The Tale of Tall Thomas

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    ‘Have you eaten my mother?’ I asked.

    The wolf lifted an eyebrow but otherwise remained curled up at the foot of the bed.

    ‘Are you waiting for my daughter,’ I continued, ‘so that you can eat her as well?’

    The wolf yawned.

    ‘Sorry to disappoint you, but my daughter, Little Red Riding Hood, isn’t coming,’ I pronounced. ‘She’s grounded because she burned down the mayor’s house. I came by to tell my mother about her granddaughter’s mischief.’

    The wolf flicked his tail.

    I sat on the bed and reflected on the dysfunctional and devoured members of my family. But, I thought, what point is there in moping?

    ‘Let me introduce myself,’ I said to the wolf. ‘I’m Tall Thomas, a widower. I’m not going to shake your paw because you’ve recently consumed my mother, but I want to give you a chance to atone. Join me and together we’ll go abroad to make my fortune. It’s the only way I can buy the mayor a new house.’

    The wolf stared at me.

    ‘Why not?’ he said finally. ‘I’m clearly wasting my time waiting for your daughter.’

    The wolf and I walked to the beach and looked in vain for a boat to take us abroad. Instead, we found a sheet of wood.

    ‘Let’s set sail,’ I proposed, hauling the sheet into the water.

    The wolf was reluctant to proceed.

    ‘How do we power and steer this … boat?’ he asked.

    ‘Simple,’ I said, jumping onto the makeshift craft. ‘I’m tall so I’ll stand at the front with my cloak spread out to catch the wind. You sit at the back and use your tail as a rudder.’

    The wolf muttered something that I didn’t catch, but he nonetheless boarded.

    As the beach receded, a seagull landed on my head.

    ‘Got any fish?’ she asked.

    ‘Not at the moment.’

    ‘What you doing?’

    ‘We’re off to make my fortune. Please leave.’

    ‘I’ll stay. I’ll stand on your head and act as your lookout.’

    I groaned. Behind me, I heard the wolf snigger.

    A few minutes later, the seagull proved useful.

    ‘Rocky isle ahead,’ she squawked.

    The wolf adjusted the position of his tail to avoid the isle. As we sailed past, a pirate queen appeared from a cave.

    ‘Heave to and hand over your treasure,’ she shouted, waving a cutlass.

    ‘I don’t think so,’ I called back.

    ‘In that case prepare to be boarded.’

    The pirate queen tucked her cutlass into her belt and dived into the sea. When she surfaced, she was clearly in trouble.

    ‘Help,’ she cried. ‘I can’t swim.’

    The wolf, the seagull and I let out a collective sigh and rescued the pirate queen.

    ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I still want your treasure, though. Hand it over.’

    ‘We don’t have any,’ I explained. ‘But we’re hoping to find some.’

    ‘Excellent. I’ll join you. I’m the person you need for such a quest.’

    We continued our journey.

    After a short while, I heard a stomach rumbling. I glanced at the wolf. He was licking his lips and casting furtive glances at the pirate queen.

    I asked if anybody knew how long it would take to reach a prosperous land where we could make my fortune and have a good dinner.

    ‘About three weeks,’ the pirate queen replied.

    This news obliged me to reconsider our circumstances.

    ‘We’ll have to go back for provisions and start again,’ I announced.

    Nobody seemed unduly troubled by this decision. So we turned our craft and headed for home.

    On the beach, a group of people awaited us.

    ‘Good to see you,’ my mother said, hugging me. I looked over her shoulder at the wolf.

    ‘I thought you’d eaten her,’ I whispered.

    ‘I never said that,’ the wolf whispered back. ‘ You assumed it.’

    Next, my daughter tugged at my cloak.

    ‘You’re supposed to be grounded,’ I told her.

    ‘No way,’ she replied. ‘The mayor doesn’t mind that I burned down his house. It’s given him an excuse to move in with grandmother: they were childhood sweethearts. Anyway, what presents have you brought me?’

    Before I could speak, she saw the wolf and the seagull.

    ‘Oh, Daddy,’ my daughter exclaimed. ‘You’ve brought me a doggy and a parrot.’

    I looked questioningly at the wolf. He shrugged and mouthed, ‘I can be a dog.’

    I raised my eyes to the seagull on my head.

    ‘Will there be fish?’ she asked.

    ‘Probably,’ I said.

    ‘Then I can be a parrot.’

    Suddenly, I remembered the pirate queen. She was out at sea, using her cutlass to paddle the sheet of wood.

    ‘She said that she’s returning to her isle,’ the mayor told me.

    ‘I’m tempted to join her,’ I said as I watched my daughter, the wolf and the seagull run, lope and fly across the dunes. They were screaming, howling and shrieking.

    ‘Go ahead,’ my mother replied.

    ‘Really?’ I asked.

    ‘No. Now let’s have some dinner.’

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