By Geoffrey Rowan
TORONTO, Oct. 31, 2011 – There’s never an expert in zombie taphonomy around when you need one. With so many zombies running around these days, wouldn’t you love to know how long they can stay mobile before decomposing into pools of liquefied, maggot-covered goo? Maybe we can just wait them out and they’ll melt away like an October snow storm, but smellier.
Here’s what we know about today’s zombie plague. It’s a virus, transmitted by biting or some other exchange of bodily fluids. (Ewww.) The virus attacks its host and within about 48 hours appears to kill the host. But post mortem, after a brief shut down of all brain and other bodily functions, electrical activity in the brain spontaneously restarts.
But here’s the rub. The brain restarts in some kind of base mode, but the rest of the body remains dead. Electrical activity is detectable in the brain. Signals are sent through the nervous system and the dead tissue is sparked into action. It’s a herky-jerky motion, a stumbling gate at best. Even a zombified Usain Bolt is not going to be mounting any Olympic winners’ platforms, except perhaps to nibble on the guy handing out the medals.
That’s all zombies care about – feeding their primal need for living human tissue. And it has to be living tissue, which is further proof that zombies are dead. If they’d eat dead meat they would turn on each other. Problem solved, except for that one really fat, final survivor zombie – the ultimate alpha zombie. (Hello? Anybody else thinking reality show concept?)
We also see the physical evidence that zombies are dead because they are rotting. Bones protrude, exposing various cavities, underlying tissue and cheap dental work. Indeed, we have seen determined, good-work-ethic zombies with nothing left below their thoracic cavity except perhaps a tail of a spinal column, dragging themselves forward along the ground with their hands in lamentable pursuit of a meal. “I’m gonna get you. I’m gonna eat you up. C’mon! Slow down. Can’t you see I have to drag myself along the ground?”
The only way you can kill a zombie is with an effective head shot, and preferably a “double-tap,” as we learned from Zombieland. (Best cameo appearance in a film EVER.)
Bottom line, there is nothing going on in the body of the zombie that is needed to keep the brain alive. No working circulatory, respiratory or digestive systems. But wait a minute. They groan sometimes so somehow they are pushing air over vocal chords. Perhaps these are gases created by the decomposition process – methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia. A game of zombie broken telephone would peel the paint of the rec room walls.
They are constantly after food, and yet they have no ability to digest food or excrete waste products. You never see a zombie, head down, one hand up against a tree, having a pee. “Oh yeah, that’s good. I’ve been holding that since the last rest stop.” And, heaven help us, I hope to never come across a flaming pile of zombie poo on my front porch, although I’d love to see a zombie ringing doorbells and running away.
Then there’s the nervous system. We’ve seen through brain scans that zombies have electrical activity in their brains, before the brains turn to goo. These signals, like some kind of sub-basement operating system, create a constant background thrum. “Eat all humans.”
But how long can a brain that has turned to Greek yogurt send out signals, and how long can desiccated fibers carry those signals through the body? Two to three days? A week tops?
Of course temperature makes a big difference in decomposition. In Atlanta’s summer steam bath, where the hit show “Walking Dead” is set, an animated corpse wouldn’t have more than two or three days before its putrefying flesh fell off its bones, like so much tangy southern barbecue. The flies and maggots would accelerate the process.
In cooler climates, like much of Canada in the winter time, ice-rink temperatures would stall the process of decomposition. But with no inner furnace, any zombie walking around Winnipeg in January would be frozen to the core. (Insert Winnipeg joke here.) One good smack with a snow shovel would scatter them into thousands of frosty pieces. And remember, these guys are NOT the new Terminator, who can reassemble himself when he melts.
Then you’ve got to consider the effect of scavengers. Besides insects, birds, dogs, coyotes, rats and all manner of critters will love them some good cadaver meat.
So, let’s not sweat the zombie problem. It pretty much takes care of itself, and they’re not sweating over us. They can’t. They’re dead. Just stay inside for a couple of days. Draw the blinds, rent some movies. It’s all good. And we’ll see you on the other side.