This post is prompted by a Mythogeography research project on ‘zombies’. He wants to write about the experiences people have when using a ‘tactic’ that he devised for Wrights & Sites’ ‘A Mis-Guide To Anywhere’ in 2006. His instructions: “I would ask you to take a walk on your own (where and at what time of day is up to you) for at least half an hour. I would like you to walk ‘as’ the last human survivor of a zombie apocalypse. Everyone is now a member of the living dead other than you. I don’t want you to act out this role (fleeing the zombies, etc.) but rather simply to walk and see and experience the world through the eyes and feelings of a survivor in that fiction. When you return from this walk I would like you to write and send me an account of how you experienced your walk, and how you experienced the terrain you walked through.”
My walk will take me from my home to the centre of Exeter. I am conscious as I prepare to leave the house at 3.20pm that I have never read a zombie book (not even a Jane Austen crossover), never seen a zombie film, and never met a zombie. I’m not even sure what a zombie is… The undead? A body which has been stripped of its mind, heart, and soul? Bandages covered in blood figure large in my mind’s eye, as do arms out-stretched, vacant eyes, and a certain amount of moaning. I have seen a number of dead bodies, and am always struck by how pale and waxen they are, and how empty and small. The person is no longer there. So I suppose any zombies I see today will be small and pale.
I have to say that even if it were true that I am the sole survivor of a zombie apocalypse, I am not unduly bothered. The day is fair, there are snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in my front garden, and all manner of things shall be well.
The housing estate is quiet, but not unusually so. A few cars pass me as I start to walk. The drivers are largely bandage-free, though some have their arms outstretched and their eyes are staring a little. Most seem to be heading for the side of the road outside St Peter’s school. Mid-afternoon is of course schools out, and these are zombie parents picking up their zombie kids.
I join the flow of zombie kids streaming out of the school gates. I do not try to match their pace to pretend to be just another one of them; they do not feel threatening, and the flow in any case is not continuous but has formed into groups.
There are more cars parked beyond the school, each containing one zombie parent immersed in their own zombie online world. Although the day is bright, it is quite chill. But many of the zombie kids are only in short-sleeve shirts; ambient temperatures are apparently irrelevant to the undead. Five or six whizz past on their bikes, turning right in front of an oncoming car. They seem to have no regard for life or limb… because of course what are these to the undead?
At the bottom of the hill, I join the main road, and walk up into Heavitree. There is a lot of traffic, and I notice that despite the lack of heart, mind, and soul, zombies still seem to be able to drive safely. Perhaps they are simply following the car in front, and conforming to rules of the road learnt before the apocalypse took hold. In other words, perhaps zombies are inherently conservative.
At this point, I realise that I am treating my walk as a piece of observational research, with the objective of characterising the nature of a ‘zombie’. This is entirely in character for me!
So then, I have formed a hypothesis: that zombies are conservative. Perhaps the reverse is also true: that conservatives are inherently zombies. I would need to take a sample to test each, find the odds ratio, do the chi-squared test, etc etc. But then I remember that I am the last survivor of the apocalypse, which means that the sample size of ‘not zombie’ is a maximum of 1, and therefore and unfortunately not statistically significant.
Ah well. I refocus on my walk and its terrain. I jay-walk across the road: a tiny piece of defiance in a conformist world. There is a group of zombies heading for me, taking up the whole pavement. They barely make room for me to get past. I make a mental field note that zombies also appear to lack courtesy.
Now I see an zombie old lady walking her dog. The dog is white, so it’s hard to tell whether or not it too is undead. Stories often depict animals as sensitive to ghosts and evil spirits, but the dog doesn’t seem fazed to have an undead owner. I take this to indicate that it is indeed undead, and (extrapolating wildly) that pets have also been overtaken by the apocalypse.
More and more traffic passes: cars and buses and vans and taxis. A JCB passes me from behind, and a man on a bicycle smiles… no, wait… his autonomic nervous system twists his zombie face into a rictus.
The sun comes out, and I no longer care about anything other than its warmth on my face and the feel of my body walking. With a squint in my eyes and smile in my mouth, I am dead to the undead. And in this state of being I walk past the Magdalen Road shops, right into Denmark Road to the memorial to a burnt witch, and left up Barnfield Road.
It occurs to me that although my thoughts have been revolving around zombies, my view of the world is little different from usual. I remember Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness, in which he writes about the need to Wake Up! from our sleep. I often despair at humanity’s sleep-walking tendencies, our acceptance of business as usual, consumerism, and inequality, and our head-in-the-bandages stance on issues like climate change. I suppose I think most of us are zombies most of the time, and a zombie apocalypse is unlikely to change things drastically.
Anyway, I avoid the temple of consumerism that is Princesshay, to enjoy the spring flowers in Southernhay instead. As I turn into Cathedral Close, I hear the squeals of zombie small children playing – I presume the squeals are not from terror of being sacrificed to Molech. And then I emerge onto Cathedral Green, where the dead and buried probably outnumber the living and the undead, and my walk comes to an end.
This evening I will watch the Lego
Advert Movie, and ponder its allegorical meaning.