3 - Attack

                We won the gold. We won the gold. We won the gold medal… The revelation ran repeatedly through Erin's mind for the rest of the afternoon, blocking out almost everything else. It wasn't until the victory dinner that Erin came down from her high.

            Mr. Pinowski stood up, lifted his glass and proposed a toast. "To the champions of Russel."

            "To us," the teams responded dutifully, lifting their water glasses. Alcohol wasn't allowed on a school trip. It was a rule that was followed much more frequently than the tobacco prohibition.

            "As you all must be aware of, tomorrow is a free day," Mrs. Forchuk announced from over her Shepherd's pie. "We expect you all to be on your best behavior when you're downtown. You are representing your school and Russel. Be courteous ambassadors."

            Erin yawned. She had heard this speech before and easily tuned it out. Brian heard her yawn and turned, laughing afterwards at her detached expression.

            "Is there something funny about representing your town, Mr. Mulwray?" Mrs. Forchuk chastised.

            "No, there isn't," he responded dryly.

            "Good. Now the bus will be leaving at five o'clock. I expect you all to be back at four thirty." With that, the group as a whole turned back to their food.

            "Hey Brian, I've been meaning to ask you, is that a tattoo on your arm?" It was late, probably around midnight, and the highway traffic next to the motel had lessened to a dull roar. It was still loud enough to muffle the sounds of several youths in the outside hallways. Erin and Bianca had been the only girls adventurous enough to venture outside of their rooms and join Chris, Alex, Zak, and Draik outside.

            Draik grinned at Erin, pulling up his shirtsleeve. She looked at it carefully, noting the delicate lines and colors. "This must have been expensive," she observed nonchalantly.

            "It was. I went to the best I could find."

            Bianca joined the duo and touched the tattoo wistfully. "I wish my parents would let me get a tattoo," she commented. "But they're into the whole, 'while you live in this house, you are under our rule and we don't want you getting an ugly tattoo imprinted on your body' thing."

            Chris nodded. "Yeah, my parents are like that too. I figure, screw it. I'm going to get one whether they want me to or not, so I might as well get it done sooner than later."

            "Really?" A new look passed over Bianca's face. Erin recognized it as admiration.


            Alex leaned over Erin's shoulder. "I'm sure this discussion is very interesting, but me and Zak are dying over here. Does anybody have a smoke?"

            Draik reached into his khakis and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Alex grabbed for it and he pulled them back. "I don't want you guys taking them all," he said. "Leave a couple for me, ok?"

            "Sure, sure," Alex agreed quickly. Draik handed the pack over to him.

            He looked at Erin who was staring at him with one eyebrow raised in puzzlement. "What?" he asked as he tossed his lighter to Zak and Alex whom had already grabbed a cigarette each.

            "Nothing," she said quickly. "I just didn't know you smoked. It's a pretty nasty habit, you know."

            Draik grinned. Not if you know it won't kill you, he thought. Instead of saying that though, he opted with, "Yeah, I know." Smoking, like joining the volleyball team, were part of his guise as a mortal. Smoking made him seem more human, even to himself. It gave him a flaw.

            "So what are y'all doing tomorrow?" Zak asked, handing Draik his pack and lighter back. Draik pulled a cigarette out and lit it.

            "I'm going shopping," Erin said. "I need some new hoodies this year."

            Zak grinned. "Of course. Shopping. What about you Chris?"

            Chris glanced suavely at Bianca. "I was thinking of asking one of the girls to lunch." She giggled happily. Alex smirked.

            "What's wrong with Chris taking Bianca out, Alex?" Draik asked, noticing the look on his teammate's face.  

            "Oh, you know," he said.

            "Enlighten me," Draik commanded dryly, blowing a smoke ring as an afterthought.

            Alex sighed before answering his friend. "It'll be Chris' first girlfriend."

            "So we'll be teasing you both like crazy!" Zak cried, hopping up and dancing around Chris and Bianca like a kid on a sugar-high.

            "SHUT UP!" Alex hissed. "The coaches might hear."

            "Yeah right," Zak said. "The traffic's too loud to hear anything in this place.

            A sudden thud from one of the rooms stopped their chatter.

            "That was Mr. Pinowski's room, wasn't it?" Erin's question was more of a statement. The guys threw down their cigarettes and crushed them. Then everybody ran to his or her designated rooms, demanding to be let in right away.

            Mr. Pinowski opened his door and looked out in the hallways. "Hmm. Must have been hearing things," he said as he scratched his head and walked back inside his room.

            Salem was a large city, and very easy to get lost in Erin found after an hour of fruitless wandering. She had gone shopping early that morning in an attempt to escape any of the girls that might have wanted to tag along. She didn't get a lot of 'alone' time, and cherished it greatly whenever she did.

            After her shopping spree, which had consisted of a few hoodies, jeans, and a belt, Erin had found herself to be lost. Not the best thing to be in a strange city when you're by yourself. She wandered around on her own for awhile before giving up on the idea of finding her way back by some chance or another.

She found a lady on the street to ask directions from, but either the woman hadn't known and wanted to appear knowledgeable, or her sense of direction was extremely bad. Either way, the garbled instructions only managed to get Erin even more confused and lost.

She finally resorted to the old age method of finding a gas station with a map of the vicinity.

Finding a route back to the motel and more importantly, the bus, Erin set out at once, clutching the map close to her like a nervous tourist, which wasn't quite far from the truth. She walked quickly through the streets; head down, attempting to avoid unwanted attention.

            She was a few blocks away from the motel when she allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief. No one would dare-

            A ruthless hand yanked her off the sidewalk and into a small alleyway. Erin reacted instinctively; glad to have been forced to go to a few self-defense lessons in her lifetime. Her elbow found the grubby man's nose and she stepped hard on his foot, pushing him away as she turned to run.

            Thud. Okay, ouch, she thought as she wriggled around on the ground. Her assailant had grabbed her leg and pulled, catching her off balance and sending her to the ground.

            She twisted with cat-like grace onto her back and kicked the man in the face with her boot. She could see him clearly for the first time. His unruly black hair was greasy and unkempt. Stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and his green eyes blazed violently. A stream of blood ran down his nose where she had elbowed him. I hope it's broken, she thought with contempt.

            Erin finally managed to find her voice and yelled for help, desperately moving backwards against the man's steady advances. Her back brushed up abruptly against the brick wall at the back of the alley. Only the man stood on her path to freedom.

            He pulled a switchblade from his pocket and grinned dementedly at the figure trapped against the wall. "You stupid bitch. Messed up my face. I'm gonna make you pay for that."

            Erin's hands searched for something on the ground to help her. Anything was better than nothing. A handful of loose dirt found its way into her clenched fist. She waited, the serpent waiting for the first move before it strikes.

            "ERIN!" a yell resounded from the street. The man glanced away for only a moment, but it was enough. Erin threw the dirt in the man's eyes and kicked the switchblade out of his hand. She brushed past him and ran to the beginning of the alley, pausing a moment to see who her savior was.

            "Brian?" she asked in a stupefied voice.

            "Not now," he responded. He sprung into action and turning to fight off her assailant whom had recovered his knife and wiped the dirt from his eyes. He was running towards them at a staggering pace, and Erin took a step back.

            The man was almost upon Brian, raising his knife. And Brian was just standing there, motionless. Erin bit back a scream. Brian abruptly dropped and grabbed the man's weapon arm, using his momentum to toss the man several yards away. The knife slashed against his arm before skittering harmlessly away.

            The man hissed in pain and Brian cursed from the knife wound. The two rose again and met each other face to face and weaponless. Erin could easily see that the man thought he would win. He was older, more experienced. He was heavier and that could be used to his advantage.

            Or against him, she thought. Brian was wordless, but he moved with a confidence that Erin had only seen once before in a champion boxer. Brian knew he was going to win and it wasn't because he thought he was the best. He knew it.

            He jammed his arm into the man's solar plexus and delivered a blow to the groin that sent the man dizzily into the wall. He fell and didn't get up again.

            Erin ran to Brian's side, grabbing his arm gently and inspecting the long gash.