The reanimated corpse of a Union soldier advances on a young woman. She cowers in fear at the well, a bucket of water lying on its side where she dropped it. She glances around, looking for an escape route. She is pinned between the revenant and the well, with the farmhouse wall to her left, and a tall fence, intended to keep the undead out, to her right. As the creature approaches, it’s arms outstretched, the young woman does the only thing she can think of – she let’s out an ear-piercing scream…
The paragraph above could be found in any one of hundreds of horror stories available for purchase in your local bookstore or online. The imagery is clear and conveys the terror felt by the young woman, the hopelessness of her situation. It shows that the very feature that was meant to protect her (the border fence) has her trapped, and, quite possibly, the next meal for the zombie shuffling toward her.
Horror follows a specific set of rules, and in all likelihood the young lady will a. Be eaten, b. Turn into a zombie herself, or c. Be rescued or escape at the last minute. Straight horror offers a small number of outcomes, two of them bleak.
Supernatural creatures, zombies in particular, have become a staple of the steampunk genre. And somehow, they usually fit much more believably in the steampunk realities that we get to read, than they do in straight horror stories. From the strange, flesh-rot victims of Cheri Priest’s Clockwork Century series (which I totally need to read again, FYI) to the creepy steampunk zombie artwork all over the Internet, this particular brand of monster has become a bit cliché in film and television. But in the steampunk setting, zombies can, and often do get a steampunk twist.
The young woman in this scenario mat employ the use of a piece of steampunk technology, such as a tiny, high powered pistol, or flame thrower that will destroy the zombie. An airship arrives on the scene, dropping a ladder for the young lady to climb. As the ship flies high above the fenced in outpost, the young lady thanks the dashing young pilot and they fly off toward a new adventure.
Perhaps your zombie isn’t fully reanimated, and is simply a shell to some sophisticated clockwork device; or maybe there is a plague that isn’t outright killing people and turning them, but instead, the plague causes necrosis, increased strength, and eventually rage filled attacks on others, before an eventual horrifying death; or maybe, there is the use of more folklore-accurate zombies in your story (cue the research potion of my post) :
Once upon a time, a zombie was a part of Haitian folklore. Fear was struck into the hearts of the public at the notion that a bokor, or practitioner of Vodou, would turn their deceased loved ones into zombies. These zombies were not of the flesh eating variety, rather, according to the folklore, they were supposedly used as personal slaves to the bokor. They existed somewhere between life and death, with no free will. Death was the only release.
Earlier than this, the ancient people’s around the world told tales of the dead Rising from their graves and feasting upon the flesh of the living. The causes were invariably magical in nature. The person may have been punished by a powerful magician, or committed evil acts in life. Ultimately, they would die, only to rise from the dead and carry out gory rampages.
The twentieth century saw a decline in humanity’s belief in magic, so the true belief in zombies dissipated. The Cold War and ensuing nuclear arms race led to the fear that radiation could lead to horrible transformations. Thus came a series of giant monster movies, and eventually, with George
A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The modern concept of the zombie was introduced. Gone were the days of cursed souls, instead radiation and contaminated waste acted as catalysts for the rise of the flesh eating menace. These new zombies showed how modern technologies changed us as people. We would appear as monsters to our ancestors from thousands of years ago. These zombies have become the standard: World War Z and The Walking Dead have become the modern face of zombies, for better or worse. For the writers out there: Do you write zombies into your stories? If so, what type of zombie are they?