Excerpt from Hollywood Lied
Novel by Iris Carden
Hollywood had told us what to expect. So much so, that when it really happened, we didn’t recognise it at first. Hollywood lied. The zombie apocalypse wasn’t about people constantly running from place to place, trying to avoid being bitten or eaten by ravenous monsters. Society didn’t collapse, it just metamorphosed.
It started with the flu pandemic. Bird flu and swine flu had been bad, but the panic about Ebola had been so out-of-proportion to the reality everywhere but west Africa, that everyone was well and truly tired of panics about the latest superbug. So the warnings about the expected new flu that everyone was urged to be immunised against, were pretty much ignored. Besides, it was only the flu, right?
Then Mary Elizabeth Marsdensen reported into the hospital dead, having contracted the flu at about the time she returned from an overseas holiday.
As it turned out, the vaccinations weren’t any good against what this flu mutated into anyway. Nobody had been prepared for zombie flu. That’s what we came to call it. Scientifically it was H3N5+, but we all called it Zombie Flu, or Zedflu. Droplets from a cough or a sneeze were enough to cause infection. Someone next to you in the street could cough, and kill you days later, and then we found out there were worse things than death.
People got sick with the flu, really sick. They started with the migraine to end all migraines. Really, it was the flu virus taking over and making its home in the brain. Antivirals didn’t help. The next symptom was incredible fatigue, joint pain, and then a horrible rattling cough producing copious amounts of mucus. Most victims died from respiratory or other complications. Then, about 36 hours later, they got up and started moving around again.
People the virus had started to attack were infectious from when the cough started, up until death, and beyond. They were infectious when they were still just normal people with a cough, still your sister, your brother, your neighbour, your boss, the woman next to you at the checkout line.
It started with Mary Elizabeth Marsdensen, but it spread fast. Within days, there were cases reported all over the world. Scientists posited that she had probably spread the flu around the Brisbane International Airport when she returned from her holiday – thereby giving it to people who were going to almost every place on earth. There’s nothing a pandemic loves more than international travel.
Pandemics also love hospitals, full of people with weakened immune systems, that are taken by surprise. By the time the Brisbane Hospital got control of things and stopped the spread of the virus within the hospital – almost half the staff and patients had succumbed to Zedflu. From the hospital, to staff members’ families and friends and schools and hobbies, it took a very firm hold in our city, very quickly.
At first, the deadheads were treated as medical miracles, people who were alive, but shouldn’t be. They were locked in padded rooms, and doctors discussed how to treat the mental illness that came with resurrection.
That’s the other part of Mary Elizabeth Marsdensen’s story. With no blood circulation or respiration, her body deteriorated. At the same time the lesion in her brain grew larger and larger. Her behaviour became more and more irrational as the mass inside her skull filled more and more of the enclosed space. When she presented at the hospital, the lesion in her brain was the size of a grape. A day later, when the mass in her brain was the size of a golf ball, she was lost the ability to speak. The day after that, when it was the size of an apple, she took a bread knife from the dining table and plunged it into the base of another patient’s throat. From then on, she had to be kept in a secure room. For the next week and a half, until the decomposition was finally enough to prevent her doing anything, she took every opportunity to try to kill any human she came into contact with.
Once the supply of padded rooms ran out, the debate began about whether the deadheads were really alive or dead. The churches and other some other religious groups proclaimed life and demanded that they receive appropriate care.
Civil authorities found it more practical to prevent “resurrections”. A new Public Health Management Law mandated that everyone, not just Zedflu victims, had to be cremated within 24 hours of death. It was the most humane way. Burying people who might experience a fortnight or so of “life” after death was just cruel (and risked that compassionate families or friends might try to dig up their loved ones.) That’s what we do now. Of course, when people die alone and are not found, no-one knows to cremate them. Those ones are a problem.
So, this is the world we live in today, my world. Unlike Hollywood’s vision of a zombie apocalypse, the Zedflu didn’t cause society to break down. It just changed things a bit. Everyone who can work online from home does so. No-one goes out if they can avoid it. When people do go out, we all suit up – disposable suits, of course. It’s easy to get a seat on public transport now, and we all have healthier diets now that everyone eats at home.
In all honesty, for me personally, nothing very much changed at all.
In my street, we have a code. Everyone hangs a towel out their window by 8am and takes it in again by 8pm. We watch each other’s houses. If the towels go out and come in, we know the people in the houses are still human and rational. If they don’t, we call the Health Management Team. Most neighbourhoods have systems like this.
No-one is going to die at home and just not be found now, we’re all interested in the welfare of our neighbours in a way we never were before. We don’t want deadheads in our street, spreading the lethal virus, breaking into houses, slaughtering people, or even just generally rampaging and destroying property.
We stay constantly linked through the internet. We still have all the social media we had before Zedflu, but a new one, Evision has come along. Evision was a super-upgrade to the Skype and VOIP phones. If we usually talk to someone regularly on Evision, and they don’t answer, we call the Health Management Team then, too. It’s not that anyone likes dobbing friends and loved ones in to be cremated, it’s just that the alternative is much, much worse.