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…

Amy Steadman by Craig Paton

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.




Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition