Autumn The Human Condition
Author:David Moody

Chapter Seven
'No you listen,' I began to pointlessly protest, 'I'm not...'

'Get the manager,' he interrupted with a tone of infuriating superiority. 'I don't need to speak to you any longer.'

Another one of those moments which seemed to last forever. I was suddenly so full of anger and contempt that, once again, I was too wound up to move. Compounding my awkwardness was the fact that the other customers had all now stopped eating and were watching and waiting to see what I'd do next. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that the Neanderthals in the kitchen were peering out through the portholes at me too, grinning like the idiots I knew they were.

'Well?' the customer sighed.

I turned and walked, pushing my way through the swinging doors to the kitchen, sending Jamie flying.

'Where's Trevor?'

'Fag break,' Keith replied.

I stormed out through the back door to where Trevor, our so-called manager, was standing smoking a cigarette. He was leaning up the rubbish bins, reading Keith's newspaper.

'Trevor,' I began.

'What?' he grunted, annoyed that I'd interrupted him.

'I've got a problem with a customer. He says he wants to speak to the manager.'

'Tell him you're the manager.'

'Why should I?' He shrugged his shoulders.

'Tell him I've gone out to a meeting.'


'Tell him I've got Health and Safety coming.'


'For Christ's sake,' he groaned, finally lifting his head from the paper, 'just deal with it will you. What the hell do I pay you for? Dealing with customers is your responsibility.'

'Looking after your staff is yours.'

'Oh give it a rest...'

'He swore at me! I'm not prepared to speak to a customer who's going to swear at me. Do you know how bloody insulting he was when...?'

'Now you're swearing at me. You can't have it both ways, love!'

That was it. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I ripped off the bloody stupid pinafore that they made me wear and threw it at Trevor, along with my order pad.

'I've had enough! Stick your bloody job!'

I couldn't afford to do what I was doing, but at the same time I couldn't put myself through it any longer. This wasn't the first time this had happened, and I knew that if I stayed in the job it wouldn't be the last. I pushed my way back into the kitchen, grabbed my coat, and marched out through the restaurant.

'Is the manager on his way?' the odious little customer asked at the top of his voice as I walked past. I stopped and turned round to face him. His food couldn't have been too bad because he'd managed to eat half of it.

'No he isn't,' I answered. 'The manager cannot be bothered to come and speak to you, and I can't be bothered wasting my time dealing with pathetic little fuckers like you either. You can stick your meal and your attitude and your complaint up your arse, and I hope you fucking choke on your food!'

And he did.

Still chewing a mouthful of breakfast, the sickening, smug grin of superiority which had been plastered across the idiot's face as he watched me ranting at him suddenly disappeared. He stopped eating. His eyes began to water and the veins in his neck began to bulge. He spat out his food.

'Get me some water,' he croaked, clawing at his neck. 'Get me some...'

A noise from behind made me turn round. The customers in the far corner of the restaurant were choking too. The middle-aged couple were both in as bad a state as the little shit who had caused me so much trouble this morning. I turned back to look at him again. Christ, he looked like he was suffocating. Much as I'd wished all kinds of suffering on him a couple of minutes earlier, now I just wanted his pain to stop. I ran back to the kitchen.

'Call an ambulance,' I yelled. 'There's a customer...' Jamie was on his knees, coughing up blood on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. Keith was lying on his back in the storeroom, rolling around in agony like the others. Trevor was also lying on the ground. He'd lost consciousness. His fat body had fallen half-in and half-out of the back door.

By the time I'd picked up the phone to call for an ambulance everyone in the restaurant was dead.


Mum isn't well.

She's suffered with her health for years now and she's been practically bed-ridden since last December. She's not been well all week but she's really taken a turn for the worst this morning. I've been up with her since just after five and it's almost eight now. I think I'll get the doctor out to see her if she doesn't start to pick up soon.

I don't know what I'd do without Mum. I've forced myself to try and think about it plenty of times, mind, because I know there's going to come a time when she's not around anymore. We're very close, Mum and I. Dad died when I was nine and there's just been the two of us since then. I'm forty-two now. I've not been able to work for years because I've been looking after her so we don't see much of other people. We pretty much live out on our own here. There's just our cottage and one other on either side and that's all. The village is five minutes back down the road by bike. We've never bothered with a car. I don't drive, and we can get a bus into town if we really need to go there. There's not much we need that we can't find in the village.

She's calling me again. I'll make her some tea and take it up with her tablets. It's not like her to make a fuss like this. She always tells me she doesn't like to make a fuss. She tells the doctor that too when he calls. And the health visitor. And the District Nurse. And the vicar.

It's just her way.

I need to get help but I can't leave her.

Oh, God, I don't know what to do. I was up there talking to her when it happened. I was trying to get her to the toilet when it started. Usually when she has one of her turns she's able to let me know when it's coming, but she didn't just now. This one came out of the blue. It seemed to take her by surprise as we were coming back across the landing.

She started to choke. Now Mum's chest has been bad for a long time, but nothing like this. It was almost as if she'd got something stuck in it, but she hadn't had anything to eat all morning so that was impossible. She'd turned her nose up at her breakfast. Anyway, before I knew what was happening she was coughing and retching and her whole body was shaking in my arms. I lay her down on the ground and tried to get her to calm down and breathe slowly and not panic but she couldn't stop. She couldn't swallow. She couldn't talk. Her eyes started to bulge wide and I could see that she wasn't getting any air but there wasn't anything I could do to help. I tried to tip her head back to open up her windpipe like the nurse showed me once but she wouldn't lie still. She kept fighting against me. She was thrashing her arms around and coughing and spluttering. The noise she was making was horrible. It didn't sound like Mum. She was making this scratching, croaking, gargling noise and I thought that there was phlegm or something trapped in her throat. I thought she might have been choking on her tongue (the nurse told me about that once too) so I put my fingers in her mouth to make sure it was clear. When I took them out again they were covered in thick, dark blood like the insides of her mouth were cut. Then she stopped moving. As suddenly as she'd started she stopped. I sat down on the carpet next to her and held her hand until I was sure that she'd gone.

I could still hear that horrible choking sound in my head even after it had stopped and Mum was lying still. I could hear it ringing in my ears when everything else had gone quiet.

It's been quiet like this for hours now.

My Mum's dead.

I can't just sit here and do nothing. I can't help Mum but I can't just leave her lying here either. The doctor will have to come round and then someone will come to take her away and then... and then I don't know what I'll do. I don't know what I'm going to do without her. I've always had Mum.

About half an hour ago I decided to move her. I couldn't leave her lying there on the floor in the middle of the landing, that just wouldn't have been right. She seemed twice as heavy as she did when she was alive. I thought the best place for her would be her bedroom. I put my hands under her arms and dragged her through to the bedroom and onto the bed. I wiped the blood off her face and tried to close her eyes to make it look like she was just sleeping. I managed to get one eye to stay shut but the other one stayed open, staring at me. It was like she was still watching me. It was like one of those paintings of people's faces where the eyes seem to follow you round the room. In a way it made me feel a little better. Even though she's gone it's like she hasn't stopped looking out for me.

I tried to phone the doctor's surgery but I couldn't get an answer. I couldn't even get the telephone to work properly. I knew someone would have been at the surgery (it's open until late on Tuesdays) so I guessed it was our telephone that wasn't working. Often in winter the line used to go down because we're so isolated out here. But it isn't winter. It's early September and the weather's been fine.

I didn't want to leave Mum but I didn't have any choice. I shut the bedroom door, locked up the house and got my bike out of the shed. It didn't take long to get into the village. Mum never liked me riding on the road (she said it was the other drivers she didn't trust, not me) but it didn't matter this morning. There wasn't any traffic about. It was almost too quiet. Now the village isn't the busiest of places, but there's usually always something happening. This morning it was so quiet that all I could hear was the sound of my bike. It made me feel nervous and scared. And as I got deeper into the village, it got much worse. So much worse that I nearly turned round and came home, but the thought of what had happened to Mum made me keep going forward.

I was cycling down past Jack Halshaw's house when I saw that his front door was wide open. That was strange because Jack's always been careful about things like that. He used to be a friend of my dad's and I've known him all my life. So I stopped the bike, because I thought I should tell him about Mum and I thought he might be able to help me get things sorted out. I walked down the path and leant inside and shouted to him but he didn't answer. I shouted a couple more times but still he didn't reply. I walked down the side of the house to see if he was in his back garden and that was where I found him. He wasn't moving. He was lying on his back on the pavement and I could tell just by looking at him that he was dead. There was a pool of blood around his mouth and it looked like he'd died the same way Mum had.

I didn't know what to do. I kept going until I got to the village. When I got there I just stopped the bike in the middle of the road and stared at what I could see all around me. Whatever had happened to Mum and Jack Halshaw had happened to other people too. In fact, the longer I spent there, the more obvious it became that I was just about the only one it hadn't happened to. I went into the doctor's surgery and found Mrs Cribbins from the chip shop and Dr Granger dead in the middle of the waiting room. Their faces were horrible - splattered with blood and all screwed up like they'd been in terrible pain when they'd died. The doctor looked like he'd been trying to scream when it had happened.

I kept going right into the middle of the village and then wished that I hadn't. Even though it had happened fairly early in the morning, there had been lots of people out and about. They'd all just fallen and died wherever they'd been and whatever they'd been doing. And because our village is such a small place I knew them all. I knew where they'd been going and what they'd been doing when they'd died. Bill Linturn from the hardware shop was dead in his car - he'd just arrived to open up for the day. Vera Price, the lady who's on the till at the grocer's on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings was lying dead on the pavement just outside the shop. It looked like she'd fallen into the middle of the fruit and veg displays they always have outside. There were potatoes, carrots and apples all over the place.

I looked around for a while but I couldn't find anyone to help me. I know it was silly, but I didn't want to leave Mum alone for too long. I knew there was nothing I could do for her, but it just didn't feel right leaving her alone at home with all that had happened. I got on my bike and cycled back to the cottage.

It's been over ten hours now since it happened. I can't get a picture on the telly and I still can't get anyone on the phone. I've tried listening to the radio to find out what's happening but all I can hear is hissing and crackling. I've been into the cottages next door on either side but both Ed and Mrs Chester are dead as well. I found Ed in his bath (the water was all pink because of the blood he'd dribbled) and Mrs Chester was at the bottom of her stairs. I tried to move her into her living room but, because of how she'd fallen and because her legs and arms had gone all stiff and hard, she was wedged behind the door and I couldn't move her.

I think I'm just going to sit here and wait for a while. Someone will come sooner or later, I'm sure they will. And anyway, I can't leave Mum here on her own. We did our weekly shop yesterday afternoon so I've got plenty of food in. I'll sit here and wait and everything will be okay.

Everything will be all right again in a couple of days when the police and the government start sorting out what's happened. I'll have to start phoning round the rest of the family to let them know that Mum's passed away. I'm not looking forward to doing that. Aunt Alice - Mum's sister - will be heartbroken. DAY THREE


Almost fifty hours have passed since infection. Amy Steadman has been dead for just over two days.

Just minutes after death Amy's body began to decompose. A process known as autolysis has begun. This is self-digestion. Starved of oxygen, complex chemical reactions have started to occur throughout the corpse. Amy's cells have become poisoned by increased levels of carbon dioxide, changes in acidity levels and the accumulation of waste. Her body has begun the slow process of dissolving from the inside out.

There has already been a marked change in Amy's external physical appearance. Her skin is now discoloured with her once healthy pink hue having darkened to a dull, dirty grey. Her veins are now considerably darker and more prominent and, in places, her skin has taken on a greasy translucency. Amy died lying on her back, with her body arched across the feet of a metal display unit. The parts of her body which are lowest to the ground - her feet, legs and backside and her left arm - now appear swollen and bruised. Blood, no longer being pumped around her circulatory system, has pooled and coagulated in these areas.

The first outward signs of the chemical reactions occurring inside the corpse are now also becoming apparent. Fluid-filled blisters have begun to form on Amy's skin, and around some areas of her body skin slippage has also occurred. Her face now appears drawn and hollowed.

To all intents and purposes Amy is dead. Her heart no longer beats, she no longer breathes, blood no longer circulates. The infection, however, has not completely destroyed her. Unlike the majority (perhaps as many as two-thirds) of the fallen bodies, part of Amy's brain and nervous system has continued to function, albeit at a virtually undetectable level. There are several other corpses nearby which are also in a similar condition.

As an identifiable and unique human being, Amy has ceased to exist. All that now remains of her is a decaying carcass and all traces of the identity, personality and character she once had have now all but disappeared. As time has progressed since infection, however, Amy's brain has begun to steadily regain a fraction of its original capacity. Until now the recovery has been slight and unnoticeable. It has, however, finally reached the stage where the brain is about to regain a degree of basic control over the dead shell which houses it. The brain is only capable of the most basic and rudimentary yes / no decisions. It no longer feels emotion or has any needs or desires. At this stage it operates purely by instinct. Overall control of the body is gradually returning, but at a phenomenally slow speed.

Amy's body is now beginning to move. The first outwardly visible sign of change is in the body's right foot which has begun to spasm and move at the ankle. Over the next few hours this movement gradually spreads to all four limbs and across the torso until, finally, the body is able to stand. Its movements are clumsy and uncoordinated. Coagulated blood and the gelling of the cytoplasm within individual cells (because of the body's increased acidity) is preventing free movement. Its eyes are open but it cannot see. It cannot hear. It cannot feel or react to any external stimulation. The combined effects of gravity, its physical deterioration and the uneven distribution of weight across the corpse after two days of inactivity causes the body to move. Initially it trips and falls like a newborn animal on unsteady legs. Soon, however, its control has reached such a level that it is able to distribute its weight enough to be able to manage a rudimentary walk. Devoid of its senses, the body simply keeps moving forward until it reaches an obstruction. It then shuffles around until it is able to move freely again.

The body remains in this state for a further two days.


Wonderful news! I can't believe it! It looks like Mum's going to be all right!

When I got up this morning I found her out of bed. I couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, I was convinced that she was dead. She must have just been in a coma or something like that. I saw a programme about it once on telly. Anyway, she couldn't hear me and she wasn't very steady on her feet but at least she was up and moving about. I knew she wouldn't leave me alone here.

I can tell that she's still very ill, mind. She doesn't look well and she smells. But that's nothing that a good soak in the bath won't cure. When she's ready I'll run her a nice hot bath. I say run a bath, but I'll have to bring some water up from the stream at the bottom of the garden and heat it up on the little camping gas stove we keep in the kitchen for emergencies. The taps have been dry for the best part of two days now, and there's no gas either. I don't know what's happening. Still, Mum's getting better and that's the most important thing. I'm sure there are other people whose condition is improving too.

She's really been shaken up by all of this, has Mum. She's not herself at all. I've had to shut her in her room to stop her wandering off. She just keeps walking around and she won't sit still. Come to mention it, she won't even sit down in her chair or lie on the bed. I keep telling her that she needs her rest but she won't listen to me. I expect she just needs to keep moving for a while after being still for so long.

I've felt so scared and worried for the last couple of days but now I suddenly feel much better again. Everything is okay. I knew that Mum wouldn't leave me. It's just after lunchtime and I've had to tie Mum to the bed. I didn't know what else to do. She just won't stay still and relax and I'm frightened that she'll do herself even more harm if she keeps on like this. I know it's not right, but what else can I do? There's no-one to ask for help or advice. I keep telling myself that it's in Mum's best interests to be firm with her. If she keeps wandering off then who knows what might happen? I could find her halfway down the road or worse...

I didn't need to tie her down tightly. She's still not got very much strength. I went out into the back yard and took down the washing line. I couldn't think of anything else to use. I put Mum back into bed (I had to be quite forceful and hold her down while I did it) and wrapped the line right around the bed and the bedclothes. Since Dad died she's only ever had a single bed. That meant I could wrap the line round her a few more times. I left it quite loose because I didn't want to hurt her or upset her. She can still move but she's not strong enough to get out of the rope and get up.

I keep telling her that I'm doing it for her own good but I don't know if she can hear me.

I walked into the village this afternoon. I didn't like it there. Some of the people who got ill around the same time as Mum also seem to be getting better. They were walking around too. There were some of them who were still lying where they'd fallen. Poor old Bill Linturn was still sitting in his car, dead to the world.
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