“The Anteroom” — Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro’s work has been nominated for several awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Stoker. His novels include Emissaries from the Dead and The Third Claw of God, and two collaborations with artist Johnny Atomic: Z Is for Zombie, and V Is for Vampire, which comes out in October. Castro’s short fiction has appeared in such magazines as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Science Fiction Age, Analog, Cemetery Dance, and in a number of anthologies. I previously included his work in The Living Dead and in Lightspeed Magazine. His story collections include A Desperate, Decaying Darkness and Tangled Strings.  

People throughout history have had many different conceptions of what an afterlife might look like. The Greeks imagined the sunny fields of Elysium and the unending drudgery of Hades. The Vikings imagined that great warriors would go to an endless kegger in Valhalla. Dante imagined Hell as a massive multi-tiered pit. (The image of the underworld as a place of fire may have been inspired by the volcanic island of Crete, and the word Gehenna, associated with Hell, is named after a fiery garbage pit outside Jerusalem.) But what sort of an afterlife might await those who have been transformed into zombies?

“The most bone-chilling horror of the zombie sub-genre has always been that the plague turns us into things we don’t want to be, things capable of committing depraved acts that would have appalled the people we used to be,” Castro says. “We laugh when the hero of a zombie story blows away the shambling rotter in his path…but we tend to forget that the rotter used to be a person, and might have even been a human paragon. Stephen King wrote about his rabid St. Bernard Cujo, from the novel of the same name. You can’t hate the dog. The dog always tried to be a good dog. But something got into him, something that eliminated free will from the equation. How would Cujo feel if somebody returned to him the capacity to understand what he’d done? How would a human being?”