The hurried sound of their feet on the sidewalk matched the frantic pace of her heart, while her father’s grip on her hand was almost painful. Her short nine-year-old legs struggled to match his strides, causing her to stumble, all but jogging to keep up. There was a tightness in his jaw she’d never seen before, and his eyes, usually so bright and carefree, were as dark and angry as the sky above them. Foolishly, she felt the sudden urge to burst into tears.
A sound behind them made her look back. From out of the mouth of an alley slunk five hooded men who, despite keeping their heads down, kept up with her father’s swift gait, stalking them like wild animals.
Her father may have uttered words of comfort, words to soothe the fear that crept across her neck, but they were eaten up by the sidewalk when something hard and fast came from behind them, sending her father sprawling, taking her down with him. Disoriented, with knees that burned from skidding across the concrete, she looked up and screamed as a baseball bat connected with her father’s back twice, conjuring sickeningly dull thuds from his body.
She didn’t see the direction from which the hand came that struck her hard across the face, sending her tumbling over the curb and into the street, stars dancing in her vision and her father’s furious bellow ringing in her ears. He staggered to his feet and launched himself at one of their attackers. She watched in horror as fists, feet, and bats rained down on him in retaliation.
Above the cacophony of shouted demands for his wallet, through the barricade of bodies surrounding him, her father yelled at her to run. He pleaded and begged as they battered him, but cold struck her, freezing her solid. How could he ask her to leave? She had to help him, save him! Tears ran down her face and an animalistic cry erupted from her throat.
He groaned in agony when another fist met the side of his head, and his knees hit the ground as she started toward him. She reached out to him, but her arm was unexpectedly pulled hard in the opposite direction. She whimpered in relief, expecting to see a police officer or her father’s security detail—but it was someone not much taller than she was, in a dirty black hoodie.
She screamed loudly when he began to drag her away from where her father was being beaten, fighting and screaming at him to let her go when he hissed at her from under his hood. Did he not realize that her father needed her, that he would surely die without her help? But the stranger kept going, pulling her down the street into the doorway of an abandoned building, two blocks from where the terrifying sound of gunfire filled the air.
She screamed for her father, yanked her hand hard from her rescuer’s grip, and began running back in the direction of the attack. She hadn’t made it far when she was wrestled to the ground by strong hands that pinned her down. She continued to scream underneath him, fighting with everything she had, but soon her body became heavy and exhausted, and her cries and screams became wracked sobs that stuttered into the cold ground beneath her forehead.
The weight on top of her disappeared and two hands lifted her, pulling her back into the freezing doorway. She slumped against him and mewed in pain into his dirty hoodie. She needed to get back to her daddy. She needed to see that he was okay. He had to be okay. An arm around her shoulder and an icy hand against her cheek was her undoing, and she wilted further against her unknown rescuer.
She may have stayed that way for hours; she may have even fallen asleep. The next thing she knew, she was being carried by a man with a beard toward an ambulance. She opened her tear-swollen eyes and saw police and paramedics surrounded by a sea of red and blue flashing lights.