The first to hit the news, of course, was Zombie Elvis. To the delight of loyal fans and conspiracy theorists, he emerged from his Memphis tomb looking very well-groomed for a corpse, hips dipping and swaying as he tried to walk. Security cameras and cell phones caught his first steps, right up until he began feeding.
The intense news coverage, which led to timely re-airings of Elvis movies and concert footage, was just about the worst thing that could have happened, given subsequent discoveries.
The National Guard was called in to contain the king of rock, who had gorged himself on 26 victims by the time they corralled him with riot shields.
Then Zombie Hitler hit the news scene, and coverage of cops clubbing the corpse of an aging musician cut to helicopters chasing through the Black Forest.
The Onion headline as usual beat out the serious news sources, succinctly stating, “Hitler!” With the subheading: “All Forum Threads Ended, Forever”. This sparked a debate over Godwin’s Law and whether it still applied. (Referring to the 1990 decree by Mike Godwin that all internet discussions eventually refer to Nazis or Hitler, with the corollary that once Nazis are invoked, the discussion has degenerated past usefulness.)
After Hitler, Zombie Carl Sagan and Zombie Kurt Cobain lacked the impact you would have normally expected.
All over the United States and Europe, celebrities were rising from the grave. (Zombie Ghandi and Zombie Bob Marley were notable exceptions to the largely Anglocentric zombie uprising.) Hollywood was the most affected, and all agreed it was a tragedy when Bette Midler was devoured by Bette Davis in her own living room.
There was an anxious vigil over Midler’s body, but when Hank Williams tore the arms off Hank Williams, Junior, who bled to death on the way to the hospital, the world was relieved to have positive proof that no newly-dead celebrities were rising to join the hordes. It was, apparently, a one-time thing.
The media spun with theories, and a little-known blog post was ignored in the vast sea of more famous people’s opinions, until one of said famous people followed a link to it off Facebook and made the world aware of the apology of one James Williams.
“I am so, so sorry,” he wrote. “Like, I’d kill myself, if I were that kind of person. I just wanted to make Mr. Rogers live forever. The spell was supposed to bring the most-loved people in our culture back to life. I probably shouldn’t have put Night of the Living Dead in the pile of cultural texts to be sacrificed. I am so, so sorry.”
Mr. Williams was quickly apprehended by the FBI, but could provide no insight on how to kill the zombies. They could be stopped temporarily, bludgeoned, cut, dismembered, but they kept coming with supernatural strength and tenacity.
The Memphis fire department tried torching Elvis. His ashes re-formed.
But then Sean Penn decapitated Zombie Orlan Wayland in Pasadena. The civic-minded star had been fishing when he’d seen the zombie chasing children on the beach and had stepped in to defend them with a paddle. Not only did Orlan fall to a minor stroke from a minor weapon, but unlike other zombies attacked in much the same manner, he stayed decapitated, just a corpse again.
It didn’t take long to figure it out – the living Sean Penn, however b-list he had become, was a stronger celebrity these days than the man who had once played Charlie Chan.
Across America, the call went up to actors, singers and world figures. Vladimir Putin had the strength of internet memes behind him when Zombie Anastasia attacked, but he was powerless against the international popularity of Zombie Yuri Gagarin. It was clear: only a more popular celebrity could defeat a celebrity zombie. (Though it was considered in poor taste when columnists speculated that Bette Midler could have avoided her fate with another singing role.)
Building on the fame of having been the first televised, Zombie Elvis stomped through Memphis and the Grand Old Opry. No nearby celebrity could stand in his way. Everyone thought Miley Cyrus would have lasted longer.
It was a talent agent in Memphis who suggested herding zombies toward each other to get them to fight. The zombies ignored each other unless they were forced to actually touch, so it took several tries, and the lives of dozens of key grips and roadies, to get a zombie-on-zombie fight.
It was worth the spectacle of wranglers with their long poles trying to line up the undead gladiators. Zombie-baiting took the world by storm with competing shows like Celebrity Dead Match and 28 Dates Later.
Zombie Elvis took out Zombie Vincent Price in a televised spectacular that ended up being more gross than interesting. The networks had pinned their hopes on the irony of a horror actor turned zombie, but even the use of his monologue from “Thriller” in the pay-per-view ads hadn’t boosted Price’s popularity to where he stand a chance against Elvis.
Some shows were shut down as public scandals were raised over the lengths gone to keep zombies alive until a good prime-time slot.
Taylor Swift appeared on national television, resplendent in leather battle armor and a realistic zombie-head hat. (At least, everyone hoped it was merely realistic.)
Blinking back tears, she read from hand-held notes, “We strive for fame for many reasons, but today at last, fame itself can serve a higher purpose. I’m calling on everyone on the Forbes Top 100 Celebrities list to stand up and defend humanity. Slaying zombies is the new black, the new pink, the new everything. Do it or be ‘out’.”
Some said it was just a bid for more fame for herself – to get her up over the threat of Bette Davis, who was still at large. Still, it made interesting television as A-list celebrities went head-to-head with their predecessors. Vegas odds-makers fell over themselves in their eagerness to post rankings.
A new, armed Hollywood handily weeded out the old B-listers until only the iconic survived – Zombie Marilyn, Zombie Charlie Chaplin, Zombie Elvis.
The fear calmed. Sure, many people had died, but the show was amazing! Which celebrity would be famous enough to defeat Marilyn? Madonna and Cher both refused to compete – wisely. Swift appeared on the scene with Oprah and J-Lo, the top two celebrities on the Forbes 100. It was a star-studded cast that producers would sell their toupees to get, and because it was charity work, they didn’t have to pay a dime.
It could have turned catty, (millions of pay-per-viewers hoped it would), but in the end, the ladies worked together, and Oprah took the head of Marilyn Monroe using a katana from her private collection.
In the after-action interview, a grim Oprah said simply, “Now I’m going to Graceland.”
It seemed that the situation was in the capable hands of the film and television industry, who tried not to look too gleeful in public, but there was a dark side to popularity – notoriety. No one liked Hitler, but frankly, everyone had heard of him. The farthest corner of the world, the lowliest village, had someone who could tell you who Adolf Hitler was, maybe not accurately, but enough to power the most fearsome zombie in Europe. The History Channel dropped all World War II coverage, (which left them with fishing and that catapult show), but it was to no avail.
Jennifer Lopez could not face him. Justin Bieber died trying to confront him. Sadly, his death made his popularity soar when he could no longer use it.
Zombie Hitler was a mean bastard: crafty, and unlike most zombies, he was armed. He had his trusty revolver, seemingly joined to his moldering hand.
Eyes of the world turned to Taylor Swift, who, in her role as International Zombie Slayer, was predicted to score much higher in next year’s Forbes Top 100. Captured en route to Germany, her gore-and-rhinestone-bedecked battle-axe in hand, an exhausted Swift told reporters, “Oh, he’s going down. It’s only a matter of time. By the way, tell Putin – Yuri got away.”
The German security forces had corralled Zombie Hitler into an uninhabited area and were only just keeping him contained. Still, the world tuned in via blimp and helicopter as Swift took the field in a stunning gown made from vintage army uniform patches.
Taylor was no fool. She had an assistant take out Hitler’s shooting hand from a distance with a rocket launcher. She ran in for the kill, her decorated war-axe gleaming in the sun. Hitler’s head cleaved with a squish and crunch of bone. The world had a moment of breathless hope, but when Hitler’s head re-grew, Swift tossed the axe and ran for it.
In a press conference that night, dressed in a modest gown of draped white fabric, she declared, “This is no longer a problem that mere entertainment celebrity can deal with. We need true celebrities – people who have done great things. Real things. I know in my heart that there is one man on this planet who can defeat Hitler. A man whose name is world-renowned. Neil Armstrong, will you help us?”
The call went out to southern Ohio, where an ageing astronaut lived his quiet life. A man known worldwide for setting foot on the moon. A man whose barber once sold his discarded hair. A man who would have someone buy his discarded hair.
Neil wrote Taylor Swift a formal letter, saying he just wasn’t sure he could do it, but thanks.
“I don’t get around much, these days.” He wrote. “Please understand; I would if I could.”
“We need to up our game, somehow,” Taylor said. “If real heroes won’t step forward, we’re going to have to get heroic!”
Sadly, her proposal to send a celebrity to the moon was deemed too expensive, even when she offered to do a music video from the international space station with Steven Hawking and Neal Degrasse Tyson.
Her single “Ad Astra (Right Now)” was a big hit, and they were able to fake the footage in a Hollywood set, but it wasn’t enough. Though she finally took down the King of Rock in a singing and dancing extravaganza, when she returned to Germany, Hitler smacked her aside and she had to be airlifted to the hospital. All seemed lost.
And then, from out of the west, a lone figure appeared.
Perhaps he did it to stop the embarrassing displays of celebrities trying to make themselves “Hitler-worthy.” Perhaps he did it to stop the phrase “Hitler-worthy” from entering common parlance.
Most likely, it was because of Yuri Gagaran. Just the day before, Jennifer Lopez had confirmed her place in stardom when she disemboweled the beloved cosmonaut after a long battle. Images of her in mid-punch, gore splattering forth from the immortalized flight suit, captured all the news sites and magazines. Worse still was the headline on Variety: “The Triumph of Face Over Space”. Surely, a fellow pioneer could not let that go unchallenged.
Whatever the reasons, and he kept them to himself, Neil Armstrong bought himself a commercial airline ticket to Germany.
Hitler had broken through containment and was being hastily re-corralled outside of Düsseldorf. They had chosen a soccer field as the center of their herding operations, which consisted of lines of flame-throwers and trails of cauliflower heads. (At a farm near Berlin, at the cost of farmer’s lives, it was discovered that these appealed to the former vegetarian and current brain-eater.)
The astronaut brought no weapons. “I was on a plane,” he said to reporters.
The German army offered him anything they could provide. Taylor Swift offered her axe. Oprah had her katana Fed-Exed. He declined. “No, thanks. I figure if this ‘power of fame’ thing works, it’ll either work or it won’t.”
Besides, Taylor had taken out Hitler’s gun.
And so it was that Neil Armstrong set foot on a German soccer field to go mano-a-mano with the reanimated corpse of Germany’s famous dictator.
He wore his best suit, his hands at his sides, like an aged gunslinger, waiting. At the other end of the field, Hitler lost interest in the cauliflower he was chewing and turned his head.
Even the advertisers could barely stand to watch.
Hitler dropped his cauliflower and shambled forward. Translators reported his garbled German meant, roughly, “Arrrryan braiiins.” His fingers reached for the blue-eyed astronaut.
Armstrong waited for Hitler to get to him; he wasn’t a young man anymore. Fortunately, zombies were slow, and it gave him time to make a few practice punches and check his footing.
His first swing did nothing to Zombie Hitler, who continued forward, reaching for Neil’s neck, but his second, a gut-punch, bowled the historical figure over. Gasping for breath, Neil recovered to deliver a last, bone-rocking blow to Hitler’s jaw, and the zombie’s head flew clean off.
Neil hit the ground before the top of Hitler’s corpse, and troops rushed forward to aid him.
Cameras zoomed in tight on the crumpled body and rotting head. Nations held their breath, and then, slowly, released it.
A trembling Armstrong was escorted from the field. He said, reportedly, “I’ll be damned, it worked.”
He requested only to be taken to the airport in time for his flight back to Ohio.
Marie Vibbert's work has been in Analog and Asimov’s and her short story won “Story of the Year” for Apex Magazine in 2014. She has ridden 15% of the roller coasters in the United States and plays for the Cleveland Fusion women’s tackle football team.