Man the Crab

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9.

Alan went out of the castle and over the drawbridge, and was soon standing under Theresa the fruit tree, where the old woman was waiting for him.

“This is what he gave me to give to you,” said Alan, “but I don’t much care for your fruit anymore. The old man gave me a sandwich and some tea.”

The old woman took the three items from Alan, paying no attention to what he was saying, and examined them closely.

“I’d appreciate it if you would tell me how I can get home,” said Alan, and upon getting quite frustrated with her ignorance he added, “you know, that fruit makes your breath stink?” This transpired to be a very silly thing to say, as the old woman selected to pay attention to it and swung at Alan’s shins with the shovel.

“You’d do better to be more patient,” she said, watching as Alan writhed on the floor; his shins had never known such a viscous onslaught. Eventually Alan regained his composure and pulled himself to his feet, making sure he was more than a swing of a shovel away from the old woman. She gave him the fruit bowl, the shovel and the flag.

“I can help you get home, Alan,” she said, “but you must trust me and do as I say. I want you to wade into the water until your feet no longer touch the ground.”

At first Alan thought she must have meant for him to wade into the moat around the castle, it being the only water present. It soon became apparent however, that the castle was no longer there, and neither was the moat. Instead, Alan saw that both he and the old woman were standing on a pristine white sandy beach. The tree and the old woman were the same, but where the castle had been, there was now an ocean. As far as could be seen there was nothing but sand and water. It seemed as though the world had been split into two halves, one of sand and the other of clear blue water, and that they were the only two people on it.

“You want me to swim out to sea holding a shovel, a fruit bowl and a flag?”

This worried Alan quite a lot. He was an accomplished swimmer, and had always been good at collecting plastic bricks from the bottom of a swimming pool, but a shovel was a lot heavier, and the ocean was a lot deeper. He was thinking that no swimming certificate could encourage him to partake in such madness.

“Exactly,” said the old woman bluntly. “You can trust me, or you can stay here with me and Theresa. You can make castles out of dry sand, and live off this stinky fruit forever.” She breathed in his face, which made him dizzy. It occurred to him that a lifetime with breath that bad seemed much worse than drowning at sea with a handful of useless clutter, so he made his way to the shore, all the time being waved on by the old woman.

Soon he was neck deep in water. The sea was clear and calm. It was warm and contained no fish that he could see; nor did it contain any rocks, or anything at all. The seabed was plain soft sand, which felt to Alan like walking on a thick fluffy carpet. Alan looked back towards the shore. The old woman was still waving him onwards, and she was shouting to him. He could just make out the words ‘don’t drop anything,’ and ‘use the fruit bowl’. It was the point of no return for Alan.

He waded further out until his feet no longer touched the soft sand below. He was now at the mercy of the current, which was pulling him out to sea. The shovel was dragging him down in his left hand, but he didn’t let go. He held the fruit bowl out in front of him, all the while trying desperately to keep his head above water. The fruit bowl seemed bigger than he had previously thought, and he realised that it had doubled in size.

Before long it had doubled in size again, and again. Soon it was big enough for Alan to pull himself into, bringing the shovel and the flag with him. He then found that he could use the shovel as an oar, and even as he thought this he saw that it actually was an oar.

When he had finished examining the shovel, he looked back to discover that the flag had turned into a sail. In fact, he now found that he was sitting in a sail boat, with two large oars either side of him and a great big sail which had caught a gust of wind and was taking him out to sea. Alan was feeling much more relaxed, and he sat back and enjoyed the warming breeze on his face.

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