9

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The Girl and the Scorpion

"Pikers!"

"Black eyed devil!"

"Your mothers!" The girl swore and hefted a large stone in her dirty hand. She held it aloft and barred her teeth. "Come on then, come and get  me."

Her tormentors hesitated; the five ragged children clutched makeshift weapons  in knobby fists; an axe handle here, an old rusted hook snatched from the butcher there. Nevertheless, they stayed well beyond the striking range of the lone girl they had cornered. Their fury had propelled them into pursuit, however, prudence kept them from closing in on their prey. The alley had narrowed to a dead end; the walls of the surrounding decrepit buildings were tall, gray, and impassable. Drying laundry was strung up between the two buildings; an old woman stuck her head out of a window to see the cause of all the noise. Her gray head bobbed once as if to acknowledge exactly what she had expected, then she was gone. The window, thin panels of glass rattling in the sash, banged shut like the snapping of wolf trap. The girl was cornered, and she knew it.

The source of the gang’s ire was as wild and tattered as they. Underfed as they all were, she wore patched up britches and a too large men's shirt. One sleeve was ripped nearly to the shoulder; and bruises in various states of purple and yellow tattooed her exposed arms. A fresh scrape reddened her cheek, but she managed to laugh when she saw them fall behind the largest of the children, a thirteen year old behemoth. He loudly panted through his mouth, his red hair plastered to his large skull, but no one made any move to attack her. Now that they had her, they didn’t know quite to do next.

"Eh, Bill, what's wrong?" The girl, rangy and skinny,  moved easily, with an unconscious grace beyond her eleven years. She saw that the others hesitated, and made a sudden move at him, pulling up when Bill instinctively stumbled back, quailing at the girl's mock advance. She laughed quietly though her teeth. Her eyes glittered like black diamonds, and she thought, “I might get out of this yet.”

"Drop it, Magda", he gestured to the rock . "Drop it and let's have a fair fight--I know I can take you."

"I'm not stupid. Bill", she replied, eyeing the four other beggars lurking back. "What makes you think five on one is fair fight?"

Bill narrowed his eyes and fisted his stick tighter. "You're a damn dirty fighter, Magda--you never fight fair. 'Bout time we teached you. "

"Taught, you ignorant ape!"

Quick as a snake, Magdalena whipped the rock straight at Bill's belly.

"Ugh--!" The air whooshed out of Bill's gaping maw, and down he went to his knees in the filthy alley, the rock clattering away over the stones. The other children, fearing that their leader maimed for certain, scattered back, small screams breaking from their throats.

With a whoop, Magdalena charged right at Bill, and clapping both hands on his rounded shoulders, leapt like a frog over his back. She easily cleared his bowed figure and landed lightly on her two feet without a single stagger or trip. With swinging elbows and her chin tucked into her chest, she broke through the ragged line of terrified children and dashed out of the alley, legs and hair flying. For a long moment she was free, her eyes trained only on the alley's opening, day light and the noisy crowd beyond beckoned with promise.

A dark boot shot out from the shadows on her right, far faster than her mind could register, and without a cry, she was swept off her feet. She landed on a pile of stinking garbage dumped by a pocked stone wall marred by urine and graffiti. She rolled and popped up almost instantly, vaguely aware of blood pouring from her nose and the horrid stink now clinging to her last good pair of breeches. Before she could take another step, a huge hand clamped down upon her neck and shook her fiercely.

Like a cat taken by the scruff of the neck, Magdalena went limp. She knew whose hand had halted her flight, and she knew it would do no good to try to fight or flee any longer.

"Going somewhere, you worthless creature?" The deep voice was calm and conversational, but she shuddered at the sound even as she tried to control herself. The hand shook her again so hard that her teeth chattered together. Taking a deep breath, she gathered the last pieces of her bravado, though her voice cracked on the last word.

"Hello, Tommy--looking for me?"

"ShiGung sent me. " The voice came from a young man barely a few inches taller than the girl herself, but the thickness of his wrists and arms were immense, and he radiated violence and malice like a visible miasma. Eyes of the lightest blue peered into the girl's dark eyes, and the corners of his thin mouth stretched into a travesty of a smile. Magdalena felt her bones turn to ice and it took all her natural self restraint not to sob aloud. Without another word, the gang of five surged forward as Tommy, with  the barest of effort,  flung the girl to the ground. She quickly tucked her arms around her neck and head as Bill, red faced and gasping, brought the thickness of his club down against her back and shoulders.  The others, some shod in shoes, and some without, kicked and stomped. Stony heels found their mark time and time again.

A passerby paused by the mouth of the alley, attracted by the bleak noises echoing off the walls,  but only for the briefest of moments. They turned and hurried away. It was to be expected, really, and the girl felt no resentment against that nameless witness. Instead, she rolled and balled her knees to her chest; the only sounds were muffled grunts and angry hisses.

It went on a long time.

 

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