The Watcher. It’s a 6.

The key turned reluctantly in the weathered Schlage single cylinder, deadbolt screeching in protest, only to submit and retract once more; entrance to the home was achieved.

Arriving shortly after dusk, ink dot sky already setting up, I brought in the homeowners’ mail, turned on a few lights and began the tedious task of retrieving a week’s worth of groceries and a couple of overnight bags from the car.

Five years and running, the family’s summer vacation at the beach had finally taken a seat at the tradition table so, for the 6th successive year, 2 adults + 2.5 children loaded up the 4 wheel to head out to the highway and beckoning coastline.

My stay as overlord of hearth and home was a given, serving as a sort of vacation as well, typically uneventful but for at least one summer storm and a poltergeist experience or two however, this year included an added component, one of flesh and blood – she was 9 years old, had been living in (and out) of foster homes at least 7 of those years having lost her parents at age 2; since then, she’d been institutionalized and with each successive foster family, the hope of permanent adoption dimmed like an aging star until that is, the 2+2.5 family paid a visit 3 weeks before summer vacation.

Provided her brief history, assured of her gentle nature, cautioned about her tendency towards self-isolation, I did as instructed at dinnertime and tapped the metal bowl with a spoon exactly 3 times, soon hearing an unmistakable thud on the hardwoods from the bedroom on the upper level of the house… black and orange body, fur glinting under a strip of moonlight streaming through the French doors, appeared stealthily from the shadows of the living room. She was hungry.