Zombies seem very much to have become an entertainment Zeitgeist over recent years, reaching a level of interest where they almost counterbalance the blood-thirst for vampire stories. The most recent addition to this diverse and long-dated theme is the TV series The Walking Dead. Roll back to the 1920’s and the term Zombi and the concept of Zombies first began to enter Western entertainment media through the books of W.B.Seabrook (The Magic Island) and the father of the Cthulhu Mythos: H.P.Lovecraft (several stories but most notable is Herbert West-Reanimator, and Thing on the Doorstep).
The numbers and attendance of “zombie walks” and live role-play such as 2.8 hours later is increasing year on year. Zombies have definitely entered the popular imagination.
The zombie is more than just the shambling thrall of Haitian voodoo. From “scientifically” resurrected corpses, victims of a Dr Frankenstein-like madman; and a horrific liquefying corpse that is the victim of mind/soul transference, it is possible to stretch and warp the definition of what a zombie is… but the central tenet is that it is or was a human being, now reduced to a state of mindless servitude (to a master, to a drug, to a basic impulse to spread an infection), or to be placed in a state where conscious thought and the ability to physically respond are so terribly hindered, that they become a grotesque parody of the term human being.
George A. Romero can be accredited with bringing zombie culture into the mainstream with his movie: Night of the Living Dead. It is also where the Zombie concept blended with the infectious “Vampire Bite” concept, a hybrid that stalks back 14 years to the novel “I Am Legend”, by Richard Matheson. It’s within this period that zombies also shamble from limited encounters onto the stage of a global apocalypse.
If George A. Romero defined the modern zombie genre, then Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” triple distilled it into a super-charged cocktail that delivered an incredible “hit” of horror.
Zombies in post-apocalyptic Cthulhu Mythos
This is one of the hooks for Yellow Dawn, described as a post-apocalyptic world for action adventure and investigative horror. Some aspects of the game draw heavily upon H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos cycle of stories. I published Yellow Dawn as a role-playing game in 2008 but it also exists as a platform for a raft of stories I plan to write. This includes the recently launched novel, Dog Eat Dog and short stories (House of Heavenly Light; The Tainted Moor; Corrupt Moon).
At some point in the not-too-distant future, a corporate cargo hauler, called the Calisto and owned by Soyar Corporation, is heading back from Choma Lab Habitat en-route to Earth. It suffers a critical systems failure resulting in it ploughing into Earth’s atmosphere; breaking up as it fireballs across the sky, it showers debris across Southern Europe and North Africa. Ten years later, over seventy percent of the human population is dead and only a handful of cities survive intact. So called ‘Living Cities’. The vast majority of human habitation is abandoned to the undying creatures left mutated through a brutal twist in the infection.
The creatures are labelled “zombies” but within Yellow Dawn sees the definition being stretched and warped a little further. They’re actually all victims caught within a hideous and shared hallucination that does not end; the bio-chemical compounds within the virus stops their bodies from rotting but their conscious minds have merged with the realm of Carcosa (note: this is not currently defined in the Yellow Dawn RPG version 2.1; detailed background is planned to be released with the forthcoming update to Yellow Dawn RPG version 2.5).
For many academics within the world of Yellow Dawn the term “zombie” is a misnomer, created by ignorant survivors and the popular media emerging after the apocalypse. At first the Infection was believed to be a military-engineered virus that had been released when the Calisto crashed into Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists defined the Infection as something that attacks the cognitive and personality centres of the brain and induces a frenzied and aggressive compulsion to spread the infection through biting. Use of the term “zombie” grew when it was discovered the victims of the Infection wave were not deteriorating, or decaying and do not die without extreme violence. The term “zombie” was the easiest parallel for a population unsure what they were being confronted by.
The Truth behind Yellow Dawn
The public (those that survived) blamed the military, blamed Soyar Corporation; and both these parties had no defence because it’s true they were involved in developing and shipping weaponized biological agents. What isn’t known, and is only suspected by a few savants of forbidden and diabolical lore, is that some element of Hastur has been infused within our reality. Events that led to the Calisto crashing into Earth’s atmosphere were planned, although not all of the subsequent consequences were expected or even foreseen. If you’re keen to know the truth about what caused Yellow Dawn, I can only recommend you purchase the major campaign written for the RPG, called Shadows of the Quantinex.
An Evolving Threat
I’m wary of sticking to a formulae that players (of the RPG) and readers (of Yellow Dawn fiction) get smart enough to exploit or simply bored with. So I’ve established a flexible narrative background to the zombie state of existence that enables them – the risk – to evolve. And evolve in many ways. One way, for example, is Bile Weed. A free to download bolt-on rule system I wrote to demonstrate this. The GM starts to introduce changes to the zombie threat that confuse and worry players – because they actually think these things are zombies. They’re not. The changes continue, accelerate and become… something else. In this case, Bile Weed, pods formed from now rotting zombie cadavers, that slither and crawl very slowly, releasing spores that can carry the infection. But really, GM’s can create any variation of the theme and populate those treasure troves – the Dead Cities – with new and exiting horrors. And hopefully share them with the growing Yellow Dawn community to enjoy.
Similarly, outside of Yellow Dawn, the concept of “what is a zombie” is sure to evolve with time as new creators and talents reach maturity and their imaginative products come on-line. Who is going to be the next George A. Romero or Danny Boyle? Are they already out there? Are they reading this…?