Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Once upon a time, in a mildewed fairytale, there was R. R is a zombie. A well dressed zombie in slacks and a tie, but still a zombie. He and his friend, M, spend their days shambling between the crumbling airport where they and a bunch of other zombies reside, I don't want to say live, because you know, they're zombies, and derelict cities nearby where the living scavenge for supplies. The living don't live in the cities anymore but make their homes in sports arenas and other large spaces with high walls where they can live in relative safety. R and some friends, using the term loosely, have a meal, but R doesn't enjoy it. He doesn't like being a zombie. No one can remember their names or speak more than a few syllables or read or do anything really but shuffle and eat. After eating and bringing back leftovers for the Boneys, the zombies that are so far gone that they're just scarily powerful skeletons, R encounters a lady zombie. They pass each other a few times on the conveyor belts, immediately fall in love, are wed by the Boneys and given children to raise. Instalove! Instafamily! R feels a twitch of something inside him as he watches his new children play with staplers and calculators like toys, clinging to life in the only way they know how.
It's been a few days and R needs to eat again. M doesn't really want to, he's hanging out with some ladies, but R convinces him and a group of others to go into the city again. They find a group of the living in a building and begin their feast. They're in a kind of frenzy led by R's desperate desire and even though they are outnumbered, they overpower the group because it turns out, they're not seasoned professionals, they're a group of teenagers. R goes after the leader of this group, cracks open his skull like an eggshell and bites into his brain. Eating the brain allows a zombie to relive their victim's memories. With this bite, R becomes Perry Kelvin. He flashes through several memories: eating pizza, moving to the stadium, meeting a beautiful blonde girl named Julie, sleeping with her, realizing he loves her but they don't want the same things anymore, feeling the pain of someone eating his brain. Snapping out of it. Becoming a zombie again. R turns to see Julie right there, M coming after her. He claims her. Mine. R wants to eat her but then something flickers inside him again. Then she throws a knife into his forehead. He says her name, smears zombie blood on her face to hide her living scent, takes her hand, and brings her back home to the airport.
All the zombies at the airport give him a wide berth and looks of confusion and wonder as he escorts Julie to his 747 home. He tells her not eat, keep you safe and puts on a Frank Sinatra record for her to listen to as he goes out to tinker with the Mercedes he's been learning how to drive, or, crash into a Hummer, whatever. Then he goes to visit M in the ladies room where he lives and they share some brain. Not satisfied with that one, R enjoys another bite of Perry Kelvin's brain that he's been carrying around in his pocket. He is 16 year old Perry, sitting with Julie as she writes in a journal. After another bite, they sit reminiscing about airplanes on the roof of the stadium then make love under the setting sun. M shakes R out of his memory and tries to take a bit of Perry's brain, but R refuses and M locks himself inside a toilet stall. As you do. R goes back to his 747 and tries to apologize to Julie for eating Perry, but she doesn't understand his pointing apology. She wants to go home, but R says she has to wait a few days until everyone forgets about her. She wonders aloud why me, and what are you but he only says he's sorry again and leaves the plane to have some more Perry memories: Driving in a car with his dad after his mom died, seeing a zombie, thinking it was sad.
R's wife wakes him up the next day. She drags him to their children eating an old arm, grunts her displeasure at him being a terrible father, and then they take them to school. Five students at a time are taught how to eat a living person. The living die and some dead, too. R goes back to the plane and wakes Julie. She declares she is hungry (for an arm? A leg? No!!) and they go to find her some food. R wants her to stay safe inside his 747 but she goes with him anyway, so he makes her play dead, teaching her how to zombie shuffle, and telling her not to run. She seems to enjoy herself as she pretends to be a zombie and this makes R smile. Well that's new. They find some frozen pad thai, her favorite, and some beer in the airport and enjoy it. R even tries the beer which makes him feel a little woozy, (how can that be?!) and they listen to music together. What a nice first date. Julie teaches him how to drive the Mercedes, too, and they take his kids along. They see the Boneys in an eerie procession and see R's wife with another man, to which he just shrugs. (Stop shrugging, shrugger!) She talks about Perry cheating on her once and about who R killed the day he brought her home. He can't bring himself to tell her it was him that ate Perry, but she says she doesn't blame whoever it was because it was better that he died then. She says something was different about him, that he just quit life. That he wanted to die. She talks about her shittyness too, how she slept with someone for money even though money didn't mean anything anymore. R then goes to the record player and uses a Frank Sinatra record to tell her in someone else's words that she's spectacular just the way she is. She asks for the second time "what are you?" and he leaves her alone on the plane.
R shuffles inside the airport and finds his wife meat slapping with another man. Delightful. This makes him break down and sleep. Zombies don't really sleep, they kind of shut down until they reboot, sometimes this takes hours or days or weeks, but that's all it is. Nothingness. But not this time for R. He dreams of vagaries his own life. He wakes up shortly thereafter and, feeling restless, eats the last bit of Perry's brain. He sees Perry being born and Perry dying. But he doesn't want to see Perry die, why would he want to see that?! Perry speaks to him then, telling him to remember this so he can become something new. Something new? As Perry dies, he has one last memory of listening to the Beatles with Julie. Nothing's gonna change my world. R realizes he doesn't want to die again. He doesn't want to disappear. He wants to stay. He drifts off again.
And wakes to a scream. It's Julie. She tried to leave without him and got overrun by zombies, including M. She's got a hedge trimmer and has beheaded a few zombies and R ripped off someone's arm and used it as a club. He bashed a few heads in too, and punched M in the face. They yell at each other and then the Boneys come with their deep bone resonating eeriness. They show R Polaroids taken of humans killing zombies and zombies eating humans, meaning the circle of life, if they die then we die, etc. They postpone Julie's leaving and go back to the 747. Julie talks about her army general dad wanting to build a wall to keep everyone safe and kill all the zombies, but Julie hopes for something more. They talk about going back to the stadium, and R says he's coming with her. He goes to talk to M, to apologize for smashing his face in and to tell him he's leaving. M asks what going on with you? and R responses changing. M says, in not so many words, when you figure it out, tell me. R and Julie leave, but it's weird. Everyone is there watching them. M has come to escort them, and it's a good thing because the Boneys come too. And they are angry. They don't want Julie to leave, they want her to die because that's what's supposed to happen. So they attack. R, Julie and M run and fight off the Boneys. R and Julie run to the Mercedes and M leads the Boneys on a wild zombie chase. They manage to drive through a bunch of them as they speed away from the airport.
It starts raining as they drive the convertible away, so they stop at an abandoned neighborhood for the night to warm up. Not that the cold bothers R, but it does bother Julie and R is considerate. Julie stole the Boneys Polaroid camera and takes a picture of R and comments on his eyes being creepy but beautiful. They are a pewter grey, not cloudy like the other zombies. She realizes that he hasn't eaten anyone since he rescued her and that he's changing. She invites him to sleep in the king size bed with her, but just to sleep. Obviously. R has a vision, like when he eats brains, but he's been out of brains for awhile now. He sees Perry meeting Julie's dad, General Grigio, for the first time. Perry tells him he wants to be a gardener, but Mr. Grigio doesn't seem to think that's good enough. Then Perry is talking to R about not feeling bad for killing him and then Julie is talking to Perry about feeling left out of their conversation, so that vision wraps up and we head to the beach. Julie, Perry and their friend Nora are talking about what they want to do when they grow up. Perry, a writer, Nora a nurse and Julie a teacher, and painter and singer and poet and pilot. R manifests then and tells her that she'll do those things and she asks if he'll be able to let her go when the time comes. Will he have to? Shrug.
Julie sneaks away the next day after talking to her Dad on the phone. She asks R to get some gas for the car and while he's gone, she leaves. But she leaves the Polaroids behind and a note that R can't read. He starts shuffling back to the airport, fully aware that the Boneys are going to kill him when he gets back. He gets chilly and tired on the walk (weird) and stops to rest and has another dream. In this one, Julie tells him he's embarrassing and needs to grow up and get over her, which makes him angry. When he wakes up, he finds M and a group of others. They got kicked out of the airport because they were different and the Boneys are going crazy. M is dreaming and remembering now, too. Things are changing. Because of R and Julie. R says he wants to go to the stadium to save Julie and M and the others offer to go along to help him get inside.
Perry shows R some more of his life, a time crushing on Julie and asking if it's even worth it. Telling his dad about Julie and asking if it's stupid to fall in love, learning that it's not. Why is he showing R this? Because neither of them are ready to disappear. Then his dad dies and he's an orphan and wondering what the future holds. He says fear. Julie says hope... R and M have created a plan for R to pretend to be human, even to the point of putting on cologne, and to run to the stadium, screaming that there are zombies behind him. The guards will be distracted by the zombies and he'll be able to get inside. And it works! Inside the stadium is a salvaged ramshackle city. R walks past streets and somehow knows about what happened on those streets. Where the people fled after the world ended, where they made plans, where the schools were built. He sees a school that's oddly like the zombie school his children went to, but opposite. He asks some kids if they know where Julie lives. They tell him and ask if he's a zombie and they are fine with his response of Julie doesn't think so. He finds her on the balcony of her house, recording a voice memo, pretty much reciting the Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? speech. He calls up to her and, after an initial shock and then being found out by Nora, he goes inside. Nora asks a few questions about him being a zombie, but not even really smelling like one, about how he got in the stadium and about his eating habits. She finally goes to sleep and Julie talks to R about wanting to get away. He says they can't run away but have to fix things. And just how do they do that? He almost reads a quote from Imagine that Julie has on her ceiling. It's easy if you try.
Perry's dad died and Perry didn't take it well. He shows R a visit with Colonel Rosso, telling him he wants to work security because his dreams of being a writer are stupid and nothing matters anymore. When they wake up the next day, R declares he wants to see the city so they have a movie montage of getting him presentable. Actually, they don't and he says he wishes it would have been that, but come on, it was totally the book version of a movie montage. As they walk around, Julie and Nora point things out and talk about society and why, even though they're basically starving, people keep having babies. Julie says it's about passing on their legacy. They see the schools and go to the graveyard where Julie introduces R to her mother, or her mother's empty grave. She says her mother left when things got bad because why would she want to stay? She cries and R holds her, tells her she's worth living for, and sings some Sinatra that makes her laugh. As they're leaving the graveyard, R gets the strangest feeling and walks straight to Perry's grave and falls in.
He sees Perry's last day. Perry preparing to go out on his first mission as leader. First and last as he wasn't planning on coming back, but then Nora and Julie signed up to go, too. Then he's an imaginary Perry, talking to R about getting ready for what's next because things are changing. Is R ready? What's he even doing to prepare? He's trying, he says, isn't that enough? When they leave the graveyard, they are met by General Grigio. Uh oh. He recognizes R as the person who slipped in and starts to handcuff him to detain him, but Julie convinces her dad that R is Archie, Nora's new boyfriend from a nearby city. Whew, that was close!
After that close call, they go to The Orchard, which is not an actual Orchard but a pub, or, what passes for a pub in a place that doesn't have alcohol. They get grapefruit juice and Julie sneaks off to the bathroom to add vodka. While she's gone, Nora tells R why Julie says he was HER boyfriend, so General Grigio would pay less attention to him. She says he reminds her of Perry, which yikes, yeah, because he ate his brain. He reveals this to Nora and she said she figured, but that he should tell Julie because she wouldn't blame him. It's not his fault he ate Perry's brain. It was the plague. But he's getting better now. Julie comes back and they drink. R actually gets drunk and has to pee! Such human things! When he comes back from the bathroom, some sleazy bar guys are being sleazy on the girls, but they are handling themselves well, but then ask R to give them a minute. He steps outside. He listens to Julie's tape recorder that was in his pocket and learns that Julie was thinking of turning her dad in because he wasn't right anymore. Drinking too much, not a good person. The sleazy bar guys come out then and talk about paying Julie for sex and R bashes their heads in. Okay, not literally, but close. He drunkenly shambles away, right into some security guards. They're talking about Julie's dad probably purposefully ruining the merger between their city and another, about killing Fleshies and Boneys, then one leaves to pee. The other notices R looking and sounding exactly like a zombie. He has no choice, he has to kill. He bites the guard and starts to eat him, but then Perry kicks in and makes him barf the guy up. Then he comes back to life as a zombie. Uh oh. R runs.
It's raining now and he makes it back to Julie's house, ruining his nice clean clothes and the makeup from his montage. Julie and Nora arrive shortly thereafter. Julie sits with R under the balcony. She talks about her mom leaving and her dad slipping away and asks if she can kiss R. Before they can kiss, he decides to take her to the orphanage where Perry lived to show her the story he was working on and dedicated to her. Now she knows that he ate Perry's brain, but she's okay about it. They leave the orphanage and as he's about to tell her about eating that security guard, the lights in the stadium turn on and they go into high alert. There's been a breach. They run back to Julie's house and try to figure out what they're going to do. They need to get R out, but that won't be easy with all the guards on high alert. The girls fall asleep but then the phone rings. The call is coming from outside the stadium. It's M. He and a bunch of other changing zombies are outside and want to come in. He tells Julie this, then she and R talk about how they started something and the plague is healing. They need to make a plan to get outside the stadium to meet with M to help heal all the changing zombies that came with him. And that's a great idea, but then…
There's an announcement that the zombie guard has been taken care of, but there's still a zombie somewhere inside and they are doing a sweep. General Grigio comes home and confronts R, noticing that he's wearing makeup. Then he stabs him. And R doesn't bleed. Julie tries to convince her dad that R is changing, that they're changing the world, saving it, but of course he won't listen. He points a gun directly at R's head, but then Julie stabs him and he drops his gun. Nora retrieves it, points it at the general and tells Julie and R to leave. They run through the stadium, followed by Colonel Rosso telling them to stop, but they don't. They have to get outside to M and the others. They find an emergency exit and fling open the door, only to see that the fire escape is gone and there is an eight story drop below them. R makes sure that Julie really wants to go with him and she does, so he wraps himself around her and they jump. They fall through tarps and banners and overhangs but land, relatively unharmed. Well, R is pretty banged up, but he's able to stand and they continue, now outside of the stadium, through the city to find M. Several vehicles come racing out of the stadium toward them, but they are now surrounded by an army of the dead led by M, who is looking less ashen and grey. The zombies surround and protect R and Julie as Colonel Rosso approaches. Julie apologizes and says she can't stay in there anymore, they think they're surviving in there but they're not. Rosso complains that she can't save the world by herself, but she's not by herself. She's got plenty of zombies out there with her.
They make a plan to go back to the airport but as they are turning to leave, another Changed comes running up. He talks to M who relays that they can't go back to the airport because the Boneys are going crazy, killing everyone who is changing. And they are on their way now. They change plans and decide to run into the city to hide. The soldiers will kill the Boneys and they'll all be safe. Right. Or not. R and Julie are attacked almost immediately by a Boney. As R crushes his head, his bone resonating darkness says YOU WILL BECOME US. WE WILL WIN. Yeesh. R stomps on his skull and a terrifying sound comes out, alerting all the Boneys to their location. R and Julie realize that the Boneys are afraid of them, want to stop them from changing everything. They find the Mercedes and take off toward the stadium only to find that it is swarming with Boneys. The soldiers are defeating them, but they keep coming in waves. Rosso let's Julie and R back inside the stadium, thank goodness. They see on the jumbotron that Nora is wanted now, so Julie takes R to where she's probably hiding. The skyboxes. She's there and as they're talking about the Boneys coming, Julie's dad's voice blares through the speakers. He's going just as crazy as the Boneys are about change. They go to the roof to escape.
They see the Boneys taking over. Julie thinks that The plague didn't come from a virus or an attack, but from humans being so selfish and terrible that this is what they've become. The stadium roof begins to close to keep everyone inside as safe as they can be, and then they hear footsteps approaching. Nora holds a gun while Julie and R worry about what they're going to do. They realize it's probably the end so they kiss. R feels the monster inside him coming to snuff out Julie's light but he stops it from happening. He feels Julie doing the same. They have the monster between them and won't let it take over. A surge of agony rushes through R and they're thrown apart. He looks into Julie's eyes and sees them change from beautiful blue to dead pewter grey. But then, they change again from grey to gold. There is a new life energy radiating from them and it's so intense that it stops the battle down below. Then General Grigio arrives on the rooftop with Colonel Rosso. He sees Julie's eyes have changed and demands that Rosso shoot both of them, but he refuses. So he pulls his own gun on them. Rosso tries to take the gun, but gets his arm broken and is knocked aside by the General, so then he stabs him in the ankle. Grigio falls and slides to the edge of the roof, but makes no effort to get back up. A Boney climbs up his body and pulls him to his feet on the ledge. They stare at each other as the Boney slowly eats him. Grigio does nothing to stop it. Julie shoots the Boney and it falls off the roof, taking her dad with it. As he falls, his skin falls away too and he lands on the ground as a Boney and shatters. Then the rest of the Boneys just… walk away.
Rosso apologizes to Julie for what just happened, but she's okay. He says he's happy to know R and then he and Nora leave the rooftop, planning a stadium wide meeting for the next day to figure out what's going on and what they're going to do next. R and Julie stare at each other, then Julie notices with a gasp that R is … bleeding. They kiss and hug and Julie feels R's heart beating. He's alive! He gets a final message from Perry about how they both won their own battles and that things are scary, but what wonderful thing didn't start out as something scary? Soon, the half-dead are coming inside the city, led by Nora and Rosso. They are going to study the plague and help to heal it. There are some people from the stadium there, too, and Nora and Rosso encourage them to talk to each other. Nora is approached by one who tells her she's the prettiest nurse he's ever seen and introduces himself as Mmmm... arcus.
Back at the airport, R's children are running and playing with other children. They're coming back to life. Frank Sinatra is playing through the PA system. A zombie woman shuffles through the airport to find a wall of pictures. She focuses intently on one of a little blonde girl that looks an awful lot like Julie and her father and mother at a water park. Her fingers start to twitch in time with the music. Meanwhile, R and Julie are resting in the grass. Julie asks if R thinks things will ever go back to the way they were, but he hopes they don't. She asks him if he remembers his name. He doesn't. And he doesn't want to. This life, the one he's living right now, is what's important.