My lungs burned with a fire I had never felt before and I yearned to stop, to give in. But I couldn't. I had to keep going. Stopping meant death and I didn't intend to die tonight. I couldn't die wearing this outfit. What if I came back as one of those lively corpses? I would be forced to roam this world forever wearing my True Blood tank top and yoga pants. I couldn't let that happen. Over my dead body.

I pushed on, running like Forrest Gump through the empty streets of an Atlanta suburb. Which one I didn't know. When the shit hit the fan, I lit out of Atlanta like a hipster running to Coachella. My car rental made it to the outskirts of the city before it ran out of gas. My mother would be gloating with an "I told you so" remark if she were here. Thankfully, there are small graces—even in an apocalypse.

I had been running for at least an hour. Fortunately, I was in shape and used to running as I ran five miles four to five times a week. It was a habit I started in high school when I joined the track and cross-country teams. Trust me, I didn't join voluntarily. It was my mother's incessant nagging about needing more extra-curricular activities for college applications. Of course, that was bullshit. My mother's true motivation was that she wanted me to lose weight. However, I can't hate her for it because her obsession with me losing weight was probably the only reason I was alive now.

I didn't want to think about all of the people I passed as I ran and the tormented screams of those being attacked by the infected. It was the fear of being attacked myself that allowed me to keep a fast pace as my adrenaline was at an all time high. I'm sure I was breaking all sorts of personal best times but I guess running for your life will do that.

I continued running through the empty streets until I came upon a highway. It was empty this far out as most had tried to find refuge in the city. The news reported that Atlanta was a refugee city and all who were not infected were allowed sanctuary. The army was securing the city and it was promised to be a safe haven. As soon as I heard that, I got out of town. I wasn't Albert Einstein but if the disease was spreading like STDs during an orgy then I was not staying in Atlanta. The more people, the quicker the disease would spread. Cities were the absolute worse place to be. If I wanted to survive, I needed to get to a remote location.

I decided to follow the highway out of town but first I needed a break. I was far enough away from the madness that I could afford a five minute breather. However, I didn't come to a complete stop. I continued walking at a slow pace as I cooled off in the night's air. I determined it had to be close to midnight as it was completely pitch black. The only light supplied was from the moon above. It was quiet, eerily so and it made me nervous. It was too similar to a horror film right before someone died. I tried to shake the thought from my head since it sure as hell wasn't helping my heart rate slow down. I needed to be zen right now so I could think and figure out my next move.

Where the hell would I go? I didn't know this area at all. I was only in town for a job interview at Atlanta General Hospital. I think I nailed it but it doesn't really matter now. Not when the world was going to hell in a hand basket. Okay focus. I needed to focus. I couldn't make it back to Los Angeles, that was for sure. And even if I could, that would be worse. The first major story about the outbreak came out of Los Angeles two days ago. Some homeless guy was shot nine times by the cops and kept attacking. He only stopped when they shot him in the head. At least something useful came out of that report. Head trauma was how you stopped them.

I was so involved in my thoughts that I didn't hear the soft crunch of shoes following behind me until it was too late. I felt something grab my shirt harshly and I fell backwards onto something solid. When I looked behind me, I saw an infected corpse chomping its teeth, trying to take a chunk out of my neck. My weariness seemed to all but disappear as my adrenaline kicked into over gear and I felt like a jacked up Rambo ready to slaughter a village. I kicked and clawed my way off the corpse until I was standing up when a sickening chill washed over me. There were three other corpses now zeroing in on me like a wolf pack ready for the kill. They must have been coming from the side of the highway and for all I knew, there could be more.

It was really starting to look like I might die in this True Blood tank top after all. I just hoped the corpses would gnaw my face off so at least no one would know my deepest guilty pleasure. I took a deep breath trying to gather all my courage. I might die tonight but I was going to die fighting like a honey badger on steroids.

I let out my best Braveheart roar and headed for the first corpse. I kicked the corpse solidly in the chest, making it fall backward onto the asphalt. I gave myself a mental fist bump as that was nearly an identical kick from the 300 movie. I went to jump over the corpse and make a run for it but I felt a hand wrap around my ankle mid-air, halting my escape. I fell with a painful thud on my arms and head. I was either swooning over an imaginary heartthrob or I had a mild concussion causing dizziness. I could even swear I heard the sound of a car engine in the background.

Either way, lying in the middle of the road waiting to be eaten was not an option. Especially when said corpse was pulling me closer to it. Screaming, I rolled over onto my back and began to kick the corpse in the face with my other foot in an attempt to try to dislodge myself from its grip. Suddenly, I saw what looked like a man with a crossbow, shooting an arrow into the skull of one of the corpses. He reloaded his crossbow and shot another arrow into the corpse walking toward me and it fell gracelessly in a lump on the ground. Finally, the man took out a knife he had sheathed at his hip and jammed it into the skull of the corpse with a hold on my ankle. I noticed there was one corpse left making its way over behind my crossbow-wielding savior and tried to alert him before it was too late.

"Behind you!" I screamed.

He pulled the knife out of the skull of the corpse at my feet, and turned around and stick it in the head of the last corpse.

With my immediate danger dealt with, it was eerily quiet again except for a car engine in the background and loud heavy panting. I briefly wondered who the hell was wheezing like a fat kid with asthma when I realized it was me. Feeling mildly embarrassed, I tried to slow my breathing and play it off like it wasn't me. I had my dignity after all.

It was then that I noticed a parked pickup twenty feet away. Its headlamps provided the only light in the area and currently, it illuminated my savior in a Batman silhouette shadow making him seem even more badass. He turned around and began to walk toward me before bending down and offering me his hand. I grabbed his hand and he hauled me up until I was standing. I swayed a little bit and he caught me, steadying me with both hands.

"You al'ight?" he questioned in a thick southern accent. "Ya got blood on your head," he said grabbing a rag from his back pocket and handing it to me.

I took the rag and began to wipe the blood on my right temple. It reeked of grease and oil but I remembered the age old saying: beggars can't be choosers.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just hit my head when I fell," I replied. I finished wiping the blood with a slight grimace and handed him his rag back. "Thanks for saving me," I finally said, looking at him for the first time. He was still hidden in the darkness of the night so I didn't get a very good look. "I was certain I was going to be the headliner at an all you can eat buffet."

He grunted a "yeah" before walking away to the nearest corpse to retrieve his knife. He wiped the rotting blood off the knife onto his pant leg and put it back in its sheath. Then he walked to the other corpses and retrieved his arrows out of their skulls before placing them back in the storage area on his crossbow. Finally, he turned his attention back to me before speaking. "Wouldn' go to Atlanta if I were you. Place ain't safe."

"I was actually running from Atlanta," I corrected.

He nodded his head in response before asking, "Where ya headed?"

I took a moment to think before answering. "I'm not sure. Anywhere that's safe."

He nodded again. "C'mon," he said and gestured with his head toward the car.

I didn't think twice before following him. This guy knew how to handle himself and currently, he was my best chance at surviving. When I got closer to the old pickup, I realized there was a driver behind the steering wheel. That was odd. What…he couldn't be bothered to help?

My savior opened the passenger door and gestured for me to get in. Before I had the chance to, the man sitting in the driver's seat spoke up.

"Uh un. She ain't comin' wit us. We don't need no dead weight."

I stopped and froze as my heartbeat sped up. They couldn't leave me here. I had to persuade them to bring me along. Before I had a chance to defend myself, my crossbow-wielding savior piped up.

"Shut the hell up Merle. I ain't leavin' no woman out here ta die," he announced and gently pushed me forward to get in the car.

As I slowly got into the car, I could see the driver 'Merle' better as the interior lights were on from the open door. He was an older man with short brown hair peppered with gray. His chin was covered in two-day-old stubble that matched the lightly grayed hair on the top of his head. He had an intense scowl across his brow and pinched lips. All in all, he looked pissed.

As I slid over to the middle seat, I noticed a strong smell of tobacco and whiskey. It made me question if he should be driving but the guy looked like a regular drunk driver and all things considered, I'd rather die in a car accident than be eaten alive. So, I did what any "I almost died" person would do; I made an irrational decision—I stayed in the car.

After I was situated in my seat, my savior slid in next to me and closed the door, effectively trapping me inside. Now there was an added stench of gasoline and grease coming off him that enveloped the cabin. He must be a mechanic, I thought to myself.

Merle took a loud deep breath in obvious agitation at the situation. "Always savin' strays," he said shaking his head. "She's a nigger. Ya shoulda left her for her own people to pick up. Shouldn't be mixin' wit 'em," he continued.

Wow, this guy was a major racist and an asshole.

"Actually," I interjected, deciding to speak up. "I'm biracial, so technically, you are my people," I finished with the most saccharine smile I could muster.

"Is that so?" Merle replied sarcastically. It looked like he was gearing up for another onslaught of racial slurs but my savior interrupted him. "Jus' drive the damn truck Merle. Ya wastin' time. We needa get outta here."

With that, Merle said something under his breath but put the truck in gear and we began to take off down the highway.

The silence inside of the truck was suffocating and uncomfortable. I've always been unable to keep my mouth shut, especially in awkward situations, so I decided to talk. "That was some pretty badass moves back there. I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually use a crossbow before."

My savior glanced down at the crossbow on his lap before giving me a grunt, which I interpreted as a thank you. It seemed he was not used to compliments or didn't like them. I tried another route of conversation instead to keep the ball rolling.

"I'm Natasha Mikhelson," I said, still facing my savior. He was the nicer of the two and frankly, he saved my ass back there. He looked at me before responding.

"Daryl Dixon," he replied in a quiet tone before turning his gaze back to the dark scenery outside. By the way he observed everything, I concluded he must be a hunter—and a damn good one at that.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I turned to the driver. "And what's your name?" I asked. I already knew his name was Merle from hearing Daryl say it. However, it seemed polite to ask and try to involve him in the conversation, even if he was an asshole.

"Listen, you're his stray, not mine," he sneered. "I don' give a shit 'bout ya name and you don' need to know mine. Got it?"

"Yeah I got it," I replied before a quick "douchebag" slipped out from my obvious annoyance. Daryl began to chuckle quietly and I realized my mistake. "Oops," I said quickly. "I didn't mean that."

Merle gave me a look that said he didn't believe a word I said.

"Well I meant it, I just didn't mean to say it out loud," I explained in defeat.

"Get control of your bitch lilttle brother 'fore I have to kick her to tha curb," Merle announced.

This guy was beginning to really piss me off. I felt the tell-tell signs of my inner hulk roaring, begging to come out and make an introduction. Before I could say anything, Daryl piped up. "Merle watch ya mouth! She ain't goin' nowhere so get over it."

I looked between the two brothers that had matching scowls. There was definitely an abundance of testosterone flowing freely in the truck. However, I noticed it seemed like a common occurrence between the two. And yet, they seemed to be quite close as well based on how they communicated with one another.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang from the front of the car. A freaking corpse was on the hood of the car hanging on, still trying to munch its way through the windshield to us.

"Pull over," Daryl directed before the truck came to a halt on the side of the highway. Daryl opened the door and shot the corpse through the skull with an arrow before retrieving said arrow and sliding the corpse off the car. He hopped back in the truck and closed the door. "We're good," he said and Merle pulled back onto the highway like nothing ever happened.

Who were these guys? They seemed totally not phased by anything. They were made for a catastrophic calamity such as this. They were survivors. And the best survivors were also the most damaged of individuals. Just hearing Merle speak, I could definitely imagine 'damaged' written across his forehead. However, Daryl didn't give off the same vibe. I still hadn't gotten a good look at him yet so I would have to wait to deconstruct and analyze him later.

I realized my mistake then too. I shouldn't be fighting with Merle. I needed to win him over because that racist redneck hillbilly and his badass crossbow-wielding brother were what I needed to survive the hell now known as life…at least until I could find a better group of people.

Trying to find my most alluring asset to the group, I began to look at Merle more closely. It was hard in the darkness of the cabin but every now and then, the moon would peak in just right for me to get a glimpse of something. I noticed the redness of his eyes, the slight shaking of his left hand on the steering wheel, and the faint redness on the inside of his nostril. Bam! I found my way in. It seemed that ol' Merle here had a drug problem in addition to heavy drinking.

"See somethin' ya like Sweetheart? Sorry but I don't fuck niggers," he announced smugly.

I tried not to show my horror at such an idea. He was obviously a dumbass. He confused my dissecting him with sexual interest in him.

"I'm not dead weight," I said, ignoring his slant against me. "I'm a doctor." Best part was that it was true too. I just finished my residency and got my medical license so I was legit.

"What tha hell we need wit a doctor?" Merle asked.

Wow, he really wasn't smart at all. Drugs will do that though.

I was quiet for a moment before responding. "Well if the corpses don't kill you, a plethora of other things might. For example, all you need is a cut. It gets infected. Blood poisoning begins. You die. But, if you had a doctor around, I could tell you which prescriptions to take and for how long. Boom, I just saved your hypothetical life."

And now that I baited him, I just had to sit back and watch my fish bite.

"It ain't gonna hurt us to have a doc 'round" Daryl added in my defense. I was really starting to like him.

"How good are you with prescriptions?" Merle asked, suddenly interested.

I smiled inwardly. Got him!

"I graduated top of my class in med school and residency so I don't mind tooting my horn by saying you won the freaking jackpot with me," I finished with a giant smile.

For the first time, Merle smiled back at me. "Atta girl. Ya might be useful after all. Names Merle…Merle Dixon."

"Nice to meet you Merle," I nodded. My place in the group was secure now. I mean, I might have to dabble in drug dealing but hey, a girl has to survive. Surprisingly, I didn't feel appalled by the idea. If I had to steal some meds to ensure my safety, I had no qualms about doing just that. Besides, the police had their hands full with all the corpses running around.

"By the way, how old are you girlie?" Merle asked.

"Twenty-five," I replied.

Merle looked contemplative before asking, "That's pretty young to be a doc ain't it?" It was obvious he was now questioning if I was really a doctor.

I chuckled. "Yes. I graduated high school and college early. I did say I was top of my class. Smart people always finish first Merle."

Daryl finally spoke again. "What, you som' kind of genius?"

I shook my head. "Not really. It's just that I pay meticulous attention to details and I have one hell of a memory."

Daryl just hummed in response.

We rode in silence again for another ten minutes before I finally asked where we were headed.

"Home," Merle replied.

I started to panic. "Is that safe?" I questioned. "We should really get away from people. We should head to a remote area."

"That's exactly the kind of area we live in. We look like city folk to you?" Merle inquired with a slight hint of amusement in his tone.

"I suppose not," I answered honestly. "Why were you in the city then?"

"Hangin' out wit friends but shit got too crazy to stick 'round any longer," was all Merle said.

"I really hope I'm not going to be the inspiration for some Lifetime movie," I mumbled.

"What's a Lifetime movie?" Daryl asked.

Shit. I said that out loud.

"Umm…you know," I tried to stall. Daryl just kept looking at me and waiting for an explanation. I let out a breath in defeat before explaining. "In all their movies, someone is getting beat, raped or killed," I said quietly.

"What you think we'd do somethin' like that to ya?" he yelled in obvious anger. I was beginning to see how he and Merle were brothers. Both had a temper.

Fuck. I could've face palmed myself. Why couldn't I just shut my big mouth or think before I spoke? "It's just that I got into a car with two strange men headed for some 'remote, rural area'. It's everything a mother tells her daughter not to do."

"Well we can pull the truck over 'n you can get out and fend for ya'self," Daryl snarled and this time the anger was coming off him in waves.

"Well now hold on there lilttle brother. Our doc here is an asset." Merle interrupted. Of course, the druggie would pipe up now. He didn't want to lose his access to top quality prescriptions.

"Ya just want her to get you ya oxy and shit," Daryl argued.

"So what if I do? What's it to ya huh?" Merle barked, leaning over me to get in Daryl's face.

"Wait!" I interrupted, gently pushing both brothers back from one another. When both men stopped talking, I turned to Daryl. "Look you saved my life. I cannot thank you enough. Obviously, you're a good guy. I don't think you plan to rape or murder me. I just don't think before I talk. I have a hard time filtering my thoughts before I'm saying them out loud. I didn't mean to offend you."

He didn't say anything for a long time before finally, a simple "whatever" escaped from his lips accompanied with a shoulder shrug.

"See ain't we a big ol' happy family?" Merle added in a sugary sweet tone. It was obviously fake so I chose not to respond. Daryl seemed to take the same approach and didn't reply either.

"I just want to apologize in advance. Fair warning, it will happen again. I tend to say things I wish I didn't—a lot. It's my worst habit," I admitted with a grimace.

Neither brother replied and we drove in silence the rest of the way.

Thanks for reading my story. If you can, please leave a comment/review. I would love to hear your feedback!

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