After experiencing a teenage boy's memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and stragely sweet relationship with the victim's human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.
Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.
I wave to M and then break free from the crowd. I have long since acclimated to the Dead’s pervasive stench, but the reek rising off them today feels especially fetid. Breathing is optional, but I need some air.
I wander out into the connecting hallways and ride the conveyors. I stand on the belt and watch the scenery scroll by through the window wall. Not much to see. The runways are turning green, overrun with grass and brush. Jets lie motionless on the concrete like beached whales, white and monumental. Moby Dick, conquered at last.
Before, when I was alive, I could never have done this. Standing still, watching the world pass by me, thinking about nearly nothing. I remember effort. I remember targets and deadlines, goals and ambitions. I remember beingpurposeful, always everywhere all the time. Now I’m just standing here on the conveyor, along for the ride. I reach the end, turn around, and go back the other way. The world has been distilled. Being dead is easy.
After a few hours of this, I notice a female on the opposite conveyor. She doesn’t lurch or groan like most of us; her head just lolls from side to side. I like that about her, that she doesn’t lurch or groan. I catch her eye and stare at her as we approach. For a brief moment we are side by side, only a few feet away. We pass, then travel on to opposite ends of the hall. We turn around and look at each other. We get back on the conveyors. We pass each other again. I grimace and she grimaces back. On our third pass, the airport power dies, and we come to a halt perfectly aligned. I wheeze hello, and she responds with a hunch of her shoulder.
I like her. I reach out and touch her hair. Like me, her decomposition is at an early stage. Her skin is pale and her eyes are sunken, but she has no exposed bones or organs. Her irises are an especially light shade of that strange pewter gray all the Dead share. Her graveclothes are a black skirt and a snug white buttonup. I suspect she used to be a receptionist.
Pinned to her chest is a silver nametag.
She has a name.
I stare hard at the tag; I lean in close, putting my face inches from her breasts, but it doesn’t help. The letters spin and reverse in my vision; I can’t hold them down. As always, they elude me, just a series of meaningless lines and blots.
Another of M’s undead ironies—from nametags to newspapers, the answers to our questions are written all around us, and we don’t know how to read.
I point at the tag and look her in the eyes. “Your… name?”
She looks at me blankly.
I point at myself and pronounce the remaining fragment of my own name. “Rrr.” Then I point at her again.
Her eyes drop to the floor. She shakes her head. She doesn’t remember. She doesn’t even have syllable one, like M and I do. She is no one. But don’t I always expect too much? I reach out and take her hand. We walk off the conveyers with our arms stretched across the divider.
This female and I have fallen in love. Or what’s left of it.
I think I remember what love was like before. There were complex emotional and biological factors. We had elaborate tests to pass, connections to forge, ups and downs and tears and whirlwinds. It was an ordeal, an exercise in agony, but it was alive. The new love is simpler. Easier. But small.
My girlfriend doesn’t talk much. We walk through the echoing corridors of the airport, occasionally passing someone staring out a window or at a wall. I try to think of things to say but nothing comes, and if something did come I probably couldn’t say it. This is my great obstacle, the biggest of all the boulders littering my path. In my mind I am eloquent; I can climb intricate scaffolds of words to reach the highest cathedral ceilings and paint my thoughts. But when I open my mouth, it all collapses. So far my personal record is four rolling syllables before some… thing… jams. And I may be the most loquacious zombie in this airport.
I don’t know why we don’t speak. I can’t explain the suffocating silence that hangs over our world, cutting us off from each other like prison-visit Plexiglas. Prepositions are painful, articles are arduous, adjectives are wild overachievements. Is this muteness a real physical handicap? One of the many symptoms of being Dead? Or do we just have nothing left to say?
I attempt conversation with my girlfriend, testing out a few awkward phrases and shallow questions, trying to get a reaction out of her, any twitch of wit. But she just looks at me like I’m weird.
We wander for a few hours, directionless, then she grips my hand and starts leading me somewhere. We stumble our way down the halted escalators and out onto the tarmac. I sigh wearily.
She is taking me to church.
The Dead have built a sanctuary on the runway. At some point in the distant past, someone pushed all the stair trucks together into a circle, forming a kind of amphitheater. We gather here, we stand here, we lift our arms and moan. The ancient Boneys wave their skeletal limbs in the center circle, rasping out dry, wordless sermons through toothy grins. I don’t understand what this is. I don’t think any of us do. But it’s the only time we willingly gather under the open sky. That vast cosmic mouth, distant mountains like teeth in the skull of God, yawning wide to devour us. To swallow us down to where we probably belong.
My girlfriend appears to be more devout than I am. She closes her eyes and waves her arms in a way that looks almost heartfelt. I stand next to her and hold my hands in the air stiffly. At some unknown cue, maybe drawn by her fervor, the Boneys stop their preaching and stare at us. One of them comes forward, climbs our stairs, and takes us both by the wrists. It leads us down into the circle and raises our hands in its clawed grip. It lets out a kind of roar, an unearthly sound like a blast of air through a broken hunting horn, shockingly loud, frightening birds out of trees.
The congregation murmurs in response, and it’s done. We are married.
We step back onto the stair seats. The service resumes. My new wife closes her eyes and waves her arms.
The day after our wedding, we have children. A small group of Boneys stops us in the hall and presents them to us. A boy and a girl, both around six years old. The boy is curly blond, with gray skin and gray eyes, perhaps once Caucasian. The girl is darker, with black hair and ashy brown skin, deeply shadowed around her steely eyes. She may have been Arab. The Boneys nudge them forward and they give us tentative smiles, hug our legs. I pat them on their heads and ask their names, but they don’t have any. I sigh, and my wife and I keep walking, hand in hand with our new children.
I wasn’t exactly expecting this. This is a big responsibility. The young Dead don’t have the natural feeding instincts the adults do. They have to be tended and trained, and they will never grow up. Stunted by our curse, they will stay small and rot, then become little skeletons, animate but empty, their brains rattling stiff in their skulls, repeating their routines and rituals until one day, I can only assume, the bones themselves will disintegrate, and they’ll just be gone.
Look at them. Watch them as my wife and I release their hands and they wander outside to play. They tease each other and grin. They play with things that aren’t even toys: staplers and mugs and calculators. They giggle and laugh, though it sounds choked through their dry throats. We’ve bleached their brains, robbed them of breath, but they still cling to the cliff edge. They resist our curse for as long as they possibly can.
I watch them disappear into the pale daylight at the end of the hall. Deep inside me, in some dark and cobwebbed chamber, I feel something twitch.
1. Where were you born and where do you call home?I was born in Mount Vernon, Washington and spent most of my adult life in Seattle. I'm currently dabbling in Portland, but will probably move back to Seattle in the near future.
I just bought a 1989 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper van which I am equipping for off-road adventure so that I can get even farther away from people than my RV allows.
Life is not worth preserving unless it has meaning. Security at the expense of beauty is a wasted effort.
I wrote a whole book of them speaking for themselves.
Women, by Charles Bukowski: Crude, clumsy, and mostly meaningless, yet inexplicably fascinating.
Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway: A huge book overflowing with genius. Not taut, occasionally meandering, but crammed full of vivid images and ideas executed brilliantly.
Tinkers, by Paul Harding. A heartbreaking recap of a dying man's life, saturated with absolutely gorgeous prose. For once I agree with the Pulitzer committee.
6.What is Your Favorite Wine?
I usually go for a pinot noir or a syrah. A cabernet if it's a good one.
7. Is there an Author that you would really like to meet in person?
You know what they say. You should never meet your heroes.
8. What authors have inspired your work?
All the ones I've read.
I'm writing a sequel to Warm Bodies, and after that, I have many more strange and wonderful stories waiting in line.
I can't answer any question that starts with "What's your favorite--" No one thing could ever summarize what I like.