"Who wants to go with their child has a right to go with their child," he announced. "I think it’s humane. I wanna go… I want to see you go, though. They can take me and do with me whatever they want to do. I want to see you go. I don’t wanna see you go through this hell no more. No more, no more, no more."
I watched my friends go first. Most of them cried, including me. Those who didn’t were too young to know what they were drinking in the first place. I stood on the tip of my toes to see what flavor it was. The girl in front of me noticed me trying to look.
“It’s grape,” she said.
“I hate grape,” I replied.
I didn’t realize how many kids were here until we were all lined up. At the same time, I noticed how many kids were lying on the ground ahead of me. Some of their parents drank with them. Other parents held each other and watched their children go. Mine waited for their fate with me.
We were going to die for him.
After all the practices and promises we made, the dreaded day has finally come. And frankly, I wasn’t ready. My mom told me it’d be okay, that we’d go to heaven and we wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. But I don’t think there is a heaven. I think, if there were a heaven, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. We wouldn’t have to die for our Reverend in the name of God Himself. He wouldn’t make his creation suffer for Him.
The line was moving. Pretty soon, I would be next.
The girl in front of me grabbed a cup. Some of the parents tried to run away with their child. They were held down and injected with whatever poison was laced in the Kool-Aid while their children watched. I’ll tell you right now, I've never heard a sound worse than a child in mourning. They don’t know why this is happening, and to be truthful, neither does half this congregation. How did we let ourselves sink this far?
She fell over. The girl in front of me, I mean. I began to cry more. She was gasping for air, but it was hopeless. I could hear her parents cry for her as she went still. The guards held them down and threatened to shoot them.
“Anaya!” her dad shouted, “Anaya please! Wake up baby girl. We’ll get you to the hospital, just please, please open your eyes!”
The guards injected them with poison. They allowed them to stumble to Anaya with the life they had left in them. Her mom fell just short of her. Her father fell soon after. The guards dragged them out of the way of the line.
They handed me a cup.
Nervously, my mom asked, “Sir, would you mind if Elijah could have a little extra sugar in his cup?”
“What difference will it make? He’s going just like the rest of them,” a guard remarked.
“Of course he can. Put an extra scoop of sugar in his cup,” replied the Reverend, ignoring the guard.
They added another scoop of sugar. The thing is, I hate having too much sugar and my mom knows it. I was about to say something to her when she whispered, “Prétend de mourir.”
She said it again, but slower. She’d been trying to teach me French before we came here. A lot of it slipped my mind, but I tried to understand.
“What’s she saying?” a guard shouted. They started to move towards her with a gun.
“She’s just trying to console our child!” my dad shouted back angrily.
“Go on, Elijah. Drink your Kool-Aid,” said the Reverend placidly.
I tried to remember what mourir meant. To crumble? That didn’t make sense. But then I remembered; to die. Of course I was going to die.
Prétend. Pretend to die. What does she mean? I am about to die. She looked at me hopefully as she drank from her cup. I nodded and drank.
It was bitter. Maybe not as bad as it could’ve been without twice the sugar, but it wasn’t good. I felt dizzy and stumbled to the ground. I then remembered what my mom said. I closed my eyes and pretended to be dead. I felt a guard’s sweaty fingers on my neck.
“Not dead yet,” he said.
“She’ll die soon enough. Line her up with the others.”
He dragged me to the pile of dead bodies. He dropped me face down, next to Anaya. My parents were laid down next to me. I dared to open my eyes.
I thought over what she’d done. Whatever the sugar did, it’s keeping me alive for longer than I want to be. I could feel the poison suffocating me. I wondered whether I might die. I don’t know when I stopped crying, but I started again.
I tried to listen for his voice. Behind me, more children and parents scream as their loved ones fell. I attempted to move my fingers, then my arm. I could control them, although not very well. I didn’t know when or if I would die soon. More and more bodies had been dragged near me. I heard a few gunshots, then complete silence.
I turned over onto my back. I could see the sky above me, spinning slowly. I sat up. Still gasping for air, I tried to steady myself. The ground was covered in the bodies of people I knew. Their dark skin shone with sweat from the hot sun. I had no more tears left to shed for them.
I fell back to the ground, shaking. I was facing my mom. Between gasps of air, I said to her, “I’m sorry you didn’t save me like you hoped.”
She only kept me alive long enough to see everyone else die.