapable restraint and so there I sit, shackled by this thing that used to be my own and feel like the very embodiment of freedom, the only physical thing on earth that I could call my own with any confidence, gazing out into the nothingness, patiently awaiting the coming of oblivion—and yet now zombies have so thoroughly taken over that I doubt I will ever be allowed to slip peacefully into that final wisdom. 

§ Fast Type. There is some question whether a fast zombie is a zombie at all. First, I’d posit that this is an irrational prejudice harkening back to the years before zombies were a reality, that for too long we perceived zombies, particularly those of the cinema, as slow-moving automatons—case closed. But let us face two hard truths: (1) the zombies of the cinema were not real and (2) fanboys were fucking insufferable. Put another way: some people used to watch a hell of a lot of zombie movies before we knew they could actually exist, but are we really so cursed that, even now, when our population has been so ravaged, we should still take seriously the naïve perspectives of connoisseurs de zombie, dudes who used to go online and write reviews of films like Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave as if anyone willing to suspend their disbelief and watch those movies gave a shit if some random person in Ohio thought it implausible that Trioxin could be put into capsules? 

But I’d also argue that the prejudice is rooted more in a question of origin, rather than specific features. I will address the theoretical natural origins of zombiehood, as well as the supernatural origins, in other appendices, but here I think it is safe to say that anyone alive enough to read these words has seen hordes in which the vast majority were very slow but at least some of the numbers were as fast, or at least almost as fast, as their human counterparts. Does the fact that we’ve all experienced them in the flesh bear significance here? Yes. Of course. 

I suspect, however, that someone out there might still be sitting around a campfire, arguing that the “fast type” is not a type at all, but only a variation on a single type that happens to have a wide range of capabilities—that is, not a distinct type at all but only a gradation of another type altogether (i.e., if we delineated an “Ambulatory Type,” the subtypes might range from scuffling to walking to power walking to jogging to sprinting, etc.). Again, it is true that “slow type” and “fast type” are imprecise taxonomies that I agree seem a little too simplistic upon first blush—as I already admitted above—and, furthermore, that this is a problem I’ve butted my head against for years. But I can’t live forever and I have to accept a certain amount of imprecision just to get something down on the page and advance this analysis beyond its most cursory stages. So if humanity continues to exist, and if you—who never thought to write a taxonomy of your own, and only realized your own inchoate facility for doing so once you happened to stumble upon someone else’s—think you can do a better job of it, go ahead and spend your remaining time doing so. For now, here are a few “fast” subtypes:

—Berserkers. Their muscles still work and whatever charges their brain with hatred for people is still transmitting clear signals through the nerves, spasmodically. It’s a dangerous combination evoking some combination of PCP and steroid use. They come on relentlessly, like their bodies were always made to do this, their minds fired up permanently with the kind of rage very few people can ever achieve and even then, can usually only sustain for a few minutes at most. Maybe they don’t move at exactly the same pace as before, maybe some of the finer motor skills have diminished, and maybe they’re slightly more awkward as they used to be, just a tiny bit weaker than before the turn—but try telling that to someone inside a door when one of the berserkers is outside using its own face as a battering ram. There is always something so disturbing about a thing that will sacrifice its body that way, that will hurl itself through the windshield of a car so bloodied and mangled that it can no longer move its arms but will continue thrashing around and trying to bite anything that moved. Perhaps it is that it is so unnatural to our minds to understand such hatred, which most of us never experienced and in most cases reserved for nothing but revenge, requiring a specific object and motive. The berserkers are like embodiments of blind fury—to a degree of holiness.   

—Runners. Often, the body is intact, and it is still terribly strong, undiminished, but something different is going on inside these creatures’ systems than with the berserkers; they don’t seem to have the fury driving them on; sure, they’re fast, and they’ll run you down and tear you apart, but with the cool, indifferent aspect of a cheetah. The runner is not killing you because it’s mad at you. It’s killing you because instinct decrees it. Don’t take this personally, as if to say: we’re all just playing out our parts in a planetary theatrical production. I’ve got to do this. Just like you’ve got to run or make a stand. 

—Belligerent assholes. In some ways, these are on the opposite side of the coin as the runners; where those have all the physical strength/stamina and little of the fury, these tornadoes of fury are simply too weak to do much about it. In other words, they’ve got the capability, but don’t use it. Somehow these remind me of those old white guys who existed back in the day who never got involved in politics—not only refused to rally, protest, or picket, but even to vote—but would nonetheless sit on barstools from open till close bitching endlessly about how fucked up this or that was. You could look to either side of the political spectrum and find examples. These guys’ predominant feature superseded partisan philosophies: they just had something to say about everything. If you asked them how the hot the sun was, as a kind of test, these assholes would actually give you an answer. It would be waaaaay off, of course, but what did they care? They could always jump to the next topic they knew everything about. These same men—and they were almost always men—very often claimed some disability that permanently excused them from work, often mysterious and ever-roaming pains in their backs, though it should be noted that many of these were also very quick to doubt that chronic back pain existed in others. One wouldn’t have been wrong to wonder if maybe these men’s mystery ailment started in their head, and at that exact moment when their brain realized that all their hard work was going nowhere fast. No, you couldn’t blame them for recognizing the obvious or even for giving up and yet you could blame them for letting it turn them into such belligerent assholes. Why not do something about it? Does your lumbar pain prevent you from reading widely, writing letters, protesting? Ask those pissed-off men sitting at the bar if they ever considered a sit-in and, suddenly, they’d claim sitting was too ineffective—even if they sat there on their bar stool. O, but you didn’t want to make too much sense with these men! Challenge them too much and they’d suddenly dissolve into puddles. And so it was with the subtype of zombie. All that rage was pent up inside too brittle bones and atrophied flesh. They just couldn’t properly lash out. So they eventually lashed in. And yet they always managed to make a good show of it, flailing impotently at anyone within arm’s length, making hours of bad noise to drive you away. 

III

And yet there are other types that defy the above categorizations for various reasons, that require another approach altogether, whole other paradigms that disrupt the continuity of the Dead/Alive and Fast/Slow dichotomies I’ve laid out thus far and had more to do with the qualitative nature of their obsessions. For instance:

§ Workers. Some might simply try to categorize workers as “slow type” zombies, because you do tend to see a lot of them standing at the job site going through the motions without any sign of hustle. But remember, this is my taxonomy, and I say they deserve their own type. Why? Well, it’s simple. They can’t properly be lumped into either the “dead” or “infected” categories nor the “slow type” or the “fast type” categories, because out there in the ruins you will actually come across examples of worker-type zombies that look dead and those that look alive and those that are ridiculously slow-moving but also those that are manically going through the motions of labor—busting ass, as they used to say—so that what truly does unify them has virtually nothing to do with their state and everything to do with the basic nature of their activities. Here is my categorical breakdown of worker subtypes:

—Ass Busters. I testify that I have seen these, even as I admit willingly that there may not be all that many of them out there. Say you enter a grocery store. You sneak through the aisles looking to see what you might still find. No, there are no more cans of soup. No, there are not cans of lard. Yes, wedged back there in the shelf there is one packet of chicken flavoring from a packet of ramen noodles that must have broken open. And then, there is an older female zombie. Her tag reads Jessica. She is so decomposed, her body so worn, that it’s almost impossible to tell what race she was, almost as if she were no race, or every race at once. However, the chief thing you notice is how hard she is hustling down the aisle. Not for you. She doesn’t even seem to notice you. No, she’s got that price gun in her hand and she seems hell-bent on getting some cans marked, and yet there are no cans, and this conspicuous absence seems to trouble her deeply—to the level of existential dread. You can almost see the gears turning in Jessica’s head when she gets to that point where she expects to find the green beans. She’s supposed to change the price. These beans are supposed to be on sale. They’re almost expired and the customer should get them at a 50% discount. But a discount on what? The beans aren’t where they’re supposed to be! So she whirls back the other way and charges back to the last spot her manager was talking to her and seems to get refueled with information from some unseen source, and storms back down the aisle with purpose, resolve. Those green beans are gonna get so discounted! But then again: where’d they go? And so on and so on and so on. How many years has she been hard-charging up and down these aisles? trying to do what she’s no longer paid to do? unless you count the work as reward in itself? She always took this seriously, I suspect. She would have helped you, back in the day, if you’d only asked. 

—Ass Draggers. There are a lot more of these, of course. Slip into almost any office. You’ll see them there sitting at desks, hardly moving, and by hardly, I mean maybe not at all. They don’t even know the apocalypse happened. They have the same expressions on their faces they had every other day. They had the same stack of papers they had every other day. Their expressions never changed and the stacks never changed and they might have made something of that but you get the sense that they never cared one way or the other anyway. For some people, that kind of toil might have been hellish, especially to know that, even if they had busted ass and got it all done, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit, not just because the stack would have been the same height the next day, but because the work was so far removed from anything truly meaningful that no one other than a supervisor would have noticed and maybe not even then. But to these, the question of whether or not it was hellish or meaningful doesn’t even register. Fuck it. They’re wearing headphones and have a 64-ounce Diet Coke sitting on the desk. What more could a zombie ask for? 

 

§ Artists. They seem to come from some other world! or at least from some other species! and yet the very fact that they don’t is what makes artists seem so noteworthy! How does a thing capable of slowly torturing a child to death also have the ability to become a crane landing in a marsh? I’ve seen that very thing. I’ve seen a watcher watch a crane come in for its landing and I’ve seen her stretch out her own wings and land in water—though she had no wings and was standing on cement. 

 

And I’ve seen the very embodiment of Goya’s “Saturno” standing mid-chomp, biting away the head not of a human body, but of an action figure. 

And I’ve seen a zombie whose face was covered with gore press its face against drywall, leaving an impression, then step back, look at the abstract face, then lean in again and leave another slightly more faded version to the left of the original so that the open-mouthed demon on the wall seemed to be moving not just through space but through time, fading in memory. 

I’ve seen these things. I have. 

Was I deceived, delusional, seeing what I wanted to see, a kind of aesthetic beauty that seemed to have left the world? Perhaps. But isn’t that just the magic of the artist? to make you wonder after the possibilities and question the nature of reality? of what it was and is and could be? Maybe I’m just crazy as a shithouse rat but humans always spent so much of our time before The Collapse frustrated because we couldn’t be totally lost in the moment, couldn’t inhabit pure existence, that is, without constructing meanings out of the past and present and future, which, it seems to me, is a major feature of the state zombies inhabit, which makes us hate them, because where we often turned our frustration and anger over our own inability to inhabit existence authentically on one another, isn’t it a beautiful sort of gesture that the zombies we hate so much turn not on each other but only on their former selves, their former iteration, and that the art of that rare category, if you allow for it to be called art, comes from minds that are pure and innocent of knowledge?

This subtype, the artist type, really gets my mind going. I once saw this woman standing on a small hill in a wheat field, thunderheads rolling dark gray and threateningly in the distance, the grass and her red dress and dark hair all blowing in the breeze. There was something about her. I felt like I had seen that photograph before, in a coffee table book, in a gallery, somewhere. It just hurt my heart, the way I wanted to go to her, to watch the weather roll in and drench us, the way her feminine form defined that dress…. I longed for her and for times long past. I admit it. I went to her. But when I got near, the truth became clear. She wasn’t a woman. She was one of them. Was she setting a trap for me with her feminine wiles? No. Not at all. Before I realized what was what, I actually reached out to touch her arm. I was so smitten with the way her form was cutting that dramatic gray backdrop, and I was so lonely for affection, that, quite honestly, I’d all but made a victim of myself. She could have done anything to me. But I’m here and still captivated, even more captivated than if she had been a woman, because maybe that woman would have ended up hating me, or died, but that zombie artist still holds me through the artful juxtaposition of the image and all the things good and terrible that could have been but weren’t. Hers was at once an aesthetic and moral choice, whether she meant it to be or not. Zombiedom, so commonly defined by acts of violence, didn’t interest her—only the gesture of a creature against its kinds. And the critics of the old world used to say an artist should avoid making statements against the endless backdrop of austere, endless cosmic nothingness? To hell with that. It’s that very juxtaposition that makes their art sing.  

 

But they aren’t all the same, aren’t all rejecting their brute nature. Some artists, for instance, embrace zombiehood wholeheartedly, even acting as amplifiers for their kind’s less charming traits. I already mentioned the zombie I saw leaving bloody face prints on the wall and my friend, Saturno. But there were others. One pot-bellied suburban dad relaxing in a kiddy pool full of blood. One that had spun around and around in a man’s intestines and stood there wrapped like a mummy. Maybe there was no intentionality behind any of this, but they seemed somehow aware of the existence of an audience—that is, us. On some totally primal level, these knew they weren’t going to convince us they were better than their worst examples, and, anyway, they weren’t sure they were better, so they just rolled with it. Are they worse artists because they not only refuse to reject a fundamental part of who they are but wallow in it—literally wallow in it—and publicly? 

§ Politicians. Possibly a subcategory of artists, like performance artists, or like a certain subcategory of worker, like elected officials, but it’s hard to categorize the politician as either because their shtick is so solid and so singularly focused: there are a lot of them and all they seem to do is look uncannily like trustworthy humans, showing their best side for just as long as they can (that is, so you don’t see the blood), drawing you closer and closer in your desperation to find another soul that is human and helpful—and that’s when they rip you apart. 

§ Fucked-up people. If a zombie is a thing that was once human impelled by an unknown force, then these sorts of people do technically fit the bill. But if one of these is walking past, you will see the difference. In fact, I take it for a fact that they still are people who simply took up with a horde.

 

That isn’t a metaphor. They seem in every way human as they walk along with the others, and seem to think the whole thing privately hilarious, and yet they’re able to contain anything like laughter or fear, to channel it like actors into this act. Every once in a while, you will look down from a hiding place in a tree and see one looking up, and catch his or her eye and, they seem to smirk, like they are somehow more evolved, like they figured out something you could not, and are somehow better than you for it. If they were zombies, and they saw you up there, wouldn’t they signal the others? Of course.

 

That’s what it so disturbing about it. What is their origin? why do they do it? I can’t profess to understand. If you torture them—and I have seen it done—they won’t talk and maybe there is something in their inchoate ability to tolerate having their fingers cut off with pliers and being crushed with sledgehammers and getting red hot rebar shoved up their assholes that makes them seek out and be welcomed into the company of the others. Maybe it’s our very rejection of them, our human cruelty, that drives them to find a place among the zombies. But perhaps it’s enough to know that a few of these do always seem to exist in any large horde, just enough that most people are aware of them, but still few enough to seem rare, as if their sole purpose were to thwart taxonomists such as myself, and blur the edges of zombo-kind.

 

-------------------------------------------------

 

[1] Another goodie I recall from the The Road, which may also be somewhat incorrect, is as follows: “We’re not survivors. We’re the walking dead in a horror film.” But here’s another taken directly from Blood Meridian, which, though it may not speak directly to our current predicament, does offer an interesting ghosting effect all the same: “Where for aught any man knows lies the locality of hell. For the earth is a globe in the void and truth there’s no up nor down to it and there’s men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoof-prints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod melted rock?”