“Let me the fuck out, man,” the words were slurred, more of an angry belch. Luckily Daryl spoke fluent drunk.
“Not till you sober up. And don’t puke all over the cell this time, Jesus.”
It never got old, Jesus in the drunk tank. His real name was Paul. For some reason that escaped Daryl, everyone called him Jesus. When he was sober he was a good man with a calming demeanor. When he was drunk, which was happening far too often these days, he was an annoying little prick.
“Whatever Sheriff. This is unlawful arrest, Dixon.” Jesus ran a frustrated hand through his hair, pulling out the tie that held his long hair back off his face. Unwashed wavy hair framed his face making Daryl curious just how long Jesus had been on this bender. Jesus would drink for days until he passed out or until Daryl forced him to sober up by locking him up.
He snorted out a laugh at Jesus’s comment and continued to scroll through his phone, legs kicked out as he leaned against the desk that stood center in the room. The room itself was relatively large, along with his desk, there was another across from it. A bench lined one wall. A jail cell for temporary use, including drunks like Jesus, was bolted to the other wall.
The building that had housed the Sheriff's office for fifty years, maybe more, built sturdily with brick, was situated in the middle of the towns Main Street.
“Ya’ ain’t under arrest. I’m just keeping you safe from yourself until you’re sober. Remember when you wrapped your truck around a power pole? ‘Bout damn near killed yourself.”
Daryl still wasn’t sure how Jesus survived that one. Or why he kept trying to inadvertently harm himself. Jesus was young and if he kept this shit up, Daryl was sadly certain he’d kill himself sooner rather than later. He had potential and wasn’t a bad guy. Just stupid when it came to alcohol. Because of this, keeping a close eye on Jesus had become a personal mission.
“Whatever, man,” Jesus mumbled and flung himself down on the metal cot affixed to the wall. He was snoring within a minute.
Sighing, Daryl plopped down into the chair, running a finger over the mouse, brought his laptop to life. He readied himself for a long quiet night as sheriff of a small town in northern Georgia. He didn’t mind though, if he wasn’t here babysitting Jesus, he’d be at home chasing sleep that would most assuredly evade him. He’d rather be at the office.
He was fine with the doldrum, lackluster life he now led. After the life he had before, he actually sought out solace and was the reason, in part, why he took the job.
His life before had been anything but quiet. He had been good at what he did. The Army had served him well. And vise versa. When he came to the crushing realization that he couldn’t save everyone, it was time to walk away from something that had been a part of his life since the day he enlisted when he turned eighteen.
When he left that life, and the subsequent dark period that came after, he came back home when he heard there was a need for a sheriff's deputy. The former sheriff, one that took the position well after Daryl left town, had been shot while on duty. He was in a coma for a while and when he came out of it, he no longer wanted to be sheriff. The two part-time volunteer deputies on staff were not interested or necessarily capable of full-time work since they were retired men in their mid-sixties. That left an opening to be filled.
The kicker, or so Daryl had been told, was that while Rick was in a coma, his deputy had moved in on his wife, Lori. When he finally woke up, she had divorced him and married his partner. They, along with Rick and Lori’s son, moved about an hour away.
Quite the scandal for any town, especially a small town. And Rick was left a former shell of himself. Working sporadically at whatever he could find. Drinking often. Living life by a thinning thread.
Daryl hardly knew Rick but agreed with the townspeople that it was a sad story. Honestly, Daryl wondered how he managed to get himself shot. The majority of what he dealt with were speeding tickets, petty theft, the occasional domestic disturbance, and drunks. Jesus being the main offender in that department.
Unfortunately, meth was starting to make more of an appearance. They were slow to start that game, he only hoped they wouldn’t speed to catch up with the rest of the nation's raging epidemic.
Since the towns sheriff bowed out and the only pay-rolled deputy skipped town with the sheriff's wife, the city insisted Daryl hire a partner. In all honesty, in his opinion, a full-time deputy wasn’t really needed.
The town council said he couldn’t possibly work 24 hours and day 7 days a week so he reluctantly hired someone. A woman, Michonne Gurira. He didn’t hire her just to irk the few old cronies still on the town’s council that held firm to the idea that women shouldn't be in law enforcement, he hired her because she was qualified. Top in her class at the academy in Atlanta. The fact that the old men bristled at a female deputy was a side benefit. When he hired her, he hadn’t expected she’d become one of his closest friends. It just happened to work out that way.
Their town was in a small, isolated area and he hardly turned off his radio, personally handling anything major that came in. The fire department was all volunteer. There were emergency services that could come from a nearby town if need be. It would take them a good twenty-five minutes to get to town which negates the purpose of emergency services, to begin with. If you had a true emergency, you were by all intents and purposes shit out of luck. Your best bet would be to get to the nearest vehicle and road trip it to the next town over where there was a Grade C hospital.
People that lived in the area were a hardy bunch and knew how to take care of themselves and the majority preferred it that way.
Daryl had extensive medical knowledge and could keep someone alive that was injured. He always had an emergency kit with him, he only hoped it was enough to keep the person in need alive long enough to get them where they could receive the best help.
Some might say Daryl was a workaholic. If you asked him, and nobody did, he was dedicated to his job. He had no wife or girlfriend. No kids. His parents were long dead and his brother kept a fair distance between them since he came back to town and became sheriff. Merle had always toed the line of what was legal and what he wanted to do. So he figured it was best to stay clear of Daryl. Merle lived in the mountains towering above town doing God knows what with his common-law wife and many, many children.
He accepted long ago it was better that he didn’t know what his brother did up there on the mountain ridge. Still, he made it a point to visit him on occasion if for no other reason than he was the only family he had left.
To Daryl, he had little else of importance in his life other than work. He was fine with that.
Daryl lived on the outskirts of town, close enough to be available when needed, but far enough out to be left alone when he wanted to be. It was a small one bedroom house the city provided that was in desperate need of repairs. He didn’t mind the leaky ceiling or the ugly carpeting in the bedroom or the outdated kitchen. It was free and he didn’t spend much time there anyhow.
“You get Jesus home okay?” Michonne asked Daryl when he returned to work that afternoon.
That morning he’d taken Jesus to where he’d left his vehicle at the town's only bar, went home got a shower and few hours sleep, and was now back at it.
Michonne was clicking away at the keyboard of the office's ancient computer. They employed a receptionist, but she didn’t like computers much. It was her job to keep the calls that come in during normal business hours answered and direct the people that came into the office in the right direction.
“Got him to his truck,” Daryl said, plopping down at his desk chair.
Without moving her head from its down-turned position Michonne eyed him. “You’re too nice to him.”
Daryl made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a sigh. “How so?”
“Maybe you should let his actions have repercussions.” Michonne was a stickler for the law, more so than Daryl was.
“He spent the night in jail, this ain’t no Ramada.”
“He wasn’t in jail,” she said, using air quotes with her fingers around the words ‘in jail’. “You don’t even lock the door.”
Daryl rolled a shoulder, booted up his laptop. “But he don’t know that.”
Their desks faced one another in the center of the room and when they actually sat at those desks they faced each other. He tried to ignore it but he felt Michonne’s eyes boring into him. He suddenly became very interested in his email just to avoid her gaze.
“And why’s that?” She was starting to sound like his 2nd grade teacher. And Daryl Dixon, why don’t you have your homework done?
He sighed, giving in and telling her what she wanted to hear. “Because he's too drunk to notice that I don’t lock the cell door.”
Michonne let out a belly laugh and Daryl grunted. It was ridiculous, he didn’t need Michonne pointing it out for him. They’d disagreed on the topic before. Daryl only wanted to help a young guy out and Michonne thought he was too lenient.
“I let him sleep it off before he hurt himself, or anyone else.” He really didn’t see what was wrong with it. It was his job to keep the townspeople safe.
“You’re encouraging his behavior. Some might say you’re enabling him.”
“Oh, hell,” Daryl said, rolling his eyes, chuckling. “Here we go.”
“I’m just saying the longer you protect him, the more likely he is to descend into the alcohol he’s slowly killing himself with. He knows you’ll always be there to bail him out.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s only happened a few times.” A few, or over ten. Whichever. “Next time I see him I'll have a talk with him. I’m just trying to help him. Is that so wrong?”
"A talk?" Michonne asked passively. “Aww, you’re just a big softy, ain’tcha, Daryl.”
Without looking, he knew her perfect white teeth were showing and her nose wrinkled the way it did when she found something amusing.
“Shut it,” Daryl joked, diving into the paperwork on his desk from the past week. “You could make a livin’ teasin’ me, ya’ know that?”
“Sheriff Softy,” Michonne hummed quietly in a sing-song voice.
He couldn’t help it, she made him laugh. She was one of the only few that he let tease him, the only one close enough to him to do so. He had acquaintances. People he went to school with, a random distant family member or two but no one he truly could call a friend.
When he hired Michonne she pushed, sometimes hard. He honestly thought she was too nosey for her own good. As time went by though, he found himself letting her in. She was sneaky about it, he hadn’t even realized he was opening up to her. Somehow she wormed her way in. And he was thankful she had.
“Coming to dinner tonight?” She asked after some time of simultaneous click-clacking at their respective computers.
“Huh?” He asked. She was always trying to get him to socialize. In his opinion, it was a downfall of hers.
“Dinner at my place. Six o’clock,” she said without looking up from her keyboard.
“Uh uh. Someone has to stay here, hold down the fort. ‘Sides, didn’t you just have a cookout that I was forced to go to?”
“For starters, you know my house is only a block over, you’ll bring the walkie with you anyway. The ‘fort’ will be fine. And for another, I had a cookout during the summer. Almost Christmas time now.”
Christmas, ugh, the season of obligatory socialization. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t that big of a Grinch. But still, peace on earth. Merriment. All that stuff, it put him off.
“Christmas is still a ways away,” he reminded her. In response, she stared him down. Again.
He knew when he was losing a fighting battle. “Damn, anyone ever call you pushy before?”
“Only by those I care about,” she said, smiling brightly.
Before they were able to continue their friendly bickering, the radio crackled to life interrupting them. Daryl was truly grateful. He didn’t like it when she got mushy with her feelings.
“Michonne here,” she said into the radio before Daryl could. He’d take all the action if she let him. It’d kill the man to just sit still and let someone else take over for a few minutes.
The county ran a 24-hour emergency call center. A revolving shift took turns answering the few calls that came in. Most people there were leery of anyone in an official capacity, which included emergency personnel. Townsfolk, especially those who lived outside of the city limits, took care of themselves. They were well versed in backwoods medicine.
While the call center wasn’t ideal, it was all the county had the money for. Most calls that did come through were drunk people with non-emergencies and could be handled by the dispatchers. If they couldn’t handle it, or if it was something actually serious, they knew to radio Daryl on his walkie-talkie and he’d either handle it himself or delegate it to someone else.
The dispatcher's voice rang out, her inflection was distant and bored. “We got a 415. Possible drunk and disorderly at 2353 Cherry Street.”
“I’ll check it out,” Michonne said into the mic, as she headed out the door, giving Daryl a nod.
The girl watched as her bare feet moved along the earth, seemingly independent of her body, as though they belonged to someone else. Reddened from the cold, cracked and bleeding from the rough terrain. Her legs pumped, carrying her somewhere else. Anywhere else. She didn’t care where. Just not where she had been.
At this point, she had no idea how to get back from where she came anyway, but there was no way she’d turn back if she knew. So she followed her feet, panic coursed through her body so strong she was unaware of the pain that shot through her body with every hurried step.
How long had she been running? Her legs were becoming anvils, weighing her down. She quickly became frustrated with the pace she was limited to in her current state. Still, she forced herself to go. To move!
The late afternoon sun quickly gave way to darkness and she kept on until she no longer could. Disoriented by the dark, exhaustion clawing in, threatening to overcome her. She fell scraping her knee ripping her ankle-length dress. A helpless groan sounded from somewhere deep inside as she forced herself up. Stumbling, she felt through the darkness with outstretched hands. Her long fingers were ghostly against the pitch of black that surrounded her.
Her hands came into contact with the solid bark of a tree. It towered above her and it’d probably take three of her to encircle its circumference. A gaping black hole stood like an open mouth at its base. Normally it would scare her, a mouth waiting to be fed, now she was too drained to care. Too exhausted to go any further, she curled up in the hollow of a tree, hoping no animal had already claimed the area and pressed her eyes shut. Closing out the darkness, trying desperately to shut her mind off.
Now that she was still, her body began to hurt. Her feet throbbed, her legs ached. Racing thoughts seared her mind. Up until that point, she only reacted. She had no plan, just one foot in front of the other, putting space between herself and where she had been. She still had no plan, only to rest for a short time before moving on again.
Her subconscious fought the stillness of her body and her eyes flickered open. Through the hole she could scarcely make out the canopy of tree limbs hovering what looked to be miles above, bent over menacingly, swaying in the wind, creaking and moaning an otherworldly language. Screams and screeches echoed all around, far away and simultaneously whispering in her ear.
She buried the right side of her head into the soft dirt and pressed a hand to her left ear, trying desperately to block out the sound. It wasn’t enough though, it still made its way through. She began to hum loudly. A tune she had no idea from where it came. It must have been from before - a foggy time that made her head pound in between her temples when she tried to remember.
Somehow, nothing short of a miracle, she was able to sleep. Sheer exhaustion had eventually won out. She woke to a sliver of light shining through the bark aimed directly at her eye. Shifting away from the brightness, she peered out of the hole she’d taken shelter in. She felt infinitesimally small there on the floor of the hollowed out tree, the forest high above. She had no idea how long she slept, she still felt heavy and bone weary.
Knowing she couldn’t remain there forever, yet at the same time, there was a strange pull tempting her to stay curled up even if it meant she might die there. The ambivalence she felt about her possible demise didn’t really surprise her. At least her death would be on her own terms. At least she’d been safe inside that tree for a short time. Safe, though, was a relative term. She had no idea if someone was behind her or how close on her heels they might be. And what if they found her before she succumbed to the elements?
The thought forced her to move from her shelter. Lumbering out of the tree that had been her refuge and probably the saving grace that kept her from freezing to death during the night, she jumped when her feet came into contact with something cold and hard.
As her surroundings came into focus she realized where she was. Approximately two dozen gravestones surrounded her. Some tall, some short, some inset into the ground. All handcrafted, words roughly etched into stone. A cemetery, most likely family owned for generations. A shiver that had nothing to do with the harsh wind and her lack of proper clothing shook her body.
Slowly she looked down at her feet, still red but her toes now held a tinge of blue. Next to where she stood, there was a gravestone. The words etched into this particular flat slab of rock read Here lies the grave of an unknown girl.
A shrill scream began in her lungs and carried up through her throat. When the force of the scream made it to her mouth, nothing sounded. Air rushed from her lungs instead until it burned deep down in her chest. Her vision began to waver and black edged her peripheral vision.
Though she wanted to lay down and quit, she forced her legs to move. To run! To run away from the horrible place she’d been. And away from the fortuitous gravestone.