As they made their way slowly along the other side of the highway, Ben thought wistfully of flashlights and other modern conveniences, like matches, that once had been taken for granted. It didn’t take much to spawn such thoughts; after they third time bashing your knee on an unseen car fender such thoughts and memories came easily to mind.
At least he hadn’t cut himself. If matches and flashlights were rare these days, antibiotics were priceless even in well stocked enclaves, let alone out in the wilds. Zombie movies used to make a big deal about one scratch being enough to doom the poor unfortunate victim. The reality was that that one scratch didn’t have to come from a zombie to be potentially fatal.
Next to him, Claire froze again and her posture, tense and almost humming with tell-tale fight-or-flight adrenaline, told him all he needed to know about what prompted it. He quickly scanned the windows of the cars within sight, but once again he couldn’t see it. Wordlessly, she pointed.
He moved ahead a few steps, eyes fixed where she’d been pointing, and he froze as well. It was close. He kicked himself for having missed it.
He held still, barely allowing himself to breathe. It wasn’t moving at all, but he didn’t know if that mattered. They didn’t breathe, their hearts didn’t pump, they had none of the life processes that would cause involuntary movement in a person.
He looked back at Claire; their eyes met in the dim moonlight, mirroring anxiousness. They were too close to the last one to cross back over, but this one was even closer.
Ben closed his eyes, and with an apologetic shrug, he started edging forward again. Based on everything he’d seen, if it were risen, they were already too close. Hiding was pointless. So was sitting still. He shot glances at it as he kept his eye on where he was going. Fortunately it was one car out into the road, not in a car right on the shoulder; there was a car between it and him. He didn’t have to worry about it suddenly reaching for him, even though the windows of the car it sat in were all broken out. Or in, he thought.
It was slumped in the passenger side seat, hair all a disarray. As he drew abreast of its position, he tried to get a better look. As the years dragged onward, the survivors had found there were ways to tell the difference between an old body and an old zombie. It was the more recent zombies you had to be really careful about; they were really hard to distinguish.
There were few known living creatures that could stomach snacking on zombie flesh, and that included the majority of scavengers, vermin and even most bacteria that would normally contribute to the decomposition of an animal or human corpse. There were a few that were hardy enough to do it, but so few that the decomposition of zombies was much slower and far less complete than a typical body.
For a body that had presumably been strapped into a car for the last 10 years, that should make telling whether it was risen pretty easy. If it was a skeleton, it was safe. If it still looked like a fleshy corpse, then either it hadn’t been there for 10 years or they were in for more noise and more risk.
He drew abreast of its position and glanced back over, almost sighing audibly with relief; the face was a bare white skull, and what was visible of the body looked thin enough to be in similar condition.
“It’s dead then,” he heard from just behind him.
“Yeah. Lucky for all of us,” he said, including the unnamed victim in the car in the sentiment.