Not Dead Yet
by Amy L. Hull
Written for mazily in the Yuletide 2020 Exchange.
Thanks to Janelle for the native-speaker Spanish translations, to oldtoadwoman, crystallinejen, and akamarykate for the beta-read, and to akamarykate for the encouragement.
There is no road before me. The storm has come, and I am driving, hurtling into darkness. I've been running for fourteen years. There was never an escape, and, as was always inevitable, I've lost. This pain, this grief, is as relentless, as inescapable as a Terminator. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with, and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until I am dead.
The ground beneath her is hard.
Sarah moves her tongue, swollen and sticky with the combination of dust and tequila.
Everything is dust.
There's no point in opening her eyes. She knows there is grit in them.
Dust on the hard ground, scratching her cheek, sticking to the sweat on her arm, her neck.
She is aware of all of this, but feels none of it. None of it matters. Not the scent of liquor and body odor and vomit. Not the tightness of her skin where the sun has baked her red.
All that matters is that John is dead, and she isn't. Not dead yet.
It is her greatest failure.
John is a dead weight in her grasp, his arms spread like a martyr on a cross. His blood flows like water through her fingers, into the sand beneath the planks of the bar de la playa. Her screams fill her ears, drowning out the lapping of the waves, but not the drumbeat of her heart in her ears.
It's over. Everything is over. Her life. Her purpose. The future if those...things...ever came back. It's turned to as much dust as the children she's dreamt of for fourteen years.
She tastes blood, warm and salty. It moves across her tongue. Moves toward her throat like the feeding tube from Pescadero-
"NO!" She jerks away from the hand behind her head and skitters away, her back hitting a wall instantly. The cough is paroxysmic.
When she catches her breath, she sees Jolanda, patiently holding out a large spoon of broth.
Her eyes prick, but no tears come. She must be dehydrated. Big fucking surprise.
"Toma esto," Jolanda repeats firmly, holding the spoon to her lips. Sarah swallows on autopilot.
She'd fed John like this when he was sick, when he was little and they were hiding, on the move, when she'd stolen his childhood like the Terminator had stolen all his years to come.
No. The Terminators had stolen every one of John's moments, every one of her moments with him. They stole everything. The past. The present. The future. They owned her as sure as if she were shackled in one of the work camps from Kyle's stories.
"Toma esto." A whisper this time, encouraging. Sarah turns away and the spoonful of broth dribbles down her chin, blending with the dust to make a muddy stain on her top. She rubs at it absently. The spot is the same color John's ashes had been as the tide had washed them away, free on the open sea.
Jolanda wraps Sarah's hands around the bowl of menudo. "Sarah. Necesitas beber."
She pulls away. "No. Por qué?"
She meets Jolanda's eyes where pain and tears are a mirror, and she grabs the bowl, storming out of the room with an infinitesimal hesitation as she passes the ofrenda for Enrique and Paco.
As soon as she's out the trailer door, she pitches the bowl as hard as she can, the homemade soup trailing in an arc behind until it runs out. The bowl shatters near the rattlesnake-decorated fencing, while the soup plops wetly into the dust.
Sarah doesn't notice when she begins grabbing things, but anything within reach is now arcing through the air.
"That's how it should have been!" she screams. "Missile after missile, crashing into the earth. Death and death and more death. But John would have lived!"
Her grandmother's voice echoes in her head, a warning after 12-year-old Sarah had sworn in front of her, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul?" There was no point to a whole world without John.
Would she sacrifice three billion lives for her son back? He'd never forgive her, but she'd choose John every time, just like he chose her. Every time. No matter how much she told him not to.
Sarah casts around for something else to take out her rage on, but there is not even a pebble left near her, so she screams again. Screams until her throat sticks together. Until her lips are dry. Until she's on her knees, face in her hands, shaking with wracking, tearless sobs.
When she's spent, sagging in place, head and face and throat throbbing, pounding, Juanita, still younger than John was last time they were here, appears next to her.
"Dice mamá que queda un tazón más, pero-"
"I promise not to throw this one," she says, her voice as foreign as this unblemished scene, rugged, sweeping, dusty, dotted with Joshua trees.
It should all be gone. They should all be dead. Even the trees.
Juanita points to the line of menudo in the dirt and the broken bowl beyond. She glares at Sarah. "Es un desperdicio," she says, before turning away.
"John's death was a waste, too," she whispers. "John should have lived."
Hours later, soup and several of Jolanda's glasses of suero sloshing in her hollow belly, they sit in half-broken chairs around a bonfire. Sarah and Jolanda pass back and forth a bottle of tequila from the last of four cases Sarah had...liberated from a delivery truck and drunk all the way from Guatemala to the Salcedas' compound.
The entire place is a ghost town. Visions of John appear around the dancing of the flames. John playing in the hollow of the helicopter with Paco after "Uncle Bob" put the baby down. Enrique teaching eight-year-old John to shoot a shotgun behind the satellite dish. John toddling along the fencerow with Jolanda while Enrique trained Sarah in supplying ammo and swapping weapons in combat. Holding John in the shade of the trailer after coming back from having her tubes tied.
She'd always known he would be her only child. The only way to have any chance to protect him was to have just one. He was The One...the one child for her, the one savior of mankind.
Jolanda lays a hand on Sarah's arm. Sarah shakes her head, realizing her name has been spoken several times.
Sarah's voice is a mere croak. "It never goes away, does it?"
"No." Jolanda takes a long pull of the tequila, face creased with pain, and hands the bottle back to Sarah. The back of her hand, raised to wipe her mouth, stays there while she shakes, staring at the fire.
Sarah swallows hard, then throws back the last third of the bottle. She smashes the bottle on the ground, raises the jagged neck so it catches the fire. The light splits along the edges, scattering orange, red, and yellow until Sarah can see the mushroom cloud bloom from the remnant. It feels like holding power in her hand, and she reaches toward it, transfixed. The thought of being consumed by the inferno is as intoxicating as the tequila.
The bottle flies from her hand and into the bonfire. After two slow blinks, Sarah realizes that Jolanda is holding her wrist and hit her other hand to knock the bottle away. Sarah turns to her, molasses-slow confusion melting her face into a frown.
The fire flickers in Jolanda's dark eyes as she leans toward Sarah, her voice gentle but firm. "John está muerto, pero tu sigues viva."
Sarah stares at the fire then leans her head back and watches the star-filled sky spin all the way down to the horizon. Jolanda is wrong. She's not alive. Not anymore. Never again.
She negotiates for her share of the weapons stash and leaves the place before sunset the next day.
Her Jeep shudders and vibrates on the narrow road away from the compound. It's over an hour to a main route to...anywhere else.
Maybe she'll flip a coin, let chance or fate decide what direction to drive.
My soul, if I ever had one, was lost long ago. I hear, in my grandmother's sanctimonious, clucking tones, my own question: "What shall it profit a woman if she saves the whole world but loses her son?" The answer is obvious. Nothing. No son, no hope for the future, not even a road map for saving the world. And God help me, I'm still going to try to save the world. John would want that. If they come again-and they always come-I'll have no warning. But I will destroy every machine I encounter until my body is as dead as my non-existent soul.