Zombies to Mars (WOS #1, Castor MVP, Tie)

By Ed Higgins

Perseid meteors fly past their ship like cosmic fire-wasps, smaller ones caroming off their inter-planetary craft’s protective hull while fireballs the size of fists flash past portholes. Earth’s apocalyptic end has long-since passed. Slightly before back-then, there had been little time to sigh over regrets, less still to say goodbye, goodbye to Terrans’ once-haven. Such was the thrum of Earth’s historic zombie cataclysm. A small human remnant barely escaped, heading desperately toward Mars and salvic resettlement.

Advances in genomic remodeling at DNA levels ensured colonists were functionally now able to withstand anticipated, albeit still harsh, Martian ecosystems. Fortunately, the terraforming of Mars had been ongoing for decades. Several robotic missions of continuously occupying autonomous and semi-autonomous AIs were still safely doing the ongoing work largely untenable by humans. But when it became clearly and horrifyingly impossible for humans to survive Earth’s zombies, the gamble of a survival migration to Mars was a last-ditch effort. Thankfully, that last-ditch effort had ensured the continuance of the human race. The haven had turned Edenic in its success.

But now, in stealth pursuit, brain-hungry zombies travel through space toward Mars, their galactic shuttle halfway there.

Hurtling at sub-lightspeed toward Earth’s surviving remnant and their at-long-last flourishing Earth-fled human settlement with its ever growing population. The colony fully unaware.

The colonists have partially terraformed the red planet for decades now; third and fourth generations have all but forgotten the Earth-destroying zombies from whom a meager ark of their ancestors escaped. Zombies have become a receding myth on their new world.  Although there are recorded stories of terrified early arrivers watching the Martian night sky, telescopes and parabolic antenna fearfully directed toward the far away blue planet, for some time now, forgetfulness and skeptical dismissal have reigned. Yet, there are still a few historical (some say hysterical) voices crying out in a faded multi-generational memory of those fearful wilderness-settlement years.

School children now celebrate a costume holiday yearly on “Zombie-Eat-Brains-Night,” going house to house to collect zombie-decorated cookies and brain-shaped candies, all with feigned terror by neighborhood residents who answer the moaning knock on the door with the familiar entreaty by costumed youngsters of “Eat your brains or bring us treats!” Some adult residents even costume themselves as zombies to pretend-frighten the fun-seeking children. Although, occasionally a younger child, even while costumed her- or himself in a mock-terror outfit, will recoil in tears, much to the adult’s embarrassment.

Erasing the distance through the silence of space, all five hundred of the lethargic living-dead are brain-organ famished. Their numbers not many, given their once-apocalyptic scale of destruction back on earth. They breathe stale, recycled air to slow their speed of decay.  No cryopreservation or artificially induced torpor is necessary onboard. For zombies, torpor is their natural state, their anaerobic metabolism slowed to near zero for over a year’s mealless days now. Less than a year left remains of crossing the void until arrival.

Through the silent blackness of space, this galaxy-faring horde creeps closer: dreaming, salivating. Anticipating being sated soon of their hunger.

Ed Higgins’s poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including recently: Peacock Journal, Uut Poetry, Triggerfish Critical Review, and Tigershark Magazine, among others. Ed teaches literature at George Fox University, south of Portland, OR, and is Asst. Fiction Editor for Ireland-based Brilliant Flash Fiction. He and his wife live on a small organic farm in Yamhill, OR where they raise a menagerie of animals, including a pair of Bourbon Red turkeys (King Strut and Nefra-Turkey) and an alpaca named Machu-Picchu.

“Zombies to Mars” was published in the first issue of Whatever Our Souls with Team Castor. Editor Jourdan fell in love with the piece when she read it. Some of her critique to the author follows:

At first, I wasn’t sure how you would pull off such a broad and impressive concept in such a short amount of words. Like Editor Engelmeier, I am of the mind that this could be expanded quite a bit and turned into a novel or a (longer) short piece with specific characters and scenes. The idea is excellent; zombies following the humans who think they’ve found shelter on another planet isn’t something I’ve ever seen, until now. That’s one reason I’ve decided to accept this piece. Another is your fantastic word choice. Even though this is flash, it reads like a prose poem, and it holds my attention throughout with words that sing and jump off the page. We get “[p]erseid meteors” and “cosmic fire-wasps” in the first sentence, and the diction doesn’t allow the reader’s interest to fade for the rest of the piece. Even in the last paragraph, we get excellent moments with “galaxy-faring horde,” “salivating,” and “sated.” You do a lovely job of capturing the hunger of the zombies with your language while simultaneously keeping a futuristic science-fiction vibe. It’s a combination I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. If you decide to flesh (I couldn’t help myself) this out into a longer piece, I’d love to read that, too.

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