Alice didn’t see, couldn’t have seen, the strike coming, and when it connected with her, hammering into her ribs, just under her left breast, she didn’t know what she had been hit with. Her eyes were still on the kid walking past her. He was just turning back to glance at her over his shoulder, and she saw the look in his eyes, the fear as they widened and he took the first involuntary step away from the violence, right as she felt the impact. She didn’t feel the strike hit her ribs, and provided she made it through this alive, wouldn’t until she had an opportunity to let the adrenaline fade out of her system.
What she did feel immediately was the crack of her head snapping back and colliding with the brick wall behind her, and her elbow slamming into the metal frame around the plate glass shop window next to her. She had a moment of gratitude that she hadn’t been standing a few inches over, where the hit would have sent her through the window, before her vision blurred. The kid was simultaneously trying to turn to face her, while his legs were continuing to try to run. He stumbled over himself and began to fall backward, twisting as he fell.
Alice forced herself to focus. She was being attacked. She hadn’t even caught a glimpse of who had hit her. She looked back in the direction of the strike and was surprised to see someone standing there, blurry, out of focus. She couldn’t seem to make her eyes work. There was something bright in the person’s hand, a knife. That made sense. The knife was still moving. Her assailant had rammed it into her ribs, hard enough to knock her backwards, and was continuing the attack. This time, it was slashing back toward her face.
Her training kicked in, and without giving it time to think, Alice stepped forward and ducked low, just barely fast enough that she stayed ahead of the knife’s sweep. She didn’t have time to bring her hands up or to pull out a weapon of her own. Her only option for the moment was staying out of the way of the blade. The attacker turned, following her as she darted past, drawing the blade back toward himself as he tracked her. The knife didn’t connect on the backswing, but her assailant just pressed forward, stabbing toward her again.
Alice continued moving, keeping just ahead of the blade. She couldn’t afford to stop and give whoever was attacking her the time to catch her motionless again. She parried the stab, sweeping her hand down, flowing in the same direction as the strike, matching her attacker’s momentum, almost caressing the back of his arm until she clamped her hand down on his wrist. He responded as she had expected, yanking his arm away from her. She would have ordinarily used his momentum to twist his arm back toward him, bring his wrist back over his shoulder and drive him hard into the ground, breaking his wrist or elbow in the process.
But she wasn’t prepared for how strong he was. His wrist came free from her grip before she had the chance to redirect his force. She could feel the fabric of his sleeve tear loose from her fingers, and she let go, jumping straight backwards as he again turned the blade toward her and swung it at her. She was standing in the street now, the kid lay in a crumpled heap on the sidewalk, where he was trying to get his legs back underneath him.
Alice’s attacker was adjusting his strategy. Her strategy? Alice shook her head again. She couldn’t get her eyes to focus on the person’s face, but whoever it was was tall enough and strong enough that Alice thought it was unlikely to be a woman. The attacker held the knife out between them, slowly waving it, loose in his grip. He feinted once, twice, going high at Alice’s face, then low toward her stomach again. Alice stumbled back at each feint, she had to keep herself from stepping into a facefull of sharp metal. The kid on the sidewalk was getting up, starting to yell for help. The attacker turned his head to look, and Alice took the opportunity to reach back up under her jacket and yank loose the blackwood dagger she kept there.
In one smooth motion, she brought it low, swinging up from the ground toward the knife in the man’s hand. As the tip of her wooden knife, more of a stake than a blade, was just about to connect with her assailant’s hand, he turned his head back in her direction and pulled his hand back. Her dagger wiffed past, not hitting anything. He let out a low growl and crouched, squaring off against her once again.
Alice took another swing at her opponent, this time connecting with his knife hand. She had intended to knock the knife loose, but he seemed unfazed. She tried to time her attacks with his so he couldn’t commit to a strike without getting stabbed in the face himself. He feinted, and she swung for his head. The attacker stepped into it, taking a hard strike on the side of his head as he jammed his own knife up at Alice’s face again. He was closer now, and she could see he was definitely a man. He had a beard, and his breath stank of rotten meat. She gagged, dropping her dagger and jumping backward to get away from him.
Alice stumbled, landing on her back in the snow. The attacker was still coming, and her dagger was lying behind him. She used her momentum to keep rolling. She could hear the kid yelling for help, and as she came to her feet, she saw him running away down the street. She couldn’t easily reach her gun in its shoulder holster under a zipped jacket. She was unarmed again, and her attacker didn’t seem to be hurt by her hitting him.
He lunged forward again, and Alice stepped forward again, and to the side, though not quite fast enough this time. She felt a line of pain across her outer thigh as the knife bit into her skin. She grit her teeth and brought her elbow forward, putting all of her weight behind it, and slamming it into the man’s nose. There was a satisfying crack and his head jerked back. He tried to stagger backwards, but Alice was already there. She put the foot of her good leg down just behind his foot, and as he tried to step, shifting his weight, he couldn’t keep his feet underneath him. He fell hard in the snow, but still held onto the knife.
Alice felt the bright light of the headlights on her as a car pulled to a stop only twenty or so feet away. The man on the ground was getting up, and Alice didn’t have a lot of options. She took the few seconds she had to pull out her phone while he was standing and reorienting himself. Her leg was bleeding, and she didn’t know what kind of damage he had done to her ribs, but it hurt to breath.
The man stood and rolled his neck before raising the knife again. Alice held up her phone and took a picture. She still couldn’t seem to focus on his face, but she could see the motion of his knife. She stepped out of the way of his lunge again, barely keeping from being cut
She dodged around him so he was facing the car, hoping the headlights would blind him as much as she was having a hard time seeing. Someone behind her was yelling something, but she couldn’t focus on what it was. She flipped the phone into video recording and tried to keep it pointed at her attacker. He struck out at her again and again, and she kept backing up,staying just out of range. She was sure she had to have gotten his face captured by now.
He lunged at her one last time, the time she was waiting for. He was too tough for her to take down with what she had. He was too strong to disarm. But he had momentum, and she just needed to knock him down long enough for her to get into the car behind her. He lunged, and she stepped forward, off at an angle, bringing her hand alongside his, matching his speed, matching his momentum, feeling for the moment when he hit the end of his strike. There. At that moment, the perfect point of stillness, where he had reached as far as his hand could go, when he was just about to pull the knife back, Alice grabbed his wrist again and pulled him, just a little bit farther. He stepped forward to catch his balance, but she slammed her knee into his thigh as hard as she could. The cut hurt like hell, but he fell down into the snow.
Alice started yelling for help, and she ran for the car.