Sheri Newton

The shopping mall where Sheri Newton works is looted by Nathan Holmes and Bernard Heath in AUTUMN: THE CITY. Sheri joins the group of survivors in the university and cowers in the shadows with them as the site is besieged by tens of thousands of increasingly aggressive corpses.

Of all the shift patterns I work, this is the one I hate most. I can handle starting early in the morning and working through the day, I don’t even mind starting in the afternoon and working through the evening, but this shift I just can’t stand: sat here from midnight until nine in the morning. It’s not too bad at weekends because there’s usually plenty going on, but mid-week like today the time drags.

Today, the graveyard shift has been worse than usual. There should always be two of us in on late-lates but Stefan called in sick last night so I’ve been sat here on my own for almost eight hours. There’s been nothing to do and hardly anything to see. Between two and three o’clock the pubs and clubs were clearing out so there was some activity on the streets for a while, but after that everything went quiet until around seven-thirty. That’s when the office-workers started to arrive in dribs and drabs.

This job is arse-backwards: I want to be busy when I first come on duty, not when it’s close to clocking-off and I’m too tired to concentrate. By this time my eyes are starting to get heavy. Okay, so this job’s not physically tiring, but sitting in front of seventeen screens watching CCTV footage of a shopping centre, an office block and the surrounding streets is enough to put anyone to sleep. Still, as I keep reminding myself, it just about pays the bills. It’s easy money really. I don’t have to do anything much. Even if I see something suspicious all I have to do is call the police or security and let them do all the dirty work. I just stay here and watch.

This has been the slowest shift I can remember. Hardly anyone’s out and about on Monday night, fewer still during the early hours of Tuesday morning. I’ve seen absolutely nothing tonight. I watched a drunk get arrested in the high street about two hours ago but bugger-all since then. The only screen I’ve watched with any interest is my phone. I can’t even text anyone, though, ‘cause they’re all asleep.

It’s just after eight now, and here we go. At last. First sign of trouble for the day.

The cameras cover all the public parts of the shopping centre, as well as the access roads, main delivery entrances, and the reception area in the office block. There’s a driver unloading around the back of one of the electrical superstores. He’s just fallen out of the cab of his truck, clumsy sod. Bloody hell, what’s the matter with him? He must be drunk. The bloody idiot can’t even get up. Christ, how can these people let themselves get in such a state and then get behind the wheel? Don’t they have a conscience?

Hold on, he’s moving again now. He’s trying to pick himself up, but he’s grabbing at his throat like he’s choking on something. Is this for real? I can’t see anyone else around down there to help. I’ve got a direct line to the loading bay. I’ll try and get someone to go see him…

No one’s answering. Come on, someone pick up.

The line’s ringing out but no one’s answering.

Wait, there’s someone else out there with him now. Another man walks out of the shadows, but before he gets anywhere near the guy on the ground, he collapses too. He’s crawling along the ground on his hands and knees, spitting up.

Will someone answer the bloody phone?

Shit, on screen seven one of the cleaners working outside the main department store has just collapsed. What the hell is happening here? The two screens I’m watching are showing feeds from cameras at opposite ends of the complex. I was starting to think it might have been exhaust fumes or something like that causing the problems in the loading bay, but how could the same thing affect three people so far apart, all at the same time?

Wait, there are more…

Camera twelve is fixed on the public walkway between the Alldays and Brothers Furniture. Oh Jesus, what’s going on? I think that’s Jim Runton, the assistant manager of Alldays. He’s throwing up in the middle of the walkway. That’s too dark to be vomit. Is that blood?

No one’s answering this damn phone. I hang up and try one of the emergency lines linked direct to the police.

There’s Mark Prentiss, the head of mall security. He’s running back towards the offices. He’ll know what’s going on.

Oh no. Christ, now Mark’s slowing down. He’s not going to make it back here. Bloody hell, his legs just went from under him and he’s gone down like all the others.

No one’s answering the emergency phone either. That’s not right: the emergency phone should always be answered. There has to be someone there… I’ll try and get one of the security team on their radio. One of them will answer me…

The truck driver around the back of the superstore isn’t moving now. He’s just lying there, facedown on the tarmac next to his truck. It looks like he’s dead but he can’t be, can he? The other man near him isn’t moving either. The cleaner outside the department store has stopped moving too.

All I can hear is static on the radios.

Jim Runton’s body has been shaking since I first saw him go down, constantly convulsing, but now he’s still. Mark Prentiss isn’t moving either. There’s a pool of blood spreading out around his face. It looks black on the CCTV screen.

I can move camera fifteen. That’s the camera covering the main entrance and the pedestrian approach. I use the joystick to turn it almost a full circle. There should be crowds of people moving towards the mall from the station now, but Jesus Christ… all I can see are bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. The streets outside are filled with them. Hundreds and hundreds of them… It’s like they’ve all just fallen where they were standing…

I’ve got to get out of here.

Nothing’s moving on any of the screens now.

Sheri Newton got up from her seat behind the control desk and ran out into the small security office. There she found the body of Jason Reynolds (her colleague who had been due to relieve her) sprawled across the floor in front of her, his wild, frightened eyes staring hopelessly past her and into space. Further down the corridor, Adam, a security guard was slumped dead in a half-open doorway. She stepped over him, tripping over his outstretched leg, then ran through the ghostly quiet building until she was out on the street.

Sheri walked another few metres before fear and shock overwhelmed her. She fell back against the wall of the nearest building, then slid to the ground. For more than an hour she remained sitting on the pavement, as still as the huge crowds of dead bodies which surrounded her.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition