“The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” — Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente is the critically acclaimed author of The Orphan’s Tales series, which has won the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her novel, Palimpsest—which she describes as “a baroque meeting of science fiction and fantasy”—is a finalist for the 2010 Hugo Awards. Her young adult novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which was originally self-published online and is forthcoming in print from Feiwel and Friends, recently won the Andre Norton Award. A new series, beginning in November with The Habitation of the Blessed, retells the legend of Prester John. Her short fiction has appeared in the magazines Clarkesworld, Electric Velocipede, and Lightspeed, and in the anthology Dark Faith, where this story first appeared.

The inspiration for this story came when Valente visited Augusta, Maine, for the first time. “Augusta, despite being the state capitol, is an extremely economically depressed region, and the dilapidation of the downtown area and the general atmosphere of silence and a city long past its prime truly struck me,” she says. “It looked like the zombies had taken over in 1974 and people just said: ‘Well, we have to go to work tomorrow.’ The idea of that quiet apocalypse took hold of my heart; an apocalypse you just have to live through and find a way to co-exist with was fascinating. I finally felt like I had something new to say about zombies.”

Zombies may be caused by any number of factors—a supernatural event, a man-made virus, or radiation from a passing comet—but one thing is nearly universal: you have to kill them to survive, and killing them is completely justified because it’s self-defense and you have no choice. But what if zombies didn’t have to be killed? What if they shouldn’t be? What if you could live side-by-side with them and make a new kind of life for yourself among them, even as the world around you has fallen to pieces?