A wide-eyed corpse gawked up at the sky. The bright sun shone down on his brown face, occasionally interrupted by the shadow of a palm leaf swinging in the light, warm breeze. He was stinking and putrid from rot. The wind picked up becoming strong and forceful, blowing the wisp of hair he had left to one side. His skin was dark and his clothing was leafy and stark, typical of the natives of this tropical island off the coast of Haiti. His entire body was withered and parched from exposure to the elements.
He appeared mummified, just like you’d expect of any other dead body left in the harsh tropical elements with the exception that it was moving. The corpse was walking, shambling down the beach, eyes fixed on the sky and swaying palm trees. The beauty of the tropical paradise, complete with salt water lapping the white sand beach of the shore was lost on the creature. The expression on the shambling creature’s face looked slightly confused, maybe about his condition, perhaps about why he was consumed with such an insatiable hunger, or maybe just the chopping sound floating on the breeze, getting louder by the second. Unexpectedly, the corpse had on something unique. A bright, shining, metallic collar, foreign to the simple native. A long spike on the inside of the collar stabbed firmly into the spinal column of the shambling monster.
“Gaah?” the zombie moaned in agony.
The wump, wump, wump noise got closer and louder, recognizable to anyone who wasn’t a Haitian zombie as an approaching helicopter. Soon the confused zombie’s wide, dead eyes fixed upon the loud chopper as it grew in the sky. The helicopter slowly hovered above the island. The zombie simply stood and stared, mouth agape.
Someone in the helicopter was looking back.
“Damn, dirty, stinking zombies!” a dark-skinned black man wearing a com helmet and a disgusted grimace on his face said.
The man’s name was Zeb and he had become a charter helicopter pilot after he took early retirement from the U.S. Air Force.
Inside the cockpit, Zeb slowly squeezed his controls, lowering the chopper as he continued to voice his disgust. A woman with dark hair and Hispanic features sat in the cargo area, her shoulder-length hair dangling over a thin turquoise tank top and cargo shorts nearly small enough to be briefs. Although the clothing did just enough to obscure her firm and gym-toned body, the shorts had enough pockets to hold all the supplies she needed to complete her job as an investigative journalist. Her name was Marija. Next to her sat a young man with fair skin and ginger hair with matching ginger beard named Jeremy. Jeremy wore more substantial cargo shorts and a T-shirt. Despite the increase in material, the shorts he wore had no hope of holding all of his supplies, not that he was too big for his clothes, he was in decent enough shape for a recent college grad who had spent equal time partying as he had studying. He needed to lug a black duffle bag, which sat on the bench next to him, to make sure he had all of the supplies needed to complete his job. Jeremy was Marija’s photographer on this assignment for their employer, Timely Magazine.
Jeremy marvelled at the macabre scene. The young man snapped a long telephoto lens, meant for taking high-quality photos, onto his camera and lifted it. He levelled his lens toward the zombie gawking from the beach, targeted the shambling corpse and snapped off some pictures. The zombie took up more and more of the frame in each consecutive photo as the helicopter descended to the soft, white sand.
“A whole damned island of them!” Zeb carried on.
“Eewww! They’re so gross looking!” Marija chimed in.
“Call me crazy, but I think it’s cool,” Jeremy replied, immersed in the analysis of life around him through his lens.
Marija gave Jeremy a playful nudge and a smile.
“Okay. You’re crazy!” Marija flirted.
He grinned as he jostled, raising his camera into the air with one hand.
“Ha ha! Maybe I am!” Jeremy agreed.
The sights of Jeremy’s photo lens soon returned to the zombie’s confused face, staring up at the helicopter. The clicks and whirrs of his camera were inaudible over the deafening engines of the chopper.
The helicopter slowly lowered to the beach, weaving up and down gingerly, as if the machine itself had an intelligence of its own and was as hesitant to land in this place as the pilot. In the distance, about 40 yards away, beyond the sand and the dumbfounded zombie, stood a stark white bungalow-styled building.
The zombie stood and stared at Jeremy and Marija, still dumbfounded, while Marija looked back nervously. Jeremy kept snapping pictures. Zeb sat coolly at the controls as he shut down the engines. The prop continued spinning and blowing air around in a whirlwind, causing everyone’s hair to jostle this way and that, as if caught in a cyclone.
A team of doctors in lab coats walked quickly in a single file from the glass doors of the white building and across the sand toward the new arrivals on the beach. These were Doctors Schmidt, Romero and Hugo. The doctors approached the helicopter, all walking in a row. Romero led the pack. Atlas Romero was a stout, jovial gentleman, medium length black hair with white streaks forming wings on the side of his head. Above Romero’s swooshes of hair, a bald peak shined in the sun. Romero’s trimmed goatee matched the two-toned color scheme of his hair. Deiter Schmidt was Romero’s opposite in every way: tall, fit, broad-chested, square-jawed and handsome. A perfect example of his German heritage, save for his dark, black hair. The only thing that Schmidt and Romero had physically in common was a similarity in age, both in their mid-fifties. Hugo was actually Hugo Schmidt, Dr. Schmidt’s son. Though half his father’s age and slightly heavier built, the family resemblance was obvious. The doctor’s all had their heads ducked and arms out to shield their faces from the blowing wind and sand caused by the whirling blades above the chopper. Other zombies had come to watch as they wandered around the beach aimlessly, all with robotic control collars.
Jeremy clicked off more photos with his camera.
Zeb turned from his seat in the front and addressed Marija and Jeremy very abruptly, startling them and bringing their attention back to the world inside of the helicopter.
“There ain’t nothin’ cool about these things! They’re dangerous! Get back to this ’copter if you don’t feel safe, understand?” Zeb barked.
Jeremy reached out and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, looking concerned.
“Of course. Man I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinkin’…,” Jeremy apologized.
The sound of a throat being cleared behind them startled the group and directed the attention of all three back over to the open side of the helicopter. Dr. Schmidt stood with his hand extended to Marija in introduction.
“Welcome to Ile de la Gonave…,” Schmidt said with a wide grin.
Schmidt continued standing in the doorway shaking hands with Marija and gestured to Dr. Romero and Hugo standing next to him.
“I’m Dr. Deiter Schmidt. This is my assistant Dr. Atlas Romero and that handsome youngster is my son, Hugo,” Schmidt introduced.
The senior Schmidt helped Marija out of the helicopter as Jeremy began pulling all his camera equipment and bags to the side of the helicopter.
“Just follow us in and leave all of your bags. The servants will get them,” Romero explained.
Hugo, Romero, Schmidt, Zeb, Marija and Jeremy all walked across the deep white sand in a single file line, toward the heavy steel and reinforced glass doors of Schmidt’s research compound. A procession of zombies followed a short distance behind the row of the living, each carrying baggage from the helicopter. Jeremy looked back, then turned his gaze to Marija. She had also been looking back and the two shared a moment of wide-eyed understanding. Jeremy gestured back at the zombie servants, a little nervously.
“Okay, that’s kinda creepy…” He shuddered.
Moments later, Schmidt led the group into a dimly lit, low-ceilinged conference room. Seats and tables were arranged throughout the room and a digital projector was propped up on a podium in the middle of the room. Schmidt stood slightly to one side of the white screen mounted to the wall. The screen did its best to reflect the ambient light around it from the front of the room. With a wide, sweeping gesture, Schmidt’s extended arm directed the group toward their seats. Romero stood inside the room, holding the door open for the rest of the group as they entered. The seats reminded Jeremy of the little desks that were attached to little wooden chairs, like in kindergarten, just bigger.
“The servants will bring your bags to your rooms. If you’ll all take a seat, we’ll explain how our ongoing experiments have made the life we enjoy on the island possible,” Schmidt announced, as if practicing for a much larger audience.
Marija quickly pulled a small digital recorder out from one of her pockets as she slid into the first available seat at the front of the room. She was eager to begin.
The fiery Latina quickly became serious with a stern look on her face. She couldn’t wait to jump at Schmidt with questions.
“Why do you bother to work at all, Doctor? Not enough zombies to handle all of your experiments?”
The island’s benefactor and senior scientist held his hands up in mock defense, as if pushing back an attacker. His face looked tired and his mood was dismissive. He stood at the front of the room in front of the projection screen.
“Now hold on Ms. Esteban! I appreciate Timely Magazine’s interest in my work, but let’s not crucify me just yet, okay?” Schmidt responded in mild defense.
Dr. Romero waved his hands, as if to hush the discord so they could move on with the planned presentation. He and Dr. Schmidt moved, each one on either side of the screen, while Hugo stood behind the podium, running the projector.
Each doctor held a long plastic pointer. Romero pointed toward the screen while clearing his throat, preparing to talk. The white light on the screen crackled to life with a grainy video of a mob of zombies devouring innocent shoppers in a large mall.
“As you know, in 2018 the ‘Zombie Plague,’ as it is known by the media, broke out and nearly caused the collapse of Western society as we know it,” Romero explained.
A new image slid across the screen, one of a smart looking scientist in a lab coat holding a test tube of fluid up to the light, looking at it.
“The world’s most brilliant minds have, so far, been unable to find a cause…or a cure,” Romero continued.
Romero raised his pointer to the screen. The screen showed a map of North America. The map had dark splotchy areas on parts of some states. The splotches spread out, becoming larger and covering massive areas. Miami, the eastern half of British Colombia, The southern half of California, the Nevada desert, parts of New England, and parts of Texas were all shaded.
“While our government created quarantine zones to keep the zombies isolated, the esteemed Dr. Dieter Schmidt created,” Romero paused for dramatic effect and to pick up an object on a nearby table, “this!”
Romero lofted a shiny metal object high above his head, one of the cybernetic zombie control collars. It wasn’t latched shut so one side was open, giving it a round, crescent moon type shape.
Romero’s hands gripped the collar firmly around either side. The back side of the collar had two shiny, sharp looking spikes sticking out. The spikes were located in the center of the collar, pointing inward. It was easy to visualize them stabbing into a person’s spinal cord if they were unlucky enough to be wearing it.
“The cybernetic control collar!” Romero proclaimed.
Now Dr. Schmidt spoke up, pointing from the other side of the screen with his long plastic stick to a diagram that flashed onto the screen, replacing the previous image. The diagram was a drawing of a zombie head, neck and shoulders that illustrated how and where the collar fit around a zombie’s neck, showing how the spikes would dig into the spinal cord.
“The collar taps directly into the central nervous system and filters all electronic brain impulses. This prevents attacks and creates impulses to respond obediently,” Dr. Schmidt explained.
The screen changed to a close-up of a map of the tropical islands of Haiti and surrounding regions. Off the west coast of Haiti, in the ocean, there was an island which was highlighted with a yellow circle. The island was labelled “Ile de la Gonave, Haiti.”
Dr. Romero’s pointer tapped on the island in the picture on-screen.
“While the rest of the world panicked, Dr. Schmidt perfected his process…here!” Romero proclaimed.
The footage on-screen now changed to a photo of a tropical poolside paradise. Palm trees and sun umbrellas reached proudly toward the sky. Around the pool sat fat white middle-aged wealthy looking people in swimsuits, lying on lawn chairs. Adult children or mistresses were in and about the pool in bikinis and swimsuits. They were all being served and waited on by zombies with control collars. The zombies were bringing them drinks, towels, and anything else they might have desired. Some were even fanning people gently with large palm leaves.
“Creating a paradise for the world’s elite and wealthy!” Romero proudly exclaimed.
Romero looked back out into the room, expecting to see the same excitement he felt in the faces of his audience. Confusion began to slide across his face when he didn’t see the immediate response he had expected. Hugo also looked around the room from his position behind the projector with a big, proud smile.
Zeb glared back at the men of science with disgust. Marija, with her recorder still out, had a stern, angry look on her face, eyebrows arched. Jeremy just looked stupefied.
“Whoa,” Jeremy muttered.
Marija thrust her recorder in Dr. Schmidt’s direction and began hurling accusatory questions at him.
“Do you lose any sleep at night, knowing you’ve enslaved people who may have loved ones looking for them?”
Schmidt again held up his hands in mock defense, chuckling as he replied to Marija`s pointed digging.
“Heh. Now Ms. Esteban, you know as well as I that zombies have no rights under the law. In fact the U.N. Council concluded that in the interests of human safety, any research that may solve the zombie problem should supersede any rights next of kin may have.”
Romero stepped forward with a grin, interjecting before the question became an argument about the rights of the deceased. Schmidt grinned happily from behind him.
“I know you’re all excited, but there will be plenty of time for more questions and answers tomorrow. In the meantime, we hope you’ll join us for a dinner on the beach.”