Of zombies and children

By Anna Sandiford 03/01/2015


“ ’Scuse me, but do dead bodies really look like zombies?”  As questions go at the end of a presentation, this one took me by surprise – but I guess it shouldn’t have done so, given that I was speaking to about 150 primary, intermediate and high school gifted children.  With hindsight, it’s exactly what I should have expected, given that the students had been involved in excavating a corpse all day long.

They weren’t at an actual crime scene – it was Kristin School’s annual Forensic Camp and the organisers decided to step it up in 2014 and bury a ‘body’ for the students/investigators to excavate.  The body was actually a pig carcass (as are often used in Dr Bill Bass Body Farm-type research facilities) and I understand it was an, um, interesting experience.

Now, I know a thing or two about how intermediate-aged boys think.  I also know there is a proliferation of video games involving zombies: Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead, Zombiu (other games are available…).  Lots of them are rated M, R16 or R18 but that doesn’t mean younger players don’t get hold of them – and then have nightmares about them.  Even Plants versus Zombies  is not age-restricted but can add its own flavour of, at the mildest, uncertainty about the undead or, at the other end, the screaming horrors – I’ve fielded my fair share of 2.00am zombie nightmares (P v Z 2 announces on its download page that the zombies are HERE!!).

The question caught me off-guard because I was answering things like “what’s the most gruesome murder case you’ve worked on?” (not telling you, but it involved a hammer) and “how long to I have to study before I can be a forensic scientist?” (depends – 8 years if you do it the long way round like I did but quicker routes are possible).  My first reaction was to laugh – but I’ve handled children’s dilemmas enough now to know that laughter is not an option to what for them is a serious question, so I didn’t laugh.  Instead, I gave him my answer.

So what is the answer?  Dead bodies decay in different ways depending on the environmental conditions, so it’s not all hanging flesh and dripping body fluids.  For a room full of youthful, thinking minds, this is initially interesting fodder but within 2 milliseconds leads to the inevitable question about dessicated remains and Egyptian mummies stumbling around the place.

The next part of the answer therefore is that zombies aren’t actually real.  There is no such thing as the undead.  If there were such a thing as zombies then we would be overrun with them – and we’re not.  If you really want to make sure that zombies don’t become real, be cremated, not buried…

…and yes, it is safe to get out of bed at night.  They will not reach out from under the bed and grab your ankles – because they are not real.