#6: I dream of zombies
Do you ever have zombie apocalypse dreams? I do. More often than I usually care to admit.
Lots of people have recurrent dreams. All around the world, people dream about flying, falling, being naked in public, getting chased by a psycho, or scrambling to find a bathroom. Given how effective some people are at multi-tasking (some people, not me), there have to be some people out there who dream about all these things put together in one big crazy naked flying stalker chase dream that ends with being stuck in a locked, inoperative porta-potty falling out of the sky.
(By the way, do you have Jerry Bruckheimer's phone number? I have a movie idea to pitch.)
Anyway, for me, it's always been zombies. Sometimes it's just a waking dream, especially if I'm reading a zombie book, if I've watched an episode of The Walking Dead, or treated myself to a zombie movie. I'll lie in bed, just on the cusp of falling asleep, and insert myself into the scenario, thinking about what I would do differently. In most cases, I don't make any of the silly, tragic mistakes the characters made. I never split up the group, I always close all doors behind me; I wear tactical riot gear head-to-toe; and I never, ever go to bed with an incredibly attractive stranger who's got a mysterious, crescent-shaped open wound on their forearm.
Other times, it's a full-on, immersive end-of-the-world zombie apocalypse dream, the kind where you wake up feeling like you've been away for like, six years or something. I usually do pretty good in those dreams, ending up in the role of a beneficial, revered ruler of a self-sufficient survival enclave somewhere. Whenever I wake up from this dream, I feel older, wiser and chock-full of mojo. But to be honest, I'm totally relieved to get back to modern civilization. There's nothing like a zombie apocalypse to make you appreciate hot showers, taco Tuesdays, and toaster strudels.
I also always wake up a little disappointed that nobody's calling me "Emperor ZomCrunch" anymore. "Daddy" is fine, but it doesn't exactly command the respect of a nation of hardened post-apocalyptic warriors.
According to the authority that is the internet, having recurring zombie dreams means that I'm under a lot of stress, and that I feel like I'm lacking control over my life. It's a valid diagnosis. But if this is accurate, every single parent on the face of the earth is probably also having zombie dreams. Which might explain why so many parents I know love watching The Walking Dead.
When a post-apocalyptic, devastated wasteland plagued by bandits, warlords, murderous maniacs and undead creatures is what you fantasize about at night, it's pretty clear you could probably use a vacation from hiding vegetables in muffins, stepping on Legos and wiping somebody else's butt.
I've also been wondering if zombies dream (yes, I understand that zombies aren't a real thing, but that's also what they used to say about space stations and lab-grown meat, right?). Or rather, would zombies keep enough post-mortem self-awareness to be conscious of what they're doing, like shushed backseat passengers to their body's horrifying, cannibalistic urges? How awful would that be? To see yourself doing all those awful, terrible, unspeakable things without ever really being capable of reaching out and stopping yourself?
It would be like being a serial killer, helpless to control your dark, abhorrent urges. Or an innocent person possessed by an ancient, all-consuming, all-powerful demon. Or even worse, a politician. <Shudder>
There have been a couple of works of zombie fiction that examine this possibility. The 2017 Irish zombie movie The Cured is one of them. There's also the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies, and David Moody's awesome book Hater, amongst others. All worth checking out, if you're a true zombie afficionado. There's even an article in Popular Science that examines zombie consciousness, because... well, even scientists get bored, I guess.
What's more terrifying to you? Self-aware creatures who can't control their terrible, nightmarish urges; or mindless, inhuman monsters who savagely devastate everything around them without a care in the world about the horrors they inflict upon the innocent?
I'm asking about zombies, by the way. Not your dating history.
Speaking of disturbing things, my home turned into a season-finale episode of E.R. the other night. All because of a 1/8-inch sliver of wood.
My house has a beautiful expanse of flooring built from reclaimed planks taken from a 100-year-old farmhouse. It's almost like art, if people could walk on art. Problem is, barefoot shuffling on our floor, as little kids are wont to do, is an invitation for splinters. And given that I've only suggested they wear slippers about seven hundred times, the barefoot shuffle continues. In my experience, kids won't change a habit unless somebody insists they do it approximately four thousand times. Motivating them with the promise of eighteen pounds of candy sometimes works, but when the sugar rush dies down, they immediately forget. An unexpected foot splinter can also serve as an effective reminder.
At least, you would think so.
Last week, my son Van, who, not unlike his father, often drags his feet around the house like he's auditioning for a part in a George Romero movie, caught a pretty big splinter in his little toe. My wife had been heading out for a two-day work binge away from home, which is understandable. Our home sounds like a drunken howler monkey convention afterparty these days, given that our kids are out of school for the Easter holidays. Their relentless screaming, free-range rampaging and wanton destruction was probably just the dress rehearsal for the three-day chocolate binge set to launch on Easter morning, but still. I couldn't blame my wife for getting out of Dodge. If anything, it made for a fairly realistic dry run for an apocalyptic emergency evacuation, like a meteor strike, a super-volcano eruption or Godzilla coming to North American shores.
My kids stack up nicely against even the worst of catastrophes.
But just as my wife started to make her escape, the splinter of doom reared its sharp, ugly head, and everything went downhill from there.
A dramatic, terrifying forty-five minute splinter extraction process began. My wife took on the role of baby toe surgeon, partly because I can't kneel or squat with my knee injury, but mostly because I can't handle the sight of blood, needles or injuries, even tiny ones like this. I can write for countless hours about exploding zombie heads, but when it comes to a miniscule piece of embedded wood just beneath the surface of somebody else's skin, I'm like a colicky newborn accidentally sucking on a lemon wedge dipped in nitroglycerine.
I'm proud to say that the screaming - and there was A LOT of it - didn't come from me. Most of it came from my son as he sat there, his injured foot extended into my wife's face, hollering at the top of his lungs. A fair amount also came from my six-year-old while watching her brother submit to the traumatizing splinter extraction. Her screeches were a type of solidarity-screaming that would have been super endearing if they hadn't been so destructive to adult eardrums.
But I didn't scream, not this time. I was too busy fetching flashlights, novocaine cream, piling up emergency squeeze-cushions for my son, then holding his hands while reading the English subtitles to an episode of One Punch Man playing on our television. I did this partly to help distract my son while my wife dug into his toe with a needle and tweezers; partly to help drown out the Eli Roth movie-level screams he was contributing to our family soundtrack; and partly because I really enjoy One Punch Man.
Heroes don't always run into burning buildings. Sometimes they just sit there and read funny subtitles.
Luckily none of our neighbors overheard my son's extended screeching torture opera, which I think was loud enough to tear through the space-time continuum. Or if they did, they didn't call the cops on us. This might not turn out all that well for us if we ever do get murdered, but as they say, live for today. I'm not sure how murder victims feel about the saying, but there's probably another motto that works better in that specific situation.
Happily, my son survived the splinter extraction, even if he was gasping for air, screaming and sweating so much he looked like a ballerina giving birth to triplets. Still, I congratulated him for being brave, or rather for capitulating to my argument after I proposed the oh-so realistic alternative of rushing to the hospital for an emergency toe amputation.
I have friends in marketing. I know that one's persuasiveness isn't measured by one's honesty.
My wife was the real hero in this situation. If they gave out congressional medals of courage to moms for at-home micro-emergency management, I'd nominate her. Probably every day.
That tiny piece of wood scared the crap out of both of my kids, cancelled my scheduled weekly D&D game, and forced my wife to delay her work trip until the next morning, because of the local Covid curfew. Despite all this, my kids are still walking around barefoot.
God help us if there ever is a zombie apocalypse. Apparently there aren't any second chances from getting eaten alive.
In other news, it was my birthday on April 2nd. I turned 45, which I suppose is the official middle-age benchmark. Every year that passes, I realize how less appealing an actual zombie apocalypse would be. When I was 26, the idea of a zompoc almost sounded like a vacation. No work, lots of fun activities, and you get to meet tons of interesting, exciting new people. Nowadays, especially with the perspective of the pandemic in mind, a zombie apocalypse just sounds kind of boring. Barricade myself in a house with restless family members and overplayed board games, all of which are missing critical pieces? Yawn. Been there, done that. And I figure it'll only get worse with time. By the time I'm seventy-five, a zombie apocalypse will be about as appealing as a lukewarm booger bath with a side of clumsy disembowelment.
My kids (and by my kids, I mostly mean my wife acting through the well-meaning but thoroughly disorganized vessels that are my children) gave me a pretty awesome zombie-themed gift: they made me zombie-apocalypse snow globes. My wife ordered small zombie figurines on Amazon, superglued them to the lids of empty jars, then filled the jars with water and glitter. Ta-da. The zombie apocalypse has never looked so adorable.
Even the birthday cake my wife made me featured a zompoc scene. Who knew raspberries could look so deliciously gory?
Looking for something to watch? One of the friendly neighborhood members of my Zombie Pen Facebook Group clued me in to the movie Dead Men Walking, a 2005 zombie film I'd never even heard about. It's available for free right now on YouTube. Sure, it's a little cheesy, a bit of a gory, over-acted schlock-fest, as expected with lower-budget productions like these, but it's actually pretty good, quite a bit better than I expected. It's a fun story about a zombie apocalypse as it unfolds in a maximum security prison. Definitely worth checking out if you occasionally enjoy indie, straight-to-video style zombie flicks.
DEAD MEN WALKING: youtube.com/watch?v=94NgAhPwnJE
Zombie reading-wise, I've got two personal recommendations this month, both of which I finished reading over the past few weeks.
My first one is a bit of an oddball choice, because it's an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure book. Did you ever read CYOA books when you were a kid? I sure did. In fact, I recently found a bunch of my old CYOA books in an old box, and my son has been pouring through them. In any case, I always assumed those books were relics of the 1980s, but turns out I was wrong. They still make them, and kids all over still read them! But there are also plenty of adult books in this category. You wouldn't want to mix up my recommended book with a unicorn princess CYOA book meant for a nine-year-old, believe me.
If you like the idea of a zombie novel where you can influence the outcome by making the lead character's decisions, check out Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brailler. Max is also the creator of the incredibly popular kids' zombie book series (and Netflix show) The Last Kids on Earth (I read these with my son - if you want to gently initiate your kids into the world of zombie/post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a great way to start), also a zombie apocalypse tale, but for a much younger audience. His interactive book, which is really only for an adult audience, can lead you to a bunch of different outcomes as you make decisions about your survival plan, weapons, allies, and how to react to lots of different scenarios. There's apparently 50 different endings in there, although I haven't tried them all yet. Full disclosure: I died a lot. But I had a lot of fun with this book, so much so that I plan on checking out other adult CYOA books in the coming months. There's also a sequel titled Highway to Hell, although I haven't read it yet.
Also, if you like funny post-apocalyptic stories, I really recommend you check out Benjamin Wallace's novel Dad vs. Zombies, which I just finished last week. It's a deeply silly, laugh-out-loud book about three argumentative dudes, all neighbors in the suburbs, all married with children, who have to face a zombie apocalypse right after their weekly bowling game. This book, although it's meant to make you laugh, manages to surprise you by delivering an actual solid story, engaging characters, and plenty of emotional ups-and-downs. I have a ton of admiration for Benjamin Wallace - he's one of those very rare comedic post-apocalyptic authors who's mastered the art of blending the two genres into books that you just can't put down. He's also the author of one of my all-time favorite post-apocalyptic series ever, the phenomenally hilarious Duck & Cover series.
First off, my friend and fellow zombie author Baileigh Higgins is making her entire Children of the Apocalypse zombie box set available for only $3.99.
The Children of the Apocalypse Mega Boxed Set features the entire Dangerous Days, Dangerous Nights, and Death's Children Collections (plus bonus material) for over 1800 pages of suspense-filled, character-driven, post-apocalyptic action.
Check it out right here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07R8GCMVW
You can also get Jon Kronshaw's 4-book post-apocalyptic omnibus The Wasteland Series for $0.99 right now at the following link:
Finally, if you'd like to score a whole bunch of free fantasy, science fiction and even a few post-apoc e-books, check out this mega promotion. All free, but it ends on April 30th!
Stay tuned with me, fellow readers - in my next issue of The Zombie Pen (in early May), I'll be giving you a super early preview for the cover of my upcoming book launch for Zombie Vale Book 1: In the Flesh. The cover is totally epic - I can't wait to show you! May is also when I plan to launch my first ever official giveaway, where I'll have a very cool zombie prize pack to give away to one of my lucky newsletter readers.
That's all I have for this month, fellow zombie-holics. Happy April, and happy reading!
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