“Tell us a story!”
“Yeah! Tell us a story, granddad.”
Hu looked at his grandchildren with a frowning smile. “It’s late. I’m tired. We’ve a busy day tomorrow. There’s no time for a story.”
“Please! We’re not sleepy.”
“Yes, but I am.” Hu doubted his reasoning with six-year-olds was sound.
“Tell us something from the time Before.”
“Pleeaeaease!” They chimed in unison.
“Fine, fine. But after it’s over I’ll not have another word from either of you. Square?”
They nodded eagerly, smiles wide and hungry. Hu racked his mind for a moment, thinking of what story to tell. While he did this, he told the children to prepare for bed and he would tend to them soon. First, he stoked the furnace, throwing a small piece of timber into the flames, just big enough to last through the tale. Then he made sure the doors were barred and the windows sealed. Finally, he poured him a cup of summer wine. He suspected he’d need something strong to get him through the yarn he’d selected.
And suddenly the work was over. He pulled his chair over to the boy’s bedside and sat his cup on the ground. “Have you said your goodnight prayers, yet?” Kile nodded; Ken shook his head. Hu sighed. “Well go on, Ken. Let’s hear ‘em out loud, then. I won’t start until you’ve said ‘em.”
Ken started to protest but was silenced by Hu holding up a hand. “If you want a story, you’re gonna hafta say your prayers. Ain’t no two ways about it.” Ken scowled, but he obliged. A minute or so later he was finished. Hu nodded approvingly, but inside he knew the prayers were a useless tradition. If they worked, there’d be no such thing as Before. Annie and the kids would still be alive. He wouldn’t be hiding in some old, forgotten house in the middle of nowhere, worried sick all hours of the day that they’d be found and unable to sleep at night because of the memories.
Hu knew that praying was a pointless action, but he still encouraged the boys to believe. No reason for them to be jaded at such an early age. They’d find out the truth soon enough, he supposed. Might as well...
Hu shook his head. “Sorry. Just thinking of where to start.”
The boys looked at each other, eyes rolling between the two of them.
Hu coughed and took a sip of the wine. “Alright. This one’s called ‘The Doom of the Salt People.’” Kile and Ken’s eyes reflected in the glowing orange of the firelight, and for the hundredth time that day, Hu envied their innocence. “It goes like this...”