fiction by Jason Edwards
Folks, if you’re hunkered down for the night in some abandoned house, hiding behind a make-shift barricade, curled around a small transistor radio with the volume turned down low to save batteries and so the zombies won’t hear and come crashing in to devour your flesh, if over the past few months you’ve seen loved ones massacred by hungry monsters, some of them still alive and driven to madness by our now lawless society, well, I can finally tell you who’s to blame for all of it. It’s Joaquin Phoenix. Yes, the movie star, the man who used to delight you in such films as Gladiator and Walk the Line. Joaquin Rafael Phoenix, of Puerto Rico, brother of the late River, and I’m sad to report, also now late Rain, Summer, Liberty, and half-sister Jodean, all of whom were consumed at the Phoenix compound, in, ironically, Mesa Arizona. Joaquin Phoenix, nominated several times but never winning Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAS, whatever those are. Joaquin Phoenix, once called Leaf, is whole responsibly for the zombie apocalypse.
It seems Joaquin got it into his fool Hollywood brain that he could reunite the Grateful Dead, and not just a few of the surviving members, but the original band. Including Jerry Garcia—Joaquin told the New York Press that the Dead without Jerry would be like peas n carrots without peas. Never was a Dead fan, myself, and found it a bit odd that the man who portrayed Johnny Cash would have any interest in that kind of music. But that’s Hollywood for you, which just like God, works in mysterious ways.
Old Joa tried different methods to bring back Jerry. He tried séances, in an attempt to have the ghost of Jerry Garcia possess, in turn, the bodies of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, and interestingly Dakota Fanning. But of course, none of that worked. He enlisted the assistance of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who helped Joa rig up an erstwhile Frankenstein’s laboratory, complete with Ron Howard’s brother Clint as an Igor—their second choice, it seems, as they originally wanted Michael John Berryman, who was too busy signing autographs at a record two-thousandth sci-fi/horror convention.
But no dice. So off he went to the Caribbean, to look for some of that voodoo mojo, some of that serpent and rainbow. Meanwhile, other bands got in on the act, in an attempt to placate Joa Q. What was left of the Dead, a group called The Other Ones, and then The Dead, and then Furthur, sent Mr. Phoenix several telegrams assuring him they would take no part in a reunion with a reanimated Garcia. Other jam bands expressed interest in helping him with the project using non-zombie methods: Phish, Reel Big Phish, Fishbone, Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony, and Markie Mark Harmon (a hybrid Markie-Mark/Mark Harmon impersonator know for shopping mall performances of 20-minute jam covers of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) all submitted proposals via text message. Blues Traveler’s John Popper jokingly asked if Joaquin would consider resurrected his dead career, and more than a few thousand fans offered to kill Dave Matthews so that he could be brought back to life.
Joaquin stuck to his guns, and insisted on pursuing a means by which to revive Garcia himself. Many of us in the media became complacent, as we were certain this Hollywood yahoo would be too inspired by film and television, and would never hit on a non-fictional solution to his endeavor. Alas, that hubris would come back to bite us in the ass, figuratively, and literally in the case of Brian Jennings, one of the first news anchors to be eaten by a zombie—but that came later.
What came first was Joaquin returning in triumph to the United States, covered in hair, tribal tattoos, and smelling sharply of formaldehyde. At this point the internet finally got involved, and the most prominent theory was that Joaquin was in pursuit of a very elaborate ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, one of those marketing tricks where consumers look for clues which leads them to solve puzzles surrounding some new brand identity. Veterans of Halo’s “I Like Bees,” Cloverfield’s “Slusho”, and Nine Inch Nail’s “Year Zero” began a massive investigation, stumbling across and pre-solving neo-nascent ARGs for Disney’s Cars 4, a new book by Mark Danieliewski, and even a non-existent ARG for A Night Without Sunshine (the team who solved it were treated to an all-you-can eat day at a Seattle Taco Bell, location undisclosed to protect the innocent) .
Meanwhile, Joaquin and his team of 3.2 GPA MIT scientists landed in San Francisco and headed straight for the funeral home in San Rafael where Garcia had been cremated. There, they constructed an elaborate device made from the scales of starfish, dinosaur bones, radioactive carbon coated with toad DNA, and twisted –up pages from a graphic-novel version of the script of the film version of the Necronomicon. Little did Joa and company know what was in store for them—while they set up shop inside, much to the chagrin of the assistant manager of the funeral parlor who was only then made aware of the huge pay-off Phoenix had made to the owner, outside a large protest was forming, a silent vigil, fans who had gathered to both stop and worship the monster Garcia if/when it emerged.
The night sky was lit up by purple and green flashes coming from the windows (the neighborhood otherwise dark due to the power-drain caused by Joaquin’s equipment). Leading the crowd was Chuck Garvey of a certain jam band (I can’t really do justice to their name on air, as it requires a peculiar capitalization and punctuation—but it looks like the name of bartender from the Simpson and is coincidentally a Japanese slang term which has something ambiguously to do with being a fan of anime-style pre-pubescence especially personified in non-animated and no- pre-pubescent things). Garvey and String Cheese Incident’s Jason Haan assured the crowd via a 20-minute improvisational megaphone rap-battle that as long as the lights were not blue and red, all was well and Garcia was still but ash scattered in the Bay and the Ganges.
This was when the lights turned blue and red, the windows shattered, and the ground shook for miles around. All went silent, the crowd tense, eyes wide in the darkness. A low moaning was heard, and then a sharp scream, and Joaquin himself burst through the doors, standing before the crowd, covered in blood, most of it coursing from an open wound on his neck, barely visible beneath his mighty beard. And then Jerry Garcia was upon him, knocking him down and ripping viscera from his body and flinging it about him as he tried to shovel it into his face.
Folks, he was even still wearing those little glasses.
It turns out that the ashes Deborah Koons thought she had scattered were, alas, not Jerry Garcia. His body had been preserved and hidden in the funeral parlor, a fact that Joaquin had discovered almost by accident during that whole mockumentary “I’m Still Here” nonsense. (When asked to comment, Werner Herzog reportedly said something incoherent and predictably German, mentioning black-footed gray langurs, or something).
The crowd reacted predictably. Some surged towards their masters, to touch Garcia, to save Phoenix. Same fled. Some shed their clothes. And even as other bodies began to emerge from the funeral home, shuffling, reeking of rotted flesh, already in advanced states of decay despite being freshly dead and freshly reanimated, still it might have been only a minor incident and easily under control if Les Claypool and Kevin Bacon hadn’t chosen that exact moment to fire up generators, amps, and guitars, starting a bay-area funk jam fused with New Orleans style neo-Dixie, which the crowd, clothed, naked, gnawed-on or gnawing-on couldn’t help but dance to, play hacky sack to, attracting still more souls from miles around.
The heady stink of mary jane and blood covered all, and the zombies apocalypse began in an orgy of free love, craft-brewed IPAs, and more 8-gig thumb drives than had ever been collected in one spot. Some were killed and eaten outright, some were only bitten and converted on the spot to zombiedom, and still others were so overcome with THC as to call their bosses, quit their jobs via voicemail, and start bidding on VW microbuses on E-bay. But whatever happened, the zombie sickness spread. From San Rafeal to San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose, even Fresno in a matter of a few hours. The National Guard were called in, but instead of police chatter and instructions their headsets only played The Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic.
For a few days the apocalypse was contained between Yosemite National Park and the Pacific Ocean. But once it leaked into Los Angeles, all was lost. The US Government scooped up potential zombies and sent them to Afghanistan, Japanese school girls began to collect Joaquin Dead stickers laced with zombie DNA, sales of crossbows sky-rocketed, and women started naming their newborns Little Ass Kicker. The beginning of the end was in full gorge. Seattle fell, Chicago was overrun, New York fought back, gamely, but was eventually undermined by its own gridlocked streets and survivors’ confusion of the word “fuck” between either a triumphant shout or a call for help. Atlanta, of course, never stood a chance.
The last major metropolitan hold-out was in Toronto, Canada, thanks to a mixture of cold temperatures and Justin Bieber fans, who have long-been recognized as some of the most virulently anti-zombie and anti-jam-band people on the planet. They put up a game defense, but over the course of a few weeks, they too were chased down, tripped up, slaughtered, their iPods blasting “If Only You Love Me” shattered and silenced.
And so here we are, folks, scattered and broken, small groups of us clinging together for survival, fighting off the occasional tie-dyed hoard even as we fight with one another over the few remaining scraps of dignity left to us. Even as I broadcast this message, there are zombies collecting around the building that houses this studio, and I fear my own end is near. But there’s plenty of battery left, and I know some of you out there are still grasping for a bit of hope, huddled as you are around your little radios. So I’ll cue up the longest non-jam song I own,” Thick as Brick” by Jethro Tull, and set it on repeat.