You’re in bed. It’s three in the morning and Fluffy the Dog is barking like the Hound of the Baskervilles while somebody—or something—pounds on your back door. Then the glass shatters, and the zombies are inside. What are you going to grab, and where are you going to head?
At the start of every story of the undead, the hero typically has nothing. Zero. Nada. And that’s good, because the novel or movie would put the B in Boring if our hero started out with an arsenal.
The first weapons in these stories are improvised. Golf clubs and baseball bats. Ice picks and fire pokers. Three-hole punches and letter openers.
This is the way it should be. I hate novels and books where the hero is already some kind of police officer/Army Ranger/survivalist who has an arsenal in the trunk of his squad car/footlocker/basement bomb shelter.
Are improvised weapons far less practical? Oh yes.
Are they more fun in a story? Double Y-E-S.
By the first third or half of the story, the hero reaches some kind of safe haven. In the original zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, it was the abandoned farm house.
I bet everyone’s favorite—and it’s definitely mine—is the mall used in Dawn of the Dead (original and remake). (For hilarity’s sake, check out the speed version of the DotD remake.)
In this part of the story, it’s basically required that the hero and his or her fellow survivors do what we can’t: loot the mall/armory/arctic research station.
Now, this is entertaining AND practical. Hunting rifles and shotguns are incredibly good tools to have against the walking dead, right?
This is also the part of the novel or movie where one of the survivors gets a chainsaw, which is loud and impressive. Entertaining? Sort of. Bloody, messy, heavy and impractical? Yes.
However: In my not-so-humble opinion, novelists and screenwriters are missing out on this part of the story. Guns are overused. Unless you live in an ice cave, you’ve grown up watching TV and movies, and by the time you’re 18, you’ve seen every kind of gun fight and explosion fest there is. In fact, if you’ve only seen one movie by Michael Bay, you’ve got a lifetime exposure already.
You can do better than loot a gun store. If there’s no need to lug stuff around, and you’re surrounded by a bazillion zombies, rifles and shotguns aren’t going to be a lot of help. And they’re not very exciting.
Go big. Rig up some kind of flamethrower and mount it on the roof of the mall, or a catapult to launch sofas from the furniture store inside. Flaming sofas. Things like that.
You can’t wait out a zombie siege. Our hero and the survivors will run out of food, water, and ammo. Survivors will make stupid mistakes that get them bitten, or they were already bitten when they arrived and hid that fact from the rest of the group. One way or another, things will go wrong, and they’ll be forced to head out.
The zombies need to have a chance. The hero and survivors have to work at bolting stuff onto a school bus or whatever, not hopping in their impregnable tank and facing the difficult choice of what AC/DC track to play as they smash through zombie hordes.
It’s a given that whatever vehicle they use will break down or get stuck, and that our hero(es) will have to travel on foot. And since this is a novel or movie about the walking dead, everybody has to die.
Sorry. Part of the whole horror genre is the bad guy—or in this case, bad guys plural, as in zombies—are really the good guys, representing punishment for our sins, whether you’re talking horny teenagers in a slasher film or mad scientists who thought it’d be cool to create Frankenstein’s monster/give birth to Sharktopus/put a facehugger on Sigourney Weaver to bring alien DNA back to earth for study.
But before everybody dies, they’re running, on foot, from the zombie hordes. And that’s the good part.
Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. He wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award. He can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, redpenofdoom.com
Read all posts by Guy Bergstrom for Criminal Element.