AMY STEADMAN (part vi)
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, 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.
This putrefying cadaver has no need to respire, eat, drink or rest and yet it continues to struggle across the dead and increasingly grim landscape. As its condition has continued to worsen, it has become increasingly aware of the extent of its decay. It now understands that it is vulnerable. Every unexpected movement or sound which it detects is automatically assumed to be a threat and the corpse reacts accordingly.
Now and then, Amy’s body experiences the faintest flicker of recollection and memory. It has no concept of who it used to be, but it is now vaguely aware of what it once was. Earlier today it fell in the rubble of a shop-window display. It inadvertently grabbed a handful of rubbish which included a cup. Momentarily it held the cup by its handle and tried to drink before dropping it and continuing to move. Yesterday, when it found itself unable to get through a door, it 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 calling untold numbers of them ever closer.
The corpse has left the street it staggered along earlier and has now reached an unexpected blockage whilst making its way across a barren field. 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 the dead. Even when moving together they struggle to make progress. Occasionally one or two of them manage to stumble through the gap. Aware of the movement of the dark shapes around it, as it approaches the gate Amy’s corpse lifts its hands and begins to grab at the nearest bodies. With twisted, bony fingers it slashes at the other cadavers. Amy’s corpse is stronger and more determined than most others. It moves with more force and purpose than they are capable of. The other bodies are unable to react with anything more than laboured and lethargic, shuffling movements. They do not have the speed or strength to be able to defend themselves.
Amy’s corpse knows that it must continue to move forward, although it does not understand why. It negotiates the gate (its relative speed and strength forcing it open) and continues towards the disturbance up ahead. Whatever it is, it may be able to help ease the corpse’s pain and suffering. On the other hand, it may prove to be a threat which the body must destroy. Whatever the reason and whatever it is, this putrefying collection of withered flesh and brittle bone is driven relentlessly towards it.
Amy’s body stumbles through more fields, moving further away from the remains of the city which it once called home. Like all of the bodies, every single aspect of Amy’s previous life has now been forgotten and erased. Virtually every trace of race, gender, social class, wealth and intellect has been wiped from the dead. This corpse, like the many hundreds of similarly faceless cadavers around it, is now almost completely featureless and indistinct. What remains of its clothes are ripped, ragged and stained. Its face is emotionless, blank and cold. The only remaining factor which distinguishes the bodies from each other now is the level of their individual decay. Some – those that are the most severely rotted – continue to stumble around aimlessly. Those which are deteriorating more slowly, however, are those which present the most danger to anything unfortunate enough to happen to come across them.
Amy’s withered body has become aware of a dark mass on the horizon. It is a crowd of many thousands more corpses. Oblivious to any possible implications it continues to stagger towards the immense gathering. Before long it reaches the edge of the diseased throng. When the massive numbers of cadavers ahead stop it from moving any further forward, it again reacts violently, ripping and tearing at the dead flesh which surrounds it on all sides until its 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 area from every direction, blocking the way back and preventing the corpses already there from doing anything other than trying to move further forward still. A chain-link fence eventually stops them from making any more progress.
It takes several days for Amy’s body to make its way past enough corpses to enable it to finally stand at the fence. It is pushed hard against the wire by the rotting throng behind, and from there it watches. On the other side of the barrier is a wide and uninterrupted swathe of clear, uncluttered land. Most of the time it is quiet, but occasionally there are deafening noises and sudden flashes of huge, controlled movements which whip the diseased hordes into a riotous frenzy. The bodies have reached what is possibly the last operational airfield in the country.
Amy’s corpse is just one of a crowd which is now more than a hundred thousand strong. Thousands more are still approaching.