I always write under a pen name. No one can know who I am. It helps with the marketing. Without marketing, I’m talentless. Hungry. The mystery helps keep me fed. Outside the fence, I’d be zombie food. Inside, I’m a ghost. It’s better that way.
At first, I tried humor. I thought people had enough seriousness in their lives that they’d want a way to laugh, to forget. Man, was that ever a miscalculation. It bombed. Every single joke rang hollow. It was forced, forgettable, and uncomfortable. I tried short sketch comedies, like the Saturday Night Live we all loved at some point in our lives. The audience shrank to thirty bored people, clapping more out of respect than joy. The actors looked embarrassed. It was uncomfortable all around.
I tried writing a soap opera but my heart wasn’t in it. I’d never really seen a soap opera, and the plots would have gotten absurd but I stopped after two weeks. No one cared.
I wished I had the advantages of a television show. There’d be chances for retakes and cutting film. Stopping for commercials so that my actors could grab a cigarette. Plenty of chances for retakes. Money for special effects. A staff of writers. While I was at it, I could even get a couple of assistants and a steak dinner now and then. Or a cooking show. That would be awesome. “Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to flame broil something besides rat.” Of course, if wishes came true, none of us would be here right now.
Then it occurred to me. Back before the Panic, people wanted shows that ended happily. They wanted to feel comfortable. What if, rather than nostalgia, the people of the Zone wanted a reflection of their world? What if they wanted to project themselves up onto the stage? What if they wanted a show that showed themselves as they were, not as the ones that they wanted to be?
It was some high school dropout that gave me the idea. He was some kid working maintenance shift as a punishment for something he did. He asked me once if there was some way he could make up for lost time. If there were some books he could read. He liked being in Corpse Corps. He wanted to read stories that he could relate to. What could he do to pass the time?
I heard fourth squad was going to be taking a last pass through North Syracuse High School. I asked their squad leader to pick me up a few novels that I could pass on to that kid. I must have made her mad after that time that we slept together because I found six Shakespeare plays on my bedroll the next day. I thought we’d made up, but I decided that if she couldn’t let the past be the past, I’d show her. The kid never came back to get the novels. I used them anyway.
Six weeks later was the premier of The Tragedy of Macbeth, Zombie Hunter. I modernized it a little bit. It’s amazing what you can do once you figure out that the witches are controlling the zombies. That the invasions at the beginning that make Macbeth a hero are waves of zombies coming out of the ocean from Norway. That Macbeth has to kill King Duncan because Duncan was bitten at the battle. Macduff runs away because he’s afraid of being bitten, then Macbeth kills the zombie Banquo and actually saves Macduff from Macduff’s family, who were all infected by Ross. And the English have to kill Macbeth because at the last minute, he was bitten by Fleance, but no one knew it. And Macbeth’s wife flings herself off the top of the castle because she’s so depressed. I know that was a stupid way to write her out of the script, but that’s what Shakespeare did. At the end, everyone but Macduff was dead. It practically wrote itself.
I’m glad that guy Nielsen agreed to take center stage. He’s a real leader. He kept things going and even attracted an audience. He’s a real sport.
I think it’s safe to say that for the first time in history, we used a real decapitated head at the end of the play. We might have out-Shakespeared Shakespeare with that one, but I’ll admit, it was hard finding a corpse that looked like Billy. Getting Father Joseph–and Brooks–to go along with the head on a stick part was a little harder than I’d like to admit, but it was really worth it in the end.
The forty-two people in the audience demanded an encore. A week later, the meeting hall was packed. Word must have gotten out. I think I saw a few Corpse Corps members crying.
Then again, why am I telling you all this? You were there, weren’t you?
It’s hard work to write out scripts longhand. I’ve got a few people working for me, but they don’t know who I am. I wonder what Shakespeare would think if he saw me reworking his plays by candlelight. What I wouldn’t give for a working Xerox machine right now.
Yeah, I’m working on another one. It’s getting easier, you know? “Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark…” I’m not sure if I’m going to call it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead after Stoppard’s version or go with the more traditional Hamlet, Prince of Deadmark.
You know, since I’ve told you all this, I’ve really got nothing to lose anymore. Can I be perfectly frank with you? You’re kind of cute. Innocent looking. You’ve got great cheekbones. That’s rare these days. How old are you?
Really? That’s perfect. Have you got any family here?
I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to audition for the role of Ophelia?
Okay. Stop by my place later tonight and we can go over the script. My cot is by Jetway 14.
You won’t tell anyone, will you?