By Clark Collis
July 29, 2020 at 10:02 AM EDT
George Romero and Daniel Kraus
Credit: Douglas Education Center; Tor Books

The late George A. Romero directed six zombie films, from 1968's Night of the Living Dead to 2009's Survival of the Dead. So, it is rather appropriate that the filmmaker is now returning from the grave in the form of a novel called The Living Dead (out Aug. 4). The book features fragments from different prose pieces Romero worked on which were expanded and woven together by writer Daniel Kraus.

"It reboots the zombie uprising to day one and introduces a vast cross-section of Americans who are dealing with the crisis," says Krauss, the author of 2009's The Monster Variations and 2015's Trollhunters, which he co-wrote with Guillermo del Toro. "His six zombie movies only ever went five years into the future. This perspective that he wanted to put out was much grander in scope and goes fifteen years into the future."

Kraus met Romero just the once, around a decade ago. "His manager knew that I was a Romero scholar," says Kraus. "Not in the academic sense, I wasn’t publishing papers in journals, but even among fans I really was a super-fan. I had met his manager and he found out what a big acolyte of George’s I was, and so we met. It was fantastic for me, probably it meant nothing at all to George. I was just some other fan. We didn’t talk business certainly, we were just shooting the s---. And that was it."

Romero's manager got back in touch with Kraus following the death of the director two years ago. "I got a call from his manager and his wife Suzanne," says Kraus. "They were going through some of George’s unfinished work and they came upon the novel. It was an important work for George because it book-ended the six zombie films that he had made." Kraus was asked if he would be interested in finishing the novel. "Romero was my favorite artist in any medium, so it was beyond a dream come true for me," says the writer.

Romero was a famously friendly character, but Kraus admits he proved a sometimes difficult collaborator. "It was really a unique, strange process," says Kraus. "Essentially, the material came in three distinct waves. The first wave was the manuscript that he had written. [Then] we were able to dig up about a hundred more pages of a similar novel that he had attempted around the year 2000. It was a different book but it was similar in a lot of ways. Different characters, but fantastic stuff. So, it became a process of how do I now deal with these two different source materials. The initial manuscript was significantly longer but these new 100 pages were really fantastic stuff, so it was a matter of working that in and that was very difficult. Fast forward some time to when I'm hundreds of pages into the book, and his manager finds a letter where George had written out where he was going with some of the plot threads. So this was a massive pain in the a--, but also amazing. Not only is the book him having his final words on zombies back from the grave, but the process itself was kind of like communicating with George. Suddenly he’d be like, 'Oh, here’s a bunch of notes I had, Dan, on where the characters are going.' And it was like, 'Oh, great, thanks. I wish you would have given them to me 400 pages ago but thank you.'"

Kraus reveals there are some Romero-penned zombie tales that still haven't seen the light of day and might one provide the basis for more books. "The hardest thing I had to do in this book by far was cutting anything that George wrote," he says. "There were a few sequences that it killed me to cut, that I really honestly loved, that George had written, that I just couldn’t figure out a way to make them work within the story. So, yeah, I could imagine taking one of those sequences and growing something out of it."

The following is an excerpt from The Living Dead by George Romero and Daniel Kraus, which will be published by Tor on Aug. 4.

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus
Credit: Tor Books

Without making any sort of dramatic declaration, Hoffmann began to tidy her affairs. Shaping up the Archive’s preface. Establishing a comprehensive table of contents. Testing materials to determine what might best protect the Archive from moisture and rot. Piecemeal processes that might take a year or so to complete if she wanted them perfect, which she did. It would give her time to come to terms with not just the end but her end.

Between January and April of Year Nine, she received only four calls. None of them had new information. All had a fare-thee-well flavor. Having given up all hope for restored equilibrium, people were fleeing old safe spaces, even those with access to landlines or the Corpse Web, with the intent to migrate as animals once had, roaming and grazing, eyes ever open for that night’s home.

With living people forced to scurry and burrow, the planet would be largely free of human colonization for the first time in two hundred thousand years. Hoffmann wondered what this would mean on a global scale. It was beyond anything covered in the Lending Library. Only when she was half-asleep atop her Crisco-slicked table-bed would her mind dislodge from its usual rails of logic and drift about. She dreamed zombies were the new indigenous people, native to the land in a way few others were. The big difference was They’d been created in all lands at once. Earth, its entirety, was Theirs. Hoffmann thought there was something graceful about that, even given the ugly flip side: the living cordoned off in bleak reservations, making do under conditions little better than what they’d once inflicted upon livestock.

Hoffmann had not gone entirely unnoticed over the decade. Zombies had coalesced on occasion, tipped off by some unknown indicator. Hearing groans and palm slaps, she’d go to the upper floor and gaze down at the wedge of D.C. she’d come to know so well. Once electric with pink cherry blossoms and bright green grass, now a blast zone of concrete shavings and windblown dregs. From up there, she’d take measure of the zombie threat. Usually just a couple. Sometimes a dozen. Once, in Year Five, seventy-nine passed like sap down tree bark, a slow, breathtaking spread.

Only in Year One and Year Two had humans tried to get inside. Hoffmann did not like to think of it. She did not feel sorry for how she reacted. But she knew, according to old standards, she should feel sorry. The tall, bearded man, a vacant baby carrier still strapped to his chest, who’d yanked on the AMLD door handle, desperate to evade the zombie ranks behind him; Hoffmann watched him get eaten. The teenage boy, lurking in the predawn, wearing a goofy Hula-Hoop contraption that kept zombies at an arm’s length: if anyone deserved to share Hoffmann’s safety, it was that kid, but she ignored his efforts. The family of four who’d somehow deduced AMLD was occupied and screamed to be let in for forty minutes; Hoffmann, unwilling to advertise her location to every zombie and raider in D.C., was prepared to break a second-story window and pelt the poor family with heavy objects. She would have, too, if the family had not been chased off by ten zombies in football uniforms.

Etta Hoffmann was no hero.

She knew that about herself on 4,095–4:55, the day, hour, and minute of Snoop’s first call. Snoop, who wanted to learn so much about her. Snoop, who convinced Hoffmann to trust because it was the right thing to do. Ten years of stories could be really important, she’d said. You could help a lot of people understand how we got here.

If Snoop knew the truth of how much Hoffmann had “helped” people, she’d quit calling. After Snoop slyly elicited Hoffmann’s name, Hoffmann believed her days were numbered. She altered her schedule for the first time in a decade, working two additional hours per day. She completed a final draft of her preface, at last satisfied with her instructions for the Archive’s use. She finished the vast, nested table of contents she felt would be most helpful to future users. She settled upon watertight, industrial-strength, self-adhering stretch plastic, available in the maintenance room, to shrink-wrap the Archive.

Lastly, she began to approach the idea of suicide not from an oblique angle but with the forthrightness she applied to other issues. It was a quandary. She had no gun. She did not know which toxic chemicals might be fatal if swallowed. The building was not tall enough to jump from. She did not trust herself, or the aged ceiling, to handle a hanging. Setting fire to herself put the Archive at risk. Slicing one’s wrists, she’d read, was one of the least reliable options. The only surefire method, she concluded, was go- ing outside and letting the zombies have her.

She thought about it every day. Taking off her clothes so she’d be easily bitable, disassembling her barricade, calling for zombies to come get her. Day after day, she did not do it. Not even after spotting the first zombie rats at AMLD, two waddling side by side down the center of a main hallway. She scolded herself mercilessly. Classic Etta Hoffmann, the girl who’d frustrated every doctor, relative, and would-be friend into giving up on her, immobilized by the idea of disrupting routine.

She had only herself to blame when Snoop came knocking.

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