Authors: Brian Stableford
Tags: #science fiction
tion: The Wiltshire Revelations
The Best of Both Worlds and Other Ambiguous Tales
Beyond the Colors of Darkness and Other Exotica
Changelings and Other Metaphoric Tales
Complications and Other Stories
The Cosmic Perspective and Other Black Comedies
The Cure for Love and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution
The Dragon Man: A Novel of the Future
The Eleventh Hour
Firefly: A Novel of the Far Future
Les Fleurs du Mal: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution
The Gardens of Tantalus and Other Delusions
The Great Chain of Being and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution
The Haunted Bookshop and Other Apparitions
In the Flesh and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution
The Innsmouth Heritage and Other Sequels
Kiss the Goat
Luscinia: A Romance of Nightingales and Roses
The Mad Trist: A Romance of Bibliomania
The Moment of Truth: A Novel of the Future
An Oasis of Horror: Decadent Tales and Contes Cruels
The Plurality of Worlds: A Sixteenth-Century Space Opera
Prelude to Eternity: A Romance of the First Time Machine
The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession
The Return of the Djinn and Other Black Melodramas
Rhapsody in Black
Salome and Other Decadent Fantasies
The Tree of Life and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution
The Undead: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution
Valdemar’s Daughter: A Romance of Mesmerism
The World Beyond: A Sequel to S. Fowler Wright’s The World Below
Xeno’s Paradox: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution
Zombies Don’t Cry: A Tale of the Biotech Revolution
Copyright © 2011 by Brian Stableford
Published by Wildside Press LLC
A True Inspiration
“Dying is easy,” some great tragedian is supposed to have said, “comedy is hard.” He was right, even though he didn’t really know what he was talking about. I do. You can die in your sleep—in fact, it’s hard to do it any other way—but you soon realize how difficult it is to raise a laugh when you’re a zombie. All the jokes that would have gone down like a house on fire while you were alive fall flat. Nobody knows any longer how to respond to them. Nobody knows any longer how to respond to you—except, of course, for the fearful and the hateful, who pretend that life and afterlife and simple, even though they aren’t.
In time, I guess, people will get used to it. Zombies will become familiar, if not exactly normal; it surely won’t be long before we’re given the right to vote, and offer ourselves as candidates for election. We’re not short of clamoring voices, on-line if not in Parliament Square. The Knights of the Round Table were parochial plodders by comparison with the Knights of the Living Dead, and they only had an imaginary cup to chase and a few damsels in distress to protect, while we have our civil rights to pursue…and, alas, still a few damsels in distress to protect.
If only I hadn’t died so young, I might have come back into a more hospitable world—but then, if I hadn’t died so young, I wouldn’t have afterlived through such interesting times, and might not have cared so much. I might even have been properly prepared for my afterlife, having given the possibility long and mature consideration in advance. Perhaps I should have done that anyway—nowadays, I reckon, everybody should—but I hadn’t. I wasn’t prepared, in any way whatsoever. It wasn’t that I had thought, in life, that I had some kind of guarantee of protection from premature death—nobody’s that stupid—but simply that I had more important things to think about, like scoring goals and sex…. I mean, being in love…and even, when I got really desperate, work.
Even if I had thought about it, though, I still wouldn’t have thought it probable that I would die while I was still three years short of my thirtieth birthday—at which time the first zombies every created were still a decade shy of their thirtieth rebirthdays—simply because it wasn’t. Sometimes, though, improbable things do happen. In fact, viewed with a cold objective eye, practically everything that happens is improbable—it’s just that
has to happen (although nobody is entirely sure why), and, for that reason, something always has to be falling out of the vast chaos of improbable possibilities to become hard reality.
When you look at it that way, not only is everything improbable, but absurd. You couldn’t make it up, as they say. People try, of course, but their fictions never quite match the perfect absurdity of actuality—there’s always too much temptation to make things orderly, or ironic, or even to contrive happy endings. I know that because I have a degree in English Literature—or had, when I was alive
I’ve become much more of a philosopher than a reader since I became a zombie. Most of us do, although it’s not what anyone would have expected in the days before Resurrection Technics existed, when the living only had the media image of “zombies” to go on.
The expectations of the living and the afterliving alike are almost always misled, but there’s some comfort in the fact that the principle applies to our most nightmarish fears as well as our Utopian hopes.
The earliest zombies, whose rebirthdays—in 2025 or thereabouts—were about seventeen years in advance of mine, were only the prototypes, of course: duly certified freaks that everybody saw on TV and nobody expected to see at the bus stop or in the supermarket. When I became a zombie, therefore, it had only been seven years or thereabouts since the first zombies had, so to speak, been released into the wild. By the time I got into the act, it was no longer new, exactly, but it certainly hadn’t gotten old yet. Nobody—and I mean
—knew as yet how to react to us, and we didn’t know how to react to them. It was a learning process for everyone, and the whole absurd mess of pottage was still seething in the social cauldron.
The demand for the Resurrection Process to be licensed as a routine medical treatment had mostly come from the grieving and the
-ridden, and it’s arguable that the political sop in question might not have been offered in a time of economic wellbeing, rather than an era in which western capitalism was forty years past its use-by date, twenty years into the Second Great Depression, and only being sustained by a fear of the unknown that was way past rational terror and far into pathological territory—but I’ll leave that discussion to the historians of the future. From my own viewpoint, the essential fact was that there had only been zombies abroad in England’s no-longer-green-and-pleasant land for about as long as I had been gainfully employed, after leaving university with the customary massive debt. Most people I had known in life, including me, would still either look the other way or point them out as marvels if they saw a couple walking by. I say “a couple” because the vast majority felt safer traveling in pairs, even though it really wouldn’t have made any difference at all if a mob had turned on them.
By and large, mobs didn’t. Seeing zombies walking abroad was still too strange. Even mobs need tacit guidelines, and there simply wasn’t anything in the reactive sector of the British collective unconscious to tell people what the “appropriate” response to real zombies was. Everybody had seen torch-wielding mobs hunting down Frankenstein’s monster in old black-and-white movies, but if any substantial number of people had ever absorbed that into their twentieth-century instincts, they’d also had the absorption dissolved and leached away by the turn of the millennium, thanks to a hundred knowing repetitions in vivid color that had played the same scene as tragedy or farce. By 2020, even mythical flesh-eating zombies were allowed to figure in cheery slapstick comedies and cheesy romcoms…which is, I guess, another reason why it’s now so hard for real zombies to raise a laugh, whether as jesters, stand-ups or Wildean wits.
But let’s get on with the story….
* * * * * * *
At first, of course, I had no idea that I was a zombie. Nobody thought that it was a good idea to hand me a mirror when I first woke up, and my hands were still bandaged. It didn’t strike me as particularly unusual that so many doctors were fussing over me when I first came round. One of the juniors told me, when I was eventually able to ask the question, that I’d been caught in the blast of an ED suicide bomb, but he didn’t bother to add that my injuries had been fatal.
Perhaps he thought he was protecting me. Perhaps he thought that it wasn’t the kind of news that he, as a living person, ought to be responsible for delivering.
It didn’t strike me as strange, either, that I had a zombie nurse. Like everyone with nothing better to do, I watched
on BBC-1 every Sunday evening, right after
Songs of Praise
. I even watched it if I happened to be on my own in the flat, although it was much better watching it with Helena, at her place or mine, so that we could laugh together at its not-quite-absurdity, and occasionally get misty-eyed at its pretty triumphs and tragedies.
The show had been running for three years by June 2042, so no matter how bizarre people might have thought it if they’d run into a zombie estate agent or a zombie fire-fighter, nobody found anything particularly bizarre in the notion of a zombie nurse. It didn’t even strike me as strange that the zombie nurse seemed to be in sole charge of checking my monitors, changing my drip and replacing my urine-bag.
I had to be told before I was allowed any visitors, though.
The zombie nurse’s name-badge identified her as “Pearl”—no surname. When she got around to telling me that I’d “passed on,” while she was peeling off the dressings to reveal my white hands—which might not have triggered any alarm bells, given that I wouldn’t have expected them to look entirely normal—she looked at me with a hint of trepidation as well as just a soupçon of compassion in her pink eyes. She didn’t curl her lip at the euphemism, though, and she didn’t manifest the slightest vestige of a tear. Zombies don’t.
Would I have burst into tears if I’d still been able to? Perhaps—but I doubt it. In a soap opera, the revelation wouldn’t have qualified as a poignant moment.
When you think about it, an inability to shed tears doesn’t really qualify as an inconvenience. It would if it meant that the conjunctiva dried out completely, but zombie tear-ducts do produce enough moisture to keep the eyeball lubricated; they just don’t produce the superabundant moisture that makes you
. They don’t produce “emotional tears.” The only people who cry when they watch a particularly poignant episode of
are the living.
As the news that I was a zombie sank in, therefore, I simply looked at the dry-eyed zombie nurse with dry eyes of my own—by no means beginning to bond, as yet, but at least offering a symbolic gesture toward the bonding that might be to come.
Then I looked at the sick-but-living people in the other beds. None of them was looking at me. They were all older than me, most of them much older. Most of them were more conscious—it was early afternoon—but none of them was looking at me, at that particular moment. That wouldn’t have seemed significant before, but now that I knew, it did.
“I’m not on the Resurrection Ward,” I said to the nurse, in an exceedingly reasonable tone. “If I were a zombie, surely I’d be on the Resurrection Ward.”
Nurse Pearl didn’t frown at my use of the term
. “We don’t have a Resurrection Ward, as such,” she told me. “That’s just a TV show. Maybe they have them in the big London hospitals, but this is the Royal Berks, and anyone our doctors can bring back from the dead gets a bed wherever we can free one up, just like everyone else.”
I asked for a mirror. She had one ready.
I didn’t recognize myself, and not just because my once-brown hair was beginning to grow back the color of snow, or because my once-blue eyes were now pink. I’d always been a trifle pale—pale enough to be called “zombie” in jest on occasion, especially by my team-mates and opponents in the Sunday Morning League, although it had never reached the pervasiveness of a nickname—so my complexion wasn’t so very different. The shape of my features had changed, subtly but unmistakably.
“I thought the whole point of using superstimulant stem-cells regenerated from the patient’s own body for the purposes of resurrection was to restore appearance, even to people whose faces got blown off in a bomb-blast,” I said, still proud of my level tone.
“It’s not as simple as that,” she told me.
I knew that, really.
, I still felt like me, but I knew that it wasn’t as simple as that. I knew that nothing, from now on, was ever going to be as simple as “that” again.
But I did feel like
, inside. I still felt as if that, at least, was simple. Everything might have changed, but something still seemed to be the same, however paradoxical that might be in logical rather than emotional terms.
I took a closer look at Nurse Pearl then.
had made the sight of zombies in nurses’ uniforms familiar, but familiarity is in the eye of the beholder, and I was a different beholder now that I’d seen my own pink eyes. I could no longer take my zombie nurse for granted, now that I’d realized why she’d been assigned primary responsibility for my care.
Pearl wasn’t as pretty as the actresses who played nurses in the soap, in wigs and pancake make-up, but she
young—no older than me, I guessed. I was already aware, vaguely, that zombies in their twenties were relatively rare, for simple reasons of demographic probability, but the relevance of the datum now seemed suddenly acute.
“Traffic accident or bomb-blast?” I asked her, knowing that my gaze would fill in the context.
“Neither,” she said, bluntly. “I committed suicide.”
I had also been aware, in the vague sense that one knows all sorts of irrelevant details, that the physicians carrying out resurrections were supposedly forbidden to discriminate, ethically obliged to make such attempts on any and all suitable corpses—as well as quite a few unsuitable ones, in order to be on the safe side—and
had tackled the seeming paradoxicality of resurrecting suicides on more than one occasion, but that hadn’t prepared me to respond to the conversational gambit in question. I didn’t know what to say. My gaze presumably asked
, but she wasn’t in a mood to answer questions that hadn’t been voiced, and would probably have told me that it was none of my business if it had.
“I suppose most of your zombie patients are older than me,” was what I finally contrived to say instead.
“Twenty-somethings are in a small minority in the afterliving community, it’s true,” she admitted. She still didn’t frown at the term I’d used, but she put a slight emphasis on her substitute. It occurred to me that she was probably following some kind of standard script that she’d had to memorize during retraining, like any other civil servant. “The old outnumber the young even among the living nowadays,” she continued, “but the disproportion between those who die old and those who die young is dramatically exaggerated among the afterliving. Afterliving individuals who died in their twenties comprise a small minority within a tiny one—unless you take sides with those who think that age of death is irrelevant to the afterliving, and that only the duration of afterlife counts. On that basis, none of the regulars at the Center is more than seven years old—which probably explains why they tend to behave like a gang of naughty kids.”
“The Center?” I queried.
“The local Afterlife Center, aka Zombie Rehab, aka the old Salvation Army Hall on Mount Pleasant. You’ll be spending a lot of time there soon enough. So do I, shifts permitting.” She didn’t frown at her own use of the word
Stupidly, I could only remember lines from
, spoken in similar situations—but I wanted to script my own. After a pause, I came up with: “Let’s hope we really can live forever, then—that way, we’ll live to see the day when the dead outnumber the living, and the duration of our afterlives will have so far outstripped the time before our deaths that we’ll have forgotten we were ever alive.”