The moon hides behind gauzy clouds, glowing silver. The night is bleak and quiet. The silence that reigns is an artificial one. Scared into existence after the trails of blood that led out in all directions. On one bearing, men wearing leather and the blood of their fallen scramble away. Dragging their leader whose throat burns and scrapes with each agonizing breath. In the other, two sisters, also wearing the blood of the fallen, limp towards a hidden camp. One that feels safer than four walls and a roof.
"You did good, eres tan fuerte (you're strong). We can make it," the little sister huffs. Alma, at sixteen, is taller than her sister. She's also slimmer and, as their mama would say, she's got her lumps in the right places. Lupe has plenty of lumps in appropriate places, just a lot more of them. "You killed them, Lupe. You stopped them." She smiles beneath her older sister's arm, dark brown eyes shining with reflections of the dim clouds.
"Some of them," Lupe corrects. Her words don't sound the same because her lip is split. She thinks she bit her tongue, cause it feels swollen in her mouth. Each word hurts in ten different ways to say. At almost thirty, Lupe once thought she had her shit together. This world evidently still has some new lessons to teach her. Her first was the most brutal. Kill or die. Those were the only choices. She struggles less with making the choice now. She wouldn't even call what she just did hard. She's just pissed off and in pain. "Pinche chingados…(Fucking fuckers)"
"Mira (look), we got away, right?" Alma insists, breathing heavy as they stalk through the dark forest. Neither of them takes their eyes off the shadows. They could be quieter, but they focus their efforts on speed, not stealth.
"They'll just keep coming. They'll find others," Lupe mumbles. Her eyes are wide as she scans the forest. Pain keeps her lividly awake. Her knee got stepped on and it now drags behind her. The stress from stomping through the skull of a living leather wrapped shit probably didn't help.
"Sé lo que tenemos que hacer, (I know what we have to do)" Alma adds with a deep sigh. She doesn't like the fact that they have to kill so many people. But, they've never drawn blood when it wasn't self-defense. Alma has killed less than a handful of times. Compared to her sister, it was chump change. "You need to heal first. They won't get far."
"Yo se (I know). Let's get to the car. We gotta get cleaned up. We'll attract more malditos with all this blood," Lupe grunts, doing her best to take some weight off of Alma. Her knee only screamed when she bent it, put pressure on it, or a blade of grass brushed against it. Her shoulder was nothing in comparison. It ached, but she didn't think it was fully out of the socket.
"We could use some more bullets," Alma mutters. "They took all the ammo out of my pack. I didn't get to grab it before you came for me."
"No hay bronca," Lupe replies quickly. "That culero viejo (old asshole) touch you?"
"No…" Alma grunts. She helps Lupe over a fallen branch not worth going around. "I don't know what he was waiting for, but he didn't. He smoked and chatted at me a bit. Then I heard the screaming. He didn't have his weapon in his hand, so I gut checked him. Cabrón (shithead) swallowed his cigarette, and while he was coughing I laid into him." She shudders remembering how the old asshole stared at her. Like he was trying to see someone else. "That's about when you came in."
"Glad he didn't touch you," Lupe's voice cracks in relief. She clears her throat before speaking but doesn't deny the quaking of her words, "I'm sorry about all that, 'nita. I didn't flag them in the area. We all must have been skimming each other's paths. They gotta be wanderers."
"It's a fucking forest, Lupe," Alma shoots back, "it's gigantic and the world is basically one giant imprint of fading life. There's the tread of people alive and dead everywhere. No one is used to this shit." She sighs. It's not much farther to their car. "We weren't made for this. No es tu culpa. (It's not your fault)"
Lupe swallows. The broiling sludge in her gut wants to scream at Alma that she's wrong. On both accounts. Truth is, that first time Lupe had to make the decision between kill or die, it wasn't that hard at all. She promised herself she'd keep her sister alive. She gave herself the grace to do whatever the fuck it took to ensure that. "Almost there. Thanks for dragging me."
"Happy to drag you any time, hermana. Not like I could've left you back with those assholes," Alma spits.
Lupe snorts, despite the amusement pinging in her ribs like a pinball of agony. "Only cause they ran away."
"Pinche cobardes, (fucking cowards)" Alma replies. "I hear another person say the word 'claimed,' los mataré y les come la cara. (I'm going to kill them and eat their face)"
Lupe smiles at her sister as she unhooks her arm from her shoulder. "Such charm and charisma." They stumble towards a large rock formation, edging along the slant of a hill. Both sisters are quick at pulling apart the cover, a large tarp with the remnants of ghillie suits sewn on. It turned a large, bulbous forest green truck into a lump of the hillside.
Alma checks the weapons while Lupe limps back to the trunk with the camper cover on it. She pops the back window open, then lays out the tailgate before climbing up with caution. Reaching into the massive stores of overflowing boxes and bags, she pulls out a first aid kit and gets to work. Luckily, the worst of her injuries seem to be her joints. She's rather used to that, having Ehlers Danlos syndrome. She cleans off one side of her body with anti-bac wet wipes. Her shoulder is still aching and she's afraid the journey may have popped it fully out of place. As she struggles, one-handed to clean herself, Alma comes from the cab.
Alma approaches Lupe and attempts to help. After a bit of a slapping contest, Lupe finally lets Alma set her injuries and clean off the other side of her. She takes her time rewrapping the joints and notices Lupe's twists and twinges. She checks beneath Lupe's shirt and finds bruising on one side. Alma wraps her ribs up too.
"I bruise worse than others, remember that. I'll be fine," Lupe insists, standing with a grimace. Alma waits nearby, making sure she won't drop.
"I know." Alma grins, but it's twitching with a reserved sadness Lupe has seen there all her life. As much as Lupe takes care of Alma, Alma tries to return it tenfold. She's always been too compassionate for this world, before and after it ended. Never had a mean bone in her body. Lupe wants to keep it that way, but also keep her alive. "Here, we have a few more to spare and I figure you'll need it tonight." Alma holds out a tiny pre-rolled cigarette they stole out of a half burnt down dispensary.
"Thanks." Lupe smiles and grabs the joint. She pulls out a lighter and lights up, taking a long, slow inhale and waiting for some pain relief. "You doing okay? No injuries?"
Alma nods her head, eyes distracted by the dark forest, but unfocused. "Not a scratch."
"Good." Lupe sighs. "We'll get some sleep and move fast before dawn. I think they headed east."
"Yeah, looked that way." Alma mutters her reply, unenthusiastic.
"You don't have to come with me. There's only like six of them left. If you don't want to be out there, you don't have to be." Lupe starts cleaning up, the joint clasped between her lips.
"I don't want either of us out there. We could just… not go after them," Alma snaps, a bit petulant as she kicks the rocks on the ground.
"We could..." Lupe exhales and looks over at her sister. Pinching the joint between her knuckles, she pulls it away from her mouth. "I just… What if they come across someone else? What if they hurt innocent people? What if they cross paths with us again, but now they've got more fuckass men in their group?" She bites down on the anger that swells. She knows she's not mad at her sister's hesitance. It's smart and warranted. But Lupe knows. "I can stop that from happening."
"It doesn't have to be you," Alma insists.
"No, it doesn't. And it doesn't have to be you either. This is my choice, Alma. I won't force you to go along with it, but they need to be stopped," Lupe says. She takes another long hit before exhaling slowly. "Mira, I won't let you get hurt again."
Alma nods. "They do need to be stopped and I'm not about to let you do it alone. Siempre somos nosotros, Lupe. Siempre. (It's always us, Lupe. Always)"
Lupe smiles sadly at her sister. "Para siempre, (Forever)" her words are soft and hallowed. "Now, let's get some sleep."
Lupe helps Alma off the tailgate and they close up the back. It takes some finagling, but they manage to get the tarp back on the truck. With little to no bitching at each other in Spanish. They fall asleep on the bench seats with Alma in the front, poised for a four-wheeled escape if need be. She'd gotten early driving lessons two years ago when the world went to hell. Judging by their most recent experience, Alma believes things are only getting worse.