All right, I have to admit a simple truth. I’m a fan of the zombies. They are simple, direct to the point and incorruptible in their ways. This is not what you can tell about any other horror characters. More to the point, I’m a fan of the slow zombies, Romero-style. As you know, this sub-genre of narrative has been flooded in the last 25 years and a lot of the books on the subject are quite under the minimum quality level.
Is it difficult to tell you a zombie-based story? If you stick to the canon, I will answer “no”. But what if you take some time to think a bit more about the subject? My starting point is in the works of Max Brooks, who hit the jackpot big time with “World War Z” (if you still doesn’t have read it, go and buy it right now). His basic point is about a virus, named Solanum, as a cause for the zombie’s creation – then he places his zombies in a world far more realistic than most, and let it roll.
So, the basic coordinates are the following.
The zombie can be stopped crushing its skull and/or destroying what’s left of its brain. The zombie is slow and almost unstoppable in its reach for human flesh (more hosts for the virus). The zombies are unable to communicate or coordinate actions between them but all of them are sensible to the call of the only sound they do, a low-frequency moan. They do not see but hear sounds. Zombies are not able to use machinery of any kind or to perform simple actions as turn a doorknob. And the last, precious, bite of information: their bodies slowly decay, until they are useless.
So fighting zombies is about two factors. Moving faster than them, hit them in the head – better if in a silent way.
What if we get to add a bit more of reality?
First off, why get in a fight with them? First phase survivors of zombie plague are most likely scared to death and basically scavengers. They will look for shelter, food, weapons, anything useful. Why wandering around, with the fresh-raised zombies on the hunt night and day? Usually people doesn’t have the skills needed to play a strategy of duck&cover, not to mention the shock of a direct confrontation with monsters.
Second on the list, the need for the loved ones. Everybody got somebody they want to be safe and sound. But find them in a city torn apart could be a real nightmare. Hint: telephones and cellphones will last max three days, electric power will be shut down as soon as maintenance crew will stop working. Our basic infrastructure is very fragile, keep it firmly in mind. Water from the aqueduct will stop flowing in 12/24 hours, gas furniture will be cut off about the same time.
Third, important items are scarce. It’s not only about bullets and guns. Very important substances, like insulin, have to be conserved in a refrigerator. Without power, stuff like this will degrade and became useless. Fresh food will last three days max. Anybody with chronic illnesses will be desperate for his/her prescription in a matter of two weeks, a month tops. Any family with elders or very young children will be facing real crisis even without zombies.
Fourth, the fires. You can be sure that in a town a number of fires will set off in the first days of panic. And nobody will go there to stop it. You can find yourself under a dark cloud (loaded with dangerous stuff) and/or on the run because of nearby fires. How to run away with all your precious possessions if you have to move in a zombie-rich environment?
Fifth, and last; how long could last a zombie before falling apart? Weeks? Months? Brooks theorized years but I find it unacceptable. Three months after being exposed to the virus, I think that a body will start to fall apart. Dried tissues will give way under the stress of weight and/or movement, limiting more and more the zombie’s actions. So, it could be a like a siege. Last one day more of your mindless enemies.