Authors note: I don't own World War z. And please rate & review.
St. Martinville, Louisiana
[It is a sunny day in Louisiana's largest city, home to an estimated population of 300,000. The sounds of children playing in the streets while their parents practice their marksmanship skills can both be heard distinctly in the background, while the hum of the classical radio station my host is listening to plays at a low volume. My host, Mayor of this town and former US Senator Chuck Soileau, closes the windows of his suburban mansion and turns the radio down to an even lower level before speaking.]
I always had a…maverick reputation. Whether that was a compliment or an insult depended on who was saying it. Like most Louisianan Democrats outside of New Orleans, I was firmly in the centre of the political spectrum. Left and right politics still meant something back then; the party next to your name had a big impact on how people saw you. For better or for worse. And in my case, considering how Yellow Dog Democrats in my state were a dying breed, quickly becoming replaced by Yellow Dog Republicans…it tended to be for worse.
So when nearly every one of my congressional colleagues threw themselves behind the bandwagon of Phalanx without even considering the possibility it may be a placebo, I was torn. When everyone decided that the administration's plan for coping with this new crisis was…well, actually useful, I was even more torn. If I spoke up and tried to get people to slow down, look into what was happening outside our borders more carefully, try and make them realise painful precautionary actions, not placebo drugs and placebo policies, were needed….then I'd lose my election, lose my allies, condemn myself to the political wilderness. Wouldn't be able to help the people of my state anymore.
You understand, I had a tough re-election battle. I'd just supported an unpopular healthcare reform bill, and I'd pissed off even more people when I stated it didn't go far enough. I was a moderate Democrat in a state that was increasingly a conservative Republican stronghold, and my bipartisan reputation and years of experience might not have been able to save me. And if I'd gone around inciting up people's fears about zombies, not terrorists, not budget deficits, not drugs or diseases or hurricanes or whatever, but zombies, shit that only existed in my grandson's video games?
Well, no-one wants a fearmongering nutjob in the Senate.
So what did I do? I formed a bipartisan coalition…
With five other Senators?
With five other Senators, yes. [chuckles] . And a few Representatives.
I formed a bipartisan coalition, we read some reports, wrote a few draft bills, made a few low-key press appearances. And then we released our bill. The Emergency Preparation Act. We tried in vain to give it an acronym related to UNDEAD or ZOMBIE or something, but we couldn't, even though two of us were English majors.
It was a…strange experience, just before and just after I'd submitted the bill. I'd spent every morning in the last couple of weeks before submitting the bill to the hopper double-checking this zombie threat was real and dangerous, just in case I was in some sort of hallucination. And of the Senators in the coalition, I was the only one in the class up for re-election in that year, and I was listed as the sponsor of the bill, so I was undoubtedly putting my head on the line the most. I was expecting a PR shitstorm.
Boy, did I get one.
I still think to this day that the reason so many people hated me was because I was the bringer of painful truths. When I told the Republicans we need to act like global warming was real for a myriad of reasons, all but the most moderate members of that party stopped looking at me like a potential ally and more like another wishy-washy liberal. When I told my fellow Democrats their plan for climate change was not only ineffective but also damaging to my state, I knew the party leadership wanted me to shut up. When I told everyone fixing the budget required defense cuts, reforming social security and medicare, some tax increases and some spending decreases, everyone looked at me like I was some sort of laissez-faire capitalistic deficit hawk or some sort of wealth-distributing commie.
And when I told everyone we needed to stop this zombie crisis before it was too late, and we needed to respond hard if it already was past the point of no return, I knew even the reminder of my Gang of Six regretting standing behind me. The President called my measures reactionary and unsuitable for the current circumstances. Committee chairmen refused to even read the long title. My polling numbers hovered around the 20s, 30s if I was lucky.
What exactly did this bill do?
A lot, and I forget the details. But I remember a Senator from…Ohio? No, Iowa. Yeah, Iowa. Yeah, I remember the Senior Senator from Iowa in particular lambasting some new regulations I was placing on trade and travel as draconian, anti-free trade and damaging to the economy, not to mention inefficient and unenforceable. Maybe he was right, but I stood by it. Still do.
Then I also had massive amounts allocated towards special response teams, local police forces, research into this phenomenon, preparations for mass evacuations, etcetera, etcetera. The debates over that were particularly crippling. I was accused of blowing up the deficit in a time of massive national debt. I was hoping that, when the dead are walking the Earth, people might have been able to forget about the deficit for five frickin' seconds…but apparently not.
I remember some idiot, a hypocritical Republican who happened to be my Junior Senator. He basically said that "oh, we hadn't responded like this to AIDS. Or swine flu. Or bird flu." That's because people suffering from that disease don't turn into zombies, you hooker-loving diaper fetishist. I think even he realised how stupid and insensitive those statements were.
It took some manoeuvring, but we finally got it to an up and down vote. I think the party leadership helped me get it there just so they could humiliate me in public. 13 for, everyone else against.
I know this sounds wussy, but I cried when I got home that night. I was SO determined I was doing the right thing, to see it all voted down like that so…candidly. It wasn't easy.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that bill would have been a cure-all for the oncoming storm, far from it. It was just building blocks, laying the groundwork for true international solutions to this issue.
But alas, it never passed.
Just a hypothetical question; but what if it *did* pass, and the undead outbreak just…well, went away on its own?
Then I would have accepted I'd made a massive cockup. I'd probably have been forced to resign. I don't really like "what if" questions, they distract you from the questions here and now, but believe me, the moment the first ideas for the bill came into my mind, I'd always considered that question.
But, and I know it's cocky, but I, and every other member of my cosy little Gang of Six, plus our House allies, knew it was inevitable. We'd read the reports, we'd seen what was happening abroad, we knew we had to behave more like the Israelis and less like the…I dunno. Nearly every nation since then?
And I'd recently received a report from an old friend of mine in the state legislature. She was just about to be term-limited out of office, when she told me a strange story from her district, which was in Shreveport. And, the first confirmed incident of the outbreak had just occurred in Louisiana. She was a 17-year old girl, only a couple of weeks from her birthday, pretty much expected to get Straight As in virtually all her subjects. They reckon she got it on a visit to Africa. She was obsessed with humanitarian work, you see, and she went to Africa to help build a village a well. Must have drank some funny water or gotten bitten by an infected animal or something.
And that girl, and I hate myself for forgetting her name, was the first of many. And that was just the confirmed ones in my states alone. And, bar an occasional surge of interest and concern in it, it still wasn't high-profile enough until the Great Panic started, and then it never disappeared off the news. I think at first people were just struck by the sheer impossibility of it, but after a while, when it was whole families coming down with it, when more countries began to fall like dominoes, it was denial. Denial by the media, the authorities, the politicians, the American public.
Well, I guess it's unfair against my own nation to claim denial was a purely American problem. Pretty much every country against Israel reacted with denial. And, well, it's the walking dead. Can you blame them?
I lost my election, of course. Zombies were still a relatively low-key issue at that point, Phalanx and the President's reassurances were keeping everyone calm and under control and focused on stupid things like gay marriage and Iran. I was surprised I won the primary, truth be told, and I'm surprised I fared as well in the general as I did. 36%. Much better than the 23% I was predicted. Guess people were finally catching on to what was happening and how big it was. Or maybe they just hated the other candidates enough. That's always a good way to increase your share of the vote, after all.
And after the election, you…?
Returned to my hometown. This place. Bought a nice big house, lots of land around it, on the outskirts of the city you see today. Now, call me a crazy survivalist, I don't care, but I gathered up my closest family and my closest friends, and set to work making myself a miniature fort. I weren't exactly the richest Senator around, I ran a bleeding café before I entered politics, but, once I sold off most of my assets, I was able to buy most of the materials, get a wind turbine or two attached to generate power, make a few impromptu farms. I was a farmer by birth, you know, farming was the easy bit. As was grabbing the guns and ammunition to last me…three years, give or take? I was a gun nut, so that wasn't hard.
Hell, I even imported some of those sniffer dogs. Knew I'd be getting refugees knocking on my door once shit hit the fan, and I ain't the sort of person to deny someone in need of asylum. I also ain't the sort of person to let everyone walk in willy-nilly when they very well might be infected and a ticking zombie time-bomb waiting to blow.
Now, being a devoutly religious man, I hate to compare myself to a biblical figure, but at times I felt like Noah. I was, bar a few exceptions, the only individual I personally knew, Louisianan or otherwise, preparing adequately for what was about to happen. Most of the rest of my fellow townsfolk was either getting on with their lives as usual, ignorant of the threat they were in, or preparing in totally inappropriate ways. You know, grabbing a few rolls of toilet paper, a shotgun and a few planks of wood to board up the door.
Strangely enough, I paid more attention to the news as a private citizen than I did as a Senator. Guess I was curious on how the rest of the world outside of St. Martinville was coping.
Not very well, as I'm sure we all know.
When the Great Panic happened, when they finally came in force, I was ready. The fact I'm still here, the fact my family's still here, the fact almost all of St. Martinville's population survived the war should tell you whether my plans were a success or not.
Did you ever get an urge to say…?
I told you so?
I had reason to, but I had better things to do than shove my supposed superiority down the throats of people suffering enough already.
How did you feel when the military arrived?
Relieved, quite obviously. A lot of people in the fort had a very low opinion of the military for a majority of the duration of the war, but when they arrived, well, all was forgiven, especially after they dealt with the horde of zombies surrounding our walls. Musta been…I dunno, a hundred-thousand of the poor fuckers? Completely eliminated future refugee arrivals, as you can probably guess. And after the military declared this area clear…we stayed huddled up in our fort for a while, but, well, afterwards….well, before you knew it, businesses and refugees decided this was a nice place to settle and I was the Mayor of one of the most rapidly-growing cities on Earth. Our first major skyscrapers are being planned, we have one of the best police forces in America, our public transportation is second-to-none, and zombie sightings are at an all-time low.
I hate to boast, but I'm quite proud of what I achieved here. Maybe I just got lucky, but I like to think otherwise.