The first time I saw "Night of the Living Dead", I was surprised by its intelligence. Since then, I have noticed that zombie stories generally tend to be rather more intelligent -- to have something more to say about the human condition -- than might be expected from what is billed as just another B-grade monster flick.
"A Killer Headache" follows this tradition. Opening as it does on the bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland where all of humanity has been consumed by the undead menace, requiring as it does that the protagonist seek out brains for consumption ... well, one might not expect much more than a simple Macguffin collection game with a bunch of shock imagery thrown in. But it seems to be more than that.
There are some hints of this in the flashback sequences: Peter, who appears to have been the leader of the protagonist's old group of survivors, has a few things to say about the state of the soul in the context of the zombie apocalypse. One could dismiss this as just some text to bulk out the flashback sequence. Then the nun appears....
At that point, I wrote in my notes: "You have GOT to be kidding me."
The goal in the end is to find inner peace; or, at least, respite from the mother of all headaches. It is worth noting that all the failure endings do not result in the end of the protagonist's consciousness, but in the perpetuation of it in an inescapable hell. The winning ending may not be a permanent state of affairs, but it is peace, a far cry from the eternity of being feasted on.
The use of the rosary to wait out those last few minutes until the frost takes over, that is something I can relate to. The use of the Glorious Mysteries is an interesting choice: it shows, for one thing, that the author has done his homework, and suggests that the details of the rest of the game may have been placed with more thoughtful deliberation than evident at first glance. The two other members of the survivor group are named Peter and Marie. Are they meant to be references to St Peter (and, consequently, the Papacy) and the Virgin Mary? Note that a flashback, just as you finish the decade of the fourth Glorious Mystery (the Assumption of Mary), indicates that you never find Marie's body after the camp is attacked. Meanwhile, you are carrying around the head of a guy named Jim, and your name, apparently, is Jack: a diminutive of John. The brothers James and John were, respectively, the first and last of the apostles to die, just as Jim and Jack are, respectively, apparently the first and last of the group of survivors to die....
The other thing about the Glorious Mysteries is that they focus on the promise of Heaven. Well, the protagonist's present-day reality is clearly Hell, complete with eternal torment if he is not careful -- a pointed mockery of that promise. This could be appreciated simply for its contrast. The winning ending leaves you in what appears to be another flashback, following Jim in search of Peter and Marie, with the ending message that "you are at peace". Well, all the other flashbacks have ended with real-world parallels....
So, is this a critique of Christian eschatology, or is it an allegory of salvation? The author, to his credit, does not say. Perhaps it is both. Either way, I am a sucker for Roman Catholic ritual and practices, and the use of the actual words (well, the English translations) of the various prayers won me over as soon as they appeared.
(A postscript: the head is described as once having had "steely blue eyes". The exact same shade of blue might described as "baby blue" when you want to underline a character's innocence, or "ice blue" when you mean the character to be somehow unapproachable. Similarly, one does not describe eyes as "steely blue" unless one means the character be of a heroic character. It's one of those hero tropes, like having a square jaw. Those two words brought home the "humanity lost" situation, the idea of defeated heroism, to me like nothing else.)
Deep-fried kippers and mango chutney; the crusty elbow-ends of a loaf of bread, toasted and heavily buttered. Countered with a large cup of hot chamomile tea, with a hint of honey in it.