“See you tomorrow, seven sharp, Hannah. No extra time allowed for plucking your eyebrows. If you’re not ready, I’ll go without you.”
“When have I ever been late?”
Hannah’s expression was mock indignation. Chris would never leave her behind for any reason when they were headed to a tournament, and she was proud of her strong, thick brows. Their unusual fullness was a long-standing joke after she’d refused to pluck them for her aunt’s third wedding over a year ago, and she wouldn’t do it now just as a matter of principle. Her aunt melodramatically accused Hannah of ruining her special day and had collapsed in inconsolable hysterics at the sight of Hannah’s brows when she posed in her bridesmaid dress, but Hannah hadn’t capitulated. She didn’t like her aunt that much. Bold brows gave her character and were great for glowering with. She scowled with them at Chris now, then punched him in the shoulder as he crouched down to unlock his battered bicycle.
He was pretending. She could punch anything, probably including his thick skull with all her strength and it wouldn’t hurt him. She could see he was about to sweep her leg and try trip her up so she hopped lightly backwards, grinning.
“Thanks Chris. I really appreciate the ride.”
She didn’t envy him his hour-long ride biking home through psycho Boston traffic. By contrast, her journey home was just a thirty-minute peaceful walk from the gym across the campus and about half a mile into the gloomy rows of mismatched houses. It was a ten-minute run but she was too tired for that.
She glanced at a cluster of three scrawny men in MIT hoodies standing chatting by the gym’s entrance. They were laughing at some joke and she caught the eye of one who stared at her and then smiled, as if he knew her. She didn’t recognize him but that was no surprise; she’d seen hundreds of new students in the last month and she automatically smiled back. She liked MIT geeks. They were often two left feet to start with, but they were enthusiastic and worked really hard in class. Just four weeks into the new term there were still gaggles of nascent gymaholics like these guys hanging around. By the end of the year it would be whittled down to a core of late night exercise addicts and she’d know all their zitty faces, if not their names.
Slinging her cloth-wrapped wooden weapons over her shoulder, she turned to walk across the MIT campus. It was late evening and her martial arts practice had just finished. Sensei Chris had focused on what to do if someone came up behind you and tried to choke you out, or put a knife or gun at your back. Practical lessons were always the most popular with the skinny female students and they loved seeing Hannah, the diminutive high school student, disarm Sensei Chris with apparent ease. He never taught overly fancy moves and Sensei’s pragmatic advice to the junior ranks was to hand over your wallet or purse if that’s what a mugger wanted, whilst telling them that you didn’t want any trouble. If they were after more, then flummox your attacker with a little unexpected, very aggressive self-defense, take them down if possible, and then get the hell out of there fast.
She headed towards the running track. It was a crisp early fall night, but she was overheated and glad of the cold air as she played with her breath, visibly rising in front of her. Her hair dripped and the sweat was evaporating fast off her face. A hot shower when she got home would be delicious.
A sixth sense told her to look over her shoulder. The three men who’d been hanging around outside the gym were about thirty yards behind her. They weren’t chatting now, but instead striding in her direction and she instantly got a chill. Any woman unexpectedly seeing three men behind her in the dark at night would wonder if she was being followed and Hannah was no exception. That was ridiculous, they were MIT students who just happened to be going the same way as her. She had the fear of being mugged by men in dark alleys on the brain since they’d just been talking about it in class. All the same, she pulled her wooden Bo stick and sword combo off her back, carrying the bag in her hands instead, and she quickened her pace.
She heard the voice behind her and turned around telling herself to be nice and not be overly aggressive, even though they’d already spooked her. They were right up close now, just ten feet away. They must have jogged to catch up with her.
“Can I help you?” Her tone clearly lacked friendliness as she glared at them suspiciously. The shortest one, who’d smiled at her before, stepped forwards with another amicable smile on his face. The others were smiling too, or was that a smirk and a sneer? Be nice, she reminded herself, you’re being paranoid.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I was wondering if you knew the way to Magazine Street?” he asked.
That was the street she lived on. That was creepy and she didn’t answer.
“We heard there’s a party there,” he added. “It sounded wicked good.”
His accent was foreign, not quite German. Although his face and hair were partially covered in his hoodie, he was obviously a lot older than the usual MIT undergraduate heading to a party. She could see flecks of gray visible in his black hair. He was a grandpa hoodie and his choice of words sounded wrong. Whoever used wicked good? It was such a Boston cliché and really lame. Why didn’t they just google the place on their phones or use any one of a dozen map apps? Up close, none of them looked like the goofy, gangly geeks she’d initially assumed them to be. They were all over six feet and solidly built, an intimidating contrast to the pale green stick insects most students resembled.
“I’m sorry, no I don’t know where that is,” she replied, turning to keep walking and put some distance between them, but listening hard to hear what they did. She was ready to run.
“Hey, just a moment. Are you sure? We heard it was over this way,” said Grandpa Hoodie.
“Look, I don’t want to talk to three men I don’t know at this time of night, OK?” she said exasperated, as she turned around again. “Don’t you guys know anything?”
This time they were fanning out to surround her and she knew now she was in trouble.
“You’re absolutely right. You shouldn’t trust anyone these days, Hannah,” said Grandpa Hoodie, as he stepped towards her, leering whilst sizing her up. “Even MIT students aren’t always what they seem.”
Hannah gripped her cloth-wrapped, almost six foot long, wooden Bo stick, preparing to use it as her years of training kicked in. She didn’t wait to be attacked, she went on the offensive and swiped at the man’s head, a blow designed to knock him out before he could get close to her. It was the first time in her life she’d ever aimed it at someone’s head with the intent to make contact. The dull thwack as it hit jarred her and he instantly collapsed unconscious. Guttural yells of anguish and shock from the other two rent the air. She chose the biggest one on her left to attack next and leaping forwards, swung at him. He was backing away but not fast enough as she moved in, and she caught him a glance on the head. He staggered backwards collapsing on the ground.
Unfortunately the third man hadn’t been standing still gawping, and now he leaped on her howling like a demon, pulling her to the ground with him clinging onto her back. Her weapon slipped out of her hands. He tried first to get a chokehold, and when that failed, he used his strength to get her underneath him trying vigorously to get control of her. She didn’t wait for him to punch her. She rolled onto her back bringing her arms and legs up, putting her right arm into his throat, her other into his chest and then thrust her knee up into his abdomen so he couldn’t reach her. She pushed him off her with all her leg strength, shoving hard into his guts. Immediately he rolled; instead of trying to get up and run, she followed him in close. She forced her knee up hard between his legs to distract him, and whilst he instinctively crossed his legs and jerked backwards in pain, she gave her hardest punch into his temple, just by his eye, thankfully knocking him unconscious. Again it was the first time she’d used all the strength she had, hitting someone without head protection. She’d probably just broken her hand but she couldn’t feel anything, she was so pumped up on adrenalin.
Just to be sure he wouldn’t get up in a hurry, she dropped a couple of elbows into his face with a viciousness her friends wouldn’t recognize. She’d smashed his nose and his blood sprayed over her, but she barely noticed, her breath was coming in ragged pants, her heart pounding. She’d given plenty of opponents nosebleeds in the past during martial arts tournaments, but this was the first time she’d done it with the intention to maim, not just score a point, and it was a first for using her elbows to hit an unprotected face.
She wasn’t done yet, there was one more thing necessary to ensure her safety. Swearing out loud to keep herself riled up, she kicked him hard in the knee so when he woke up, hopefully blinded with pain from his broken nose, he wouldn’t be able to run after her. Then she did the same to the other two lying unconscious from their chat with her Bo stick, before she picked up her weapons bag and set off at a run. Take them down if possible, and then get the hell out of there. That was good advice Sensei Chris and she was taking it.
Had she been excessively violent? She wasn’t going to stick around to administer first aid and apologize; she would call the police when she got home and explain what she’d done. Then she had a better idea, she could call in at the MIT campus police station; it was just on Vassar Street and on her way home. She’d explain three huge men attacked her and it was all self-defense. She was half their weight and size, hopefully she’d not be arrested.
Sprinting along past the baseball pitches she soon approached the parking lot and turned right to get to Vassar Street. There was no one in sight in the unlit Amherst alley, but as she reached it she heard men’s voices behind her shouting out, and she spun around, her heart thumping. There were three shadows sprinting towards her across the parking lot. No way could it be the same men after what she’d done to them. How could more men be chasing her? Fighting down panic she dashed up the alley and took a sharp left onto Vassar Street lined by parked cars. She could see the headlights of a car coming along the road and scrutinized it as she ran. Was it a police car? It had stripes, a black hood and white side and there was something on top of it. Yes, it was an MIT police SUV. Unbelievable! What incredibly good luck!
Slipping between two parked cars she darted into the road to flag it down, praying that it would reach her before the three men running across the parking lot did. The car pulled up in front of her waving arms and she moved around to the driver’s side.
“Please help me!” she called out, panic audible in her voice. “Three men just attacked me and there are more chasing me!”
She was still holding her weapons bag in her hand and it occurred to her she might look dangerous, so she quickly slung the cloth case over her shoulder.
It was possible the police officer hadn’t heard her shout clearly when he’d stopped, and as he wound down his window she repeated it.
“Please help me, I’m being chased by men.”
He had to be able to see the fear in her face and know she was serious.
Peering in the window, her heart thudding, she saw an unusually scrawny police officer in mirror shades and she chewed back a scream at him for being so ridiculously vain. What was he doing wearing sunglasses at night? He must barely be able to see.
“Please sir, three men attacked me on the MIT sports field and three more are chasing me. I’m frightened they want to hurt me.”
“Where are they now?” asked Shades-man. “Is that their blood? What have you done to them?”
Disconcerted by his questions, only then did she notice the blood splattered on her sweatshirt. It was likely over her face and hair too. Regardless, it was still an odd question and he didn’t have a Boston accent. He had the same strange half-Germanic accent that Grandpa Hoodie did.
“Nothing; no it’s my blood,” she lied instinctively. “Never mind. I’m just kidding, it’s not a problem.”
It was time to run again. She grabbed her Bo stick off her shoulder and ducked around the back of the car about to dash between two parked cars on the other side of the road and head along the little path that crossed the railway tracks through the MIT police parking lot. There was a park and a quiet street beyond. She knew the area well and could disappear.
A dumpy man stepping between the parked cars exactly where she was about to run brought her up short. He was wearing a bulging police uniform, but right now she didn’t believe that this gordito was a cop for real. She froze, her breath heaving. In the seconds that she stood paralyzed with indecision, Shades-man came around the back of his SUV and the three men who’d been chasing her from the parking lot caught up with her.
The men called out to each other in a language she didn’t recognize. It sounded guttural, perhaps Dutch or something similar. They encircled her in the road, angry faces and threatening postures trapping her up against the SUV. The three who’d sprinted along the dark alley after her were dressed identically in MIT hoodies, covering much of their hair but they were obviously not the same men she’d attacked by the running track. Shades-man had now pushed his glasses up into his spiky blond hair revealing pale eyes and skin with curiously plump cheeks, in spite of his exceptionally thin build.
“What happened to the three men who were following you from the gym?” he asked, as she made wary, quick glances at all of them, wondering which one was going to advance first to attack her. “Is that your blood or theirs?”
Hannah didn’t reply. Instead, she swung her Bo stick to threaten them and force them to keep their distance from her. Hopefully in the next few seconds another car or two would come down the street and they’d have to back off.
Then Shades-man pulled out a bright yellow gun and pointed it at her, mirrored a second later by Gordito on her right. Were they real guns? They looked like kid’s Nerf guns.
“Put down your weapon,” Shades-man ordered.
Hannah considered whether to do as he said. A real police officer could legally shoot her if she didn’t obey, but these were bad guys. If she put down her weapon she’d be giving herself up to them and they might not even be real guns. They looked ridiculously fake.
“Who are you?” she said.
“We are MIT police,” replied Shades-man. “Put down your weapon.”
“What, you mean these men are police officers?” asked Hannah, glancing incredulous and derisively at the hoodies encircling her.
“Yes, working undercover,” said the man. “And you are under arrest for assaulting police officers. Put down your weapon and put your hands in the air, or I’ll shoot you!”
She was sure the gun wasn’t real.
“What language were you speaking?” she asked, ignoring his instruction.
She didn’t wait for an answer, she’d made up her mind to attack and try breaking her way out of the ring. She lunged towards Gordito on her right, aiming to knock the weapon from his hand with her stick. The gun went flying then she stabbed the stick hard into his abdomen and he bent over double grunting in agony. Leaping past him on his right side and hardly daring to believe she could escape this nightmare, she dodged between parked cars.
Then she felt all her muscles spasm like every single part of her body had agonizing cramps. The pain was excruciating in her back and right thigh. Falling immediately to the ground unable to move, half on the sidewalk and half under the bumper of a car, her head hit the curb and she lay stunned and paralyzed wondering what on earth had happened. Every single muscle in her body was rigid and contracted. It hurt worse than a plunge into the icy North Atlantic off Bar Harbor in Maine.
Just as suddenly as it struck her, the paralysis was gone, leaving her muscles quivering and useless. She was dragged by her feet backwards into the middle of the road and found herself face down, with both her arms pulled behind her and pinned on the small of her back with a hefty weight. There was an argument going on now but she didn’t understand what the men were saying to each other. A painfully bright flashlight in her face blinded her and she felt a hand at her neck yanking her sweatshirt collar so hard, it ripped, exposing her shoulder and back. Were they going to strip her here in the road and rape her? She felt a needling pain in her deltoid moments later. She was getting an injection of something, but couldn’t twist or roll to stop it. She was still trembling and her limbs tried to obey her orders to bring her knees up, but then the full weight of Gordito sitting on her hips and upper thighs pinned her down. He leaned into her causing shooting pains up her back as her shivering muscles refused to tense sufficiently to protect her spine from his weight. She screamed, begging him to get off her.
Moments later the pain began to fade from her back, crushed hips and wrenched arms, and she felt herself detaching from her body, floating a few feet up and gazing down on the odd scene below her. Angry voices swirled around her, still not making any sense. Her heart was racing, but her fear had evaporated leaving her calm. The voices faded to the sound of a rhythmic pounding of blood in her ears, and the scene dissolved into darkness.