I still remember the sunlight, but it’s faint. I have fleeting memories of the wind and the rain. The summer and the winter. Things I once knew that are only a fantasy now.

I can’t say how long ago it was that I last saw any of it. Maybe a decade, maybe two, but time doesn’t really matter down here. Minutes, hours, days and years mean very little when all you know is a box.

All I ever see now is my box; this small room without windows or doors. It’s almost always cold, but I’ve long since grown numb to it. The chains around my ankles are more a part of me now than the people I once knew as family, and the rags of clothing my only possessions.

If I’m being honest, I’m surprised I even remember how to write these words. It’s hard in the darkness, but muscle memory has led me this far. It’s my other memories I worry about.

The life I once had, the people I once knew. Would they even recognize me now? Would I even recognize me? I can’t remember the last time I even saw my own reflection.

Many times, I question whether my old life even existed at all. The names of people I once loved, are they all just illusion? Mom and Dad, my brother Alex and baby sister Loretta. It hurts to even remember them now, because the most painful truth of it is, I can’t even remember their faces.

The only faces I see now are that of my two daughters; Maisie and Lucy. Maisie is the older of the two, with curly brunette locks, a button nose and bluish-grey eyes. Lucy is much younger, barely past the age of a toddler. She has a split in her lip, though I can’t remember the name of her condition. I don’t even know how old they are.

They are the only others in this prison with me. I remember giving birth to them. The pain, anguish and sorrow that came along with it. I delivered them both myself, cutting the umbilical and tearing part of my own clothing to keep them warm. At first, I couldn’t stand the thought of knowing where they came from, but when I saw their little faces for the first time, I felt something I hadn’t for a very long time. Hope.

They are my daughters, regardless of how they were conceived. They are my only companions, my only serenity. They are the only faces I ever get to see, aside from the Beast.

I had a son first, but he’s not here anymore. The Beast took him away. I screamed and begged him not too, but he didn’t listen to me. He never listens to me, and I haven’t seen my son since.

The Beast is tall, with a swollen belly, scraggily, unkempt beard and wrinkles under his yellowed eyes that match the color of his teeth. He wears the same brown jacket each time he comes to visit. His smell is putrid, and I gag each time I get a whiff. The Beast has a name, but I refuse to speak it. I will not give him that satisfaction.

The Beast feeds us, gives us clothing and toiletries, but it isn’t really for us. It is for him, to keep us breathing so that he can amuse himself. Whenever he returns, he brings the light, but it hurts worse than the dark now.

At first, I fought him. Scratched, bit and clawed at him to get him to stop, but he just hurt me more. When Maisie was born, he threatened to take her away like he did my son, so I stopped fighting.

Somewhere along the line I decided to accept my fate as his play thing, if only for the wellbeing of Maisie and Lucy. It has happened so many times, that I no longer feel anything when he does it. My mind fades away, into the forlorn places where he cannot reach me.

Maisie and Lucy have never known anything aside from the box. They know nothing of the world outside, and most days, I feel I don’t either. Would I even recognize the outside world if I saw it again?

Maisie has always been inquisitive about the world. I can’t even begin to imagine what her little head might imagine the world to be. All she’s ever known is pain, hunger and darkness.

It shames me to admit it, but at one point I even considered the unthinkable. I quiver now as I remember once pondering a final act of mercy. Is it better for them to live in hell, or for them to not live at all? What is life if it consists of nothing but suffering?

I can’t even say why I am still here. Why I haven’t just stopped eating, and allowed myself to flee this world forever. What hope could I possibly have for any life outside of this one now? I don’t know the answer, but somehow hope remains for the sake of my daughters. They deserve better than this.

Maisie and Lucy are always asking questions, but for the longest time I didn’t know what to say. Eventually I told them about the sun, about the moon and the planets. About angels and demons, and the god I used to worship. I tell them that an angel is watching over us, and someday he will come to take us home. I don’t even believe it anymore, but for their sake, I think it’s better to have a small hope than no hope at all.

Maisie’s belly has begun to grow large after the Beast decided to inflict his malice upon her. I begged him to stop, to instead use me as he always had, but he wouldn’t listen. He struck me, and I could do nothing but watch and tremble. Watch as that faint glimmer of hope extinguished from Maisie’s blue eyes.

I’ll kill him; I would give anything to kill him. He caught me a while ago, as I tried to stab him with the end of a spoon that I had sharpened. He hurt me, and hurt them too. He warned me that if I ever tried it again, he would end them.

I can’t even cry anymore; he’s even stripped me of that. Once again, I find myself treading those forbidden trails. If I take them, then he can’t hurt them anymore. I see them sleeping now, chains around their necks, ankles and wrists. They huddle close to keep warm, and if it ended now, they would never even know it.

For the first time in eons I feel cold tears drift down my cheeks as I raise the sharpened spoon once more. It’s better this way, better than endless suffering. But before I can perform the most unforgivable of crimes, a noise from outside the box stows my hand.

I freeze as a ruckus emerges overhead. I hear shouts and knocks bellow like thunder, and the roof seems to quake. I don’t know what’s happening. Never before has the Beast made such a calamity. It goes on for minutes, but eventually things fall silent once more.

Maisie then stirs from her sleep, and lifts her head from the ground.

“Mommy… what’s happening?” I look to her, and see the fear swirl in her eyes. I clutch her hand and whisper that everything will be okay. She crawls towards me and leans her head against my shoulder. Her knotted hair bristles against my arm, and the two of us hold our breath.

Up above, the sounds of footsteps emerge. I hear them heavy and distinct, pacing around the room with purpose. My pace quickens, and heart sinks as I anticipate the Beast returning for his usual activities.

The entry hatch above the ladder then suddenly shakes, and I hear someone fiddling with it. Maisie shudders and I wrap her tightly in my arms. I will not let him hurt her again.

The latch then slams open, and the light from above shines down with a vicious glow. Boots then step onto the ladder, and slowly the silhouette of a man begins to climb down. A tall man, wearing jeans and a black sweatshirt. I know right away that it’s not the Beast, it’s someone else.

Lucy stirs from her sleep, and emits a small shriek. I pull her close and try to shush her, but it’s too late. The person then reaches the bottom, and turns to face us. The light that cascades from above illuminates him, revealing a mask that covers his face. A strange mask, solid black but with a white spiral painted upon it.

He seems taken off guard when he sees us, and even lurches back briefly. He’s much taller than the Beast, and not nearly as fat. He steps forward, and I feel Maisie quiver in my arms. I feel his dark eyes glaring down upon me, before he reaches out his arm, and tosses something forward.

It hits the ground with a jingle, and comes to a rest at my feet. I look down and see his gift; a key. The very same key that the Beast uses to keep the chains locked.

I grab it, and slide it into the bracelet on my wrist. After a quick turn the rusty chain pops open, and I feel my wrist break free. My eyes begin to water, and take a brief moment to bask in the serenity of my broken restraint. I look back up to the Masked Man, and he nods back.

Quickly I release all our bindings, and the three of us stand to meet him. I see his eyes beneath his mask wander towards Maisie and fall upon her swollen belly. He seems to shudder as he sees it, and his fists clench tight. He then turns without a word and marches towards the ladder, beckoning us to follow.

Pensively the three of us scamper up behind, hidden in the shadow cast by the towering man. He then reaches out a hand towards Maisie, as if silently asking her to take his. She appears nervous and looks up to me. I meet his eyes one more time, wondering who he is and why he has come. I nod to her and she slowly takes his hand.

He gently hoists her into his left arm, and begins to ascend the ladder. Lucy and I follow quickly behind. Out of the box for the first time in years, and the first time ever for the girls. I reach the top and find Maisie offering out her hand to help me up. I take it, and climb out to stand. The Masked Man stands just behind them, with crossed arms and furrowed eyes. Lucy glances around the filthy room, and looks up to him.

“I don’t think we’re allowed up here.” Lucy speaks in a whisper as she shifts on her feet. The Masked Man then looks down to her and scoffs.

“You are now little one.” His voice is raspy, but matches her whisper. He then locks eyes with me, and I notice something out of the corner of my eye. Hidden behind the Masked Man and out of sight of the girls, I see the Beast lying in the corner of the room. The room itself is trashed, and the Beast appears wounded, quivering and bound by rope. He tries muttering through his gag, but I can’t make out his words.

“He can’t hurt you anymore.” The Masked Man speaks, with a gravelly and almost fading voice. I lock eyes with him once more, and feel my lip quiver. I want to pour my heart out to him, but there are no words that can possibly convey my gratitude. I walk away, towards my two daughters in the hallway.

I kneel and hug both of them tighter than ever before. I hear the footsteps of the Masked Man walk up behind us. We break apart and rise to stare at him. He approaches and kneels down before us, holding a blanket which he silently offers to Lucy. Lucy appears confused at first, but then smiles and then takes his gift. She wraps it around Maisie and herself. The Masked Man then rears back, and lets out a small grunt.

“Even in tragedy… the best among us are still kind.” He said as if it were only to himself. He then rises back to his feet and withdraws something from his pocket. He holds a device like a small television, but with only one button on it. My confused look must’ve betrayed me.

“Call 911 as soon as you get outside.” He activates the device and punches the numbers in, before handing it to me. I stare down at the vibrant white screen, and everything rushes through my mind again. After all the years of torture and agony, it’s finally over.

“Are you a angel?” Lucy suddenly breaks my thoughts with her question. The Masked Man looks to her, and chuckles quietly behind his mask.

“No little one. Angels are pretty, like you. I am a monster.”

“But, aren’t monsters bad?” Lucy retorts.

“Sometimes… but not always. I’m a different kind of monster.”

“Okay…” Lucy replies, her brow scrunched. I can tell his euphemism confused her, but she still smiles back. It’s the first time I’ve seen her smile in a very long time.

“Thank you.” Maisie suddenly speaks with tears welling in her eyes. He nods back to her.

“Go now little ones. Forget this place… be free.” He then rises back up to his feet. The girls look to each other, before tip-toeing away towards the front door. They pause as they realize I haven’t followed.

A new emotion has thrust itself upon me. After all the torment and pain the Beast has subjected us to, I can’t just walk away. A hatred begins to boil within me, and the desire for payback from all the years I have lost emerges. I have to be the one to end it, for me, and for the son he stole from me.

I draw the sharpened spoon from my ragged pocket, and begin to stride towards where the Beast has fallen. Before I can turn the corner, the Masked Man grabs my arm. I halt, and turn my ire to face him. He doesn’t return it, instead I see sorrow brimming in his grey eyes.

“I know what you want to do. I cannot imagine the horrible things you have been through. But if you go in there, you’re just adding more pain. Leave it all behind and forget this place. Take back the life he stole from you. Don’t let hatred be the last thing you remember.” He breaks his stare with me and glances toward my daughters. They both stare back uncertain, as I contemplate everything within. I feel tears beginning to pool, clouding my vision. I want so badly to defy him. To stroll right past him an end the life of the bastard that stole mine.

“He took everything from me…” I speak, and my lip curls inward on the words.

“And now, you can take everything from him. I won’t stop you, but I hope you know, it won’t make it go away. You’ll never forget his face if you do it.”

His somber eyes once more stare deep into mine. I can feel an entire galaxy of unsaid things hidden behind his eyes. A ruthless existence that molded him into the person he was. The innermost anguish of a broken soul conveyed through only a silent look. It sounds so silly, but it makes so much sense.

“He’s too dangerous…” I argue once more, a last pleading attempt for me to rationalize to myself that I am justified. The Masked Man shakes his head, and I see a blade glimmer on his side.

“He won’t be ever again.” I feel tears sting as they roll down my cheeks, and he reaches for me. He gently draws my hand upward and presses the call button on the phone. Before I know it, I hear the clanging of my sharpened spoon hit the ground and my mind is made. The phone begins to ring.

“Go now, live the life you deserve.” He turns back.

“Wait…” I beg to him. He pauses mid stride and glances over his shoulder.

“Why are… who?” My words fall from my lips through the tears, and I am unable to finish. The Masked Man grumbles and turns around, before the operator splits our conversation.

“911, what is your location?”

“Sig Sepsis… tell them. I want them to know.” He then draws his blade and turns back to march towards the Beast as the woman of the phone continues asking for an answer.

“Hello? Is anyone there? Hello?”

“Hello…” I press the phone to my ear as I walk towards the awaiting Maisie and Lucy. I take Maisie’s hand and Lucy opens the door.

“Ma’am can you hear me? Are you in danger?”

A serene breeze rolls in through the door, and the three of us step outside. I feel the cool, but pleasant temperature roll across my skin, eliciting a series of goosebumps. Maisie and Lucy look around in bewilderment, at the dingey neighborhood, and glimpse their first ever sight of the world outside the box. Words fail me in the moment, as the sounds of crickets’ echo through the night. It’s finally over.

“Ma’am are you there? What is your location?”

“We’re free.”