By the time Ajax arrived at the 8th Street Bridge, the girl had vanished again. Either she’d realized what a bad idea it was to approach him, or he’d been imagining it. He was darkly disappointed; another unpleasant confrontation with a pretty girl— probably one of Meredith’s friends– was exactly the cap to his day that he craved.
Rusted pillars loomed out of the river to cradle the bridge, a web of metal girders interlaced between them. The bridge platform wasn’t high enough over the water to be certain death for the occasional idiot jumper. But the upper girders of the bridge were tagged in places where no sane person would climb while holding a can of spraypaint. Local legend said the highest bit of graffiti was a heart, interrupted by a fatal fall before the artist could finish the piece.
Ajax limped out to the center of the span along the pedestrian lane, where the lights at either end of the bridge were dim reflections on the water. He thought about climbing up to the girder where he liked to lurk, but he didn’t trust his cramping leg to stay true. Instead he crouched down, dangling his arms over the crossed girders. Even on the hottest days the metal here stayed cool, as if the roar of the water below carried away all the warmth. He let the night enfold him, closed his eyes. He missed the days when he’d been puny, and bullied. When he could lay into anybody who touched him and it was always their fault.
A car sped past behind him, sounding hollow and frightened. He’d never felt that way on the bridge, even when he climbed up to look at the unfinished heart. It was something about the way the dark water rushed past, taking his every dark thought with it— at least on good days. On bad days, the very carelessness of the water laughed at him, and that was a comfort too.
The cramp in Ajax’s leg intensified. At the same time, he felt a stabbing pain in his side that radiated across his torso, so sharp that he gasped. He touched his side, felt the wet warmth soaking his shirt, saw the blood on his hand. What the hell? He looked around, fully expecting to see a car accident he’d somehow missed hearing behind him. Being hit by flying shrapnel seemed like the only explanation for the wound.
The road was empty of any cars. But at the far end of the bridge, the girl he’d seen before was sprinting toward him. A new idea occurred: maybe his spleen or something had exploded and he was dying. She could be an angel. She looked kind of like an angel, with her hair flaring around her face in a halo. Would he get an angel that pretty?
Then he realized she had a long blade in her hand and an unsettlingly intent look on her face. “Oops,” he muttered, and tried to swing himself to the other side of the pedestrian divide. He’d wished for a cathartic confrontation of some sort but he hadn’t imagined swords and spontaneously generated wounds as part of the mixture. That required replanning.
His feet weren’t responding when he tried to lift them.
Well, then. He sagged against the barrier and watched his angel of death approach.
She jumped and spun in the air, as graceful and controlled as a dancer. The sword, faintly curved and with a single edge, slashed out as she twirled. The blade flashed in the distant streetlights, connecting with nothing, slicing empty air. Then the girl rolled, rose to her feet and stabbed the bridge. The sword caught in a crack in the pavement and quivered.
Ajax stared at her. She was on the tall side, with an athletic build. Narrow hips, but nice tits. She stared back at him, her hazel eyes concerned. Her hair, fine and short, had just settled into place again when she shook her head and pulled the sword away from the bridge.
“It’s okay,” she said urgently. “We can help. My name is Natalie–”
Ajax started laughing. All he could think was that she thought he was a suicide risk. She was part of some kind of suicide hotline acting troupe. She was here to perform away his woes. Hilarious. “Is that actually a katana?”
She frowned. “Are you still in pain?”
That killed his laughter. Because he wasn’t. There was still an injury on his side, like he’d scraped himself climbing the bridge, and it hurt like any scrape would. But the cramp in his leg and the deep stabbing pain in his torso had both vanished.
“I’m fine,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about me. I still like breathing. Go find somebody else to save.” He gave her an encouraging little shoo with his bloody fingers.
Instead she stepped closer. “How did you hurt your side, then?”
“I was in a knife fight earlier, but hey, you should see the other guy. Go on, get out of here before I get angry.”
A look of surprise crossed her face before her brow knitted together. She took another step closer and Ajax resisted the instinct to back away from the sword still held casually at her side. Her nostrils flared. “You reek of anima.”
“Anime? Me? Who’s the one with the katana? Who’s the one sniffing people?” Ajax bared his teeth. “I bet you’d look real hot in a schoolgirl outfit, maybe with some cat ears. Am I right?”
She sighed. “Not anime, anima. Okay, Mister Smart Guy. Let’s see you do this with your ‘knife wound’.” She waved her hand with the sword. The katana turned to smoke and evaporated. Her hand was empty. The sword was gone.