I prayed for death, as I felt it would be the only way I’d ever live again.

Someone trapped me in a steel cage, with any chance of escape dependent on the empathic sensibilities of my captor’s young daughter. The importance of kindness and humility was apparent, despite the unfortunate nature of the circumstances. Her name was Annie, and her smile was illuminating. As she unlocked the rusted padlock, I couldn’t help but question her source of spontaneous motivation and the sudden sense of urgency exemplified by the action.

“Why are you helping?” I asked.

“I know what it’s like to live in fear. To never experience the warmth of the sun,” she began, “and being unable to escape the unforgiving physical torment of an oppressor.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. She smiled, and I returned the gesture. “Daddy’s asleep,” she placed her finger to her mouth, “Shh.”

“Come with me,” I suggested. “We’ll leave together.”

“I’m afraid, and he’ll be angry. I don’t want to bleed today.”

“Please, you deserve better,” I replied as I placed my hand upon her small and fragile shoulder, “I’m afraid too.”

She agreed, and we left the darkness of the room—my prison for the last month.

We tiptoed past the living room. The stench of cigar smoke enveloped the nostrils. As the room’s only light source, a small, brown boxed-style television sat upon a rusted stand in the corner. The sounds of laughter and small talk pierced the television speakers and echoed throughout the room. I took the girl’s frail hand into my own. The solitary barrier to our freedom was the faded green front door. I gripped the knob, and it was cold to the touch. I suspected her father’s heart held a similar temperature.

“Annie!” her father yelled from the adjacent room.

“He’s awake!” she whispered. She was frightened.

The man owned a pistol and had used it frequently in the past. Mostly as a blunt object. The dried blood upon my forehead serving as evidence. I grew concerned he may have retrieved the firearm.

“Annie! Where are you?” he bellowed.

She panicked, “I’m right here, Daddy!”

“No!” I mouthed as she pulled her hand away.

“There you are!” he proclaimed as he discovered her in the hallway. He quickly recognized my attempt to escape and appeared both shocked and surprised. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. His eyes narrowed, and his forehead wrinkled. He was angry, and the tension within the hallway grew thick like molasses.

As he raised his fist, I noticed the gripped pistol within his grasp. He proved too drunk to swing accurately and struck the wooden door.

“Damn!” he yelled in frustration; the pistol slammed into the floor.

Even in my weakened state, I was quick to pick up the firearm. I pointed it toward him.

“Don’t move, asshole!” I commanded.

“You aren’t brave enough!” he replied, laughed, and then lunged forward.

I abruptly pulled the trigger, and he dropped lifeless onto the crumb and dirt-covered linoleum flooring.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I tossed the weapon.

My head was spinning, but I understood the unfortunate reality of the situation. I’d killed him in his daughter’s presence.

She knelt beside the lifeless body of her father. “You can rest now, Daddy. No more bad thoughts,” she said. A single tear slowly fell down the cheek of her delicate, pale face. She latched her arms around my waist. I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I understood. She, too, had been a prisoner. She signed a breath of relief, as did I.

I opened the front door and tightly squinched my eyes. The morning’s first light was blinding, and the warmth of the sun, inviting. My heart swelled with happiness, and the emotionally damned levies of my eyelids broke, and I began to cry.

“Do you like my roses?” she asked about the wilted plants by the doorsteps.

“I do,” I responded. “They’re beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she replied and playfully skipped into the yard.

The sweet aroma of the morning’s dew filled the air, an improvement over the stagnant stench inside the home. I took a deep breath of the crisp, fresh air and made eye contact with the girl.

We whispered, “Freedom!”