I didn't have any direction in mind... just out and away.

So I stumbled outside... walking alongside the graveled

driveway towards one of those stained-looking truck stops. Inhaling a

pot of coffee at the moment didn't exactly sound sensational...as did

consuming an ashload of second-hand smoke.

I opted for a closer inspection of the wilderness...this part

of the country astounded me in its natural richness. Dense forests,

sparse pollution. And my rather frail looking t-shirt and jeans didn't

hold up much against the weather...I was freezing my ass off, but

ultimately refused to head back to sensibility.

Now, I wasn't dumb enough to just B-line it through the damn

woods... but I loved how the night's meager light hit the trees... the

various scents...the crispness of the evening. It gave me pause;

admiration for beauty and simplicity despite all that had happened

recently.

I don't know... it's difficult to describe my thoughts... I

feel almost betrayed my Leon's words... his coldness... his sudden

juxtaposition into intensity. But why exactly I felt so threatened was

another mystery, because it wasn't as if his actual words were entirely

offensive...

...But perhaps, there is an interior voice within me, saying

that I would not willingly desire to leave this situation without some

sort of conclusive reaction. True, risking life and limb amongst

gruesome creations of hell aren't exactly desirable situations...

still...there is something about the way tension brings people

together...the automatic reassurance...the trust that ensues...

"Did you get yourself lost, little darlin'?"

...And evaporates.

I turn to see alcohol-bloated males surrounding me; four of

them to be exact. The darkness disguises their actual age, but I'd

venture to guess they are WAY past their prime. I can smell a

combination of onion rings and Jim Beam from the fifteen feet between

us...surely not a good sign.

But I don't blink an eye. I fold my arms in an impatient

gesture, perhaps hoping they'd take the hint and buzz off. No such

luck.

The primary vocalist takes another step towards me; big

mistake. If he so much as takes another...

"Gentlemen, I'd appreciate to be left alone." My tone is

purposely annoyed and impatient; although I left my baretta back at the

room, I have never been without my boot knife this entire duration. If

worse got to worse...

And they certainly didn't give a damn what I wanted. All four

started to approach, their gravel crunch the only sound amongst

silence.

"C'mon, sweetheart...you look sweet enough." His voice

is dry and hoarse; the years of cigarette dependence resonate

throughout. This is not my night. There was a world of difference

between attacking zombies and live people...no matter what kind of

assholes they were. I didn't want to stab any of them; but unless my

pride would allow me the option of fleeing...

My thoughts were caught off when one unexpectedly made a grab

for me. He got as far as gripping my upper arm when a swift kick in

the balls landed him on the ground. I didn't think twice.

"...goddamn bitch..." he uttered, still holding himself. The

remaining three looked perplexed for a few seconds, then, seeing their

buddy down, they decided to follow suit in the aggressive mode.

For raging alcoholics, they were pretty well coordinated. They

closed in quickly; again grabbing me, attempting to force me to the

ground...This is where the exquisite training from Chris came in...

chimney sweep to the ankle...a hard blow to the kidney to another...

however, the one to remain standing actually got a decent hit on

me...connecting just above my breastbone.

I lost my footing, but continued to roll backward, away from my

assailants. Alright, screw pride...I'm getting the hell out of

here. My chest was burning...there would definitely be a bruise in

the morning...I probably would have made it back to the room if I

hadn't waited so long...I was immediately seized by rough hands pinning

my arms back...out of commission.

Aw, Christ. Now I felt something close to fear... not

panic... but I was more than uneasy...they had recovered and I was

hurting... my chest was flaming like no other...

And that's when they started ripping at my clothes.

"Get the fuck off of me!" I shrieked...kicking wildly...trying

to dislodge my arms. He held them steadfast; his breath heavy on my

neck. The recovered three methodically slapped my face...swinging my

head from side to side until I started seeing things...weird lights.

Everything stung... my muscles ached... and I feared what they wanted

to do.

Suddenly my face was shoved in the ground...earth and god knew

what else caking my mouth, teeth, and gums. I heard further sounds of

a struggle...the unmistakable sound of knuckles connecting with

bodies...shouts of protest...again, the sound of gravel crunching.

It wasn't until I heard the silence that I was pushed on my

back, forced once again to meet the sky...

And a familiar face.

"CLAIRE?" It was so dark... I could barely make out Leon's

features...but his voice was unmistakable. I felt warm hands

examining...feeling for wounds...the extent of my injuries. "Jesus,

say something."

"My name isn't Jesus," I murmured, my voice cracked and low.

He quickly thrust his jacket over me, rubbing the sleeves...attempting

to elicit warmth, which I had never possessed in the first place. He

smoothed the dirt and hair from my face. I tried not to flinch, but

really, the reaction was automatic. I started to get up, but Leon

restricted my movement; continuing to hold me down ever so gently.

"Claire, try not to move for a while...just relax."

Relax??? It hit me all of a sudden... everything I had

been through in the space of a week...no sleep...excessive

movement...stress, continuous fight for survival...and now a thwarted

attempt at sexual perversion.

I threw his jacket off me and sat up, much to the protest of

both my body and Leon. I made a shaky attempt at standing.

"Claire..."

"WHAT, LEON?" Okay, so my voice was now hitting the jagged

edge of hysteria. That didn't mean that I needed to be haggled over.

I took one uneasy step and nearly toppled over...

But thankfully, Leon kept me from smacking the ground.

He gathered me to him...prodding my arms around his neck for

better support...looking into my face...inspecting further damage

perhaps. I laid my head on his shoulder, tired of protesting. He just

kind of stood there for a while... his arms tightening...rubbing my

own...was I really that cold? He certainly exerted an overabundance of

warmth...I clung closer to it...unfamiliar with being this close to

him. Sure, we had embraced...shared both grief and relief...but this

was different...the crown of my head fell perfectly under his chin...I

could feel his even breath alongside my face...but his heart was

definitely racing.

That's when I caught sight of the several of the remaining

bodies in the grass...not all of them, but perhaps half...planted face

first...away from us.

"They aren't dead," he grimly stated, as if reading my

thoughts. I shuddered involuntarily...not sure how I felt about that.

Instead of dwelling, Leon took the liberty of lifting me into a

stereotypical threshold position...his grip certain and immediate.

This time, I didn't say a word...