Dedicated to The Survivors


In the previous Autumn books I’ve already thanked a lot of people: the editors and teams at the various publishers involved with the series around the world; the artists I’ve worked with on cover designs, Web sites, and marketing; and my friends, family, and fellow authors who’ve all been tirelessly supportive.

But there are plenty more people I’ve yet to acknowledge. There are far too many of you to list here individually, and I’m sure to miss someone out and cause offence if I try. So this impersonal, blanket “thank you” will have to do.

As I write it’s almost ten years to the week since the first Autumn novel appeared online, and this book marks the very end of the series. My sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me in any way, shape, or form over the last decade. From those who’ve read the books and provided feedback, to the thousands who downloaded the first book back in the day, to those who’ve helped promote each new novel along the way, I appreciate your support more than you can imagine. Thank you.

And as I first said back in 2001, please keep spreading the infection!


Twenty-Six Days Since Infection


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 phantine 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 everyoe 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

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