As I’m writing this entry, I have another window open with a current draft of the first zombie scene I’ve ever written. I’ve always loved watching zombie films. Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, and even Shawn of the Dead had me on the edge of my seat. But for some reason, it’s taken me this long to attempt a zombie story of my own. I’ve come up with a theory about that. I think it’s because I tend to be an optimistic person, while zombie tales take place in the far-pessimistic side of the Zombie/Ghost Story World Spectrum.
Ghost stories, at one end of the spectrum, show an optimistic view of the world. They take place in a setting that’s so wonderful that some people can’t be made to leave it, even after death. Ghosts may have suffered horribly in life, but they’d still rather stick around than go on to an eternal resting place.
Moving away from the ideal “better than Heaven” world of ghost stories, we have the well-intentioned world of morality plays. You can always tell the good guys from the bad guys and it’s comforting to know in advance that the unrepentant rule-breaker will be brutally punished for his or her crimes. Good little boys and girls might find themselves in danger for a while but generally come out unscathed. The story takes place in a world that conspires to enforce a code of morality–the author’s code of morality–which has little or no room for shades of gray. Supernatural entities are enforcers of the law, while the real monsters are always human. It makes sense in a way our world never can, but it can also be uncomfortable for anyone whose moral compass varies by a few degrees from the author’s.
Vampire stories, in the exact middle of the spectrum, take place in a neutral world–the natural world of predator and prey. There’s nothing inherently good or evil about a wolf eating a rabbit, for example. The twist comes from making humanity into the rabbits. We’re one rung down from the top of the food chain, which causes tension for most of the in-story characters.
Stories like Frankenstein take place in a world where human intervention has altered the natural order. Inanimate monsters are brought to life, men play God, Gothic misery hangs in the air, and the balance of the world is thrown out of whack. Innocence and goodness will get you killed, if only to teach some other character a lesson. It’s a pessimistic place to be, but things can still go back to normal if the villagers band together with their pitchforks and torches. Or things can also go from bad to worse if the creature’s creator gives in to its demands to make a bride and/or groom.
And then there are zombies. Whenever they show up, you know the story world is doomed. It might start slowly, with a single zombie staggering mindlessly toward you. It’s probably not hard to escape, to find an effective weapon, or to band together with some allies. You can outthink a zombie, and in most versions you can outrun them or drive away from them. But eventually you will find yourself under siege, surrounded a a huge undead mob, with dwindling supplies and nobody left you can count on for help. In the long run, no matter what you do, the zombies always win.
Where does your favorite story world fall on this spectrum?
—Greg R. Fishbone, Destroyer and Creator of Worlds