Zombies are fun, and they have several qualities that make them a great plot device to tell stories. They’re simple – just take dead people, add animation and a ravenous hunger. Stir and repeat. You don’t really have to explain them, or explain how they happen. They are implacable, but not incredibly difficult to kill or even escape for brief periods of time. So there’s the sense that even a normal human being can handle themselves, if they’re careful. And yet there’s a constant sense of tension and dread at what might be trapped in that locked house, or shuffling across the camp ground. They’re also a way of having an apocalypse that wipes out much of humanity, but then sticks around afterward to harass the survivors. There is a constant threat looming, but it’s slow.
Which is really the key. Zombie stories allow for a lot of human interaction. Once your survivors have escaped the initial onslaught and barricaded up the building, what do they do? Do they turn on each other? Band together to survive? Split into factions and fight over supplies? To me, zombie stories are a great showcase for how terrible human beings can be to each other. Theoretically, I guess, you could use it as a showcase for how people can overcome even this, the worst calamity to befall humanity, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. Most people don’t handle stress well even in every day life, much less with monsters chasing you. I guess it all just depends on your view of humankind’s nature.
So for today’s sketch, the beginnings of a zombie story. Just a few hundred words.
Jim slammed on the brakes. White knuckles wrenched free of the steering wheel. He stomped the road. Sally pushed the toppled pile of camping gear back into the passenger seats.
“No! No!” Jim waved his arms, beside himself with fury. “We only have so much gas! We don’t know when or if we’ll get more!” He pointed up the road, back the way they’d come, back toward Dallas. “If we stop, there are five million…five. Five. Fucking. Million. Things! Back there that will eat us alive! They will literally chew your skull open and feast on your-” he sputtered and had to pause a moment before continuing. “I think you can be a little hot!”
Sally looked down. A bead of sweat fell from pale hair.
“Is any of this making sense?” A pleading note crept into his voice.
Sally kept her gaze fixed on the gear shifter. “Yes,” she said quietly.
Jim pulled at his hair. He took a deep breath. He slipped back into the driver’s seat and they resumed their journey.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said after a while. He threaded their Accord between several broken down trucks, ignoring the slouching things trapped in the other vehicles. “I just. We can’t waste any gas.”
Sally sniffed and bent over her book. She’d been rereading the same paragraph for the past hour. “It’s okay,” she said. “With gas prices as they are nowadays we can’t afford it anyway.”
Despite himself, Jim snickered. He stifled the laugh, but then Sally giggled and he could contain it no longer. For the first time in the week since the outbreak, they lost themselves in laughter.