My dozens of adoring fans will be happy to know I am working on my third novel. It’s a vampire romance that centers around a young woman’s struggle to maintain her humanity while being courted by a powerful, centuries-old vampire that is gothically handsome and very emo. No, I’m just kidding. It’s another zombie book. Being a diligent and detail-oriented writer, I wanted to find out exactly what happens to a person’s blood when they die. I see a lot of blood spray in zombie movies and TV shows and read a myriad of different descriptions of zombie blood in books. Are any of these depictions accurate? I went to Google to find out what blood does postmortem. Apparently, I’m not much better at Google than I am at Twitter or anything else on the internets. Instead of finding out what blood does, I found out where it goes.
When a person dies, the heart stops pumping. No pumping heart means no moving blood. Like anything else, blood is subject to the law of gravity. Once the heart stops pumping it, blood starts heading for the earth’s center, resulting in livor mortis, a discoloration of the skin where blood settles inside of the body. The skin at the lowest point of the body turns a purplish color, while the rest of the skin pales from blood loss. Where this will occur on the body depends on what position a person is in when they die. The most common examples I could find were of people who ended up on their backs after they died.
This photo shows a woman who had died in a sitting position on her couch. Notice the discoloration of the face and foot.
Ever dress up as a zombie for Halloween, or just for the hell of it? Of course you have. What’s the first thing you do to get that fabulous, undead look that’s all the rage on the runways of Paris and Milan? You pale your face with makeup and blacken your eyes to give them a sunken look. A zombie’s face looks that way due to blood loss. All that lost blood has to go somewhere. In the case of the walking dead, the lowest point in the body will be the feet. So the average zombie will have a gallon and a half of blood, weighing about 13.25 pounds (about 6 kilograms) pooled inside of their feet. With roughly six and a half pounds of blood in each foot, it will be awfully hard for a zombie to run a 4.4 40. Depending on how fit they are at their time of death, it might be hard for them to move at all. A living person carrying that much extra weight in their feet would eventually have some rock hard quads, but a zombie’s muscles won’t develop in the same way. More than likely, the extra weight will accelerate the decomposition process as the muscles will burn away quicker. Before long, the undead will be pulling themselves around by their hands and dragging their useless legs behind them. Even a classic Romero zombie will look like Usain Bolt compared to what we’ll have a few months into the real zombie apocalypse.
I’ve made the point a number of times that anything said regarding zombie physiology is just speculation. While I think the theories presented in this article hold water based on scientific fact, there are also assumptions that have been made about the way a zombie’s circulatory system will work and their muscles will decay. Those assumptions are based on nothing more than popular culture. Maybe whatever brings the dead back to life will get their hearts pumping again, and everything that you’ve just read will have just been another of my countless distractions from finishing another novel. There’s no way to know for sure until the dead actually rise. So don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by this article and the idea that zombies will move very slowly. Expect anything and be prepared.