A loud squeal of fear rang through Grammie and Grandpa’s house. All the adults came running. A big green monster growled and stalked up the hallway. Seven cousins huddled together. The monster growled and waved its claws.
“I’ll defend you,” Grandpa said jumping in front of the scary monster.
“Me too,” said Grammie drawing an invisible sword. She tossed it to Grandpa and drew another one.
The monster giggled.
“That’s not a monster,” Aunt Abby said.
“It’s not??” the seven cousins said in unison.
“I think it’s Uncle Jason.”
“Daddy!” said Ellie breaking from the huddle of frightened children to hug the green monster around the knees.
“Are you all okay?” Aunt Abby asked kneeling down in front of the kids.
“I was very scared,” said Bruce.
“Me too!” said Jules.
“I wasn’t,” said Joshua.
“Yes you were,” Constance said poking him in the shoulder. A few minutes of bickering ensued.
“Aunt Abby,” Bruce said once Grammie straightened out Joshua and Constance, “I’m not brave. I was scared.”
“Oh Bruce, you being scared doesn’t mean you aren’t brave.”
Uncle Jason pulled off the monster’s scary head. “They’re not mutually exclusive,” he said.
All seven cousins looked up at him and blinked slowly.
Ellie tried out the two big words without coming any closer to understanding them.
“What does that mean?” Jules asked wrinkling her nose.
“It means what Aunt Abby said. Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re not brave.”
“How about I tell you a story about it,” Aunt Abby said.
“Can I be brave in the story?” Bruce said.
“Is it a Once Upon A Time story?” Imogene asked taking Aunt Abby’s hand and leading her to the couch.
“A fairy tale western,” said Jude plopping down beside them.
“No Jude,” Jules said. “It’s just a western.”
“Actually,” Aunt Abby said. “This time it is a fairy tale western. Ready?”
Seven heads nodded.
Once upon a time, a chill wind blew over the Texas flatland. It blew through the fingers of the pecan trees and the oaks chasing squirrels. It whistled around noses and ears until they were red and cold. Behind the wind came a white, dense fog. Hobbes, the golden lab, stayed close to the house. Patrolling the property was complicated when it was so windy. Clyde, the donkey, kept his back to the wind. Three pairs of brown cowboy boots sat on the front porch while four pairs of pink, purple, blue, and red cowboy boots covered little painted toes down by the pond.
“Bruce, Joshua, Jude,” Grammie called.
The three boys came tramping through the house with growls, snaps, and stamping feet.
“Ohhh,” Grammie said. “Did a bunch of dinosaurs replace my grandsons?”
The boys roared and showed off their sharp teeth and sharp claws.
“Well, I need my three grand-dinosaur-sons to go outside and find their cousins. The girls went to play at the pond and it’s getting late and dark.”
Bruce, Joshua, and Jude stared out the window at the gray sky, the fog, and the cold wind dashing through the fog.
“Grammie?” Bruce said. “Can we stay inside? It looks scary out there.”
“No,” Grammie said. “It’s just the weather. Besides you wouldn’t want to leave Jules, Ellie, Constance, and Imogene out there all on their own.”
“Yes we would,” Bruce said.
“That’s not good,” Grammie said.
“But we’re scared,” Joshua said.
“Well, you’ll have to be brave,” Grammie said.
“But we’re scared,” said Jude.
“Do you know what being brave means?” asked Grammie.
“It means not being scared,” Bruce said.
“Are we in this story?” Jules said from beside Constance.
“Is this a boy story?” Constance said.
“No, you’ll come in later,” said Aunt Abby. “And besides, sometimes girls have to be even braver than boys.”
“We do?” said Ellie.
“Why?” said Imogene.
“Because we’re usually afraid of more stuff,” Aunt Abby said with a smile. “The more stuff you’re afraid of the braver you have to be.”
“No Bruce,” Grammie said. “It means doing what you have to do even though you’re scared.”
Three sets of blue eyes looked up at her.
“So, even though you’re scared, the brave thing to do is go out and call the girls in for dinner.”
The three boys dropped their snarls and dinosaur growls. They glanced at the front door leading out into the foggy fall weather. Bruce swallowed. Jude took his hand. Joshua sighed.
“Go on boys,” Grammie said. “Go like dinosaurs. Maybe then you won’t be as scared.”
The boys tried to growl as they made their way to the front door. The wind almost whipped it out of their hands as they opened it to go outside. Hobbes greeted them with a wagging tail. The boys petted his head, scratched his ears, and Joshua gave him a big hug. They slipped on their boots and started out into the yard. The wind snatched at their hair and twisted their sweaters. The fog hid the other pasture on the other side of the road. It hid the neighbor’s house. It hid the pond.
“Come on boy,” Joshua said patting his leg to encourage the lab to follow them.
Hobbes wigged his tail but didn’t come down.
“Maybe he’s scared,” Jude said.
“Hobbes,” Bruce said, “it’s okay to be scared. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared.”
The golden dog cocked his head at the blond-haired boy. He barked in agreement and came down to them. They headed out towards the pond feeling less scared with Hobbes. As they trekked through the pasture, Clyde joined them with a swish of his tail. The pond seemed so far away. It was so far away they couldn’t see it through the fog. But Hobbes and Clyde made sure they didn’t get lost.
Out of the swirling, wet, whiteness they heard a scream.
The boys stopped in their tracks.
Hobbes hair stood on end.
Clyde stamped on small hoof.
“Ellie!” Jules screamed through the fog. “Don’t go in the pond.”
“Imogene!” Constance yelled.
Hobbes barked and trotted off into the white mist. Clyde followed him.
“Hurry!” hissed Bruce.
The three boys ran after the dog and the donkey afraid of being left in the fog and trying to be brave.
Jules stood on the edge of the pond staring down into it. Constance, her hands muddy and full of sticks and rocks was a little deeper down. The boys hurried up beside Jules. Deep down in the pond, Ellie and Imogene waded. The water sloshed over their boots kicked up by the chilly wind.
“It’s cold!” Imogene shrieked. Her red hair glowed in the foggy darkness of the fall evening.
“I’m gonna tell Grammie. You’re not supposed to get wet,” Jules said.
“You’re going to get too cold,” Constance said.
Ellie and Imogene started back towards the bank. They tried to pull their boots up out of the water.
“Help!” Imogene said. “I’m stuck.”
“Me too!” said Ellie
Everyone ran down to the edge of the water but couldn’t reach Ellie and Imogene.
“We need a big stick,” said Jules.
Constance held out the stick in her hand.
“No,” Joshua said. “That’s not big enough.”
Hobbes ran up with a log in his mouth.
“Good dog,” Joshua said patting him on the head.
The three boys and two girls held out the log to Imogene and Ellie. They caught hold of it and with a mighty tug were jerked free of the cold pond. After much splashing and a vain attempt to wash their hands, boots, and faces of mud, the seven cousins headed back to the house with Hobbes and Clyde.
Grammie jumped as the seven muddy and cold children stamped in the door.
“I should take you back outside and hose all y’all off,” Grandpa said.
“It’s too cold, Grandpa,” Jules said.
Grammie carried them all to the bathroom where she cleaned them up while Grandpa wiped up the mud. Dinner was a little later than usual.
“We did it, Grammie,” Bruce said as they ate.
“What?” Grammie said.
“We were very brave even though we were scared,” he said.
“We went all the way out to the pond,” Jude said.
“Hobbes helped us rescue Ellie and Imogene,” Joshua said.
“You’re all very brave little children,” Grammie said. “I love you very much.”
“Boo!” said Grandpa.
The seven cousins jumped.
“Got you!” said Grandpa.
“The end,” said Aunt Abby. “Now do you understand that being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared? It means you do what you have to do anyway?”
“I was very brave,” Bruce said.
“Me too!” shouted Joshua.
“I jumped in the pond!” Ellie said with delight.
“Me too!” said Imogene.