Harlow

I have been witness to stranger sights than I hope you are ever called to witness. I have saved the lives of every man, woman, child, dog, and cat on this planet more times than I can remember. I didn’t start out as a great hero, of course. That wouldn’t make for a very interesting story; no, I just started out as a stupid kid in way over his head.

I was 20, going on 14 when I first met Harlow. You don’t know her yet, but she’s the hero of this tale (and many more, at that).

I remember running across a rooftop. I was running, building up speed, preparing to jump from this rooftop to the next. As I was doing this I thought this isn’t happening, this kind of thing only happens in the movies. Then a bullet drove a hole in the tar not 6 inches to my left and I stopped thinking. I just ran, and then I just jumped.

I was in the air for an extraordinarily long time and then I crashed into another rooftop. I did this with all the grace of a crash-test dummy and it cost me a bloodied knee. The gunshots were not far behind and 1 even came close enough to draw blood from my ear before I got to my feet and started running again. I honestly had no idea at the time who was chasing me. Harlow would tell me later, and I wouldn’t believe her for another day or so after that. On that night it didn’t matter who was chasing me, it only mattered that they were chasing me. And they were armed. And they were exceptionally adept at firing their guns while running and jumping.

I was approaching the end of another roof and, it seemed, of all hope. The next building was quite a bit taller than the current one, and there was no way in hell I was going to make that jump. I took a split second to decide which was preferable: death by sudden stop, or death by head-shot? I opted for the head-shot and stopped just short of the edge of the building.

I turned around to face my pursuers, wishing to die like a man. I reasoned that any man would also squeeze his eyes shut, wince and beg them to make it quick. I waited for the shot to come, it was somewhere between 10 seconds and 50 years, but it didn’t come. Instead I heard a groan, followed by a thump, and a very distinct “Oof.” I have played this scene back in my mind (and for others) many times, and it was definitely those three sounds, in that exact order.

I opened my eyes and took my first count of the pursuers. There were 3 of them, though 2 of them were lying on the rooftop, dead. The 3 stood, dressed in S.W.A.T gear and leveled his weapon at my savior. It was a strange sight: a large, well-armed, fully armored man pointing an automatic weapon at a small, red-haired girl in a flowery blouse and bike shorts. She wasn’t more than 5 and a half feet tall and couldn’t have weighed more than 100 lbs, yet this man was shaking. I watched in awe as she traced an arc-like path across the roof, and he backed out of her way. She stopped walking once she was directly between the man and me. My hero.

She looked me in the eyes, even in the dark of night I could clearly make out the green of her irises, and made a gesture for me to be quiet. There was no problem there. What would I say even if I wanted to? Then she turned to our mutual enemy and motioned for him to approach.

He dropped his weapon, only to reach behind his back and produce a very frightening knife. There would be no mistaking this for a kitchen knife, this was designed to kill, maim, destroy. He came at her quickly, dropping low and making two measured lunges with his blade. Harlow easily sidestepped the first, and on the second she struck him. With just two fingers driven quick as lightning under his shoulder, she disarmed him.

He grunted his dissatisfaction and very quickly spun around, swinging his foot in a wild roundhouse kick. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she caught his foot in her hand, then displaying almost no effort, she broke his ankle. She twisted his foot around 180° independent of the rest of his leg. He let out a blood curdling scream the likes of which I hadn’t heard since an hour before, when this same man pushed a splinter between my thumbnail and thumb. I am not ashamed to admit that I screamed, I cried, I begged him to stop. But then again, so did he as Harlow walked up onto his chest. He begged her to spare him, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

There has only been one instance in my life where a sound has provoked me to vomit, and this was it. It wasn’t the sight of blood, or the pure, primal act; it was the gurgling, sputtering sound as she reached down and tore his throat open with her bare hands. He died slowly, painfully, with a horrified expression imprinted on his face.

When he was finally dead, she jumped down off his chest and wiped her hands clean on his shirt. She looked at the three bodies, then at me, then back at the bodies. She tut-tutted, and spoke quietly. It seemed to me that she thought we were being listened to. And maybe we were.

“You’re never going to be safe now. You’re marked and they’ll hunt you down to the ends of the Earth.” She turned back to me and I could see she was starting to cry. Not for the men she had just killed, not for the things her and I had seen that night, but because she was sorry for me. Sorry I had been dragged into her problems, and sorry that I was now her responsibility.

“If I’m going to keep you safe,” she came to me and put a hand on my elbow. It was warm and comforting, it was a very humane gesture. “You’re going to have to come with me.”

And so there, on that bloodied rooftop, under a quarter moon, I uttered the words that would change my fate forever.

“Yeah…OK.”

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