Amy Steadman (part v)
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 seventeen days. While her physical body continues to deteriorate, her awareness and self control is returning. For one survivor, this has terrifying consequences.
Amy Steadman’s remarkable physical transformation has continued unabated. It is now more than two weeks since her death. As her body has festered, however, the low level of muted brain activity has continued to increase. Defying all previous understanding of the changes undergone within the human body after death, as Amy’s flesh and bone has deteriorated she has, paradoxically, regained a remarkable level of self-awareness. The increasing physical limitations of her decomposing body result in much of this mental improvement remaining undetectable.
Time has taken its toll on the millions of cadavers now walking the streets. They are steadily disintegrating; countless internal and external chemical reactions affecting the composition and strength of their flesh. Amy’s corpse is no different. Her skin has darkened and dried out in places as fluids have drained away. Her body has become a breeding ground for huge numbers of insects. Amy’s corpse is infested. She is riddled with maggots.
Operating on a basic level, the bodies are driven by an instinctive desire to continue to exist. Self-preservation is each corpse’s only concern. Because of their worsening physical state, however, their ability to defend and protect themselves is severely limited. As a result their reactions now appear clumsy and overly aggressive. The bodies will fight to protect themselves at all costs even if, perversely, this results in them sustaining physical damage. It’s not uncommon to see a body attack another corpse in self-defence, and sustain substantial damage in the process. This is the norm with those bodies that are particularly badly decayed. Where the process has been slowed — as with Amy Steadman who died indoors, shielded from the elements for several days — the actions of the dead are slightly more reserved and controlled.
It is now early on Thursday morning and a light, misty rain has been falling since dawn. Amy’s body is shuffling along the side of a warehoused-sized furniture store. There are a large number of other corpses nearby, although the reason for their swollen numbers is not immediately apparent. It may be that there has previously been an incident here which initially attracted their attention, and that this is simply the residue of that crowd gradually disappearing. The fact that many of these bodies seem to be moving in the same overall direction, however, indicates that this could be the beginning of such an incident, not the end.
Amy’s corpse continues to drag itself around the building and the surrounding streets until a single noise in the near distance attracts its attention. It is the sound of a survivor preparing to leave his shelter to search for essential supplies. Amy, along with all the other corpses in the immediate vicinity, immediately begins to gravitate towards the source of the sound.
The young male survivor is based in an office building in the centre of a sprawling car lot. Over the last few days he has attempted to fortify and strengthen his hideout with limited success, but as the behaviour of the bodies has changed, so he has been forced to change his priorities. Failing dismally to prepare for the potential long-term problems caused by the infection, he is struggling to stay sane and stay alive. The survivor failed to anticipate the herding behaviour of the dead, nor did he consider the potential duration of his incarceration. Initially naïvely believing that he could continue to enjoy something resembling a pre-infection standard of living, he is now dangerously ill-equipped, having focussed his early efforts on comfort rather than practical necessities.
His health is deteriorating. As a result both of the increased number of bodies in the locality and the fortifications he made to his shelter, he is unable to easily venture out for supplies. He has been trapped for days without access to clean water, sanitation, medicine, and food of any real nutritional value. He is dehydrated and malnourished. After an aborted attempt to fetch supplies three days ago, his mental state has also deteriorated. At this point in time the differences this survivor and the corpses which surround him are remarkably slim. Because of their vast numbers and their emotionless state, the bodies now have a clear advantage.
In the middle of the car lot the survivor has emerged from the office building where he has hidden for the last two weeks. He moves slowly in a futile attempt to avoid detection. Because of his poor physical condition, his movements are uncharacteristically clumsy. He plans to take a car and drive to a supermarket and he is confident that once he is in the car he will be relatively safe. His activity, however, has not gone unnoticed. His pained, awkward movements and rasping breathing have already attracted the attention of several of the nearest cadavers. An inevitable chain reaction of movement has now begun throughout the crowd as more bodies gravitate towards him.
Amy Steadman’s body is close. She has crossed the main road between the furniture store and the car lot and is heading towards the office building, focussing on the increased levels of movement all around it. The dead are closing in from every direction.
Some of the bodies are distracted by the movement of other corpses around them. Amy, however, is able to differentiate between the dead and other distractions. She will not hesitate to attack anything that threatens her, but she no longer wantonly attacks other bodies. She concentrates on moving towards the source of the disruption, although she does not fully understand why. She likely assumes it represents a threat.
The lone survivor is weak and, after a long period of frightened inactivity, he finds the sudden effort of moving at speed unexpectedly difficult. Just leaving the building has left him breathless and light-headed. Overcome with nerves, he has stopped in the shadows at the side of the building and is trying to summon up the strength to make a run for the car he previously left ready for an occasion such as this.
Amy’s corpse — along with more than fifty others — is less than ten metres away from the front of the office building. The survivor is now aware of the sudden movement all around him, but he is being dangerously indecisive. He knows he can either retreat (as he did a week ago) or continue with this attempt to fetch supplies. He knows that either option is equally dangerous: if he turns back he will starve and his sickness will worsen, yet if he leaves he risks attack from the advancing hordes of bodies. He also knows that he will have to leave eventually and that going back inside will only delay the inevitable. He decides to run for the car.
Indecision has ultimately proved to be this survivor’s undoing. The brief but unnecessary delay has given sufficient numbers of bodies enough time to drag themselves into the narrow space between his present position and the car. He attempts to run towards the vehicle, managing to avoid the first few corpses which attack. Within another few metres, however, there are too many of them. He tries to double-back, but once the first of the dead has caught hold of him he is trapped. He easily releases the first corpse’s grip, but wastes precious seconds fighting it. By the time he’s free and the first body is down, another eight are on him.
Amy Steadman’s corpse is at the front of the crowd which swallows up and kills this survivor.
Half an hour later and the scene has changed again. With the survivor now dead and the area silent, the bulk of the crowd of bodies has begun drifting away. Amy Steadman’s body limps alone through the early mist along a wide road strewn with death.