The splintering wooden door rattled as it was knocked upon, startling the woman inside her small, street-side home. Well, not entirely street side, as it was the last door on the right tucked in the alleyway between two brick, ivy-ridden buildings. Therefore, her front door was significantly removed from the street, making late-night visitors, or visitors of any sort, incredibly rare.

The woman froze, head swiveling to face the narrow hallway leading to the front door. Her chest thundered, and an ache tightened her stomach. 

Silence followed.

Confusion melted into curiosity. She forced herself to put down the book she was reading, making sure to fit the cloth bookmark firmly into the binding. She rose, somewhat cautiously, mind attempting to reason such an anomaly. She had no friends or family that knew of her whereabouts and hadn’t ordered any packages or deliveries. 

Maybe she had been followed. 

She had spent time at a local market earlier in the day, receiving looks that older men always gave younger women, but no one had seemed to find her particularly interesting. Never in her 3 years of living in the city had she received an unexpected knock at her door. 

She puzzled at what could be waiting, patiently, as she crept along the hallway, picking up speed as more than a few seconds had passed since the first knock. She didn’t want to keep her enigma waiting. 

She reached the end of the hallway, heart pounding now, pausing after gently wrapping her fingers around the doorknob. The woman pressed her ear to the door, it was thin and old enough that she could usually hear what was going on on the other side. For instance, it was common for her to eavesdrop on the neighboring couple as they bickered outside, away from their children or house guests. Hours of listening had lent her the idea that marriage seemed a complete waste of time. 

Now, all she could hear was the pelting of heavy raindrops hitting the pavement, which happened to be especially wet and cold this time of year. That, and her breaths coming in gentle, anticipatory rhythm.

 “Hm,” she murmured to herself, stepping away from the door, cursing that she hadn’t persuaded her landlord to give her one of those glass peepholes. 

In a short, smooth motion, she pulled the door open halfway, peering around the side of it. 

“Hello,” she blurted, regarding the tall shadow that froze on her doorstep. 

The first thing she noticed about his face was the way that his thick eyebrows were creased with worry.

He was turned as if to leave, but stared back at her with a bewildered, almost fearful, expression. He was remarkably tall, with broad shoulders and long arms, but stood hunched over as if trying to make himself seem smaller. Dark brown hair dripped tiny jewels of rainwater into his eyes, and he blinked rapidly to see through them. He was young, probably not much older than her at all. 

A watery yellow street light beamed down at them weakly, he wasn’t wearing a raincoat and his clothes were soaked through, a thick black sweater coming untucked from a baggy pair of dark pants. He was a living, breathing shadow.

It was the last thing she could have expected.

“Oh! I’m, uh, my sister..” He stammered, quickly moving back towards her, shooting a glance down the alleyway. “Can- May I come inside?” 

“Your sister?” she asked, her words sounding dazed, but something on the street was holding his attention. A moment passed, this large, soaking man on her doorstep while she stood confused, a cool draft making its way past her fingertips and into her house. The air smelled wet, like cold wind and ocean.

The moment ended, the man looking back to her with a desperate, regretful expression. He took another step towards her. “Please.” 

His reply only filled her with further confusion, but her chest ached at the words. 

She was torn. 

For a moment, she considered the idea that this could be a robbery tactic, or even something far more sinister. Then she was opening the door and the man was pushing past her into the warmth and closeness of her home.  

He towered in her hallway, even taller up close and standing at full height. She hesitated to close the door behind him. 

“Please,” he said, arms wrapped tightly around his shivering torso. 

No man had ever spoken to her like this, as though he was at the mercy of her decision. Eyebrows creasing her forehead, she swallowed and looked back out the door. 

She could view the main street from her doorstep, and it looked as it always did, though slightly more dramatic with the current downpour. Her eyes followed rivulets of water rushing down the cobbled alley towards it, gathering in small dark pools at the curb. Strangers in thick black and canvas-colored raincoats sparsely populated the street, in a hurry to get home and warm. A small group of young-looking patrol officers stood across the street, huddled under the cover of a worn blue bus stop, the windows of which were clouded with fog. They spoke amongst themselves, gazing off the side of the bridge that made up the street itself, and she knew that if she called their attention they would come to retrieve this man from inside her hallway. 

She didn’t. 

Finding nothing otherwise unusual about her surroundings, and feeling as though she’d spent enough time with her back to the man, she pulled the door shut. It closed with a loud bang as a sudden gust of wind tore down the alley, causing the bamboo wind chimes hanging off the roof to make a hollow clacking sound.

She had grown used to the steady patter of water hitting the ground, and the quiet that followed was blunt. A thick silence quickly settled in the space between them, which was a few feet at most. It was closer than either of them had been to a stranger in a long time.

“Your sister?” She repeated, her voice cutting into the stillness as she stared at the man with what she hoped was a calm expression.

“Huh?” He exhaled, his breath coming in deep, intentional rhythms. 

“Earlier, you mentioned your sister.”

“Oh, right.” He swallowed, taking this time to look around the space he was occupying. 

The two of them stood close enough to touch, which was all that the small hallway allowed. The walls were dimly lit, decorated with an array of small frames mounted with butterflies, leaves, and flowers. The ceiling was low, not much taller than the doorway itself. He could easily brush his hand along the thick wooden planks if he only lifted his arm. Behind him, the hallway bled into a sitting room where the roof heightened a foot or two. A small window sat in the wall, half-open, offering a damp view of the downward sloping street. The only light in the room came from this window, diffuse blue light from the mix of rain and evening, and a small cream-colored lamp, the shade of which was embroidered with a type of pink flower he didn’t recognize. 

And the plants. 

There were too many to count, nestled together tightly on the windowsill, draped over the sides of tables, lining the walls, huddled in corners, and hanging from the ceiling. The room felt thick with warmth, between the patterned rugs, the abundance of decorations, and tall bookshelves covering the far wall stacked high with worn covers. 

As he dripped rainwater onto the bare wooden floor, he suddenly felt as though he were intruding on something very private. His feelings of desperation were fading, but he remained discomfited by a growing sense of mortification. The woman, however, regarded him temperately, exuding the same unusual warmth and curiosity as her home.

She didn’t fear him, she realized, as she watched him observe the room. It was a reassuring thought, although she was increasingly impatient to hear why he had appeared.

“You must spend a lot of time here.”

“The city is small and merciless,” she shrugged. “People talk too much. Plants talk just enough.”

“I think my sister is supposed to live here.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Who told you that?”

She did,” he explained, “in a letter.”

“Well, you must’ve gotten the address wrong.”

He sighed, “I can see that.” 

The woman raised her eyebrows further, the corners of her mouth lifting into an amused smirk. “So you’ve come to visit your sister at the wrong house, without a raincoat, in the middle of the night.” She took a step towards him. “It’s not a very good story.”

He stared at her for a moment. “It’s not a story.” 

"You’re standing in my house.”

“I thought it was my sister's house!”

“Fine, show me the letter.” 

The man’s composure wavered at this, he licked his lips nervously and looked over her to the door. “I don’t... Have it. I lost it.”

“You lost the letter!” She laughed loudly, startling him. He’d expected her to interrogate him further, or finally decide to kick him out, but she broke his gaze to brush past him down the hallway, taking a right at the end of it. “This isn’t even the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she murmured to herself as she passed, and he pressed his back to the wall to avoid touching her. She smelled spicy, like the richness of cloves and honey.

The woman entered her kitchen for the second time that evening, rummaging for a kettle and heading straight for the deep porcelain sink. Milky gray light shone through a wide, rectangular window framed with deep green paint, shining a thick square of light straight down the middle of the room. It illuminated a small wooden table, two short chairs on either side and pale wooden cabinets adorned with black metallic handles.

“Would you like some tea?” She called, loud enough for the man to hear. She smiled to herself, placing the kettle on the stove and lighting the gas. His size seemed to reveal nothing about him, he was as shy and light-footed as her sister. 

The man turned the corner, tentatively entering the slight, moonlit room. He watched the woman reach into an open cabinet, retrieving various jars of what looked like tea bags and placing them on a small, woven tray. She held a stern expression, but once she noticed him in the doorway her features broke into a calm smile. She retrieved a final jar, placed it next to the others, then gripped the tray and turned, placing it on the table in the middle of the room. 

“I have peppermint, ginger, earl gray, chamomile, and vanilla.”

“I don’t usually drink tea,” he confessed. 

The woman raised her eyebrows, considering this for a moment.

“Chamomile then,” she decided, taking a jar containing yellow bulbs of herbs off the tray, followed by a second containing deep green leaves. “And sit down, you’re making me nervous just standing there.”

He stepped into the room and took a seat, deciding on the left side of the table so as to be closer to the furnace, which smoldered timidly. His muscles ached with each step, and when he reached the short chair he melted into it, his knees bumping against the edge of the table.

The woman worked smoothly, retrieving the tea bags from their jars and gathering an assortment of items from her cupboards. He watched her with a soft focus, the bulk of his day starting to catch up with him. The weight of his wet clothes suddenly felt very heavy, and while a thick cushion of heat pressed into his back, the rest of his body tingled with cold. 

She arrived at the table after a few moments, her tray piled with new ingredients which she set about arranging in front of them. She had also prepared a hefty chunk of bread, placed on a small wooden plate, and slid it in front of him along with a golden knife and a smaller platter stacked with a pale slab of butter. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was, and the escaping scents of spices, honey, and butter made him suddenly ravenous. His feelings of shyness tempered as he began buttering his bread and took a large bite. 

“Thank you,” he managed after swallowing deeply. 

Lifting the kettle from the stove, she poured hot water into cups, a modest amount of steam rising lazily from each. 

“You’re welcome.”

She passed a mug to him, it clinked against the saucer as he took it awkwardly, maneuvering his shuddering hand to avoid brushing against her fingers. “Careful, it’s-” She caught his eye, snagging on the sudden redness of his skin, the way his dry lips parted as he swallowed nervously. “Hot.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He studied the intricate design on the side of his cup, blue flowers entangled in leafy blue vines. Stubbornly, he traced it with his thumb, then took a sip, refusing to meet her piercing eyes. 

He coughed, swallowed. It was too hot. 

She remained at his side. “I moved from my village a few years ago because I was suffocating. I thought a different environment would change the nature of people. But everywhere you go, prying eyes follow. People love stories.” Inquisitive determination defined her gaze, which bore into him steadily. “And yours is not that bad, I’ll admit. I’m just very clever. And I know what it looks like to escape.” 

His mouth struggled to form words that might refute her, but they remained unspoken. She grinned with satisfaction, quickly replaced with a crease in her brow. “Why my house?”

He could feel the woman staring at him, she had a way of staring with that piercing gaze that made him feel so exposed. 

She turned back around, retrieving her own mug thoughtfully, and sat opposite him, bringing her knees to her chest, pale fabric stretched taut across them. And then she was looking at him again. 


Every word he spoke felt like bringing him a step closer to getting thrown onto the street, but the silence weighed heavy enough to make him lean forward.

“Your light was on. The lantern by your door, it was the only one lit.” His forearms came to rest on the table. “Out of any of the houses. For blocks. Someone was following me and the patrols were right there and- I guess it just felt like… fate. Or something like it.”

The woman absorbed this with a straight face and a daunting stillness, the gentle blinking of her lashes the only thing to indicate she was conscious, listening. She was unafraid of his gaze, which she held for an uncomfortably long time, and he tried his best not to crumble under it. He could see the gears turn behind the dark pools of her eyes. 

“I suppose you’ll need some dry clothes.” She turned her eyes down to her cup, bringing it to her parted lips and sipping deeply. She swallowed. “And I’ll make you a place to sleep.” She rose, cup held at her breast bone, her long fingers laced around it. “Do you have a name?” 

“Blair,” he breathed, feeling as though he were navigating a very delicate situation. 

She nodded. “Aether. What’s it going to be then? Overnight guest or… siblings.” 


She approached him promptly, looking closely at his face and hair. “I suppose we don’t look much alike.” 

They each silently compared each other’s features, his purple-toned, downturned mouth to her full, pinkish lips. Her nose was flatter than his, and her skin shone with rich olive, while his was a warmer caramel. Their eyes were both brown, but hers were wide-set and angular, hooded. The man’s eyes were big and closer set, wide and downturned like his mouth, his eyelids puffy from exhaustion. 

Her voice lowered into a whisper. “My walls are very thin, and there is a family next door who will want to know why there is a man in my house at such a late hour.”

“Is that any of their business?” He responded in an equal tone, but she only chuckled. 

“Overnight guest it is,” she murmured, something electric growing in her stare. She twisted away from him, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Ok! I’m off to bed then,” she called at the wall.

She turned and slipped through the doorway, leaving him to his bread and butter. 

A log in the furnace crumbled.

January 29, 2022 06:04

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W.D. Pierce
03:47 Feb 08, 2022

Really, truly loved this story. A great read, and I'd love to see a book about Blair and Aether. My only comment would be to maybe add something else to the ending? "The log in the furnace crumbled." just felt a bit too abrupt of an ending for me, but that may also be my personal taste. Otherwise, well done!


Audrey Shaw
16:42 Feb 08, 2022

Thank you so much!! I also felt the ending was a little abrupt, I'll edit it more in my free time! I really appreciate your feedback :)


W.D. Pierce
17:00 Feb 08, 2022

No problem! We're all here to become better writers, and so I know constructive feedback is super important. But I really only had that one note. Your story was truly wonderful and I'd love to read it as a book!


Audrey Shaw
19:55 Feb 08, 2022

You'll be the first to know if I ever decide to write the full story!! (●'◡'●)


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Philip Ebuluofor
12:29 Feb 14, 2022

I was wondering if crumbling log means that the lady romantic resolve crumbled or something. Fine work to be honest.


Audrey Shaw
00:05 Feb 15, 2022

ooo I like your interpretation. thanks!


Philip Ebuluofor
11:11 Feb 16, 2022

Pleasure mine.


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Imran Mohammad
21:30 Feb 11, 2022

Hi Audrey, I absolutely loves the story and is there anyway of connecting with you to discuss few things about the story. If you can drop a text in my Instagram @travelimran will be great thank you.


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Heather Z
20:57 Feb 08, 2022

Hi Audrey, I really enjoyed this read. Excellent chemistry between the two characters. I wonder how it would work if you introduced the woman’s name in the beginning? I was curious about her. Great use of dialogue and descriptive writing! It was very mysterious and I wondered what the patrols were and what this man’s story was. I think you could make this into an even longer piece! Great writing and I’m looking forward to your next submission!


Audrey Shaw
16:17 Feb 09, 2022

Thanks Heather :D I honestly have a lot of love for these characters and am (kind of) working on something longer for them! Thank you so much for the feedback!!


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Lizzy Everett
16:18 Feb 05, 2022

Wow, this was great. The descriptions were like nothing I've seen before. They were consistent, yet not overbearing to the plot. Somehow, the descriptions always felt fresh and anew. Blair and Aether's dialogue really strengthened their chemistry. The lack thereof at times made what they did say all the more important. My one major critique of this is the switching of perspectives. It's disorienting, and it took me a moment to realize what was going on. If you want to convey how a character other than the main character is feeling or what t...


Audrey Shaw
17:57 Feb 07, 2022

Thank you so much! I really appreciate this feedback, especially about the perspective shifts. I agree! It's something I'll take with me into future stories :)


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