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Amy Steadman (part iv)

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…

It’s now sev­er­al days since Amy Steadman’s corpse took its first unsteady steps away from the shad­ows of the build­ing where she died. It is a week since infection…

It’s now sev­er­al days since Amy Steadman’s corpse took its first unsteady steps. It is a week since infection.

Her body con­tin­ues to move at a lethar­gic pace, her move­ments still lim­it­ed. She has, how­ev­er, been mov­ing con­stant­ly and has now cov­ered a con­sid­er­able dis­tance since leav­ing the crowd on the motor­way. The dog trapped in the car — the cause of the dis­tur­bance which orig­i­nal­ly drew the large mass of cadav­ers to the scene — became qui­et after sev­er­al hours. Many of the dead, Amy’s corpse includ­ed, grad­u­al­ly drift­ed away in ran­dom direc­tions. By pure chance Amy’s body con­tin­ued to fol­low the route of the road for­ward. Although she has sub­se­quent­ly come across numer­ous block­ages and occa­sion­al dis­trac­tions since then, she has kept mov­ing in the same gen­er­al direc­tion and has now cov­ered sev­er­al miles.

As time has pro­gressed so she has con­tin­ued to regain fur­ther con­trol over her move­ments. She now walks with slight­ly more flu­id­i­ty and speed although her mus­cles and nerves are con­tin­u­ing to decay. Her limbs — pre­vi­ous­ly stiff, awk­ward and large­ly inflex­i­ble — are now able to bend and flex to an extent, although her over­all range of motion is still severe­ly lim­it­ed. She can draw her hands into fists and can move her fin­gers inde­pen­dent­ly. She can also move her head. There has been a sub­stan­tial increase in the num­ber of vol­un­tary head move­ments she makes, indi­cat­ing that Amy is becom­ing more aware of the direc­tion of sound.

The long and wide motor­way, straight for a con­sid­er­able dis­tance, slow­ly curved around to the right as it merged with anoth­er major road which skirt­ed the cen­tre of the city of Row­ley. Amy’s body, how­ev­er, did not change direc­tion. Instead, she con­tin­ued to move in a rel­a­tive­ly straight line, leav­ing the tar­mac then tum­bling down a grassy embank­ment. After man­ag­ing to get up again, she crossed the width of a field, stum­bled through an open gate, then found her­self fol­low­ing a nar­row grav­el path which ran along­side an iso­lat­ed bun­ga­low. After walk­ing the length of the grav­el path, she reached anoth­er road. The steep banks on either side of the road have chan­nelled Amy’s corpse and pre­vent­ed her from going in any oth­er direc­tion but forward.

The process of decay, com­bined with phys­i­cal toll of the dis­tance trav­elled, has caused the con­di­tion of her body to dete­ri­o­rate con­sid­er­ably. Amy’s skin is now extreme­ly dis­coloured. The chem­i­cal reac­tions con­tin­u­ing to occur through­out her body have man­i­fest­ed them­selves as numer­ous weep­ing sores and lesions. In the fall down the embank­ment, her corpse sus­tained a num­ber of lac­er­a­tions to the right hand and arm, her upper tor­so and also her face. Thick, con­gealed blood has slow­ly seeped, rather than poured, from these cuts. Her cir­cu­la­to­ry and res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tems are no longer oper­a­tional; blood is no longer being pumped around her body.

Amy’s self-aware­ness has increased. Although still at an extreme­ly rudi­men­ta­ry lev­el, she is now aware of her own gen­er­al shape and size and com­pen­sates for her mass whilst mov­ing. She can now use her hands (but not yet her fin­gers) to move obstruc­tions with lim­it­ed suc­cess. Her bal­ance has also improved although she is still occa­sion­al­ly unsteady on her feet and has dif­fi­cul­ty on uneven ground.

A sud­den heavy down­pour of rain has drenched Amy’s body and she’s strug­gling to cope with the steep gra­di­ent of a road down a hill­side. A canopy of trees hangs over­head which, cou­pled with the increased cloud cov­er, has sub­stan­tial­ly reduced the amount of avail­able light. The loud, echo­ing sound of the rain hit­ting the ground and the leaves over­head is con­fus­ing Amy. She is sur­round­ed by noise. She moves her head around con­stant­ly, try­ing to iden­ti­fy the source of the direc­tion­less sound.

Both of Amy’s feet are bare and the exposed flesh is wear­ing away. She leaves a bloody residue on the ground with vir­tu­al­ly every foot­step. Already there are insects feed­ing off her and the many oth­er corpses scat­tered around the coun­try­side. Amy’s body has just passed anoth­er corpse, this one trapped in the wreck­age of a car. Over the course of the last sev­en days it has been rav­aged by scav­eng­ing ani­mals. The sheer amount of dead meat which is now avail­able will inevitably prove an unex­pect­ed ben­e­fit to many mil­lions of preda­tors and par­a­sites. It is like­ly that, over the com­ing months, the pop­u­la­tion of these crea­tures will increase mas­sive­ly. The lack of any form of pest con­trol will fur­ther allow their num­bers to mul­ti­ply unchecked. It is still very ear­ly days, but it is already clear the removal of almost all of the human pop­u­la­tion is hav­ing an unprece­dent­ed effect on the ecosystem.

A brief burst of sun­light bathes every­thing in unex­pect­ed bright­ness and warmth. Although unable to detect or under­stand the change in tem­per­a­ture, Amy notices the increased light lev­els. Her eye­sight is still poor — she sees shapes and detects move­ment but has so far been unable to make out any fin­er lev­el of detail. Her abil­i­ty to absorb and inter­pret what she sees is improv­ing, but at the same time her phys­i­cal con­di­tion con­tin­ues to dete­ri­o­rate. Her eye­balls and the asso­ci­at­ed nerves and mus­cles are rotting.

Amy’s body has reached a junc­tion where the road she has been fol­low­ing joins a more major route. Here a crowd of bod­ies has gath­ered around a young sur­vivor. Caught out in the open look­ing for food, a ten year old girl has become lost and has found her­self dan­ger­ous­ly exposed. With nowhere else to hide, she has shut her­self in a tele­phone box. She is on the ground with her back pressed up against the door to pre­vent it from open­ing. There are already sev­en bod­ies sur­round­ing the girl with a fur­ther three approach­ing. Amy Steadman’s corpse is also close. Whilst the young sur­vivor is aware that by keep­ing qui­et she can evade detec­tion by the corpses, she is trapped and is strug­gling to con­tain her emo­tions. She is sob­bing uncon­trol­lably, and the bod­ies on the oth­er side of the glass are react­ing to every sound. Although they don’t under­stand why, they are dri­ven to try and get clos­er to her. One of them begins to bang on the glass. Oth­ers copy, and this new sound attracts the atten­tion of even more of the dead.

Amy’s corpse has now reached the tele­phone box. Although she doesn’t under­stand what she is doing, she has an instinc­tive, insa­tiable desire to reach the source of the noise at all costs. She reach­es out and grabs hold of the near­est corpse and attempts to take its place. Less decayed than some of the sur­round­ing cadav­ers, Amy vicious­ly rips at them, pulling and push­ing them out of the way. Their flesh is weak and is lit­er­al­ly torn from the bone. Amy keeps mov­ing until she is stand­ing direct­ly in front of the tele­phone box. She leans for­ward and press­es her decay­ing face against the glass, star­ing down at the girl with dry, unblink­ing eyes.

As long as the girl con­tin­ues to move and make noise, the bod­ies remain.

THE AUTUMN SERIES