World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
I could hear it reaching out to me, groaning and swiping at empty air. I managed to dodge its clumsy attempt and snatched up my ikupasuy. I centered my attack on the source of the creature’s moan. I struck quickly, and the crack vibrated up through my arms. The creature fell back upon the earth as I released a triumphant shout of “Ten Thousand Years!”
It is difficult for me to describe my feelings at this moment. Fury had exploded within my heart, a strength and courage that drove away my shame as the sun drives the night from heaven. I suddenly knew the gods had favored me. The bear hadn’t been sent to kill me, it had been sent to warn me. I didn’t understand the reason right then, but I knew I had to survive until the day when that reason was finally revealed.
And that is what I did for the next few months: I survived. I mentally divided the Hiddaka range into a series of several hundred chi-tai. 3 Each chi-tai contained some object of physical security—a tree or tall, flat rock—some place I could sleep in peace without the danger of immediate attack. I slept always during the day, and only traveled, foraged, or hunted at night. I did not know if the beasts depended on their sight as much as human beings, but I wasn’t going to give them even the most infinitesimal advantage. 4
Losing my vision had also prepared me for the act of ever-vigilant mobility. Those with sight have a tendency to take walking for granted; how else could they trip over something they’ve clearly seen? The fault lies not in the eyes, but in the mind, a lazy thought process spoiled by a lifetime of optic nerve dependency. Not so for those like me. I already had to be on guard for potential danger, to be focused, alert, and “watching my step,” so to speak. Simply adding one more threat was no bother at all. Every time I walked, it was for no longer than several hundred paces. I would halt, listen to and smell the wind, perhaps even press my ear to the ground. This method never failed me. I was never surprised, never caught off guard.
Was there ever a problem with long-range detection, not being able to see an attacker several miles away?
My nocturnal activity would have prevented the use of healthy eyesight, and any beast several kilometers away was no more a threat to me than I was to it. There was no need to be on my guard until they entered what you might call my “circle of sensory security,” the maximum range of my ears, nose, fingertips, and feet. On the best of days, when the conditions were right and Haya-ji 5 was in a helpful mood, that circle extended as far as half a kilometer. On the worst of days, that range might drop to no more than thirty, possibly fifteen paces. These incidents were infrequent at best, occurring if I had done something to truly anger the kami, although I can’t possibly imagine what that would be. The beasts were a great help as well, always being courteous enough to warn me before attacking.
That howling alarm that ignites the moment they detect prey would not only alert me to the presence of an attacking creature, but even to the direction, range, and exact position of the attack. I would hear that moan wafting across the hills and fields and know that, in perhaps half an hour or so, one of the living dead would be paying me a visit. In instances such as these I would halt, then patiently prepare myself for the attack. I would unclasp my pack, stretch my limbs, sometimes just find a place to sit quietly and meditate. I always knew when they were getting close enough to strike. I always took the time to bow and thank them for being so courteous to warn me. I almost felt sorry for the poor mindless filth, to come all this way, slowly and methodically, only to end their journey with a split skull or severed neck.
Did you always kill your enemy on the first strike?
[He gestures with an imaginary ikupasuy.]
Thrust forward, never swing. At first I would aim for the base of the neck. Later, as my skills grew with time and experience, I learned to strike here…
[He places his hand horizontally against the indentation between the forehead and nose.]
It was a little harder than simple decapitation, all that thick tough bone, but it did serve to destroy the brain, as opposed to decapitation where the living head would always require a secondary blow.
What about multiple attackers? Was that more of a problem?
Yes, in the beginning. As their numbers swelled, I began to find myself increasingly surrounded. Those early battles were…“untidy.” I must admit, I allowed my emotions to rule my hand. I was the typhoon, not the lightning bolt. During one melee at “Tokachi-dake,” I dispatched forty-one in as many minutes. I was washing bodily fluids from my clothes for a fortnight. Later, as I began to exercise more tactical creativity, I allowed the gods to join me on the battlefield. I would lead groups of beasts to the base of a tall rock, where I would crush their skulls from above. I might even find a rock that allowed them to climb up after me, not all at once, you understand, one by one, so I could knock them back into the jagged outcroppings below. I was sure to thank the spirit of each rock, or cliff, or waterfall that carried them over thousand-meter drops. This last incident was not something I cared to make a habit of. It was a long and arduous climb to retrieve the body.
You went after the corpse?
To bury it. I couldn’t just leave it there, desecrating the stream. It would not have been…“proper.”
Did you retrieve all the bodies?
Every last one. That time, after Tokachi-dake, I dug for three days. The heads I always separated; most of the time I just burned them, but at Tokachi-dake, I threw them into the volcanic crater where Oyamatsumi’s 6 rage could purge their stench. I did not completely understand why I committed these acts. It just felt correct, to separate the source of the evil.
The answer came to me on the eve of my second winter in exile. This would be my last night in the branches of a tall tree. Once the snow fell, I would return to the cave where I had spent the previous winter. I had just settled in comfortably, waiting for dawn’s warmth to lull me to sleep, when I heard the sound of footsteps, too quick and energetic to be a beast. Haya-ji had decided to be favorable that night. He brought the smell of what could only be a human being. I had come to realize that the living dead were surprisingly bereft of odor. Yes, there was the subtle hint of decomposition, stronger, perhaps, if the body had been turned for some time, or if chewed flesh had pushed through its bowels and collected in a rotting heap in its undergarments. Other than this, though, the living dead possessed what I refer to as a “scentless stink.” They produced no sweat, no urine, or conventional feces. They did not even carry the bacteria within their stomach or teeth that, in living humans, would have fouled their breath. None of this was true of the two-legged animal rapidly approaching my position. His breath, his body, his clothes, all had clearly not been washed for some time.
It was still dark so he did not notice me. I could tell that his path would take him directly underneath the limbs of my tree. I crouched slowly, quietly. I wasn’t sure if he was hostile, insane, or even recently bitten. I was taking no chances.
[At this point, Kondo chimes in.]
KONDO: He was on me before I knew it. My sword went flying, my feet collapsed from under me.
TOMONAGA: I landed between his shoulder blades, not hard enough to do any permanent damage, but enough to knock the wind out of his slight, malnourished frame.
KONDO: He had me on my stomach, my face in the dirt, the blade of his shovel-thing pressed tightly against the back of my neck.
World War Z
TOMONAGA: I told him to lie still, that I would kill him if...
KONDO: I tried to speak, gasping between coughs that I was friendly, that I didn’t even know he was there, that all I wanted to do was pass along and be on my way.
World War Z
TOMONAGA: I asked him where he was going.
KONDO: I told him Nemuro, the main Hokkaido port of evacuation, where there might still be one last transport, or fishing boat, or…something that might still be left to get me to Kamchatka.
World War Z
TOMONAGA: I did not understand. I ordered him to explain.
KONDO: I described everything, about the plague, the evacuation. I cried when I told him that Japan had been completely abandoned, that Japan was nai.
TOMONAGA: And suddenly I knew. I knew why the gods had taken my sight, why they sent me to Hokkaido to learn how to care for the land, and why they had sent the bear to warn me.
KONDO: He began to laugh as he let me up and helped to brush the dirt from my clothing.
TOMONAGA: I told him that Japan had not been abandoned, not by those whom the gods had chosen to be its gardeners.
World War Z
KONDO: At first I didn’t understand…
TOMONAGA: So I explained that, like any garden, Japan could not be allowed to wither and die. We would care for her, we would preserve her, we would annihilate the walking blight that infested and defiled her and we would restore her beauty and purity for the day when her children would return to her.
KONDO: I thought he was insane, and told him so right to his face. The two of us against millions of siafu?
TOMONAGA: I handed his sword back to him; its weight and balance felt familiar to the touch. I told him that we might be facing fifty million monsters, but those monsters would be facing the gods.
[Seryosha Garcia Alvarez suggests I meet him at his office. “The view is breathtaking,” he promises. “You will not be disappointed.” On the sixty-ninth floor of the Malpica Savings and Loans building, the second-tallest building in Cuba after Havana’s José Martí Towers, Señor Alvarez’s corner office overlooks both the glittering metropolis and bustling harbor below. It is the “magic hour” for energy-independent buildings like the Malpica, that time of the day when it’s photovoltaic windows capture the setting sun with their almost imperceptible magenta hue. Señor Alvarez was right. I am not disappointed.]
Cuba won the Zombie War; maybe that’s not the most humble of statements, given what happened to so many other countries, but just look at where we were twenty years ago as opposed to where we are now.
Before the war, we lived in a state of quasi-isolation, worse than during the height of the cold war. At least in my father’s day you could count on what amounted to economic welfare from the Soviet Union and their ComEcon puppets. Since the fall of the communist bloc, though, our existence was one of constant deprivation. Rationed food, rationed fuel…the closest comparison I can make is that of Great Britain during the Blitz, and like that other besieged island, we too lived under the dark cloud of an ever-present enemy.
The U.S. blockade, while not as constricting as during the cold war, nonetheless sought to suffocate our economic lifeblood by punishing any nation that attempted free and open trade. As successful as the U.S. strategy was, its most resounding triumph was allowing Fidel to use our northern oppressor as an excuse to remain in power. “You see how hard your life is,” he would say. “The blockade has done this to you, the Yankees have done this to you, and without me, they would be storming our beaches even now!” He was brilliant, Machiavelli’s most favored son. He knew we would never remove him while the enemy was at the gates. And so we endured the hardships and the oppression, the long lines and the hushed voices. This was the Cuba I grew up in, the only Cuba I could ever imagine. That is, until the dead began to rise.
Cases were small and immediately contained, mostly Chinese refugees and a few European businessmen. Travel from the United States was still largely prohibited, so we were spared the initial blow of first-wave mass migration. The repressive nature of our fortress society allowed the government to take steps to ensure that the infection was never allowed to spread. All internal travel was suspended, and both the regular army and territorial militias were mobilized. Because Cuba had such a high percentage of doctors per capita, our leader knew the true nature of the infection weeks after the first outbreak was reported.
By the time of the Great Panic, when the world finally woke up to the nightmare breaking down their doors, Cuba had already prepared itself for war.
The simple fact of geography spared us the danger of large-scale, overland swarms. Our invaders came from the sea, specifically from an armada of boat people. Not only did they bring the contagion, as we have seen throughout the world, there were also those who believed in ruling their new homes as modern-day conquistadors.
Look at what happened in Iceland, a prewar paradise, so safe and secure they never found the need to maintain a standing army. What could they do when the American military withdrew? How could they stop the torrent of refugees from Europe and western Russia? Is it no mystery how that once idyllic arctic haven became a cauldron of frozen blood, and why, to this day, it is still the most heavily infested White Zone on the planet? That could have been us, easily, had it not been for the example set by our brothers in the smaller Windward and Leeward Islands.
Those men and women, from Anguilla to Trinidad, can proudly take their place as some of the greatest heroes of the war. They first eradicated multiple outbreaks along their archipelago, then, with barely a moment to catch their collective breaths, repelled not only seaborne zombies, but an endless flood of human invaders, too. They spilled their blood so that we did not have to. They forced our would-be latifundista to reconsider their plans for conquest, and realize that if a few civilians armed with nothing but small arms and machetes could defend their homelands so tenaciously, what would they find on the shores of a country armed with everything from main battle tanks to radar-guided antiship missiles?
Naturally, the inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles were not fighting for the best interests of the Cuban people, but their sacrifices did allow us the luxury of setting our own terms. Any seeking sanctuary would find themselves greeted with the saying so common among Norteamericano parents, “While under my roof, you will obey my rules.”
Not all of the refugees were Yankees; we had our share from mainland Latin America, from Africa, and western Europe, Spain especially—many Spaniards and Canadians had visited Cuba either on business or holiday. I had gotten to know a few of them before the war, nice people, polite, so different from the East Germans of my youth who used to toss handfuls of candy in the air and laugh while we children scrambled for it like rats.