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Amy Steadman (part vi)

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…

Her face, once fresh, clear and attrac­tive, is now skele­tal and heav­i­ly decayed. Her skin is dis­coloured and waxy. Her once bright eyes are dull, dark and dry. Because of its increas­ing phys­i­cal dete­ri­o­ra­tion, Amy’s body moves slow­ly and force­ful­ly. Move­ments which had pre­vi­ous­ly appeared ran­dom and unco­or­di­nat­ed, how­ev­er, now have an omi­nous pur­pose and determination.

It is now more than three weeks since infec­tion, and Amy Steadman’s body has been mov­ing away from the site of its death for most of that time. Amy bears lit­tle resem­blance now to the woman she used to be. Her face, once fresh and clear, is now skele­tal and heav­i­ly decayed. Her skin is dis­coloured and waxy. Her once bright eyes are dull, dark and dry. Because of her increas­ing phys­i­cal dete­ri­o­ra­tion, Amy moves slow­ly and force­ful­ly. Move­ments which had pre­vi­ous­ly appeared ran­dom and unco­or­di­nat­ed, how­ev­er, now have an omi­nous pur­pose and determination.

This putre­fy­ing cadav­er has no need to respire, eat, drink or rest and yet Amy con­tin­ues to strug­gle across the dead and increas­ing­ly grim land­scape. As her con­di­tion has con­tin­ued to  wors­en, she has become increas­ing­ly aware of the extent of her decay. She now under­stands that she is vul­ner­a­ble. Every unex­pect­ed move­ment or sound she detects is auto­mat­i­cal­ly assumed to be a threat and she reacts accordingly.

Now and then, the thing which used to be Amy expe­ri­ences the faintest flick­er of rec­ol­lec­tion, flash­es of mem­o­ry. She has no con­cept now of who she used to be, but it is now vague­ly aware of what she once was. Ear­li­er today she fell in the rub­ble of a shop-win­dow dis­play blown out into the street by a gas explo­sion. She inad­ver­tent­ly grabbed a hand­ful of rub­bish which includ­ed a cup. Momen­tar­i­ly she held the cup by its han­dle and tried to drink before drop­ping it again and walk­ing on. Yes­ter­day, when she found her­self unable to get through a door, she attempt­ed to reach for the handle.

There are con­sid­er­ably more bod­ies around here than in most oth­er places. Through­out this silent, emp­ty world the slight­est dis­trac­tion con­tin­ues to attract the unwant­ed atten­tion of dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers of these grotesque crea­tures and here, on the out­skirts of the city of Row­ley, some­thing is draw­ing untold num­bers of them ever closer.

Amy’s corpse has left the street she’d been stag­ger­ing along. Whilst mak­ing her way across a bar­ren field, she has reached an unex­pect­ed block­age. Eleven bod­ies are push­ing for­ward, try­ing to force their way through a wood­en gate. The gate has a sprung hinge which con­stant­ly push­es back against them. Even when mov­ing togeth­er they strug­gle to make progress. Occa­sion­al­ly one or two of them man­age to stum­ble through the gap, but an ever-grow­ing crowd remains stuck. Aware of the move­ment of the dark shapes around her, as she approach­es the gate, Amy’s corpse lifts her hands and begins to grab at the near­est bod­ies. With twist­ed, bony fin­gers she slash­es at the oth­er cadav­ers. Her corpse is stronger and more deter­mined than most. She moves with more pur­pose than the oth­ers. The oth­er bod­ies are unable to react with any­thing more than lethar­gic, shuf­fling move­ments. They do not have the speed or strength to defend themselves.

Amy knows that she must con­tin­ue to move for­ward, although she does not under­stand why. She nego­ti­ates the gate (her rel­a­tive speed and strength forc­ing it open) and con­tin­ues towards the dis­tur­bance up ahead, unsure whether it’s some­thing that might help her, or a threat she must destroy. What­ev­er the rea­son, what­ev­er it is, the putre­fy­ing col­lec­tion of with­ered flesh and brit­tle bone which Amy Stead­man has become is dri­ven relent­less­ly towards it.

Amy stum­bles through more fields, mov­ing fur­ther away from the remains of the city she once called home. Like all of the bod­ies, every sin­gle aspect of her life has now been erased. Vir­tu­al­ly every trace of race, gen­der, social class, wealth and intel­lect has been wiped from all the dead. Amy’s corpse, like the many hun­dreds of sim­i­lar­ly face­less cadav­ers around her, is now almost com­plete­ly fea­ture­less and indis­tinct. Her clothes are ripped, ragged and stained. Her face is emo­tion­less. Only the lev­el of their indi­vid­ual decay dis­tin­guish­es the bod­ies from each. Some — the most severe­ly rot­ted — stum­ble around aim­less­ly, help­less and vir­tu­al­ly blind. Those which are dete­ri­o­rat­ing more slow­ly, how­ev­er, are those which present the great­est danger.

Amy has become aware of a dark mass on the hori­zon. It is a crowd of many thou­sands of corpses. Obliv­i­ous to the impli­ca­tions, she con­tin­ues to stag­ger towards the immense gath­er­ing. Before long she reach­es the edge of the dis­eased throng. When the mas­sive num­bers of cadav­ers ahead stop her from mov­ing any fur­ther for­ward, she again reacts vio­lent­ly, rip­ping and tear­ing at the dead flesh on all sides until her path through is clear.

Deep­er into the crowd, the bod­ies are even more tight­ly packed. Still more of them con­tin­u­al­ly arrive at the scene, crawl­ing sloth­ful­ly towards this place from every direc­tion, block­ing the way back and pre­vent­ing the corpses already there from doing any­thing oth­er than try­ing to move far­ther for­ward still. A chain-link fence stops them from mak­ing any more progress.

It takes sev­er­al days for Amy’s body to fight through far enough to final­ly reach the fence. She is pushed hard against the wire by the advanc­ing crowds behind, and from there she sim­ply watch­es. On the oth­er side of the fence is a swathe of clear land. Most of the time it is qui­et, but occa­sion­al­ly there are deaf­en­ing nois­es and sud­den huge move­ments which whip the dis­eased hordes into a riotous fren­zy. The bod­ies are sur­round­ing what is pos­si­bly the last oper­a­tional air­field in the country.

Amy’s corpse is just one of a crowd now more than a hun­dred thou­sand strong. And thou­sands more are still approaching.

THE AUTUMN SERIES