Thunder crackled through the night and Erin jumped, the car swerving slightly. Shit! More thunder, and if anything the rain intensified, a veritable deluge that had her slowing her speed to a crawl. A flash of lightning illuminated the landscape and a huge bundle lying right in the middle of the crossroads. Was that a man? An outflung arm? Erin stepped on the brake. Too late. There was a dull thump when her fender connected with the object. For some moments, she just sat there, her hands clenched so tight round the steering wheel they hurt. On the radio, someone was singing about perfection.
From outside came a loud howl. It made her jump. Definitely a human voice and with a deep sigh Erin concluded her day had just gone from bad to worse. She’d just hit some poor idiot, although to be fair, it was just as much his fault as hers. What sort of moron would just lie on the middle of the road? An injured one, her brain told her, one that is even more injured now that you’ve run him over.
There was a gun in the glove compartment, and she tucked it into the waist of her jeans before getting out. One never knew, this could be one of Steve’s more subtle attempts at getting his hands on her, but the moment she thought it she dismissed it as ridiculous. Steve had little finesse, was way more into brutal intimidation. She shivered, uncertain if it was the rain or the thought of Steve that chilled her to the bone. The pile on the road groaned.
A man, she concluded some moments later. Dark hair plastered to his forehead, something that resembled a linen shirt stuck to his torso and long legs encased in weird pants and knee-high boots. Erin rolled her eyes. One of those Renaissance Fair types, she thought, placing a careful hand on his back to make sure he was still breathing.
“Hey,” she said, wiping at her face. “Are you okay?” Stupid, stupid question. The man’s eyes fluttered open.
“Hi,” she said, trying out a little smile.
“Hi?” He scooted out of reach and sat up, groaning loudly. He looked at her. His eyes widened. He blinked and looked again.
“Can you stand?” she asked him, wondering if it would be totally uncharitable to help him to the side and then drive off.
Aye? And what an odd accent. He sounded British, somehow.
The man lurched to his feet, took a step and promptly fell to his knees.
“Are you drunk?” she demanded. He clutched at his left leg and she was suffused with guilt. She’d broken his leg or something, and here she was accusing him of being drunk.
He looked at her. “I wish I was,” he said. “It would explain my hallucinations.”
“Aye.” His eyes narrowed. “Or are you real?” Once again, he stood, favouring his left leg. He was tall, well over six feet, and that shirt of his displayed an impressively broad chest. He was also bleeding from a gash on his forehead, his right sleeve was badly burned as was the forearm and hand, and he grimaced when he put weight on his left foot.
“Of course I’m real.” She grabbed hold of him when he swayed. He yelped and shied away, landing yet again on the ground.
“God’s fish!” he exclaimed. “You are real!”
What was the matter with him? She took a couple of steps away from him, uncomfortable by how he stared at her, as if she were some sort of apparition. Sort of rich, seeing as he was the one wearing weird clothes, not her.
“Where’s Lewis?” He filled his lungs. “Lewis!” he yelled. “Damn it man, where are you?”
“Not here,” Erin told him.
“But he was right behind me when…” He broke off, stared down at the crossroads and shuffled hastily to the side. “Where’s my horse?”
Erin shook her head. No horse. And who in their right mind would go riding in this weather? Some people took all that re-enactment stuff way too far.
“Who…” he began, but whatever he was about to say drowned in the sound of a large, revving engine. A huge van skidded to a stop and Erin hurled herself towards her car. Too late, and here came Steve, with that oaf Johnny and his dear cousin Marco. Johnny had hold of her before she reached the car. A twist, and he had her arm high up on her back, making her scream with pain.
“Let me go!” She kicked and fought.
Johnny just laughed. “Don’t think so. You’re coming with us.” He pulled her in the direction of the van.
“What, you thought we were done?” Steve asked. He glanced at the stranger, who was swaying on his feet. “Who’s he?”
“No idea. Let me go, you bastard!”
“Now, now: you know what we want. You give it to us and we’ll let you go. You don’t, and…” Whatever else Steve had planned on saying she’d never know—not that it took that much imagination to fill in the blanks. Instead, Steve was staggering back, staring at the stranger. An arm flew out, a fist connected with Steve’s face and he toppled backwards. The stranger turned her way.
“The lady said to let her go,” this oddly dressed apparition said. He pulled his sword as he advanced on Johnny.
“Seriously?” Johnny said with a sneer, pulling his gun. Erin took the opportunity offered, stomped down on his toes and pulled free, fumbling for her gun. Steve was back on his feet, stalking towards them.
“Watch out!” she yelled. The stranger swirled. His blade sliced through the air, Steve yelped. He wheeled again and his blade rapped down sharply on Johnny’s hand, sending the gun flying.
And then there was Marco, bringing down a cudgel on the stranger’s head. The stranger stumbled, regained his balance, ducked the next blow and punched Marco in the gut. With a growl, Johnny threw himself forward. Steve joined the fray. The stranger disappeared in a flurry of arms. Three against one was impossible odds—especially against someone like Johnny. But the stranger held his own for a while, giving as good as he got. At one point Steve screeched. The cudgel came whistling through the air and the stranger collapsed.
“Bastard!” Steve snarled, kicking at the poor man. “Who do you think you are, some sort of Zorro?”
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