Once upon a time, there were some children who had bad grandparents. These were not the kind of grandparents we’ve all come to know and love, like “sweet old grandparents.” These grandparents could be quite awful and mean, especially at bedtime. When all the children were safely tucked away with their bedcovers up to their chins, the bad grandparents would ask the children if they were ready for their bedtime stories, and the children always said “yes,” even though they were scared and knew what would happen next. They said yes anyway; they couldn’t help themselves, you see.
And so it would begin. The bad grandparents would tell all the children the same terrible bedtime stories every night. The most awful, horrible, vicious, evil, scary monster was in them. Every night! The story of the awful, horrible, vicious, evil, scary monster was terrifying every time they heard about it, and the bad grandparents were skilled and creative at intensifying the plot. The monster grew larger than life every night--larger than a city, taller than a mountain, and it crushed everything in its path. It picked up small children in the road and plopped them into its horrible black mouth and crunched on their tiny bones.
Sometimes the monster was like a great, fire-breathing dragon that would fly through the sky over all the tiny, defenseless little houses, breathing fire in great plumes, torching to the ground all the structures with all the sleeping people in them. The screams could be heard through the night! The running bodies on fire in orange and white heat, terrorized by intense pain, helplessly running through the streets wailing in agony!
One time, the monster turned himself into a black mist, invisible to the human eye. And the mist entranced and entered all the townspeople at night through their noses while they were sleeping, and killed them by burying black mold into their innocent little bellies. The children were afraid to even breathe over the covers that night when they went to bed, I can tell you!
In another story, the monster got very crafty and sneaky by shapeshifting into a beautiful woman--a woman who would be crowned the queen. All the people were deceived by her costume as she pretended to be benevolent. The children listening to the story wanted to scream in frustration, listening to the bad grandparents weave their tale, as all the story people foolishly invited the evil queen in, lauded her, put garlands around her carriage, threw her a beautiful parade…”Aaaaaah!” How the children wanted to shout to the story people: “No, no, no!!!” But they were too afraid to speak, and the people in the story wouldn’t have listened anyway, even though the children knew their fate. It was terrible enslavement and torture by the evil monster queen.
The children HATED these stories! They hated themselves that they’d asked for them. The next day, while they ought to be playing and having fun, they would argue with each other about while story was more terrible, which version of the monster was the worst, who had been the most afraid the night previous. They would rage and shout at each other, ‘til hot tears flowed down their flushed cheeks. And they would sometimes spit and stamp their feet and claw at each other in anguish. Then, they would each go off to their corners and grumble, until the next night when they would be huddled again, writhing under the covers for the next installment. Every story, every night was like this for the children: a concoction of bad emotions wrought by stories told by these bad grandparents. Fear, loathing, frustration, horror! And the children were foolish to repeat it, night after night, asking for more and more, dreading the stories but unable to quell their addiction.
And so many years went on this way: the stories, the bad grandparents, the horrified children, the midnight terrors. Until one day, when the last child had grown to puberty, the mood in the household seemed to shift. They were not babies anymore. They knew they were growing towards adulthood, and they would put away old, childish things. So, one night, when they were all snuggled in, and the now ailing bad grandparents slyly asked the children if they were ready for their bedtime story…the youngest of them sat up in the bed and politely but confidently said, “No, thank you.”
A stillness settled into the air of the room. The other children froze in their beds. The hairs on their necks and arms rose up with static electricity as the candlelight in the room flickered and crackled. One could almost hear a teeny tiny high-pitched whine coming from the back of grandmother’s throat. Grandfather blinked twice but the child did not.
And then, suddenly, as if magic, the standoff was over. The bad grandparents smiled, said goodnight to the children and left the room…never to return with another scary bedtime story again. The children had finally decided, you see; they listen anymore. And so, the stories were over. The children were free.
The children lay in the silence together, savoring sounds of the night--the crickets outside their window, a distant owl, the toadsong coming from the pond at the edge of the woods, and the quiet of the moon.
Then, their eyes began to feel heavy and the children let go and they drifted off to peaceful sleep. There would be no nightmares tonight or any night henceforward. The bad grandparents went to sleep too, much deeper, a deeper sleep than ever before, deeper into the mist in the silence of a house without a night filled with whimpering children. The bad grandparents died in their sleep that night. And while the children would light the candle and say the prayers for their souls, honoring them in the annals of their family history they would not--they would NEVER miss those bedtime stories. Not a single one. They would never seek out or ask to listen to a terrible story like that again, having grown up and put away such childish things. And without the terrible monster there would be nothing left to fear and nothing left to fight about. And so they would grow up to do other things, and they would find that other things were possible.