I had told Steve Berman some months ago I was unlikely to write a story for his forthcoming Prime Books anthology Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages. It’s true I happily published Dayna Ingram’s delicious zombie romp Eat Your Heart Out as BrazenHead’s first title but, as Dayna noted in her acknowledgments, I had to overcome my distaste for the trendy monstre du jour to do it. Few of the classic horror-fiction tropes engage me—horror fiction itself is about the only genre of the fantastic I actively avoid. I just don’t get the appeal of being scared or grossed out.
When Steve kept nudging, I suggested I might be able to raise a little bit of enthusiasm for a story involving actual Haitian or West African zombis, which are not at all what George Romero and Dayna Ingram have led you to expect. No go. Readers want the real, shambling, rotting, brains-devouring thing, I was testily informed. So I let it lie with no regret.
Two weeks ago—was it three?—Steve came back at me. First he provided me with a link to the Wikipedia entry on Al-Hakim bi Amr al-Lāh, sixth caliph of the Fatimid dynasty. Then he explained his intention to beef up the historical narrative of Zombies with a series of 500-word flash fictions (“connective tissue,” he called them) reinterpreting various historical enigmas as early outbreaks in the zombie apocalypse. My assignment was to transform the ghūls of Arab folklore into something like zombies and make them responsible for al-Hakim’s disappearance on the night of 12/13 February 1021 CE.
Even as I tumbled down a Wikipedia hole, I blustered out my stubborn and well rehearsed objections to flash fiction*, bolstering those by asserting the religio-politico-historical background couldn’t possibly be addressed in fewer than 3,000 words. Fine, Steve wrote back, write 3,000.
So I did. (Actually, almost 6,000.)
“The Hyena’s Blessing” will appear in Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages, scheduled to be released by Prime Books in August 2013.
* In doubtless unfair essence, “I write proper stories, not anecdotes or prose poems.”