Six weeks from today I’ll either be dancing around my house or hiding under my desk because Deadtown will officially be out. (I’ll probably spend some time doing both.)
Next week, I’ll announce the prizes I’ll be giving away throughout December—one each week as we count down to Deadtown. This week, I want to talk about zombies.
Deadtown exists because of Boston’s zombies. When a plague tore through downtown Boston, infecting and killing every human in its path, the initial quarantine zone became Deadtown, the district where all of Boston’s paranormals are required by law to live. Here’s an excerpt where Vicky explains what happened:
Three years ago, the only people in Boston who believed in zombies were teenagers who’d watched Night of the Living Dead a few too many times. That was before the plague hit.
At the time, some of the city’s monsters had begun venturing out of the closet, out of the coffin, out from under the bed. This was a change from when I was growing up, when someone like me had to keep my true nature hidden. I knew about my own kind, of course, but back then I had no clue that vampires and werewolves were more than scary bedtime stories. Then, about five years ago, in Boston and a few other cities around the country—Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami—paranormals began organizing for legal recognition and social acceptance. They were led by Alexander Kane, werewolf and lawyer. Oh, and my sometime companion for dinner, movies, and the occasional overnight romp. Kane’s legal practice gave him a toehold of respectability among the humans, and his goal was full legal equity at the federal level for humans and monsters. (Except, if you’re talking to Kane, don’t say monster. Say Paranormal American, or PA for short.) He’d recruited a good-sized group to further the cause: werewolves, vampires, even a few humans. But no zombies. Because there were no zombies until the plague.
I was there when it hit. I was on my way to a drugstore near Downtown Crossing to buy lightbulbs before a lunch date with Kane. Funny how you remember little details like lightbulbs. One minute, I was in the middle of a crowd of lunchtime shoppers; the next, I was standing alone on the sidewalk, surrounded by fallen bodies. It was as if, on cue, everyone around me had agreed to play dead—except they weren’t playing. I bent to the woman lying face down at my feet. She’d hurried past me ten seconds ago; I’d admired her leather jacket. Now, her neck was warm, but my searching fingers could find no trace of a pulse. I turned her over. Her eyes were open, their whites bright red, and thin trails of blood trickled from her nose and mouth. She wasn’t breathing. I checked another body, then another. They were all the same—whole and warm, with red eyes and dribbles of blood. And very, very dead.
I screamed and ran, not knowing where I was going; all I knew was that I had to get away before the same thing happened to me. But there was no “away.” Every corner I turned, every block I ran down, was the same. Dead bodies. Everywhere. Dead bodies strewn all over the ground like trash at a landfill. Some wild part of my brain believed I was the only living thing left in the entire world.
Then I saw movement to my left. I quit running. A woman I knew from Kane’s activist group, a werewolf, stood in the middle of the street, turning in slow circles. She stopped when she saw me. We stared. I was afraid that if I blinked, she’d disappear. The next thing I knew, we were holding each other like shipwreck survivors clinging to a raft in a shark-infested sea.
As scientists learned later, the virus was a one-in-a-billion mutation that happened to hit downtown Boston, the only place in the world to be so lucky. Only humans were vulnerable to it. The rest of us—werewolves, vampires, and yours truly, Boston’s only active shapeshifter—were immune. The plague was the best thing that could’ve happened to human-PA relations in Massachusetts. Suddenly, the humans needed us.
We agreed to enforce a quarantine zone and gather up the dead. Every PA in Boston came forward to help. We strung up yellow “Do Not Cross” tape and spray-painted DED, for Disease Enclosure District, on every available surface around the perimeter. (More than one norm noticed how DED could be pronounced as dead, and so Deadtown got its name. Well, from that and the fact that there were a couple thousand corpses within its borders.) We kept away the morbid thrill-seekers; nobody knew then that the virus had already mutated again, into something no worse than a bad cold. We gathered the dead and stored them in makeshift morgues. We went through belongings, making lists of the names and addresses of nearly two thousand humans who, in minutes, had been cut down. We even patrolled against possible invasion, since there were rumors of biological attack—a theory that’s never been proved.
Then, three days after the plague, the zombies began to rise. And Boston has never been the same.
Deadtown’s zombies aren’t the shambling brain-munchers you see in horror movies. They’re not what you’d call pretty, with spongy, gray-green skin, festering sores, and blood-red eyes, but they can think and talk. They’re constantly hungry, but they can eat normal food. They do run into some trouble when they catch the scent of fresh human blood; it stirs up an uncontrollable blood lust that makes social situations a bit awkward. That’s why they can’t leave Deadtown without a permit.
The zombie plague happened only in central Boston, and nobody knows what caused it, although conspiracy theories about biological warfare abound. Some believe that the zombies never actually died. At the time, no human—including physicians—would go anywhere near the quarantine zone. No doctor ever declared them dead or examined them until after reanimation. So Deadtown’s zombies might not be zombies in the strict sense—but what else would people call them?
(If you’re Kane, a werewolf activist lawyer and Vicky’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, you call them Previously Deceased Humans—and insist that everyone else does, too.)