I want you to understand what it was really like. Yeah, the idea of being mauled, Cujo style, by one of those walking monstrosities was terrifying. It was bad, seeing them torn and broken– with bite marks or chunks of skin and muscle missing from the moment when they became someone else’s snack. But what was worse was imagining the person they were before. Someone’s brother, someone’s daughter, but reduced to empty sacks of flesh, wall-eyed and filled with stupid fury. Puppets of some evil god.
But then, like I said…it got worse.
See, when a person dies, a series of chemical changes begin. Cells lose structure and enzymes start to break things down. I won’t bore you with a lot of technical terms, but this process usually starts in the gut. Also, the body starts to cool and the blood starts to settle. You may have heard terms like lividity or livor mortis or hypostasis if you’re into all those crime dramas, like Law and Order and CSI… and a lot of that stuff on CSI is pure bullshit. But one thing that is true is that a body that lays in a fixed position for a significant period of time after death will exhibit a dark purplish stain where ever the blood has settled. Except these guys, these zombies, most of them were walking around, so the blood traveled to the lowest point of the bodies fairly quickly, the legs and feet. The people that had been wearing shorts or skirts, or maybe died in their nightclothes– you could see where the skin on their legs was turned a dark purple, and starting to split like a sausage busting out of the casing.
Another thing those crimes shows always talk about is rigor mortis, which, depending on the ambient conditions, kicks in anywhere from three to four hours after death, and peaks around twelve hours or so. Normally, it goes away on its own by about the second or third day, but I guess in this case, all that moving around must work the stiffness out pretty fast, because for dead folk, these walking skin-sacks are pretty limber and alarmingly quick on their feet.
As if all this isn’t bad enough, though, there’s more. When a person dies, their muscles eventually relax and bladder and bowels evacuate. Yep. That’s right. A bunch of zombies walking around with a load in their pants.
These are all changes that take place fairly soon after death. They ain’t pretty, but they’re a good bit more tolerable than what comes next. After death, bacteria multiplies in the gut and the body’s own enzymes start to break down cells. These processes result in the excretion of gas as a biproduct, and a dead body will eventually begin to take on greenish tones and bloats significantly where gas builds up, namely the abdomen. I don’t know whether you’d exactly call it fortunate or not, but it seems as if the aggressive movement of the zombies probably dispelled most of the gas in their bellies. I’d guess they were belching and crop dusting everywhere they went. Otherwise, their bellies swell up to massive size as the body cavities fill to capacity with the gases. Eventually the gases diffuse to other parts of the body, the circulatory system, until the skin tissues rupture, and the gas can be released. Bacteria continues to spread throughout the body, turning veins various shades of ugly brown, bruise purple, and black.
This is all stuff I read, you understand. At this point, I was still holed up in my apartment, actively not looking out my window. When I finally screwed up the courage to venture out of hiding (more out of necessity than desire) I’d see some of these “early stages of decomp” first hand, in some of the newly infected.
I know this is beyond foul. Actually, that’s what I’m really trying to drive home to you. This is where Hollywood got it wrong. Because unlike the movies, where the zombies seem as if they’ll go on shambling around and eating people til the end of time, what actually happened was much, much worse. The initial victims of the plague, or whatever you want to call it, had started to enter into the stage of active decay. What I mean is, they were starting to fall apart– splitting open, spilling their liquefied insides or leaking decomp fluid from their bloated lips or down their legs… their skin slipping, their skeletons collapsing as their disintegrating muscles and connective tissues became unable to hold them together or support locomotion.
I don’t know why it seems so important for you to understand, why I felt compelled to start this journal. Maybe it’s because there’re so few people left around here, and everyone I knew from before, which was few to begin with, are gone. I think I just wanted a record of what happened, in case someone could maybe use it one day. Or maybe I just wanted someone to know that I existed, because even though it’s been almost a month now, I don’t know how much longer I’ll last.
At any rate, what I’m trying to get you to understand is that the zombies attacking and killing living people was not the true horror of this whole mess…although some nights images of Ms. Russo and Farley still chase sleep from my exhausted mind. The real horror was the fact that eventually, despite their inherent unnaturalness, nature reclaimed the bodies of the dead. Where they fell the final time, they stayed, and when I finally left my apartment, I was walking into a reeking abattoir.