As Halloween is coming up soon I thought I’d share my story; The Zombie Poets. This is the extended version rewritten for a Creative Writing OU course I took a few years back. The original version didn’t include Ant, Dec and Cowell.
The Zombie Poets.
Journal: 1st November. 2012.
I’m sick to death of these bloody Zombies, they are everywhere now. I can’t walk down the street without being accosted by them. They’re in the library, my local pub, and the gym. When I’m at home they squash their faces up against my windows and peer through my letterbox. I can’t escape them. They don’t want to bite me, eat me or rip off bits of my body. It’s much worse than that. They want to recite poetry to me.
It’s a waste of time trying to hide from them, they smell my fear. They know that as soon as I hear the opening line of The Lady of Shalott I break out in a cold sweat. They could sniff me out hiding in a lead box in a disused tin mine.
I wasn’t always afraid of poetry. I used to love Roald Dahl’s Crocky-Wock poem when I was a kid, and that was quite scary. It’s the repetition that gets to me, the dreadful monotone chanting. Hearing one Zombie do it is bad enough, but when there are thirty, fifty…
That’s how they turn you. It’s a slow brainwashing process and its effects are devastating. My girlfriend and my two best friends have already succumbed. One day they were normal people headbanging to Metallica, the next they were sticking their heads through my open bathroom window mumbling some Scottish nonsense about a wee timorous beastie.
I bumped into them again when I went to steal supplies from the looted supermarket. They were staggering along the High Street with about half a dozen others, arms held in front, fixed stare, bits of rotting flesh dropping everywhere. Pam spotted me as I came out with my box of scavenged food. I started to run but tripped over a discarded foot and went my length on the tarmac. Before I could get to my feet my ears were assailed by an horrific recital of a Lord Byron lament.
And thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth,
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon returned to Earth!
After the tenth reprise I could stand it no longer and I kicked, spat and fought my way from beneath their fixed eyes and cruel tongues. I ran like the hounds of hell were on my tail and made it back home, bruised and soiled, but still able to sing Stairway to Heaven.
I took the last cold Budweiser from the fridge and flicked on the TV. The power was still on, thank God. They need the TV and radio stations to stay on air so they can speak to the unconverted in their own homes. There aren’t many of us left in the town now. I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but I hope a resistance movement has been formed. I’ll join up straight away if I manage to find them.
It all started about a month ago. The TV news interviewed a weird guy with stone grey skin wearing a Victorian undertaker’s outfit. He was angry after his poetry reading evening had been cancelled by the local library because of government cuts. He told the reporter that he was a powerful witchdoctor and cursed the town. His not so lovely assistant banged a couple of skulls together and tipped a bowlful of chicken giblets on the floor. The witchdoctor examined them and warned the reporter that the whole town must prepare to meet its doom.
‘Rockville will die slowly,’ he said. ‘You have closed your ears long enough.’
There was a flash of light, a puff of smoke and he was gone. The next day there were reports of a few open graves at the cemetery. Two days after that, the first of the Zombie poets was heard reciting Wordsworth outside the ladies toilets in the town square. Within a week there were hundreds of them, after a fortnight, thousands.
It backfired on the witchdoctor of course. Even he became terrified of his Poets Army. On the Wednesday of the second week he was found dead on the pavement outside the multi- storey car park. Eyewitnesses told the Evening News that he jumped from the top floor screaming ‘No, No, not Dylan Thomas.’
I finished my Bud, and sat on my bed to work out a plan of action. There had to be a way to beat these mumbling misfits. I turned on my PC and fired up Google. Among the thousands of ads for Shelley’s Greatest Hits and The Very Best of Robert Graves I managed to find an uncensored link to YouTube. Two clicks later, Led Zeppelin were belting out A Whole Lotta Love. I flicked a switch and sent the video to my 60” plasma TV. I sighed in relief as Robert Plant and Co drowned out the mangled words of James Joyce.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew I was sat up in bed surrounded by a room full of Zombies doing the Thriller dance. I glanced up at the plasma and groaned as I saw Wacko Jacko lead his troop of undead dancers across the screen. The real Zombies in my bedroom were loving it. I cursed as I realised that I had left YouTube in random play mode. Thriller must have been one of the videos on the hotlist.
There’s not a lot on this earth worse than a bunch of Zombies chanting the verses of long-dead poets at you, but a Michael Jackson video comes pretty close. Gritting my teeth I pushed the nearest Jackolyte aside and dived towards my PC. A few second later MJ had cleared the screen. My sigh of relief stuck in my throat as I realised that next up on the playlist was Leonard Cohen.
As soon as the opening bars of Len’s classic, Halleluiah, hit the speakers, the Zombies stopped dancing and fixed their hollow eyes on the screen. Some fell to their knees; their eyes raised heavenwards, their hands clasped together in supplication. One Zombie with a rotten tooth sticking through a gaping hole in his top lip, wept tears of joy. I took my chance and clicked an item further down the playlist. To my surprise and disgust, Lady Gaga’s face appeared on the screen.
The giant shudder that went down my spine was nothing compared to the reaction of the Zombies. At the first ‘Ra Ra’ of Bad Romance, they were fighting to get out of the door. By the first ‘Oh Oh woah oh,’ chorus there wasn’t a Zombie left in the room.
I was jubilant. I had done it; I had found a way to ward off the Zombie poets. Lady Gaga, the woman I detested most among pop singers had come to my rescue.
For the next few weeks Gaga and I were inseparable. I let my iPod hang loose around my neck so that the tinny, Gaga sounds could be picked up by anyone within ten yards. After a while the Zombies ignored me completely. They even crossed the road when they saw me coming. My joy was almost complete… Almost.
About three weeks after my Eureka moment I began to get the feeling that I was being followed. I stopped dead in the street and turned to find a young girl with a hideously made- up face standing in front of me. She wore a dress made from strips of bacon. She was being followed by a hungry looking pack of dogs.
‘Why are you following me?’ I asked grumpily. The girl looked at me from under thick black lashes and chanted, ‘Ra Ra.’
‘Piss off,’ I snarled, ‘Gaga is mine.’
I turned away and stomped off towards the ransacked off-licence where I had stashed a case of Bud a few days earlier. By the time I came out there were half a dozen Gaga lookalikes staring doe-eyed at me.
‘Ra Ra,’ they chanted. ‘Ah ah ah.’
‘Oh Christ, no,’ I muttered.
The Gagas chanted again, I took a careful step backwards, then another. I wanted to turn and run but it would have meant leaving the Bud and it was getting harder to find.
‘Ra Ra,’ came the chant from behind.
I turned in horror to see a walking bacon factory performing the Bad Romance dance. There was another pork-fest prancing around further down the street. The Ra Ra chant crept into my head pushing all other thoughts away. I tried to concentrate, tried to bring an Alice Cooper song to mind but the blessed words were blocked by the insistent, Ra Ra.
Across the road the Zombie poets looked on sadly. I stared at them, willing them to come to my aid.
With my last ounce of willpower I pulled the iPod from my neck and dropped it to the floor. ‘Please,’ I whispered. ‘Help me.’
The Zombies suddenly stopped chanting. Their leader, dressed in red leather with black dancing shoes and white gloves, held up one arm. The rest were hushed, waiting on his lead. Then with a high-pitched wail, ‘Woo Hoo,’ he leapt out into the road. The Zombies lined up behind him and began the first steps of the fabled Thriller dance.
The Ga Gas reacted to the challenge with a huge roar of ‘Ooh La La.’
I dragged myself behind a set of waste bins and watched in horror as the two hellish armies staged a terrifying dance off in the middle of the High Street.
As I pulled myself to my feet I heard the strains of a new chant coming from the corner of Randall Street. My heart sank as the chant got louder and my fevered brain recognised the full horror of the situation I was about to encounter.
‘Oh Baby Baby…’
Tears of despair rolled down my cheeks as fifty dancers, dressed as schoolgirls, lined up to perform the soul destroying Britney Spears classic, Hit Me Baby One More Time. My head began to spin; I had to do something, and fast. I shouted out a quick prayer, but God, Allah and Buddha must have been on their tea break because no divine help appeared. Sobbing with despair and frustration I staggered back into the High Street.
I leaned against a painted wooden door with a No Entry sign nailed to it and watched the chaos unfold before me. The Gagas moved in from the left, the Britneys from the right. I put my hands to my ears and screamed.
The next thing I know I’m lying flat on my back looking up at two tiny, suited figures.
‘Quick, Ant, shut the door,’ yelled one of them in a thick Geordie accent.
‘Shut that door,’ giggled Ant. ‘Door shut, Dec.’
As I got to my feet Dec climbed onto a chair so he could look me in the eyes. Ant clambered up alongside him.
‘Have you come to see the rehearsal?’ they asked in unison.
‘No, the …’
I was interrupted by a loud bell.
‘Rehearsals are starting,’ yelled Ant. The pair clambered down and ran along a corridor giggling excitedly.
I followed them up a flight of steps and found myself in the wings at the side of a stage. At the centre of the stage a young girl tossed treats to a dancing dog.
‘Brilliant,’ shouted Ant and Dec together. ‘Who’s next?’
‘Subo,’ called a voice from the stalls.
The Scottish diva plodded onto the stage carrying a plate of kebabs. A backing tape started up and she began to warble.
I stuck my fingers in my ears and crept back down the stairs. At the bottom I found a door which led into the theatre. My eyes were immediately drawn to a figure sitting on an ornate, gilded throne. He was wearing an ermine robe and a gold, bejewelled crown. He turned to me as Subo finished wailing.
‘How did you get in here? You weren’t on any of my shows.’
‘Mr Cowell,’ I stuttered. I’m … not a contestant… I’m hiding from the Zombies.’
‘Ah, I see,’ said the media mogul. ‘Well, if you stick with me, son you won’t have to hide much longer.’
I was all ears. ‘Do you have a plan to beat the Zombies?’
Cowell held out his arm towards the motley collection of third-rate singers, balancing acts and dog trainers.
‘This,’ he said, ‘is my BGT X Factor army. As we speak my crack team of panel show judges and media whores are taking control of the nation’s TV studios. The Zombies will be forced off the air and replaced by my fabulous entertainers. We intend to broadcast BGT-X, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. With the use of my advanced brainwashing techniques I should be in control of whole country inside a fortnight.’
Cowell laughed manically. ‘Today ITV, tomorrow, THE WORLD.’
‘Hail, Lord Cowell,’ roared the performers.
I shook my head. I just couldn’t see it working.
‘Subo may be dreadful but she’s not a patch on Britney,’ I said.
‘True, but we have our secret weapon,’ whispered Cowell.
On stage, the BGT-X army had formed a two- line guard of honour. They applauded madly as two young men with hair glued into the shape of a bishop’s mitre leapt onto the stage wearing pied piper style suits and eight-inch heels.
‘IT’S JEDWOOD!’ yelled one.
‘IT’S JEDWOOD,’ agreed the other. ‘I feel a song coming on. Shall we sing, Ed?’
‘You go first, J,’ said Ed, ‘I’ll try to catch you up.’
A backing track started up and the pair began to clomp across the stage as they performed an outrageous version of the Queen classic, We Will Rock You.
‘My God,’ I said. ‘This is truly evil.’
Cowell nodded enthusiastically. ‘Thank you,’ he grinned. ‘Tonight my master plan will be put into operation. Once the Zombies are off the air we’ll have no competition. BGT X will be on every screen in the land by midnight. By teatime tomorrow the streets will be full of Jedwood clones.’
‘You can’t do this, Simon,’ I said. ‘It’s too cruel.’
‘Just watch me,’ he spat. ‘And it’s Lord Cowell to you.’
‘You’re crazy,’ I backed away towards the stage door.
‘They said that about Caligula,’ cried Cowell.
‘Caligula; didn’t he make his horse a senator?’
‘LIES,’ screamed Cowell. ‘GET HIM.’
Jedwood clomped forward menacingly; Subo dropped her plate of kebabs and moved towards me. I ran for the exit with the dancing dog yapping at my heels. I threw the door open and begged the Zombies for help.
On a signal from their leather-clad leader, the Zombies stopped dancing and crossed the road towards me. Bad Romance slowly faded away; the Ra Ra chant replaced by the dreaded poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. The dancing gangs fled in terror as the mournful words of Mrs Lazarus, filled the evening air.
‘I had grieved. I had wept…’
Cowell screamed and turned to run but found his way blocked by his army of misfits.
The Zombies moved forward chanting Duffy. Cowell fell to his knees and begged for mercy. Jedwood were the first to succumb, within seconds they were stomping about, reciting Mary Had A Little Lamb. Ant climbed onto Dec’s shoulders and the diminutive duo began a poetic rendition of the Blaydon Races. The Zombie poets surrounded the grovelling Cowell and bombarded him with Duffy. Five minutes later it was all over.
I was jubilant. I had saved the world from domination by an evil tyrant. I bowed my head and let the poetry wash over me. I was theirs; there was no going back.