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Chapter Six: A Tor.com Original

“Chapter Six,” by Stephen Graham Jones, is an anthropological zombie story about Crain, a grad student, who has a theory of mankind’s evolution. As he and his former professor scavenge on bone marrow left behind by the local zombie horde, he makes his well-reasoned argument.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by consulting editor Ellen Datlow.

They were eighty miles from campus, if miles still mattered.

It had been Dr. Ormon’s idea.

Dr. Ormon was Crain’s dissertation director. If dissertations still mattered.

They probably didn’t.

Zombies. Zombies were the main thing that mattered these days.

Crain lowered his binoculars and turned to Dr. Ormon. “They’re still following Ninety-Five,” he said.

“Path of least resistance,” Dr. Ormon said back.

The clothes Crain and Dr. Ormon were wearing, they’d scavenged from a home that had had the door flapping, the owners surely scavenged on themselves, by now.

Dr. Ormon’s hair was everywhere. The mad professor.

Crain was wearing a paisley skirt as a cape. His idea was to break up the human form, present a less enticing silhouette. Dr. Ormon said that was useless, that the zombies were obviously keying on vibrations in the ground; that was part of why they preferred the cities, and probably had a lot to do with why they were sticking mostly to the asphalt, now: they could hear better through it.

Crain respectfully disagreed. They didn’t prefer the cities, it was just that the zombie population was mimicking preplague concentrations. Whether walking or just lying there, you would expect the dead to be pretty much where they died, wouldn’t you?

Instead of entertaining the argument, Dr. Ormon ended it by studying the horde through their one pair of binoculars, and noting how, on asphalt, there was no cloud of dust to announce the zombies’ presence.

Sophisticated hunting techniques? A rudimentary sense of self and other?

“Do horde and herd share a root?” Crain asked.

He’d been tossing it back and forth in his head since the last exit.

“We use horde for invaders,” Dr. Ormon said, in his thinking-out-loud voice. “Mongols, for example.”

“While herd is for ungulates, generally.”

“Herd mentality,” Dr. Ormon said, handing the binoculars back. “Herd suggests a lack of intelligence, of conscious thought, while horde brings with it aggressiveness. Or, at the very least, a danger to the society naming those invaders.”

Then no, the two words only sounded similar.

Crain could accept this. Less because he had little invested in a shared etymology, more because the old patterns felt good, felt right: teacher, student, each working toward a common goal.

It was why they were here, eighty miles from campus.