Amy Steadman (part ii)

For Amy Stead­man, death is just the begin­ning. Fol­low her dis­in­te­gra­tion day-by-day. 

From career-mind­ed, twen­ty-four year old grad­u­ate with a promis­ing future ahead of her to a “mud-splat­tered, half-naked, ema­ci­at­ed col­lec­tion of brit­tle bone and rot­ting flesh” in lit­tle more than three weeks…

Almost fifty hours have passed since infec­tion. Amy Stead­man has been dead for just over two days.

Min­utes after death, Amy’s body began to decom­pose. A process known as autol­y­sis has begun. This is self-diges­tion. Starved of oxy­gen, com­plex chem­i­cal reac­tions have start­ed to occur through­out the corpse. Amy’s cells have become poi­soned by increased lev­els of car­bon diox­ide, changes in acid­i­ty lev­els and the accu­mu­la­tion of waste. Her body has begun the slow process of dis­solv­ing from the inside out.

There has already been a marked change in Amy’s exter­nal appear­ance. Her skin is now dis­coloured; her once healthy pink hue hav­ing dark­ened to a dull, dirty grey. Her veins are con­sid­er­ably more promi­nent than they were and, in places, her skin now has a greasy translu­cen­cy. Amy died lying on her back, with her body arched across the feet of a met­al dis­play unit. The parts of her which are low­est to the ground — her feet, legs and back­side and her left arm — now appear swollen and bruised. Blood, no longer pump­ing, has pooled in these areas and coagulated.

The out­ward signs of the chem­i­cal reac­tions occur­ring through­out the corpse are becom­ing increas­ing­ly appar­ent. Flu­id-filled blis­ters have begun to form on Amy’s skin and, around some areas of her body, skin slip­page has also occurred. Her face now appears drawn and hollowed.

To all intents and pur­pos­es, Amy Stead­man is dead. As a unique and iden­ti­fi­able human being, she has all but ceased to exist. All that remains of her now is a decay­ing car­case and all traces of the per­son­al­i­ty and char­ac­ter she once had have dis­ap­peared. Her heart no longer beats, she no longer breathes, blood no longer cir­cu­lates. The infec­tion, how­ev­er, has not com­plete­ly destroyed her. Part of Amy’s brain and ner­vous sys­tem has con­tin­ued to func­tion, albeit at a vir­tu­al­ly unde­tectable lev­el. There are sev­er­al oth­er corpses near­by in a sim­i­lar con­di­tion. Until now, their func­tion has been slight and unno­tice­able. Amy has, how­ev­er, final­ly reached the stage where her brain has become able to again exert a degree of basic con­trol. She is only capa­ble of rudi­men­ta­ry yes/no deci­sions. She no longer feels emo­tion, nor is she aware of who – what – she now is. She has no desires or needs: she is dri­ven pure­ly by instinct. The brain’s con­trol over the rest of her body is improv­ing, but at a phe­nom­e­nal­ly slow speed.

Amy’s body is begin­ning to move. The first out­ward­ly vis­i­ble sign of change is in her right foot which begins to spasm and twitch at the ankle. Over the next few hours this move­ment grad­u­al­ly spreads to all four limbs and across the tor­so until, final­ly, the body is able to lift itself up and stand. Amy’s move­ments are clum­sy and unco­or­di­nat­ed. Coag­u­lat­ed blood and the gelling of the cyto­plasm with­in indi­vid­ual cells (because of the increased acid­i­ty inside the body) is pre­vent­ing free move­ment. Her eyes are open but she can­not see. She can­not hear. She can­not feel any­thing or react to any exter­nal stim­u­la­tion. The com­bined effects of grav­i­ty, phys­i­cal dete­ri­o­ra­tion and the uneven dis­tri­b­u­tion of weight across her corpse after two days of inac­tiv­i­ty caus­es Amy to move. Ini­tial­ly she trips and falls on unsteady legs, like a new-born. Soon, how­ev­er, her lev­el of con­trol is such that she is able to dis­trib­ute her weight enough to man­age a rudi­men­ta­ry walk. Devoid of all sens­es, Amy’s corpse sim­ply keeps mov­ing for­ward until it reach­es an obstruc­tion and can go no fur­ther. She then shuf­fles around until she is able to move freely again.

Amy’s body remains in this state for a fur­ther two days.