When The News broke on TV but I didn’t hear it immediately. I was too busy with my sandwich. Making sandwiches is an art too often understated. I love them with avocado and pickles and onion. Mushrooms give them that umami thing that’s oh! so delicious.
But that’s the story of how I never got to finish my sandwich.
So I was about to finally declare it ready to eat – two slices of toasted brown, peanut butter on one side and avocado on the other, two slices of tomato, a fried mushroom, tempeh and mayonnaise – when my neighbour stormed in through the door.
I have to lock it, I thought to myself, while she started blabbering about end of the world, mortal disease, world riots.
Haven’t you heard, she asked.
No. I haven’t. I was trying to eat a sandwich.
She looked around for a remote control and cranked up the TV volume to a deafening level. The red stripe at the bottom of the talking head was rushing with headlines very similar to the words my neighbour blurted seconds before. I let go of the sandwich and tuned in with the bobbly head of the journalist.
High-volatile chemical spill. Patient zero. Signs of infection. Stay at home. Don’t attempt contact. Military shoot on sight.
Not the head nor the red stripe ever spelled the word zombie.
I know what you’re thinking, I would be thinking the same, oh, here’s another zombie story.
I’ll have you know that I am a writer and as every writer I’m fed up with zombie stories. The day I was preparing the sandwich I didn’t get to eat, the day of the outbreak, Day0, or The Day Humanity Ended – that day I was actually finishing to write a story.
And it wasn’t a zombie one.
It was a tale inspired by Death of a Salesman. It had the normal family living the dream and losing everything, it had romance, hate, alcoholism; it had the underdog rising and the villain falling, the critique of modern society and the call for a lost pastoral life.
I always had a literary tooth, and for as much as I’d loved the old zombie movies or the early comics of dead people rising and walking, I didn’t like zombies. Not anymore. They were overexposed, and had lost their original, apotropaic meaning.
They weren’t a symbol of corrupt humanity anymore, they weren’t a scream against consumerism anymore.
Quite the opposite; consumerism embraced zombies and made them another cash machine. One aimed at eating up your brain.
But I’m digressing here.
Jade turned off the TV. She was shaking and her face was pale. She wasn’t beautiful but nor was I, in case you’re wondering. We were both overweight, single, and from my part, sweaty when under distress.
So yes, you could have seen the t-shirts colouring in a darker shade my armpit right now, while Jade lit up a cigarette.
Those things kill you, I said.
She didn’t reply but grinned in a way that suggested It’s the fucking apocalypse, I’m gonna die anyway.
And just like that, I kept looking at the cigarette smoke expanding in my house, like the disease that scared the journalist in the TV. And at my uneaten sandwich.
I wasn’t hungry anymore.
In the movies, TV shows, comics – you name it – after the outbreak the main character is always stopped while he’s doing something. He usually has to run to save his girlfriend, wife, child; then, a zombie rushes through the window or door and he’s forced out of his comfort zone, on the street, doomed to aimlessly wander around in search of an outpost where to defend himself. Where to defend humanity.
Lucky ones survive the outbreak even if they’re unconscious in a hospital – overrun by brain-eating zombies – and wake up exactly at the convenient time to run out.
In real life, the majority of us did as we’ve been told by the media.
We stayed in our houses. Locked the doors. Didn’t go out or try to reach far away places. Too afraid to look outside, behind the closed blinds.
The silence was unnatural – no cars, no planes, no trains. No voices outside the window.
Some did actually leave to go back to their hometown, or their lover, or whatever. But it wasn’t like you’d expect. It was a very ordinate exodus, and the head in the TV was very proud of the citizens.
Me and Jade would knock on each other’s door every day, share our cans of beans or cook our frozen pizza in the microwave. Everything kept working as expected for the first days. The internet was ablaze with weirdos proclaiming the end of the world. On Blogs and social networks, the only shares which went viral were about survival techniques and zombie-killing tutorials.
Like we didn’t know by now. Aim at the head. Don’t get bitten. The usual.
For days, the only thing one could see in the media, turning everywhere, was zombies. All over the place. But not a single one in real life.
The thing that made all of this real was the silence. Unsettling. All the signs of civilisation, the random high-pitched scream of an ambulance, the voices of drunk people walking – all disappeared.
The feeling that something was off was only reinforced when, after a week or so, the silence started to be oddly broken by high-pitched pops, like someone opening a champagne bottle.
Those were gunshots.
Again, because in the movies they don’t like to use the real sound for gunshots – it is a very dull sound, which resembles the small petards kids would fire during national holidays – so, because the normal sound of a gunshot is deemed boring, they have to add echoes and that zing! sound, so that eventually it is completely different from a real gunshot.
That’s why, unless you live in a bad neighbourhood, you wouldn’t normally recognise it if you heard it.
But that eventually became the only sound you would hear outside the windows. And still I didn’t have the courage to open the blinds and look at what was happening. I imagined a rain of pops! outside, and sometimes walking of many people together, and whispering voices. But nothing more. Not even the soothing, familiar low growl of a brain-eating rising dead, made so familiar by media.
The reports of power cuts started appearing here and there, on social media first.
People in the city centres were forced out of their houses to raid supermarkets. There were now hundreds of YouTube videos of people sneaking in grocery stores, supermarkets, explaining what to grab, why to grab it, and jumping scared at the smallest sound.
The headlines were, How To Survive The Zombie Apocalypse in Five Easy Steps, or Groceries At The End Of The World.
Things like that. Click and bait.
Other videos suggested to raid drugstores as well, because if that thing was to continue for long, drugs would have been very valuable.
The Ten Medicines You Need To Loot Right Now.
As I’ve said earlier on, I was overweight, only if ever so slightly, and so was Jade, but not one of us had any health issue or needed meds. We had a good stock of canned and frozen food. My family died in a car accident ten years before, so I had no one to worry about anymore. And Jade’s family – well, they didn’t talk much she said, and the only one that she cared about was her mother, which at the time of the outbreak was on holidays on some cruise ship.
She promptly called ten minutes into the outbreak to tell her daughter that the ship was safe and sound, that water was probably the best defence against those infected ones, as she called them.
And the ship was stocked with food to last for an entire month, which was probably much more than the authorities needed to settle the situation down.
The power cuts were real and not just some internet murmur. Facing a very strong lack of personnel, the power company had to automate most of the tasks, and had to ration the supply zone by zone. That’s what they said. What it meant to us was that we had to consume all of our frozen food, in one go, or it would have been lost.
Jade come over the first night the power was cut in our area, scheduled for twelve hours.
She brought four pizzas, two boxes of chicken nuggets, frozen peas, a lasagna that her mother left two months before when she visited, and a bottle of super-chilled vodka. My offering that night was ice cream, two frozen steaks, and ice.
For the vodka.
We lit dusty and old scented candles and cooked all the food, used all the possible electricity available.
It looked like a feast from times past, or a reunion of old lovers, when you light up candles because electrical light is too strong for your heart to be seen under. We honoured the banquet and drank chilled vodka like we were Russian nobility. The pops outside the windows weren’t bothering us anymore.
We opened old books and read passages from there, making voices and noises like you would do if you were reading to a kid.
And it was a fun night. It was the first time Jade slept on my sofa. We didn’t feel like making love.
We just wanted not to be alone.
The morning after I tried to run the electric shaver, but the power was still off. I checked my mobile phone which showed me a very ominous No Signal. I didn’t have any radio in the house. I didn’t dare to open the blinds.
The power returned two days later.
We immediately resorted to internet and TV, craving for information.
Power cuts would have been more frequent and longer than expected. Military would have rationed food in areas where food production was impossible. The TV would have broadcasted 24hours non-stop information on How To Kill A Zombie – that was the first time they used that word – and How To Farm In Small Areas, such as balconies or terraces for people living in the city, and gardens for people living in houses.
Internet became the place to go for self-medication, home-brewing, and everything needed to survive.
The Survivalists all over the world felt – finally – like gods, and no one looked at them with contempt anymore.
I want to make clear that, having being locked up for more than one month now, I didn’t see a single zombie around.
All I’ve seen was some shaky video uploaded on the net or broadcasted by the TV, possibly shot with a crappy cellphone, of a bunch of drunk guys patrolling random streets and running towards something that – in the dark and with bad light – could resemble a zombie. Or someone walking with a limp.
There was no official video coming from the authorities, and all the military videos just showed green berets giving out food in the street or shooting their petard-sounding guns into darkness.
So of course there were plenty of conspiracy theories with titles like Why No One Actually Saw A Zombie, or Ten Reasons Why The Zombie Apocalypse Is Not Real, and things like Why Your Government Doesn’t Want You To Know The Ugly Truth About Zombies.
For Jade, it was a worldwide conspiracy to finally enslave the 99% in favour of the 1%. She said, World War Three actually happened overnight, with no one knowing, and zombies were just an excuse to keep population under control – after all, it’s easier to believe in something external, an evil Deus Ex Machina which reduces humanity to its bits, than to believe that actually we, the humans, are nuking the shit out of each other.
The lack of proper zombie evidence made people braver.
I could now hear normal talks outside the windows, and not just pops. People all over the internet started uploading pictures and videos of themselves walking in abandoned sites, highways; running in places which would be normally forbidden, at all times of day and night. Groups of kids would go into famous stadiums to play football like their idols of a life past, unstopped.
The bravest or craziest people of humanity didn’t believe that the end of the world was the end; didn’t believe that they could be stopped doing what they were, especially by zombies.
Or maybe they just didn’t believe that you should stop yourself from doing the things you love – after all, you knew you were gonna die even before the Zombie Outbreak, so why should you be changing anything?
I didn’t really care about those theories. My regret, at that point, was that I didn’t eat my sandwich, nor finished my very literary story.
One other thing that zombies do in popular culture, which I cannot confirm nor deny, is moving with a very painfully slow strut. Apart from some exceptions, zombies always move very very slowly, and apparently they tend to group in hordes.
This peculiar trait always fascinated me – if they move that slowly, and usually walk around with their distinctive growl, how come people always get bitten out of the blue? Do all the people in zombie stories have low IQ, or bad hearing?
I can understand the fear with fast zombies, but as I’ve said, I had no clue if the real zombies were fast or slow, if they could get killed with a shot in the head, and if a bite actually gave you fever and transformed you.
All my zombie-knowledge was the same as yours, really, and I never got to test it in real life.
So for me, so far, the only thing that zombie stories got right was that people in those stories are jumpy as hell and skinny as a French fry. Jumpy I was, and so would have been you.
And I wasn’t overweight anymore.
That Zombie Apocalypse Diet should be a thing; canned beans, tons of rice, and stale jerkies.
I was looking at myself in the mirror and I brought my t-shirt up, to see my abs, which I never saw in my life. I smiled at the sight of the six little bumps on my belly, a smile with crooked, faint-yellow teeth.
Yes, I have been out of toothpaste for a while now.
I bursted out laughing. I looked like a model on that male magazines, black and white, ripped, with sexy hip unshaven beard.
All Around You The World Is Going To Pieces, But You Can Still Rock A Six Pack.
The thing I missed the most in two months after the outbreak is my sandwich. Seriously. It might seem naive, or downright stupid, but that’s the truth. I was really looking forward to eat it. But in the adrenaline of the moment, I didn’t.
It sat on the kitchen counter for two full days. The avocado blackened immediately, while the tomato dried. When I threw it out, the bread had little white spots of mold in the places which weren’t charred.
If I knew I would never have tasted another sandwich again, I would have eaten it all, wet, moldy and good.
So after two months the power cuts were the norm, and we only got juice at random hours, with many days in between. I kept my phone attached to the wall, so that it would have charged up a bit when power came. Not that I received any call, but it was easier to charge the phone to check the news than my laptop, which was now dead. A lamp was always on, so I saw if electricity was back if it lit up; and a old cassette stereo, which I kept until now because it looked cool, with the button play always pressed, so if I were sleeping I would wake up. The song that played at all times during the short juice hours was “The End of the World” by the Cure.
I didn’t get out of my house in two months.
I did as instructed, I’ve been a good citizen. I stayed in. I complied.
The house was messy and smelled like a open sewer. We still managed to flush our toilets, thank god, but both me and Jade were almost out of food. We were very good in rationing it, but eventually we ate everything, and our last resort was dogs dry food, left over in Jade’s apartment by a previous tenant.
I guess we needed to go out and look for supplies.
Our first run after the apocalypse.
It wasn’t that bad. The run I mean.
The two of us, me and Jade, we dressed up with jeans, leather jackets, football helmets.
Top Everyday Clothing Items You Should Use For A Supply Run.
The road was desert. No popping sounds, no whispers. Just the sun and the wind howling in the empty streets. Grass was growing in the cracks of the unmaintained roads. I wanted to hit the grocery store nearby but it was already run over and empty.
We were late to the party.
We decided to hit the supermarket two blocks down. When we got there, two dudes with baseball bats demanded a toll to enter the supermarket.
I asked, Do you want money?, to which they replied Money is useless. Give us clothing or, and the guy said that looking at Jade, which was now quite attractive according to western skinny-with-big-boobs-standards, a handy – and he said handy while mimicking the gesture on his baseball bat. Jade had no time to answer – I flipped my middle finger and moved on, grabbing her by her arm. Thanks, she said, You’re welcome, I replied. No one ever asked for a handy from me, she said while blushing up. No one ever flipped a finger for me, she finished.
In all honesty, if you think that’s romantic and all – well it’s all just bullshit. It’s bullshit that we needed to be starving and unhealthy skinny for Jade to receive abusive comments. Or that she liked those anyway.
But maybe, they just didn’t see a woman for a good amount of time.
I mumbled something like, I like you better with some more substance, if you know what I mean.
She smiled back.
That was all the amount of flirting I could bear..
In a park not far from the supermarket, some old ladies were crouched under the sun. We came close to the gate and noticed they were farming. They had tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini. When they saw me and Jade they faked a smile and whistled so that two younger guys came out with two crowbars in their hands.
I should make known that all the zombie stories that were famous before the real shit happened were focused in places in the world were guns are very accessible, so that violence escalates very quickly and painfully, and eventually you have to shift your worrying from the zombies to the bad guys with guns – which really tells me that the those places are already undergoing an apocalypse, if you can so easily kill people around you.
But I digress.
We clumsily explained that we were out of food, and that we didn’t want to barter with the supermarket guys. We just wanted something to eat.
They looked at each other, then invited us in – in being inside the park, after the fence that was guarded by the crowbar guys – and then offered us homemade bread and cold vegetable soup.
It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.
They also recommended, for our next run, to bring weapons with us – a bat would do – just to be safe. From zombies? I asked, and they nodded, but also said, From anything. Seen many zombies around here?, I asked again, and they all looked at each other with uncertainty on their faces – the same face you would pull when someone asks if you’ve seen the big event on TV the day before, and you didn’t but don’t want to lie because everyone did, so you say yes – but your face shows the truth.
We ate our soup and bread, we recited our thanks, and went back home, promising we would have been more careful.
In zombie stories, at this point where you get some bit of hope, something terrible happens. One of the main characters is badly wounded and the other one has to make a life-or-death decision, or they fall for a super-villain. They run out of supplies, or someone in the group gets bitten and becomes a nuisance.
None of this happened.
Me and Jade quickly joined the Park Farmers and helped them grow vegetables. We moved out of our apartments and in together, in a small house not far from the park, and left all of our old things behind.
Electricity was now out of the picture entirely.
We didn’t even notice when or if it ever came back.
We didn’t see any military nor hear any pops. Five months in the zombie apocalypse, and I didn’t see a single zombie.
If you didn’t get it by now, me and Jane became a couple during those times of despair.
She re-gained a bit of her natural, amazing, fluffy shape, which was to me symbol of life and prosperity, and I said goodbye to my six pack.
We weren’t overweight anymore, growing our own food, and we didn’t care about the news or social networks anymore. We had more important things to worry about, such as if it rained enough for the plants to grow, or what story to tell at night during the bonfires.
Six months in the end of the world, and I was actually enjoying life.
Because all of my writings were lost in my computer, which was dead and abandoned, I started writing again with pen and paper. Like the old times I’ve never lived.
In a classic zombie story, I would have been interrupted at the very beginning, while I was trying to eat my sandwich, to write my story, which would have made me famous and rich, and would have been re-shared so many times on social networks.
I’ve been interrupted, by life directly. The story I am writing is a different one.
Maybe – I am saying it for the sake of it – a zombie will come out of the corner, unheard, and eat my brain out, so I won’t come to finish this tale.
Maybe not. I’ve come to realise that Life In A Zombie Apocalypse it’s not different from life before the zombie apocalypse; the only thing that changes is who or what we call zombies.
So I’ll finish this story, and next to me, there’s a sandwich.
Homemade bread, home grown tomatoes and avocados, and slices of Willy, a chicken which I personally saw growing from a little egg into a nice hen and slaughtered with my hands.
At least now I know where my food comes from.
Me and Jade live with the other Park Farmers. We help and support each other like old-times communities. All the things we had before that, all the clothes and gadgets and luxury items we deemed important – we all left them behind and we didn’t miss any of it.
I finally bite into my first sandwich since all started.
We’re free and clear.
Dario Cannizzaro was born in the sun-eaten Naples, Italy in 1982. He moved to Ireland in 2011, and has called it home ever since. His works have been published in Italian end English in many journals/magazines, and he recently published a collection of short stories titled Of Life, Death, Aliens and Zombies, prelude to his upcoming novel Dead Men Naked.