Beyond the Window
Standing at the window, looking outside. Wave to the neighbours, they wave back. You can hear someone mowing a lawn. It’s nice outside. The sun is shining, although there are some clouds and it might rain by Thursday.
“Got any matches?” Voice is a bit muffled; your window is closed. It’s the neighbours with their barbecue. Looks like they’re throwing a birthday party for one of their kids.
“Sure,” you say. You’ve got some matches in your pocket. You reach over to open the window.
“Hang on, I’ll come around,” they say.
“No, I’ve got this. Matches, right here. Let you get back to the kids.”
“No, I should really use the door.”
What’s their problem? You give the window a yank – it’s been a while since it was opened – and it swings open.
The world outside swings with it.
You’ve pulled the whole window, sill and frame and all, away from the wall. There’s a red light streaming out around the edges. Your view through the window does not change: it still shows the outside of your house. Insects are chirping in the red light like bones scraping on stone. There is the smell of undergrowth and rotting mint and wet rock. Something is dripping onto your carpet. From far below, you can hear the sound of distant wind.
Your window is open at last. You can see outside…
Diet of Zombies
Why do they hunger? Nobody asked, not until that hunger manifested upon the world. Now they feast, and the awful truth begins to unveil. The undead are here, and they devour the living – as fuel for a final metamorphosis.
We don’t know when it started. In hindsight, it was probably going on for years. Ghouls lurked in the wilderness, snaring the occasional traveler, sneaking into towns to raid the cemeteries. Vampires walked amongst the living by day, hunting in the bars and back alleys and boudoirs at night. Toxic, unsellable properties clogged the real estate pages, haunted by blood-chilling ghosts. The undead were creeping into the world and nobody bothered to stop them.
Then the zombie apocalypse hit.
Oh, it didn’t finish us. For every city that was lost, another was retaken and a third was never touched by contagion at all. But it hurt, and it gave the others their chance to emerge from hiding. All the population we couldn’t rescue became cattle – fuel for the monsters to change. And believe me, I mean cattle. The vampire lords have converted whole city blocks to prison-fortresses. The undead could work them like slaves, but they don’t – they just keep them fed, encourage constant pregnancy, and occasionally haul someone away screaming.
But by the time of the Second Boston Liberation Expedition, the undead were no longer the baddest things on the planet.
We call them newdead, hatchlings, demons. Let me break it down for you.
Ghouls are feral predators. They’re smarter than zombies and they’ll eat just about anything, but their main diet seems to be human flesh. Rotting flesh. They’ll leave their prey in the sun for days, sometimes. We think they harvest the bacterium from the decay process somewhere in the gut.
Zombies are the lurching, mindless drones we all know and love. As you know, they’re all about the brains, despite barely having any themselves. They will sometimes eat other tissue, but only to get at major nerve clusters.
Vampires are bloodsuckers, plain and simple. Some of them are old and smart. Most are young and dumb, though this doesn’t help much when even a weak vampire can tear a door off its hinges and shrug off small arms fire.
Ghosts eat heat and courage. They’re not very effective predators, stuck in one place and constantly blasting cold fear in all directions, but they’re almost impossible to get out.
Undead eat to stay alive, but if they get enough of their special food in a short period of time, they hatch into demons.
Ghouls hatch into slimy, boneless masses. Some of the boys call them shoggoths. On the move, they’re damp, slimy things – and they’re never seen when they’re not on the move. The theory goes that they can split apart into a swarm of individual cells to ‘sleep’ within the earth, like a slime mould. A touch from these horrors, and your flesh rots off your bones. Although they love to burble after prey through the woods, they are most often seen around the great clay towers rising in undead lands; we think their cellular control allows them to ‘grow’ buildings out of the soil itself.
Zombies grow grotesque brains, eventually tearing free of the host body entirely. They’re probably quite intelligent, but nobody has ever held a conversation with one. The first sign of their approach is a stink of ozone in the air. Shortly thereafter the lightning starts to fly. They usually work as shock infantry alongside regular undead troops. Autopsies reveal that the nerve tissue that forms the demon’s body is very sodium-rich, allowing them to create massive electric discharges or levitate upon the planet’s magnetic field.
Vampires swell with fluid. Eventually they’re nothing but bones and a bag of skin. Then they burst. Unfortunately for us, they took ‘blood’ as a metaphor for ‘inherited qualities’. The blood demon is a shapeshifter, able to mimic anyone it’s ever sampled. Although any undead can pass their curse to animals, vampires and blood demons practically seek it out, simply for its utility. The only reason we’re not all dead now is that the demon can’t go against form – we don’t know why, perhaps the emulated persona takes over for a while. The things are effective only for reconnaissance or for their confused, hybrid battle forms.
Ghosts accumulate an inner fire of heat and courage. Their hatching is devastating, consuming their prior haunt. From the ashes steps a demon of fire, lusting for challenge. These things are rare and warlike and dangerous, but we have established that they can be killed with a big enough explosion. Ordinary bombs won’t do – you need something big to quench that flame.
Fortunately, demons are rare. We have more fighter aircraft than their total population. Unfortunately, they’re mighty effective.
And there’s no telling what the demons might turn into, in time.
We don’t know where they come from, how long they’ve been here, what they’re doing. We do know they want to conquer the world and reduce humanity to cattle. And they’re not losing.
Keep your phosphorous rounds handy. We’re going in.
Zombie Apocalypse: The Next Generation. I got to wondering, why do zombies always lust for brains? And then the metamorphosis thing hit me. Feel free to riff on other undead archetypes, like skeletons or Frankenstein monsters.