“Putting the ‘Living’ Back in Living Dead: A Warmhearted Zombie Memoir,” by Marianne Hess

Jan 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Prose

As soon as that nice young man dug me up and stole my diamond rings, I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t just that I’d been placed in a narrow coffin and dropped into the murky abyss of the earth, or that all my blood had been pumped out and replaced with embalming fluid, or that I had likely missed the opening weekend of that romantic comedy I really wanted to see. (It’s hard telling what you’ve missed in such circumstances). It was something slightly more disturbing.

For the first time, I got the true sense that I was mortal and, thus, capable of mortality. (I also realized the true extent of my claustrophobia, but that’s another story). In those few moments between getting dug up and getting carted away, I realized that not only might I die one day, but I might already be dead.

And it wasn’t long before my fears were confirmed. As I sat on the hospital table, prying green moss out of my ear, a team of doctors assured me that it was too late: I was dead, and might as well go lie down.

“But I don’t feel like lying down,” I objected, spitting out a couple teeth.

“Hmm… that’s interesting,” they said. “Why don’t you give it a whirl and see if it grows on you?”

So I spent the next two weeks following the good doctors’ advice. I had plenty to think about, lying there: how I would spend eternity, why they all got me up in the first place if they just wanted me to lie down, why all the doctors talked like used car salesmen. But no matter how I tried, all I wanted to do was get up.

Besides, I felt guilty just lying there doing nothing. I called my old friends, but for some reason, they refused to visit (though I had always been the life of the party). My family promptly told me they had sold my house and made sure they could still have all the stuff I left them, and then hung up.

I didn’t appreciate being treated like an inanimate object, and the whole affair left me in a grave mood. Not only was I confused about where to go, I was also confused about how to go. I’d seen horror movies, and figured the best form of transportation in my condition was either a lumbering walk with a drooling look or some kind of bat-like flight.

But I’ve never been patient enough to lumber, and as far as I can see-although my eyeballs are a bit dry and unfocused these days-I don’t have any wings. Besides, the wings usually come with sharp teeth and bloodlust, and though I had lost most of my teeth and all of my blood, I didn’t seem too keen on getting them back.

Sometimes, I thought I might like to have a brain-one of those nice juicy fresh ones-but I was able to suppress the desire by convincing myself that the whole notion smacked too much of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

So, when two weeks were up, I got bored and went to the zoo. It started innocently enough; I figured watching some monkeys do gymnastics through the trees would get me some needed fresh air and take my mind off being dead.

But for some reason, when I arrived at the zoo, the security officer ordered me to leave. I thought it was an atrocious case of discrimination and told him so, to which he replied, “Bite me,” to which I did. After all, up until that point, I hadn’t tried out the biting thing. I knew it was a staple of the living dead and thought it might be amusing.

The security officer didn’t appreciate it, however, and in the process of throwing me out, he snapped off my pinky finger. I was deeply distraught, for I feared it meant I would never play the piano again with any gusto. Though I had never played the piano before with any gusto, I hated the thought that I would not be able to now. With eternity, anything could happen.

But not without that pinky finger.

Unfortunately, as I neared the gates of the zoo, a small child seized the lost appendage and stuck it in his mouth. I promptly clobbered him before it caught in his throat, but by then, his mother started beating me rather fiercely with her handbag.

I know it’s rude to scare people, whether you’re a zombie or not, but the circumstances called for drastic measures. I temporarily released the beastly child (who flopped onto the pavement and started crying, but that’s another story), turned to his mother and, adopting the most purposeless expression I could conjure, grumbled, “Brains… brains!” while proffering my arms.

As I suspected, she didn’t care that much about the little brat. She ran for the zoo gates, and I gently levered open the child’s mouth with a twig and retrieved the lost pinky.

For the rest of that afternoon, I sat in a public park and decried my condition. While passersby pointed and screamed, my mind turned to deeper subjects, such as the meaning of death, whether transcendentalism differed greatly from regular dentistry, and whether stray dogs would bury my tibia as I lay sleeping.

Finally, I landed on the real subject of concern: my role in a patriarchal, neolocal society, where living and breathing was the norm.

All kinds of visions flashed through my head: ways that I could blend in, how I could take yoga and practice pretending to breathe, how I could cake up my face with makeup like those religious station women or seek out some other obvious dead people, like the ones on PBS, and ask for their secrets.

But as day turned into night and the last jogger and bicyclist had long fled in terror, I changed my mind. I didn’t want to live (die) a lie. I was dead, damn it, and I should be proud of that. Death was something to be appreciated, something that came along once in a lifetime, something that brought wisdom as well as ants. Not only would I accept it, I would make the most of it.

A few minutes later, while trying to reattach my pinky and pop my eye back into the socket, the security officer found me in the park. He was dead too-from my bite and all-and we lumbered off to the movies, to catch that romantic comedy together.


Marianne hates it when zombies are stereotyped as cold, lifeless monsters. She hopes to remedy the situation by providing a window into the mind of one of these mindless individuals.

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