She bent her head against the damp wind, quickening her pace and cursing herself as every kind of oblivious fool. How could she have let time get away from her like that? Deeply immersed as she was in The History of Wales, she hadn't noticed the coming dusk outside until the librarian came and told her it was closing time.
Now, as she hurried home through the gathering darkness and the light, drizzling rain, she mentally berated herself for staying out so late. Not that there were many serial killers roaming the streets of the town, but one never knew whom one might encounter after dark.
She swiped rainwater off the lenses of her glasses, clenching her jaw as she caught sight of a group of young men loitering outside the local dive. They were only a few years older than she was, but all of them strong and athletic looking, and judging by their loud voices and raucous laughter, they hadn't been drinking Coke all afternoon.
Biting her lip, she hesitated at the corner of the intersection for a moment, then veered off down an alley, rather than walking by the college boys - but it was too late. They had seen her, and were following. She heard their footsteps as they splashed through puddles in the street, and she deliberately kept her pace brisk but even. She would not run, not until their own steps sped up, for the surest way to be pursued was to flee prematurely.
Her heart rate picked up as she heard the older boys pick up speed, closing in on her - and then she ran. Without a glance over her shoulder or a look to either side, she simply slid from a quick walk into a sprint, heading for the end of the alley. Behind her, the young men shouted to each other and to her, but she didn't stop or slow down.
Reaching the end of the alley, she whipped around a corner, sliding a little on the wet pavement. With barely a pause to regain her balance, she took off down the sidewalk by the park, empty at this hour. Sounds of her pursuers reached her ears, and she swerved out of the light of a streetlamp, cutting across the park and ducking into another alley, retreating back into the darkness.
She leaned against the brick wall of a building, her breath coming in quick gasps, her legs weak as jelly beneath her. A painful stitch jabbed in her side with every breath, and cold rain ran down her collar, but she stayed where she was, heart pummeling in her chest and blood pounding in her ears.
Then a hand closed over around her wrist, just as she caught a whiff of cheap whiskey, and a delighted voice grated by her ear. "Gave us quite a good chase, darlin'. We only want to talk-"
Her captor got no further. With the strength born of pure anger, she twisted out of his grasp and fled - only to be brought up short as four of the boys appeared in front of her. Desperate, she whirled around, but there were five more cutting off her escape from behind. She was trapped.
Standing her ground, she faced the pack, chin up and eyes blazing behind her glasses. There was laughter in the faces that surrounded her, and lewd glances kept passing up and down her figure. One of the guys caught her eye and winked suggestively, and she achieved something very close to a growl.
"Get away from me," she snarled. The one who grabbed her before reached out to touch her cheek, and she slapped his hand away. He laughed.
"So feisty! Calm down, sweetheart, we only want to talk to you."
"I don't talk to drunks," she said, her voice as cold as the chilling drizzle. A ripple of indignation passed through the gang, and the one who had spoken - apparently the leader - frowned.
"We're not drunk," he slurred, his voice giving every evidence to the contrary. "We just want to talk."
"I wouldn't mind giving talking a miss," said the one who winked before. He ran a hand through her hair with an animalistic grin. "The night's still young - what do you say, babe? Shall I walk you home?"
"Get your hands off me!" She knocked his hand away from her and laid a stinging slap across his face.
Immediately, they turned ugly.
"Looks like you could learn some manners," the biggest one said, advancing on her. The others closed in, hemming her in, and the ringleader grabbed her arm in a vice-like grip, pulling a switchblade out of his pocket and flicking it out. "Hold her, Johnny, Dutch."
The adrenaline that had been pulsing through her body for the past ten minutes seemed to intensify threefold, and she twisted out his grasp again, stamping on his instep for good measure. Before any of the gang could react, she reached beneath her sweater and drew a large Bowie knife from the sheath under her arm, holding it in front of her defensively.
"Put that pathetic little frogsticker near me, and I'll gut you like a mackerel." Her words, uttered in a low, steely voice, practically rang with frigid danger, and the college boys stared at her, shocked. Never, in their wildest imagination, had they dreamed that such a slim, bookish girl could - and would - carry a weapon like that. They hadn't even known that blades like that were even carried by anyone anymore. Belatedly, they noticed the wide brown belt that looped over her left shoulder and crossed her chest to disappear beneath her right arm.
Stunned, the biggest of her attackers instinctively let his hand go slack, and the switchblade clattered to the wet asphalt. In a second, her foot was over it, trapping it against the ground as one of the others stooped to retrieve it. Not that it would have done much good, anyway. Compared to the giant knife grasped comfortably in her hand, the smaller blade looked, in truth, much like the pathetic little frogsticker she had called it.
Her chin dipped slightly, and her eyes were dangerous as she glared at them. She seemed thoroughly at home with her weapon, and none of them, drunk even as they were, wanted to mess with that deadly, gleaming Bowie knife. Against her steel nerve and steel blade, they were defenseless. She saw it in their shocked faces, and took full advantage, starting towards the end of the alley, and they parted before her, allowing her to pass.
Once around the corner and out of their sight, she stowed the knife back in the leather sheath under her arm and picked up her pace, heading for the police station before the college gang could collect their pickled wits and give chase.
The adrenaline, still rushing full tilt through her system, jacked up a notch as she spotted a pair of men lounging beneath the awning in front of the closed dry cleaners. They saw her just as she glanced at them, and they seemed to be on the verge of approaching her.
'Let them come,' she thought recklessly, her pounding heart keeping pace with her rapid strides. 'Just let them come and try something.' They would not find her so easy to take advantage of. She was not such easy prey.
She was not defenseless.
Reviews are much appreciated! :) *Strokes own Bowie knife ostentatiously*