The Children's Story

There are many kinds of bedtime stories, and every parent tells them differently.

Some of them repeat one much-loved story, and others tell a different one each night. Some of them begin their tale with once upon a time, even though it was actually upon someone else's time. And sometimes the cautious parent will set aside the monsters, because childhood is hard enough already...or sometimes they will bring them out, because children, in general, are brave. And sometimes they're funny and sometimes they're sad and sometimes they're scary.

And sometimes they're true.

The children, boys of seven and three, jumped on the beds and clamoured for their favourites.

"I wanna hear about the Doctor and the vampires!" the oldest yelled loudest. "Tell me, Mummy, Daddy!"

Mummy sat on the bed, and Daddy set the youngest child on his lap, and the story began and the children cheered at parts- the storm, the kiss, the win!- and hid behind their pillows at others. And when it was over the oldest boy said, "Mummy, did that really happen?"

And Mummy and Daddy looked at each other, and Daddy said, "No, son, it's just a fairytale."

"There's no fairies!" the youngest boy said. "Not a fairytale, Daddy!"

Mummy and Daddy looked at each other again, and there was a look in their eyes that both boys saw but didn't understand.

"Boys," Mummy said, "tomorrow Aunt Sharon and...a lady are coming round. They just want to see you. So you need to be on your best behaviour, understand?"

Both boys nodded, despite not quite understanding. They understood the tone in her voice, but they were children, and despite the worried looks in their parents eyes, they simply did not believe yet that bad things happened to them.

"Goodnight," Mummy said. "We love you both-"

And then she turned off the light. And outside the room she sank to the floor, and Daddy did too, and they waited until the children fell asleep and stared at them and their handmade toys and their new school uniforms and the uncracked wall for a very, very long time.