Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish

"Get the fuck off me!" I grunted, trying not to let them get on top. One of them was trying to pin me, while the other was coming around and scanning the area to make sure we wouldn’t be interrupted. I tried to scream, but the one on top of me smacked me with his right hand, rocketing my head back and bouncing it off the turf. It wasn't all that hard, but it was hard enough to momentarily stun me.

The next thing I knew, I felt his hands pushing my skirt up, and fear stabbed icily into my heart. I'd heard the statistics—most women my age have. Supposedly, one in four women my age doesn’t finish college without being sexually assaulted. I'd taken all the precautions, of course: not accepting drinks from guys I didn't trust, always going buddy system to the few parties I'd attended, and stuff like that. Still, the thought that I could be one of those four never crossed my mind until that instant, and I tried to fight harder, even though I knew it was useless. The guy outweighed me by at least forty pounds and already had me pretty well pinned.

In that moment, though, just when I thought I couldn't do anything but give a good showing for myself before I was certainly beaten, most likely raped, and then killed, another man came out of the darkness, surprising the one playing lookout. I couldn't see his face very clearly. He was wearing a light hood despite the spring warmth, but I could see that he was pretty tall, and while not huge, he wasn't skinny either. He shoved the lookout into a nearby tree headfirst, his head bouncing off the tree with a rather hollow thunking sound, where he collapsed to the ground without even a struggle.

My near-rapist saw what happened to his companion and sprang up off me, his hands already up and swinging. He may have been skinny, but the guy was fast. He caught my unknown protector in the face with a decent punch that glanced off, following it with a kick while his back was turned. It sounded like he was wearing steel-toed boots, but the hooded man shrugged it off and kicked back with his foot, catching the guy squarely between the legs. He grabbed his very offended balls and dropped to his knees, his head thrown back and his throat making a sound something like the cross between a foghorn and a piccolo. My protector turned around and brought his right knee up in a hard arc, snapping the guy’s head back and flattening him out on the ground.

The whole fight lasted fewer than ten seconds, during which I should have been scrambling to my feet and fleeing for my life. Instead, I found myself still lying on my back, my head reeling from the whole thing, stunned not only by my attackers but by the speed of the sudden turn of events. A strange, peaceful silence dropped over the whole area, and my savior stood looking down at the body under him. Turning to me, he held out his hand. "Do you need help getting to your feet? We should go and get you looked at."

"No, I'm fine," I said, taking his hand and letting him help me up. He was strong, and he helped me up as lightly as if I'd been a small child. "Who are you?"

"Dane. Dane Bell."

Chapter 2


Despite the fact that it was late spring, I was wearing a hooded shirt as I walked the streets. Walking the streets seemed to be the best way I'd found to deal with the stress and uncertainty of freedom. At Leavenworth, I'd spent too much time cooped up, being told what to do, and exactly how to do it. Why was I in prison? There was a simple answer: fuck the why. Why existed for people better than me. I was a prisoner. I didn't deserve a why.

So now, freed from the confines of military prison, I walked, often for hours, starting each evening as the sun went down and sometimes lasting until midnight. As I walked, my mind would replay the frustrations of the day, driving my feet forward like an invisible mental lash. I could see in my mind the faces each time I handed my resume or application over to someone, the tightness that would come behind their eyes when they saw that I'd checked 'yes' on the box that asked if I'd ever been convicted of a felony, and the combination of fear and finality that would then come when they saw what I wrote on the line after that.

That's one of the challenges of being convicted by court-martial. If I'd been convicted of the same crime by the State of Georgia, I'd have gotten a parole officer, and the resources of said office. Now, I know it doesn't sound like much, but most parole officers know someone who knows someone who can get you a job. It may have been shoveling shit at some pig farm, but it’d be an actual job. The state system wants to at least make some sort of effort to rehabilitate its prisoners. It helps with keeping the streets safer—in theory, at least. And there's nothing wrong with shoveling shit. Someone has to do it, and I've done far worse in my years on this Earth. A lot worse.

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