Chapter 1 from Zombies: An Horizon of Ashes by Jean-Pierre Andrevon (translated by Michael Shreve). Thanks to Le Bélial’ for this post.
They’re coming out of everywhere now. Not only out of the cemetery grounds, but also out of old stone walls, out of burial mounds, out of the wall of a building that you see buckle and crack before freeing its contents: an ethereal substance, at rest for a long time, a very long time, in the limestone, granite and loam, with its mineral sheath turned into landfill or excavation, brick, mortar or cement to be used to raise a building. They’re coming out. A part of the wall breaks loose, wallpaper swells, a patch of cement suddenly peels off, a corner of a mound crumbles and—another appears. Another one is… free.
At first barely visible, a floating shadow, a silhouette of fog suspended in mid-air. But quickly, in a few minutes mostly, you see it condense. You see it take on flesh or the semblance of hardened flesh hanging off the frame of its reconstructed skeleton. The most recent are still wearing clothes in different stages of decay, or just rags. The old ones, a hundred years or more, most of the time, are naked: flayed the color of dead wood, they lumber off, looking astonished at this new vertical position that they’re no longer used to.
They’re coming out of everywhere. I even saw one struggle out of a tree—one of the chestnuts in La Combe woods. It obviously slipped out of the roots after a long underground sleep. Yes, they’re coming out of everywhere. Male and female, of course, even though it’s hard (basically for the mind) to describe the dead by their sex. The dead are the dead, that’s all. Even if they walk. The more recent are recognizable by their hair and dresses or pants, but after a few decades in the ground, the body loses its sexual distinction so that it just looks like a ridiculous sculpture carved out of clay.
They’re everywhere. So many of them! More and more of them… They’re a real hassle. No matter how hard you try to forget they’re there or to look away, they get in the way. At the beginning, they only wandered the countryside; now they are starting to invade the city where they group together in the gardens, parks and open spaces. I’ve seen it for myself—they even try to go into stores and courtyards and public squares. How long until the apartments and houses? It’s unbearable. Oh, they’re not dangerous, of course. Not the least bit mean and in no way aggressive. They’re only the dead, after all. And what could the dead want by coming out of the ground? A little companionship, probably, to forget the terrible loneliness…
I’m joking. Or trying to. Because they don’t think, surely. How could the dead think? The brain is the first thing to go. When they open their head—this is something I heard about before seeing it on TV, but I never tried it myself (which goes without saying)—when they split their heads open, they find nothing but an empty cavity, a bowl of bone on the bottom of which sits a little slimy liquid. Or only a pinch of crumbly powder. Because the brain (at least, we believed so for a long time) never regenerates.
So, how could they think? They’re just vegetables that can move and (this is a completely personal speculation) that have a kind of tropism that drives them into contact with the living, with a representation of what they were before. Tropism, purely without thinking. I don’t know what attracts them. Maybe the heat, our heat of the living. Or a perception of movement, sensed through vibrations in the ground? Because they cannot see anymore than they can think. Eyeballs also decay fast. And depending on the stage of decomposition, the eye socket just has a little slimy jelly or gritty plaster if it’s not empty or dark. The eyes don’t regenerate either. I mean, that’s also what we believed… at the beginning.
However, they walk toward us, we the living. They hold their arms our toward us. They look like they want to touch us. They want to touch us… to hug us. But we don’t let them, of course. They’re the dead. They’re disgusting and dirty and they… they stink. Especially the younger ones whose flesh has not dissolved yet and whose guts are still teeming with bursts of flatulence and raging microorganisms hard at work. They stink and scatter waste and refuse and the dregs falling off their badly regenerated, unstable, leprous mortal coils. You can follow the dead by the tracks! That’s what they used to say, with forced laughter. Now there are too many tracks. You meet the dead on every corner, with their dead branch arms outstretched and their sawed off fingers wriggling around.
They even look like they’re trying to talk. To talk to us. Their mouths reeking of musty bogs are opened wide, revealing the wagging stumps in their recently filled in gums, and they huff. From the bottom of their crudely stitched up lungs they spew out a wheezy breath, a catarrhal sigh, a moan, always the same: Ah-ouuuu… ah-ouuuu… Why do they do this? Another thoughtless mechanism wound up by who knows what key? I don’t know; nobody knows. Anyway, they don’t stop huffing, moaning. All day and night so that we don’t even hear them anymore. Like gusts of wind, soft and warm, carrier of miasma, harmattan come from the depths of ages.
AH-OUUUU… AH-OUUUU… AH-OUUUU…
What’s more grueling, this wail or their stubbornly wanting to touch us? Their presence, that’s all. So, we avoid them, push them back, smack them. With our fists or shovels or whatever tool in arm’s reach. From now on, it must be noted, a number of the living (a growing number) don’t go anywhere without a weapon to defend themselves. Axes are a big favorite. And used. It seems that the hardware aisles of the supermarkets were cleaned out in record time. An ax is practical.
I did what everyone else did and ended up getting one. Just in case. But in the meantime, when I have to go into the city, I just use my hands on those rare occasions when the dead come unexpectedly in contact with me. Most of the time I just have to walk faster. The dead are so slow. Why go to extremes for them? Oh, I can imagine that for a citizen continually faced with invasion, the nerves end up snapping. So they let off some steam. In the middle of Gambetta Square I saw a group of shopkeepers (waiters mostly) flail away at two or three dark figures that were quickly torn to shreds. The dead are so brittle! Old men watched on, nodding their heads; children laughed, jumping up and down; me, I admit, I was frozen there for a minute soaking in the sight. I heard one of the bullies grumble, “Got to kill them all” and then he winced, suddenly aware of how outrageous his outburst was.
It’s true that people are hitting, hacking and dismembering more and more. It’s so easy! And it’s so quickly proven harmless. Unpunishable, too. You can’t kill the dead. And you can cut them up with a chainsaw (I have witnessed this), they won’t spill a drop of blood. Just shavings, slivers, peels. And the victims never try to defend themselves.
A few days ago, while parking at Codec, where I was going to buy some tools, I saw a gang of young men, most of whom were North African, lay into one of them. They were having themselves a time. Laughing. And yelling, “Die, creep! Die again, shitbag! Go back to hell with your mother! And stay there!” A little farther away two security guards (big black guys) were watching them do it, arms crossed. They were laughing too. Generally the police close their eyes. Or more often participate. The authorities… But what can the authorities do?
Anyway, these ridiculous efforts are good for nothing except calming the nerves, venting the most confused and the most perverse urges. You don’t kill the dead. Even if you smash them to bits. In the middle of the day, when the sun is beating down, the asphalt boiling and every metal surface is fuming, we see the flesh thicken and the dislocated limbs reform, even if the remains are scattered over several yards. I had the chance to observe—well, from a distance and not for long, because it’s a sight that can make you lose your lunch—I had the chance to observe a dismembered, chopped up corpse reassemble itself and get up. The different parts of the body started moving, each with an independent existence, crawling toward each other like hideous, tortured animals trying to find comfort in their shared body heat. The pieces reassembled, adjusted and knitted together. After an hour (sometimes half an hour) the dead stand up, still wobbly. Well, it’s hard not to say they looked amazed; then with their empty eyes and gaping mouths, they go wandering around again, arms held out, looking to embrace more of the living, who might just welcome them with a chopping ax.
This happens particularly in the middle of the day when the July sun is beating down. There must be a reason for it; has to be. With regard to the rays. Clementine thought this: “It’s the opposite of vampires, then! The sun doesn’t kill them, it gener… regen…” I finished for her, “That’s right, sweetie, the sun helps them regenerate.” I hadn’t thought of that. Out of the mouths of babes…
They moan. They multiply. There’s nothing we can do. They’re everywhere. And so many of them.
More and more of them.