Ginger Apocalypse 2016: The Good, the Dead, and the Sugary

Time has passed in the land of the ginger zombies. Though the sugary horror continues, the unrelenting march of the seasons continues. Spring turns to summer, which bleeds into autumn, which in turn changes to winter. The cycle continues, on and on, while the ginger zombies continue their domination of the world.

Sarah, the reluctant hero of our holiday tales, was last seen in Romania, running a zombie carnival with her lumberjack-crush, Jon. Though the zombies were entertained for a time, the shaky peace was soon shattered, and the two found themselves on the run from the ginger zombies once more.

Jon and Sarah wandered to the English countryside, where long abandoned manor houses dotted a wild landscape. The zombie population was low (with most of them having moved on to more populated regions of the cookie world), the homes were stately, and our heroes were weary. They soon set up camp in Frostingshire Manor, and things seemed peaceful.

For a time.

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“First we take over the table, then… THE WORLD.”

Unfortunately, peace doesn’t last in a time of sweet monsters. When their new friend Darryl came back from a supply run, he brought more than food back to our lumberjack-and-jill. And now chaos has overtaken Frostingshire Manor, while our heroes once again fight for their lives.

Jon has taken up his trusty chainsaw once more, dismembering one of the deadly sugar zombies on his front walk:

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A proud homeowner, Jon made sure the walk remained impeccably clean.

At his feet sits a second Molotov cocktail, the first of which he threw at a zombie lurking near one of the large trees on the estate. The zombie has yet to realize she will be burnt sugar in but a few moments:

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Two minutes from now: “THAT ZOMBIE’S ON FIYAAAAAAH!”

But as prepared as Jon may seem, he needs to be careful. A third ginger zombie has crept onto the second story balcony, ready to leap down on an unsuspecting cookie at ANY TIME:

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“Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting COOKIE.”

After a rough start (in which an eye was lost to a hungry zombie mouth), Sarah has come into her own over by Darryl’s truck. The memory of her time as a lumberjill has flowed into her arm, and while she may not be wearing plaid, she IS wielding her axe with deadly precision. Darryl’s truck bed, once loaded with supplies, is now piled high with the remains of the zombies that have crossed Sarah’s path:

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*cue zombie country song*

Unfortunately, the owner of that truck was… not so lucky. Darryl met a tragic end when he tripped, fell into the pond… and was the first to discover that even the local wildlife has succumbed to the sugary zombie virus:

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Zombie ducky, you’re the one. You make bath time so much OH GOD, THE AGONY!

Nearby, another zombie skips rope with Darryl’s intestines, which is rude, even for a zombie:

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Crossfit began marketing to zombies almost immediately.

Watching over all this is the first zombie to attack the manor, a zombie Jon strung up as a warning to the others. A warning they promptly ignored, but it was a valiant attempt:

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“C’mon guys. I just wanted to HANG OUT.”

Will Jon and Sarah repel the zombies once more? Will Sarah get a really cool eyepatch now? Is that duck an ominous portent of things to come? Will the world be overrun by zombie ANIMALS too? Tune in next year to find out!

Ginger Apocalypse 2014: The Refrostening

Another year has come and gone, and the time of the ginger zombies is upon us once more. When last we checked in with Sarah, our lumberjill (jessica? jane?) turned loving housewife, she had been avenging the death of her beloved Jimmy, taken from her less than a year after meeting him. Their marriage had been short but sweet, and Sarah grieved deeply for the death of her man.

But after escaping the forest clearing in the truck of a wandering lumberjack, Sarah found herself remembering her younger days. The days before tiny sugary zombies swarmed across the candy globe. When she had lived up north and worn a lot of plaid and chopped down trees for fun. Despite herself, Sarah once again felt a stirring of emotions for her companion.

Jon the Lumberjack may have liked Sarah well enough, but in true outdoorsman fashion, his first instinct was survival. For some time, Jon and Sarah traveled around the world, trying to carve out a safe haven for themselves. However, it soon became evident that the world was overrun with ginger zombies. Sweet cookie humanity had no hope of beating back the zombie scourge.

So one day, while the two were wandering down a Romanian road, decapitating zombies and talking, Sarah made a radical suggestion. What if, instead of fighting zombies… they learned to live WITH them? Jon mulled this over, but when they stumbled upon the old gypsy wagon, it seemed almost natural to just embrace it. After all, they were pretty nomadic as it was.

And so, Jon and Sarah became gypsies, and they ran a small carnival to entertain the zombies. It turns out Sarah was right- it was much easier to live with the undead than to fight them:

Undead fun fair, now open for business.

Undead fun fair, now open for business.

Jon has grown his beard out and dyed his hair to better fit the role. Little ginger zombies come from all over to visit the traveling fair:

This zombie seems confused- is this ring toss or intestine toss?

This zombie seems confused- is this ring toss or intestine toss?

But it’s not all fun and games out here- one of the little zombies has snuck into one of the booths. Jon better be careful, or his gypsy charade will meet a tragic end:

Imma gonna nom you.

Imma gonna nom you.

Sarah has also embraced the gypsy theme, working from their cart as a fortune teller:

"I see... death in your future. Not really much of a surprise there. The cards always say the same thing, really."

“I see… death in your future. Not really much of a surprise there. The cards always say the same thing, really.”

The last customer got a little… HANDSY. And MOUTHSY. And BITESY with our heroine. And so, she impaled the creature with a spare tent pole:

Ain't no zombie getting the (gum)drop on our girl.

Ain’t no zombie getting the (gum)drop on our girl.

Yes, the show is thriving, and some zombies just can’t wait to take their turn at the games:

"Must... win... skeleton... goldfish"

“Must… win… skeleton… goldfish”

Of course, there are some… unsavory aspects to running a zombie carnival. But Jon and Sarah have learned that the best way to keep the zombies from attacking them is to provide them with piles of fresh offal and meat:

You gotta do what you gotta do.

You gotta do what you gotta do.

But at the end of the night, Jon and Sarah will curl up by their fire, happy, safe (mostly), and together:

So toasty.

So toasty.

What more could you ask for during the holidays?

BONUS: Kitty with frosting on his nose:

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Ginger Apocalypse 2013: Life in the Frost Lane

One year ago, tiny confectionery zombies were unleashed upon the world. We last saw them ravaging a train station, where three intrepid survivors attempted to hold out against the sugary horde.

A year has passed since that fateful night. Whether the other two survivors made it or not remains unknown, but lumberjack (jill? jane? jenny?) Sarah managed to escape the overrun station and flee into the nearby woods. She wandered for a time, living off the land, killing the occasional solo undead, before eventually stumbling upon a clearing… where a man stood, leveling a rifle at her head.

It was love at first sight. Jimmy and Sarah built a cabin in those remote northern woods, hidden from the bulk of the rampaging zombie menace. As the year went on, their love only grew, and they eventually got married.

Well, I mean, they stood in front of a snowman they built and exchanged some rings they scavenged off of the few zombies that had wandered into their home, because seriously, it’s the apocalypse and nobody is around to officiate a wedding these days.

But it was only a matter of time before their peaceful existence was shattered by the plague of sugary shamblers sweeping the world:

The horror. THE HORROR.

The horror. THE HORROR.

Sarah’s woodland paradise has erupted into a riot of blood and killer zombies. Truly, nothing is sacred in this world:

Dammit, Jimmy, I'm a lumberjill/housewife, not a doctor!

Dammit, Jimmy, I’m a lumberjill/housewife, not a doctor!

Poor Jimmy, love of Sarah’s life, has fallen at the hands of the undead masses. Torn apart by a happy little zombie right in front of Sarah, the former Northern badass collapsed into a mushy, girly, sobby wreck for a moment, clinging to the bloody bits of her former lover/husband, before grabbing a knife and promptly beheading the zombie that did her love in.

But there are too many zombies for Sarah to handle, and her neighbor, Carl (who had been out fishing), has been slaughtered and left on the lake’s shore:

Carl was always kind of weird, but he brought the couple meat every few days, so they tolerated his presence in their love glen.

Carl was always kind of weird, but he brought the couple meat every few days, so they tolerated his presence in their love glen.

It seems that this year, the zombies aren’t just out for blood- they’re out to celebrate the holidays as well. Could these ginger bastards get any more twisted? And Sarah’s little clearing just so happens to be the perfect place to hold their undead festivities:

Yes, that's Carl's head. Poor, dead Carl. Now you are nothing more than a tacky holiday ornament.

Yes, that’s Carl’s head. Poor, dead Carl. Now you are nothing more than a tacky holiday ornament.

Thankfully, all hope is not lost for Sarah. A magnificently bearded stranger has just pulled up in his ancient pickup, a chainsaw in hand and a zombie-slaying fire in his eye:

We may not know why he is here (or why he's driving a pickup through the woods), but this stranger may be Sarah's last hope.

We may not know why he is here (or why he’s driving a pick up through the woods), but this stranger may be Sarah’s last hope.

Can Sarah and the handsome, rugged stranger hold out against the tiny monstrosities? Perhaps an aircraft will see the illuminated message Sarah placed on the roof (in the event of just such a tragedy) and rescue our heroes:

That foot's been up there awhile. Nobody can remember who it belonged to.

That foot’s been up there awhile. Nobody can remember who it belonged to. Nice bloodsicle, though.

Or maybe this is the end for Sarah and our bearded stranger. Perhaps this is where they feel the icing-covered hand of death grip their little sugar hearts.

What do you think?

Ginger Apocalypse 2012: Frost Like Nobody’s Watching

It’s finally happened, galleons. Zombies have been unleashed upon the world. Of course, these zombies are of a tiny, sweet variety, and their only real prey are the frosted brains (and candy organs) of other gingerbread people, but for these poor cookies, a veritable sugary HELL has been unleashed.

BEHOLD THE GINGER APOCALYPSE IN ALL ITS GORY GLORY!

SWEET (get it?) JESUS, THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!

SWEET (get it?) JESUS, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!

That’s right- all hell has broken loose on this tiny train yard, and it’s up to three stalwart defenders to keep the ravening horde at bay.

Let’s meet the survivors!

This is Sarah. She's from hardy, northern stock. She may be a lumberjack (lumberjane? lumberjill?). She really wishes Sam had given her a rifle/shotgun instead of these pussy pistols.

This is Sarah. She’s from hardy, northern stock. She may be a lumberjack (lumberjane? lumberjill?). She really wishes Sam had given her a rifle/shotgun instead of these pussy pistols.

This is Louis. He escaped from a zombie-filled nightmare video game only to find himself in yet another train yard surrounded by even more zombies. He's pretty pissed about all this.

This is Louis. He escaped from a zombie-filled nightmare video game only to find himself in yet another train yard surrounded by even more zombies. He’s pretty pissed about all this.

This is Ron Fucking Swanson.Enough said.

This is Ron Fucking Swanson.
Enough said.

There were five in their little gang, but two have already lost their lives at the hands of the blood-thirsty zombies:

Ron's friend Ned, tragically, fell right before they reached the station. Even a Swanson couldn't save him, so Ron was forced to leave his friend's body behind (as you can see by the bloody footprints).

Ron’s friend Ned tragically fell right before they reached the station. Even a Swanson couldn’t save him, so Ron was forced to leave his friend’s body behind (as you can see by the bloody footprints).

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That was Charles. To be fair, nobody liked Charles. But that doesn’t mean he deserved to die and get his intestines slurped up like spaghetti by some zombie dame, does it?

Unfortunately, our intrepid heroes have made the rookie mistake of splitting up, and are now each facing down their own perils. Alone.

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Ron made it to the station, but he’s been pursued by this specky zombie dude.

But fear not! Not only is Ron a crack shot, but he's found a health pack and some ammo. He should be able to hold out in the station for some time.

But fear not! Not only is Ron a crack shot, but he’s found a health pack and some ammo. He should be able to hold out in the station for some time.

Despite her inferior weaponry, Sarah has already incapacitated one zombie (though it's not dead yet- headshots, Sarah, HEADSHOTS), but she's got another heading her way.

Despite her inferior weaponry, Sarah has already incapacitated one zombie (though it’s not dead yet- headshots, Sarah, HEADSHOTS), but she’s got another heading her way.

Louis is trapped atop the train itself, with two hungry zombies trying to climb up to him.

Louis is trapped atop the train itself, with two hungry zombies trying to climb up to him.

But there's hope for Louis yet. If he can make his way over to the last train car, there are two molotovs sitting up there, waiting to rain fiery badness down upon the undead masses.

But there’s hope for Louis yet. If he can make his way over to the last train car, there are two Molotovs sitting up there, waiting to rain fiery badness down upon the undead masses.

Will the survivors make it out of the train yard alive? Or will they, like so many before them, fall prey to the frosting smeared maws of the tiny ginger zombies?

Triple Special Awesome Zombie Holiday Time Attack!

And now, dear galleons, because it is Halloween (and I’m a lazy fucker and don’t want to write a real post), here are my three favorite songs about those perennial favorites: ZOMBIES.

Number Three: “Who Do You Voodoo Bitch?” Sam B

Number Two: “Re: Your Brains” Jonathan Coulton

Now in French!

Number One: “Zombie Apocalypse Blues” Peter Chiykowski

Coming Soon to a Campus Near You

Galleons, the following is a theory I made up two or three years ago, at the height of my Left 4 Dead career (and before the second one came out). I think it’s about time I fleshed it out and wrote it down here, for your reading pleasure.

***

Shelley: Ames, there are legions of the risen undead on our heels. These aren’t frat boys, they’re zombies. Animated corpses that would rather suck out your cerebellum than peek at your knickers.

Amy: Oh, fine. Last week it’s “I wish I could find a boy who was interested in my brain and not my body” and now you’re all “Aaaugh zombies!” Seriously, Shel. Make up your damn mind.

Though our generation seems a bit zombie obsessed these last few years, we aren’t so much spending our time trying to create the t-virus (except as a cocktail), learning to shoot a variety of firearms, or stockpiling for the apocalypse we all claim to desire… instead, we’re playing copious amounts of zombie games and discussing increasingly ridiculous plans for how our badass selves will fight off the undead swarm come doomsday.

While I have long since come to terms with the fact that I’m going to die a horrible death come the zombie apocalypse (see this post for more on that), some people are just now beginning to realize that their intensive gaming will not enable them to survive a brain-loving horde. There aren’t going to be ammo piles stashed in office buildings and random sheds. Pistols don’t have unlimited ammo. There isn’t going to be a musical cue signaling the arrival of a mass of zombies. There’s no guarantee zombies won’t be able to open doors. Wrapping a bandage around your leg won’t cure a broken bone or an infected zombie bite. You aren’t going to die and then respawn in a closet a few hundred feet away.

However, I think there is an aspect of the ZA that Valve got right in their Left 4 Dead series: the special infected.

Don’t believe me? I’m about to show you that every special infected from the first game can be found at your typical college party.

Lock and load, galleons.

***

The Tank

This is the guy you cannot fucking miss at the party. He kicks the door open, loudly announcing his presence, and slamming two fifths (Jäger and Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark) down on the table, which will be all-but-drained by the end of the night, leaving the party-goers who manage to maintain their mental faculties while imbibing alcohol wondering just how the hell that son-of-a-bitch isn’t in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Probably something to do with weight ratios or BMI or something.

Regardless, the Tank (it’s highly likely that pre-ZA, he already had this nickname) is a booze-consuming machine. He’s loud, he’s huge, and he’s always fucking drinking. He brought his own beer bong. By the end of the night, his shirt is getting so soaked with beer and liquor that he will likely end up ripping it off (literally… that shirt’s seams will leap apart like two positive magnetic poles or high school kids when a cop comes up to the car they are making out in and bangs his flashlight on the fogged up window).

Here we see a herd of Tanks at a watering trough:

And this is when his naturally loud, aggressive personality combines with the pints of alcohol churning in his stomach to make him into a drunk, hulking rage machine. Remember, this is the guy who probably peaked in high school. He was on the football team, and in his hometown, he was like a bulky god. But he didn’t get onto a college team, and now his body is going to seed due to the amount of beer he downs every weekend and he overcompensates for his sports failures by being too loud and too in-your-face and willing to fight every man that so much as blinks at him.

Yes, he wants to fight you. Did you accidentally bump him while threading your way through the crowd to the bathroom? Did you grab the last beer out of the fridge? Did you beat him in beer pong? Did you start making out with a girl who may or may not have made eye contact with him at one point during the night when she was trying to find the rest of her ladypack? Did you make the mistake of breathing near him?

Prepare yourself- you’re about to be on the receiving end of some full-on Tank rage.

So, when the ZA rolls around, our Tanks just become stronger and meaner. As if you dumped steroids and three handles of Wild Turkey into their undead bellies, all you have is one pissed off, flesh-eating monstrosity. You no longer have to do anything to become the sorry sack he’s going to turn his blood-drunk anger on- you’re fucked if you are within his line of sight. Announcing his presence with a load roar (which is about the same as when he was alive, actually), he’s upgraded from chair-tossing to rock-hurtling. Still, he’s not much different than he was in life- you’re still trying to avoid him, running if he targets you and hoping some other sorry bastard manages to catch his eye.

***

The Smoker

Oh, you know this douchebag. Him and his cronies are the ones you have to fight through to get into the party, moving through a haze of cigarette smoke and inane conversation. He’s the one who, when inside, nods to several cohorts scattered throughout the party, and stands up. As if of one mind, 1/3 of the party-goers suddenly stand up, ambling toward the door as they make their way outside to inhale that sweet, sweet cancer.

Wait… where the fuck did my conversation partner just go? Oh, that’s right- the fucking smokers have snagged them and dragged them outside. They are now spending their time with the hipsters, the wanna-be academics, the assholes who have spent their time in the classroom learning nothing except how to parrot the ideas of their professors. They’ve read one article regarding a current political situation, so they decide to spend thirty minutes arrogantly expounding on the socioeconomic issues currently in play, all the while not really understanding the situation and knowing nothing about the region, the culture, or economics in general.

Smokers are complete cocks. Not only are they incredible windbags, making your brains pour out your ears in a painful stream, but they spend half the night conning cigarettes off anyone and everyone in the immediate vicinity, citing the Smoker’s Code (bum generously and ye shall be bummed to during your own time of need… cancerous karma at its finest) and making promises of repayment they’ll never honor.

So when the ZA rolls around, these guys are fucked. Still hooked on their deathstick habit, they don’t have cigarettes or conversation partners anymore. Those tongues that they used to flap so wantonly on porches and balconies they must now use to ensnare survivors, hoping for one more smoke or someone to listen to their opinions on Derrida.

Come on, buddy. I promise I’ll pay you back when the cure’s found.

After years of useless chatter and chainsmoking, all they are composed of is hot air and smoke. When shot, they explode into their base constituents, desperately sucking in one last lungful of their own filth in an attempt to get another nicotine high.

***

The Boomer

Nobody likes this guy.

This guy wishes he was the Tank. Maybe he played the sports in high school, too. It’s more likely he played the tuba in the band. Or held dungeon delves in his mom’s basement. Whatever his origins, the fact remains that he is now a large, squishy ball of danger. He shows up to the party and proceeds to immediately start the drinking games. Beer Pong. Flip Cup. Quarters. Ride the Bus. Kings (or Waterfall or whatever the fuck you call that dumbshit game). He’s got a case of the cheapest beer he could find, and he’s in it for the long haul. He is always playing a game, always downing a beer. Less aggressive than the Tank, he tends to be quieter, though he’s still actively keeping the beer-based games alive.

Mostly because he’s incapable of any other form of party socialization.

Besides being slightly annoying (one can only be asked to join his Flip Cup team so many times before irritation sets in), this guy really isn’t anything to worry about. For the bulk of the night.

But the more booze that pours into him, the more dangerous he gets. He’s like a time bomb, and it’s only a matter of when this fucker’s gonna blow. And oh, how he’ll blow. The vomit will spew from him like a mighty cannon. A chunky, soupy fountain of vomit will arc through the air, and for just a moment, you’ll almost be impressed.

Until you get hit by the spray.

A serial projectile vomiter, all anyone can really hope for is that the alcohol incapacitates him enough before he lets loose that all he manages to do is soak himself in his shame.

And after the ZA, these poor slobs, their sensitive stomachs full of zombie bile, can do nothing but resort to old habits. Whether the horde is drawn to the scent of the bile or the smell of your humiliation as you wipe the Boomer’s vomit from out of your eyes is up for debate.

***

The Hunter

You see that kid along the wall there? Yeah, I missed him the first time I looked over as well. Dressed mostly in black, his hair a jagged swoop over his eyes, he’s doing his damnedest to not actually interact with anyone at the gathering. His phone may be in his hand, but he’s not actually texting anyone- he’s just updating his Twitter about how lame everyone is and possibly blogging about the futility of trying to socialize with people who just don’t understand what he’s going through.

Oh, emo boy in the corner. You are such a cocksucker.

With his hood up over his head, he’s completely isolating himself from everyone around him, though at the end of the night, he’ll tell his friends about how awful the party was. How the hell would you know, emo kid? You weren’t really there. You were the scenery, not a party-goer.

Every so often, someone will approach this guy. They’ll make an effort to include him. He’ll respond by viciously tearing them apart with his sarcasm and angst-ridden fuckery. Bitchy, the other person will leave, and the emo kid will roll his eyes, certain that this was proof that everyone at the party is a mindless idiot and he’s better off not even trying to engage people this vapid.

He never ends up in the actual party photographs as he prowls around the fringes of the gathering, avoiding the flashing cameras and phones with a sneer of derision. Nobody will notice, but for twenty minutes or so, he will vanish into the bathroom, taking his own photos of the party…

127 stupid

Fucking

Ridiculously angled

Self-portraits

…Often in mirrors.

When the ZA hits, he has to give up his sharp tongue for a set of wicked sharp claws, but it’s about the same. He prowls around the edges of the mobs, pouncing on some poor sap and ripping them apart.

And he never gives up the hoodie.

***

The Witch


Some of you might be surprised that I feel the Witch is not the emo kid of the ZA. And while a fairly strong case can be made for the whiny bitch being super emo, I say there’s a better explanation.

Galleons, meet the party’s drunk crying chick.

There’s always one. One female that gets too drunk off her wine coolers and the 2 shots of coconut rum she giggled her way through. She doesn’t have the courtesy to just sleep with some random guy or quietly vomit in the bathroom.

Oh fuck no.

Already an emotional basketcase (due to her unfortunate condition of possessing a vagina), this bitch decides to just let loose with the waterworks in the middle of the festivities. Her wailing, ragged sobbing causes everyone to turn slowly, knowing exactly what they’re going to see slumped on the floor of the kitchen. Her hair is disheveled, her makeup running down her face in watery black trails. Clutching her hands to her rapidly reddening face, she starts warbling about being unattractive and how nobody likes her and what an asshole that Mark boy is and how she can’t believe she’s single and how all her friends really hate her… It’s a torrent of unwarranted bitching.

She’s not an emo kid, she’s an attention whore. She needs to be reassured that she’s pretty and fuckable and interesting and that people like her and that Mark is going to call her and if he doesn’t he can just go to hell because she’s an amazing person and he should be honored she’d even consider going out with a guy like that…

Of course, she’s not going to believe a goddamn word that’s said to her, but she’s also not going to shut up until some unfortunate soul gets close enough to try to calm her down. And when they do, she’s going to lash out, physically and verbally, screaming at them and clawing at them to get their goddamn hands off her, she doesn’t need their pity, they don’t understand, just leave her the fuck alone. Somebody is going to be stuck with the unsavory task of pinning her arms to her sides in a half-hug while attempting to soothingly rub her back while she flails like a fish and yells watery obscenities. Eventually, she’ll give in and finish it all with a truly spectacular flood of eye water and I’m so ugly and you’re my best friend and I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Nobody wants that fucking job.

Instead of leaping to crying chick’s side, everyone is going to shuffle their feet, nervously glance around, and try to turn their backs to her and begin a stilted resumption of their previous conversations. People who need to piss walk carefully past her, tip toeing their way around the sobbing female and rushing to the safety of the bathroom. Make no sudden movements. Do not attract her attention. You don’t want to be the one stuck consoling her for an hour and a half.

The ZA happens, and she’s basically the exact same. Only now, instead of just slapping at you, she tears your face off with her terrifying claws.

Bitch be crazy.

***

And really, if you think about it, the rest of the party goers are the same kind of single-minded rabble as a regular ol’ zombie horde. You have to fight your way through them to get anywhere.

It seems parties are probably the best preparation for the ZA. If ever there was an excuse to attend them, dear galleons, I think this is it.

Brand New ‘TAG’: Scientists Rewrite Genome

I love making German puns (especially when nestled within a Doctor Horrible reference)…

Anyway, a recent bit of news out of Harvard, Yale, and MIT (yes, we’re playing with the big boys today) is an interesting piece of tech that could revolutionize genetic manipulation.

Galleons, I assume you are all familiar with the find-and-replace function common in word processors. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is all too familiar with it, as they recently made a hilarious mistake on their commuter rail tickets in the month of June. Apparently, they did a find-and-replace on their tickets, replacing “MAY” with “JUN”, which led to:

Good times.

On the whole, however, find-and-replace works quite well. And scientists have found a way to harness this common function and apply the basic concept to changing pieces of a cell’s genome.

Skeptical? You aren’t the only ones.

“We did get some skepticism from biologists early on,” says Peter Carr, senior research staff at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. “When you’re making so many intentional changes to the genome, you might think something’s got to go wrong with that.”

However, the researchers have managed to do hundreds of targeted edits of E. coli gene stuffs in living cells, with the altered bacteria behaving normally.

So, how do they do it?

There are four nucleotides involved in the genetic code of most DNA (and you’ll probably recognize, if not their names, then the letters themselves): Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine. When you take three of these nucleotides and put them together in sequence, you get a codon. There are 64 unique codons in the genetic code. On the most basic level, most codons add an amino acid to a growing polypeptide chain, which eventually becomes a protein in the capable hands of our friends, ribosomes. However, some codons (known oh-so-cleverly as stop codons) stop the addition of an amino acid to that chain.

Within E. coli, the TAG stop codon in the rarest (like Mew). Which makes it a prime target for our find-and-replace endeavor. An endeavor that requires some much more specialized tech than your average word processor. After all, it’s not like we can just open up a text file and type in our terms, replacing all with the click of a button:

The first bit of tech is multiplex automated genome engineering (MAGE), which locates specific DNA sequences and replaces them with a new sequence as the cell copies its DNA. Using this, scientists assume direct control of the changes happening within a cell.

The second is conjugative assembly genome engineering (CAGE), which gives them precise control over a process that bacteria use to exchange genetic material, wherein one bacterium builds a little extension/bridge to its neighbor and passes a piece of its genetic material to its new bridgemate.

Specifically, scientists used MAGE to manufacture 32 strains of E. coli in which they replaced 10 of the TAG stop codons with TAA stop codons. But there are 314 total edits required to completely replace all of the TAG codons, so scientists decided to use CAGE to make things a bit simpler.

Basically, they built a playoff bracket for their little bacteria strains, with each one sharing a bit of genetic goodness with one other strain. So, after Round 1 of CAGE, 16 strains were standing, each now containing 20 edits. Then they were put back into CAGE for Round 2, which yielded 8 strains with 40 edits each.

They’ve managed to get their strains down to 4 (with 80 edits in each, roughly a quarter of the total 314 needed), and they believe they’re on track to create that single strain with all of the needed substitutions.

After they’ve managed to substitute all of the TAG codons, they are going to go in and delete the machinery that reads that particular codon. After all, if it doesn’t exist anymore, why should the cell be able to read it? That will free up this slot for a whole new purpose, which scientists can use to encode new amino acids.

***

But… why? That’s always the question, galleons. While it just sounds cool to muck around in a cell’s genome like that, we all know scientists have to have some ulterior motives when bothering to create such sophisticated technology in an attempt to fine-tune this kind of genetic tampering.

And this is where shit gets scary.

See, with this technology, scientists could engineer bacteria that are resistant to viruses. Because viruses can only infect a cell if the bacterial and viral genetic codes are the same. Change the genetic code and the bacteria suddenly becomes safe from those pesky viruses.

While scientists claim they could also create little genetic firewalls that prevent their engineered bacteria from spreading their genes to natural bacteria (or just prevent them from being able to survive in the wild in general), I’m just saying…

It sounds like we’ve taken our first steps toward the accidental creation of a zombie virus and the subsequent apocalypse.

Galleons, get your shotguns.