Once upon a time the sun didn’t rise. Dark clouds blew in over the flat Texas plains with booming thunder and bright flashes of lightning. The wind shook Grammie and Grandpa’s little house. Hobbes, the Lab, laid his head on his paws inside his dog-house waiting for the storm to pass. Clyde, the donkey, stuck his nose deep in his trough of hay thankful for a place to escape the rain.
Aunt Abby sat in the living room next to the fireplace with four rowdy nephews and five pretty nieces gathered around her. Cups of juice and mugs of hot chocolate and coffee filled everyone’s hands.
A loud clap of thunder made the cousins jump. Remi and Rook screwed up their faces ready to cry.
“Aunt Abby,” Constance said. “Can you tell us a story?”
“I think a story is a great idea.” Aunt Abby sipped from her mug. “Stormy days are perfect for stories.”
“Will it be a scary one?” Bruce asked.
All the cousins turned to Aunt Abby to see what she would say. She pondered for a minute.
“You know Bruce, all good stories have scary parts, but the best of stories have happy endings. The very best story of all time had very scary parts: Jesus had to die to save his people. But! He rose again from the dead. See, it has to be scary before it can be happy.”
Joshua frowned. “Why?”
“Because than the happy ending means more. If it’s just happy all the time we would all take it for granted. Aren’t cookies better after you’ve had to eat all your veggies? Wouldn’t you get tired of cookies if that’s all you ate all the time?”
“No,” all the cousins chorused together.
Aunt Abby giggled. “I think it’s just the way the world is. Christmas is more special once a year in winter than all the time. Jesus could only defeat death if he first died. Aslan could only save Edmond by dying. Nemo only appreciated his dad after he lost him. It’s just the way the world works. Happy endings are best after scary parts.”
“I don’t like the scary parts and Mommy says I have to fast-forward when Aslan dies,” Bruce said.
“Yes.” Aunt Abby nodded. “There are different levels of scary and I promise this story won’t be too scary. Just a little scary.”
Ellie leapt to her feet. “I’ll be brave.”
“Me too!” Imogene jumped up.
“Too!” shouted Remi grabbing Imogene’s hand as she stood up.
Jude growled and joined the girls. Not to be outdone, Bruce, Julie, Constance, Joshua, and Rook all came to their feet.
“Shall we all be brave together?” Aunt Abby asked.
A loud clap of thunder startled everyone. They looked out at the storm raging around Grammie and Grandpa’s house. Lightning brightened up the dark day for a second. Another crash of thunder shook the windows.
“Shall we all be brave together?” Aunt Abby asked again.
“YES!” Nine cousins screamed jumping up and down, up and down.
“What is going on here?” Grandpa yelled appearing suddenly in the room.
Nine cousins and Aunt Abby screamed in fright and hugged each other.
“You scared us Grandpa!” Jules said.
“I scared you??” Grandpa smiled.
“It is a scary sort of morning.” Grammie came up behind him. “Is Aunt Abby going to tell you a story?”
“Yes,” Constance said, “with only a little bit of a scary part so we can have a happy ending.”
“And I’m going to be brave.” Ellie pointed at herself and grinned.
“Me too,” everyone else said.
“Good.” Grandpa sat down. “I’ll listen to the story too.”
“I’ll hold your hand in case you get scared.” Remi took Grandpa’s hand.
“Do you know what Grammie says about stories with scary parts and happy endings?” Aunt Abby said. “You know, ‘those best of stories’?”
“No, what do you say Grammie?” Jules pranced over to Grammie and took her hand. Her eight other cousins gathered around Grammie.
Grammie sat down taking Jude into her lap. Imogene snuggled down on one side of her and Ellie on the other. The older cousins arrange themselves cross-legged in front of her, and Constance pulled Rook close.
“Stories, good ones, let us practice being brave before we have to be.”
The nine cousins looked questioningly at one another and then back at Grammie.
“What does that mean?” Joshua said what they were all wondering.
Grandpa explained. “There will be things in your life that might be hard, or scary, or sad. But if you’ve read the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe you can remember that Aslan beat the witch, ended winter, and Christmas came back. You can remember brave King Peter and brave Lucy and that can help you be brave.”
“And,” Aunt Abby said. “You can remember how even after being so mean and selfish, Edmond was forgiven. That will help you have courage when you need to ask someone to forgive you when you’ve been mean.”
“I want to be High King Peter,” Bruce said.
“I want to be Lucy,” Ellie said louder.
“Yes!” Grammie clapped. “We can practice being brave with them when they go through the wardrobe, and when they have to fight the White Witch, so that when it’s our turn to be brave we’re prepared.”
Bruce stared into the fire for a minute. “Aunt Abby? I don’t mind if the story you tell has a scary part.”
“I promise it will have a happy ending afterwards.”
“Well, tell the story!” Jude exclaimed.
Grammie and Grandpa moved closer to the fire. Jules, Constance, Bruce, Joshua, Ellie, Imogene, Jude, Rook and Remi filled laps and gathered close up on different sides. Outside the thunder boomed, boomed, boomed. The lightning flashed. The wind howled around the eaves. No one gave it a second thought because inside they were warm and comfy. The fire burned brightly. The hot chocolate warmed them, and Aunt Abby began her story:
“Once upon a time . . .”
(To be continued)