on Feb 15, 2013
Here we are at the end of this series. This began as a single 2,000 word post where I made some notes about how dumb your average zompocalypse-inhabitant was. Then it grew and I split it into two posts. Then more. The final tally is over 10,000 words, which would have made a pretty good start on a book. Perhaps there were better ways I could have spent this time.
A lot of people made some really sensible / inventive suggestions that were better than what I’d come up with. I didn’t borrow those ideas here, because it felt like cheating. Still, this is just another example of how more people = more better odds of survival.
The Duh Files
At bedtime, you should always have a closed door between yourself and the other members of your household, and you should try to have more than one way out of your bedroom. If grandpa has a heart attack in the middle of the night, we’ll know when he starts banging on his bedroom door. If he gets out, you should be able to escape out the window. Just like having a fire escape plan, families will be encouraged to form a zombie escape plan, and the town will have a group of volunteer zombie killers the same way we have volunteer firefighters today. Just like we teach kids to stop, drop, and roll, we’ll teach them to sprint away from zeds while yelling something distinctive.
Anyone venturing out of the walls will wear as much as possible of: leather jackets, football helmets, hockey leggings, steel-toed boots, and work gloves. Anyone with a complete outfit like this should be immune to bites. The only way you’ll die is if the horde asphyxiates you through crushing. No more of this “Oh noes! Polo-shirt Pete was bitten while we were foraging! What do we do?” nonsense. Zombie bites are preventable, as long as we take precautions. Since we’re living in Pennsylvania, it’s basically guaranteed that we should have an abundance of protective gear. I personally have enough coats to make three torsos bite-proof, and I’m sure I’m not unique. If we’re talking about settling on a farm, there ought to be tons of stuff we can use.
Well, headgear might be tricky to find. Football helmets are preferred. They offer respectable visibility, they distinguish survivors from the zeds in the midst of the fray, they make your head un-bite-able, and they should even protect your noggin against friendly fire baseball bats.
This is something I never see these stories deal with that I think would be a major problem. In a confusing melee, it’s not unlikely that you’ll donk a teammate on the head. Most likely it would happen on the backswing. There probably won’t be lethal power in such a blow, but it might be enough to stun, concuss, confuse, or injure. Just another thing to worry about. On the other hand: If someone dies with a football helmet on, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to stop the resulting walker. On the gripping hand: A zed wearing a helmet probably won’t be able to bite anyone because the face guard will be in the way.
Also, I’d want safety glasses or goggles for the zombie fighters, if possible. For some reason this is never an issue in zombie stories (other than 28 Days Later) but my instinct would be to assume that zombie juice in the mouth or eyes is dangerous. And also yuck.
But let’s assume those pesky writers sneak a zed all the way from the city to our compound, past the noisemaker chimes, around the fence, through our armor, and manages to bite down on somebody before they can kill it. This would be almost impossible if the writers didn’t insist on it being inevitable, so let’s decide how to handle it.
In zombie stories, people are always concealing their bite wounds because they’re afraid the group will execute them without mercy. If you find a scratch on your hand and you can’t quite tell if it came from zombie teeth or your own machete, then the usual group-of-assholes dynamics will incentivize you to conceal the wound for as long as possible. Maybe the wound wasn’t large enough to pose a threat? Or if it is, maybe it isn’t infected? Or if it is infected, maybe it’s just regular infected and not zombie infected? And if it is zombie infected, maybe you have a slim chance at recovering? Your own survival instinct will drive you to wait until the last possible moment before revealing the bite. This is bad for everyone, even the bite victim.
To solve this, we just reserve a clean safe place for possible infections. If someone is wounded, their wounds are cleaned and they’re placed into the quarantine room. We give them food and water and whatever else we can offer them for comfort. Loved ones can visit them and we can track their progress to learn about the disease. If they turn, the armored zombie smasher team can dispatch them after death. The smasher team has armor, so this isn’t a serious risk.
This is one of the ways that the more humanitarian approach wins out over the hardcore survivalists. The survivalists will dump you or shoot you once you’re bit. This means you’re more likely to hide the bite, turn at an inopportune moment, and cause more problems. In our group, we’re not just being nice to THIS bite victim, we’re also creating a path of least resistance and maximum hope for the NEXT bite victim. Also, we’re avoiding needless death, like when Bob Crawford decides to execute a bite victim that wasn’t really infected. Perhaps that wound is a crescent-shaped scratch and not an actual bite? Perhaps it’s a bite, but the zombie was wearing dentures that don’t spread the pathogen the way real teeth do? Perhaps the plague is losing potency? Perhaps some slim margin of the population is immune? Perhaps pouring that hydrogen peroxide over the wound improved their odds of survival? Not bloody likely, I’ll admit, but Bob Crawford doesn’t know for sure. None of us do. There are lots of unknowns, so we shouldn’t go around shooting people while they’re still alive.
We let the infected live as long as possible so that the injured will never have a reason to hide it. Yes, it’s slightly less convenient to have to bash up a zed once the infected person dies, but its worth the hassle if we can create an atmosphere of trust where people will be open and honest. The quarantine room should offer the infected the best possible chance at survival and the greatest possible comfort for those doomed to die. There should be no reason to hide an injury. This logic should be extended to all the sick. If you’re seriously ill or injured, then there should be a doorknob between you and everyone else, just in case you die.
Meanwhile, Bob Crawford is needlessly shrinking his team, shaking the loyalty of his followers, getting rid of non-combat helpers he’ll need next year, and teaching his people to be secretive about health problems. He’s an idiot. Crawford shouldn’t be worried about what might happen if Fred turns. He should be terrified that he’ll miss out on Fred’s knowledge and labor this winter.
There should be plenty of jobs for non-combatants. Sure, you’ll be doing a lot of fighting in that first six months (or however long it takes the millions of old-world zombies to fall apart) but once the days of fighting are over you’ll have a ton of menial work to do and not much need for combat. Bob Crawford will be very sorry if he threw away all those human beings just because they weren’t badass enough for his badass club.
Once spring rolls around and we get the crops planted, we’ll send out small expeditions. Ideally they’ll drive but if the fuel is gone then we’re stuck walking. The first expeditions will be just one or two day survey trips to get a feel for the area. Assuming those people come back in good shape, we can send out more. We’re looking for communities, survivors, and resources. We’re looking for signs, news, and hints about how the rest of the world is doing. We’re looking for hints or rumors of bandits to know what kind of threats we’re facing. Maybe someone else got some power going? Maybe there’s still a government left somewhere? Maybe there are starving families who would like to join us? We build up, get news, and maybe even open trade. (I’m not sure how much good trade will be. We’re probably in the same part of the country, which means we’re likely going to have the same surpluses and shortages. Still, they might grow some crops that we don’t. If nothing else, we can swap books.)
I’ve read that gasoline goes bad after a couple of years. We can’t get the refineries going again because they’re massively complex and we have no way to get more oil. (Since American oil is either imported, piped thousands of miles, or acquired via offshore drilling. Those systems require a ton of infrastructure and expertise to operate and maintain.) Which means all of our fossil fuel systems are eventually doomed. We might get them going again in a generation.
On the other hand, coal is still crazy plentiful and we ought to be able to make hydro power work. Which means we might have this oddball future with no cars but plentiful electricity. I don’t know enough about these systems to say for sure. I suppose the few electric cars we have floating around will be in big demand. An even bigger demand would be figuring out how to make electricity power our farming equipment, since that’s the most pressing and labor-intensive thing we face these days.
Assuming zombies are not perpetual motion machines, then they ought to have decomposed in the spring thaw or spent their energy in the first winter. Maybe we can hand-wave a few more months of activity, but by year two the zombies are gone and the only zombie threat is from people who otherwise die of natural causes. That sucks, and funerals are going to be really odd from now on, but humanity should be just fine.
I’ll miss the internet, though. Even if we get it running again, it will never be quite the same without a couple billion creative, bored, healthy, and well-fed people using it every day and adding new content.
I wonder if I’ll be able to go back to blogging?
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.