21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthologyby Christopher Golden
The Stoker-award winning editor of the acclaimed, eclectic anthology The New Dead returns with 21st Century Dead, and an all-new lineup of authors from all corners of the fiction world, shining a dark light on our fascination with tales of death and resurrection... with ZOMBIES! The stellar stories in this volume includes a tale set in the/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
The Stoker-award winning editor of the acclaimed, eclectic anthology The New Dead returns with 21st Century Dead, and an all-new lineup of authors from all corners of the fiction world, shining a dark light on our fascination with tales of death and resurrection... with ZOMBIES! The stellar stories in this volume includes a tale set in the world of Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, the first published fiction by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, and a tale of love, family, and resurrection from the legendary Orson Scott Card. This new volume also includes stories also from other award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors, such as: Simon R. Green, Chelsea Cain, Jonathan Maberry, Duane Swiercyznski, Caitlin Kittredge, Brian Keene, Amber Benson, John Skipp, S. G. Browne, Thomas E. Sniegoski, Hollywood screenwriter Stephen Susco, National Book Award nominee Dan Chaon, and more!
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21st Century Dead
A Zombie Anthology
By Christopher Golden
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Christopher Golden
All rights reserved.
ZOMBIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I set out to examine the zombie craze through a different sort of lens. Tales of the walking dead have been around since long before Lazarus, populating the folklore of many regions of the world in one form or another. But in the early years of the twenty-first century, zombies experienced an incredible surge in pop culture popularity. George Romero had laid the groundwork decades earlier, with Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, but this was something far beyond what Romero accomplished. Many will point their fingers at one thing or another — a particular novel or film or comic book — as the spark that lit the fuse on the current explosion of zombie love, but such attributions never ring true to me. Pop culture hasn't embraced zombies because of The Walking Dead ... it's embraced The Walking Dead because it's a damn fine drama (in comic book and in television form) about zombies.
I put together my first zombie anthology, The New Dead, to explore this phenomenon. I believed then, and am firmly convinced now, that all the chatter about people getting bored with vampires and simply needing a new monster is off base. Perhaps there is an element of that in the surge of zombie popularity, but if so, it's only because most modern pop culture vampires are not at all frightening, and people need something to fear.
The twenty-first century has so many fears. Some are old, filtered through a contemporary sensibility, and some are quite new. Our governments involve us in wars few want or believe in, partly because it's so hard to ferret out the individual jihadists who are our true enemies. We have orthodox wars in an unorthodox time. We fear the political and personal corruption that is eating away at our culture. The Internet and twenty-four-hour news channels barrage us with tales of stolen or murdered children, nations crumbling, drug wars, parental neglect, natural disasters, and the erosion of honor, nobility, and personal responsibility in a million small ways.
We fear death, of course, and what comes afterward, and one of the ways in which we process that fear is by approaching our darkest wonderings from an oblique angle. In the twenty-first century, zombie stories have become one of those processing tools, not just for our fear of death but for fear in general. We live in a post–9/11 world, where the prospect of disaster feels far less like fiction and more like imminent possibility. When an earthquake and tsunami combine to take eighteen thousand lives in Japan, or an earthquake in Haiti kills over three hundred thousand, entering the list of the top five natural disasters on record, we are as horrified as ever, but perhaps not quite as shocked as we might have been, once upon a time.
The ground, you see, has become unstable beneath our feet. Not just the earth itself but the foundations of our world culture have become unreliable. Surely humanity has always been painfully aware of the ephemeral nature of life, and past centuries have had their share of disease and disaster, but in this century we are constantly reminded of the horrors the world has to offer, all day long and in close-up.
And yet we live and laugh and love. We hope for bright futures for our children and embrace our individual passions and cultural pastimes. With so much horror around us, it is imperative that we process our fears, and I have no doubt that zombie literature, film, and television are among the ways in which we do so.
The variety of stories in The New Dead pleased me greatly.
In 21st Century Dead you'll find nineteen brilliant tales of death and resurrection. Some are down-and-dirty zombie stories, excellent examples of the form, whose intent is a punch in the gut, to entertain, to horrify ... or perhaps all three. Others have a different purpose, helping us to examine and process our fears about a variety of issues, from drugs to religion to reality television. They explore dark futures, and dark hearts, plumbing the depths of love, loss, and neglect.
And some even give us hope.
I am fascinated by the variety of stories created by the stellar array of authors whose work is represented herein, and I hope you will share that fascination.
Now, read on.
You'll thank me later.CHAPTER 2
THE GUARD ON THE GATE stared at Mrs. Keppler's pass for a long time. He stared at it for so long, his face stern beneath his peaked cap, that Fleur began to get nervous. When the guard went back into his little hut, Fleur felt sure it was to call for reinforcements. She knew she'd done nothing wrong, and she was pretty sure that neither her friends nor Mrs. Keppler had done anything wrong, either, but the sense of guilt and crawling dread persisted just the same.
Maybe it was the research facility that gave her these feelings. It was like a prison, all high steel fences and barbed wire and clanging gates. In that sense, it was like a smaller version of the compound in which they all lived. But the difference with the compound was that you couldn't see the fences, not on a day-to-day basis anyway. And the guard uniforms were different here, gray and more formal than the faded brown combat fatigues that her brother Elliott and the rest of the perimeter security team wore. She saw the guard in the gray uniform speaking into a telephone and casting glances in their direction. Finally he put the phone down and marched stiffly across to the open door of the yellow school bus, where Mrs. Keppler was patiently waiting. Fleur was so relieved to see a smile break across the guard's face that her breath emerged in a gasp.
"That's all fine, madam," he said. "You have clearance to proceed."
Mrs. Keppler thanked him and the doors of the school bus concertinaed shut. The huge gates creaked slowly inward and Mr. Medcalf, their driver, drove through the widening gap.
Inside the facility, which looked to Fleur like nothing more than a mass of giant concrete building blocks stuck haphazardly together, more gray-uniformed men were pointing and waving their arms. Following their directions, Mr. Medcalf drove around to a car park at the back, where a squat, bald man whose brown suit matched the color of his bristling mustache directed them with fussy hand movements into a designated space.
"Welcome to the Moorbank Research Facility," the man said when they had disembarked. "I understand you're here to participate in the Infant Care Program?"
Mrs. Keppler, a tiny, owlish woman, who to Fleur and her friends seemed ageless, said, "Yes, that's right."
"Excellent." Raising his voice slightly to address the class, the man said, "My name is Mr. Letts. I'm the assigned facilitator for your visit here today. I'll be escorting you to the Crèche, explaining the procedure, and answering any questions you may have. Can I ask that you stick close together at all times and follow my instructions? We don't want anyone getting lost now, do we?"
He bared his small white teeth in a grin, which instantly tightened to an exasperated grimace when a hand shot up.
"Yes, Joseph," Mrs. Keppler said.
"Sir, miss, I was wondering, are the betweeners allowed to walk around inside?"
A few of his classmates sniggered at the babyish phrase. In her sweet and patient voice, Mrs. Keppler said, "Of course not, Joseph. We won't be in any danger. Isn't that right, Mr. Letts?"
"Oh, absolutely," Mr. Letts agreed. "Security is paramount here at Moorbank."
He led them across the car park, toward a pair of large glass doors beneath a curved metal awning. Next to the doors, inset into a recess in the wall, was a dark glass panel. The pressure of Mr. Letts's hand on the panel activated a crisscrossing network of glowing red lasers, which drew murmurs of appreciation from the children. After the lasers had scanned Mr. Letts's handprint, a series of clunks announced that the locks sealing the doors had disengaged, allowing their guide to lead them inside.
"It smells funny," whispered Millie to Fleur, before clenching her teeth as her words echoed around the high-ceilinged lobby.
Her voice clearly didn't carry as far as the girls had thought, because the only person who answered was Alistair Knott, who stooped to push his freckled face between the girls' heads to murmur, "That's the chemicals they use to keep the biters fresh."
Millie pulled an "eeew" face and shuddered violently enough to rattle her beaded dreadlocks, but Fleur just rolled her eyes. As Mr. Letts led them along a series of featureless corridors and up numerous flights of stairs, Fleur recalled Mrs. Keppler telling them in their history lessons that although people had started turning into what Alistair had called "biters" before Fleur and her classmates were born, it wasn't really all that long ago — only thirty or forty years. It was long enough, Mrs. Keppler had said, for the world to have changed from the way it had been at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and for the living to have become sufficiently organized that their lives weren't a daily battle for survival. However, it was not really long enough for the older generations, who remembered how things used to be, to have fully come to terms with the situation, or for scientists to have found a cure for the R1 virus.
The R in R1 stood for Reanimation. Mrs. Keppler had told them that, too, though Fleur, like most kids, had known that since she could remember. It was a word she heard almost daily. It was what politicians and newsreaders called those with the virus: the Reanimated. Most people, like Elliott and Fleur's mum, Jacqui, just called them R1s, though sometimes Elliott called them "reamers." Jacqui didn't like him using that word, though; she said it was "derogatory," which Fleur thought meant that it was kind of a swearword, though she wasn't sure why. Most little kids called the R1s "betweeners" because they were neither one thing nor the other. And there were other words for them, too, slang words like biters and decoms and loads of others.
What people never seemed to say, though, not directly anyway, was that the R1s were dead. It was like it was a taboo subject. It was like admitting something that was dark and forbidden. On TV, R1s were always described as "sufferers" or "victims" or "the infected." Fleur knew that scientists had been searching for a cure for the R1 virus for years, and she thought the reason why no one ever actually said the R1s were dead was that you couldn't cure death, and therefore that would mean the scientists had been wasting their time. When Fleur had asked Jacqui what the Reanimated were reanimated from, her mum had mumbled something about it being a "gray area." And when Fleur had pushed her to explain further, Jacqui had gotten angry and said she didn't want to talk about it.
The facility was such a maze of corridors, staircases, and numbered doors that the novelty of being inside it quickly paled. Fleur tried to imagine what might lie behind the doors. Offices? Laboratories? Cells for the inmates? If so, they must be empty or soundproofed, because, despite walking for what seemed miles, she and her classmates did not encounter another soul, living or otherwise, on their journey. Plus, they heard nothing but their own clomping feet and Mr. Letts's occasional barked orders to stay together.
When their guide finally turned and held up a hand, Fleur initially thought it was to reprimand those children who had begun to moan about their aching feet. Then Mr. Letts turned to a keypad and tapped in a code, whereupon the door beside it unsealed with a magnified wheeze. He marched inside without explanation, leaving Mrs. Keppler to usher the children after him.
Entering shoulder to shoulder with Millie, Fleur found herself in a white oblong room twice as big as her sitting room at home. Despite its size, however, it was spartan, but for a desk, chair, and computer tucked into an alcove in the left-hand wall. The most notable thing about the room was that almost the entire wall behind Mr. Letts, who had turned to face the children filing through the door, was composed of black glass. It reminded Fleur so much of a cinema screen that she half expected Mr. Letts to tell them to sit down in cross-legged rows to watch a film about the history and function of the facility.
He didn't, however. He simply stood, hands clasped in front of him, until they were all quiet. Then he said, "This is the observation and monitoring room for the Crèche here at Moorlands. Behind me is the Crèche itself, which I'm sure you are all eager to see. However, before I reveal it, I need to prepare you as much as I'm able for what you're about to experience. I also want to talk for a few minutes about the Infant Care Program in general. Before I start, can I ask how many of you have seen photographs or news footage of the Reanimated?"
Almost all the children raised their hands.
"And how many of you have seen the Reanimated in the flesh?"
All but two of the hands went down.
Mr. Letts fixed Ray Downey, who still had his hand up, with a penetrating stare. "Would you care to tell us about your experience?"
Now that he had been put on the spot, Ray's smug expression slipped into one of nervousness. As if justifying himself, he said, "I was with my friend Jim Brewster. We were on our bikes one day and we heard all this shouting 'round the back of Hampson's store, so we went down to take a look. The biter was this old guy who must have gotten sick somewhere nearby and hadn't been reported in time. Mr. Hampson and some other men were holding him off with poles. Then the cops ... er, the police came and they caught the biter in a net and took him away in a van." Almost reluctantly he added, "It was pretty cool."
"Cool," repeated Mr. Letts tersely. "Is that what you really thought?"
Ray Downey shrugged.
Pursing his lips disapprovingly, Mr. Letts turned to John Caine, the other boy with his hand up. "What about you?"
John's blond fringe twitched as he blinked it out of his eyes. His voice was so low and muffled that it sounded as if his throat were trying to hold it back. "My dad took me to see the perimeter when I was six. We didn't go very close. We parked on a hill looking down on it. When we were there we saw an R1 come up to the fence. A woman."
"And how did that make you feel?"
John frowned in embarrassment or resentment. "Scared," he admitted.
"Because she made a horrible noise. And her skin was all sort of ... blue and purple." As if the memory had enlivened him, the rest of his words emerged in a rush that threatened to descend into incoherence. "There was this look on her face. Blank, but like something had taken her over, as if she was a person but not really a person, as if she had turned into something awful. ..." He ended with a coughing gasp, as if he'd run out of breath, and then in the same low, muffled voice with which he'd started his account he added, "It gave me nightmares."
Mr. Letts nodded as if in approval. "Thank you. That is closer to the response I was looking for." Clasping his hands again, he said, "The point is that a firsthand encounter with an R1 is far more debilitating and disturbing than any amount of photographs or news footage can ever convey. The reason for this is that the Reanimated don't give off the subtle human signals we're used to, and which we subconsciously pick up on all the time; and so, denied of that input, and coupled with their alarming appearance, our minds automatically recoil from them. It finds them repugnant, it finds them wrong, and therefore something to be avoided."
He paused, allowing his words to sink in. Then he said, "That, I'm afraid, is something that you're all going to have to accept and put aside in this instance. As I'm sure you have been informed, the Infant Care Program has been designed and formulated with a number of objectives in mind. First, it is to give young people like yourselves prolonged exposure to R1 sufferers — but exposure which, if you behave responsibly, will not result in the slightest risk or injury to either yourselves or those around you.
Excerpted from 21st Century Dead by Christopher Golden. Copyright © 2012 Christopher Golden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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One of the best anthologies that I've read in ages.