Lost Stories

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LOST STORIES

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One of my favorite parts of Longest Night is sharing lost stories. Everyone in attendance is encouraged to tell 'forgotten' stories about their ancestors and the people they encountered.

If this is your first Longest Night, you should know: more often than not, these stories are exaggerated or entirely fictionalized. They might be real, but probably not. Think Aesop's Fables but with people you're distantly related to.

Embellishment, exaggeration, and creative liberty are all important parts of a Longest Night story. Ultimately the goal is to relay old family history, but in a way that is memorable, entertaining, and engaging. The very best lost stories will combine elements of truth with outrageous details, surprising coincidences, and unusual interactions.

This serves two overall purposes: it helps younger listeners broadly learn about their ancestors, and also helps older listeners reconnect to previous Longest Nights and good times shared with the people they love.

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AN EXAMPLE OF A
LONGEST NIGHT STORY

The Story of Sir William

Austin's Great, Great, Great, Great, Great,
Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather (on his mother's side)

Sir William of Catton was born in England, in the year 1630, at a very peculiar time for his country.  His father Sir Roger was a wealthy and powerful man, which meant that William would naturally always be wealthy and powerful too. So naturally, when his father died, Sir Roger inherited the family home at Catton Hall and all the surrounding land.

Sir William thought himself a simple man, and legend says that there were two things Sir William loved: fox hunting on his family grounds, and his beautiful fiancée, Lady Ann. So great was his love of these two things that on the day of his wedding, Sir William headed into the forests surrounding his home to hunt red foxes, hoping to present two of the dead beasts to his bride on their wedding night.

Just inside the forest Sir William came upon a small clearing. There, in the middle of the open field, were three beautiful red foxes: two large, and one quite small. Their eyes closed, all three lay in the warm summer sun, which gave Sir William an idea. Very quietly, he creeped to their location. When he was within distance, he reached out and grasped the two closest foxes, yanking them into the air by the scruff of their necks. At once all three foxes yelped, and the two foxes in each hand began to struggle. The third fox on the ground remained very calm, however, and looked up at Sir William, saying:

"Good sir, I ask you please, put down my wife and son."

Sir William was taken aback; he had never heard a red fox speak before, let alone a fox with such good manners. He squinted at the fox on the ground, wondering if his eyes were playing tricks on him, when the fox spoke again.

"Please, we were enjoying the beautiful sunny day before you came along, release them and we'll leave immediately."

"I will do no such thing," Sir William said, a little surprised that he was talking to a fox. "I am the master of this forest, and the Hall nearby, and it is my right to hunt foxes if I wish." Although it's very difficult for foxes to make faces, Sir William would later swear that he saw the red fox frown back at him. The fox's wife spoke:

"Please, I beg of you, put me and my child down!"

"Sir," the male fox interrupted, "I know that you are lord and master of this forest, but we are its inhabitants. I ask you as our home's protector. Please let my wife and son go, and we'll leave this forest never to return."

But Sir William was unmoved. In his head he imagined how pleased Lady Ann would be: not only did he bring her home two fine, beautiful foxes, but talking foxes nonetheless! "No, my decision is final. These foxes are mine, and I will do with them as I wish." And with that, Sir William turned to leave.

"Please sir," the father fox begged, running alongside Sir William as his wife and child struggled. "Do not do this! The forest will not forget what has happened here today!"

Sir William kicked at the fox, landing a blow directly in his ribs and sending him rolling. As he exited the forest a moment later, he could still swear he heard the fox shouting behind him, "The forest will not forget!"

He took the foxes back to Catton Hall and caged them as a surprise for his bride. After the wedding, though, he found an unhappy surprise: the foxes would not speak. No matter how much he yelled or shouted or shook their cages in front of his bride, the foxes would not make a noise. Furious, Sir William ordered his servants to kill the foxes and have them mounted on their wall.

And they did.

Many years passed without event, and soon Sir William found himself a father. First came Thomas, the oldest son, then William, and baby Joseph. Finally, in 1664, something unusual happened. Thomas, eight years old, dashed through the Hall to his father, carrying in his arms baby Joseph.

"Father," Thomas shouted, startling Sir William from a particularly lazy afternoon nap, "Father, come quick! It's mother!"

Sir William bolted from his seat and sat upright. "What about your mother?"

"William wandered into the forest alone, and mother's gone to find him!" Sir William grimaced. There had been very few rules for his children, but avoiding the forest was certainly one of them.

"How did this happen, Thomas," Sir William demanded. "What were you boys doing near the forest?!"

"William said he saw a fox in the forest, father, and decided to chase it!"

In this moment, Sir William froze, and in the back of his head, he remembered the words of the fox that day so many years before. The forest will not forget.

"YOU'RE IN CHARGE OF YOUR BROTHER UNTIL I RETURN," thundered Sir William, grabbing his sword and cudgel. He hurtled himself out the door and towards the forest, shouting the whole time.

"DAMN YOUR EYES, FOX, WHERE ARE YOU? GIVE ME BACK MY WIFE AND CHILD!"

As he entered into the forest, the trees seemed especially thick, and the light seemed to slowly fade away even in the middle of the day. Still Sir William pushed onward, swinging his sword wildly and darting his eyes back and forth for any sign of the red fox.

Thomas and Joseph waited until nightfall for their father to return, but he never did. Nor did he the next day, or the day after that, or ever again. Soon the servants began to whisper about what had happened to Sir William, and whether or not he would ever return. In his absence, the family wealth and property transferred to young Thomas, who would carefully and mindfully watch over Catton Hall and the nearby forest until his death at a ripe, old age.

Sir William, Lady Ann, and young William were never seen again.

Local legend says that if you enter the forest near Catton Hall during a warm summer day, and you keep your eyes near the ground, you may catch a glimpse of a red tail out of the corner of your eye. And if you listen very carefully, you may hear the sound of bushes and branches being cut down, and the voice of a man shouting in the distance...

 

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