Zombies Versus...Flesh-Eating Beetles
By David Dunwoody
A zombie (for the purposes of this column) is a corpse and, while ambulatory, is vulnerable to the same elements as its inert counterparts. Nature is always prepared to wreak havoc in a variety of twisted ways. These include carnivorous insects which feed on dead tissue and, of course, werewolves.
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Zombies Versus...Flesh-Eating Beetles
The family Dermestidae is made up of round, scaly beetles that feed on a variety of plant and animal matter. While they are a nightmare for natural fibers, making them domestic pests, they have also been found to serve some useful purposes. This is due in large part to their yen for dead stuff. They are used by museums and taxidermists to clean skeletons, and forensic investigators can estimate the amount of time a body has been dead based upon the presence of Dermestes maculatus, the skin beetle. In addition, their waste and sheddings can be analyzed for toxins which may have formerly been present in a victim.
Adult skin beetles show up in corpses five to eleven days after death. They thrive in warmer temperatures (around 86 degrees Fahrenheit), so a horde of summertime shamblers would be yummy in a beetle's tummy. With temperature itself being one of the most important factors in the rate of animal decomposition, you can imagine the shape these undead would already be in. Add carnivorous bugs boring through that bloated flesh and we’re going to need a cleanup on Aisles 1 through 100.
With a lifespan lasting a couple of months - and with females laying up to 800 frickin' eggs - the skin beetle could prove more than just a mere nuisance to the living dead. One runny, blistered corpse teeming with larvae could spoil an entire army of walkers. Rampant infestation wouldn’t make life much easier for survivors, either. And that’s just one damn species of bug.
We won’t even get into the fly and maggot menace, at least not today. I’m already queasy.
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Werewolves (from the Greek meaning “more than one werewolf”) are in the pantheon of all-time monster legends. Modern zombies, in a relatively short period of time, have risen through the ranks to join them. Before we pit the undead against the lycanthropic plague, we must define the modern werewolf. We’ll have to greatly simplify a creature amalgamated from countless folkloric variants.
During medieval times and into the colonial era, the werewolf came to be regarded as a willful agent of evil. Shapeshifters were seen as Devil-worshippers and baby thieves. Some accused of witchcraft were also fingered as wolf men or women and summarily executed. By contrast, many of today’s pop-culture werewolves become afflicted with the condition through misfortune rather than malice, a chance encounter with a predator. Still others inherit the curse through their bloodlines. Our monster mythos mutate alongside our fears and cultural mores.
For our “definitive” modern werewolf, let’s agree that the condition is transmittable by blood and saliva. That they have no control over the change in the light of a full moon. That contact with silver is a big no-no, an idea introduced into werewolf mythology in the twentieth century. Now we have a few different scenarios to look at:
Werewolf becomes infected. While it would seem that many of the traditional zombie’s faculties are impaired, keep in mind that the ol’ primitive reptilian brain is still alive and kicking. Might a lycanthrope’s augmented hearing, smell and night vision be retained? A zombified werewolf could have a fearful advantage over its “normal” pack brethren, and the tricks that once made life bearable for survivors could become obsolete. This is assuming that the zombie’s body can still handle the trauma of the change from man to wolfman (or wolfwoman, as the case may be). If it can, though, imagine the trouble: you’ve got a barricaded shelter and the zombies shambling randomly about in the street don’t seem aware of your presence. But then, as dusk falls, one of the zombies snaps to attention. Looks right at you. Begins to transform.
Not only do you have to deal with the super-zombie, the others are going to follow its lead – maybe they’ve even learned to pay heed to an “alpha’s” movements. In my novel Empire’s End, zombies begin falling into an animalistic pack order, and I’ve always wondered if this might be the ultimate course of undeath - rather than recalling aspects of their former humanity Bub-style, what if they begin behaving more like our primitive ancestors? At any rate, with a werewolf in the mix this seems like a greater possibility.
What to do with the wer-zombie? If they are still vulnerable to silver, that may present a simple way to end the curse; to be more specific, a silver headshot is probably in order. If the technology existed we might want to tag the werewolf zombies and see if we can track the phenomenon. As with vampires, sometimes in werewolf lore there’s a Wolf Zero whose death will revert all other infected to their previous state. If we could map the spread of the curse then maybe we could trace it back to its point of origin.
Alternately, what if a werewolf attacks a zombie? Seems a backwards proposal, but maybe a lycanthrope starved for living flesh would resort to picking at that walking meat market. Surely the werewolf risks catching a ZTD, but could it transmit its own curse into a dead person? Could the werewolf infection reach the zombie brain and affect it, or is the gray matter of a rotter fixed in its nature? I sure hope so, or else we are going to be in need of more wolfsbane than Willie Nelson has weed. And I am assuming he has a ton of weed.
We only covered a narrow range of zombies and wolves. There are a lot of different lycanthropes in fiction and all sorts of possibilities in a zombie-wolfman crossover. Let me know what you’d do in this hyper-apocalyptic scenario! I’d also recommend checking out the Pavlov’s Dogs series by D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan.
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Suggestions for future versus scenarios? Tweet me @daviddunwoody – or use the Facebook page for my Permuted zombie series: https://www.facebook.com/empireseries. You can also get ahold of me through www.daviddunwoody.com.