He’s there against the wall, straining so hard that the veins on his neck are popping out. Grunting in terror or maybe pain, he’s got his elbows straight out in front of him, hands crossed and against his neck. At first I think he’s strangling himself until I notice that he is suspended about 6 inches off the ground. An icy chill rushes over me from scalp to sole, rebounding back up into my chest. This guy looks like he is fighting for his life against an enemy I can’t even see. My instinct to help is completely embattled by my instinct for self-preservation in the face of a visual I can’t reconcile. I rock on my heels back and forth as if I am going to lunge into the fight, but I can’t muster the courage. I can’t even believe that I’m actually witnessing what I must be witnessing.
A guttural scream “Hey!” rips through the musty air. I tear my eyes away from this horrible spectacle, where the man is clearly losing whatever struggle is happening, and see two men careening down the alley from the back. Their bodies are rippling with strength and purpose, evident even through their nondescript casual clothing. They’re slightly dirty, as well, with rips in their worn jeans. Absently, I note that the big one’s purple t-shirt is stained with something dark, while he leaps through the air in a rage, aiming for the invisible combatant. The second man, somewhat cleaner in an olive green hoodie, arrives a fraction of a second later to grab the arm of the now free victim, who is gasping and struggling to stay upright. I watch these two hobble back down the alley, which distracts me from Big Purple, who rolls straight into me. I go down in a heap, my knees knocked right out from under me so hard that my elbows slam into the sidewalk.
“Move!” Big Purple screams, presumably at me, while the fight careens into the public eye. He looks crazy, rolling back and forth and panting like he’s running a marathon. I can’t get back up; there is something wrong with my leg because I can’t even try to stand without screaming. There are some bystanders now, and I can tell they think he’s having some sort of psychotic episode and has hurt me in the offing. He’s ignoring the people on the sidewalk, and making eye contact with me. Somehow, this attention is more terrifying than the invisible thing that is keeping him busy and causing reddened welts to bloom on his skin. “I said MOVE! Get out of here! I can’t keep this up much longer!”
I’m completely panicking now, using my scraped and aching arms to drag myself away from him. I can feel the hot tears rushing down my face, even though I don’t recognize that I am crying. I am moving only in inches, feeling utterly useless when the crowd backs up as one, gasps and little screams sounding out.
“He’s got a knife! He’s gonna kill her!” For a second I think they mean they can see whoever Big Purple is fighting, but then I realize he’s commando crawling towards me, and I start to scream on purpose.
“Help me! Help me!” Some part of my brain understands that this isn’t logical, that the big man wasn’t there to hurt me, but the larger part only registered the angry, straining brute with a bigass knife heading right in my direction. And hellballs, nothing presently happening is LOGICAL. I see the man in purple leap again, this time with his drawn knife held in both fists. My mind does a little hiccup and I feel dizzy and sweaty and electric. I wonder, with not a little self-loathing, if I might be about to faint. He’s fully engaged in this strike, like a hunting sabre tooth tiger going in for the kill, but my vision of him coming down at me is obscured. At first I think it’s because I am losing consciousness, because it’s grey and hazy, but then it becomes clearer, solid, and very real to me. In between me and the raging man in purple is a hideous face, a leering, twisted face. It’s attached to a head that is way too big for the body that is right in front of me, with elongated arms and massive black-gloved hands reaching now for my throat. Black ochre is dripping from wounds in its head and its torso, and I realize in a sudden rush that somehow the situation is all much, much worse now that I can see the thing. It’s wearing a green plaid dinner jacket, tails and all, with brown curly hair that might have been attractive on something that wasn’t a nasty caricature of a human. And it’s laughing.
“Please! What the hell? Help m–!” I’m cut off mid-cry by one of those nasty, gloved hands. All I feel is pain as the thing starts to choke and drag me back towards the alley, my legs twisting in searing agony beneath us, then the solid impact as big purple drives his knife straight into the back of the howling creature. It blinks out of existence, and I finally pass out.
When I come to, it’s in the same alley, but I am propped up against a wall near the end of the alley. The small crowd that had gathered for the attack has somewhat dispersed but I can see some people still down there, arguing and gesturing franticly. They’re no more than thirty feet from me, but from the throbbing pain in my legs, I know I have zero chance of getting to them. Big Purple is sitting cross legged near my feet, while Hoodie is back. He is standing with his back to us, facing the hysterical people in the street.
“Bowie, she’s awake now,” says Big Purple. He is looking at me curiously now, with green eyes I can just make out from the street lights down the alley. I can’t have been out very long, I reason, because he’s still winded but clearly recovering faster than I am. Bowie turns slightly to look at me over his shoulder, and I can see his hand in the air, just holding it up there like he was waiting for someone to high five him. The air seemed to ripple around his hand, though, like he is slightly agitating the surface of a pond.
He grins at me a little flippantly and says, “Good morning, sunshine!” I look up in confusion at the night sky, suddenly anxious that we’d actually been there all night, but I’m rewarded with a shock of pain shooting from my tormented knees up my thigh. “Oi, this one is concussed or something, Dinsmore.” He shakes his head tersely and a bit of blond shows from beneath his hood. “I was hoping for a bit of catch and release, but I don’t think she’ll make it out on her own.”
Dinsmore, looking less gigantic now that he’s not fighting for his –our—lives, continues watching me with interest. I feel like I am being measured in some way. I stare at him in a panic, steadfastly avoiding looking at the knife he’s still holding casually. Stupidly, all I can think to say is “I didn’t know this alley had a back exit.” He cocks his head, and I notice he has brown hair, dampened and chaotic from exertion, but curly and close to auburn like that thing that I saw materialize right in front of me. I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting against the return of the hysteria and the tears.
I open my eyes slowly, trying to focus on gaining some kind of center, some solid path out of the terror that this night has become. The agony in my legs makes everything fuzzy, and I can’t force myself though the pain to make any coherent decisions. I decide to just go with presenting whatever dignity I can. I look at Dinsmore again, meeting his eyes and raising my chin ever so slightly, trying to summon a courage I don’t think I actually l possess. To my astonishment, he smiles widely.
“There she is!” he says, oddly ebullient given the terrible circumstances. “There’s a little bit of stuff in there after all!” He leans forward just a bit, as if we’re old friends, and he absently waggles the knife likes it’s a twig. I impulsively inch away from him, but it hurts to move and I cry out. He looks curious again but then seems to realize for the first time that he’d holding a blade with which I just saw him kill. “Ah that,” he says, reaching around to sheath the weapon somewhere on his back. “You don’t need to worry about that. What you do need to worry about is this,” he leans in conspiratorially, staring right into my eyes. “Could you see him? Could you see the leprechaun?”