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Amy Steadman (part iii)

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…

Amy Stead­man has been dead for almost five days. Her body has dete­ri­o­rat­ed to a remark­able extent. She is weak­en­ing phys­i­cal­ly, but now oth­er, far more omi­nous changes are begin­ning to occur. Amy is becom­ing aware.

A fur­ther two days have passed since Amy Steadman’s corpse began to re-ani­mate. It is now five days since first infec­tion and death.

Amy has con­tin­ued to move around her imme­di­ate sur­round­ings. Until now her move­ments have been auto­mat­ic and spon­ta­neous and any changes to direc­tion have occurred pure­ly as a result of the corpse reach­ing a phys­i­cal obstruc­tion and being unable to keep mov­ing for­ward. Amy’s corpse is lit­tle more than an emp­ty col­lec­tion of bones, rot­ting tis­sue and dead flesh. At this stage she does not have any con­scious con­trol or deci­sion mak­ing capabilities. 

Although ani­mat­ed, Amy remains obliv­i­ous to her sur­round­ings and to her increas­ing phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Her body is con­tin­u­ing to decay and the lack of a func­tion­ing cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem is begin­ning to cause move­ment prob­lems. Grav­i­ty has steadi­ly pulled the con­tents of her abdomen down­wards. Blood has swollen her hands and feet and her bow­els are grad­u­al­ly evac­u­at­ing invol­un­tar­i­ly. Her face, already tinged with the blue-green hue of decay, is oth­er­wise drained of colour.

Until now Amy’s body’s ner­vous sys­tem has been oper­at­ing at a mas­sive­ly reduced lev­el. Her corpse is obliv­i­ous to changes in its sur­round­ings such as tem­per­a­ture, humid­i­ty and light lev­els. Sev­er­al hours ago her cloth­ing became snagged and torn after becom­ing tan­gled up in the wheels of an upturned shop­ping trol­ley. Her once smart black skirt is now just a rag wrapped around her right foot. She has also lost one of her shoes which caus­es her already awk­ward gait to become even more pro­nounced and unsteady.

Amy does not respire, nor does she have any need to eat or drink or seek shel­ter or pro­tec­tion. Her eyes and ears oper­ate at a mas­sive­ly reduced lev­el. She can see and hear, although she can no longer inter­pret and under­stand the infor­ma­tion she absorbs. As the rest of her body con­tin­ues to dete­ri­o­rate, how­ev­er, the part of the brain least affect­ed by the infec­tion is con­tin­u­ing to re-estab­lish itself, albeit at a des­per­ate­ly slow rate.

Less than three hun­dred metres away from Amy’s present loca­tion, the front of anoth­er build­ing has col­lapsed. Ini­tial­ly dam­aged by a truck which plunged off an ele­vat­ed sec­tion of road when its dri­ver became infect­ed and died, the weak­ened struc­ture has now giv­en way and caved in on itself, pro­duc­ing huge amounts of dust and sub­stan­tial vibra­tions and noise. Amy Stead­man, although not under­stand­ing what the dis­tur­bance is, has instinc­tive­ly altered direc­tion and is begin­ning to move towards it.

It is just before eight o’clock in the morn­ing and the build­ing where Amy died has been in almost total dark­ness for more than twelve hours. Almost all of the vis­i­ble light comes from the front of the build­ing, and Amy is now mov­ing towards it. She does not realise that this is an exit, but she is attract­ed by the bright­ness and also the fact that the recent noise and vibra­tions caused by the build­ing col­lapse emanat­ed from that gen­er­al direc­tion. Three of the four main doors are blocked, one is wedged open. Still drawn to the bright­ness out­side, instead of turn­ing and mov­ing away when she reach­es the glass, Amy now shuf­fles clum­si­ly from side to side until she final­ly finds the sin­gle open door and prac­ti­cal­ly falls through the gap.

Amy’s is igno­rant to the sud­den change in her sur­round­ings. It is notice­ably cool­er out­side and it has been rain­ing steadi­ly for the last two hours. A strong west­er­ly wind is gust­ing across the front of the build­ing that she has just emerged from, and the sud­den strength of the wind is suf­fi­cient to knock the com­par­a­tive­ly weak body off course. The cloud of dust which was thrown up by the col­lapse of the sec­ond build­ing is steadi­ly being washed down by the rain, cov­er­ing every­thing in a light lay­er of grey dirt and mud. The noise and vibra­tions have fad­ed now and there remains no notice­able indi­ca­tion of the pre­vi­ous dis­tur­bance. With­out any obvi­ous visu­al or audi­to­ry dis­trac­tions, Amy Steadman’s corpse begins to move ran­dom­ly again, shuf­fling slow­ly for­ward until it can go no fur­ther, then chang­ing direc­tion and mov­ing away again.

#

Sev­er­al hours lat­er, and Amy’s corpse has trav­elled more than half a mile from the build­ing where she died. The increased light lev­els out­side have enabled her to see more. Pre­vi­ous­ly only able to see obvi­ous move­ments and the stark con­trast between light and dark, she is now able to dis­tin­guish a fin­er lev­el of detail. There are oth­er bod­ies near­by. Amy is now able to detect their move­ments from a dis­tance of around ten metres away.

As a result of the immense dev­as­ta­tion caused by the infec­tion, the ground out­side is lit­tered with debris and human remains. The streets are uneven and Amy fre­quent­ly los­es her foot­ing and falls, her slow reac­tions pre­vent­ing her from tak­ing any cor­rec­tive action until it is too late. As the day has worn on, how­ev­er, she has become able to move with slight­ly more free­dom and control.

The envi­ron­ment through which Amy is now walk­ing is almost com­plete­ly silent. She has reached a straight sec­tion of road which leads out of town and she has now been mov­ing in the same gen­er­al direc­tion for some time. There are numer­ous crashed cars and oth­er vehi­cles near­by. Just ahead, strad­dling half of the width of the car­riage­way, is a fam­i­ly-sized estate car con­tain­ing three corpses. In the back is a dead child, in the driver’s seat its dead moth­er. The third corpse — that of an over­weight male pas­sen­ger in his late thir­ties — moves con­tin­u­al­ly but is held in its seat by a safe­ty belt. In the box-shaped boot of the car, trapped behind a pro­tec­tive wire-mesh grille, is a dog. It has no means of escape and is becom­ing increas­ing­ly angry and scared. For some time the starv­ing ani­mal has been qui­et but the move­ment from the male body in the front pas­sen­ger seat of the car and the close prox­im­i­ty of anoth­er ran­dom corpse out­side has sud­den­ly excit­ed it again. It has begun to bark and howl and, in the emp­ty silence, its cries can be heard from a con­sid­er­able dis­tance away.

#

Twen­ty min­utes, and already three more bod­ies have reached the car. They crowd around it, attract­ed by the dog’s noise, lean­ing against the win­dows and occa­sion­al­ly bang­ing their fists against the glass. Their appear­ance and noise caus­es the dog to become even more agi­tat­ed. Amy Stead­man is now aware of the dis­tur­bance and is mov­ing towards it. She reach­es the car and joins the group of cadavers.

This sec­tion of road is rel­a­tive­ly inac­ces­si­ble by foot. Nev­er­the­less, in the absence of any oth­er dis­trac­tion, with­in an hour the car has been sur­round­ed by anoth­er sev­en­teen corpses.

#

By next morn­ing, Amy Stead­man is just one corpse among a crowd of almost two hun­dred grav­i­tat­ing around the car.

THE AUTUMN SERIES