“Obedience” — Brenna Yovanoff

Brenna Yovanoff’s first novel, a contemporary young adult fantasy called The Replacement, should be out from Razorbill around the same time as this anthology. Her short fiction has appeared in Chiaroscuro and Strange Horizons. On her LiveJournal (brennayovanoff.livejournal.com), she claims to be good at soccer, violent video games, and making very flaky pie pastry, but bad at dancing, making decisions, and inspiring confidence as an authority figure.

One of the most wrenching aspects of a zombie plague that makes it completely different from, say, an invasion of alien arachnids is the knowledge that these hordes of enemies were once our friends and neighbors, were once decent, loving people. As we perforate their faces with a .50 caliber machinegun, or hack at their clutching hands with a machete, axe, or chainsaw, it’s impossible not to wonder whether these moaning ghouls retain any trace of their former personality. Are the people they once were still trapped in there somewhere, aware of what’s happening around them? Might they ever be cured, the way a mentally ill patient can be, with the right treatment?

Books and films are filled with incidents in which survivors try to show mercy to zombies—as with the barn full of zombies in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead—or will even fight to protect them, as with the zombified newborn in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park suggests that it’s impossible to safely keep dinosaurs in captivity, and much the same thing seems to be true of zombies. The temptation is always there, though—what if it were just one zombie? Just one little girl, surely we could handle that?

But if zombie stories have taught us anything, it’s that keeping zombies around, whether out of mercy or as research subjects, seems to have a way of ending up badly for everyone involved—and by “badly” we mean with teeth, blood, and screams.