Over on deviantart, I asked my zombie questions. I got such interesting replies, I thought I’d keep track of them here. WARNING: Gross topic.
1. What exactly causes the zombie outbreak? A plague? A curse?
One answer: In theory it’s most likely a plague. Some kind of virus or parasite that affects the nervous system and renders the person brain-dead except for being on an “autopilot,” or their basic movement instincts.
Ironically, if a person dies and starts turning into a zombie, you’ve got something like 24 hours to run for your life because rigor mortis will set in and the zombie can’t move until the muscles deteriorate enough. 😄
And depending on how the virus or parasite affects the nervous system, it may just be stuck on “move” forward. So if you smack a zombie and get it to turn in a different direction, it has no choice but to continue in that direction.
Another answer: A plague, a curse OR magic works, though ‘zombie apocalypse’ tends to be tied to disease, otherwise it’s generally treated as a necromancer taking over the world. I guess you could have the necro working from the shadows though, perhaps with his original servants spreading a curse by biting?
I would say a unicorn being needed suits curse or magic better in my opinion, particularly if it started from a cursed place the unicorn needs to bless. As a random note, phoenix tears are meant to cause all ills (except death), so that might be another way to cure the curse/disease.
Yet another answer: From what I’ve seen, typically zombies are created by some sort of virus or disease. In the Survival Guide it’s a virus that only affects humans…bitten animals will just die from the bite, but not be infected. Other stories handle it differently…I think I Am Legend for example had not-quite-zombies that were also affected by a disease, but it would also affect animals as well. Sometimes people can be immune to such viruses (although it’ll be rare, or require a vaccination, or something). Sometimes not. Sometimes there is a cure, sometimes not–in the case of the latter mercy killing tends to become frighteningly common. But disease generally seems to be the most common.
Consensus: Disease is #1, parasites is #2, curse is #3.
2. Are zombies reanimated corpses, or are they diseased people?
Depends on the above.
3. Why are zombies so intent on devouring the living?
One answer: It primarily seems to be instinct, at least as far as I’ve seen. I’ve never seen any cases of zombies actually needing sustenance. They tend to be dead or undead, so they don’t really need flesh; in fact Survival Guide had a few instances of zombie bodies actually rupturing because they don’t really have digestive systems or anything, so their stomachs or throats would get packed full of flesh and then just burst. In the case of the virus-cause option, it might just be the virus itself trying to survive–it’s necessary to bite and pass on the virus to other living beings.
Another answer: Instinct. It is usually explained that they can sense their food because they are warm living body masses.
Another answer: If the disease is viral in nature, then they’re probably driven to eat people to keep the virus alive within them. The disease can only live so long on one person’s body.
Yet another answer: I think others have described it better than me, though I like the soul theory, that they do so to sustain themselves, get extra power, a speed boost etc. There’s also the option of a really silly command being given to them they all follow blindly such as spread or conquer or kill.
Consensus: Instinct, virus drive, or necromancer command.
4. Taking that to the next logical step, if zombies prefer brains and other soft organs, why don’t they eat each other first?
Consensus: They’re programmed to look only for living food. The virus/parasite doesn’t want to destroy itself so it only targets new hosts.
(All these arguments seem weak to me, but okay. Only one person agreed that since they’re dead, they shouldn’t need to eat at all.)
5. What makes a fast zombie verses a slow zombie?
Best answer: In theory: their metabolism. This also would determine the way to kill them. Aerobic metabolism (using the heart and lungs) will produce far more ATP and glycogen and cause them to move faster when needed. Anaerobic metabolism (making energy without oxygen) will cause them to move slower and with less energy. If they’re running on aerobic metabolism, then you can shoot them through the heart and they won’t be able to function. If they’re running on anaerobic metabolism, then you have to sever the spinal cord because shooting them through the heart isn’t going to do anything (since they’re not using it).
6. Wouldn’t local wildlife feast on the undead? (Crows, vultures, dogs, cats, ants, anything that eats dead things). And if they did, would they get infected/cursed?
One answer: In theory it’s a possibility. Or the zombies could produce some form of hormone or chemical that keeps them away. As for whether the animals would be infected or it, it depends on the versatility of the virus or parasite. If its only targeted towards humans than the animals can eat all the infected flesh they want and not be harmed. But if its transferable between humans and animals (like rabies is), then they would be infected from directly ingesting the virus or parasite or from just being in physical contact with it. It could also only affect certain classes, such as mammals, reptiles and/or birds. It might be interesting to have animals be the carrier of the virus or parasite, and a bite from them to the human is the transfer.
Consensus: Depends on the method of zombification. Sometimes it transfers to wildlife, sometimes it doesn’t. Having the animals eat the zombies is too convenient, so everybody tries to find some reason why they wouldn’t.
7. Is there any reason for zombies to only hunt at night?
Good answer: It makes more sense for them to come out at night if they’re cursed, assuming that the dark powers are more powerful on them at night.
Biologically, its possible that after becoming undead, the zombies become more sensitive to UV light. The virus or parasite may render the melanin in their skin nonfunctional so they’re skin burns off if they come out when the sun is out. There are cases of some people who actually have conditions that don’t allow them to go out into sunlight because they’re so vulnerable to UV. They literally get 3rd degree burns on their skin. Or they’re sensitive to high light concentrations (it ruins their eyesight possibly, because it would be affecting the melanin in their eyes, assuming melanin is nonfunctional).
Or they could just be nocturnal. The virus/parasite may rewire their brain to react just like true nocturnal creatures do (their brains are hardwired so as soon as the sun goes down they wake up).