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.

Amy Steadman by Craig Paton

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.

AMY STEADMAN (part iv)



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition