“I like stuff that isn’t the same every time you look at it.” —Carly, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”
Even if Carly from “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” hadn’t said this, it would be a good story. But she did say it. And I think the author, Kelly Link, knew what she was doing when she put those words into Carly’s mouth. She was giving a nod to what makes a good story. Something that is so complex, it can’t help but change every time you read it.
Because that’s the best kind of story, isn’t it? The kind that’s so true to life that it’s alive. And it changes. Good stories change with you. Good stories change you. They’re different every time you look at them.
And that’s what “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is. It’s complex and complicated and tough to get in a single reading. (But such a blast to read every time.) It’s the story that keeps giving.
I first read this story in The Living Dead anthology. It’s a thick tome, packed with zombie tales of all varieties. These aren’t B-movie hack-job zombies either. Most of these tales have a cerebral, literary vibe. They’ll make you think. Literary zombies.
“Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is one of the best shorts in the collection.
It’s about this guy named Soap. Soap just got out of prison. He’s feeling lonely, so Soap decides to crash a college party in the suburbs. He cooks himself dinner from their supplies in the kitchen, makes pithy observations about suburban life, chats up a girl named Carly, and thinks through his exit strategy in the event of a zombie apocalypse. For every room he moves through.
Are you already in on this? If not, you can read “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” right here.
So, yes. It’s slippery, this tale. And every time I think I understand it, I notice something new. And when I try to hold down that something new long enough to get a good look at it, the entire thing slides through my fingers and rockets down the hall.
Like that time I noticed that Soap’s real name is Arthur. And that people call him Art. And suddenly everything he said about art means something different. So I read it again.
And then I noticed that Carly lies about who she is just as much as Art does. They lie about who they are. False names and contact lenses. And I wonder what his survival instinct is all about. Because when he talks about his family and growing up, he never hints at trauma. So why does he feel some constant threat? Why does he have a zombie contingency plan?
I mean—his zombie contingency plans—maybe it’s just anxiety that’s manifested into something he could give a name to. He’s afraid of something. But he can’t put his finger on it. So he calls it zombies. Then I think maybe he did hint at some trauma, and I just missed it. So I read it again.
Art steals things. Steak, paintings, identities, children. You can’t believe anything Art says. He’s an unreliable narrator of the psycho variety. One with split personalities maybe. Or at least dissociative. Because he changes his name and identity every few pages. So, really, maybe he was never Art or Will or Soap or any of them. That makes the story all the more slippery because you can’t believe Art. You have to find clues instead.
There aren’t any zombies in this story. Zombies shamble through the rest of the anthology’s stories in various forms. But this story, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans,” isn’t about zombies.
Why is that?
I’ll have to read it again.