The deserted landscape that surrounded her seemed to be reflecting the unbearable heat right towards her body. She couldn’t blame it if it was, this was probably the first time the ground had felt the steps of a human since the war started. Meredith knew she was one of the few still alive and fighting, and with her sister still too young to handle anything larger than a pistol, it was up to her to defend what she had left.
Meredith looked down at her sister Violet, who was flushed and breathing heavily. They had been walking since the invasion reached their refugee camp, which was five days ago. It was a brutal massacre, and they had barely been able to escape alive. Meredith made the decision to head towards New York, supposedly the only city that still had humans in control. It was risky, but they were too close to turn around now.
“Violet,” Meredith huffed, “Sit down and drink some water.” Violet found a tree and slumped to the ground, leaning her back against the trunk. She pulled a water bottle from her backpack, and took long, slow drinks. Meredith sat next to her sister, pulling a pack of trail mix from her pocket.
“Eat up,” Meredith insisted, “I want to make it to the city by nightfall.”
“How much longer?” Violet whined. “We’ve been walking for days, my feet are killing me.”
Meredith gave her sister nothing short of the death glare. Violet was only 12, and the pubescent hormonal whining had begun to sneak into almost every conversation the two shared.
“No more than an hour. It shouldn’t be long now.”
Meredith could tell Violet was losing energy and the will to go on, two things that would make the rest of the journey impossible without them. They couldn’t stay much longer.
The principal’s office was colorless and stuffy, the chair Meredith sat in hurting her back already. She shifted uncomfortably right as the door burst open, revealing a rather angry looking principal and an even angrier looking Violet. The large man guided the girl to the backbreaking chair next to Meredith, instructing her to sit down. Meredith gave Violet the most evil look she could muster, her sister looking sheepishly at the floor. She knew she was in deep trouble.
“First of all,” the man boomed. “I would like to address why we’re here today.”
He turned to look at Violet, who tried to sink as far into the stiff chair as possible.
“Your sister got into a fistfight during free time today.”
Meredith watched every muscle in her sister’s body tense up, a sign that whatever had happened was sure to be serious.
“He called me fat,” Violet muttered.
“Could you repeat that?” the principal questioned.
“He called me fat!” Violet grumbled again.
Meredith sighed while rubbing her temples in annoyance. Her sister could not have been that stupid. Violet had always struggled with appropriately expressing her emotions, and this was a prime example of one of her meltdowns.
“Violet,” Meredith groaned, “Tell me what happened.”
“We were in the hallway for our free time since it was raining,” she began. “I was reading the new book I got for my birthday, you know, the one about all the death that you hate, and that jackass-”
“Sorry, that mean bully from my class last year came up and called me fat. I told him to go stick it up his butt,” she turned to look at the principal. “Anyway, he slapped the book from my hands, so I slapped him in the face, except with my fist, and much more force. Then he ran off he with his tail between his legs to he could tell the teacher what I did. End of story.”
The principal pressed his hands together, showing Meredith that this was not over, and would most likely end poorly in Violet’s direction.
“This behavior calls for three days out of school suspension, and one month academic probation,” he ordered. “I do not tolerate any kind of violence in my school. Bring these papers home to your parents, and you’re free to go.”
The man got up and left, obviously more interested in other matter he had to deal with. Meredith rose from her chair, glaring down at her sister who was still sitting.
“I was just standing up for myself,” Violet whispered. “You always tell me to do that, be strong and stand up for what you believe in.”
Meredith pulled her sister up, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders.
“I do always tell you that, but it wasn’t intended to be used to harm other people,” Meredith explained. “I appreciate you listening to me though. Let’s go home, and see what kind of punishment you’re in for.”
Meredith watched the sun slowly dip closer to the horizon, pinks, oranges, and reds filling the sky. Thinking about Violet punching someone point blank made her chuckle, but time was running out before their only source of light was gone. They had to move on.
“Break time’s over Violet,” Meredith declared. “We’re close, just a few more miles at most.”
Meredith started to smile, then laugh at the memory that seemed so long ago.
“What are you laughing at?” Violet questioned.
“Remember when you punched that kid because he called you fat?” Meredith remenised. “Oh boy,” she took a breath,”that was a weird day.”
“Oh no,” Violet protested, “I don’t want to remember.”
Violet placed her hands over her face, groaning at the fact her sister even thought to bring up one of the dumbest things she has ever done.
“You know, I was secretly proud of you,” Meredith smiled. “You showed you were a girl not to be messed with.”
“Ya,” Violet blushed. “Thanks. I guess I was proud of me too.”
The sun had dipped slightly farther into hiding, making Meredith anxious. Now they really had to leave if the ever wanted to make it to New York on time.
“Alright Vi, we really need to leave now,” Meredith instructed.
“But I was just starting to like it here. This tree and I are very content.”
“Well, you and your tree better start saying some goodbyes, and fast,” Meredith warned. “You know what happens at night. I’m low on ammo, and need to find more before we run into any more...creatures.”
Meredith shuddered at the thought of running into a aliens in the dark. They killed for fun, and without ammunition, she knew both of them would be toast within seconds. It was time to go. The girls slowly brought themselves to their feet, brushing dirt and leaves from their pants. Violet shoved her water bottle into the pocket of her backpack and quickly waved goodbye to the tree , while Meredith pulled out a compass. She pointed north.
“This way,” Meredith instructed. “And stay close.”
The girls worked their ways through the barren forest, burned out homes and waist deep craters dotting the landscape with blown up graves. It was silent as they walked, the only sound coming from their boots hitting the ground. There was nothing left. The aliens murdered just about everything they could, sparing only themselves and the few lucky enough to escape their grasp. Meredith hadn’t heard a bird chirp in months, never mind the sound of an airplane swooping overhead. Still, silence meant they were alone, which meant they weren’t being followed.
Meredith and Violet arrived in New York just at sundown, the highway median they had been following curved towards a destroyed exit ramp. Black smoke filled the air around them, blanketing the decrepit buildings on the horizon in a dark haze. It reeked of burning flesh and sewage, a scent that caused both girls to gag in disgust.
Violet pulled her backpack off her shoulders and began rummaging through one of the pockets. After a few minutes, she revealed two bandanas.
“Here,” she coughed. “It should help with the smoke.”
Meredith took the piece of cloth and tied it around her nose and mouth, taking a deep breath of semi-clean air. It still wasn’t perfect, but the thin barrier between her and the air was just enough to make the environment bearable.
Violet turned to face Meredith, her bandana tied the same way as her sister’s. Meredith patted Violet on the back as a job well done, before cautiously grabbing her arm and guiding her towards the exit ramp. They walked past abandoned cars and semi trucks, which automatically gave Meredith the feeling that they were being watched. She pulled her military style rifle from her back and held it close, ready to fire at any enemies that chose to come near. Violet reached to grab her pistol as well, cautiously reloading to make sure she was ready to give backup.
The girls reached the end of the ramp with no problems, but found themselves in the mangled mess that was now New York’s streets. Rubble of collapsed buildings blocked almost every street, and the smoke had thickened enough to make visibility almost zero.
“What do we do now?” Violet whispered. She looked around at what she could see of the barren road, seeing their path blocked in every direction.
“I- I don’t know,” Meredith answered. “Let’s see if we can move some rubble over there, maybe find a passageway.”
Meredith leaned against the brick wall that separated the sports fields from the playground, her legs crossed at the knees, head pressed against the rough surface. She watched the rest of the kids in her grade climb the multiple jungle gyms like monkeys, many of the playing some sort of hide and seak or tag. Meredith choose to never join in on these games, instead sitting in the same shady spot against the wall every recess, a sketchbook in hand. While other students screamed and yelled to each other, she doodled and drew whatever came to mind. It had been part of her routine since the beginning of first grade, and as a seventh grader now, she didn’t have any plans of changing it.
Her hand suddenly lurched as she was sketching the cape of Batman, the pencil drawing a hard line against the width of the paper. She looked up to see what hit her, and was greeted by a kickball at her arm, and a group of four girls at her feet. Meredith had never liked them, she called them the “Talentless Jocks with Rich Parents” behind their backs, since they always showed up to school wearing new Nike apparel and fancy sport camp jerseys. From the looks on their faces they had either A: heard about her less than appealing title, or B: wanted to get their ball back in the most humiliating way possible. Either way Meredith was not looking forward to it.
The tallest girl spoke first, her long french braid tumbled over her shoulder as she bent down to meet Meredith’s eyes.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she snarled. “You gonna give us the ball back?”
Meredith reached down and picked up the kickball, pushing it away from her like it was an infectious disease. Another member of the group, this one with twig like legs and a blonde ponytail, reached down and pushed the ball back into Meredith’s stomach, knocking the wind out right of her.
“For the love of God you can keep the ball,” the scrawny girl laughed. “What a freak.”
Meredith felt tears brimming in her eyes and silently wished the wall would swallow her whole. The girls laughed before walking away, obnoxiously mocking her, which only made her tears fall faster. Meredith wished she said something to show she wasn’t such a coward, but her mind and mouth were on different terms. She had never felt so weak.
The attempt to find a hole in the rubble failed, as many of the pieces were bigger than the two girls combined. Meredith rose her hands in defeat, feeling as she was one the playground again, feeling just as weak and helpless as when those girls picked her to torment.
“Well, that didn’t work,” Meredith huffed. “We’re trapped.”
“No we’re not,” Violet murmured. “No we’re not!” she repeated, looking in all directions to find a solution to the problem.
“Violet!”yelled Meredith, “There is absolutely no way we can go through this. Our only choice is to get back on the highway and go back to whatever is in those woods. There isn’t anything here.”
“No, we learned about situations like this at the refugee camp,” Violet paused for a moment. “When going through doesn’t work...Going over is your best option. Meredith we need to go over!”
Meredith looked up at the towering pile of building, gulping deeply at the idea of whatever could be at the top of the man-made mountain.
“I don’t know-”
“It’s our only option,” Violet pleaded. “We need to do this.”
Violet began carefully scaling the wreckage, reaching a hand down to pull her sister up. It was now or never.
“I really don’t think this a good idea Vi,” Meredith croaked.
“This isn’t seventh grade anymore Meredith. If we find anyone who wants to mess with us, we can just blow them to bits.”
Meredith laughed at her sister’s attempt at making a joke, her personal motivation suddenly growing. She began climbing the wall behind her sister, the cloud of black smoke thinning slightly as the approached the top. Once at the peak, the looked for any sign of an exit that would lead them safely to an unblocked street. Through the now gray haze, Meredith saw what looked to be a clear road leading towards the center of the city.
“Over there,” Meredith pointed, leading her sister’s gaze towards the left side of the pile. “Follow my lead.”
Once at the bottom of the pile, the girls cautiously crept past the many empty buildings, in search for any signs of a non-alien population. They had so far had no luck, and the sun had just fully set. The darkness was overwhelming, and with only pocket sized flashlights, the girls had no other choice than to find somewhere to spend the night.
“Be on the lookout for somewhere to sleep,” Meredith instructed. “And keep your flashlight pointed down, we’re completely giving away our location using these things.”
Violet nodded, quickly pointing her light so that it was perpendicular to the sidewalk. Every building seemed completely inhabitable in some way, whether it be a missing roof or blown out windows, they would never survive without staying fully hidden. After rounding a corner, Meredith found the most promising sight yet; the Empire State Building. The structure was only partially demolished, and the roof was still mostly intact. She pulled Violet with her as she broke into a weak sprint, pushing through the old revolving door when they reached the building.
“Now this, is living,” Violet awed, taking in as much of the lobby as she could.
“Imagine what it looked like before the war,” Meredith pondered. “I always wanted to come here.”
The girls continued into the building, finding the stairwell and climbing to a higher floor. They stopped on floor 14, simply too exhausted to climb any further. They came to a hallway of office doors, many looking like they hadn’t been touched since the war began. Violet walked over to the nearest one, giving the handle a shake. It wouldn’t budge.
“I need a bobby pin,” she demanded.
“For what reason would you ever need a bobby pin?”
“If there’s one thing Dad ever taught me, it’s how to pick a lock with bobby pins.”
Meredith couldn’t argue, and reached into her mangled hair to try to find the pins that held back her flyaways. She was able to retrieve two, quickly handing them over to her sister, who immediately began shoving one into the lock. After a few minutes of muffled curses, the door finally popped open, revealing a room that seemed to appear almost untouched. Inside was a desk, complete with pictures and a weekly planner, and bookshelf full to capacity, and two small sofas, positioned directly opposite each other.
Violet immediately threw herself on one of the couches, claiming it with a groan of approval. Meredith sat on the other of the plush wonders, leaning back and relaxing for the first time in months.
“Get some sleep Vi,” Meredith yawned, “We have a big day tomorrow.”
Violet did as she was told, lying down with a thud.
“What do we do tomorrow?” she questioned.
Just as she spoke, the rumble of an alien convoy spread through the room, and both girls tensed at the sight of the row of heavily armed rival vehicles.
“Tomorrow,” Meredith breathed, “We fight.”