Flash Fiction Friday: At Home in Your Arms

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Photo by Ryan Young on Unsplash

At Home in Your Arms
by Kelly F. Barr

There was something about him. Something about the way he watched me.

I’d felt his eyes on me for several minutes and guarded my gaze by peeking through my lashes. He was breathtakingly handsome with cerulean eyes and a cleft chin, thick wavy blond hair that caused my fingertips to tingle with the desire to run through those waves. Muscles rippled down his golden tan arms and across his chest in his snug orange t-shirt. My heart pounded in my chest, but I couldn’t tell if he was interested in me, or if I should be concerned that he was some kind of creepy stalker guy.

I raised my head from the magazine I’d been reading and let my eyes meet his. He smiled at me, revealing bright white perfect teeth and deep dimples in his cheeks.

I smiled back. He rose to his feet and began closing the short distance between our tables. My heart pounded in my ears and drowned out the noise of the cappuccino machine behind the counter.

“May I buy you a coffee?” He towered above me.

I picked up my empty cup, gave it a little shake, and set it back down. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Well, in that case, may I join you?”

“Okay.”

He pulled out the chair next to mine, closing the gap between us farther, sat down, and pulled himself up to the table. “Do you come here often?”

“Everyday. Can’t live without my coffee. How ‘bout you?”

“I just moved to town, so this is my first visit. I’m Randy McDaniels.”

“I’m Holly Applegate. I was born and raised here.” I retained eye contact with Randy. His eyes pulled me in like a couple magnets. “What brought you to town?”

“I got tired of the big city and the fast-paced lifestyle. I was raised on a farm and spent summers swimming in the creek.”

“Why did you go to the big city in the first place?”

“Oh you know, when you’re young you always think you’ll find something better, more exciting, than where you are.” He paused and stared into my eyes for a minute. “You have large eyes. They’re beautiful and I could look into them all day long.”

Heat crept into my cheeks and I shifted in my seat. “Um, thanks. So what are you plans for living in our small town?”

He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Right now, I just want to get to know you better. Would you be able to spend the day with me tomorrow, show me around, and give me a taste of what it’s like to live in this quaint little town?”

My heart skipped a beat, and I cleared my throat. “Sure, I could do that. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I gathered my purse and my empty cup and rose from my seat. “I’ll meet you here at 8 a.m. You know, I gotta have my coffee.”

He grinned and nodded, and I made my exit.

The next day the sun was shining and a cool breeze teased some of the tendrils of my hair. I met Randy at the café. We grabbed coffee and a couple scones.

We visited all my favorite places in town and I introduced Randy to many of the locals. We ate lunch at Dee Dee’s Diner, laughing and talking between mouthfuls.

We went bowling, roller skating, and took in a movie. It was a romantic comedy that caused me to wonder what it would be like to hold his hand or have him put his arm around me.

I drove to the beach a half-hour outside of town. We had dinner at my favorite seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean.

After dinner, Randy looked at me as we stepped out of the restaurant. “Would you like to take a walk on the beach?”

I nodded. When my feet hit the sand, I paused and slipped my sandals off.

Randy took his socks and sneakers off, stuffed his socks into his shoes, tied the laces together, and hung them from one shoulder. Then he reached over and took my hand in his. It was a perfect fit.

We walked in silence for a while, then Randy stopped and turned toward me, letting his shoes fall to the sand. He lifted an arm, and with his fingers brushed hair back from one side of my face. Then he placed his hand on my cheek. “I had a great time today. You are fun to be with, and you are beautiful.”

He leaned toward me and I held my breath.

Then his lips were on mine. He tasted of butter and garlic, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and entangled my fingers in his hair. He encircled me in his arms and drew me closer. When the kiss ended, he continued to hold me and I put my head on his shoulder. I inhaled the scent of him—coconut and a touch of musk. His arms felt like home.

He pulled back just a bit and placed his forehead against mine. “This is what I came to this town for—the love of a good woman. You feel so right in my arms, and there seemed to be something between us as soon as our eyes met. Do you feel it?”

I nodded, raised up on tiptoes, and touched my lips to his.

When that kiss ended, he looked into my eyes. “I feel like I’m home.”

I smiled. “Me too.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Riley’s Hero

molly-belle-a-xEUwYSPLw-unsplashPhoto by Molly Belle on Unsplash

Riley’s Hero

by Kelly F. Barr

Tyler tilted Riley’s chin up to get a better look at her face and gritted his teeth at the evidence of a fight. Using his thumb, he delicately wiped away a streak of blood near her mouth, saying nothing as he examined her for a split lip or missing teeth.

After a brief pause, Riley’s heart skipped a nervous beat as Tyler looked directly into her eyes.

His voice, quiet and tense, his anger barely restrained. “Who did this to you?”

Riley turned away and hung her head. “It’s not your concern. I’m all right.”

“All right! Your lip is swollen and bleeding and you have the beginning of a black eye … and what do you mean … it’s not my concern?” He stepped around in front of her, waited until she met his gaze. Then he placed a hand on the side of her face. “I love you. It’s my job to protect you. Now tell me … who did this to you?”

“My dad came home drunk again last night. When he backhanded my mom so hard she flew across the room, I moved in and punched him in the jaw. I told him if he ever hit Mom again I’d kill him. That drew his anger toward me. He said I was too big for my britches and he’d show me I wasn’t so tough, but I showed him I’m resourceful. His first strike was a backhand to my mouth. When his fist connected with my eye, I landed on the floor. I spotted my old baseball bat within reach, so I grabbed it, got to my feet, and swung it. I hit him in the head … not hard enough to kill him … but it knocked him out cold. Then I got Mom out of that house … took her to a shelter.”

Tyler wrapped Riley in his embrace. “Do you think she’ll stay in the shelter … not go back to your dad?” He said the word as if the taste of it was vile in his mouth.

She shrugged. “I hope so. It really upset her to see him hit me. She’s always taken the hits before. I hope that’s enough to motivate her to make a change—to get away from him for good.”

Tyler held her tighter. “You’re not going back there … not ever again.”

Riley looked up at him.

“Marry me, Riley. Then you can live with me and I can always protect you. No woman deserves to be beaten like … this.” He ran a thumb over her swollen lip, so gentle.

The love she saw in his eyes enveloped her with warmth. “I know you love me and … I love you, but I still have two years of high school, and you’re supposed to go to college, get your degree.”

“Look, I already have my own apartment and a good job in the field I want to study anyway. I can talk to my boss … maybe the company will help with my degree … maybe online classes, and you can still finish high school.”

“I can’t marry without a parent’s consent and a judge’s approval. I’m underage.”

“Then move in with my parents. They know I plan to marry you—that you’re the love of my life. I’m sure they’d be supportive.” He took her hand and stepped toward the door. “We can go talk to them now. I need to know you’ll never be near that monster again.”

“Tyler.” She reached up and placed the cool palm of her hand upon his cheek. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve a hero like you, and words could never express how much I love you.” Then she stretched up on tiptoes and kissed his lips.

The kiss was light as a feather, but Tyler’s heart turned over in his chest and he drew Riley into his embrace once again. He’d do whatever it took … whatever it took to never let her go.

Flash Fiction Friday

What If?

by Kelly F. Barr

Was he making a mistake? They say you can’t go back in time. Thirty years had passed and he was pushing fifty. Could it just be a mid-life crisis?

She hadn’t crossed his mind in years. But then he’d found that old shoebox—the one he’d hidden way back in his closet, the one that held letters and photos faithfully sent to him during the four years he’d spent in the marines.

Maybe he’d started thinking about Carly again because he’d found the box or maybe he was lonelier than he wanted to admit. The kids were grown … had their own lives now, and it had been six years since his wife passed away.

He carried the shoebox to the living room, sat in his favorite chair, and removed the lid. He picked up the first envelope and carefully withdrew its contents. Two sheets of paper with cursive writing on every line. No one writes cursive anymore.

He read letter after letter, traveling back in time in his mind. Then he withdrew the contents of another envelope and found a picture of Carly standing near a tree smiling, strands of her long blonde hair blowing over the left side of her face and her blue-green eyes sparkling. She was a beauty. The letter accompanying the photo was the one—the one that made him a fool—the one where she had suggested they might spend some time together the next time he was home on leave.

That letter that had changed their relationship. Fresh out of high school and he’d enlisted in the marines. Carly promised to write to him the entire four years he would serve.

But when he’d received this letter, he wrote back, informing her he had a girlfriend.

Jenna had been that girlfriend, and Jenna was the girl he married upon his discharge.

Carly had been hurt. The cursive of her next letter had angry slants and dark punctuation marks. Her pen bled, How could you let me think you might be interested in me? How could you tell me how much my letters and photos meant to you—ask for more photos—when you have a girlfriend? What, are you … one of those men with a different woman in every port!

He hadn’t expected to ever hear from her again, but a month later another letter arrived, and her letters continued until his discharge. Carly had kept her promise despite the hurt he’d inflicted upon her.

What would happen if he found her … went to see her? Would she be happily married? Could there be anything between them? He wanted to try—needed to know.

A Google search found a Carly Nelson who was a songwriter. Could she be his Carly Nelson? He clicked a link and a photo popped up. A twenty-something woman with auburn hair and brown eyes.

Next he tried Facebook and found a Carly Nelson Winchester and clicked her profile photo to make it bigger. The photo filled his laptop screen. It was her—his Carly. She had a few more lines around her eyes, some silver streaks in her hair, but the smile was unmistakable. Another click and he read about her. She was still in Pennsylvania, married with four children. He searched her photos, but none of the recent photos showed a man with her.

He opened another tab, searched the airlines, and booked a ticket on the next flight to Pennsylvania. He packed a carry-on bag then lay on the bed to try to sleep but the butterflies in his stomach and the drum pounding a rhythm in his chest wouldn’t let him.

He closed his eyes and memories of working with Carly at the shoe store in the mall flowed through his mind like an old movie: Carly laughing at his corny jokes, teasing him about another female employee she knew had a crush on him, but never letting on she might be interested.

He rose from his bed, grabbed his carry-on, walked out the door of his apartment locking it behind him. Sitting behind the steering wheel of his red classic Ford Mustang, he placed his hands on the wheel, rested his head on them, and prayed this wasn’t a mistake. That Carly might be glad to see him … be willing to give him another chance.

At the Harrisburg Airport, he rented a car and drove into Lancaster … to the address the internet listed as hers. When he pulled up in front of the house, his palms grew sweaty and his throat dry because there she was … his Carly, sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the porch.

As he brought his rental car to a stop and shut off the engine, she rose to her feet and moved to the porch steps. He slid out of the car, walked around the back, and started a slow trek up the walkway. She moved a couple steps, then stopped, tears trickling down her cheeks—tears of joy or something else?

When he stood before her, she reached out a hand as if to touch his cheek, then stopped and let the hand drop. Her eyes searched his. “Keith … Keith Phillips?”

He offered a hesitant smile and nodded. Was that sadness in her eyes?

“It’s been such a long time. What are you doing here?”

Flash Fiction Friday: An Unexpected Blind Date

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Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Nervous tension filled me as I waited for my date to arrive. When he showed up on a motorcycle I thought I would faint. Did he really expect me to climb onto the back of a motorcycle with a complete stranger? I must’ve been crazy to allow Charissa to talk me into signing up with this dating service.

However, when he took his helmet off, my heart did a flip. His hair hung in dark waves just over his shirt collar. Then he turned those baby blues on me, and I was a goner.

He swung off the motorcycle and stood before me—head and shoulders taller than me, and my heart started break-dancing in my chest while butterflies filled my stomach.

“You must be Callie. I’m Wade Carson.”

His oh-so-smooth voice rolled over me like a refreshing summer rain. “Uh, yeah, I’m Callie.”

“I hope you don’t mind riding on my bike?” He quirked an eyebrow at me.

I looked at the motorcycle then back to him and cleared my throat. “No, that’s fine. I mean, you just rode it, how far to get here, and you arrived safely.” I released a nervous giggle.

He chuckled. “It was a forty-five minute drive, and don’t worry, I’m a careful driver. I have an extra helmet.” He moved back to the bike, lifted a helmet from the far side, and held it out to me.

I moved closer, took the helmet and inspected the bike. I didn’t see any handholds for the passenger. I looked into his blue eyes. “What am I supposed to hold onto?”

“Me.” He winked and grinned, displaying two deep dimples.

I forced myself not to fan my hand in front of me, but this was so not what I expected from a dating service. I thought only desperate losers resorted to sign up with dating services. “Okay.”

He helped me strap the helmet under my chin, then swung his arm in an arc, inviting me to get on the motorcycle. When I was seated, he swung his leg over and took his position in front of me.

“When we go around a turn, the bike will lean. Lean into the turn, otherwise we may tip over.”

I nodded.

He started the bike, pulled out of the driveway and onto the road, and I placed my hands on his sides.

We attended a matinee showing of the movie “Mask” that starred Cher, and if I’d known it was going to make me cry, I would’ve suggested something else. I tried to keep my sniffling to a minimum, but Wade reached over, took my hand in his, and rubbed the back of it with his thumb.

After the movie, we went for pizza.

“So if you read my profile, I guess you know I work in construction. Job foreman, actually. And you write for a magazine?”

“Yeah. I’m one of the feature writers. I pretty much get to pick and choose what stories I want to write.” My curiosity getting the better of me, had me blurting out the question I’d been dying to know the answer to. “So why did you sign up with the dating service?”

“I was having trouble meeting women who were more than just a pretty package.”

So does that mean I’m more than a pretty package or something other than a pretty package?

“Have you gone out with many women through the dating service?”

“A few.” His eyes bored into mine.

I became uncomfortable under his scrutiny and was the first to look away.

We left the pizza shop and he took me home. He walked me to the door, stood close, and looked down at me.

When he bent closer, I took a step back and put a hand on his chest. “I don’t kiss on the first date.”

He put one hand on my hand on his chest, and took my other hand in his but never broke eye contact. “When can I see you again?”

“I’m available next Saturday.”

He dropped one of my hands, grasping the one on his chest in both of his and raised it to his lips. He kissed each finger, then the back of my hand. “I’ll see you next Saturday.”

I walked into my apartment, leaned against the door, and sighed certain that Wade Carson with his dimples and baby blues would be first and foremost in my mind the entire week.

Flash Fiction Friday: A Heart’s Longing Fulfilled

brooke-winters-4-Frj4OcWZ8-unsplashPhoto by Brooke Winters on Unsplash

I stood by my car in my parents’ driveway. I’d just returned from my final year at college. That’s when I saw her. A gorgeous blonde walking toward me on the sidewalk. She turned to follow the path to the house next door. I watched as she opened the door and walked in without pausing or ringing the doorbell.

Mom hadn’t said anything about the Stewarts moving. I searched my memory. The Stewarts had had a daughter … Audrey, Abigail, … Allison, that’s what it was, Allison. But she was a gangly, freckle-faced girl with braces last I’d seen her. That blonde couldn’t be Allison.

I grabbed my suitcase and backpack and strode into the house. “Hey everyone, I’m home!”

Mom came from the kitchen, Dad from the living room, and my younger brother, Tim, bounded down the stairs. I got hugs from everyone and after taking my bags to my room upstairs, Tim helped me bring the rest of the stuff from the car.

“So, little brother, I come home and you’ll soon be leaving for college. You got some big dreams?”

Tim smiled. “Doesn’t everyone have big dreams? I’m headed to the same college you just came from, but I’ll be studying computer technology. I plan to create the best social media ever.”

“Social media? Don’t we have enough of that?” I poked him in the side with my elbow.

“Not like what I’ll create. You just wait and see.”

“Will your social media be able to hook me up with the gorgeous blonde I saw walk into the house next door?”

Tim’s gaze dropped to his feet. “You won’t need any help.”

“Whoa, did I say something wrong? Who is that girl?”

“That’s Allison Stewart, don’t you remember her? And, no you didn’t say anything wrong.” Every word came out monotone.

“That’s really Allison? How did that transformation happen? Whoa, is she your girl?”

“Huh, I wish! She doesn’t have the time of day for me, and yeah, she grew up and the freckles disappeared. The braces came off to reveal a dazzling smile, and she filled out well, didn’t she?”

I grinned and tousled his hair. “Okay, Tim, I’ll stay out of your way. I can see you’re interested in her.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Not right now. She doesn’t keep a boyfriend long.” Tim looked at me but didn’t say more.

I got settled in my room and enjoyed Mom’s cooking and dinner with the family. It felt good to be home again but I didn’t plan to stay long. With the job I had lined up, I should be able to move out of here for good after the holidays. Maybe not out of the area, just out of my parents’ house.

The following Friday I rang the Stewart’s doorbell. Mrs. Stewart answered.

“Is Allison here?”

“No, she isn’t. She should be back in about an hour. Is there something I can do for you?”

“No. I’m Chad Waters from next door, just returned from college. I saw Allison the day I arrived, and thought I’d stop by and say hi.”

Mrs. Stewart looked me up and down, then closed the door. Had I offended her somehow?

As the time drew nearer for Allison’s return, I went over and sat down in their driveway in front of her dad’s Range Rover. I bet no guy had ever waited for her like this before.

I didn’t have to wait long. I saw Allison coming down the sidewalk, wearing a pair of jeans and an orange t-shirt, her hair, pulled into a ponytail. I could tell the moment she spotted me. Her pace slowed and before getting too close, she called out, “Who are you and what are you doing sitting in our driveway?”

I stood up and smiled at her. “Allison, it’s me, Chad, from next door. I thought I’d see how you’re doing and maybe take you out for a soda or pizza or something.”

She came and stood about three feet away from me. “Chad, is it really you?”

I nodded. She stepped closer then reached out and touched my arm, sending an electrical current up to my shoulder. Then she stepped even closer and put her hand on the side of my face and my heart skipped a beat.

“You’re more handsome than I remember. This must be a dream.”

“I know what you mean. You’re so beautiful … not at all like I remembered you.”

She laughed out loud—a sound like tinkling bells.

Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, and she whispered, “I’ve always dreamed of being your girl.”

Then I kissed her.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: The Soulmate Statue

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Photo by Discovering Film on Unsplash

Hunter and Emma strolled hand-in-hand through the city of Raeledo. Hunter planned to kill a Catoblepas over the weekend to prove he was capable of protecting and providing for a wife. Hunter pulled Emma closer and wrapped his arm around her lower back. Emma smiled up at him. He lowered his head and kissed her lips, soft and slow. Then his lips traveled down her jawline and neck. When his lips brushed the hollow of her collarbone, she pushed away.

“Hunter, we’re in the middle of the street.”

“So what? You know you like when I kiss that spot.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

She giggled, took his hand in hers once again, and leaned against him. “Come on. I want to see the statue in the middle of the square.”

“You really believe the legend surrounding that old statue?”

She took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I don’t know, but it’s a wonderfully romantic idea.”

“Don’t you think if the legend was real, something would’ve happened by now?”

Emma shrugged and they kept walking.

They entered the square at twilight, the sky alight with brilliant pinks, purples, and a bit of red. Emma’s eyes fell on the statue. “I didn’t know it would be so beautiful. The rose color enfolding it gives her a lifelike blushed skin tone.”

Hunter raised his eyes from Emma to the four hundred year old statue. It was in mint condition. The Harlequin Transdocrocite the artist had sculpted it from was pristine yellow, and the pink light shining on her face certainly made her appear lifelike. His eyes slid over the contour of her jawline to her full lips, then continued down her slender neck and well-rounded body, down her shapely legs to her bare arched feet. The artist had sculpted her dress to look as though it were being blown backward by a strong wind, causing it to cling and reveal the front of her body. The long pin-curls streamed toward the back of her head, and she reached out with her right hand.

“She’s amazing. It’s so sad. She’s been here lonely and waiting all these years. Hunter … Hunter?”

He jerked his head from the statue. He blinked to clear his vision and found it difficult not to return his gaze to the statue. “What is it Em?”

She pulled her phone cam-puter out of her back pocket. “You’ve got to hold her hand and let me take your picture.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Hunter shook his head.

“Why not? Are you afraid you might be her soulmate?”

Hunter emitted a nervous laugh. “Of course not … but what happens to us, if I am?” His eyes locked with Emma’s.

After a minute, Emma slapped him on the arm. “Of all the men that must’ve touched her hand over the past four hundred years, you think you’re the one? Now come                          on, take her hand.”

Hunter looked at the statue again. The pink no longer blushed her cheeks. He slid his sweaty palms down his pants, cleared his throat, and touched his fingertips to the statue’s.

Emma dropped her phone cam-puter and her lower jaw went slack.

Hunter turned to look at the statue. The podium was empty. A shadow fell over him. He looked up just in time to stretch out his arms. Oomph! A woman landed in his arms causing him to bend in half. He managed not to drop her then straighten into an upright position again. He looked into the eyes that had belonged to a statue just moments ago—eyes, confused and startled. Hunter helped her to stand, but she clung to his arm. Her soft touch on his arm caused an electrical current to jolt up his arm and down his back. His heart rate rose. He turned toward the woman and raised his free hand to cup her face.

“The legend is real.” He whispered.

She turned her face into his hand and kissed his palm, then her eyes met his. “I’ve waited such a long time for you.” Her voice fluctuated in pitch and she spoke with a rhythm. It was like a song.

“What’s your name?”

“Donatella. And you are?”

“Hunter … you’re soulmate.” He drew her into a tight embrace, a feeling he’d never known flowing through him; an insatiable craving for this woman and a fierce protectiveness toward her.

The moment was broken by a guttural, ear-splitting sob that came from the depths of the soul. Emma’s soul.

Hunter looked over the shoulder of the woman in his arms. Emma was on her knees, wailing, with tears coursing down her cheeks. He caught her gaze.

He mouthed, “I’m sorry.” Then he lifted Donatella in his arms again and walked away.

Flash Fiction Friday: Esi’s New Home

alexander-andrews-218361-unsplashPhoto by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Esi walked down an unknown road in the gray shadows of twilight. Were was she? How had she gotten here? As soon as she’d put on this soft, comfortable blue dress and soft leather shoes she’d been cast from her previous home.

She hadn’t wanted to leave, but Esi knew the homeowners were tired of finding broken dishes three times a week. She hadn’t broken the dishes on purpose. They just seemed to slip from her fingers.

Where was she? She’d never seen a road like this before. It was hard and dark in color. A rumbling noise caused a knot to form in her stomach. Then the ground vibrated beneath her feet. What was happening?

The rumbling noise grew louder and came from behind her. She turned and two lights, bright as the sun, struck her eyes. She shielded her eyes with her arm and screamed as the large rumbling thing with two lights, like eyes, nearly ran over her. Just before reaching her, the thing screamed, louder than she, as it whizzed by her, the force of it knocking her into a ditch.

What was that? Esi obviously wasn’t in Schroomville any longer. She stood, brushed herself off, and continued down the road, trying to find a house that might welcome her. She hoped she’d find a house before the darkness fell like a blanket over the land. She didn’t want to encounter any more monsters like the one that had passed her.

The moon peeked over the horizon and revealed a dirt road on Esi’s right. A wooden fence surrounded a meadow on the right side of the dirt road. Surely, this must lead to a nice house. Esi pulled her shoulders back and marched up the path—the kind of road she was used to. The dirt road was longer than Esi anticipated. Weary from walking, her pace slowed. But there, on her left, stood a little brown house, a stream of smoke billowing from the chimney. A small red barn sat next to it.

Esi stepped onto the wooden porch, careful not to make any noise with her new shoes. She tiptoed to a window and peeked inside. Relief flooded her chest as she saw a woman scooping soup into bowls and placing them on the table before eight small children. The woman brushed a strand of hair from her face with the back of one hand.

A large man with brown hair and beard stepped into the room. Esi shrank from the window, but after a minute or two, she, once again, touched her nose to the windowpane. The man had kind eyes, and he scooped soup into a bowl in front of the woman, who now sat with the children.

Then he scooped soup into one last bowl, kissed the woman on the top of the head, and left the room, returning a moment later to take his own place at the table. The family bowed their heads and the big man’s lips moved. When his lips stopped moving, everyone raised their heads and began to eat.

Delight filled Esi’s heart. These people needed her. The woman needed her.

She sat on the porch floor, her back against the house, and waited for the house to grow still. Then she rose and tested the doorknob—unlocked. Esi opened the door, willing it not to squeak. She tiptoed inside and flinched at a growling sound.

Her heart skipped a beat. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she noted the large bed beyond the kitchen. She stifled a giggle. It wasn’t a growl, but a snore she had heard, coming from the large man.

Esi moved through the doorway the man had gone through earlier. Just as she’d expected—the dirty dishes were piled on the counter. Esi found a bucket and stepped out the back door. There she found the pump and pumped water into the bucket.

Back in the house, she heated water on the stove, then washed all the dirty items, dried them, and put them in the cupboards, without breaking a single item. She found a basket of mending next to a rocking chair near the woodstove, along with needles and several colors of threads. She set to work and by sunrise, the mending was complete. Esi folded the items and placed them neatly in the basket, then rose from the rocking chair and hurried out to the barn where she climbed the ladder to the loft and fell asleep in the hay.

The next night she entered the house to look for more chores to do. She found a bowl of cream on the table. Esi smiled and savored the delightful treat. This may not be Schroomville, but she was going to like it here.

Can you guess: what is the monster that almost ran Esi down?
What is Esi?
Leave your guesses in the comments.