Rising from the Dead

Zombies are everywhere nowadays. You can’t turn around without bumping into one. They’re all over. What would my Monday Mayhem series be without them?

Graves in Small Town Ontario
Graves in Small Town Ontario

Last week, hackers in Great Falls, Montana infiltrated KRTV’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) and broadcasted a dire warning to viewers—the zombie apocalypse had begun. A pulsating noise followed by a voice drowned the audio to the regularly scheduled program. “Dead bodies are rising from their graves.” A blue bar at the top of TV screens ran the names of counties and areas affected by the event.

The announcement continued: “Follow the messages onscreen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

Local police reported viewers had called the station requesting information. What type of firearm can the citizens use against the roamers? Of course, the police took every call seriously even though folks had placed them in jest.

But has anyone ever asked if this scenario is actually possible? It’s all very well and fine that we know this whole thing was a hoax. Who in their right mind would take something like this and act on it is beyond me. However, several things stand out.

How did the hackers gain access to the EAS? Aren’t there security checks in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening? Who performs the yearly audit of the system? Shouldn’t someone have caught this vulnerability in deployment testing? If I were the affiliate station, I would certainly place a very concerned call to the FCC demanding a revamp of the system. Then again, I am Canadian, so my ramblings really don’t count.

More importantly, I’ll ask again, has anyone yet asked if a scenario such as this is possible?

My answer? No. A resounding no! Dead bodies rising from their graves makes for a cool horror flick but looking at it from the perspective of science can prove informative.

Shaughnessy Hospital Morgue
Shaughnessy Hospital Morgue

There’s this thing called Primary Flaccidity that occurs soon after death whereby every muscle in the body relaxes. Following this condition is Rigor Mortis, which takes place about three hours after death causing muscles in the body to stiffen. During this stiffening process, blood pools into larger veins discoloring the body giving it a pale look. This is called Livor Mortis or what embalmers call Postmortem Stain, for the bruise-like appearance of where the blood settles. The sequence by which the body stiffens tends to differ due to the variance with lactic acid levels in the muscles and glycogen levels in the different types of muscle fibers. Suffice it to say the process may begin with eyelids, neck and jaw. During the course of Rigor Mortis, the body cools in another process called Algor Mortis.

Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, the body’s muscles relax again in Secondary Flaccidity. Within a week, the abdomen swells with gas produced by bacteria in the body. Skin blisters appear. Within two weeks, abdomen tightens and swells further. Within three weeks, organs and cavities burst. Nails fall off. Within a month, skin liquefies making the body unrecognizable.

It’s pretty morbid but fascinating nonetheless.

Anyway, getting back to the scenario of dead bodies rising from their graves in a maelstrom invasion of sorts—impossible. That is, impossible if the bodies hadn’t gone through decomposition. It would mean every body rising in every grave had to have died within minutes of each other and rise just before Rigor Mortis stiffened the muscles, Livor Mortis pooled the blood, Algor Mortis cooled the flesh, and Secondary Flaccidity prepped the abdomen for exploding organs.

Doesn’t make sense to me. If the reports from Montana were true, they’d of had skeletons roaming the streets and not bodies.

What does make sense, though, is an invasion born of the living, much like the post Zombie Apocalypse: Ground Zero I’d written regarding the origins of such an event.

What do you think? Is a Zombie Apocalypse possible from bodies rising from the graves? Where does science fit in all this?

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17 thoughts on “Rising from the Dead

    • I am absolutely humbled by your formal reply to my post. Unexpected and surprised is how I feel at the moment. Thank you so much for the science behind your post. I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

  1. I have to admit I am curious about the recent zombie fascination. It makes me wonder what fears are we trying to deal with, what thought makes it reasonable. I think the 28 Days Later series perhaps describes the most likely scenario in which a virus gets loose that turns living people into violent people, not like themselves at all. They are living but not capable of rational thought.

  2. Great post! I would add that I believe zombies were born with the voodoo rituals in Haiti, where individuals would either ingest or paint something on them that would cause their brains to turn to a zombie-like state. That’s a way the living became zombies, albeit for a short period.

    I also recall hearing a story of a disease that would cause individuals to appear dead for a period, with the faintest of heartbeats that were undetectable at the time. Some people in Europe were buried alive because they had the disease and medical personnel had no means to detect the faint heart beat.

    After the exhumation of bodies for other reasons, scratch marks were noticed inside of some coffins. I believe this all happened in Eastern Europe before modern medicine and is one of the reasons Christians changed the traditional wake period to three days. I’m wondering if this has been tied into the zombie mythology somehow?

  3. I haven’t finished reading it but your description of the science behind why zombies (thankfully) would ever be a real threat put me in mind of the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. It’s nonfiction and looks at the quirky places corpses have really ended up (whether the living person would have liked or not). Not necessary something to curl up with before bedtime or dinner but still a good read in my opinion. 🙂

  4. Very interesting post! I never thought of it that way.

    I usually looked at zombies through the perspective of the origins of the ‘living dead’ myth – the fear of being buried alive and voodoo. And somehow I never put it together that the grave-raising is a silly idea. Despite the fact that the idea of only recently diseased being zombie fodder was there from the start.

    I guess, the visual of a green rotting hand sticking out from the ground was too compelling for good old George A. Romero to bother with thinking about the medical side of the issue. And everyone sort of followed suit.

  5. Ah but it all makes for a great TV series and a way for charities to have some fun doing things like “Run For Your Lives”. Hopefully it never could happen but just in case, arm up! 😉

  6. In the blovel I’ve been writing, “Jessica Redux”, scientists use a norovirus on Jessica that can cause the muscles to continue to fire as long as they have fuel and a second norovirus that infects nerve cells that likewise will cause them to continue to fire as long as they have fuel. Now, in theory, ATP and glucose can be created through decomposition of the flesh around the cells. Ergo, her nerve and muscle cells continue to function even after all her organs have failed.

    All of this is theoretically possible although insanely unlikely. It would have to be administered to someone before all of the stages of decomposition you mentioned. It would have to be someone still alive but experiencing massive organ failure.

    So yeah, people rising from the graves. I’ve never seen a way for it to happen. Keeping someone quasi-functional during death and possibly after … EXTREMELY unlikely, but maybe possible in theory.

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