Undead Week: A Rant on Perspective

Why are the undead written so similar to the living?

Their death changes nothing. They still see the same colors, feel the same walls, smell the same scents—okay, maybe the blood smells stronger, but honestly, that’s cliché. They can’t always go out in the sunlight, sure, but that’s barely a change. Hearts which no longer beat still race; blood that no longer pumps still rises for a blush.

This sort of death and return will not fly. They are not dead. They are not alive. By necessity, they should be different. Why are they not?

Undeath is liminality, sitting on the brink between two worlds. It’s a perpetual meeting, standing between two groups and never fitting into either. And yet the ghosts talk like everyone else, and the vampires—so different, so unreal—still manage to attract everyone to their beds. Why are they all so mundane? Why not make of undeath something new?

Why does the ghost, intangible, have the same senses as her human counterpart? What would come in place of touch? Might they not see opacity as hue, solidity as shade, differentiate between light mist and the wax-paper skin of one living past his time as we would between teal and navy blue? Why not blur feeling and sensation, so that the ghost trades sunlight and cold wind on her skin for the feeling of irritation from the commuters on a Monday morning, or the exultation of children at recess? When watching that old woman in the choir, eighty-something going on immortal, can your ghost warm herself with the woman’s ageless zeal? Does she brush up near the edges of a crowd, everyone familiar, everyone belonging, and find that sense of togetherness as solid as they find the doors to the room?

How does the vampire feel his weaknesses? When confronted with a pile of millet seed on the ground, is the urge to count the grains in his head? His hands? Does he even realize he’s doing it before he’s finished? When they place a sprig of wild rose on the coffin (yes, Stoker said so), is what keeps him from rising from it a weight on the lid, or on his limbs; a smell dulling his wits or just preventing him from waking?

What is it like to have died? Is it like rising from a weight? Burning away? Is there light, darkness, warmth, cold, something nobody’s mentioned yet? Do they see themselves? Were there calls to go farther into something new? Have they, as Garth Nix would imply, pulled themselves to their feet in an endless gray current and trudged against it back to the world they belong in? Or awoken in a forest and taken the left hand path at every crossroads?

We are fantasists. Death is what we choose to make of it. If we’re going to use it as a transition and not an ending, let’s make it worth taking the time to come out on the other side.

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