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The Bedtime Story

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September 9, 5:43 PM.
Earlier today, police took into custody an unidentified child only calling himself “Axel,” previously noticed on security cameras as the culprit responsible for two recent fires on East 35th and East 26th streets in both an elementary school and a middle school.

Security footage from both schools showed the boy rewiring fuse boxes in each basement, disappearing soon after as flames filled the camera’s view. Both times, however, footage was captured of him later exiting the school parking lot, unsinged.

Both fires rendered seven injured, three dead, and two missing.

“He seems rather intelligent for his age,” Officer Thomas Braxton remarked. “But I’d put him around six or seven years old. We’re really not quite sure who he is right now. He doesn’t match any fingerprints on record.”

When questioned about his identity, the boy merely stated, “Now I am Axel. So now I tell The Bedtime Story.”

Axel later referenced this “Bedtime Story” when questioned on his motive in setting fire to both schools: “I was told the Bedtime Story, and Uncle Max told me to.”

When asked if he had told this “story” to any others, Alex replied, “Uncle Max once told it to a boy named Axel. Who told it to many other children. And they told many more children, including me. We are all called Axel after the first boy. But I have not told anyone the story yet.”

Upon questioning as to the identity of “Uncle Max”, Axel replied, “Do you want to know?”

He began:

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Axel who lived in a little house in Cape Cod. He lived with both of his parents, Kate and Otto Schräder, who both owned a small dairy. Axel spent most of his time on the sandy beach with a pail and shovel or out petting the cows in his parents' barn. He did well in his studies at the local one-room schoolhouse, and overall he had very few troubles. It was an easy, carefree life such as every child ought to have.

Axel's great-uncle Max also lived with them, in the attic. He was an old German soldier, somewhat related to Axel's father Otto, though they weren't quite sure how. Several complicated divorces and the loss of family records overseas in an 1872 fire had contributed to a messy civil dispute which split the family in two. Soon after the split, Uncle Max offered to partially finance the Schräder’s dairy business if, in return, he were allowed to stay at their house in Cape Cod. Mr. and Mrs. Schräder readily accepted, and from then on his uneven, one-legged tramp (Uncle Max had given much in the Kaiser’s wars) could be heard now and again on the attic stairs. Thanks to the steady income he provided and his generally pleasant demeanor, no questions were asked about his true relation to Mr. Schräder.

Then came the spring young Axel turned six, in April 1895. There was much excitement that humid July evening in the Schräder household as mother, father, uncle, and birthday boy gathered around the kitchen table. Mrs. Schräder had baked a cake especially for the occasion, and Mr. Schräder did the honors with a knife, placing a thick slice of the rich delight at each table setting. But young Axel did not sit at his seat, instead taking his customary spot on the loving Uncle’s knee.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!“ Uncle Max told Axel,“Happy Birthday!“ He passed the boy his slice of cake and began to loudly devour his own.

"He’s getting so old,“ Mrs. Schräder remarked with a very maternal look on her face. “Children grow so fast, don’t they?” she said, smiling.

Ja, indeed they do,” Uncle Max chuckled, placing a gentle hand on Axel’s shoulder. “And I think this one is just about ready to hear Die Gutenachtgeschichte, ja? The Bedtime Story. A birthday gift to my growing nephew!” He grinned, white teeth flashing.

And so that night, before Axel was tucked in beneath his checkered quilt, he heard Die Gutenachtgeschichte for the first time, The Bedtime Story. It was happy at points, and scary at others, full of surprise and adventure. At the end, Axel understood it and smiled.

“Thank you, Uncle Max,” he said.

“Happy Birthday, my boy,” was the response. Again with a grin and flashing white teeth.

Soon after, Uncle Max died. Mrs. Schräder found him stone cold in bed one morning. He had died in his sleep.

"Don't worry, mother," Axel told her, "he is still here with us."

She hugged him. "I'm sure he is. In our hearts."

"No, mother," Axel corrected. "In my heart."

In the following weeks, the Schräders began to notice changes in Axel. He would scream out in the night, "Die Feuerlings! Die Feuerlings!"

"What are feuerlings, Axel?" his mother demanded one night. "What are you talking about?"

"I am not Axel!" he shouted back with fire burning in his eyes. "My name is Max!"

At this, Mrs. Schräder attributed his anger to the passing of his late uncle.

Barn Burning 0093
One night about a week after, the Schräder's house burned to the ground, nothing more than a pile of black ash. The barn had also gone up in flames, leaving behind little more than a few charred beams and the cremated remains of several cows. Local police chalked it up to an overturned kerosene lantern, and though young Axel's remains were never found, he was presumed dead.

But I am not dead.

And neither is Uncle Max. He cannot die.

I tell The Bedtime Story: Die Gutenachtgeschichte.

Which I have just told you.

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