Friday, February 22, 2013

Day #1: Taipei, Taiwan

The miniature cars and buses eighty-nine floors below busied about like mindless ants. Like blood vessels coursing through the complex maze of the human body, he though, unaware of the terrible foreshadowing that this sudden, alien thought was bearing. Underneath a pale veil of particles and humidity, and hemmed in by majestic bluish mountains, Taipei was an odd mix of old and new, East and West, neither beautiful nor ugly. The fresco, seen through 360-degree windows, was at once familiar and exotic, he though, as he gently put his hand on the small shoulder of his seven-year-old daughter, who was deeply absorbed scrutinizing some distant object through a long-range telescope.

“Take a look, dad!” Emily, her long blond hair swinging wildly, told him, deep excitement in her voice. Mandy, his wife, had disappeared in the gift shop about half an hour ago, and something told him he should go looking for her. They also had a dinner appointment across town, so they couldn’t dwell much longer. A quick look, and then they’d dive into the rowdy crowd of tourists and try to find her.

He pressed his eye against the lens and looked into the blurry distance. At first, he didn’t know what it was his daughter wanted him to look at. Then, as his eye familiarized itself with the scene, he saw a long plume of dark smoke emanating from a thicket of buildings. A very large fire, he thought, given its size, even from a height of about half a kilometer. People round him also appeared to have caught sight of the fire, as all of a sudden he heard muted screams and gasps. His daughter’s little hand locked into his and squeezed.

Then the smell, a nauseating mixture of unwashed bodies and dead animals, hit him. At the same time, his daughter’s hand squeezed with surprising strength, sending jolts of pain through his fingers. And she screamed, a horrible, blood-curdling wail he’d never heard from her before. Waves of icy water radiating from his heart, he looked away from the telescope. Just before he could swing around to look at his daughter, only to feel the cold clawed hands grip his neck and a set of rotten teeth plunge deeply into the skin, he saw its reflection in the window in front of him. Semi-transparent, in front of the proud mountains, pale high-rise buildings and the growing fire in the distance, it stood, a repugnant mass of gray flesh with oozing wounds and black liquid pouring between its purplish lips. And incongruously, a little red badge on his lapel identifying him as a member of a Chinese tourist group. The little hand squeezed, squeezed, but everything faded to black as the abomination pushed him to the ground and started tearing the flesh from his neck, severing the jugular. The screams became gradually more distant, and then, as the little hand let go, silence.

As she tried to save her father, Emily locked her little arms around the assailant’s neck, only to hear a snap and fall back. In her bloodstained hands she held the visitor’s badge. Instinct for survival kicking in, she ran away into the mad crowd.

Mandy, who’d spent far too much money on a jade necklace, would never have a chance to wear it. Little did the visitors on the eighty-ninth floor realize that 91 floors below, a scene of unprecedented horror was developing, with people one moment enjoying their meals in the sprawling cafeteria, and the next being pulled from their chairs and dragged away by a silent army of half-devoured, limping corpses. It was a frenzy of bloodletting as torn limbs and the blood of hundreds of victims mixed with the stir-fried noodles, dumplings and oyster pancakes.

By the time his heart stopped, the carnage down below had been long over. Slowly, the army of the dead made its way into the shopping mall, turning glitzy stores into mad circuses, and minutes after the act of death, giving rise to a platoon of undead minions wearing the gaudy attire, jewelry and watches of the ultra rich. It took the walking dead several minutes before they figured out how to use the elevators that would take them up the tall building. But up they went, floor by floor, like termites eating dead wood. A lucky few made it out alive. Most didn’t, either becoming prey to the snowballing army, or choosing sudden death — and hopefully escape from after-death horror — by breaking windows and jumping out, or going to the outdoor observatory and skydiving, giving horrified onlookers below a taste of similar acts of despair in a city far, far away by a sunny September day.

* * *

Later that day, when the nation learned of the horror at Taipei 101, the government sprang into action by doing what it does best: It held a press conference. Under attack from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which accused the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party government of incompetence, the Presidential Office told reporters that the situation was under control. Various agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health, were investigating. Police had cordoned of the area and investigators were noting down the demented reports from the few survivors who’d managed to escape the tower of death.

News also leaked that a blond-haired child was among those who had escaped, and that she had helped identify one of the ghoulish attackers by handing over to police a visitor’s badge. Li Qinjian, a Chinese tourist from Shanghai, may have been, according to the analysis of the CDC scientists, what is known in the field of epidemiology as the index case — the first bearer of a contagious disease, who passes it on to a new host, sparking an exponential spread. Naturally, they assumed they were dealing with a new form of communicable rage.

The man’s identity was then shared with the National Immigration Agency, which determined that Li had entered Taiwan the previous day as part of a tour group. His name was matched with the agency’s footage at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and what this little exercise revealed was nothing to be proud of. Close-circuit camera footage at the gate showed an immigration officer barely glancing at Mr. Li, already looking like death warmed over, with a huge gash exposed on the left side of his neck, before stamping his travel documents and letting him through (a few months earlier, the agency had been embarrassed by a similar case, this one involving a wanted man using the passport of a friend who bore no resemblance to him to leave the country). Meanwhile, the body temperature detectors, installed at the arrival gate following the SARS outbreak in 2003, were of little use, as the monitors are on the lookout for high temperatures, signs of fever. Li was dead cold as he walked through the gate and therefore walk through the sensors as if he didn't exist. No blobs of purple, blue, green and yellow for him.

After Li’s identity was made public, DPP legislators, never missing an occasion to attack the government, accused the President of conspiring with the Chinese communists in the incident, perhaps with the objective of forcing an intervention by the People’s Liberation Army. The Presidential Office was adamant that no such plan was afoot, whereupon the legislature launched the tortuous process of bill proposals and counterproposals to deal with the emergency.

Deep inside the Presidential Office, the President was alone in his office, the telephone cradled between his head and his shoulder. He was sitting on the floor behind his ornate desk. The lights were dimmed, as if he didn’t want the rest of the world that he was there.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “Please, Pu-tsung, could you please take the next plane from Washington and come over to help out? I need you.”

No way, the voice said.

* * *

Thus began the terrifying struggle of the island’s 23 million people against the greatest challenge the nation has ever faced. In the weeks ahead, we will meet a large number of Taiwanese, some real, most fictional, first as they try to comprehend the nature of the catastrophe that has descended upon them, and then, after the initial shock has passed, as they battle the walking dead for their survival. Though satirical, this account uses a background that is anything but fictional, drawing from Taiwan’s idiosyncratic position within the international community, its diplomatic isolation, the perpetual threat from China, deeply divided domestic politics, greed, government incompetence, and the tyranny of its geography as a small island-nation. This is a work of fiction, but beyond that, it is also an attempt to tell the island’s complex story in a different, and perhaps more entertaining, way. 

More to come… The walking dead are hungry, and the living are not giving up.

Day #1 (later): Taipei City Public Safety Hotline

Unfortunately, not every undead shopper decided to seek new blood on the upper floors of Taipei 101, only to be liquidated (a more than appropriate term here) by S.W.A.T. teams later in the day, away from media and public scrutiny. Some, while the living still conducted their business or gazed out at the city from the observation deck, chose instead to venture outside, a turn of events that immediately scuttled any chances of containing the incident. Later in the day, as the president was calling out to his longtime adviser in Washington, reports started coming in of people filling ERs with odd bites that doctors imagined could only have been caused by large wild animals. In Taiwan’s amphetamine-boosted media environment, it didn’t take long for those reports to turn into an airtime feeding frenzy, with talking heads — experts on absolutely every subject under the sun, the lot of them — exchanging barbs and accusations, while news channels spread word of the developing epidemic. More than once, the Z word was used, with undead cartoons crawling across most screens. In a matter of hours, Next Media’s News in Motion already had an animated re-enactment of what had occurred at Taipei 101.

As the airwaves filled with news of doom and gloom, the Taipei City Public Safety Hotline received its first question from a worried resident. “I’m worried about zombies using the MRT [mass-rapid transit system, or “subway”] to spread around town. How does one recognize a zombie on the train?” To which an employee at the hotline, after consulting the powers that be, replied: “It’s easy. While all passengers look zombie-like, real zombies will not be mindlessly staring into their smartphone or iPad. Steer clear of anyone who isn’t using an electronic device of any sort.”

Day #3: Taipei

Day #2 wasn’t good at all.

Like brush fire, the plague spread from the epicenter, using public transportation to infect every corner of the city. What became clear, and what made matters worse in terms of prevention, was the fact that the fresh undead did not immediately lose all their cognitive functions and memory. For a little while, their behavior continued to reflect the victims’ old personalities. So in the hours after making the journey from life into death and into life again, the undead, though driven by hunger for warm flesh and blood, remained a shadow of their previous selves. Only after the brain had completely dissolved (which, with some notable exceptions, usually took between three and four hours) did the creatures completely shed their humanity and turn into raving meat-hungry lunatics.

Consequently, in the early hours of the epidemic, the crisis looked more like a mad circus than what it truly was, a carnage. Mangled bus drivers kept their runs for a while, florists sold bloodstained flowers, prostitutes bared their bluish breasts, and workers remained, if somewhat erratically, cogs in the giant moneymaking machine.

A former legislator, known by all as the king of lawsuits, was attacked by a group of gray undead as he headed for a TV studio to take part in an evening talk show. His first assailant went straight for the top of the short man’s head, its copper teeth biting hard, only for the hair to come off entirely, followed by a long string of glue. He was bitten in the arm while trying to retrieve his precious wig from the critter, which was ravenously devouring it like a dead small animal. Thus did Chiu Yi join the army of the undead, though before partaking in the bloodletting his mangled corpse dragged itself into the nearest wig store, where, after browsing for a while, he awkwardly affixed a long, curly blond thing from a bygone era on his head.

An old wrinkled white man, long known for taking liberties with young local women, limped about for hours in the downtown area, thirsting only for pretty young live things. Over time his cold, clawed hands eventually became less and less selective.

In a more disreputable part of town, Jimmy the gray-haired lawyer met his end — as did his crooning — at the hands of a death-white mama san in the basement of his favorite KTV lounge. When the singing resumed, the ululating voice was such that the nearby undead stopped in their tracks, turned around, and headed straight for the lounge, where they proceeded to end the singing once and for all.

For several hours, a white Toyota bearing the red flags of the Chinese and Soviet communists drove round and round the city, blasting equally communistic music. At the wheel, a man whose head had been split in half, brain matter staining his side of the car, carried on until the car ran out of gas. Even after that he remained at the wheel, his dead car in the middle of a major artery, the choir and brass of the orchestra bouncing off the walls of an increasingly silent city.

The National Palace Museum, home to thousands of Chinese artifacts, was in ruins, the victim of a fire that had raged since the first day of the emergency, when a Chinese tourist burst into the canteen’s kitchen and slaughtered all the chefs in sight before attacking the oven. By a strange twist of fate, the tourist, who was never identified as he soon served as fuel for the flames, had been bitten at the airport by no other than Li Qinjian, our index case. The fire was such that on that fateful day it could be observed from the top of Taipei 101, distracting a foreign visitor at the observation deck long enough for him to become the victim of — you guessed it, Li Qinjian. Many noted the irony in the museum’s destruction at the hands of the Chinese, as its priceless artifacts, stolen by the Chiang Kai-shek regime after his Nationalist troops were defeated by Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949 and shipped by the crate across the Taiwan Strait, had survived years of Japanese bombardment during World War II and the many twists and turns of the Chinese Civil War. Once again, cynics noted, the Communists were annihilating their own culture. Even in death they couldn’t avoid doing so, a few hardcore Nationalists exclaimed.

Poor Li was indeed the first infected case to enter Taiwan, but he wasn’t the source of the epidemic. Speaking on condition of strict anonymity lest they be imprisoned, Chinese officials at Shanghai Pudong International Airport told reporters that witnesses had seen a flight attendant viciously attack Li in the airport’s washroom a few minutes prior to departure. Needless to say, the witnesses were never seen again, the victims, presumably, of forces as equally rapacious as those of the undead that were now marching on Taiwan. Li, who did his best to conceal the ugly bite mark on his neck, died in mid-flight, and returned the favor on another unwitting traveler after landing in Taiwan.

No one ever came forth with a good explanation for the epidemic, with scientists pointing to a number of possible causes, from wild animals to the consumption of meat infected with a new strain of rage. Some blamed the hapless civet, which already stood trial during the SARS epidemic. Other, more philosophically inclined observers, pointed to something much darker, to a social malaise that had gone out of control. Whatever the cause, cannibalism — infectious cannibalism — was the outcome.

On the second night, while legislators and city councilors barricaded themselves inside the legislature an at city hall (not unfamiliar scenes in more normal times), the horrified residents of Da-an District in Taipei locked their doors and shut their windows as the gray minions congregated at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, barging into the great hall and turning the monument to a tyrant, imperturbable even in this hour of terror, into a house of the creeping dead. All round the marble structure, dismembered ghouls in various stages of decay gathered on the steps, howling at the moon, as all life around them fled out of instinct. Why the undead made the house of the long-dead dictator their home remains a mystery. In the days ahead, the living would also observe a tendency among the dead to stop in their tracks and fall to their knees whenever they came upon images of Mao Zedong, whose plump face had in recent months begun appearing on advertisements outside various banks that were promoting the recent introduction of the Renminbi currency exchange. The old mass murderer, some said, had been the first zombie to enter Taiwan, his undead eyes selecting victims well before Li Qinjian had boarded that flight in Shanghai.

Police forces in Taipei did their best to contain the crisis, but were soon overwhelmed by an army whose ranks only continued to increase. At this point, there was no way of telling whether the crisis remained confined to the capital or had begun spreading elsewhere. All trains, flights, buses, boats and roads leaving Taipei had by Day 2 been cancelled and blocked, and the city of four million was in quarantine. There really was no way of telling whether the effort was sufficient and timely enough. All that could be done was to wait, and pray.

It didn’t take long before cases of similar horror were reported elsewhere on the island. As it turns out, even if the quarantine had succeeded (it did not, the high-speed rail taking care of pollinating the nation along a north-south axis on the very first day of the emergency), a new discovery soon alerted the army of the living to a new, equally disturbing threat.

Day #4: The Taipei Zoo Massacre

The lean wild dogs that usually roamed Neihu District in search of leftovers were nowhere to be seen. All had taken to the nearby mountains and headed north toward the largely expatriate Tianmu community and, beyond it, Yangmingshan. At first, they had fled human beings who suddenly had become much meaner than was their wont. Then, as more and more animals in the horde began bearing marks of violence on their sinewy bodies, the mountains and forests beyond became hunting grounds where the bloody spectacle within the civilization beyond the tree line was replicated with equal savagery.

As it turns out, the epidemic didn’t just affect humans. Animals, too, were fair game, usually victims of human zombies that, for one reason or another, were unable to find live humans to feast upon. In other words, the disease was zoonotic and could cross the barrier from human to animal. And vice versa, as the terrorized inhabitants of Tianmu realized once the forests had been emptied of all life and the army of the undead, now counting not only dogs but also wild boar, cats, squirrels and monkeys, returned to civilization in search of new flesh and blood. For several days, undead humans, their clothes shredded, were seen walking equally undead house pets around town, some on blood-dripping leashes, others in pet strollers bulging at the rim with crimson limbs and viscera.

Nowhere, however, was the animal kingdom visited by horrors that surpassed that which took place at the Taipei Zoo in southern Taipei. There, on the fourth day of the catastrophe, and when the visitors had stopped coming, Lu Chin-wen, a dedicated zookeeper for fifteen years, went to work as usual on his small motorcycle. The guards at the gate, aware that even in times of emergency the animals still had to be fed, let him through with a cursory a glance, missing the festering wound on the left side of his torso, courtesy of his wife one hour prior. Going through the motions as his brain continued to operate on the last echoes of his former self, Lu was going to work — until a newer, and much darker, instinct kicked in. With no humans immediately within reach (the guard post was too far by then), his sudden hunger guided him towards the next best living thing.

Soon thereafter, cages and pens and aviaries were bathed in blood as animals small and large, recently infected by Lu's madness, turned on each other (the process was much faster than with humans, ostensibly the result of the animals’ less-developed cognitive centers). Tigers, elephants, macaques, all became murderers. In the midst of all this, Tuan Tuan the male panda, his left hind leg bitten by a frenzied Lu, devoured nearly half of Yuan Yuan his female counterpart before escaping the pen. He then headed straight for the enclosure in which the Formosa Black Bears, the antipode of China's pandas, one could argue, were being held.

After watching gruesome scene after gruesome scene on the close-circuit cameras, the security guards abandoned their posts, leaving behind them hundreds of doomed animals who would eventually die of from lack of live meat to feed on.

Up north, other animals met a happier fate as a sanctuary, already in existence for several years to accommodate abandoned animals of all types, was expanded to welcome in more two-, three- and four-legged creatures with still a heartbeat in their chest. Little by little, the population of the sanctuary exploded under the benevolent guidance of a Brit who long ago had made it clear he liked animals much better than humans. Dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, all were taken in and fed as long as food reserves could keep up. With help from a small group of volunteers, electrical fences were erected around the site to keep the dead out and the live inside (though they feel no pain, the undead are repulsed by the unexpected flash of light). One night, in a scene of high tension, a tiny Labrador stood yelping in front of a monstrous Rottweiler, the latter’s huge cancerous jaw opening like an endless chasm, ready to bite its prey’s head off. Only the thin electrical wires prevented the ghoulish Rottweiler from sucking the life juices of the naive pup. After several attempts, the infernal monster trudged away, sniffing about for possible ways into what, by now, had come to be called Sean’s Ark. (The plan worked, though less so with undead humanoids, who needed to be dealt with in the old-fashioned way: extreme violence.)

As the deluge of death threatened to submerge an entire nation, many people took the idea of a sanctuary to heart and built their own as they prepared to fight back. But this is still days ahead. By now, the international community has become aware of the unfolding catastrophe in Taiwan, and an emergency meeting has been called at the World Health Organization in Geneva to address the situation. 

Day #5: World Health Organisation Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland

As the emergency in Taiwan intensified, the international community did what it does best when it comes to Taiwan — it isolated it even further. After confirming that secondary outbreaks had occurred outside the capital, the Presidential Office closed off the entirety of Taiwan proper from the rest of the world. All international flights, inbound and outbound cargo, as well as fishing operations outside a 12km radius of the island were cancelled. The Coast Guard Administration, with the assistance of the Ministry of National Defense, was ordered to ensure the self-imposed embargo was respected, and to use force if necessary.

The military also launched nationwide patrols, with orders to shoot on sight any person who displayed symptoms associated with the undead, instructions that inevitably led to a few unfortunate mishaps.

During an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, President Ma Ying-jeou was informed that based on strategic oil reserves, the quarantine would hold for about 30 days, whereupon the nation would grind to a halt. National Security Bureau Director Tsai Der-sheng, however, pointed out that oil consumption would drop dramatically if a large segment of the population were contaminated.

“Most zombies don’t drive cars,” he remarked, chuckling at his humor, only to be countered by an official from the Bureau of Energy, who asked Tsai whether undead employees were qualified to refine petrol. The two nearly came to blows, but were reminded that under the present circumstances, the living could ill afford to fight among themselves.

After the quarantine was announced, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the unenviable job of explaining to other countries the reasons why their citizens, those who hadn’t already left, could not be evacuated. Most, once they were informed of the consequences if a single case slipped through controls, said they supported Taipei’s measures and hoped the matter would soon be resolved. The few foreign governments (Paris and Moscow among them) who insisted on evacuating their own had a sudden change of heart upon receiving pictures of the victims at Taipei 101.

As the NSC meeting concluded, it was decided to await the decisions made in Geneva, where the WHO convened its own emergency session. Because of its peculiar situation, Taiwan didn’t have a representative there (it could only send an observer once a year to attend the body’s decisionmaking body, the World Health Assembly, in May). Unfortunately for Taiwan, it wasn’t the month of May.

Following a tedious series of briefings given by bespectacled experts, a smaller group of representatives convened separately to discuss which strategy would best help Taiwan deal with the problem. The Chinese representative, in the past high-mindedly claiming that all things pertaining to Taiwan first had to go through Beijing as per the “one China” policy, kept an unusually low profile on that day. Asked if Beijing would be willing to send health officials to Taiwan, Mr. Gao shook his head, insisting that Taiwan wasn’t China’s problem.

“But isn’t Taiwan part of China,” one American asked in a thick Texan accent.

“Yes,” Gao replied.

“Then surely it is your government’s responsibility to provide whatever assistance is necessary to end the crisis,” a Canadian official remarked, adding that Ottawa had already offered to send a medical team if the request were made.

“You cannot do that,” Gao said. “Taiwan is part of China, and China can well take care of itself.”

“So you will send experts?” the red-haired American asked, believing they were finally making progress.


Japan then offered to help, at which Gao uttered expletives that are not fit for print.

More debate ensued, with no way to break the deadlock. Foreign countries could send teams of medical experts to China, but they were strictly forbidden to send them directly to that (he used thick Chinese, which the few who were proficient in the language knew unkindly stood for something close to “ghost island”) Taiwan. Doing so would hurt the feelings of the 1.3 billion Chinese (give or take a few hundred million) and be a serious violation of China’s indivisible, unsplittable, sacred, blessed, 5,000-year-old, blah-blah-blah sovereignty. The representatives went back to their offices to call their respective governments back home, expecting to be given instructions to proceed despite Beijing’s hard-nosed opposition.

Lo and behold, to the man they were ordered not to lift a finger and to respect the wishes of the Chinese. As he left the building later that evening, a proud Gao walked past the glass doors at the main entrance of the building. On the other side, a small group of Taiwanese reporters, their press passes hanging round their necks, stood in anger, once again denied entry into the building.

So a decade after being abandoned during the SARS epidemic, Taiwan once again was left to fend for itself, ignored by the international community, which believed it could will the always-troublesome Taiwan out of existence. The problem will soon disappear. It always does, world leaders uttered with confidence, taking comfort in the notion that the 23 million people on the island were adrift in the Pacific.

Not this time it wouldn’t, as they were about to find out.

Day #6: The Horror at Sun Moon Lake

By the sixth day of the emergency, several areas outside the capital in the north had reported incidents and the emergence of local outbreaks. All over the country, highways turned into immobile processions of vehicles, pregnant with terrified locals and whatever personal effects they could cram in, as families fled south to seek refuge with relatives and add distance between themselves and the plague of flesh-eating demons.

For the foreign tourists in Taiwan, the several thousand who were unable to leave the country before it shut itself to the rest of the world, there were few options. A few hundred in Taipei and Kaohsiung were allowed into semi-official diplomatic offices or the headquarters of foreign corporations. Many others, however, had nowhere to go and were forced to stay in near-vacant hotels with few staff remaining to look after their needs.

Such was the fate of the Yamada family. Toshi Yamada, a 27-year-old engineer for a large electronics maker in Osaka, was on his first visit to Taiwan, hoping during his well-earned two-week vacation to retrace the steps taken by much older members of the Yamada family, who for a few years had made Taiwan their home during the Japanese occupation.

Before his eyes, the lake lay placid, reflecting a perfect blue sky and the layers of mountains that surrounded the popular tourist destination. From the vantage point of his balcony at the Fleur de Chine hotel, Yamada understood why, after he and his troops had fled to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek had made Sun Moon Lake one of his refuges. Several pleasure boats, which on an ordinary day would have been plowing the lake, the guide’s voice and visitors’ merriment echoing off the mountains, lay dormant near the pier. Not a soul walked about on the paths round the lake. All the restaurants were boarded up. Sachiko, his wife, joined him on the balcony. How she had aged since their world had been turned around, he though as her trembling hand grasped his, her dark eyes reflecting the rich blueness of the water.

“The phones have died,” she said softly, her voice struggling to remain steady as the full impact of their isolation became clearer.

The hotel, just a few days ago so filled with life that Yamada had been forced to complain to management about the noise from the next room, which had kept their two-year-old baby girl awake at night, was not practically empty. In all, he estimated that one hundred people remained in all the hotels around the lake. The nearby town, which along with a few other men he’d raided the previous day for food, was also emptying fast. Rumors had begun circulating on the fifth day that the undead were making rapid progress southwards and were at the door of Nantou County. Would the ghouls track their scent in this terrible isolation, and if so, how much time did they have left, he wondered.

The answer came as the sun was hovering above the darkening mountains, turning the sky into a fiery mélange of orange and purple. From deep inside the hotel, crashed were heard, then screams, and more crashes. Rushing to the balcony, Yamada saw dark figures in the dusk. People were pouring outside the hotels. Some gathered in small groups while others ran away toward the village, pursued by grotesquely bent shapes that moved about like puppets in the theaters of his youth. A small detachment of shadows, which so far seemed to have escaped the attention of the creatures, was heading for the boats.

Running back into the room, he grabbed his wailing girl under his arm and followed by his wife, the three escaped into the corridor, avoiding the elevators, running down the seven floors in near-complete darkness. In their scramble, he remembered he’d not locked the door. No need, he thought, his heart pounding in his chest, deafening him. We’ll never go back in there. As they reached the lobby, Sachiko screamed upon seeing two dark figures, bent over an immobile shape on the floor, pulling long black threads from between their jaws. Like lions devouring their prey in the wild, strips of skin and muscle and flesh ripping from the carcass.

They burst outside the hotel, Sachiko struggling to contain her hysteria. For a split second, he considered making a run for the village. But her soon revised his plan when, as his eyes adjusted to the falling darkness he saw a mass of figures, too slow to be human, advancing toward them. Behind him, the small group of humans was frantically untying the boats. That was they way out, he thought. Perhaps they could cross the lake and … well, they’d figure out what to do when they reached the other side.

They reached the boats just in time, pursued by the legions of the dead. Sixteen boats in all made it, while several others, overrun by the undead masses, turned into scenes of slaughter. To the relief of the terrified occupants on the slowly drifting boats, the zombies were not pursuing them but instead fell upon each other as they fought for warm flesh.

The motors were turned on, and the boats, with perhaps eighty people on board, headed for the other side, which by now had fallen invisible into the darkness, untouched by the nascent moon. As they approached the land, the thick curtains of the night opened up to reveal a sketch of grayness. A few wooden benches, a gravel road, and behind those, tall, silent trees gently swaying to the wind. Something moved between the trees, subtle at first. Then they came out, crawling, limping and moaning, dozens upon dozens of them, until the bank was overrun by them, the putrescent stench carried by the breeze making them gag, several meters away.

Hope dying in their bosoms, they turned the boats around and headed for the middle of the lake. They had no food, no blankets, and no means of reaching the outside world. Eighty-six souls, on a dead lake, an unconcerned moon staring at them from above. All round them, like priests at a ritual, the masses of the undead stood impatiently, hissing at the beating hearts beyond their reach, waiting for them to return. They never gave up, the scent of fresh victims too close to abandon. For several days and nights, the living were imprisoned on the lake. Never did the undead leave. Out of desperation, some jumped into the water amid shouts of alarm and made a break for the shore, but none managed to break through, neither by day or night. For the seventy-six who remained, death came in two forms: starvation, and towards the end, that mad, desperate end, cannibalism.

After all had died, the army of the dead gave up and turned around, searching for new preys.

Day #7: Taipei Turns into a Battleground

While the Yamadas were expiring in Nantou, the situation in Taipei went from bad to worse, with every corner of the capital mutating into a battle zone. The masses of the undead had made rapid progress, so much so that the city’s police force had reached the point of no return — there were more undead combatants in police uniform than there were live ones.

Facing near collapse in social order, the Ministry of National Defense, deeply ensconced in its impenetrable fortress in Dazhi, ordered that every male who had undergone basic military training, and who still had a heartbeat, be rounded up, drafted, and equipped with a domestically produced T91 assault rifle. Armored personnel carriers, CM-32 “Clouded Leopard” light infantry vehicles and a variety of jeeps created cordons around the city, and conscripts were ordered to shoot anyone who sought to break through. Special forces, meanwhile, were sent in deep to “cleanse” the city, guided by low-flying helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, which beamed back crucial information on enemy positions.

For a while, the military intervention looked like it could turn the tide, as the twice-dead bodies piled up all over the city. But like a law of nature, the ranks of the undead continued to grow, as every death among the forces of the living gave birth to an enemy combatant.

Eventually the decision was made to evacuate the President, who along with his top aides had barricaded himself in the old Japanese building, from the Presidential Office. The effort, launched amid wave upon wave of zombie assaults, was a fiasco. First, it was discovered too late that the armored vehicles to be used in the evacuation were to wide to fit the road behind the Presidential Office, a situation that was further complicated by the presence of large quantities of abandoned cars. A breakdown in miscommunication nearly cost the president and his entourage their lives, as all had been rushed outside through the back gate, only to realize that the vehicles had not yet arrived. Immediately, they were targeted by a group of monsters, the presidential guards barely managing to keep them at bay with their pistols and assault rifles. Ammunition was running dangerously low when a CM-32, grinding past two vehicles in a deafening screech of metal on metal, came to a halt at the gate, about fifteen meters away from them. Without warning, the president dashed in the direction of the vehicles, leaving the guards and, not for the first time, the First Lady behind. Shots were fired, bodies fell on both sides of the president, the hatch was opened, strong hands pulled him in as blood-drenched claws clawed at him and missed, the hatch closed behind him, the First Lady screamed and screamed and screamed (not just with horror), and the armored vehicle went into reverse. There was no time to wait for the others. Masses of rotten flesh exploded under its heavy wheels in its frenzied escape, bathing the sides of the vehicle in a thick dark liquid. As the president was being driven to the safety of an undisclosed location, his staff and a harrowed First Lady fought a losing battle. In the days that followed, a short-haired woman, her clothes drenched in blood and an unsightly gash running from her left ear down to her shoulder, was seen limping round the now empty seat of government. Those who saw her would swear afterwards that even the dead could look pissed.

 * * *

In other parts of town, officials and ordinary citizens alike also dealt with the horror however best they could. Many turned into cowards, doing whatever they could to save their skin, while others, including a few surprises, selflessly sacrificed their lives to save endangered souls.

With an extraordinary feat of bravery, one man alone, driven to extreme measures at the loss of his beloved city, managed in a single act to annihilate a large quantity of the putrescent creatures. In what later came to be known as the “Maokong gambit,” Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin turned an embarrassing city project into what could only be described as a weapon of mass destruction. For days, the mayor, accompanied by city councilors, had driven around the city, issuing orders and trying to maintain a modicum of order in a city that had quickly descended into chaos. On that fateful day, Hau, driven by fascination at the thought of a zombie panda, had requested, despite strong opposition from city councilors, that they drive to Taipei Zoo. Upon arriving at the animal graveyard, from which a great stench, shoved in their direction by a warm wind of pestilence, emanated, Hau saw a small group of small children, accompanied by harried mothers, being purchased by dozens upon dozens of creatures, which despite their flailing handicapped limbs, were quickly gaining ground. Without a second’s thought, Hau jumped out of the vehicle and screaming at the top of his head managed to gain the attention of the butchers. Soon enough, a battalion of monsters was in hot pursuit of the mayor and his aides.

In a flash of inspiration, fueled no doubt by an equal dose of desperation, Hau ran straight for the Maokong Gondola, while ordering his assistants to head for the machine room and turn the cursed project on again. Hau waited patiently, the door to a glass gondola cabin opened behind him, as the groans from the horde of creatures drew closer. Just as they were about to grab him by the collar of his white Flora Expo shirt, Hau jumped into the car and shut the door. At this point, the system came on, and the gondola, a few bony shapes dancing on top of it or hanging underneath, began its ascent. Below, another car quickly filled up with monsters in pursuit, then another, and another.

Strong claws were ripping the roof and soon they would break into the car and make short shrift of his life, Hau thought as the lush vista of deep-green trees and mountains drove by around and underneath him. Behind him, the car was crammed with the undead, all gazing at him, eager to devour their prey once they reached the top. An arm broke through, then a head. Soon, a the upper half of a zombie, black bile oozing down from between its bloated blue lips, was hanging upside down, straining dead muscles to reach his face.

Then, as he’d expected, the swaying began. On an ordinary day, service at the gondola would have been suspended, as it was too windy. He also knew that there were far too many occupants in the other cars, and that their combined weight would be too much for the system to handle. A mass of flesh dropped on top of him. The world swirled and suddenly the green tapestry below swung above him. Hau smiled. With a thunderous crash, the Maokong Gondola, long a symbol of ridicule for the mayor’s administration, came crashing down, crushing the mayor along with a great number of the undead.

One small victory for mankind, and there would be others. But deep in the south, dark shadows gathered. The army of the undead was about to find its spiritual leader.

Day #8: Greater Kaohsiung: A Dark Master Emerges

By a dark, somber day, they had gathered by the thousands, their light brown uniform bathed in the gold shine reflecting from the 36-meter statue of Buddha that towered above them. In the background, the eight pagodas stood defiantly, the circular chants of the monks twirling round the shafts before rising into the tempestuous heavens. They had come from all corners of the nation, fleeing as the dark forces advanced, and seeking guidance from the wheelchair-bound man who, his eyes closed in rapture, faced the crowd.

Master Hsing Yun, the controversial founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order, seemed dead to the world as he led his followers in the chants, a collection of rituals meant to ward off the shadows that were quickly closing in. If mighty Buddha, in this house of splendors, couldn’t save them, nothing would, he thought, his mind traveling to a remote corner of his brain as another side of his head carried on independently with the incantations.

The Master had had a strange, recurrent dream in the past days. In it, he was awakened in the middle of the night by a faint knock at the door, which once opened, gave unto an empty field with a lone basket in its heart. Each time he unwrapped the white silk. Each time a small figure, clad in the same monk’s robes, wailed at him, pulling strings of recognition deep inside his heart. Little Master, he’d utter, before the delicate little hands turned into blood-drenched claws, forcing him awake, his ageing heart pacing.

They’d been chanting, with nary an hour’s rest every 12 hours, for the past three days. Exhaustion was already taking its toll, and dozens of monks had had fainted, unattended, on the grounds. What were a few monks’ lives when 23 million souls were at stake?

In the late afternoon, as the chants gyrated into the portentous air, a black bird perched onto the golden globe at the top of one of the pagodas. A morsel of meat, whence it came one can only guess, protruded from its long beak. In the two round eyes, dark as night, barely blinking, strange forms were reflected, closing in like laden clouds before a tempest. The bird watched as the shapes, a landslide of human flesh, closed in on the chanting monks and started to gnaw, worm-like, at the outside edges of the gigantic brown fruit. Buddha, impervious, looked on as the chants became fainter and fainter. By evening, Master Hsing Yu, hearing but silence, opened his eyes and before him, thousands upon thousands of his followers, mutilated, dripping, swaying, stood, still in veneration. One of them, missing an arm, its face opened like an exploded persimmon, climbed the steps toward the master and, a meter away, kneeled.

“Master,” it said reverentially. “We have arrived.”

He closed his eyes again and smiled, a strange peace like chilled water trickling down his spine. “So have I,” he whispered as icy fingers closed round his neck.

* * *

Thus did the forces of the undead, until then guided by uncontrollable thirst and hunger alone, find the force that, in the days ahead, would become their spiritual master, directing their every movement through prayers — the chants replaced by guttural moans — broadcast all over the nation by means of the airwaves. Little by little, the Master became a single voice, a single face, on the nation’s radio and television stations, a rising media monopoly that had one purpose alone, to unite the walking dead in their struggle to eliminate every living being and turn them into one of them. Day and night, above the shrieks of horror as the living had their lives stolen from them, the Master’s voice ululated, adding a new layer of terror to this concert of the end of times. He droned on and on until the living, realizing the impact his otherworldly sermons was having on the dark masses, began targeting every TV set in sight, every radio box, for destruction. Among those who most ardently attacked TVs and radios were many who, not so long ago but in a very different world, had warned against the dangers of media monopoly; the platoons, smashing, firing at and disconnecting the apparatuses, were led by the familiar faces of the student leaders who’d stood up against a sickeningly wealthy (and equally greedy) businessman who — patience, patience, will soon make an appearance in this narrative.

The Master had a plan, a dark plan, and unbeknownst to all, he was moving cold bodies as on a chessboard. But there was hope. In this dark hour, as a wheelchair-bound prince of darkness emerged, so did heroes who would lead the resistance and attempt, once again, to turn the tide.

Day #12: The Resistance

That day, Tsay Ting-kuei shaved his long scruffy white beard. As the war raged between the dead and the undead across the country, the authorities eventually concluded they had no choice but to empty the jails, judging that abandoning inmates to a certain fate was a form of death penalty that could not be afforded under the circumstances.

From the size of the mirthful crowd that had gathered outside Taipei Prison in Taoyuan County and the wall of green banners that those present wave at the end of long wooden poles, one would have believed that the worst was over, that one had awakened from a long, terrible nightmare. The mostly elderly men and women who turned up on that day, and who made the perilous journey to the prison, knew deep in their hearts that the nation was on the brink of disaster. But today, as jails spewed out petty criminals and murderers alike, was a day for celebration. At long last, Tsay, who over several months — and well before the first zombie sank his rotten teeth into a victim’s soft jugular — had obstinately grown his beard, looking less and less like the academic that he was, could finally shave it.

Just as the main gate opened, a strong gust of warm wind sent the banners aflutter like some gigantic bird taking flight. He finally emerged, unaccompanied, a red scarf tied round his ample forehead. On cue, a pair of large speakers hastily installed for the occasions started blasting what would become the theme song for the living as they struck back: Uprising, by the British rock band Muse (Chen’s own idea, rumor has it). To Matthew Bellamy’s hymn to victory, loud cheers and the blaring of gas horns, former president Chen Shui-bian, the son of Taiwan, sallied forth into the crowd, guns blazing. He looked a decade younger. For the weeks ahead, the controversial politician would lead platoons of elderly fighters on suicide raid after suicide raid, more than ever energized by the sense that he was on a mission to save his beloved Taiwan. Others from the DPP, including chairman Su Tseng-chang, a former rugby player, as well as Tsai Ing-wen (an adept strategist who would only use small-caliber pistols), also rallied behind Chen.

Chen being Chen, he still gave the occasional long speech in his very local accent, leading some to think that he once again had presidential ambitions after all of this was done with, and he still managed to anger people with his occasional jabs. But A-Bian, short A-Bian, had a special knack for slaying the dead, and he did that with gusto. The time for internal divisions was long gone. The walking dead had taught them that.

Chen wasn’t alone in taking matters into his own hands. As the central government fell apart, others did so too, organizing small resistance groups all over the country and launching what could only be described as a guerrilla campaign against the dead. In the South, the military and civilians alike, looking more homogenous in a rag-tag kind of way, rallied round Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, who also, as it turns out, wasn’t a bad shot at all (she had a special fondness for grenade launchers). In central Taiwan, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu also emerged as a natural leader. After abandoning his initial plan — everybody in the city was encouraged to follow his lead by wearing whatever Halloween zombie costume they could put their hands on — the Beijing-born leader turned to the most organized force within his constituency: gangsters. Soon enough, tattoo-bearing, black-clad thugs, accompanied by scantily clad yet equally deadly young Taiwanese women (including a mama-san who became famous for her effective use of six-inch high-heels as a weapon), were slugging it out on the streets.

In the east, DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim took over, for the second time being parachuted (this time literally) to Hualien, where she joined forces with the local army from Huadong Command. Soon afterwards, that arm of the resistance was joined by local Aborigines, who more than a century before had with great skill used difficult terrain to their advantage against a foreign force (like heavily armed Japanese soldiers, zombies were rather clumsy on narrow suspension bridges, which turned into great scenes of carnage as the living turned their guns on the stranded undead).

After convincing the military, KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang, accompanied by about 50 soldiers, secretly chartered a C-130 transport aircraft, laden with ammunition and food rations, and flew off to Taiping Island in the Spratlys, which he intended to defend to the last man until the situation was resolved in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, a well known Washington-based lobby organization was hard at work trying to convince the White House to intervene in Taiwan. The main thrust of that effort was, well, a letter campaign.

Day #13: East China Sea: The Goats of the Senkakus

First Captain Junichiro Oe of the Japan Coast Guard saw the first fishing vessel through his binoculars. The small boat would flicker amid the dark clouds as the strong gale swept it with curtains of rain. There it was, there it wasn’t, bouncing off gigantic waves as it slowly approached waters considered by Japan as falling within its exclusive economic zone.

It had been weeks since Oe had seen vessels approach from that direction. Something terrible domestic disturbance was taking place in Taiwan, something so bad that its fishermen had stopped laying their nets — at least near the Senkakus. A few more hundred meters and he’d have to make radio contact with the boat and tell it to turn back. And turn on the LED panel informing Taiwanese fishermen that they had entered Japanese waters and had to stay away — still in simplified Chinese characters, which months before had been the object of much derision among Taiwanese fishermen, who pretended they didn’t understand what the message said.

Oe’s vessel was one of four JCG ships patrolling the area today, which was enough to deal with the single ship that was maintaining its course and now getting dangerously close to that invisible line. Chinese fishing vessels and maritime surveillance ships were still a problem, but those were spotted well before they approached the area by P-3C surveillance planes, giving ample time to call for reinforcements. No need for that now, Oe thought. Only one ship. Still, he had this off feeling that something was off, a feeling that was reinforce when his attempt to contact the approaching ship went unanswered.

It took Oe a few moments to realize where the wailing came from. It came from another JCG ship, whose officers were now all on deck, pointing with agitation in the direction of the fishing vessel. When he looked again, he realized that the solitary ship had suddenly multiplied into a small flotilla, and they were approaching fast. He tried to make radio contact again, using a number of maritime frequencies. Silence. As the ships approached — they were now about 200 meters away — he was better able to see the members on board. What he saw with increasing clarity through the mist made his heart stop.

* * *

They’d been encircled, and as death descended rapidly upon the small fishing town of Suao, the fishermen had seen no other issue than to break the government regulations forbidding ships from leaving port. In the confusion, as families hastily abandoned their homes and scrambled onto the unstable boats, some capsizing under the weight, the local coast guards did all they could to prevent the vessels from leaving port, but were soon overwhelmed.

Some, with previous experience dealing with the undead, also quickly realized that the zombies that were threatening their loved ones were less random in their acts and behaved with what seemed like greater sense of purpose. One could almost say they were, well, organized. As indeed they were: A new factor was imposing method to the madness, which came in the form of hand-held radios, cell phones and other electronics that a few of the undead still carried on their broken bodies. From all the devices, without exception, emitted the same gut-wrenching voice from afar, a sermon from beyond the grave that ordered them to the sea.

To the sea, yes, and in pursuit of the few hundred souls that had managed, in extremis, to flee Suao, seeking safety wherever the seas took them. But slowed down by the foul seas, the living didn’t go very far before the now seafaring undead caught up with them, and in an orgy of blood they turned every soul, but the few that chose drowning over the demonic afterlife, into one of their own. The fleet thus expanded, the monsters of the sea set their course about 100 miles north, as the voice ordered them to.

* * *

Oe and his crew did their best, using small firearms to ward off the invading horde and succeeding in sinking a few small boats by ramming into them, but in the end, there were too many of the ghoulish assailants, and they gave up. Some JCG vessels managed to flee in time. Oe’s crew weren’t so fortunate and were soon overtaken, in what became the first (but not last) instance of infection outside Taiwan since the beginning of the epidemic. The vessel, now surrounded, turned into a cauldron of horror. Behind it lay darkly, imperturbable, rocks that on many occasions had come close to sparking similar bloodletting among the living.

When JCG vessels returned to the area the following day, reinforced by navy ships, the fishing boats were no longer at sea. All were instead bobbing, empty, in the vicinity of the islet. The dead, having reached their destination and with no other source of living flesh, had turned to the next best thing. The Japanese snipers and machine gunners set their sights on the monsters and unleashed a hail of lead at their exposed targets, felling every single one of them, along with the herd of goats they were busily feeding on. The Senkakus’ goats were no more.

Over the next days and until there were no fishing boats left along the northern coast of Taiwan, wave after wave of fishing boats commandeered by the great undead approached the islets, only to be sunk and sawed off by Japanese bullets and rockets. The persistence of the monsters, and their apparent interest in occupying the islets, was such that it led to what, only weeks earlier, would have been unimaginable: For the first time in their long troubled history, Japan and China worked alongside each other in defending the Senkakus. The series of incidents also prompted the respective navies to bolster their surveillance and interdiction efforts around Taiwan.

But as with everything else that involves human activity, ineptitude, and above all, greed, would create chinks (no pun intended) in the armor, with potentially catastrophic consequences…

Day #15: Zombie meat

“Waaah, shhiiiiiiiir gaaaaahhhhh…,” it went. “Uh……. Waaaaah geeeeer, aaaaaarrh…… Uh.”

On the TV sets mounted on the concrete wall of the small restaurant, the same putrescent monk appeared, from whose guttural mouth emitted the sermon of the dead, along with incredible amounts of black liquid. Below the television sets, his face bathed in the bluish light that filled the otherwise dark room, sat a slightly overweight man, who judging from the half-empty bottle of kaoliang by his elbow on the round table was in a rather advanced stage of inebriation.

Across from him stood three uncomfortable-looking military officers, rifles at the ready. They had come to arrest him, the man who prior to the catastrophe had been Taiwan’s wealthiest man, under martial law regulations.

But he didn’t seem to care about the reason they had crossed the city, fighting their way on every block, to pluck him from this crummy little hideout, a now abandoned noodle shop that evidently had known much better days. Nor did he wonder how the soldiers had succeeded in making their way past the number of thugs he’d hired as bodyguards. Drinking straight from the large bottle, Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of the Want Want China Times Group, was a broken man as he zapped from one channel to another — channels he used to own under his controversial media empire — only to be met by the same ghoulish narrator.

“If you will please come with us,” Lieutenant Colonel Wang, who headed the small detachment, said meekly, still unable to resist being deferential to the powerful businessman.

Tsai, who didn’t seem to have heard the request, slammed the table with his fist, sending the bottle crashing to the ground.

“I lost everything!” he said, now sobbing into his hands. “Those monsters…they took over everything I own.”

With a nod from their leader, the two other soldiers walker over to his side of the table and lifted him off his stool by his elbows.

“Mr Tsai Eng-meng, you are under arrest for breaking the national embargo,” said Wang, his voice sounding far too high-pitched for the severity of the occasion.

“I had every right to make money,” Tsai slurred as they escorted him out. “I’ve been making money in China since I was 26 years old!”

 * * *

Tsai’s empire had indeed crumbled. Consumption of his crackers had dropped dramatically since the beginning of the emergency. The fact that zombies devoured the flesh of the living, and not dry crackers, wasn’t good for business. Nor was the fact that the hordes of undead had taken over his media empire and hijacked the airwaves to spread the ridiculous broadcasts from that demonic monk.

Ever the businessman, though, Tsai was always on the lookout for new ways to make money. And as in the past, that opportunity came from China. As the catastrophe spilled like black ink across the nation and news of what was going on inside Taiwan slowly made its way across the Taiwan Strait, a quack in Guangdong Province, known for his trade in herbal medicines and animal parts of all types (mostly of the illegal sort), began advertising a new product. Consumption of that most unusual pâté, Mr Lam claimed, would give individuals of the male gender such stamina in the bedroom as to make the little blue pills sound like peppermints.

That unusual pâté, gathered and canned courtesy of Mr Tsai’s Want Want, was zombie meat. Using his vast wealth, the billionaire businessman (who unsurprisingly began his life selling canned fished meat in his home county of Yilan) hired mercenaries whose one and only task was to “kill” the walking dead and bring them over to a meat factory, where they were processed into meat spreads and canned. Following that, and at great expense, given the series of bribes involved, the canned goods were transported to Taichung Port in the central part of the country, loaded onto small vessels, and in the dead of night, appropriately, taken across the Strait by gangsters with a flair for transporting illegal cargo. Mr Lam’s people took care of bribing Maritime Surveillance Agency officials on the Chinese side as well as port officials, who looked the other way as the crates, the contents of which they wouldn’t dare inquire about, were unloaded, put at the back of small vans, and taken Mao knows where inland.

This went on for a while, and in the process Tsai and Lam made a small fortune, but eventually something went terribly wrong that alerted the authorities on the Chinese side. One night, one of the vessels that silently made its way over the spectral waters of the Taiwan Strait had more than dead meat in its cargo. It had dead meat of the non-canned type, dead meat that still walked, crawled, and which had a craving for human flesh, for the buffet of 1.4 billion people that was China. The gangsters who were in charge of picking up the cargo at Port of Guangzhou, along with port security officials, fought bravely, but the need for secrecy along with the element of surprise were such that the undead prevailed and soon disappeared into the night, spreading the infection.

It didn’t take long for the People’s Liberation Army Navy to deploy warships in the Taiwan Strait, where over the next few days they proceeded to torpedo any vessel approaching from the Taiwan side.

Thus did Tsai’s latest attempt to enrich himself in China come to a quick, decisive end. Weeks later, smiling darkly in his office in Brussels, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, famous for his infamous interview with the uncouth businessman a few years ago, wondered at the irony that had brought the untouchable man to his knees.

“Answer me this, Mr Tsai,” he said, as if addressing the black crow that had landed on the windowsill, the old city readying for sleep in the background. “Does this not now constitute a massacre?”

* * *

Back in Guangdong, police, paramilitary and PLA forces were slow to react to the emergency. This should not have been the case, as unbeknownst to everybody but a few very senior members of the Chinese Communist Party, this was not the first zombie outbreak inside China.