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All The Dead Are Here - Pete Bevan's zombie tales collection

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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

July 4, 2015  Short stories   

“Do you think that they’re intelligent?” Whispered, in the darkness.

“Zombies are practically by definition unintelligent. They’re human beings minus intelligence. People reduced to their appetites and passions.”

“No. Not passions. They’re entirely devoid of passion. That’s part of why we’re so afraid of them. That and the fact that they want to eat our brains.”

“This isn’t Plants vs. Zombies. The whole ‘brains’ thing is just a cheesy stereotype. They’re cannibals but they’ll probably take your arm just as happily as your frontal lobe.”

The boys are huddled near a gabled window. One is an artist, dressed in a lovely pea-green coat.  is a Stoic, wearing an old cardigan and a worn t-shirt. It’s dark and they can’t see anything down below, but the fine spray of pin-prick starlight is somehow comforting. Besides, the window gives the impression that they are gathering intelligence, that if something happened down there they might see.

“You’re deflecting attention away from my central point. They’re not just “human beings minus intelligence.” They are also human beings divorced from the capacity to love, to feel, to indulge in empathy, to appreciate the image of eternity in a wildflower. They are utterly indifferent to the works of van Gogh.”

From the far side of the attic there is the sound of a trap door very quietly closing. The two fall silent, hardly breathing. A hunched figure picks its way across the cramped space. The artist readies his lighter next to a pile of kindling scavenged from around the attic. In the event that it becomes necessary, the house is old and dry. It’ll go up fast.

“Who says they’re indifferent to Starry Night? Whenever I see a throng a zombies standing around in the street they’re always just looking straight ahead, staring, not really doing or saying much of anything. Maybe they’re sunk in aesthetic contemplation.” A human voice, their brother’s. He reaches into the pocket of his black leather jacket and take out a pack of cigarettes.

The artist lowers his lighter and replies somewhat waspishly, “They are not. You can tell by the soulless expression on their faces. They’re not contemplating anything, just standing about waiting for prey.”

The smoker lights his cigarette in a corner, far from the window. “Have you ever watched yourself draw? Half the time you’re looking off into space with an expression like a hollow turnip. Obviously if someone is contemplating the beauty of a landscape or the curve of a youthful thigh you can see that they’re engaging with their environment. But if they’re contemplating how the youth’s thigh is actually an expression of the beauty of the Laws of Athens and the cosmic splendor of the first cause, then they kind of look spaced out – not unlike a zombie. Maybe zombies are really the next stage in the evolution of humanity. Maybe they are actually more, and not less intelligent than us.”

The Stoic looks pained. “That’s stupid. First of all, zombies are wholly irrational.

“Prove it.”

“I don’t have to “prove it.” It’s obvious. You can’t reason with a zombie. You’d be crazy to try.”

“Sure, but you’re collapsing rationality to the function of dialectic reasoning through the medium of human language which is clearly limited and reductionist. I mean, when a severely autistic kid is sitting there staring out into space and contemplating the mathematical relationships in a spider web the kid is certainly engaging in intelligent rational analysis, even though he exhibits a total incapacity for dialectic philosophy.”

“Right…but now you’re drifting into Popper’s dolls territory. You’re suggesting that maybe zombies are rational even though they display absolutely no observable rational characteristics. Your argument is that their rationality cannot be engaged by another reason, which means that your thesis is unfalsifiable.”

“Holy epistemological chauvinism Batman! Since when is your capacity to observe a phenomenon the sine qua non of its ontology? That’s like saying that because a mouse can’t read Plato, Plato isn’t intelligible. Obviously we can’t engage with them rationally, but that doesn’t mean they’re not engaging rationally with one another. I mean, look at how many of them there are. Usually this place would get like four visitors in a month, but there are dozens of them down there. They must be communicating somehow.”

“You can’t deduce anything from the congregation of zombies around their prey. It’s like  proposing that flies are telepathic because they congregate around roadkill.”

“Flies can smell meat from 7 kilometers away. There’s no evidence that zombies can smell us, and it’s just as likely that their condition grants them some form of telepathy as that it grants them enhanced olfactory super-powers. We don’t know what they’re capable of, only that they’re capable of something that we’re not. Which means it’s perfectly possible that they are communicating.”

“Even if they are, we can clearly observe that they are not engaging in rational or moral deliberation. Like that woman back at the diner. She attacked her own children without even thinking about it. No pause. No hesitation. She didn’t stop to consider whether it was a good course of action or not, she just did it.”

“How do you know she didn’t deliberate?”

“Because she acted immediately without stopping to consider and you could see from her expression that she was experiencing no internal conflict whatsoever.”

“So moral deliberation exists only where there is evidence of a conflict between competing passions? Stop me if I’m wrong, but I would have assumed that for a Stoic the ideal form of moral deliberation would be dispassionate. That a soul in a state of perfect equilibrium would be able to quickly and decisively survey its moral options and move towards action without first having to engage in the kind of agonistic indecision that evidences itself through visible grimaces and white-knuckles.”

“Right. But there’s a huge difference between immediately and dispassionately moving towards the good, and immediately and dispassionately doing evil. One is an expression of rationality, the other is bestial.”

The smoker shrugs and takes a drag, “I think you’re taking a wholly vivicentric view of the situation. You’re assuming that being eaten and becoming a zombie is bad. But what would Epictetus say? It’s external. It’s beyond your control. You may think it’s bad, but that’s only your opinion. “

“The loss of my rational freedom and moral capacity would definitely be bad! That is rationally provable. All other misfortunes that could befall a man are only perceived to be evil, and can be appreciated as being in accord with nature. The loss of myself is the one thing that is truly intrinsically evil, and that cannot be construed to be otherwise.”

“But your proof that zombies are irrational and amoral rests on the assumption that one must take as a first principle that “being alive is preferable to being undead.” Look at that zombie mother: maybe she was in a state of zombie ecstasy. Maybe the scales had fallen from her eyes, and she had just emerged from Plato’s cave and was stunned by the dazzling beauty of undeath. Maybe she was eager that her children should join her on the zombie plateau. From her point of view, she might have been saving them from the agonies and anxieties of earthly life and translating them into a state of perfect equilibrium and indifference. Maybe she knew that they would experience pain and suffering when her teeth ripped into their tender flesh, but she also knew that the suffering would be brief and the rewards great.”

“That’s bullshit.” The artist toys with the lid of his lighter but doesn’t dare light it. He’s sure that they’re still gathered there in the yard, but so far they haven’t assailed the house. It’s not clear whether they’re waiting for something, or whether they’re confused. Either way, one flicker of firelight could be enough to goad them into action. “The whole reason that the undead are terrifying is that they are a perversion of immortality. They represent the perpetuation of corporeal existence in the absence of spiritual life. They are an image of Hell. They’re not on some sort of noble Manichean crusade to divest the living of the burdens of life.”

“Prove it.”

“No. You’re just being a dick. You don’t want to become one of them any more than we do.”

“Maybe not, but I’m open to the possibility that my fears are irrational. I’m not just playing devil’s advocate. I’m trying to think this through. ‘Cause we know that if you burn them, they actually die, and we know that if you burn this house down we are going to actually die. So it’s not entirely an academic point.”

“I think I’ll take my chances with the almighty, rather than take my chances with the undead.”

“We’re not getting into the God argument again. I’ll be surprised if we’re still here in the morning, and I doubt we’re going to get that one cleared up by then. I think it would be more fruitful to at least consider the possibility that being undead is not conterminous with being brain-dead. Think about Omega Man for example. When the zombies are allowed to have dialogue, we’re able to see their thought processes – and their thought processes are not entirely unrelatable.”

“You’re moving the goalpost,” the Stoic interrupts. “The “zombies” in Omega man are clearly still in possession of some rationality. They are capable of language, and organization, they have an ideology and they are not undead. But we’re talking about Romero style zombies. Cannibalistic corpses, not people with a weird disease.”

The artist shakes his head. “How on earth do you know that?”

“Well, I don’t exactly. But since you forgot to charge your phone, we don’t have internet access and I can’t Google it. I’m just going by what I’ve seen, and based on what I’ve seen this looks more like Dawn of the Dead and less like 28 Days Later.”

“Forgive me if I’m showing my ignorance of obscure horror trivia, but wouldn’t it be true that if a zombie is categorically different from a diseased human being – that is, if it’s a difference of kind and not merely of condition – then strictly speaking it wouldn’t be cannibalism. Not that I want to support Juvenal, but it does seem that if they are actually “undead” that would involve a kind of indelible ontological transformation. Like, for example, that woman attacking her own children. It’s obviously horrific from the children’s’ point of view, but it’s only a moral atrocity if we suppose a continuation of personality. I mean, when a newborn baby turns and suckles at the breast it doesn’t stop to consider the moral implications of this action. It doesn’t contemplate whether it is hurting its mother. It probably isn’t conscious that the breast has any direct connection to the womb that it just vacated. It is hungry, and it eats. All of the zombies that we’ve seen are basically newborn zombies. They haven’t really had time to develop their faculties, to navigate their existential position within the universe, to develop a sense of identity.”

“So you’re positing that a capacity for morality and rationality exists in those things, and that over time they will come to manifest more overtly human behaviors?”

“Why more overtly human behaviors?” the smoker’s cigarette has gone out. Damned cheap manufacturing. “Does not the excellence of a horse consist in it behaving excellently as a horse? Does not the excellence of a man consist in his behaving fully as a man? Does not it then follow, slave, that the excellence of a zombie consists in its behaving not like a man, but like a zombie?”

“Yes. But the question is whether zombies, as a species, possess intelligence, rationality, and moral capacities that would render them deserving of the same kind of moral consideration that we extend to human beings. If a zombie is basically just the host for a parasite that consumes human flesh and perpetuates itself by manipulating the nervous systems of its victims, yes, consuming human flesh and infecting people would be excellent after the kind of that particular parasite – but when we encounter a cancer or a virus that behaves excellently as a cancer or a virus we do not then conclude that it ought to be celebrated and valorized by human beings. Your original hypothesis was that zombies are an evolution of humanity, and not just a degradation.”

“Right, but as a more evolved species we should not judge the success of the zombie individual in terms of whether it would be excellent if it were human. That was my point.”

“But my point is that if zombies are in fact superior to man in a hierarchy of beings, then they would have to display superior characteristics.”

He gets his cigarette relit. It tastes like ash. “Sure. Zombies are more efficient than human beings. They have more leisure. Their appetites are simple and unitary, leaving them free for unrestrained contemplation whenever they are not feasting on human flesh. They are indifferent and untroubled by their passions. They live in a society of perfect harmony. Zombies will attack other species, but they never engage in intra-species conflict. They are not troubled by externals. They have no worldly ambitions. They are unconcerned with culinary, sartorial or sexual pleasures. In fact, zombies are pretty much completely without vice. Even when they attack people there’s no malice in it. The zombie exists in a state of perfect interior freedom, it fulfills its needs simply without guilt, pride, shame or anger. Although a zombie may be subject to the corruption of its flesh, such corruption does not cause it pain or mortality. On the whole, I think that’s a pretty exhaustive demonstration of the superiority of zombie kind.”

The artist presses his face towards the window. A sliver of moon has come out from behind the trees, and he’s pretty sure that he can see movement. “I think its a pretty exhaustive demonstration of the inadequacy of stoicism.”


The Stoic looks unimpressed. “Yeah, yeah. I got the joke. But the entire argument is premised on the assumption that there is something going on inside the zombie’s head. That we’re seeing the decayed external vessel of an elevated internal self. I don’t see any evidence to substantiate that claim. What I see is a rotten corpse that wants to rip me open and feast on my intestines. I see a being whose behavior is entirely driven by a monomaniacal appetite, a creature that is non-functional except when it is able to feed. I admit that there is a very small chance that its external behavior is deceptive, that it is actually engaged in lofty contemplation, and that its body has become an almost extraneous complication that it largely ignored. I also admit that it’s possible that zombies possess the capacity for rationality and that given time they will go on to develop language and culture. If those things are the case, then it is only my human opinion that it is bad to be a zombie. But I don’t think it’s likely.”

There’s a sound downstairs, something twisting the doorknob. The smoker is barely stopping now to breathe in between puffs. He lights another cigarette off of the first one. For a moment the attic is illuminated. They’ve built up a very large pile of kindling, and a couple of gas cans are standing by ready to fuel the flames. There’s a sound of cracking wood below, and the scraping of a bookcase that had been barring the front door. “I don’t know if it’s likely or not, but the question is quickly ceasing to be academic.”


  1. Ah yes, philosophical discussion was always the first victim of the zombie apocalypse. Say what you like and talk all you want – debate, analyse and discuss – but whenever the nature of the dead eventually reveals itself they’ll still break right on in and eat your arse off. This was very good. It made me smile. Good for you.

    Comment by KevinF on July 4, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

  2. The cleverness of this made me smile…like a daft person. But I really enjoyed it. In my opinion, this is why the zombie genre does so well. You can make any well written, interesting story even better by adding zombies. And I like the title.

    Comment by Justin Dunne on July 5, 2015 @ 7:40 am

  3. Made my head hurt a few times but I really liked it. Excellent point/counter point discussion. Nicely done.

    Comment by Terry on July 6, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

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