Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, warm wombat hole with his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
At bedtime, Benson’s mother said to him, “First thing tomorrow you’re going to have to tidy your room. There are things everywhere.”
Benson grumbled quietly. He liked having his saxophone on the floor so he could play it any time he felt like it, and he liked having his library book next to his bed so he could read it without getting out of bed, and he liked having his drawing things spread out on the floor so he could see where everything was.
“Okay?” said his mother.
“Okay,” Benson said.
In the morning when he woke up, he was very surprised to see that his room was tidy. Really tidy. All his clothes were folded neatly on the shelves, and his pencils were all lined up in a row. All his books were on the bookshelf, standing up from the smallest to the biggest. His saxophone was in its case, dusted and polished. He wondered if maybe he had tidied his room in his sleep. It seemed like an excellent idea.
He went out to the kitchen, feeling very pleased with himself. Aunt Lillibet was there looking angry. “All the peaches are gone!” she said. “Benson, did you eat them?”
Benson said, “No, it wasn’t me.”
“If it wasn’t you, who was it?” she said.
His mother came out to see what all the arguing was about.
“Benson’s eaten all the peaches!” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I didn’t!” Benson said.
His mother said, “If Benson says he didn’t, then he didn’t. Did you ask Aunt Moss?”
But Aunt Moss didn’t know what had happened to the peaches either. She said to Benson, “You might have eaten them while you were thinking about something else and forgotten all about it. It happens to me all the time. I sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and I start reading a story, and the next thing I know, the biscuit is gone and the cup is empty.”
Benson thought he would have remembered if he had eaten five peaches, but then maybe while he was cleaning his room in his sleep he had popped into the kitchen for a snack.
The next morning, Aunt Lillibet was even more angry. “All the oranges are gone! I was going to make orange juice but there are none left! Benson!”
Benson had his answer ready this time. “It wasn’t me, it was an elf,” he said.
“A what?” said Aunt Lillibet. “Did you say, an elf?”
Benson nodded. “Yep, an elf.”
Just then Benson’s mother came into the kitchen. “Who cleaned the bathroom?” she asked.
“It wasn’t me,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson said, “It must have been the elf.”
His mother said, “The what?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson has made up a ridiculous story about an elf eating all the oranges.”
“It’s not a story, I saw him!” Benson protested.
His mother and Aunt Lillibet both stared at him. “When did you see him?” his mother said.
“Last night,” Benson said. “I woke up because I was thirsty and I came out to get a drink of water and I saw him eating the oranges.”
“What did he look like?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Like an elf,” Benson said. “Miss Evangelina at the library read us a story about elves who helped a shoemaker. They came out at night and made the shoes for him and he left out food for them.”
“That’s just a story,” Aunt Lillibet said. “There is no such thing as an elf.”
Benson shrugged. “I’m just saying,” he said. “I saw him last night. He was little and cute, with big pointy ears and tiny little hands and tiny little feet, and wings.”
Aunt Moss said, “No, dear, that’s a fairy. Fairies have wings, not elves.”
“There’s no such thing as fairies either, Moss!” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson thought he could see steam coming out of her ears.
His mother said, “Let’s all just calm down. Benson, we’re going elf-hunting.”
They looked in all the rooms, under the beds and in the cupboards and behind the doors, but there was nothing there. They went all the way down to the back door, looking everywhere until they came to the very last room, right next to the back door.
It was the kind of room where you keep things you’re not using now but you might want to use one day, like the stacks of gardening books that didn’t fit into Aunt Lillibet’s room and Benson’s snorkel and flippers, and Aunt Moss’s mountain of knitting yarn.
They looked inside, but it was very dark and they couldn’t see anything. Benson’s mother said, “Benson, are you sure you’re not making it up, about the elf?”
Benson didn’t know how to make his mother believe him, if she didn’t believe he was telling the truth when he said he was.
Just then they heard a tiny ‘yap’. Benson’s mother said, “Did you hear that?”
Benson nodded. They looked around the room very carefully. In one corner, an old raincoat was hanging up next to a black umbrella. Benson’s mother looked at it carefully, and said, “That’s not an umbrella.”
She touched it gently and two dark brown wings opened and closed again. “Oh!” she said, “it’s a fruit bat – a flying fox!”
“Not an elf?” Benson said. He felt disappointed, but then not so disappointed, because he’d never seen a flying fox up close before.
His mother touched the bat again, very gently. He opened his eyes and blinked. “Hello,” he said, looking at them from upside down. “Is it night time already?” He stretched his wings out and yawned. “My name’s Alfie,” he said.
“Hi, Alfie,” Benson said. “Why do you sleep upside down?”
“It’s comfortable,” the flying fox said. “I wrap myself up in my wings and just hang by my feet.”
Benson’s mother said, “What are you doing here, Alfie?”
Alfie said, “I got lost in a big storm, and then I found this little cave, all nice and dry and warm, so I came in and went to sleep with the other bats.”
Benson’s mother said, “You know, this isn’t a cave, it’s a wombat hole.”
Benson said, “And that isn’t another bat, it’s a raincoat.”
“Oh,” said Alfie. “So that’s why it wouldn’t talk to me.”
“Why did you tidy up my room?” Benson asked.
“Because it was a mess,” Alfie said. “There was stuff everywhere. And I wanted to say thank you for all the lovely fruit.”
Benson’s mother said, “You’re welcome to eat all the fruit you need, if you’re hungry. Maybe you’d like to go and find a real cave or a tree later on, with all the other fruit bats?”
Alfie thought that was a good idea. “I think I’ll just have a little nap, and as soon as it’s night time, I’ll go.” He yawned and closed his eyes and wrapped his wings around himself and went to sleep.
Benson and his mother tiptoed out and went back to the kitchen. Aunt Lillibet said, “Well? Did you find your imaginary elf?”
Benson’s mother said, “Actually, we did.”
Benson said, “Yes, but he wasn’t an elf, he was an Alf.”