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126. road trips to nowhere

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There’s meat roasting over an open fire, and Sarah can’t stop looking at it. It’s been – a long damn time since she’s had food that didn’t come in a can. That’s what happens when the world ends: you run out of meat.

Except, apparently, you don’t. If you are some weird Eastern European who broke casually into Sarah’s loft, blinked, and said I’m going to the mountains to try and find fresh water and you should come. Sarah got on her motorcycle; what else was she going to do? Only they stopped to make camp and she left to piss and she came back and there’s honest to god meat over this campfire. Where the hell did Helena get meat.

She realizes, suddenly, that this is a question she can ask out loud. It’s been a long time.

“Where the hell did you get meat,” she says. Her voice in the air belongs to a stranger. She doesn’t recognize it anymore.

“I won’t,” Helena says to her knee, and then looks at Sarah and says: “Around.”

That’s the other thing. Helena keeps talking to her elbows, and her knees, and her wrists, and none of those parts of her body seem to want Sarah around. At some point Helena is going to kill her, because her invisible friends want her to. That seems like a guarantee.

But god, meat. Sarah sits down across the campfire. Her stomach gave up on growling a few weeks back, so instead Sarah listens to her breath go in and out. Swallows down spit. Kill her and take the meat, hisses survival instinct in the back of her brain. Sarah picks at her cuticles and doesn’t listen to it. Stupid plan. She’d be full but for how long? What would it matter?

“She won’t,” Helena tells the ground.

Sarah gnaws some skin off of her lip, swallows it, gambles. “I’m not gonna take the meat,” she tells the ground.

Helena flat-out stares at her. “Shh,” she says, and then blinks at Sarah, and then says: “Not you.”

“I know.”

Helena tilts her head to the side. “You can’t see anything.”

“No,” Sarah says. She leans back a little, drums the tip of her foot against the ground. “But I don’t like getting talked about behind my back, do I. ‘specially if there’s only one person talking.”

“Sorry,” Helena says, sour twist of the mouth. She pulls the meat off the fire and pulls out a stained knife from her pocket, starts sawing at the meat. They’re going to get infected with something and die, but what does it matter. Which is to say: when Helena passes her a chunk of meat on a knife Sarah bites into it anyways. She has to swallow down a desperate, animal sound when she does.

“Slow,” Helena says, sounding amused. “You are starving.”

Sarah obligingly slows down. Helena is holding the rest of the meat in her hand, seemingly unbothered by the temperature, and she bites off a chunk. “My friend doesn’t trust you,” she says through a mouthful, the consonants gone pulpy around the meat. “But I do.”

“She’s got a point,” Sarah says, like an idiot who wants to die.

“Not she,” Helena says.

“Shit, sorry. He.”

“No.”

“…they?”

“No.”

“It.”

“My friend,” Helena says, eating more meat, “doesn’t like strangers. Says I am too easy trusting. But.” She shrugs. “Is end of world. What is point to not trusting, yes?”

“I could kill you,” Sarah says, but only after she’s swallowed all the meat.

Helena snorts. “Okay.”

Sarah is, for some reason, offended. Why is she offended? Why can’t she just accept that Helena trusts her, and the two of them can make it out of this okay? Why is she opening her mouth and saying “You think I couldn’t do it? I had that knife pressed to your throat, didn’t I? You’d be dead if I wanted you dead.”

“Not mad,” Helena says to something that isn’t Sarah. “Scared.”

“Hey!” Sarah roars, throwing the knife to the ground – it clatters – and raising her hands into the air. “You wanna talk to me! Since I’m a bloody person!

Helena shrinks down and Sarah lowers her hands. “Shit,” she says. “Shit, sorry, I’m – sorry.”

“I am crazy,” Helena says, and Sarah doesn’t know who she’s saying it to.

“You’re not,” Sarah says, suddenly frantic. “I was – pissed at you, I shouldn’t have been, I’m sorry.”

Helena folds herself up very small. “You are alive,” she says, “and you had no one. So. You can be alive with no one. I thought you needed somebody or else you would be dead. But I am stupid. Stupid Helena. I could have done it on my own.”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “Hey, come on,” Sarah says. “I’m not – I’m not gonna judge you, yeah? You did what you had to, to – to survive. You made it. Bloody huge deal, yeah?”

Helena blinks at her, eyes wide and wet in the firelight. Sarah swallows, keeps grabbing desperately for words that will keep Helena here – and keep Helena alive – and through that keep Sarah alive – and make Sarah okay. “Look at you,” she says. “Brave, aren’t you. Nobody made it but you and me, makes you pretty special.”

Helena’s eyes drift away. “I am special,” she says, like she’s testing it out.

“Yeah,” Sarah says. “Sure are.”

“So are you,” Helena says.

No I’m not, Sarah thinks.

Made it on luck, Sarah thinks.

If you hadn’t shown up I had only five days left, I’ve been counting food, Sarah thinks.

“That’s me,” Sarah says. “Special.”

“Shut up,” Helena says, and picks something up, and throws it away. Then she holds out her empty hand. “Can I have knife back, please.”

It’s still lying in the dirt where Sarah dropped it. Sarah picks it up, weighs it in her hand. Then she passes it over the fire to Helena, and Helena leans forward to cut Sarah another slice of meat.