Real Live Zombies

This zombie story is real: the hunt for a zombie “formula” that takes a young ethnobotanist to Haiti. This is the very formula that  Clément was after and the reason he, too, went to Haiti. The young ethnobotanist, who was fascinated by psychoactive drugs, advanced the hypothesis that tetrodotoxin (TTX) is one of the ways that Haitian witchdoctors “killed” their victims and brought them back from the dead. TTX blocks sodium channels on the neural membrane. His research took him to the cemetery, of course, and a grave robbery that he, perhaps, regrets.

If that sounds like fiction, think again! The young ethnobotanist who released the story in 1985 to international acclaim and no small amount of criticism from unbelievers—not about the zombies or the work, but about the formula—is now world renowned. His book The Serpent and the Rainbow is a real look at zombies and their genesis.

Enter Wes Craven and the 1988 horror film of the same name. Suddenly reality morphs into wildest fantasy. Right. But not really. Some of us know they are one and the same. You just have to play the game, which is called “pretend.”

The young ethnobotanist went on to research the traditional use of psychoactive drugs in the Amazon, slurping up the ahyhuasca in some pretty powerful brews and once again dancing on the edge of what people call reality. Brave boy.

—Erin Orison, DEAD LOVE/the Daily Slice