The shout startled her from her reverie. Jackie opened her eyes and squinted up at the sun. It was about midday, by her estimates.
With a groan and a sigh, Jackie forced herself to sit upright. She glanced around at her surroundings, which had remained mostly unchanged in the past twelve hours or so that she’d been there. Jackie looked around, trying to see where the voice had come from. It wasn’t easy, considering how many people there were.
They were all stood on the other side of the wire fence, staring at her, mouths slack-jawed and openly chewing nothing, hands either gripping the diamonds that laced into another across the cage or banging against the rattling metal or swaying in the air as if at a rock concert. They were all groaning and moaning and growling and snarling. All of them had cloudy, vacant eyes that looked somewhat rheumy.
They were all infected. Or whatever it was that happened to them between the people they had been and the creatures they were now. The strange objects were sticking out the tops of their heads, like antennas. The colours of these antennas (if that’s even what they were) ranged from snotty green to a veiny purple. The things stuck out of their foreheads—like a rhino’s horn—quivering and slimy, clearly organic yet wholly alien.
“Up here, dumbass!” The voice took on a snarky tone.
Jackie swivelled her head around, twisting her neck this way and that, trying to get a glimpse of the person who’d dare to disturb her slumber with an insult, feeling very much like the dumbass she’d just been labelled.
“Up. Here,” insisted the voice, echoing across the football field and the running track and the carpark. “Stadium roof!” shouted the person.
Jackie planted her hands on the orange asphalt, feeling the roasting heat emanating from the track, and pushed herself up into a standing position with a jump, joints popping like firecrackers. She cupped her hand over her eyes and squinted up at the top of the stadium, seeing nothing but steely blue sky, burning sun, and blurry silhouette of the stadium which loomed above. The voice had to have come from somewhere, though, and the way it echoed did imply that whoever shouted had done so from an elevated position, and yet…
There! Jackie spotted the lone shadow, impossibly tiny, perched atop the colossal building. “Hey!” Jackie shouted back, waving frantically. It was hard to tell, but it seemed as though the figure was waving back. Another survivor! She wasn’t alone! For the first time in days, Jackie felt a surge of happiness and hope, a tingling, surging excitement.
“Oh, thank God,” shouted the stranger. “I thought I was shouting at a dead body for a minute, there!”
Jackie chuckled at the thought, then realised the other person probably couldn’t hear it, so she shouted in response. “Ha!” It sounded rudely sarcastic, even to her own ears, and she hoped that the person wasn’t offended. “What’re you doing up there?” Jackie asked, hating the way her voice sounded so dumb.
“What’re you doing down there?” countered the shadow atop the stadium. “It’s dangerous down there.” They didn’t need to explain themselves, the bending, bowing fence mere metres away from Jackie was explanation enough itself.
Jackie shrugged, remembered the person couldn’t see small gestures from such a great distance. “Erm… I dunno.”
“Well, I just… sorta… ended up here. How about you?”
A slight hesitation. “Yeah, I guess the same goes for me. Isn’t that how it always goes?”
“Well, yeah…” said Jackie, trailing off. From the sound of the other person’s voice, she was beginning to get the distinct impression that she was speaking to another girl of a similar age. Jackie herself was fifteen, sixteen that October. Not that there’d be anybody left to celebrate it with. “What’s your name?” Jackie called up, forming a makeshift megaphone with the curve of her hands. “I’m Jackie.”
“Nice to meet ya, Jackie. I’m Kitty!”
“Kitty?” said Jackie, with a frown. She didn’t say this very loudly, but apparently Kitty had heard her.
“Oh, don’t you start. People always give me crap for that name. It was my dad’s idea. Mom wanted to call me Mary. God, why couldn’t I have been called Mary? Why Kitty?”
“Whoa, hey, sorry!” said Jackie.
“Nah, not your fault. It’s a stupid name. I know it’s a stupid name. Jackie’s pretty though.”
“Kinda a boys’ name, though, ain’t it?”
“Eh, I guess. You get crap about your name too?”
“Sometimes,” repeated Kitty. “At least it’s better than Kitty.”
“I s’pose. Kitty’s not too bad, though. At least people know you’re a girl by your name.”
“You mean your name’s not Jacqueline or something like that?”
“Nope, my full name’s Jackie.”
“Lemme guess, Dad’s idea?”
“Ten points to Gryffindor.”
Kitty swore, then chuckled. “Kitty and Jackie, the two survivors of the apocalypse.”
Jackie grinned. “Who’d have thunk it?”
“Not me. Say, Jackie, all this shouting is killing my voice. What say we meet up? And by ‘up’, I mean you come up here.”
“Don’t wanna come down here and meet my friends? They’re real friendly.”
“I bet they are. Scientologists were super friendly when they tried to convert us, too.” That made Jackie laugh out loud.
“Jesus,” she said, shaking her head.
“Yeah, him too,” said Kitty. “Any idea of how to get up here?”
“You mean you can’t guide me up?”
“Just like a damaged boat rope, I’m afraid not.”
Jackie’s brow furrowed. “Well, how the hell did you get up there in the first place, then?”
For the first time since the conversation had started, Kitty was silent.
Jackie cleared her throat. “Hey, Kitty, I said—”
“I heard what you said, Jackie.” A pained pause. “My dad lifted me up here, onto the roof. When it all started getting crazy. Said I’d be safer up here. He lifted me up, and when I turned around to help lift him up, he was gone.”
“Oh. Oh. I’m sorry, Kitty, I didn’t know.”
“Hey, I’m sure your dad’s just fine.”
Kitty snorted. “Yeah, right. And my mom. And my stupid big brother. And your family too. They’re all having a barbeque right now, Jackie, didn’t you get the invite?”
“Hey, I said I was sorry. And yeah, I hope my family is alive. I don’t know for definite that they’re not.”
“Damn. Look, I’m sorry Jackie. It’s just—ah, first person I meet who’s not an alien zombie and I’m a complete bitch to them.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“Yeah, I was. Sorry.”
“Me too.” Another awkward silence. It occurred to Jackie that she and Kitty had become friends, had their first fight and made up, all in the space of ten minutes. “Hey, Kitty? I’m gonna try and find a way up to you. I’m losing my voice with all this shouting.”
“Sounds good. Hey, be careful, yeah? The stadium was full of ‘em last night. I don’t know where they all went, but the place is Snoozeville right now. Might be some of those creeps lingering around the place, lurking in the shadows.” The thought made Jackie shiver, but she didn’t say so.
“All right, I’ll be careful. Couldya shout every 5 minutes or so, so I don’t get lost?”
“Lost? It’s a stadium, I’m at the top, how on earth could you get lost?”
“Hey, it’s a big stadium! No judging. I’m crap at spatial geography and all that.”
“All right, all right, no judging. You don’t need Google Maps to find your way up, though.”
“Good. ‘Cause my phone is dead.”
“Mine too. Just keep—y’know—moving upwards. You’ll know you’re moving up because it’s the opposite of down. If you need help remembering, take your shoe off and drop it. There’s this thing called gravity, and—”
“My God you’re snarky! Yeah, keep that up, Kitty. I’m on my way. Gimme ten.”
“You sound like my mom. She always told me I had a big mouth and a razor tongue.”
“And now she’s dead.”
Kitty coughed in surprise. “Jesus, that was dark, Jackie!” And then she laughed. “Bloody dark. Think we’re gonna get along just fine, my boy.”
Jackie grinned. Behind her, the things that had once been human rattled the cage with their hands, alien antennas quivering and oozing in the hot sunshine. She didn’t know what the plan was—or if there even was a plan—but she wasn’t alone. That was the main thing. And, perhaps most importantly, she was with someone whom she was already taking a shine to.
As she walked into the shade of the arena, headed for the nearest door, feeling her sunburnt skin ablaze, the sounds of the alien zombie puppets (Jackie’s own name for the creatures) filling the air in an inharmonious chorus, Jackie couldn’t but help feeling hopeful. Things could be (and indeed, for a while, had been) worse.
“Hold on, Kitty. I’m coming up.”
8th May 2020
Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest