Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a neat and tidy wombat hole with his mother, and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Aunt Lillibet said to Benson’s mother, “My cousin Ruby wants to know if her grandson, Hector, can come and stay with us while she goes on holidays.”
Benson’s mother said, “Yes, of course. He’ll be good company for Benson.”
Three days later, Ruby knocked on the door. “I’ve brought Hector,” she said. “He’s just outside. He’s very quiet and well-behaved.”
Benson’s mother said, “I’m sure he’ll be fine. How long will you be away for?”
Ruby said, “I’m not sure. I just need a break. I’ve brought his lunch, and a few snacks.” She gave Aunt Lillibet a big box and two very large bags. “Goodbye!” she said, and ran off.
Hector came in. He was the tallest wombat Benson had ever seen.
He was taller than even Mr Fenn, and Mr Fenn was the biggest, strongest wombat in the whole country. Hector was not just tall, his arms and legs were long, and his body was long. Even his ears were long. He stood there with his shoulders bent and his head tucked in as if he was afraid of hitting the ceiling.
Benson’s mother went up to him and gave him a kiss. “It’s nice to have you here, Hector,” she said.
Hector smiled and went pink.
Benson’s mother said, “Would you like something to eat, Hector? You must be hungry after your trip.”
Hector nodded. The box that Ruby had left was full of sandwiches and cakes, and the two bags were full of oranges and apples and bananas. Aunt Lillibet unpacked the sandwiches and Hector ate them. Aunt Lillibet unpacked the cakes, and Hector ate them too as soon as she put them down. The box was empty. Benson couldn’t believe his eyes. It was like Hector was a magician who could make food disappear into thin air.
Hector looked embarrassed. He said, “I’m sorry, I was really hungry.”
“That’s all right,” Benson’s mother smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed them.”
They had dinner early, because Hector was still hungry. While he was waiting for dinner, Hector ate one bag of fruit, and after dinner he ate the other bag. Benson’s mother smiled and said, “It’s good to see you eating such healthy food, Hector.”
In the morning Benson got up to make some porridge for breakfast. When he opened the cupboard, it was empty. It was so empty, it didn’t even smell like food any more. Benson went to the fridge and looked inside. It was even emptier. Benson said to his mother, “There’s no food left.”
Hector looked embarrassed. “I got hungry during the night,” he said.
Benson snickered. “Hector, the food detector,” he said.
“Benson!” said his mother. “That’s not very kind.”
“But it’s funny!” Benson said.
His mother said, “Benson, I think you should take Hector to the playground while Aunt Lillibet and I do some shopping.”
Benson said, “He can’t go on the swing because his feet will drag on the ground, and he can’t go on the slippery slide because his feet will be at the bottom while his bottom is still at the top!”
“Benson!” his mother said sharply.
“What?” said Benson. “It’s true!”
Hector went outside. They could hear him crying.
“Benson, that was very unkind,” said his mother.
“Well, he ate all the breakfast,” said Benson. “That wasn’t very kind.”
He went outside and said to Hector, “Come on, let’s go to the playground.”
Hector walked along slowly behind Benson, dragging his feet. Mr Fenn was leaning over his fence, chewing a long piece of grass.
“Who’s your new friend, Benson?” he asked.
“He’s Hector, the giant food collector,” said Benson.
Hector put his head down and kept on walking. Mr Fenn gave Benson a look that made him feel very uncomfortable. Then he said, “Hector reminds me of myself when I was a young wombat.”
Later on Mr Fenn came over and talked to Benson’s mother. “I’m thinking of taking a trip up to the plains for a couple of weeks. I was wondering if Hector would like to come with me.”
Benson said, “What about me? Can I come?”
Mr Fenn said, “No, it was just Hector I was thinking of.”
Hector looked up.
Aunt Lillibet said, “But there’s nothing up there, nothing at all.”
Mr Fenn said, “There’s plenty of grass, and that’s all we need. I’ve heard there was a lot of bush fire damage up there, and they’re looking for help cleaning up the place. I thought a big, strong young wombat like Hector might be useful.”
Hector went pink.
They set off the next day. Aunt Lillibet made them two carrot cakes and three loaves of parsnip bread, and Benson’s mother filled Hector’s backpack with apples and mandarins. She gave him a kiss goodbye and said, “If you’re unhappy, there’s always a bed for you here.”
Benson expected that Hector would eat all the cakes and bread and fruit before they got to the end of the street and come straight back, but he didn’t. Hector and Mr Fenn walked along slowly, chatting about different things.
It was three weeks before they came back. Hector looked completely different. He was more solid than he used to be, and he stood up straight and tall. He smiled at Benson’s mother.
“I just came back to say thankyou,” he said. “I’ve decided to go and live up on the plains. There’s a lot of work to do up there.”
Benson gave a huge sigh of relief. He had hidden a whole loaf of bread under his bed, just in case.
Mr Fenn said, “Hector has been clearing away dead trees and helping build shelters for homeless animals up there. Everyone’s very glad he’s coming to live there. The little ones call him Hector Protector.”
Benson’s mother gave Hector a kiss and said, “We’ll miss you, but I’m glad you’re happy there.”
As he was leaving, Hector stopped under the big gum tree and called Benson. When Benson went over, Hector picked him up, and lifted him up over his head, and put him in the branches of tree.
“Hey!” shouted Benson. “I can’t get down! That’s not very kind!”
“I know,” said Hector, “but it’s funny.” He smiled to himself and set off.