I want my corpses to stink!
I should probably explain… I’m writing a zombie horror novel, which will be out soon.
Anyway, I have an enduring love of the horror and zombie genre (hence the book) but sometimes I feel, the zombies in the films and novels that I read and watch, seem to be almost a generic threat. Simply there to put the characters in danger. I can live with that, especially if they are well-drawn, people you actually care about. In fact, that’s a major attraction of horror as a genre – characters you care about, facing horrific situations.
I’ve tried to make my characters as fully realised as possible, but I also wanted to try and get back to that initial, visceral disgust and fear I felt the first time I ever saw a Zombie film. When I describe a rotting, corpse attacking I want to know what that actually means. This has just led me to a pleasant afternoon Googling things like human decomposition, and a browser history in need of a thorough hose down!
Trigger warning – this next section is about to get pretty gross 🤢
Decomposition in a corpse
Immediately after the heart stops beating, the body begins losing heat. Within three to six hours, the muscular tissues become rigid – this is the stage known as rigor mortis. Since blood is no longer being pumped through the body, gravity causes it to settle, creating an overall bluish-purple discolouration termed livor mortis or, more commonly, lividity.
Visible changes caused by decomposition are limited during this initial ‘fresh’ stage
After the first 36 hours the neck, abdomen, shoulders, and head begin to turn a discoloured green. The body’s cells build up with toxins; then they burst. The fluids cause skin slippage. It sort of looks like a really bad sunburn all over the body. The actual fluid provides a rich carbon source for bacteria to feed on. This creates gas in the body
This is then followed by bloating caused by the gas – most visible around the face where the eyes and the tongue protrude as the gas inside pushes them forward. Then the abdomen, arms, and legs will start to bloat. Pressure within the body increases, forcing fluids to escape from any available orifices. The build-up of pressure combined with the loss of integrity of the skin may also cause the body to rupture. Flies are attracted by this and lay eggs.
As the body continues to putrefy, the skin blisters, hair falls out and the fingernails of the deceased began to sink back into the fingers. The body’s skin tone becomes marbled and a pattern of blood vessels in the face, abdomen, chest and other extremities become visible. Maggots hatch and begin to feed on the body’s tissues. This activity typically taking place under the skin, causes the skin to slip and hair to detach.
As the process reaches its conclusion, the body will be a black-green colour and fluids will drain from the mouth, nose and other orifices. The body’s tissues begin to break open and release gas and other fluids.
Without giving away any spoilers this is what my poor survivors are eventually going to have to face.