That surprises come in small packages we can say with certainty for The Scattered and the Dead (Book 0.5) by Tim McBain and L. T. Vargus. But don't be too much surprised to see that this review, despite my best intentions, contains some spoilers.
The Scattered and the Dead (Book 0.5) has only 162 pages, but each page is carefully and meticulously thought over. It starts with the young man John Decker, who is writing a letter to an unknown girl (his neighbor), in a very unusual manner. He tells her that he sees her, sometimes feels like he knows her but he doesn't know how to say hi to her. Immediately after the opening sentences he starts describing to her the painful and realistically graphic death of his mother.
Decker is an introvert and he cannot fit into society. Even though he is good with saving money, he lives in his fortress of an apartment, where he is anonymous and no one knows about him. He is writing a letter to the girl three doors down across the hall, with whom he is trying to make a contact while watching the world go to shit on TV. The world is facing apocalypse, people are bleeding to death, zombies are eating people's faces, and he doesn't know how to connect with anyone.
He has endless supplies ordered from Amazon and he feels rather safe in his apartment when the face of the world, and consequently his life, rapidly changes. New deliveries stop to arrive, an old man sprays blood all over the sidewalk in front of his building, journalists wearing surgical masks report about riots and human misery everywhere. No one puts out the fire which devours the apartment building across the street, the power keeps cutting out until it goes out in the middle of the night and the big silence creeps in.
With such detailed descriptions of an apocalypse at the time of the plague, McBain and Vargus build suspense around their one main character who, as the world slides into its final days of civilization, becomes lonelier and lonelier. It makes me wonder what all goes on in the night, in the dark, in all of the places where my eyes can’t go. (. . .) Please help me find someone. I don’t know what to do, and I don’t want to be alone forever.
The horrific beauty of this book, unlike other zombie books, does not focus on the gory imagery of human degradation and destruction of our world. Those images coexist and function as a backdrop, while the true horror is that of a psychological nature of an unsocialized and abandoned 25 years old Derek who cannot stand the burden of loneliness in the world which completely belongs to him. Behold the loneliness. The only thing that’s left. The only thing that was ever real if you stripped away the novelties and distractions, maybe.
As the world around him crumbles further to pieces, Derek finds in himself strength to survive: But I’ve seen how things can change, how they must change, how all things must come to ash, how the old ways can die out and become something new. And I know I can change. I can transform. And so I will. And so he does transform, sometimes unaware of his actions which function on the most primal level. But he realizes and acknowledges the change that is happening not only in the world around him but within his lonely state as well. I started this letter in a lonely state, surrounded by people, literally in a building crawling with them, a city full of them, but unsure how to connect with them, how to really know any of them. And I end this letter in a lonely state, a different kind of lonely with no one around for miles. Apart from the dead bodies, I guess.
He is becoming someone else, an unknown person who not only manages to conquer his fears from both living people and the piles of dead bodies mass murdered in a government camp, but he also doesn't flinch in using a weapon to defend his survival, even finding rush and fun in killing other human beings.
McBain and Vargus have created a spectacularly creepy psychological and apocalyptic novella full of anxiety. Though from a different perspective, it brings to our mind a memory on the literary classic The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The biggest question we ask ourselves at the end of The Scattered and the Dead (Book 0.5) is who are the true winners in this story – the ones who mercifully (or not) fell victims or its survivor(s). For, living in a big wide world full of dead bodies of the disease-plagued mankind is not a prospect we should look forward to. Unless we are able to mentally transform into something we aren't, bared to our basic instinct.