In Winnie’s opinion, there was no better way to spend a rainy afternoon than with her grandfather.
His deep voice harmoniously mixed with the melody of the dripping rain. His weathered hands always held her smaller ones kindly, hands rougher and more calloused than her own, filled with a lifetime of experiences that she was too young to have lived through. His blue, blue eyes crinkled with laughter as she jumped to him and he pulled her in for a hug.
“Winnifred, what’s the hurry?” he asked as she positioned herself on the couch next to him.
She grabbed onto one of his larger hands, comparing their size somewhere in the back of her mind. “Can you tell me a story again? Please, please?” she asked brightly.
Tristan snorted from his place on the armchair. “You’re such a kid, Winnie,” he said, sounding somehow bored yet insulting all at once—a big brother specialty.
Winnie puffed out her cheeks in a pout. “Says the guy waiting all day for his phone to ring,” she shot back, finding some kind of pleasure in watching her brother flush in embarrassment.
Gwen continued drawing from the coffee table in front of them, humming some nonsense song that she’d made up. “Is your new cellphone broken?” she asked with the type of innocence only an eight-year-old child could pull off.
That innocent question only made Tristan sink further into the armchair, murmuring, “Mom and dad couldn’t just let me spend time with my friends. No, I just had to sit at my grandpa’s house with my two stupid sisters.” He crossed his arms petulantly.
Winnie shook her head at him in annoyance. He’d never used to mind visiting grandpa, but ever since he turned thirteen and had gotten that cellphone, suddenly spending Sundays with them was annoying.
“You’re the stupid one,” Winnie murmured underneath her breath, flicking a piece of her blonde hair behind her ear. She was only ten, but she was like a hundred percent sure that she was smarter than him.
“Now, now, Winnie, didn’t you want to hear a story?” her grandfather asked kindly, effectively garnering her attention immediately. He chuckled at her smile, putting an arm around her shoulders and pulling her in to rest comfortably against his side.
Winnie settled in, ignoring the low thrum of the show Tristan was watching and Gwen’s mismatched humming to instead focus on the comfortable tenor of her grandfather’s voice over the rain.
“Now, this is a very old story, Winnie. Very, very old,” he started in a gravelly voice. “A long, long time ago, there were people just like you and me, but there was another type of people too. People who could transform into weapons.”
Winnie looked up at him with wide eyes. “How could they transform?” she asked.
He smiled kindly, never bothered by her interruptions. “See, Winnie, they had magic. Not magic like spells or magic wands, but magic infused into their very souls. Everyone is born with a little magic like that, even you and me.”
“Us too?” she asked, already looking down at her hands in amazement. “Does that mean I can be a weapon?”
She ignored Tristan’s snort and murmured “loser” in lieu of listening to her grandfather’s voice. “No,” he chuckled, “People who could transform into weapons were born with that skill. It was something in their blood. All they needed to do was think about it and they would be a weapon—like a knife or a sword or… or a fan.”
His voice seemed to halt for a second, and his blue eyes looked far away. But then the smile was back on his face and Winnie was sure that the moment had never happened.
“These people were everywhere a long time ago,” her grandfather went on, looking at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “They used their magic to help people hunt and live. For a long time, everyone got along really well.”
“And then, let me guess,” Tristan drawled, “’Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.’”
“Be quiet!” Winnie exclaimed, puffing up angrily not unlike a cat.
“It’s alright, Winnie,” her grandfather said plaintively. “Your brother is right that everything changed at least,” he added with a dryly amused look for Tristan.
Returning his attention to Winnie, he kept speaking, “People who couldn’t turn into weapons, well, they started getting scared. They were worried that they would become inferior to weapons, and so they did indeed attack.”
Winnie looked up at him with furrowed eyebrows. “But that’s horrible.”
Her grandfather nodded. “Yes, it is. And so many of the people who were weapons hid to avoid being found. They hid, and they hid, and they hid, and over the years, everyone forgot that they even existed. But today even, they exist out there.”
“They do?” Winnie asked hopefully, her eyes lighting up. “So, I could find a person like that?”
“You could,” her grandfather confirmed, “but they’ll be hiding to stay safe. If you find a person, you have to promise me something, okay?”
Nodding seriously, she looked up at him, her heart pounding in her chest.
He held her smooth hands with his wrinkled ones, warmth emanating from his fingers. “You have to promise to keep their secret.”
“I’m super good at keeping secrets,” Winnie assured him, already straightening her shoulders proudly at the prospect.
He chuckled kindly. “Then you’ll do marvelous.”
Tristan snorted again. “Yeah, when all this never happens, you’ll do great.”
“You—!” Winnie bit out, finally having had enough. She plucked the pillow from the couch and threw it at him. He returned fire.
Their parents returned to pick them up in the middle of the Great Pillow War, which ended with their father grabbing Tristan before he could upend their grandfather’s wedding photo and their mother apologizing to her father-in-law.
“It’s alright,” their grandfather chuckled, “It makes me feel young to have them here being so lively.”
“Yeah!” Gwen agreed brightly, still clutching a pillow of her own. What she lacked in strength, she made up for in speed. “And grandpa told Winnie a cool story about weapon-people.” She made to hit Tristan with the pillow again, but he just plucked it out of her hand with a “ugh seriously” kind of look.
Another older brother specialty.
Their father, a man with brown hair so different than Winnie’s own blonde, sighed tiredly. “Dad, could you stop filling Winnie’s head with all of these stories?” He pushed his glasses up his nose in mild irritation.
Winnie wanted to protest, but her grandfather was already speaking. “It’s all for fun, son. Don’t worry too much about it,” he said placatingly. “Besides, Winnie here is smart. She can decide for herself what she believes.”
He ran a hand over her blonde hair, and she smiled up at her father innocently. The man clearly couldn’t resist giving her a smile in return. “I know that she’s smart. She’s her mother’s daughter, after all,” was all he said, turning away to help Gwen get her supplies put away.
Winnie looked up at her grandfather, laughing to herself when he winked conspiratorially down at her. “Grandpa, can you tell me more about the weapon-people?”
He looked idly to her parents, her mother now shaking her head at Tristan’s complaining, and answered in a low voice, “What do you want to know?”
“Hmm… like… could they be anything?”
The old man chuckled. “They certainly could. But I wouldn’t know since they went into hiding.”
Winnie pursed her lips, furrowing her eyebrows. “The non-weapon people really attacked them just because they were afraid?”
“Sometimes people get scared of things they don’t know anything about,” her grandfather confirmed with a nod.
“Really? Doesn’t that mean that people should just learn more?” Winnie asked, feeling as though this was obvious.
“Ah,” her grandfather said thoughtfully, “but people are also scared of being proven wrong. Pride can be a scary thing. Just like it can help us be happy about who we are, it can also make it difficult for others to change our minds.”
Winnie nodded curiously. “Well… if everyone was less scared, couldn’t everyone live happily?”
Her grandfather’s expression seemed to melt into something like sadness, or maybe melancholy. “Maybe. How about it, Winnie? How should we make the world less scared?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured, “Um… oh! We could sing. Singing is really great, you know.”
“You’d better recruit Gwen for this plan then,” he joked, the crows’ feet around his eyes crinkling up as he smiled.
“Right!” Winnie exclaimed, “And I can join chorus too! I’ll change the world with my voice!”
The man chuckled. “Well, you already make me feel better every time I see you,” he said kindly, with that odd sadness in his voice again. “Keep our stories secret from your dad though,” he added, miming zipping his lips.
Winnie mimicked him, nodding and laughing. Her hand slipped out of his as she went to join her parents and siblings, waving goodbye to her grandfather who stood alone in his small house, the rain still pattering around on the roof above him.