I played music on my phone as I delivered mail to houses so far from the road that I hardly ever saw anyone who lived inside them. I loved delivering the mail in this rural community because I was on my own. Still, sometimes I imagined what the people who lived there looked like. I just saw names on letters. Soon, that would change at one house.
That day, my mind was distracted, I saw my boyfriend Dan come home with a small box, and the thought of an engagement ring came to me. I was excited, but I wasn’t ready for any marriage. Even though I was distracted, I glimpsed a girl outside a house alone. She was too young to be unsupervised, and she looked frightened.
I stopped the truck and got out. “Hey,” I called out. I never saw any kids at this house before, although I knew it was a rental. She looked at me.
“Why are you outside alone?”
“I escaped through a window.”
“My mother was mad at me. She was going to punish me. She said seven kids were too much, and I was being bad because I said that I wanted a pet cat.”
“It’s okay. I’ll get you help. What’s your name?”
I took her hand, brought her to the front door, and then knocked.
It took over two minutes, but a woman came to the door. She immediately noticed the girl. “She must have wandered outside. Thank you.”
“You weren’t punishing her? She shouldn’t be alone out here.”
“Oh no, what kind of mother would do that? She has six siblings, and I lost track of her; that is all.”
I heard crying inside and tried to peek in the door, but she blocked my view.
“They’re all beautiful children,” she said.
I wanted to stay longer to make sure she was telling the truth, but the postmaster was already on me for taking too long. I saw a phone in her hand, and then a car drove up.
A man got out.
I realized she called him, and he wasn’t that far away to get here that quick. He was big, but everybody was to a small woman like me.
“Sophie got out.” The mother said.
“We need better locks.” He said. I noticed Sophie cowered at his voice. “I’ll take her inside with me.” He almost pushed me out of the way, then loomed over me in a threatening
manner. I think I saw black metal near his waist, which could be a gun. I then knew something
was wrong here. Inside, I saw another girl peeking around a corner; she stepped out and looked very thin, too thin.
The man stood in front of Sophie, and the mother then started to shut the door.
“We’ll handle it now. I think you got mail to deliver, there’s a lot of complaints about it being late. I don’t want to add a complaint about a nosey letter carrier.”
He shut the door. I feared Sophie would be punished when I heard sobbing inside the house.
Later, I called Child Protection Services. They promised to look into it, but they couldn’t tell me anything else, and after taking my information, they hung up.
Dan said to let it go. I couldn’t. I saw the pain in Sophie’s eyes, and the fact that she was close to freezing to death haunted me. What if I didn’t see her? And I’m sure that man had a gun.
For the next few days, the house looked empty. I didn’t see Sophie or the man with a gun or the mother. I called Child Protection again but got nowhere. They said everything appeared to be normal, and the family complained about a nosy letter carrier. .I gasped, but they promised they didn’t mention me, but they knew. That man knew I called. I kept thinking about the girl and what might happen to her. I bought a stuffed cat in case I ever saw her again. I wasn’t sure I ever would.
Then one day, I saw her. Sophie was outside and alone again. I stopped the truck and ran to her.
Her arms looked bruised and rail-thin.
“I escaped. I saw a crack in the window, and it let the light in. I managed to open it. Help me.”
“Of course, I’ll help you.” I led her to my truck and called 911, then I heard a beeping and saw a video camera over the front door that wasn’t there before. The front door opened.
I looked back, and the father pointed the gun at me.
I moved Sophie behind me.
“Get in the truck,” I said.
“No, Sophie, get back in the house.”
I held my hand up. “Are you going to shoot her?”
“No, you. I have gun rights and the right to defend my family. Everything was fine until you got so nosey.” He went to pull the trigger but tripped on the step, and the gun went off while it was pointed into the sky. He fell, and it flew out of his hands. I got into the truck and drove down the street until I heard sirens coming and saw flashing lights coming down the road.
“Here comes help,” I said to Sophie.
“Thank you. Can you help my sisters too? I promised that I would get help for them.”
“Of course, the police will help.”
They pulled into the house’s driveway, and while the other officers took the man into custody, one in regular clothes came to my truck.
“I’m Detective Megan. I’m here to help.”
Sophie nodded her head, and we headed to her car. I needed to fill out reports, and my hand shook. You never feel safe after being shot at, not even in a police car.
I watched as they brought out the mother and all the children, each one wrapped in
blankets. They were all too thin and struggled to walk. It must have been a nightmare inside the house.
The mother glared at me. She blamed me, and I’m okay with that, but Sophie was
the hero. She saved all of them. I never even knew what was going on inside the house.
At the police station, I asked about the children, especially Sophie.
Detective Megan said. “I’ll make sure you get to see her. I promise you that. You saved her life.”
I wiped my eyes. “Can you give her this cat?” I held out the stuffed cat.
“No, you can. I’ll let you see her at the hospital. I’ll take you.”
It took hours to finish at the police station, then I was headed to the hospital with Detective Megan, and I called Dan.
“I’m sorry, but I helped save that girl Sophie and her siblings.”
“That’s great, but we were going to see my old friends.”
“It’s a sports night.” He yelled into the phone.
“I’ll still be hours at the hospital.”
He mumbled something.
“I got shot at.”
“I have to go.” He hung up. That was a big crack in our relationship. He didn’t care.
Maybe the crack let the light in, and I could see better now.
I gave Sophie the stuffed cat, and they let me lay on the bed with her. We both cried. I saw Detective Megan wipe her eyes too, but she would deny it.
When I got to the apartment, Dan was gone. He took all his stuff and moved out. I was alone. I found the box that I thought was an engagement ring and saw that it was a pin of his favorite football team. It was for him. His, not mine. I didn’t like football.
I thought of Sophie and her terrible parents. I was fortunate that mine were always nice. I called home. My dad answered, and he cried when I told him what happened; they begged me to come to see them. It was across the country, but I wanted to go. Plus, I missed Zelda, the family cat. I named her when we got her as a kitten. I needed all of them. I was twenty-eight and alone. I booked a flight, and an Uber then texted Detective Megan. She said she would keep me updated and sent a picture of Sophie hugging the cat and wrote that she named it Amber. My eyes filled with tears caused by a mix of happiness and sadness, but my future seemed brighter now, and I managed a smile.
I packed a suitcase, then threw out the football pin, and like Sophie, I escaped my prison.
William Falo lives with his family, including a Papillion named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and Instagram @william.falo.