Bethany Kendrick was having the worst year of her life.
It had started strong enough. She had landed a promising entry-level position with a local insurance agency that handled major policies for all of Western Pennsylvania. She had started as a lowly data entry temp, but after only six months had been invited on full-time if she agreed to undergo training for new managers. She had never intended to work in the insurance business. Her degree was in communications, which she now understood to be a bullshit degree unless it was from the University of Southern California, UCLA, or Stanford. It was a glutted market, and the industry was only taking the herds produced by the best programs, and her grades had been less than stellar. She had gone to a party school, and she had partied.
When she had started working at the temp agency after graduation, she had figured it was just that – temporary. Now it looked like she was going to stick it out where she was, stay with this insurance company, and see how far she could climb. She was young and had a few good years to burn, and being invited to take a full-time position with management training right out of the gate, she figured this could be very good for her, and she could stay close to home.
And things had gone very well. A little too well. When she completed the training program and was promoted to an assistant manager position, she celebrated. The next few months were a blur of team meetings and happy hours. And then the happy hours became late nights with her friends, or at least the people she thought were her friends. She never realized how easy it was to get cocaine outside of university life. It seemed people were more willing to share their recreational drugs with those they deemed young professionals, and not carefree college students who would drop a dime on anyone to keep themselves in school. A few of those late nights became early mornings, and those early mornings resulted in a few missed meetings. And you’d think that would be bad enough, but what was worse were the meetings she actually showed up for, reeking of alcohol and still wearing the clothes from the previous day.
A disregarded warning became a termination, and after that, she couldn’t get another job that could support her basic needs, let alone her new lifestyle. Bills piled up, and after an embarrassing encounter she thought could just be chalked up to blowing off some steam, a much-needed evacuation of a lot of stress, an eviction notice was served. She moved home with her mother and her step-father, but that situation had never been good, and one thing led to another as it does… long story short, before she knew it, she was on the streets of Pittsburgh, just another homeless person.
At first, she didn’t think of herself as homeless, but after a few days of not knowing where to sleep, the brutality of her situation had settled in. She went to the McGee Women’s Shelter and was soon set upon by the sort of women that she had always figured were the homeless type. They had beaten her up pretty badly, taking the last of the nicer things she had managed to hold on to – an outfit she had been trying to keep clean in hopes that a job interview might come her way, a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that had been a graduation gift from her mother, some jewelry, and the oversized handbag that had held all of this. She had been afraid to return to the shelter after that. She put the rest of her belongings, contained in a backpack, in a locker at the shelter. She preferred to travel light. She had also started carrying a five-inch lock-blade knife in her pocket and had gotten pretty skilled at producing it at a moment’s notice.
She spent the next few nights falling asleep in bus kiosks, doorways, and parks, only to be rousted by other people or police, who always asked her if she had someplace to go but offered no real assistance. She had spent the first part of this night huddled in a stall in a public bathroom before being chased out by the cleaning crew. She had taken a wrong turn down a back street, and now her adventures in homelessness were about to continue down as rock bottom kept giving way to fresh levels of horror. Now she was about to be raped.
The man that had pulled at her hair, insisting it was a wig when she tried to ignore his early advances, now had her down on the ground, his knee on her back as his hand pressed her face into the dew-dampened grass against a slight rise that ran up towards a walking path. His buddy was breathing heavily as he tugged at her pants, pulling them further down, exposing her bare butt to the cold night air. She heard one of them hiss, “Aw, shit yeah!” before she heard a voice in her head. When she heard it, she was surprised by the sound of herself giggling uncontrollably through her terrified tears. The voice she heard was Principal Skinner from The Simpsons. It said, “Leave your body, Seymour!”
Her involuntary giggle was the worst thing that could have escaped her, as it encouraged her attackers. “Oh, this little bitch is into it!” the one sitting on her back said as she felt a rough hand move up between her thighs. A thumb hit its mark, and she closed her eyes, trying to block the flow of burning tears. She tried to focus on past days when she would watch old syndicated episodes of The Simpsons with her roommate after class, passing a bong and laughing about their college lives. She wasn’t here now. She tried to project herself back to college, and the past twenty months had just been a bad dream. The horrible feeling of the thumb making its disgusting entrance, it brought her back with a terrible jolt, and she began to thrash and scream. A fist came down in a donkey punch to the base of her skull, driving her open mouth into the wet sod. She tasted fresh blood on her lips. Sobbing, struggling, but weak and relenting to shock, she could feel her heart beating through her chest and into the ground.
Then there was a rush, and she felt the weight of the large man knocked off her back. The thumb was gone, and there was a loud cracking sound. She felt herself free from the weight and rolled over, her vision a blur of haloed lights through her tear-soaked eyes. She spit grass and dirt from her mouth, and saw a shadow move in front of her, spinning, and there was another loud crack! as another shape fell off to the side, rolling down the embankment, coming to rest sharply against a large stone. Bethany pulled her pants up, panting, sobbing, and wiped her eyes. She saw someone in a black coat standing with his back to her, and she wondered if she should kick his legs out from under him. Before she could strike, he moved again – he was fast! – and had another man by the throat, lifting him briefly into the air before slamming his body against the ground with an impact that sounded like it must have shattered a few ribs. She sat up, scrambling back on her hands and butt, away from the confrontation, eyes staring wildly up at the figure in front of her. Who was this third guy? Had he always been there? Was he attacking her? He turned to look down at her, and she could almost make out his face before there was a pained screech emitted from where the first form had fallen. She saw one of the men that had pulled her back into this dark grove lunging at this new arrival, but just as he got within a few feet, he was struck by a hard round-house kick to the head, and he went down. Bethany watched as the man in the dark coat stepped over to his adversary and dropped a knee into his chest with a crunch that almost certainly broke a bone or two. Then he stood up and exhaled sharply, looking down at his vanquished foe, and then over at her other attacker, who was now making his own feeble effort to crawl away. The man made a motion like he was about to strike him again, but instead, just titled his head to the side, watching him, figuring it was safe to leave him to his agony. He then turned his attentions to her.