The zombie plague was a dud. When the first cases emerged, scattered around the globe, everyone knew exactly how to put them down: destroy the brain. The world had been so saturated with zombie comic books, zombie TV shows, zombie novels, and zombie movies in the greatest, if unplanned, public health information program ever, that the responses to the outbreaks was always swift and thorough. In fact, most civilian casualties were caused not by the zombies themselves, but by the way everyone had been conditioned by the media to respond to lumbering, moaning, disheveled humanoid forms with instant and brutal violence.
The death of a few homeless or mentally ill people, or others who just weren’t perky morning people, was considered a small price to pay for the ruthless efficiency with which the zombie problem was eradicated. There was talk of giving George Romero a Nobel peace prize; Time Magazine ran an issue with “Heroic Humanity” featured on the cover; the public acquired a cocky attitude and brain-smashing weapons of destruction became the hot new fashion accessory. The horror of the worst catastrophe we could imagine, the emergence of an evil twin of our species, corrupt and mindlessly destructive, had been met and dismissed with arrogant ease.
An important lesson was not learned. Zombies were our mirror image, big animals that were short-sighted and heedlessly destructive, and we had easily wiped them out…because big animals are delicate, fragile things with a limited population size, requiring immense amounts of cooperation to survive. Our pride was undeserved. We had discovered how easy it was to kill small groups of bipedal primates. Nature laughed at our trivial accomplishment.
The same plague had been burning through rat populations. Every city, every small town garbage dump, every ship, had been boiling with upheaval in the darkness as the zombie rats spread the infection everywhere. The rats were numerous, and it took three months for the disease to consume them…and then the undead rodents slithered upwards, looking for a new food source. They were ubiquitous and silent and sneaky, and found ways into bedrooms at night, where the smug humans lay with shotguns and pistols and hammers for demolishing large-skulled stupid targets, their doors safely (they thought) barred against 70 kilogram intruders. The little, mindless zombie rats scurried forward, and gnawed.
Homo sapiens was extinct within a year.
(I had this idea for a great and accurate zombie novel that would reveal the true message of the zombie fad — come on, look at yourselves, it’s all about rapacious humans with no restraint — and would also make me millions of dollars. I got up this morning all excited and rushed to start writing it, and then I discovered that I could tell the whole story in five paragraphs. Oops. Is there much of a market for one-page novels? With a totally depressing conclusion?)