Humans once split time into two domains: B.C. and A.D. Sticking with history, we have again split time. Now we simple refer to Before or After. Exactly when Before stopped and After began depends on where you were when the dead started standing up. The outbreak was logarithmic. It started slow but within six or seven months it had circled the planet. Somewhere in that short span, After began for those who have survived.
The last shortwave news broadcast was over a month ago. News is a stretch. Mostly the man was repeating what he’d heard from others. Someone mentioned at least 5 billion souls had fallen. Over half of them had risen from death. Before, there were around 7 billion humans on Earth. Two billion humans versus 2.5 billion or more undead. Not good odds.
The United States was hit hard. Before, people lived in densely packed urban zones in temperate regions. Zombies thrive in regions where people cannot escape quickly. Like humans, they seem to prefer moderate temperatures. Those trapped in the metropolises of Before have long expired only to be reborn into a menace for the rest of us. Of the 300 million souls in the U.S., less than 10% remain. Likely far less.
The majority of the survivors were in the central regions and Alaska. States like Montana, Wyoming and others with small populations and large areas were less effected. Other areas with few large cities have had far fewer causalities. Suffice to say those who were mobile, more prepared for hardship, and willing to make unconscionable decisions are easier to find today. Those who chose to live in cities, had little food and water available, and were not prepared to exist without modern conveniences are now a minority. Survival requires grit. Being prepared and being capable of a bit of everything helps.
The enemy is not a slow, brainless beast depicted in Romero’s films. The undead arise in many forms. Most of the ghouls are similar to what he depicted in his films. None are overly intelligent. Few can run fast. The majority do not possess the dexterity to manipulate even a doorknob. The exceptions are the truly dangerous and most menacing. The nature of death directly influences the physical and mental capabilities of the undead.
What caused the outbreak is still a subject of debate. Before they were overrun, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta issued a news bulletin regarding the norovirus — the cruise ship bug that causes cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. Before, norovirus was a very infectious nuisance spread through contaminated food, water, and surfaces. That was before the pill-popping, inoculate me from everything population demanded a vaccine.
The details of exactly what went awry are sketchy and perhaps suspect. Norovirus was originally a single-stranded RNA virus. RNA viruses are fickle and mutate quickly. They lack the capabilities of DNA to ensure they replicate accurately. The vaccine changed the virus slightly to stop it from infecting the mucus membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. The change was slight. After another mutation, the inserted barrier instead adapted itself to binding to different protein receptor. That protein along with alcohol allowed the virus to slip past the blood-brain barrier. Once within the brain, the virus interferes with the functionality of the limbic and neocortex but enhances the hindbrain. Exactly how was not mentioned and likely unknown. Once infected, the previously happy cruise go-ers became carriers of the zombie virus. The symptoms of the new infection were a loss of memory and reasoning. They also developed iron-deficiency anemia, which was listed as a possible side effect of the vaccine.
Exactly what caused the virus to transition into an infectious menace remains unreported. Speculative reports suggest the government refused to release further details. The spread of the virus is not disputed. The carriers spread the disease by sharing drinks, food, and through infected surfaces just as the original strain. The ability to diagnose and stop the spread of the virus disappeared as Before transitioned to After.
As the carriers died, they did not actually die. Most signs of life were gone — heart function and lung function ceased. One report did mention a subject retained brain activity in the cerebellum, medula oblongota and pons regions. Rather than succumbing to death, they arose again and began to attack any living mammal. The arisen did not eat; they drank. The attacks focused on consuming as much blood as possible.
If rising after death were not disturbing enough, the consumption of blood was. The media was rife with tales of modern vampires. Except the undead didn’t have fangs and would rend flesh to extract every drop of blood. The vampire label gradually gave way to the more common zombie moniker. Attacks on other mammals dropped dramatically in the first few months. Human blood contains some unidentified substance necessary for the survival of the beasts.
Those who fall to attacks are very likely to reanimate. Unless the brain or upper spinal cord sustains a traumatic injury, they too will rise. The primal urge to feed rises with them. Reanimation times vary between victims. Some rise within minutes. Others rise after hours or even days.