A Grampa’s Tale

by Charles C. Cole


Sigita opened the kitchen door, escorting Vance, her nine-year old, before her. “You don’t mind watching him?” she asked her father.

“Would it matter if I did?”

She squinted at him.

“He’s fine. The place isn’t exactly child-proof, but he isn’t exactly a child, is he?”

Sigita kissed her father. “Thanks, Dad. Mommy’s going on some errands. Be good for Grampa.” She closed the door and was gone.

Vance sat down at the kitchen table, folding his hands before him, and sighed.

“What do you want to do first? Checkers, cards, or magic tricks?”

Vance shook his head. “No, thanks.”

“I’ve got colored pencils if you want to draw. I haven’t got any video games.”

“Mom will be back soon. I’ll just wait.”

“At the table? Then maybe I should make you a sandwich. Have you had breakfast?”

“I forgot.”

“How do you forget something like that? I’m over sixty and I never forget breakfast.”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re not a prisoner, you know.”

“I know.”

“You can go home any time.”

“She locked the house.”

“You’re locked out, but you’re not locked in.”

“Same thing.”

“There’s a big difference. You can go any time, though you might get me in trouble. When you’re locked in, the world isn’t thinking much about you. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s like living in a parallel world where video games and friends don’t exist. Prison is a very lonely place, take it from me.”

“Were you in prison?”

“Once.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“One time, that lasted over twenty years.”

“You must have done something really bad.”

“Just in the wrong place at the wrong time, believe it or not.”

“Is that a crime?”

“I wasn’t arrested, Vance. I was abducted. You probably don’t want to hear about it.”

“I’ve got nothing but time, Grampa.”

“I was fresh out of high school. I didn’t know what to do with myself. College intimidated me. I could have joined the military but I was a bit of a non-conformist at the time.”

“A non-conformist?”

“A free spirit. I’d had it with other people’s rules. I made a deal with my parents: if they gave me enough money to backpack around the world for a year, at least get me started, I would come back and go to the state university, essentially grow up.”

“That sounds fair.”

“I thought so, though they took some persuading. One night, months later, I was in an unstable part of the world trying to prove how safe I was. I was out drinking late with the wrong people. They’d never met a shiny young American before. I was a little too exotic for my own good. When I fell asleep, they blindfolded me and sold me to a dealer of rare objects who in turn sold me to a military commander who gave me to the Emir for his fortieth birthday.”

“You were a birthday present? What happened?”

“I cried a lot and yelled and cursed and threatened. It was not a pretty sight. I made the commander look bad. They decided to execute me and threw me in with a young boy, about your age, who had been arrested for stealing food in the market. I never learned his name. He had lived a poor, miserable life his entire existence but, because he was so young, he’d always hoped things might one day turn around. Now his dreams of something better had burst. At least I had eighteen years with a family who cared for me, fed me, clothed me. I had fallen in love once. I’d even driven a car.”

“Did you call your parents?”

“No. Nobody knew where I was.”

“Mom always knows where I am.”

“Good for her.”

“What happened?”

“I forgot myself in a way. It was all so unreal. I wanted to do something for the boy, to distract him. So I told him a long story about a fictional version of my life. My home became a royal palace, the car became a pet rhino, and the school became a hospital for goblins and dwarves and fairy folk. I made it up. He laughed. He gasped. He asked great questions. And, for a little while at least, he forgot about our impending doom.”

“That’s a great story. So did they let you both go in the morning?”

That would be a great story. No. They executed him at dawn.”

“Why?”

“Because he stole, and that’s their punishment for stealing.”

“That’s awful.”

“It is, isn’t it? There’s much in the world that’s beautiful and much that’s ugly. I advise strongly staying away from the ugly parts.”

“And what happened to you?”

“The commander who bought me had come to visit the night before, to scold me for the trouble I’d caused him. He stood in the hallway, listening to my story, and realized he still had a means to impress the Emir. He immediately sent for the Emir’s chief aide. The two of them, and one of the guards, listened outside. The guard was writing everything I said the whole time. They had never heard a story like that before. Neither had the Emir.”

“He must have been impressed.”

“He was. Too impressed. He let me live, so long as I gave him a new story every week.”

“That’s not fair.”

“It was a much better deal than Scheherazade received. Have you heard of Scheherazade? She had to come up with a new story every night, for a thousand and one nights, but she eventually married her abductor. I was held captive for over seven thousand nights. The commander got his money’s worth. The Emir freed me on his deathbed. He had two nephews who each wanted to inherit me, but the Emir didn’t want to slight either of them, so he freed me.”

“What happened to your stories?”

“They’re in my head. Maybe I’ll tell you one when you visit again.”

“Why not now?”

“Let’s wait until next time. Give you a reason to come back. Sandwich?”


Copyright © 2015 by Charles C. Cole

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