The over all impression that I got from the walker was one of stillness. Yes, I know it is by definition dead, and I had not expected it to sing and dance, but if I had any doubts about what I was looking at the complete lack of any non essential movement would have quickly settled it. People, even trained people, are rarely if ever completely still. They breathe, swallow, flex and fidget. A walker, unless it is specifically stimulated to do something, does not move. The virus stimulates the body to lean against something, locks the joints, and that's the whole act. Although it has always been assumed that the walker remains on a sensory alert it shows no more outward sign of life than a church statue.
The walker now stood leaning against the frame of the broken out large window in the front of the old nursing home, oriented towards the road outside and the main part of the front yard and parking lot. This provided me with almost a full frontal view of the creature from the knees upward. I have always maintained that it is easier to watch someone covertly at a distance if you form sort of an imaginary bond with them. The walker, who I had decided to think of as "Suzy", from a distance would have looked like any of a thousand women I might have seen at the store, or walking down the street, but through the high powered spotting scope the difference was obvious. For some reason I had real difficulty looking at her face. I can't immediately explain this, except to say that in humans there is some unnamed extra sense that is alerted to being observed, particularly if you look at the face or the back of the head. I was not afraid of Suzy in any meaningful way. I knew that a single walker, once you were aware of it's presence wasn't much of a threat even if it was approaching you with deadly intent. Truthfully it may have had more to do with feeling like a peeping Tom, but whatever the case it took some getting over.
Looking through the Leopold scope, designed to fit on a heavy rifle for long ranged shooting, I could pick out a lot of detail even in the gathering dusk. Her skin was a pale blue gray color, slightly mottled under the eyes and over the cheek bones. There was a flaky brown substance around the half opened mouth and chin which I assumed to be the dried blood of some previous victim. The hair, which had once been in a short off the shoulder style, was matted and contained considerable debris. I couldn't pick out any detail about the half closed sunken eyes, The entire face appeared slack, immobile, and corpse like, with no obvious injury. The front of the scrub suit, which hung like a sack from her frame, was heavily stained with dried blood, vomit, and probably other things I didn't care to dwell on, from neckline to mid thigh. There was no evidence of any movement what so ever, and she gave the impression of nothing so much as some awful spider in it's web.
The walkers I had dealt with as they had trickled in off the highway over the previous months, had been alerted to the presence of uninfected humans, and were actively seeking to close either with myself or someone else. They had been moving directly at an intended target at their best possible speed. In such an animated state they had appeared much more human, and somehow much less fearsome than Suzy standing framed in the window. As the shadows grew deeper, and I got the night shot ready, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be having much trouble staying awake. It wasn't just the thought of her standing in that window waiting to move if triggered. Just the hour of watching her had made a couple of things pretty clear to me. She had not expended any unnecessary energy, or exposed herself to the sunlight or moving air. There had been no staggering about and no sound that I could detect. Unless she was alerted to the presence of a potential kill in some way it was clear that she would remain where she was, motionless.
It made sense actually. People, with their Hollywood mindset, had looked at the zombies as the enemy, when all along the primary adversary was the virus. Emotionless and relentless, it had only three biological imperatives. Multiply, spread, and adapt. Suzy was just a highjacked car with the virus driving. In the early months of the plague, with the number and density of potential hosts, it had made sense for the virus to create blitz attackers. There were crowds of hysterical humans everywhere. Now with the victim pool thinned out the virus had adapted to create ambush predators with prolonged viability that would simply wait in an area where resources were available. An uninfected human shows up, is attacked, and flees, hopefully back to other uninfected humans spreading the infection. Simple, elegant, and deadly. I had to wonder how many other windows in Gosport, and other places, were now occupied. To go staggering about to no good purpose, using up irreplaceable moisture, and energy, in the unlikely hope of encountering uninfected humans was the low percentage play and viruses play the percentages.
I realized it all boiled down to a couple of variables. The first being how long could the zombies hold out playing the virus's waiting game. The virus obviously controlled bacteria and decomposition. Those were internal factors to the reanimated body. Dehydration was largely external, and the virus did what it could to marginalize it, but it too was relentless. The question was how long a process was this. I almost freaked myself out when I realized what I was contemplating. Nursing homes keep records. Even if the building is on fire the staff is trained to chart everything from when they come on shift to how often the patients pee. It was very likely that someplace in that building was a good indication, at least to within a couple of days, of when Suzy had been infected. That provided a base line to compare against her present condition. If I had a team to rotate out the watch I could, given enough time, observe the drying out process, and determine an expected viability. Of course a team wasn't something I had. There was however another way, and I was doing everything I could to avoid even thinking about it. If I could somehow determine the moisture content and condition of Suzy's muscle tissue measured against the time she had been animated, and then repeat the process with another Zombie with a good estimated animation date, I would have a projected progression of dehydration. It would be a rough estimate, but it could provide a usable idea of how long a population of zombies could remain viable in a given area once the humans had left or been killed. It might even project a date for the end of the plague.
I am not some evil Fu Manchu sort of genius. I had spent a couple of decades as a soldier, and then gotten a college degree in Bioanthropology. A very interesting and completely useless field of endeavor, which never earned me a nickel. At the time of the Campion's outbreak I had been working for some years as a cardiac technician in a small hospital intensive care unit, and working my small farm in a rural county. Not much of a resume when one is talking about the scientific process. Still the theory was straight forward enough, and it should be possible to determine the amount of fluid in a large piece of muscle, let's say from the thigh, without elaborate equipment. You could probably do it by weight. It wouldn't be perfect but it was possible. Even a simple visual inspection in a field necropsy would be valuable. The question being was I prepared to do it. I wasn't a stranger to taking down an enemy, and certainly ending a Zeke wasn't going to cause me a lot of sleepless nights. The calculated butchery of what had once been a human was something different. It was going to take a while to get my head around the idea.
Strangely I did fall asleep after midnight, and awoke just in time to watch as Suzy, in a series of short forward steps turned back into the darkness, and slowly disappeared into the shadows of the interior or the nursing home lobby.