The pounding sounded like muted thunder on the closet of the bedroom door, shuttering the frame, splintering the painted wood. The little girl cowered against her mother, burying her face in her shoulder so she wouldn't have to hear the animilastic growls coming from behind the door. "Mommy," she asked, "why can't we just let the bad man out?"
Another bang against the weakening wood before her mother had the chance to answer. She looked down at her daughter with wet, tear-soaked eyes, allowing some of them to spill out onto her pale and bruised cheeks. "No, baby, he'll hurt you," she told her. "He'll hurt both of us."
"But why?" the girl asked, hugging her teddy bear closer, still safely enshrouded in her mother's enveloping arms.
"Because he's a bad man, sweetheart."
The beating against the door reverberated around the entire bedroom, around the entire house. It grew steadily more maniacal, and more persistent. The cracks in the wood opened deeper, allowing the mother and her daughter to peer into the dark crevasses of the closet, where the bad man was trapped. But not for long. The top hinge protested weakly, bending downward, ready to collapse at any second.
"I want you to wait right here," the girl's mother told her. "I'll be right back."
With that, she ran out of the room, barreling down the stairs in a frantic run. The closet door was turning into shards of broken wood right before the girl's eyes. She sat there, paralized with terror, unable to move, unable to breathe. Unable to scream. Finally, the shards erupted outward, covering her in a fine mist of sawdust and splinters. The bad man stumbled out of the closet, a sneer on his face, a hungry look in his eyes. He reached for the little girl with two massive hands, like outstretched claws.
He didn't get far enough before the girl's mother wheeled back into the bedroom, brandishing a sharpened kitchen knife. Without a word, she plunged it into the back of the bad man's neck, the meaty part where it met up with the shoulder line. The bad man screamed in agony, turning to face her, the light already dimming from his wild eyes. He slumped to the floor, making a half-hearted attempt to pull out the knife, and then falling flat on his face. Deep red blood pooled from the wound onto the grey carpet. Everything was siilent, except for the ragged breathing of mother and young daughter.
"Are you alright?" the mother finally asked her. The little girl inched closer to the fallen bad man, making sure that he wasn't alive, making sure that he couldn't hurt her. She looked up at her mother. "Was he really all that bad, Mommy?"
The mother looked at her with sincere eyes, rubbing the bruises on her cheek, her shoulders, her calf. "Yes, honey. He was."
Her daughter looked at the dead man, and said a short little prayer that maybe God can find her another Daddy, maybe a better one this time. Then she dipped her pale fingers into the pool of blood and felt its warmness, so much like the loving embrace of a parent's hug. And it tasted just like strawberries, she thought.