I’m going to tell you a story. Your grandfather told it to me when I was your age, so I think it’s time you heard it.
No, it’s not really like the ones Grandma used to tell. She was great at telling them, you’re right. They weren’t really her stories, though. No, your Grandma didn’t make them up. That’s right. Those are stories that everyone tells. Shh. I didn’t mean to upset you. I know that they’re good stories. Just remember Grandma telling them to you. They’re still just as special. Your time with her is still just as special.
Listen, listen. This is a story your grandfather told me, and it’s his story. It happened to him. Actually, your grandfather is sort of like the hero in the story. I know. I don’t talk about him much, because it makes me sad. Yes, just like we get sad when we talk about Grandma.
A long time ago, when Grandpa was young — yes, Grandpa and Grandma were both young once. They were babies, even. I know. It’s weird to think about, isn’t it? Just picture someone who looks a lot like me, but a little different. Grandpa had black hair, and he had really broad shoulders. He was a strong man. Yes, little one, I’m strong, too. Thank you.
When Grandpa was almost my age — he was a few years younger. Older than you, younger than me. When he was that age, there was something bad happening in the village. Kids were disappearing. Yes, the story is a little bit scary. I know. Nobody likes to be scared, but sometimes there are scary things that we have to learn about anyway. Sometimes we have to learn about the scary things so that we know what to be scared of, and how to act when we are scared.
Yes, I’m going to talk about the monsters. Just a little bit. You liked listening to Grandma’s stories about the monsters, didn’t you? Well, I know you didn’t like the monster part. You liked the heroes, right? The ones that fought the monsters? Well, like I said, you grandfather is sort of like the hero in the story. He didn’t really fight the monsters. I know. That would be cool. But listen, he did something better. He saved people.
Okay, okay. If you just listen, I’ll tell you how.
Kids were disappearing from the village, and everyone was worried about them. It wasn’t a lot of kids, and it wasn’t all at once. Just, every few months, someone would be gone. Everyone was upset. Nobody knew what to do about it, because nobody knew where the kids were going, or what was happening to them.
Well, that’s what they thought, too. Everyone blamed it on the Shaded Ones. Grandma told you stories about a lot of monsters. It’s important to know about them and learn what you can do if you see one. That’s why Grandma told you the stories. But listen, you’ll probably go your whole life without seeing most of those monsters. You might have to deal with the Shaded Ones, because they live around here.
The people in the village thought it was them. It made sense, if kids were missing, that the monsters were behind it. The Shaded Ones come at night, and everything gets darker when they’re around. They pull the light right out of the air. It makes them hard to see in the darkness, and yes, it makes them very, very scary.
Your grandfather was worried. He was upset, because the children that were going missing were kids that he knew. Our village is not large. Are there any kids in it that you don’t know, at least by name? Right. So this was very personal to Grandpa, even though none of the kids were his. Your grandfather was the kind of person who was always thinking about other people, so he didn’t say this, but I’m sure he was also worried about what was going to happen if he and Grandma had kids, and this was still going on.
That’s right. I hadn’t been born yet. I wasn’t even a baby. This was the same year Grandma and Grandpa got married. Haha. No, they weren’t married forever. Nothing is forever, little one. Think of it. Everything has a beginning, and an ending.
Yes, even the Wizard. We hope. Yes, I like to believe even the Wizard has an ending.
You’re getting me off topic. Shh. Let me finish the story, so you can get ready for bed.
Your grandfather was worried, and he began to think about it. Everyone in the village thought that the Shaded Ones were taking the children, but Grandpa didn’t believe it. That’s important, Hana. You have to remember that. Grandpa didn’t believe what everyone else believed, because he thought about it, and it didn’t make sense.
Yes, you’re right. The Shaded Ones do take people. It’s awful, and it does happen. That’s why we have guards every night. That’s why we keep the village as well-lit as we can, when night begins to fall. That’s why we use torchlight, because the Shaded Ones can’t steal it. That’s the thing about the Shaded Ones. They are very, very hard to see if they catch you in the dark. But in the light? That’s another story.
That’s why they don’t come in the daylight. They come at dusk, or at dawn, or in the middle of the night, because darkness is their ally. Even at midday, everything gets darker around them, but you know what?
That’s right, Grandma did tell you about this. So you know the answer, don’t you? Good job. Yes, the Shaded Ones are actually easier to see in the day, and they can’t hide from you. You just look for shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows, and you know where they are.
Your grandfather knew that, too, and that’s why he started to doubt what everyone else believed. You see, nobody could figure out how the Shaded Ones were getting past the guards and taking the children, or why they were only taking one at a time. When the Shaded Ones come, they don’t just take one person. They take the whole household.
What people didn’t think about was that the Shaded Ones weren’t coming at night. I know, it seems obvious. All they had to do was think, well, when did the child disappear? But, sometimes, when people are afraid, they don’t think with their brains. They think with their fear. When you’re already afraid of something, it becomes easier to fear it more. It’s easier just to blame everything bad that happens to you on something you don’t like already.
Your grandfather had a fox, too. Yup. Actually, Grandpa’s fox was Blue’s, um, great-grandfather? Great-great grandfather? Something like that. I’m sorry. No, I can’t remember his name. Do you want to make one up? He was a boy fox.
Okay. That’s a wonderful name. Knight. So, Grandpa took Knight with him through the village, because he knew he had to do something about it. Everyone else was just content to be afraid. You’re right, that phrase doesn’t make sense, does it? But it does happen. People become afraid of something, but then they get accustomed to that fear. They just begin to live with it. They may wish it goes away, they might talk about it and dream of solutions, but they don’t do anything about it.
It takes courage to take action, and your grandfather found his courage.
He went to the parents of the people who had lost their children, and he questioned them. No, he wasn’t the first one. Other people had asked questions, too, and maybe Grandpa asked those same questions. I don’t know. What matters is that the other questioners left it at that. They didn’t pursue the real answers, and Grandpa did.
Grandpa had the villagers take him and Knight to where the children had been lost. Knight was like Blue. He helped Grandpa hunt, and he helped him with the livestock. So, Grandpa thought, finding a lost child isn’t that different from hunting. Knight can do this.
Grandpa was right, but he didn’t succeed on his first try. Yes. Sometimes even if you’ve got a good idea, it doesn’t work right away. You just have to keep going. The scent trails were too old. There were other villagers with foxes, yes. I don’t know why they didn’t try. Fear stops people from doing a lot of the right things, Hana.
Sadly, your grandfather had to wait until another child disappeared. He had wanted to stop the disappearances, but without fresh evidence, he didn’t have any leads to follow.
Grandpa and Knight waited for the news anxiously. It was a long time before another child disappeared — longer than before, in fact. As though whatever was taking the kids hoped that Grandpa gave up and forgot about it.
When the little boy was taken —
What was his name? I’m not going to tell you, because he still lives in the village. Yes. He’s the one that Grandpa saved. I don’t want to tell you who it was, because you’ll talk to him about it. No. I know, you’re good at promises, and I know you wouldn’t break your promise on purpose. I just think that you would forget. Sweetheart, listen. Some very bad things happened to him, and I know he doesn’t want to think about them ever again. Shh. Hana, that’s not the important part of the story. Listen, please.
When he was taken, your grandfather took Knight and ran to his parents house. They were distraught. They didn’t want to talk to him, or anyone, until he convinced them that he was sure he could help. He had his sword, and his bow. He was afraid of the Shaded Ones, of course, but he was brave. That’s right, Hana. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means that you don’t let your fear control you.
He was afraid of the Shaded Ones, yes, but you see, it was mid afternoon. The Shaded Ones were frightening, but he didn’t believe it was them. You’re right. It was another kind of monster. It might have been the kind your Grandma told you about. Your grandfather realized that, but he acted anyway. He saw what he believed to be the right thing to do, and he did it.
Knight was able to follow the trail. The child’s parents stayed at home. They believed Grandpa when he said he wanted to help, but they let their fear of the Shaded Ones control them. No. That’s not nice, Hana. Sometimes we have to respect other people’s fears. We don’t ever know what another person is experiencing.
What your grandfather found at the end of that trail was worse, he said, than meeting with any one of the monsters from the Tales. Because, like I said, he did meet with a monster that day. The trail looped around through a field and into the woods, but it came back. Knight led Grandpa to a house on the edge of the village.
That’s right. Yes. The monster was a person. It was a man from the village. Your grandfather knocked on the door, and there was no answer. He went in anyway. He never told me what he saw there, but now, I think I can guess. No, I’m not going to tell you. Not yet. I think he was right not to tell me when I was younger.
What I will tell you is that your grandfather saved that boy, but in doing so, he did something else he was never proud of. You see, Grandpa knew the man that had taken the children. He had called that man a friend. Many people in the village had. He had trusted that man, and he opened that door to find that his trust had been betrayed.
Your grandfather had his sword. He drew it, and the man didn’t back down. Or maybe he did. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there, and all I have is Grandpa’s word on what happened. I do know that your grandfather regretted his actions for the rest of his life.
Yes. Yes, your grandfather killed that man. I don’t know. I don’t know, for sure, if it was the right thing to do. Grandpa thought it was, at first, and maybe that part of him was right. Maybe, in order to save more children, he did the right thing by taking that man’s life.
Grandpa told me that, later, he questioned his actions. It wasn’t even much later. He said, before he even put his sword down, he felt the guilt. He worried that it wasn’t his place to judge someone. Well, that’s why we have laws, Hana. Because, no matter how right someone feels like they are in the moment, they might realize later that they were wrong.
No, I’m not saying Grandpa was wrong. The village didn’t put him on trial. They questioned him, but everyone could see immediately what had happened. The boy they found alive described what had happened to him. The point is, Grandpa felt guilty, because the man he killed deserved a trial. It wasn’t just up to Grandpa to punish him. Was he guilty? Unquestionably. Would he have been hanged? Yes, I’m sure of it.
Neither of those facts absolved your grandfather of his guilt. That was the first time he killed a man, and the last.
No, I agree. Your grandfather was a hero. That’s why I told you this story, Hana. Heroes don’t just live in stories. There are heroes all around you. Everyone is a hero in their own way, even if they don’t go around slaying monsters.
I also told you this story because there’s another important lesson, and it’s a bit contradictory to what I just said. What’s contradictory? It’s like, it’s the opposite. It makes the other thing sound false. It, ah, runs against it. In this case, it’s a paradox. That’s where two things that seem like they don’t make sense together are actually true.
Monsters aren’t the only monsters, Hana. Sometimes people are monsters. Sometimes otherwise good people just have monsters hiding inside them, monsters that beat them up inside and make them sad, or angry, or make them do things they know they shouldn’t do. It’s how they deal with those monsters that matters.