The attacker was in his early forties, he wore pressed khakis and a button-down tee, with carefully coiffed hair. Definitely not the type of person you associate with random acts of violence perpetrated with a shovel.
“You get outta here now,” the man said, pointing the shovel’s edge at Penny’s face. “I don’t have to guess what you’re up to, a teenage boy hanging out in a graveyard. We don’t want any of that.”
Penny raised his hands, not in defense, but supplication. “Sir, I’m not here to make trouble. We’re just—“ he lunged back as the shovel jabbed at his face.
“I’m not interested in your excuses. There’s a service going on, and the family deserves some respect. I’d appreciate it if you saw yourself back to your car. Don’t want any trouble.”
As he was the one wielding the weapon, I wasn’t so sure about that.
“Please,” Penny said. “I’m here with a friend. We’re looking at gravestones. She owns a business; let me show you.” His hand dropped to his back pocket for the business cards he kept in his wallet.
The shovel swung in a fast, high arc. Penny dodged it, but the sharp edge almost caught his cheek.
“I don’t wanna hurt you, son, but one more move and I will,” said the man.
“Okay,” Penny was nodding, “Okay. Let me get my friend and we’ll get out of here.”
Penny took a step in my direction, and that’s all the man needed. He lurched at Penny, swinging the shovel like a baseball bat. Penny jumped back, stumbling on uneven ground and falling to one knee.
That was my cue.
I sprinted across the road sectioning the cemetery, intending to incapacitate the man long enough for us to get the hell out of dodge. Neither of them saw me coming. I hit the man hard in the back, wrapping my arms around his middle to take him to the ground. He dropped the shovel as we fell, and while I was prepared for the impact, I was not ready for us to land in one of the inexpertly refilled graves. As we hit the ground, and then sunk several inches, I lost my grip on him.
I had the leverage, should have had no trouble regaining my hold; only, when we hit the ground a smell puffed out of him as though he were a scented pillow—and it wasn’t the reassuring scent of lavender or vanilla. Instead, it was sulfur and the bitter smell of burning rubber. It went straight up my nose, scorching my lungs. I let go of him, stomach heaving, eyes watering, and retched into the dirt.
He rolled away, reaching for the shovel, but Penny had tossed it well out of reach. Well, that was one crisis averted.
The man scrambled to his feet. I forced the nausea down, jumping up after him. I was just able to grab his elbows, managing to pull his arms back and pin them at the wrists.
The man struggled, twisting this way and that in an effort to break my grip on his arm.
“Hello, a little help here?” I said, through hard breaths and elbow dodges, but Penny’s attention was fixed on the ground, fingers grappling with something lodged in the dirt. My momentary distraction was all the man needed. With a quick movement, he stepped back, grinding the heel of his foot onto my toes. Pain radiated up my leg, and my grip on him loosened enough that he was able to twist one arm away.
I snatched at his now-free hand, but didn’t catch it before it plunged into his pants pocket and removed a pocketknife.
Everything happened quickly after that.
Our struggle had attracted members of the funeral party; a crowd of them sprinted towards us. Upon seeing the knife, Penny grabbed the shovel, but the man didn’t know or didn’t care. As I attempted to disarm him, he plunged the blade into my upper arm.
It was my turn to scream, but it came out more as a hoarse yell. People from the funeral were closing in, shouting. I pushed the man away from me, sending him plunging to the ground at Penny’s feet.
The man was yelling, screaming for help. “They’ve got weapons! Hurry!” he shouted.
“Shit,” I yelled. We took off running without looking back.
Penny was faster than me, but he narrowed his gait so that we ran in step with one another. Right before we reached the parking lot, he grabbed the keys from my jacket pocket.
My door wasn’t closed when he whipped the car onto the road. He floored it, trees flying by in green and brown smudges.
“We have a problem,” I said through gritted teeth.
“What, besides your stab wound?” he asked.
The slash in my arm throbbed with each beat of my heart. I had to grit my teeth to stop from yelling at the pain. I needed to take a deep breath to continue speaking. “I’m pretty sure that the man who attacked us was hexed or cursed.”
“You mean Carl Allen,” Penny said.
“Who?” I asked.
He fished into his pocket, pulling out a small, magnetic nametag. The Willow Hill tree logo was stamped in the corner, while the middle read “Carl Allen, Director of Landscape Management.”
I took the nametag, studying both sides because it was better than feeling the throbbing agony of the stab wound.
When we entered Riverview, Penny pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned gas station. Before I could ask what was happening, he was out of the driver’s seat and opening my door. He swiveled me so that my legs were out of the car, and pulled my jacket from my shoulders.
“Fuuuuck,” I moaned as the bloody lining of my jacket stuck to the wound.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, throwing the ruined, wet jacket into the back seat. “Where’s the first aid kit?”
“Under my seat, “I said, hanging my head back and groaning.
The backdoor snapped open and his shoulders pressed against me through the seat fabric as he grappled for the metal box of medical supplies. This wasn’t your typical Band-Aid Brand classroom first aid kit. Of course there was gauze and band-aids, Neosporin, and alcohol swabs, but there were also syringes of morphine, supplies for giving stitches, even a small defibrillator.
I pulled my t-shirt sleeve away from the wound, prodding it with my fingers and wincing as pain and blood surged up. Getting stabbed is getting stabbed, but the blade hadn’t hit anything essential.
The rear door slammed and Penny crossed in front of me, his eyes zeroing in on the blood that covered my right arm and the right side of my shirt. He stopped, his lips pulled back from his teeth. His nostrils dilated as he breathed in the scent of my blood and his eyes went all wrong, pupils shrinking and irises glowing bright blue.
“Penny!” I said it sharp, like a whip cracking. I wasn’t afraid, per se, he couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt me, but the quicker I brought him back to earth, the better.
He shook his head, flush creeping up his neck. “Sorry,” he chuckled, but wouldn’t meet my gaze. He knelt before me, gently taking my arm in his hand, holding it up to see the wound.
“Eh,” he said, grabbing some alcohol swabs from the kit, “it’s just a flesh wound. Make a nice scar, though.”
“Can’t ever have too many of those,” I gritted my teeth as he brushed the cold swab over the tear in my arm.
“What’s your favorite?” he asked.
“Scar?” I hissed through the sting of the alcohol.
“Mmmhmm,” he said, unrolling a skein of gauze and wrapping it around my arm.
I barely had to think about this one. “Arrow wound, left shoulder. The Shaman Librarian.”
He chuckled, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. He was a creepy one.”
“Well, you were otherwise occupied,” I said.
His smile turned sour. “So, I was,” he snapped the butterfly clips down, fixing the gauze in place. “I don’t think they’ll have to amputate.”
He fell back on his heels, but leaned forward again, brushing a callused palm along the right side of my jaw. “You’ve got blood, just there,” his voice had dropped a few octaves, and I still couldn’t breathe, but it wasn’t because of pain.
His eyes, back to their normal dark blue, were fixed on mine, and his hand slid up to caress my face, his thumb drifting over to trace the contours of my lips. They parted, but I hadn’t meant them to, and why was thinking so hard? He leaned forward, and I arched up, but—
Instead of leaning into the kiss, I jerked to the side, slipping between him and the car door, jarring my arm terrifically in the process. I sprinted to the driver’s side, refusing to check Penny’s reaction, but when I sat down, he was still crouched in the open door, one arm propped against the window.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, memorizing the cracks in the pavement ahead of us.
“Sure, whatever,” he said, swinging his tall body into the seat and slamming the door.