As I was settling in to work in my office this morning, I noticed that one of my trainees had apparently done some work on my desk area while I slept. They like to come in early to work on things, and I guess in the process of cleaning out a spot to set up their own little space, they found some of my old junk.
Sitting in front of me on the shelves just at eye level over my desk, are all the various bits of zombie-themed junk I collected over my many years as a fan of the genre. It's a little weird.
I mean, I live in a surreal world. No one who ever watched any of George Romero's living dead movies really thought that they would come to pass. Not one person sitting in a theater flinching at Danny Boyle's kinetic, rage-fueled undead believed that such an event could actually happen.
As I sat there looking at action figures of zombies, a few small posters (and one huge one for Boyle's "28 Days Later"), even my little Zombie Survival Kit, which is especially funny now, I can't help but think of how different the reality is to the fantasy I once immersed myself in.
Outside the walls, right now, chances are about even that I could see a zombie shuffling about. Any section of the compound's wall, at that. They are always there, day and night, sometimes moaning with the hunger they feel for the blood and flesh of living things. Sometimes they're silent, watching us with eyes that see more than a dead thing should. Some of them are slow and shambling, some are fast and nimble. All of them are lethal. All of them are sad.
Look at the little figurine there, sitting on the shelf. It's a caricature of a reality that is all too harsh and dangerous. His little arms in front of him like Frankenstein's monster from the old Universal pictures. Frankenstein was the original zombie, I suppose. The figurine is wearing a tattered business suit, charcoal gray with a red tie. His cuffs are frayed. His face and hands are a pale green, but whole, looking more like a desiccated mummy than a true, fresh corpse. The look on his face is blank, his jaw slack. His eyebrow are raised as if to ask, "What have I become?"
In much the same way that old cartoons made a mockery of the animals they gave voices to and animated, so does the collection of stuff above my desk. All this stuff was funny once, had some pop culture value. Now it's just another reminder of how unprepared we were for the truth of what we face every day.
I once saw a zombie woman dragging the body of a child behind her. The child hadn't reanimated, it was simply dead, its head partially crushed in. There was such a forlorn look on the dead woman's face as she walked, puffs of dust trailing her and the limp body she pulled, that I went out of my way to send her to the final peace of the everafter.
I can't imagine a sorrow more profound than losing one's child. Something deep inside that woman, nestled in the reptile part of her brain, recognized the scope of her loss. It may not have even been her own kid she was toting around with her, it could have been anyone's. That, somehow, seems even worse; that she could have felt such a deep need for her lost offspring that she would find a replacement.
Even as I shot her, the look on her face transformed from despair right into beastly hunger.
The assorted mementos in front of me just don't do justice to that. None of them convey the dark mixture of pity and rage that we have for the dead outside our walls. No movie, comic book, or novel ever managed to get it right. What we live with every day; the fear, the worry, the hope, the moments of happiness. I don't blame fiction for missing the mark, because until The Fall happened, it was all speculative.
Even though I write this blog most days and am living through the actuality of the zombie apocalypse, words aren't enough. Rather, the right ones just don't exist to really record with any accuracy the mood of our daily lives. It's something that I struggle with often, and I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I can capture it perfectly.
I'll leave them there. As reminders go, my little collection is a valuable one. Looking at it, I will always keep fresh the memories of what I thought we would face, and the knowledge of what really is out there. I will remember our mistakes, and strive each day not to repeat them. I'll see the covers of the graphic novels and DVD's and know that once, there was such a place as a world where safety was the norm, and monsters were fun things. Evil was easily consumed in ten minutes to two hours, and guns never ran dry.
I'll look up every morning and remember the cost of our innocence. The price of our lessons learned.