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Outlaw’s Promise

By:Helena Newbury

how things work. Right back in elementary school, the teacher would have to shout to get my attention because I’d be staring at the door-closing mechanism, or looking at the construction machinery across the street. My mind just seemed to lock onto those things, the smoothly-sliding pistons and hard metal like ice cream and candy for my brain. My mom said I was like my dad, who’d designed engines. My step-dad just said I was stupid.

All I knew was, the man was too heavy to lift but I could see in my head how I might be able to drag him along the ground if I could just make him slippery. There was a big green sheet of waterproof sheeting in the tool shed and I fetched that, then unfolded it next to him. I took hold of his belt—it wasn’t a leather belt but a shining silver chain—and used that to roll him onto the sheeting. He groaned as I did it and some Very Bad Words came out when his injured side pressed into the ground, but then he was on the sheeting and I bunched as much of it in my little fists as I could and started to drag him along the path to the tool shed.

The sheeting made him slide easily but he was still heavy. I was puffing and panting by the time we reached the shed, my bare heels digging into the dirt for traction. When I had him all the way inside, I left him there and hurried back along the path and out onto the road, picking my way carefully through the glass.

I’d never seen a motorcycle up close before—certainly not one like this, all chrome and black-painted steel. Tipping it up onto its tires was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I could barely keep it stable as I started to push it towards some bushes that hung out over the fence.

The bushes were only a dozen feet away but it felt like a mile. I sweated and heaved and tried not to think about how loud the engines were behind me. I distracted myself by staring at the bike: at its springs and levers and gleaming engine. A machine like that was pure heaven, to me. I wanted to run my hands all over it. I wanted to dissect it, to learn how every little part worked.

Then the front wheel hit the bushes and I let go, the bike’s momentum taking it the rest of the way. By the time it slumped sideways against the fence, it was completely out of sight.

The engines were close, now. Too close. The growl had changed to a roar, beneath which lay heavy, overlapping thump thumps. As I started back towards the tool shed, I could hear the man cursing and calling for me. He’d managed to half-sit up, clutching at his side, and his eyes were wide with panic. He was scared for me, which was frightening...but made me feel warm, as well. I hadn’t seen that look in years. My mom used to make it when my step-dad yelled at me but these days she just went quiet and looked away.

I was out of breath but managed to pick up the pace and run the rest of the way to the tool shed, plucking Perkins off the ground as I passed. I slammed the door behind me and sat down on the ground next to the man’s outstretched feet.

The roar of engines built and built and the louder they got, the more frightened I got. As they crested the hill, the noise shook the shed, little bits of dust and dirt falling from the ceiling. It was too loud to talk, too loud to think...what if they hurt me like they hurt him?

Headlights blazed across the side of the tool shed, blasting through the cracks in the wood and painting white lines across the man’s face. He looked down at me and his face tightened in anger: not at me but at the men outside. And he held out his arms for me.

That’s when I realized I had tears in my eyes and was mashing Perkins against my chest really, really hard. I flew into the man’s arms and he cuddled me against his shoulder.

Then the shed went dark and the pitch of the roar changed as the bikes sped past. I slowly sat back down on the ground and we stared at each other as the noise faded away.

I fumbled around, found the battery lantern and turned it on. Its hard white glow gave me my first good look at his face. He was maybe seventeen and he had the blackest hair I’d ever seen, thick and lush and shining. His face was pale and he was sweating. “Thank you,” he said. He closed his eyes. “Just let me rest a ‘sec. Then I’ll be out of your way.”

That accent again, hard as rock and yet beautiful. “Are you Scottish?” I asked. “Like the Loch Ness Monster?”

He opened one eye and half-smiled around the pain. “Irish.”

I thought about that. “Like a Leprechaun?”

“Yeah.” The eye closed. “Like a leprechaun.”

I stared at his side. The blood was steadily soaking across his white t-shirt, like someone had spilled blackcurrant on a tablecloth. “My mom says you should wash cuts. Or you can get ill.”

He shook his head. “I can’t go inside. Your parents might call the cops.”

I bit my lip, considering. If he was scared of the police then he was bad and I was supposed to stay away from bad people. But...he didn’t seem bad. Maybe he was good bad. Like Batman.

I got to my feet. “I can get stuff and bring it here.

He blinked up at me, then looked towards the house. “Will you get into trouble?”

“Only if I get caught.”

He seemed to be about to tell me not to, so I ran over to the door before he could. Then I stopped, turned back and passed Perkins over to him. “Here,” I said. “If it hurts really bad, you can squeeze his paw.”

The man looked down at Perkins in amazement, then looked up at me and the sweetest smile I’d ever seen crept across his face. “Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t get blood on him.”

“I won’t.”

Then I was running, bare feet slapping the dirt. I climbed back up the trellis, slipped in through my bedroom window and listened: nothing, not even snoring. I raided the bathroom cabinet for what I needed: I’d watched Mom patch me up and, once or twice, when my step dad’s team lost a game, I’d helped her patch herself up. Then I went to the kitchen and grabbed a big bottle