Straggler to Skel

In this post I want to discuss a specific incident in Zone One and try to understand what this scene could mean. The scene I’m looking at is the fortune teller scene, here’s a quick recap: While on their duty of sweeping Zone One, Gary, Kaitlyn, and Mark Spitz come across a fortune teller rotting in her shop. When they first see the fortune teller she appears to be a Straggler and per usual, Gary feels the need to make a joke out of it by staging a seance. During Gary’s clerical stunt, Mark Spitz notices that the Straggler appears to be smiling, and as Gary releases the fortune teller’s hand from his she bites down on his thumb. This scene surprises the characters because the fortune teller had shown signs of being a Straggler.

Up until that scene there was a clear distinction between the Stragglers and the Skels, being that one group moved and attacked the living, and the others just stood frozen and inactive. “The fortune-teller must be a mistake, an errant bad comet loping into their solar system, the malfunctioning one percent of the malfunctioning one percent.” (Whitehead 301), but what if it wasn’t just a mistake, what if it was the parasite transforming and perhaps becoming stronger? In previous scenes in the novel, if a Skel saw a human they would immediately attack them or would at least wander around until they could smell flesh. But in this scene the Skel appears to pretend to be dormant until she finds the right opportunity to make her move. So could this mean the parasite is adapting to its environment and learning to survive more efficiently? Unfortunately the novel ends before this can be explored.

If the parasite were to adapt I believe it would mean an end to civilization. At the end of the book, the outcome for Zone One already looks pretty grim, the dead are gathering in masses around Zone One, “It was the most mammoth convocation of their kind Mark Spitz had ever had the misfortune to see. The things were shoulder to shoulder across the entire width of the avenue, squeezed up against the buildings, an abhorrent parade that writhed and palsied up Broadway until the light failed.” (303) So the situation is already pretty bad, but if the Skels learned a way to mimic Stragglers I think it’d be enough for them to overcome humanity. And that would be the end of us all.

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