Short Story of the Week – Poppy Z. Brite’s Calcutta, Lord of Nerves

Some short stories you just remember.

Maybe it’s an image you remember, maybe an emotion or maybe the entire story. When it comes to Calcutta, Lord of Nerves, it’s a passage for me. A single passage that made me go “Ugh, what the…. are you allowed to write that?”

I read the story in John Joseph Adams’ THE LIVING DEAD, an absolutely outstanding collection of zombie stories. It includes stories from George Martin, Clive Barker, Stephen King and that Gaiman fellow. Mr. Adams himself says that it “Gathers together the best zombie literature of the last three decades.”

He is not wrong.

Trigger warning – uhhhh, Poppy Z. Brite writes horrory horror with horror bits. You have been warned.



The story is about an outbreak of zombies in Calcutta. The passage that has stayed with me all this time (forever imprinted in my brain) is as follows:

The dead like pussy too. If they are able to catch a woman and disable her enough so that she cannot resist, you will see the lucky ones burrowing in between the legs as happily as the most avid lover. They do not have to come up for air. I have seen them eat all the way up into the body cavity. The internal female organs seem to be a great delicacy, and why not? They are the caviar of the human body. It is a sobering thing to come across a woman sprawled in the gutter with her intestines sliding from the shredded ruin of her womb, but you do not react.

In the introduction to the story we are told that it was nominated for the World Fantasy Award the year it came out, only to lose out to another story in the collection, Dan Simmons’ This Year’s Class Picture (another phenomenal story). In acceptance speech, Dan Simmons said that the award should have gone to Calcutta, Lord of Nerves.

Only in extensive stages of decay can the dead be told from the lepers. The dead are greater in number now, and the lepers look human when compared to the dead. But that is only if you get close enough to look into the eyes. The faces in various stages of wet and dry rot, the raw ends of bones rubbing through skin like moldy cheesecloth, the cancerous domes of the skulls are the same.

Calcutta, Lord of Nerves is my favorite zombie story, followed, ironically enough, by Simmons’ This Year’s Class Picture.

If I were you, I’d buy The Living Dead. Now.


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