Keep running. Don't look back.
Twigs and stones bit painfully into the soles of her bare feet but she didn't stop. Zigzagging through the trees as fast as she could she didn't dare slow down. Her foot hit an upturned root; she tumbled to the ground landing in a painful heap at the base of a tree. Her breath left her in a rush. Groaning, she got up and looked around wildly. She had no idea where she was or how far into the forest she had run. When she'd first escaped her only thought had been to get as far away from him as possible. Lawrence. The very thought of him made her sick.
Everything looked the same. Panic began to set in. If she chose the wrong direction she could be running right back into him or worse. After all he wasn't the only predator lurking in these woods. Meeting them could arguably be worse. She shook her head. Now was not the time to hesitate she didn't know how close he was—
She felt a burning pain in her skull as he grabbed her hair. She pulled frantically at the hand. His breath on her ear sent shivers of fear down her spine.
"Thought you could get away from me didn't you," he pushed her to the ground. A hard boot connected with her stomach knocking the breath from her. Weakly she tried to crawl away. A hand grabbed her hair again bringing her face to meet his. "I got bit cause of you," he rasped, his face red with exertion. His gaze was cold and hard. "If I'm dying, then so are you." She whimpered and renewed her struggles. Not that she thought she was a match for him. No, she knew she wasn't. But she would never give up. She didn't give up a month ago when he and Lloyd kidnapped her and she wouldn't give up now. She would fight to her last breath to survive.
He punched her in the stomach. She fell to her knees. She tried to reach for something, anything to fight back with but her hands came up empty. Blow after blow was laid on her already battered body. She thought it would never stop. Dazed she came to the realization that this time he really was going to kill her and there wasn't a damn thing she could do to stop it.
"Please, somebody help!" She cried out. "Please!"
"Shut up! Ain't anybody here to help you. It's just you and me," She didn't stop pleading. "I said shut up!"
Lawrence wrapped his hands around her throat, cutting off her air supply. Her eyes went wide; her hands clawing desperately at his.
"Hey shithead, get off of her!" Lawrence whirled around. Standing off a few feet to her right was a man. He was pointing a crossbow at Lawrence.
She reached her hand out to him.
Lawrence stepped on her hand. "This ain't got nothin' to do with you. Go on. Mind your own business. Get." He spit at the ground.
"You don't tell me what to do," he sneered in response. The stranger spoke in a thick southern drawl. Not unlike Lawrence himself. He kept his crossbow trained on Lawrence. His eyes flicked to hers. He nodded ever so slightly. She allowed herself to believe for a moment that she might actually make it out of this alive. Slowly she got to her knees. She tried to pull her hand from underneath the cruel boot. Lawrence looked down at her, "Where do you think you're going?" He kicked her ribs. She yelped and rolled onto her back.
"Hey!" The stranger yelled, "I said stop!" Sometime in the previous struggle Lawrence's stained plaid shirt ripped. There on the right side of his neck was an angry red bite mark. Blood soaked through his white tank top.
The stranger took a step back. "You bit?" The question was aimed at her. She shook her head no. Lawrence took a menacing step toward her at the same time stranger fired an arrow from his crossbow. The arrow went into Lawrence's neck. Blood flowed from his mouth. His hands fluttered weakly at his throat before he fell to his knees. He looked at her, his eyes wide. He reached for her but she scrambled out of his way. He fell to his side and lay there squirming. She watched pitilessly as the life flowed out of his eyes. One last gurgle bubbled forth and he went silent. He didn't die slow enough.
The stranger walked towards Lawrence. Grimacing he pulled the arrow out of his neck. He glanced at her, "No use wasting a good arrow."
She nodded numbly.
He wiped the arrow on his pants and reloaded his crossbow. Slinging it over his shoulder he kicked at the dirt, unsure what to do next.
A few minutes passed by in silence. "Look, we shouldn't stay here. All that screaming might have attracted some geeks."
She looked at him dumbly.
"You know walkers, dead bastards that keep walking around trying to eat everything."
She nodded. So that's what they were called.
"Can you walk?"
She nodded again.
He bent to help her up but she flinched away. He put his hands out in surrender. "It's all right. I ain't gonna hurt you."
She said nothing as she grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree and slowly rose to her feet. A hand grabbed her ankle. Looking down she panicked as Lawrence tried to pull her to him; eager to get a bite of warm flesh. She kicked her leg and broke free of his grasp.
The stranger aimed his crossbow at Lawrence's head only to find his shot blocked by the girl. She raised a heavy stone above her head and brought it down on Lawrence's skull with a cry of anguish. She hit him over and over until his head was nothing but pile of mush. Exhausted she dropped the rock and slumped against the tree. Blood and bits of flesh stained her dingy white nightgown.
The stranger quirked an eyebrow at her then cleared his throat. "Son of a bitch turned fast."
She looked at him blankly.
"Come on we should get going." The stranger strapped his crossbow to his back.
She took a wobbly step toward him; he put an arm out to steady her. She grabbed him. Looking intensely at him for a moment, "Thank you," she whispered before promptly fainting in his arms.
She woke with a start. Her sore ribs protested the sudden movement. Glancing down at herself, she saw that most of her body was covered in deep, dark bruises. She could feel that her lip was busted and reached tenderly for her black eye. Nothing seemed to be broken, from what she could tell. She would heal…she hoped. Looking around she saw that she was lying next to a small fire. The stranger had laid a long sleeved, button down, blue shirt over her as a makeshift blanket. A black, leather vest was over the shirt. She traced the frayed angel wings on the back of the vest.
A twig snapped to her right. She froze; ears straining to hear anything else. There was rustling, closer this time. Thinking that it could be one of them, the walkers, she looked around for something to defend herself. Seeing a stick a few inches away she grabbed it and struggled to her feet. Gripping it tight she waited for whatever it was to show itself. The stranger emerged from behind a bush a few seconds later. She breathed a sigh of relief but kept her guard up. She didn't know this man. And given recent experiences she wasn't sure she could trust him, or anyone for that matter.
He walked up slowly trying not to spook her. "You're up." He looked her up and down. His eyes fell to the handcuff dangling from her wrist. She could only imagine how bad she looked. Dirty, matted hair, body all black blue, and the stupid, torn, white nightgown they had made her wear.
He picked up a string of squirrels and put it over one shoulder. "I've got a camp not too far from here. Good people. We have food and water, some medicine, might even be able to get you some new clothes," his eyes dropped to her bare feet, "and shoes." The offer hung in the air. Would she go with him? Was there really a choice? She had no food, no water, no weapons and she was injured. Hell, she didn't even have shoes.
She nodded sharply.
"All right, let's go."
They walked in silence most of the way. Every once in a while he would look at her like she was some puzzle he couldn't quite wrap his head around.
After a few more minutes he stopped and rubbed the back of his neck. "You got a name?"
An eyebrow arched and she nodded.
"You gonna tell me or do I have to guess?" He slumped against a nearby tree; folding his arms over his chest.
When she said nothing he huffed, "I know you ain't mute." She remained silent, just staring at him with those wide, empty eyes. "Whatever, my name's Daryl, just thought you should know." He spat at the ground and resumed walking. "That's what I get for trying to start a conversation." He grumbled a bit more but she saw the small smirk that graced his lips. Somehow she didn't think he minded all that much.
Walking into the camp was a nerve-wracking experience. By her calculations she hadn't had contact with people other than her captors for a little over a month. She shadowed Daryl's every move as he wove his way further into the camp, hoping that by some small miracle no one would notice the bruised and broken woman walking into their midst. No such luck. As soon as they approached the small circle of people at the center of the camp, the stares and whispers had begun. She ducked her head in shame, cheeks flaming with embarrassment. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
A man with curly black hair and dark brown eyes immediately stood up and walked towards Daryl. An old man with a grey beard and a floppy hat followed after him. A woman with long brown hair watched from a chair, a little boy was sitting next to her. The other survivors within the camp stared but kept their distance.
"What the hell is going on?" The black haired man demanded. He put his hands on hips. She immediately went tense. Something about this man put her on edge, he reminded her a bit of Lawrence. All kind smiles, jokes and laughter but nothing could quite hide the darkness that moved behind his eyes.
Daryl stood his ground, "Found her in the woods, she was attacked. I helped her out. Ain't that what you people are always preaching around here?"
Grey beard spoke up, "Of course that was good of you," he seemed surprised, apparently this wasn't typical behavior for Daryl. His eyes met hers, "Are you hungry?"
"Now hold on just a minute," the man with the black hair spoke again; he motioned to Daryl. "Daryl, could you come over here for a minute?" Daryl rolled his eyes but followed the man a few feet away. The old man and the woman followed. "What the hell are you thinking? We don't know who she is or where she came from. She could be a threat."
She wondered if he realized that she could hear everything he was saying. Maybe he just didn't care.
Daryl scoffed, "You scared of a girl?"
The man huffed, "Of course not. I'm just saying we don't know her."
The old frowned "Shane, you can't really be considering turning this poor girl away? I mean look at her, she's been through hell."
"Actually, Dale, I am. I have the safety of this camp to worry about and letting a stranger- no matter how helpless they may look- could jeopardize everything we've built. Besides that's one more mouth to feed when we can barely feed the ones we got," he hissed.
Dale's frown deepened but he remained quiet.
"Shane," the woman said quietly. "Give her a chance."
They shared a long look. Shane dropped his head. "One chance, she starts actin' up she's out of here," he turned to Daryl. "Hope you got enough squirrels to feed her too."
Daryl spit on the ground. "Why don't you let me worry about that, officer," he sneered back.
Shane walked over to her. "You bit?"
She shook her head.
He sighed, "All the same, I'd like one of the women to check you if you don't mind?"
Once again she found herself faced with a choice that wasn't really a choice. If she didn't let them check her she doubted they would let her stay. Though the prospect of having anyone touch her was almost enough to make her want to leave, she knew that the likelihood of her survival without this group was slim to none. She would have to grin and bear it. She nodded.
"Good," he gestured to the woman. "Lori, could you?"
The woman stepped forward.
The old man cleared his throat. "You can use the RV for privacy."
Lori nodded. She smiled kindly. Guiding her by the shoulders towards the RV she spoke lowly, "Come on sweetie, we'll be done in no time."
Lori had been right. It didn't take long to check her for bites. What she could have done without was the small gasp of shock and look of pity when Lori saw the rest of her body. Not that she could blame Lori. When she had looked in the mirror she felt bad for herself.
She looked at herself in the mirror of the small bathroom in the RV. Lori had given her some fresh clothes, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with some sneakers courtesy of young blonde woman named Amy. The jeans hung low on her hips; she needed a belt borrowed from Dale, the old man, to keep them up. The sneakers fit just right. Her once dirty, matted hair was now clean. It flowed in wispy waves down her back, water droplets wetting the small of her back. The t-shirt was baggy on her small frame but she couldn't muster the gumption to care. Besides she was glad to finally be rid of that awful dress.
She glanced down at the handcuffs still hanging on her wrist. Suddenly she was overcome with the need to get them off. She knew from experience that trying to pull them off wouldn't work. The scabs on her wrists proved that. She walked out of the RV.
"You're looking better," said a voice from above. Dale was standing on top of the RV hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. She smiled slightly. Pointing to her cuffs she made a cutting motion. Dale's brow furrowed for a moment, "Oh, you want to get them off." She smiled and nodded. Dale walked towards the back of the RV and climbed down. "Maybe Shane can help. I think I read somewhere that most handcuffs have the same key, he was a police officer before all this," he stopped mid-stride and turned back to her. "Do you know if they are police handcuffs?" She nodded the affirmative. Dale opened his mouth to ask how but then thought better of it. He smiled, "Let's go find Shane."
It turned out most police handcuffs did in fact have the same key. Though her stomach had turned a bit when Shane touched her arm the overwhelming relief she felt when the cuffs were off was well worth it. She took the dress and the handcuffs and threw them into the fire pit in the middle of camp. She got a few strange looks for that but it didn't matter. Slowly but surely she was peeling back the layers of trauma that had built up over the past month. Maybe one day she would be herself again…whoever that might be.