The place was a mess. I’d been a bit worse for wear when I’d left it. I started tidying things, gathering my armour and laying it out on the floor in a more organised fashion – I should get a manikin or something to put it on when I wasn’t using it – I didn’t want it getting all tangled up on the shelves. Most of the blood had dried into my armour and it stank of sweat – I’d probably have to give it a wash. I checked over every buckle and strap for cracks or tears, there were a few scuffs and some blood stains but nothing that compromised it.
I took the box from where I’d left it by the door and carefully cut the tape sealing it shut. Gently I slid out the clear moulded plastic that had my new helmet. Why was I being so careful with it? It was to protect me from brain injury – I should be able to knock it about a bit.
At first I just held it and turned it in my hands. Stabbing, slashing, blunt impact, falling – if only it was bullet proof. I slipped it on over my head. With it pressing down on the sides of my face I felt safer immediately. I didn’t like not having quite the same field of view – and it made my head feel heavy and slow… but it was better than a broken skull.
I glanced over at my armour. I might as well just see what it all looks like together…
It took me five minutes at least to strap everything on. The helmet looked a bit out of place, even after the one use my rest of my armour had scrapes stains and blemishes. The helmet was dull, but pristine, which set it apart.
I picked up the last item I’d bought, on the way home. I felt strange unwrapping it from the packaging. I could see why people get hooked on buying things…
I held it up to the light: minimal, sleek and black. Now how the hell do I turn it on?
* * *
Last time that woman had asked if I was going to call the police. Well, this time I could. It was their problem then – if they came out good for them. Not that I thought they would. I took out a bunch of zip ties I’d bought for my costume making. I spotted them in the hardware store getting the saws. You never know when you might need cable-ties. I’d seen them used to tie people up in the movies I’d watched.
Wait had I just thought of all this as a costume? It wasn’t like I was dressing up… Maybe I’d taken this too far.
But I my hands were itching that same way. I had that restlessness that running didn’t get rid of. I wanted to get out there and feel that excitement again. Danger. My costume protected me from the real danger. It was like… skydiving. The people who jumped out of planes didn’t actually want the danger, well – not all of it. But they wanted the feeling. The thrill – I got that, but I didn’t want to get killed. My parachute was made of laminated fibres and strapped to my body. My jump was swinging my baton and my fall was… the fight I guess.
Was there something wrong with me?
It was dark outside by now. It was tough finding decent footing amongst the sludgy melting snow. I mentally added a torch to my list of things-I-should-buy. Would it ever be complete? Still, I was learning. The round bulge in the backpack on my back was testament to that.
* * *
I walked through the streets with the hood of my jacket tight pulled tight around my face. It was cold and I didn’t want to take any chances of someone getting a good look at my face, even if I had my armour covered.
After twenty minutes without anything happening the adrenaline and excitement of anticipation had slowly drained out of me. I was beginning to have second thoughts. Was this really a good idea? I wondered again if there was something wrong with me. Who dresses up, because that’s what I was doing, and goes out looking for criminals? Looking for a fight?
This wasn’t some comic book this was real life. I didn’t have any silly super-powers that made me invulnerable or super strong. I was just… a stupid little girl who got lucky a couple of times. How many times would it take before something bad happened? Before it went wrong and I ended up face down in the river, a statistic on the police computers? I doubted anyone would even notice I was gone, except Beth.
I could tell I was beginning to feel miserable for myself. I should stop moaning, I didn’t have things that bad. There was always someone worse off than yourself.
Thinking that never made me feel any better.
But hey, I was worse off a month ago. Before I met Beth I had no one I could call a friend, and I’d had a full stomach more days since I’d met her than I had in ten years.
I sighed and watched the mist of my breath twist away in the breeze. It wasn’t so bad. Maybe I should go home…
I was considering it when movement caught eye. There was a shout, some kind of argument. I watched as two men argued with a tall black haired woman. It looked pretty heated, I couldn’t make out the words but the tone was harsh. I hesitated, if it got violent should I interfere? Should I get ready now?
I watched. The men were getting more threatening, getting closer to her and pushing at her. When I saw one grab at her clothes and pull back his fist I was decided. Ducking into a side alley I pulled up my scarf to cover my mouth, making sure it was tightly tied and slipped off my jacket. I pulled out the helmet from the bag, shoved the jacket in and hid it behind a dumpster.
As I pulled my helmet on I watched them drag the woman, now screaming into the nearest alley.
Sprinting across the road I pulled out a baton, slowing at the entrance of the alley; I still had to be careful. It wasn’t an ideal location – likely coming to an abrupt end it left me with little escape options if things went wrong, the only way I could get out was the way I came.
Still, I could hear shrieking and pleading from the woman.
I could guess what two men wanted with her… I couldn’t just leave her because it was too risky. Why the hell was I even doing this if I turned and ran now?
Decision made I started moving, letting my eyes adjust to the lower – unlit light levels.
As I expected I found them hunched over her pulling at her clothes. One was kneeling on her legs as she bucked and flailed to try and escape.
Both had their backs to me.
It was easy to swing the baton, easier than you would expect for hitting someone as hard as you can. Before they even noticed me I had hit both of them in quick succession. I didn’t give a second thought to the dangers of it, I could have killed them.
Maybe they deserved it…
One had fallen on top of the woman so I helped her pull him off. She was still crying, trying to speak but the words were jumbled and broken. I didn’t say anything to her, waiting for her to calm herself.
“Thank you. I didn’t know what to do.” She said to me. Her makeup was running.
“No problem.” I replied, glancing at her. It really hadn’t been. It had been so easy, almost comical. I took stock of my surroundings. It was a blind alley, as I suspected. I should get out of here as soon as I could. They might have had some friends nearby.
I offered a hand to the woman and helped her to her feet. She was about a head taller than me. It surprised me that she had resisted so little, her arms were muscled and her narrow face had a severe feel. I spotted a scar on her left cheek.
My first impression didn’t make me think she wasn’t the kind of person to be screaming and whimpering for help.
Goosebumps ran down my arms. Something was off here. I looked at her more closely. As she wiped the tears from her eyes I saw it.
There were three lines above her left eyebrow hastily covered with makeup that she had accidentally smudged when she wiped her eyes. Without giving it a second thought I turned and started towards the entrance of the alley.
As I feared there were six figures blocking it. All had weapons. I quickly assessed them, most had long dangerous looking knives – not something I could make mistakes with. My armour only covered my chest and upper arms. All were much bigger than me. One had a handgun.
I didn’t stand a chance.
My eyes leaped around me searching. There were no doors. There were no low fire escapes. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t climb…
I leaped for one of the dumpsters shoving the baton I was holding in its holster. My heart was racing as I scrambled on top of it.
Please don’t shoot me.
I jumped up and grabbed at the iron bars protecting the low windows. One hand slipped and I nearly lost my grip.
Please don’t shoot me.
My arms burning, I swung to get my grip again and pulled myself up, feet scraping the loose brickwork for traction. If I could get my feet on the bars I could use it like a ladder. I could hear shouting.
There was a loud crack.
It didn’t hurt at first, just felt like being hit by… something very heavy. It took the wind out of me. I didn’t feel my grip loosen, by the time my thoughts had gotten over the shock I was falling. I felt an impact and then there was just confusion.
Then I felt the pain.
They shot me.
“Finally man, four fucking days we had to wait. How many times have we done this shit?”
“Did you see that? He’s like a little fucking monkey.”
“Smaller than I expected, are you sure it’s the right guy? Doesn’t look like he could have done that to old Chad.”
“Dude, I think it’s a girl…”
A blanket of darkness enveloped me.