Out framing story this time is kind of strange. Taking place in THE AMAZON RAINFOREST, BRAZIL, fictional Max Brooks arrives at a secret settlement built by an indigenous tribe who survived the zombie apocalypse because they build houses suspended in trees. I have no idea if this is based on a real culture, although they may have been inspired by these people.
At the village, Max Brooks meets an "emaciated, drug-addicted white man" named Fernando Oliveira. According to Brooks, it's not clear whether he's "their mascot, guest or prisoner".
This is the only setup we get for Oliveira before he launches into his story. We never find out how he ended up living with/being imprisoned by a remote culture in the Amazon rainforest. This kind of shatters the conceit that this is a non-fiction book, since you can't really leave details like that unexplained in real life.
Anyway, Oliveira is here to tell us how the zombie plague spread so quickly all over the world. As I've already touched on and will be touching on again, the book's "realistic" depiction of zombies and the mechanics of the outbreak don't make a whole lot of sense, but this one aspect is actually pretty clever.
Basically, our boy Oliveira was a surgeon doing black-market organ transplants, mostly for rich Americans and Europeans. These organs were provided to him on a no-questions-asked policy, which means they came from China because China is the dodgy organ capital of the world in books like this.
(Okay, yes, there is evidence that this is or was a real thing, but I still maintain that it's hacky to use as a trope in fiction, at least if the fiction in question isn't explicitly about organ harvesting. It's another case of the book presenting only the tabloid version of any locale outside America).
You can see where this is going: infected organs, exported all over the world to start their own outbreaks.
As Oliveira explains, major organs weren't really an issue; if you gave someone an infected heart, they'd basically turn instantly as the virus went right to the brain. But give someone an infected skin graft or cornea, and they could be safely back home by the time the virus travelled through their capillaries and they started showing symptoms (I have no idea if this is how a viral infection via organ transplant would really work, but it's a neat idea so I'm just going with it).
Any hypothetical zombie apocalypse has to overcome to the fact that the virus's spread is inherently land-locked. You might get travellers or refugees crossing inter-continental seas in the early stages, but once the scale of the problem became apparent you'd expect the Americas, Australia and the world's many islands to shut their borders down as tightly as possible. WWZ's organ transplant idea neatly gets around this by positing that by the time anyone thought to do this, it was already too late, as infected transplantees were walking around like time bombs.
Oliveira is only in the book to deliver this one piece of exposition, but we also get some good old-fashioned zombie horror when he recounts his first close encounter with the living dead.
Herr Muller, in addition to his conventional heart ailments, was cursed with the extremely rare genetic defect of dextrocardia with situs inversus. His organs lay in their exact opposite position; the liver was on the left side, the heart entryways on the right, and so on.
This is a real condition. It's so rare that only a handful of people are known to have had it; notable examples include Enrique Inglasias and Catherine O'Hara. Feel free to bust that factoid out at parties, everyone will be really impressed.
Herr Muller (because of course the German guy was named Muller, and of course the narration calls him Herr Muller) started showing signs that something was badly wrong as soon as the transplant was finished, but the cardiac surgeon Oliveira was working with was like "Pfft it's probably just because he's an unhealthy old guy, them's the breaks, go have some fun to take your mind off it". Oliveira did just that, but he raced back to the clinic when he got a panicked call from his secretary.
I arrived to find Graziela trying to comfort a hysterical Rosi, one of my nurses. The poor girl was inconsolable. I gave her a good one across the cheek—that calmed her down—and asked her what was going on.
Slapping someone in the middle of a panic attack or emotional distress is not actually a good way to "snap them out of it". In fact, they might attack you since their fight or flight response is going haywire (and you'd deserve it, for being an asshole).
The now non-hysterical nurse explains that Mr. Muller flatlined suddenly, then got up and bit the cardiologist while he was trying to revive him. The nurse for some reason immediately fled the room and locked it behind her, for...some reason. I feel like most seasoned medical professionals wouldn't react in this extreme a manner to seeing someone get bitten on the arm, even if it was by another human.
Silva was lying in the far corner, Muller crouching over him with his fat, pale, hairy back to me. I can’t remember how I got his attention, whether I called his name, uttered a swear, or did anything at all but just stand there. Muller turned to me, bits of bloody meat falling from his open mouth. I saw that his steel sutures had been partially pried open and a thick, black, gelatinous fluid oozed through the incision.
This book generally follows the zombie lore established by the Zombie Survival Guide, except for the addition of this black gunk that comes out of freshly-turned zombies. I'm not sure whether it's meant to be some kind of special Zombie Fluid or just congealed blood. I have a feeling that Max Brooks realized between writing the Guide and WWZ that the ridiculously infectious nature of the zombie virus would make it impossible for anyone to fight them without infecting everyone in a ten-metre radius, so he added this bit about their internal fluids becoming viscous shortly after turning (Muller has only been zombified for like half an hour at this point).
Oliveira pulls out the comically oversized handgun that characters like him are required by the Law Of Clichés to carry (yes, it's a Desert Eagle) and shoots Muller in the noggin. Our first classic zombie kill! There'll be a lot more, although I think this scene is a lot creepier and more impactful than the later parts where you have armies of zombies sweeping across the landscape. I tend to find zombies scarier when they're used with constraint.
Next time: even more zombies, if you can believe it.