A Face in the Crowd

Note – this story contains spoilers for AUTUMN: EXODUS.

Cheryl had slept in. Again. There was no point in early starts when she had nothing to get up early for. Was it written down anywhere that her day had to begin when the sun came up and end when it got dark? She preferred living her life the other way around and being awake through the night. What was the big deal? She wasn’t hurting anyone.

A side-effect of living her life in reverse was that she had become increasingly out of sync with everyone else. She’d slept through some big stuff before – wars beginning and ending, celebrities being cancelled and outed and ousted, economies tanking, endless irrelevant royal nonsense –headlines that would shape everyone else’s world for years to come… but never anything like this. To be fair, that was largely because there hadn’t been anything like this before. Not for a long time. Not for around sixty-five million years at least.

It took Cheryl several hours to accept that no, she wasn’t drunk, and no, she wasn’t still stoned, such was the madness of the day she stumbled bleary eyed into. She’d always imagined that the apocalypse would be some grand event, full of explosions and screams and fire and brimstone and whatever. As it was, the end of civilisation in Bishop’s Stortford was about as exciting as life had ever been in the sleepy Hertfordshire town. The rest of the human race appeared to have just rolled over and given up without a fight, barely even managing a whimper or a shrug.

Bottom line was, everyone was dead.

Everyone but her.

For a couple of hazy, dreamlike days, Cheryl had the run of the town. True to form, she began by trying to stay drunk and/or stoned, but as the effect of the alcohol faded and reality set in, even a waster like her began to appreciate the beauty of having the whole place to herself. Stortford, as the locals called it, had stubbornly retained its character over the years, steadfastly refusing to change. It was funny, she thought, because before this had happened, she’d spent much of her time complaining about how dull her hometown was and dreaming about escape. But now that she was here alone, she appreciated its simplicity and familiarity.

She hadn’t been much of a fan of the genre – didn’t watch or read very much at all, actually – but Cheryl had spent a little time with her mates in the before days, talking about the end of the world and trying to imagine how they’d all survive and what they’d do. She’d always joked about gravitating to the town’s famous Corn Exchange when the shit hit the fan, and that turned out to be an excellent plan. It wasn’t just because it was home to a couple of decent bars, it also happened to be a pretty much perfect building to set up base. Dating back to the early eighteen-hundreds, it looked like a little castle, and it occupied a prominent, elevated position in the centre of the town. If she was honest, it had largely been because of the booze that she decided to give the place a go, but as the lonely hours passed, drinking began to lose its appeal and she sobered up. She used to drink to lose her inhibitions and self-control. In the circumstances, that no longer seemed like such a smart idea.

But that wasn’t the only reason she’d always partied so hard, it was as much because of the people she partied with. She was part of a close-knit crowd who’d frequent the same places week after week, and it just wasn’t the same without them. She knew where they all were, of course. She’d checked on all of them on the first day. Dorian and Trace were in the flat they shared, dead in their respective armchairs in front of their similarly lifeless TV. Micky was behind the wheel of his car, which had come to an abrupt halt two-thirds inside his next-door neighbour’s living room. Hughie had been waiting at the bus stop when he’d died. It wasn’t the first time she’d found him face-down in the gutter, but it was definitely going to be the last. It was clear he wasn’t going to be getting up again.

But some of them did.

Cheryl had just about begun to get used to a) sobriety, and b) her situation, when everything changed again. The resurrection of many of the dead bodies was an aftershock of a similar magnitude to the first. When she’d seen the first of them peeling themselves off the pavements and starting to move, she’d taken advantage of the Corn Exchange’s close proximity to the Jackson Square shopping centre to go on a substantial looting spree and make sure she was well-stocked so that she could shut the doors and hunker down for some considerable time.

Had there been anyone else left alive who’d known Cheryl, they’d have been surprised by what she did next. Most of her former associates, had they been asked to place bets, would have staked a month’s booze money on her drinking, smoking, and snorting herself into oblivion. She chose not to. Intoxication had lost its appeal, and as euphoric has the highs would no doubt have been, she’d enough experience to have known that the dark depths of the comedown would have been unbearable. So, she did the opposite. Instead of losing control as per, she took it. Instead of excess, she demonstrated restraint. Where previously she’d have done everything possible to avoid facing up to reality, now she focused on her situation with brutal honesty and a laser-sharp intent. Now that the fog of booze and drugs had fully lifted, the potential of rest of the world had come completely into focus, and she realised she wasn’t ready to give up. Her substance abuse, Cheryl had concluded in her long, long, long hours of enforced private reflection, had been a way of coping with a world she hadn’t neatly fitted into. But now she didn’t have to. Now, the world had to fit around her. Today and from now on, everything was on her terms, everything was how she wanted it.

She began to exercise and she discovered, to her genuine surprise, that the high she felt after finishing a workout was a genuine (and much preferable) substitute for the substance-fuelled highs she used to crave. Getting into shape became her new addiction, and her solitary life felt good.

Until it wasn’t.

Her initial stocks of supplies had lasted for a while, but even if she’d taken ten times the volume, it wouldn’t have made any difference. She’d always known it was never going to be enough to sustain her long-term and that, before long, she’d have to go back out again. Cheryl had used her time wisely, and as the dead outside had become weaker, her own physical strength had improved.

The dregs of the undead population of Stortford had developed an unhealthy interest in her and her routine. Over the days and weeks of her incarceration they’d surrounded her hideout. Another supply run to the nearby shopping centre had always felt like an unavoidable necessity (she’d cleared out the bodies and left an entrance accessible on her last visit for that exact reason) but how was she going to do it now that they were mobile and increasingly volatile? The distance wasn’t an issue; on a normal day she’d have been able to get there in a couple of minutes on foot, but there were no longer any normal days. She went out onto the open terrace of the Corn Exchange, wrapped up against the blustery wind, and tried to ascertain the size of the problem facing her. It was worse than she’d thought. A crowd of bodies hundreds strong – maybe even thousands – filled every street for as far as she could see.

Old Cheryl would likely have hit the bottle or lit up but, with her new-found positive mindset, Cheryl looked for an alternative solution. She was in better shape than she’d ever been, getting stronger and stronger as the rest of the world fell apart. If she wasn’t going to at least try and fight, she thought, then all that effort would have been for nothing, her unexpected voyage of personal discipline and self-discovery taking her nowhere. She was proud of what she’d become. She wasn’t going to give up now. No fucking way.

She planned her route meticulously and spent several days studying the behaviour of the locals. She didn’t know how they’d react to the sudden appearance of a living, breathing human among them because other than her, there weren’t any. She’d seen them react with rabid ferocity to any disturbance. Great hordes of them had fought with each other to get to a stray dog that had inadvertently wandered into range and, another time, after a shop frontage had collapsed onto the car that had crashed into it, setting off its alarm, they’d taken almost a full twenty-four hours to calm down again. Cheryl understood that the key to getting out and getting back in one piece was to take her time and keep her mouth firmly shut.

She set out at dawn. In her old life, she’d have been dragging herself back to the flat at this time, and it felt liberating to be rising with the sun instead of hiding from it, vampire-like. But as quiet and cautious as she tried to be, things went tits up very, very quickly.

An unexpected shift in the movement of the masses caught her off-guard. Cheryl was swept off her feet and shoved back against an empty wheelie-bin. She grunted with pain and surprise, the bin skittled back against another one and… and the combined noise was enough to set off a chain reaction. A wave of frantic movement spread out from her position. All she could do was stand her ground and try not to react as chaos consumed the area around her. In spite of her regular consumption of mind-altering substances over the years, or perhaps because of it or her recent enforced detox, she remained quite philosophical about her situation and managed not to panic. How do they know I’m not a lamppost? she asked herself as the hordes thrashed all around her. If I stand here motionless like a tree or a rock, they’ll assume that’s what I am. They’ll only know I’m different if I let them know that I am. Pressed up against a wall, she held her ground, bit her lip, and looked up into the skies and refused to move as all manner of foetid remains collided with her from multiple angles.

By the time they’d calmed down sufficiently, Cheryl looked indistinguishable from any of the dead. She stank. She’d been splashed and soaked with all manner of juices and discharge. Sodden with liquified rot, she could barely walk properly. Instead, she staggered, and it only took a few cautious, frightened, staggering steps to realise, they still can’t see me.

Cheryl had, by chance, stumbled on the secret. To be protected from the dead, she simply had to become one of them. The coating of decay provided her with a little extra (and much-needed) confidence to begin with, but after a time she realised it was something she could probably do without. As long as she didn’t do anything stupid (and yes, she realised that being on her own in the middle of a crowd of several thousand reanimated cadavers was probably stupid enough, thank you very much), she had half a chance of being able to move among them undetected.

Though it took far longer than she’d expected, and despite moments where she thought she’d made the mother of all bad decisions and thrown away everything she’d worked for, Cheryl’s return trip to the shopping centre was largely a success. She’d been so focused on getting there that she’d given little thought to the practicalities of shifting whatever she needed from point A to point B without causing utter carnage on the streets, but she made do. She fed herself while she was over there, then sorted out some fresh clothes and packed a decent-sized rucksack with essentials before heading back to the Corn Exchange. If she really had worked out how to move freely among the crowds, then there was no need to struggle to carry too much. Multiple trips were the way forward.

Cheryl ventured out more often, and her confidence grew. The dead hordes continued to loiter in the vicinity of the Bishop’s Stortford Corn Exchange because they knew something was happening there, but as long as she didn’t panic and she took care to do as they did, she remained invisible and could move in and around them unseen.

A month and a half in, and Cheryl was having a better time of it than should ever have been possible. Her health had improved dramatically since the apocalypse. She continued to work out and had mounted several expeditions to the public library (which, she discovered, was conveniently located on the other side of the shopping centre). Exercise provided physical fulfilment, and books began to provide the mental stimulation she desperately craved. She checked out volumes on mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and other similar pursuits she’d previously only ever taken the piss out of and never seriously considered trying.

Cheryl discovered herself at the end of the world.

Yes, she was well aware how wanky and pretentious that sounded, but it happened to be the truth. In her unnatural isolation, with all the distractions she’d previously craved and relied on now out of reach, she’d discovered a new purpose. Sure, she still missed the people she’d lost, and she’d have given everything to have them back again, but her enforced detox had turned her into a realist. The old world was never coming back. Her only option was to make the most of what she had left. And that, she knew, was far more than anyone else.

It was weird just how quickly she got used to moving in and out of the dead. She slipped between them without fear or hesitation, able to clear her mind of everything else and remain laser-focused even though she was constantly, massively outnumbered. The fear that one false move might be the spark that ignited absolute carnage all around her was always at the back of her mind, but she saw that fear as a positive and used it to her advantage.

Cheryl read books that taught her about an individual’s external and internal locus of control, and she worked hard to improve her relationship with the rest of the decaying world. She knew it wouldn’t be enough for her to spend the rest of her days shuffling between the Corn Exchange and the shopping centre or wherever. It seemed paradoxical to her, ridiculous even, that she should be the only person left alive and yet be confined to life within such an impossibly small area. She wanted more. She needed more. And she was damn well going to get it.

On a crisp morning in early November, she packed her rucksack and set out. She walked north-east from the Corn Exchange until she reached a forested area around the River Stort, then followed the greenery out of town.

She’d been on the move for some time, focused on getting a couple of miles clear of Bishop’s Stortford. She was beginning to feel increasingly uneasy, convincing herself she wasn’t alone. Was there someone out here watching her? Had there been other survivors here all along? She secretly hoped not, because she’d long since come to the conclusion that the thing most likely to get her killed in this strange and fragile new world would be other people who lacked the control and awareness that she’d worked so hard to develop. When she stopped and looked back, all she could see were dead bodies. She relaxed. A handful of corpses didn’t pose any real issue.

Except there was more than a handful.

There were fucking hundreds of them.

Jesus Christ.

Where had they come from? She’d checked maps to make sure she wasn’t going to wander aimlessly into an even more built-up area than the small town she’d been so keen to temporarily escape.

Wait… had they followed her here?

That was the only explanation. Given the lack of anything else happening anywhere, the dead had simply drifted after her, lethargically following each other in a slow-motion stampede, a chain reaction of chain reactions.

Oh well, what the hell. It didn’t really matter. She was used to having them around. She shrugged her shoulders and carried on with the day she’d planned.

Though she returned to the safety of its walls each night, Cheryl spent more and more time away from the Corn Exchange. She grew to understand the behaviours that drove the dead to react. It was primarily unexpected noises and movement that triggered them, sudden changes of direction, that kind of thing. Obvious, really. She was confident now that she could mimic the corpses around her and be absorbed back into the crowd if it looked like she was in trouble, and so she began to experiment, seeing how far she could push it, how much control she could exert over the masses with subtle actions. It took time to learn the limits, but that was the one thing she seemed to have plenty of.

She poured over more books from the library, this time searching for information about the deterioration of the dead. She learned that, as a person’s hearing began to fail, it was typically the higher frequency noises they stopped hearing first. Made sense. And the logical conclusion she drew from that was that if the dead were still able to hear anything, it would likely be sounds at the other end of the frequency range – the kind of rumbling bass she used to love in clubs, the kind of deep, all-consuming noise you could feel in your belly and your bones.

Cheryl still had her phone (she’d managed to find a couple of solar powered charging blocks early days), and after another trip to the shopping centre, she armed herself with a decent quality portable speaker to connect it to. After a few false starts (and a couple of very close shaves), she found the perfect song. A little time spent tweaking the settings on her phone, fading the treble and ramping up the bass, and she’d managed to isolate a noise that the dead appeared to find irresistible. By playing the music in short bursts at specific points as she weaved through the dead crowds, she found that she was able to corral virtually the entire lifeless population of Bishop’s Stortford at will.

Her plan was to move the herd out of the town and allow her a little space to breathe. She took them out through the woods and left them in the fields. It took her completely by surprise, though, when she got back and realised she was missing them. Not them per se, rather their physical presence. She hadn’t appreciated how much she’d come to enjoy being a face in the crowd. Without them she felt naked and exposed, vulnerable. This was an aspect of the zombie apocalypse they never showed you in movies, she thought to herself as she walked back towards the Corn Exchange, the bass note playing, all of the dead silently following her home.

It was at the end of that month that things changed again.

Cheryl’s days had developed a typical routine now. The first hours of light were spent meditating and working out, usually followed by some time outside the Corn Exchange building, either taking in the sights of the dead world in and around Bishop’s Stortford or collecting supplies or carrying out any other tasks that demanded her attention. In the evenings, she mostly read or wrote or painted. Who’d have thought it, eh? From wild child to… this. There were still moments when she wished she could go back to the before times and get wasted with the people she’d lost, but for the most part she was unexpectedly content. The life she’d carved out for herself from the ruins of the old world was unexpectedly wholesome and fulfilling.

Until the day they came.

She didn’t know who they were, what they wanted, or where they’d come from. She’d not seen a single sign of anyone else left alive since all of this had begun, and she had, quite logically, convinced herself that she was the last woman on Earth. It pissed her off beyond belief when a convoy of between thirty and forty foul, noisy, violent bastards arrived in town. And they didn’t just creep in quietly to suss the place out… no, these fuckers came in like a wrecking ball, driving into Bishop’s Stortford in a convoy and slaughtering hundreds of the dead. Of her dead.

Cheryl watched from her hideout, feeling genuine remorse as large swathes of the herd she’d carefully cultivated was wiped out by these obnoxious invaders. They were a bizarre, ragtag bunch. Some looked like they imagined themselves front and centre in a Mad Max movie, while others looked like they had no place having survived anything. One of them she thought she recognised. She’d seen him on the telly and on social media, where people had lined up to abuse him and take the piss. For the life of her she couldn’t remember his name, but she remembered that smarmy face and his irritating voice… he never shut up. She could hear him wittering on like he was still in charge, like he mattered. The truth was that none of these people mattered any longer. They needed to realise that the old-world order was long gone and had been replaced by something new. Like it or not, the dead had as much right to exist here as the living, maybe even more so.

Cheryl knew she was hopelessly outnumbered, but the thought of losing Stortford and the new life she’d made for herself was unbearable.

She couldn’t let that happen.

The troops were hungry.

They’d been on the move constantly since getting off the Thames and their pace was flagging. They’d ransacked huge shopping malls and slaughtered massive numbers of corpses elsewhere, but they couldn’t keep going like this indefinitely. Piotr had decided, and Dominic had reluctantly agreed, that they should make an overnight pitstop in this shitty, dead-choked town, then move on again in the morning and keep heading north. Paul Duggan had said something about checking out some kind of military base near Corby, but Piotr wasn’t sold on the idea. He was going to keep them moving from place to place on the map until he found what he was looking for. He was confident he’d know the right place when he saw it. One thing was certain, this definitely wasn’t it. They ransacked what was left of Bishop’s Stortford shopping centre and slaughtered many corpses, wave after wave after wave.

‘We could stop here a while,’ Harjinder said as he surveyed the scene from the part of the shopping centre they’d cleared and barricaded for the night.

‘I told you, we keep moving,’ Piotr said.

‘But there’s nothing much around here, and—’

‘We keep moving!’ he yelled, annoyed at having been questioned. ‘I already told you. We’re close to Stansted Airport. We look for fuel there, then we keep going north.’

In the morning, the streets of Bishop’s Stortford were impossibly empty. The ground was covered with the bloody remains of yesterday’s massacre, but now barely a single one of the walking dead remained. Piotr was surprised, because it hadn’t felt like they’d destroyed quite so many. There were a few calls to reconsider moving on, to stay a while longer and make the most of this place, but Piotr had decreed they were leaving.

The convoy reached the airport less than an hour later, and they wasted no time forcing their way inside. Piotr’s logic – for what it was worth – was that once you got in and made it past the security checkpoints, you were relatively safe in an airport, reassuringly isolated. There would have been far fewer people here when the rest of the world had died than, say, another mall or a school or a factory or whatever. And his initial plan to look for fuel supplies? Well, that had fallen by the wayside temporarily because there were other treasures to be found here. Fuck! How could they have not thought about this before? Duty free booze and cigarettes!

Except someone had already been here.

While the others busied themselves getting drunk in relative security, Piotr studied the evidence, piecing together a likely chain of events. Chocolate and toys had been taken, newsagent’s shelves cleared of magazines and puzzle-books, coffee shops and sandwich stalls stripped bare of non-perishables. The booze, perfume, designer jewellery, high-end fashion… largely all of it had been left gathering dust.

He called Harjinder over.

‘There’s scavengers here. A family, maybe. Definitely kids. Keep an eye out and deal with them.’

Dominic Grove was eavesdropping. As usual. ‘Do you need to be quite so aggressive all the time? Don’t you think that if we—’

‘You shut your fucking mouth,’ Piotr told him.

‘I’m just trying to say—’

‘Well, don’t.’

‘I just think—’

Piotr grabbed him by the throat and smashed him back against a glass display full of luxury watches. He held him high enough that his tiptoes scraped the ground, just remaining in contact with the floor. ‘Understand this, you little fucker. You lost any authority you had the second we left the Tower of London. And if we’re being completely honest, you never had much authority anyway, you just acted like you did.’

He let go of him. Dominic scuttled away. Piotr turned back to Harjinder and was about to tell him to sweep the area when there was a sudden burst of movement up ahead. Two scrawny individuals broke cover from where they’d been hiding behind a restaurant bar and sprinted away.

Piotr’s looters looked to him for instructions. ‘You know what to do,’ he yelled. ‘Fucking get them!’

The pack gave chase.

This was like a game to them now, hunting for sport. He’d consciously encouraged it since they’d left the centre of London and had been on the move. His plan was to train them, his own personal pack of bloodhounds that he could set loose on anyone left alive who was stupid enough to get in his way. They raced after the intruders, surging through the bowels of the airport, scenting blood.

Keep the pack together, that was another of Piotr’s unspoken rules. Those that weren’t directly involved in the chase followed close behind. Even people like Dominic and Stan – the absolute runts of the litter – followed at a pace. With that pair of shysters, though, it was the fear of being left behind and having to fend for themselves that kept them moving. It was Stan’s policy, he said. Follow the trouble, but don’t get involved. Stay far enough back so you don’t get drawn in, but not so far that you get accused of running. Until, of course, running becomes the only option.

The group chased the scavengers along a dogleg corridor into Terminal A. It was obvious from their behaviour that this was a well-trod route these people had used many times before. They kept running – all the time looking back over their shoulders at the crowd of seething animals in close pursuit – then took a sudden right turn through one of the gates and raced down onto the tarmac.

Stan pulled up. ‘Can’t keep going at this pace,’ he said, and he and Dominic remained inside as the rest of the pack rushed out.

‘Are they going to kill those people?’ Dominic asked.

‘You tell me, Dom. Depends how pissed off Piotr’s feeling, I guess. You’d think it would be enough just to take their supplies and whatever else they’ve got, but I don’t know. Seems to me he wants everything for himself these days.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Dominic agreed. ‘If he can’t have it, no one can.’

Outside, Paul Duggan led the charge. The mob was strong, but it had been a late night and they’d been drinking and had been caught off guard and… and the two individuals they were chasing were getting away. Their local knowledge and the fact they both looked to be little more than skin and bones combined to give them an advantage and increase the gap between them and everyone else. Paul knew it didn’t matter. They’d either get them or chase them off the airport grounds completely. The end result would be the same – Piotr would get what he wanted.

‘Stop!’ he heard Piotr scream across the airport apron, and the entire pack halted and did an about face, because when Piotr gave an order, you did what he said.


What the hell?

How could this be happening?

Paul was struggling to process what he was seeing. It didn’t make sense. They didn’t make sense. There’d been a handful of dead bodies outside to greet them when they’d first reached the airport, there almost always was, but what he could see now defied all logic. It was completely at odds with the undead behaviours he’d seen over the last three months.

A herd of corpses the likes of which none of them had ever seen before was staggering towards them across the gulf of otherwise empty tarmac and concrete. It dwarfed the size of the crowds they’d recently escaped at Lakeside shopping centre and was not dissimilar in scale (or so it seemed from where he was standing) to the endless hordes that had swallowed up the vast area around the Tower of London.

She’d never brought together a crowd of this kind of size before. There had inevitably been casualties, but Cheryl had led the majority of her herd out of town unnoticed as the invaders had dug in at the shopping centre. She’d walked through the night, taking a long, roundabout route to cover the few miles distance to Stansted, mopping up more and more corpses along the way. She been near the front as they’d marched on the airport, but she allowed herself to fall back because she was no longer leading this herd, she was just another face in the crowd. She’d lost the collective attention of her undead followers, their sole focus now the swarm of ignorant idiots that had just come barrelling out of the airport terminal with the same lack of caution and regard they’d demonstrated when they’d plundered Bishop’s Stortford yesterday. She dropped back further and let her fellow walkers do their thing.

Even Piotr had his limitations. ‘We’re leaving,’ he said. The furthest advanced fighters had just engaged with the quickest moving cadavers, and though the battle was as typically one-sided as expected, the odds were stacked against them. There were hundreds of corpses for every one of them. The sheer numbers of this inexplicable undead army were daunting. Where had they come from?

‘Come on, boss, we can do this,’ Paul said, like an over-excited dog, too eager to please.

‘Yeah, but for what? A ton of booze and fuck-all else. Not worth it. We’re getting out of here.’

And he led them through a service entrance and back into the airport.

Faces pressed against the glass, Dominic and Stan watched the inexplicable events on the ground unfold. Stan was panicking. ‘What the hell do we do now?’

Dominic felt unexpectedly calm. Assured. His confidence was returning. ‘The choice is yours, Stan. We can go back with the others and risk getting a load of shit from Piotr when he realises that we didn’t follow him out onto the tarmac like obedient little puppies, or we can go out there and try and negotiate a way of getting past that crowd.’

‘Think I’d rather go back to the duty free and drink myself stupid.’

‘Feel free. I’ve got a better idea.’

‘Go on.’

Dominic tapped the glass. ‘Look over there.’

‘Over where?’

Christ, this man could be infuriatingly slow at times. ‘Over there,’ Dominic said again, losing his patience. ‘Anything strike you as odd?’

‘Stop playing games… just tell me.’

‘The jumbo jet with the red fuselage.’

‘What about it?’

‘Well, unless I’m very much mistake, there are two bodies halfway up the stairs, climbing them in a way the dead most definitely can’t. And if you look a little closer, there are people watching them from the windows.’

‘Bloody hell… it’s another group!’

‘Well deduced,’ he said, sarcastic. ‘If we move now, we’ve got a chance of getting to them before those dead bodies surround the plane.’

‘I’m in. But won’t they think…’

Dominic was, as always, several steps ahead. ‘They don’t need to know we had anything to do with Piotr, do they? We can just tell them we were hiding in another part of the airport to them. Follow me, Stan, and whatever happens, let me do the talking.’

On the slow walk back to Bishop’s Stortford, with the bass music thrumming from her portable speaker at a level she could feel more than hear, Cheryl did a lot of thinking.

She thought about the faces of those terrified people just now, fighting to stay afloat as a tsunami of rot threatened to wash over them. She thought about how they’d looked at her and straight through her but hadn’t seen her. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have believed it. A living, breathing human being, walking with the dead? Impossible.

She thought about the few folks she’d seen scurry up the steps of that plane. It didn’t matter if they stayed at the airport. As long as they all kept their distance from Bishop’s Stortford, she was happy.

Mostly, though, she thought about the person she’d been and the person she’d become. She thought about the hedonistic lifestyle she used to lead and remembered the grief her crowd had caused night after night in town. It hadn’t been a million miles removed from the destructive behaviour of those ignorant fuckers that had invaded Stortford yesterday and the airport today. God, though she still missed the people, she was glad her hellraising days were over. And no, the irony of her thinking of herself as a reformed hellraiser as she led a crowd of thousands of undead Stortfordians back home was not lost on her. Back then, you were in with the crowd, or you weren’t, there was never any in-between. The effort of keeping up with everyone else left her in no shape to function without them.

Things were different now.

It took several hours for all the dead to return to the town. For now, Cheryl thought, she had the best of both worlds: the freedom to do what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and also the ability, when it suited, to be swallowed up and become just another face in the crowd.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition