A True Tale of Voodoo Zombification and Pufferfish

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On a typical Caribbean day, natives of a small Haitian village were enjoying their weekly cock-fight when they looked up and saw a soiled, bedraggled boy standing in their midst. Shock instantly gripped the gathering. They all knew who the boy was; he was Wilfrid Doricent. But how could he possibly be here? There was only one logical conclusion.

Wilfrid Doricent had become a zombie.

shutterstock_82532254.jpgTen days earlier, Wilfrid had unexpectedly grown gravely ill. His eyes turned yellow and the skin of his extremities discolored to a pallid shade of blue. Dramatic convulsions shook his grossly distended body. These disturbing symptoms persisted on and off for eight days, until finally, he died. The local doctor could detect no vital signs, rigor-mortis had apparently set in, and Wilfrid's body reeked of rot and decay. Friends and family buried the corpse soon thereafter.

And yet, despite all that had transpired, here Wilfrid stood. Although he was incoherent, disheveled, and unable to speak. Just like a zombie.

After confirming that the human husk in front of them was indeed their son, Wilfrid's parents took him home. But their boy did not return to normal. Wilfrid remained mute and apparently unable to comprehend the world around him. Moreover, he was a danger to himself, thrashing around wildly. Family members resorted to keeping the boy in shackles to prevent him from hurting himself.

Pretty much everyone in the village agreed that Wilfrid had been zombified, and most blamed his uncle, who was a highly feared Vodou sorcerer. Zombification is actually somewhat of a minor staple in the Vodou religion, and the existence of zombies is widely accepted among the Haitian people. But had Wilfrid really been turned into one?

In a way, he had, though certainly not for the otherworldly reasons the villagers assumed. It was neither hexes nor spirits that had supposedly transformed Wilfrid into a soulless, incognizant wight. Instead, it was likely an agglomeration of insidious and unfortunate happenstances that sickened the boy and resulted in permanent brain damage. 

Wilfrid's original malady was probably induced by poisoning, potentially administered by his nefarious uncle. Vodou sorcerers employ a powdered drug cocktail to trigger zombification. It's composed of a hodgepodge of nasty ingredients. Human remains, poisoned frogs, and pufferfish are frequent elements.

The latter ingredient of that sinister trio contains tetrodotoxin, one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. However, scientists examining the Vodou zombie potion have questioned whether or not the trace amounts of tetrodotoxin have any effect whatsoever.

Crafting the Vodou zombie concoction is an imprecise art, and the small cadre of scientists who have analyzed it have come to the conclusion that it's nearly impossible to precisely predict its effects.

But the best guess for our current story is that such a noxious mixture sent Wilfrid spiraling into a sickness that finally resulted in a death-mimicking coma. After being buried, the coma subsided and the boy managed to rise from the grave. While entombed underground in a closed, confine coffin, oxygen deprivation probably caused permanent brain damage.

Some time after Wilfrid's harrowing episode, he was examined by Dr. Roger

Mallory of the Haitian Medical Society, who found brain damage

consistent with oxygen deprivation.

We may never truly know what transformed Wilfrid into a variation of the walking dead, but if you're looking to go the extra mile to realistically dress as a zombie for Halloween, I'd stick to face paint and steer clear of Vodou zombie potions.

(Primary Source: arXiv:physics/0608059)
(Image: Blue Sky Road via Shutterstock)

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