Autumn: Aftermath

Autumn: Aftermath

by David Moody

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Overview

It's been almost one hundred days since a killer disease wiped out 99% of the population. Three months since the dead reanimated. Survivors are few and far between now, and those who remain stick together to give themselves the best possible chance of continuing to stay alive. They are the last of the living.



A band of refugees has taken shelter in a medieval castle – a fortress that has stood strong for hundreds of years. Besieged by the dead, they only emerge when it's absolutely necessary. As autumn turns to winter, however, the balance of power slowly begins to shift.



The unexpected appearance of survivors from another group changes everything. They bring choice, and an alternative way of life which is a far cry from the world everyone has been forced to leave behind. Society as we know it has crumbled beyond repair and things will never be the same again. Some people are ready to embrace this change, others can't let go of the past. The choice is divisive.



Are we entering mankind's final days? In the aftermath of the disease, will the last survivors destroy each other, or will the dead destroy them all?



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429926850
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2012
Series: Autumn series , #5
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 649,263
File size: 592 KB

About the Author

DAVID MOODY was born in 1970 and grew up on a diet of trashy horror and science fiction books and movies. He worked as a bank manager and as operations manager for a number of financial institutions before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which was downloaded more than half a million times and spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to his novel HATER have been bought by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) and Mark Johnson (producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films). Moody lives outside Birmingham (UK) with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon.


From the UK, DAVID MOODY first self-published Hater on the internet in 2006, and without an agent, succeeded in selling the film rights for the novel to Mark Johnson (producer, The Chronicles of Narnia film series) and Guillermo Del Toro (director, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth). With the publication of a new series of Hater stories, Moody is poised to further his reputation as a writer of suspense-laced SF/horror, and "farther out" genre books of all description.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Jessica Lindt died three days short of her thirty-second birthday. That was almost a month ago. Since then she'd spent every second of every day wandering aimlessly, often drifting in herds with other corpses, occasionally gravitating toward the few remaining signs of life in this otherwise dead void of a world. Jessica had no idea who or what she was any longer: she simply existed. She responded to the infrequent movement and noise around her, but didn't know why or how. And yet, somehow, she occasionally remembered. In her dull, decaying brain, she sometimes saw things. They were just fleeting recollections, clung on to for the briefest of moments at a time, gone before she'd even realized they were there. Split-second memories of who she used to be.

Her body, of course, had changed beyond all recognition, bulging in places where gravity had dragged her putrefying innards down, becoming brittle and dry elsewhere. Still dressed in what was left of the Lycra running gear she'd died wearing, her feet were badly swollen and her lumpy, bruised ankles were now almost elephantine in appearance. Her distended gut sagged, inflated by the gases produced by decay and a substantial insect infestation. Her mottled skin had split several inches below her drooping right breast, allowing all manner of semi-coagulated yellow and brown gunk to escape.

Jessica's unblinking eyes were dry and unfocused, but they saw enough. The movement of the lone survivor standing in the house up ahead of her was sufficient to attract her limited attention. Suddenly moving with more speed and something almost beginning to resemble a purpose, she lumbered toward the small, terrace cottage, then smacked into the window with force and collapsed backward, ending up on her backside in the gutter. She'd been down less than a couple of seconds before others attacked her, attracted by the noise and assuming she was somehow different to them. They tore what remained of Jessica Lindt apart, and soon all that was left of her was an imprint on the glass, a few lumps of greasy flesh and a wide puddle of gore which the others clumsily staggered through.

* * *

The survivor stood on the other side of the window and waited for the brief burst of chaos outside to die down again. His name was Alan Jackson, and his faith in human nature was all but exhausted — not that there were any more than a handful of other humans left alive. He'd been standing in the shadow-filled living room of this otherwise empty house for what felt like hours, staring out at the sprawling crowd of several thousand corpses which stretched out in front of him forever, wondering how the hell he was going to get through them and out the other side. He could see his intended destination in the far distance, his view of the ancient castle distorted by the tens of thousands of swarming flies which buzzed through the air above innumerable rotting heads like a heat haze. He hoped to God — not that he'd believed in God for as long as he could remember, certainly not since the beginning of September — that this was going to be worth the risk.

In the three and a half weeks since the population of the country — most likely the entire planet — had been slashed to less than one percent of its original level, Jackson had thought he'd seen it all. From the moment the rest of the world had simply dropped dead all around him, right up to now, his life had been a ceaseless tumult of death and decay. It was everywhere. It surrounded him constantly, whatever he did and whichever way he turned. It was inescapable. And he was fucking sick of it.

Another one of the bodies staggered past the window, a twitching, dried-up stump where its right arm used to be. Christ, how he hated these damn things. He'd watched them change virtually day by day; gradually regaining a degree of self-control and transforming from lethargic hulks of impossibly animated flesh and bone to the vicious creatures they had become. He didn't dare think about the future, because he knew that if the pattern continued — and he'd no reason to think it wouldn't — they'd be even more dangerous tomorrow. He tried to remain focused on the fact that if they continued to deteriorate as they had been, in another few months they'd have probably rotted down to nothing. Jackson was no fool. He knew things would undoubtedly get much worse before they got any better.

Standing alone in this little house, a fragile oasis of normality buried deep in the midst of the madness, it occurred to Jackson that even though he'd outlasted just about everyone else, his life was still little more than a fleeting moment in the overall scheme of things. Mankind had crashed and burned in a day, and he probably wouldn't last that much longer, and yet it would take decades, maybe even hundreds of years before all trace of the human race would be gone forever. His skin and bones would be dust blown on the wind long before the streets he'd walked along to get here today were fully reclaimed by nature.

It made him feel so fucking insignificant.

All the effort he'd put into his life before the apocalypse had counted for nothing. And the worst part? It wouldn't have mattered a damn if he'd tried ten times as hard or if he'd not bothered at all. Everything that had happened was completely out of his control. A man makes his own chances, Jackson's old dad used to say when things weren't going well.

Yeah, right. Thanks a lot, Dad. No amount of handed-down wisdom and bullshit is going to help me get past those bodies out there today.

Jackson was dawdling, and it wasn't like him. His reluctance to move only served to increase his unease. It was because the way ahead was no longer clear. Up until recently he'd had a definite plan: to keep walking north until he reached those parts of the country where there had been fewer people originally, and where the effects of the disaster might not have been so severe. When it became apparent that things were far worse than he'd thought and the true scale of the chaos had been revealed, he'd been forced to reassess his priorities. His original aim had been too ambitious, and he decided instead just to head for the nearest stretch of coastline. Having the ocean on one side would make his position easier to defend, he thought, and also, when he looked out to sea it would be easier to believe that the rest of the world wasn't such a ruin.

Three days ago, Jackson had had another change of heart.

It began after a chance encounter with another survivor. The kid had been the first person he'd found alive in several days. He was an archetypal angry teen, all long hair, leather and denim, piercings and a patchwork of bad tattoos he'd inevitably end up regretting if he lived long enough. Adrenaline, fear and untold levels of pent-up sexual frustration surged through the kid's veins, and a cocktail of drink and drugs had clearly added to his volatility. Jackson had found him in the gymnasium of what he presumed was the school the kid had previously attended, rounding up corpses in an improvised corral. The sick fucker clearly had some deep-rooted issues, and had been trying to settle a vendetta or ten with some old and very dead friends. He'd been flagellating the bodies he'd captured, mutilating them beyond recognition as if he had a serious point to make. Sick bastard.

After a halfhearted attempt to try and deal with him, Jackson had left the kid to fester, deciding there was nothing to be gained from trying to reason with the clearly unreasonable, and knowing that neither of them would gain anything from being with the other. To him, the unpredictable kid presented an unnecessary risk, and to the kid, Jackson was just another authority figure to despise and kick back against. As he'd walked away from the school, Jackson had wondered if useless, broken people like the kid were all that was left. That night, the enormity of what had happened to the rest of the world weighed heavier on his shoulders than ever before, heavier even than the backpack full of survival equipment he'd been lugging around since the first day.

The encounter with the kid had made him stop and think, and after that he'd begun to realize the futility of walking endlessly. With the dead becoming increasingly animated, just being out in the open felt like it was becoming more dangerous by the hour, and Jackson knew it was time now to stop and think again. It wasn't as if he had anyone else to worry about but himself. There had been someone who'd mattered once, but she was long gone and best forgotten. He didn't want anyone else now, didn't need them in the same way they needed him. He'd come across several groups of survivors before the kid in the gym, and they'd all, without exception, asked him to stay with them. We should stick together, they'd inevitably say to him, we could do with having someone like you around. And that was the problem: they needed him, never the other way around. He'd realized he didn't actually need anyone. More to the point, having other people around seemed to actually make things more dangerous. All it needed was for one person to panic and make a mistake, and untold numbers of dead bodies would be swarming around them in seconds.

Another surge of movement outside the unimposing little house made Jackson focus again. Up ahead on the other side of the road, one corpse had attempted to fight its way deeper into the vast crowd. All around it, others reacted to the unexpected movement. They tore into each other, vicious fingers stripping decaying flesh from bone, creating a sudden firestorm of sickening violence. And as the first few reacted and began to fight, so did more and more of them until huge numbers of the damn things were scrapping vehemently over nothing. As the bizarre swell of activity gradually petered out, Jackson wondered whether he'd actually been running away from the rest of the world, or at the very least trying to hide from it.

Yesterday morning he'd stopped at a prison. His first instinct had been to avoid it, but common sense said he should stop and investigate. You have to think about things differently these days, he told himself as he cut his way in through a no-longer-electrified chain-link fence. After all, places like this were designed to keep people away from each other, and that's what I want.

The prison proved to be a damn good place to shelter for a while. The kitchens were well stocked to cope with feeding hundreds of hungry inmates, and the vast majority of the dead prison population remained conveniently incarcerated in their cells. Jackson spent a couple of hours walking along numerous empty landings which all looked the same, swigging from a bottle of wine as lifeless prisoners threw themselves against the bars on either side of him, straining their arms to try and reach him. It had been like visiting a zoo and intentionally goading the animals.

He broke out onto a section of flat roof where he sat cross-legged and watched the sun sink as another day ended. Unperturbed by the cold, he lay back and looked up into a dark sky filled with more stars than he could ever remember seeing before, their individual brightness intensified by the lack of any ambient light down at ground level. And yet again, his personal insignificance became painfully apparent. He felt like a piece of gum that had been spat out on a pavement, like the last chunk of meat and dribble of jelly in a discarded tin of dog food. He might have mattered once, but not anymore.

Half drunk and completely depressed, Jackson had slept intermittently. It was when the sun had finally started to rise on yet another day, that he looked up and saw the castle.

* * *

It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but Cheetham Castle (as it had been signposted for miles around) was surrounded by vast numbers of the dead, many more than he'd expected to find. He could see the gray stone tower of the castle gatehouse through the living room window, towering proudly above the heads of the writhing crowd, still visible in spite of the smog-like swarms of insects. He'd checked out the full scale of the crowd from an upstairs window earlier, and the size of the humongous gathering both terrified and intrigued him. Whenever the dead amassed anywhere in these kinds of numbers, he'd long since discovered, there was always a reason. He hadn't wasted much time trying to work out what that reason was, primarily because it was impossible to do anything but guess from this distance, and also because the castle looked like an ideal place to spend the next few days while he worked out what the hell it was he was going to do with what was left of his life.

From upstairs he'd seen that the castle was between half a mile and a mile away from this row of houses. Between here and there was a road, a gravel car park — and several acres of grassland which contained several thousand corpses. Interestingly, they had all stopped short of the building's walls, prevented from getting any closer, he presumed, by the steady slope of the large hill upon which the castle had been built. It was simply too steep for their weak legs to climb.

The castle walls themselves appeared relatively strong from a distance. It was difficult to gauge their height from the house, but they looked to be reassuringly unscalable. For a while, though, Jackson had given serious consideration to trying to improvise a grappling hook and rope so he could drag himself up and over like some bizarre Robin Hood pastiche. As it was, his best option would clearly be the gatehouse, over to the far right of the castle from where he was currently standing. Judging from the numerous signposts he'd seen on his way here, this place had probably been a reasonably popular tourist attraction up until a month ago. The castle owners would surely have done everything in their power to make it easy for the public to get inside and part with their hard-earned cash. At the very least, getting to the castle would afford him a little much-needed breathing space before moving on again. The steep climb gave him an obvious advantage over the dead, and the view from the top of the rise would no doubt be spectacular.

Jackson packed up his few belongings, finished eating the last of a packet of cereal bars he'd found in the kitchen, and readied himself to fight.

* * *

He stepped out into the open and pressed himself back against the wall of the cottage. The cool air outside stank, and he was acutely aware that every move he made seemed disproportionately loud. Every footstep thundered, and his every breath seemed to echo endlessly. He remained frozen to the spot as he assessed his limited options, moving only his eyes as he scanned the wall of dead flesh up ahead of him, virtually all of the corpses now standing with their backs to him. It made sense (as much as any of this made sense) to try and work his way around closer to the gatehouse and look for a place where the crowds were thinner. Whether he'd find such a place or not was academic; whatever he did and wherever he did it, his success today boiled down to being able to charge his way through the decay and come out the other side.

He began to shuffle slowly along the lane, mimicking the slothful movements of the dead and trying to blend in with those which, even now, were still dragging themselves closer to the castle and joining the back of the pack. One of them sprung out at him from a hitherto unseen gap between two buildings. Whether it was an intentional attack or an unfortunate coincidence, it didn't matter. It took him by surprise and he swung it around and slammed it against the wall he'd been following, then clubbed its brains out with a short length of heavy metal tubing he'd taken to carrying with him as a bludgeon. He dropped what was left of the bloody corpse in the gutter, then looked up as another one began moving toward him, alerted by the noise of his violent attack. This creature had a badly damaged right leg, and its unsteady gait made its approach appear more aggressive than it actually was. Jackson angrily shoved it away — reacting before he'd fully thought things through — and it clattered back against a wheelie bin which thudded into several others. The noise echoed through the air.

Shit.

He knew before he looked around again that he was in trouble. Many of them had noticed him now, and their reactions had, by turn, attracted even more. He might as well have fired a starting pistol into the air because, up ahead and behind and all around him, huge numbers of the dead were reacting to his presence. They began to peel away from the edge of the immense crowd like a layer of dead skin, and he knew he had to move fast. Fortunately, several of the pitiful monsters lost their footing in the confusion and were trampled by their desperate brethren. He glanced up at the castle in the distance, visible intermittently through the crisscrossing chaos. Could he still make it? It had been a while since he'd taken a chance like this. Christ, he hoped so.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Autumn: Aftermath"
by .
Copyright © 2012 David Moody.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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