Story Keeper

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A bare bulb hangs from the ceiling. Dust ghosts around it, gold in the weak light it casts. The children are whimpering, although they all know better than to cry out loud. Not here. Not when we’re in so much danger.

My son is sitting in my lap. He’s barely four, but he knows to keep very quiet when we come to the Keeper’s house. He holds his breath, sometimes, then lets it out and whispers, “Is that quiet enough, mum?”

I have to smile.

The concrete floor is cold, and the chill seeps into my bones, my legs. I can’t feel my feet anymore. We have to sit cross-legged, otherwise there isn’t enough room for us. I think there is thirty people here tonight, although don’t dare look close enough to count. I don’t want to see their faces. If I don’t see their faces, I can’t give them away if the soldiers come for me.

We all do the same. It’s the only curtesy we can give each other in this bare little house.

The Keeper comes out, sits down on his stool in the front of the room. He’s a young man, much younger than even the father of my child, who doesn’t know I’m here. Keepers don’t grow old. They last a few years, a few stories, then the soldiers hang them over the gates, along with all those caught listening to them. It’s a horrible risk, coming here, especially with my child.

But I can’t help it. The story he tells, the things he says, they’re too important to miss. I don’t dare ignore them. They mean everything. To me, and to my child.

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