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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.

THE AUTUMN SERIES