"Why didn't you want Michael Kidd joining us?" Matt said when the shed was out of site.
Annabelle walked with her hands shoved into the pockets of her coat looking at the ground in front of her. "I don't know. He just seemed --."
"Annabelle, look out." Tobin pulled her out of the path of a stampede of men and horses.
"What on earth?" Matt said as he and Tobin stared after the men. Annabelle, however, was looking in the direction the men had come from and froze, her hands still in her pockets.
Run, she tried to say, but it only came out as a weird croak. The two men death-grip hugged her on either side.
The dump truck-sized bear approached. The three friends stood still as statues, Annabelle sandwiched between Matt and Tobin. She madly thought if they were still enough, the ferocious beast wouldn't see them. It trudged closer. "Oh cheesecake," Annabelle breathed and jammed her eyes shut pretending she was invisible.
But the creature wasn't fooled. Annabelle felt the bear's cool snout touch her forehead, could feel the heat of its breath. "Please don't eat me. Please don't eat us," she whispered. Her heart pounded in her chest, which felt hollow. She held her breath, thinking, This is it. Then….
Cautiously, Annabelle made slits of her eyes and saw the giant bear sitting placidly, looking casually around, his arms resting by his sides.
She opened her eyes fully. Somehow she knew the beast meant her no harm. He licked his lips then sat gazing at her, teeth protruding at all angles from his mouth. She sensed this fearsome creature, with a serious dental problem, would actually do anything in the world to make her happy and pleased.
Annabelle wriggled from the sandwich her friends had made of her, her arms innocently held down at her sides. She had to tilt her head back to look up at the face of this humongous animal. She could feel the heat radiating from his furry, honey-brown belly.
"Annie-bellie, what are you doing?" she heard Matt rasp, and Tobin sputtered, "Annabelle, I…I don't…."
She left them to their amusing shock and slowly padded her way around the beastly bear. When Annabelle reached his rump, he leaned forward on his forepaws. Annabelle's heart tap danced. She reached out and clasped the brown fur. Clinching and un-clinching her hand, she wondered at how soft the fur was when she imagined it would have been harsh and coarse. She placed one foot on the creature's back followed by the other and climbed up to his neck. The bear returned to all fours, standing with Annabelle straddling him like a jockey. Annabelle leaned forward resting her cheek on the back of her folded hands using the animal's head as a pillow. Quite content, she closed her eyes and smiled dreamily. I am a princess.
From far below, Matt and Tobin shouted her name, fanning their arms about.
"Annie-bellie, this is not one of your stories. Get down!"
"Annabelle, what are you doing? Don't hurt her, you beast!"
From her perch, Annabelle grinned at the two boys. Matt paused and put down his pedantic finger. Tobin was trying to look big and mean baring his teeth and jabbing the air with a stick he'd found. Annabelle sat up. "It's all right. He's not going to hurt me."
"He?!" Matt whelped. "And just how do you know it's a he?"
Annabelle raised her eyebrows. Matt cleared his throat. "Right."
Tobin called up to her, "You're sure it – he's not going to harm you?"
"I'm sure. You can put your stick down, Tobin."
Tobin sheepishly tossed aside his large stick.
"Annie-bellie-wellie, what makes you so sure this thing is not going to harm you?"
Annabelle thought about this, absentmindedly stroking the bear's head, and then shrugged. "Just know."
Matt held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun that had appeared in full force. "Yes, but, Annie-bellie….Look, can you come down now? Shouting up at you is getting a bit tiresome."
Annabelle grinned again and shimmied down the right flank of the bear like she was dismounting a very large horse. She stood by the tree trunk-sized foreleg. Matt was scowling. Tobin's eyes shifted between Annabelle and the beast's face.
"It's all right, Tobin. You're my friend. He won't hurt you."
Matt set his fists on his hips. "And just what makes you say that, Annabelle Smith?"
The great bear snorted and slopped his tongue over his lips and many teeth. Matt cringed. "This beast has been terrorizing the entire village: chasing people, growling, snarling." A rumble came from the bear's chest. "Well, you have; don't bother denying it."
Annabelle giggled. "He hasn't been chasing the entire village, Matt; he's been chasing the men. He likes girls – just like my story."
"Oh, just like in your story." Matt scoffed.
Annabelle looked up at the face of the furry beast who shifted a little.
"And then what happened," Matt said in attempt to calm himself.
Suddenly another thought took control of her mind, and her grin retreated; her face went sour. "It's the louhiormulf that puts ice in my chest, not Radley."
"Oh, she's named it," Matt said, wiping a hand over his face in despair.
Annabelle looked pointedly at her writing partner. "Radley won't suck people's brains out of their eye sockets and slurp them down like spaghetti."
"Suck people's brains out of their eye sockets?" Matt repeated. "Ughk. What is the matter with you, Smith?"
At the thought of the louhiormulf, Annabelle nestled herself against Radley's warm leg. It was near again, she sensed, its yellow eyes watching her, the creature panting for her. She doubted it wanted to suck her brains out, but the silly exaggeration soothed her nerves a little.
"And this ruddy beast is hardly innocent enough to deserve the name Radley. I wonder about you, sometimes, I really do."
"Oh, stuff it, Jones," Annabelle retorted. "Come on, Radley. Come on, Tobin. Let's move quickly before we lose the daylight."
The bear obeyed as did Tobin, who stifled a grin at Annabelle's victory over "his lord and master" Matt Jones.