Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom where four roads met, there lived a young man who was admired by all who looked upon him—and by himself not least of all.
The young man was a gambler by trade, fair of face and quick of wit. It was his philosophy that half of success was in appearances, and he thus took great pride in looking his best. He owned an oaken chest filled to the brim with fine clothes and a closet stuffed with even finer. His shirts were always clean and pressed and tailored to fit just right. His ties were of the finest silk and perfectly knotted. He owned a great many fine riding coats as well, in all colours of the rainbow, but his favourite of all was one of red velvet, and he wore it so often that he became known as Little Red Riding-Ezra.
One morning, as Little Red Riding-Ezra sat idling on the boardwalk, who would happen upon him but Vin the Huntsman. "Hey there, Little Red Riding-Ezra," the huntsman said. "Just the man I wanted to see. These here are some cakes and some tea leaves—could you take them out to Josiah's church? He's been feeling poorly, and Nathan the Healer thinks they'll do him good."
Little Red Riding-Ezra rolled his eyes and closed his book with a great sigh. He enjoyed the preacher's company but didn't much fancy catching his cold. He wondered why the huntsman couldn't run the errand his own damned self and sweetly asked him so. The huntsman explained that he was running late for a lesson with the Widow Travis and smiled so charmingly that Little Red Riding-Ezra gave his hand on the deal and took the sack of cakes and tea.
Now, Josiah the Preacher lived half the town over, and Little Red Riding-Ezra had barely set his feet on the road when he was met by a wolf. Little Red Riding-Ezra, though a young man of the world, unfortunately did not know what a wicked creature this wolf was, and as such was not at all afraid of him.
"Good-day to you, Little Red Riding-Ezra. You sure are looking fine today," drawled the wolf, sidling up to the young man and smiling a smile of sharp white teeth.
"Thank you kindly, sir," replied Little Red Riding-Ezra, flattered, and he smiled in return.
The wolf cocked his head to one side and peered down at him. "Whither away so early?" he asked. He now stood so close that Little Red Riding-Ezra might have reached out and stroked his fur.
"To the preacher's house," was Little Red Riding-Ezra's innocent reply.
"And what have you got there?" asked the wolf, poking at the burlap sack that Little Red Riding-Ezra held.
"Cakes and tea. Brother Nathan has the idea that the preacher's been feeling poorly, so poor sick Josiah is to have something good to make him stronger."
The wolf grinned even wider at this, his mouth more hungry than kind. "And where does your preacher live, Little Red Riding-Ezra?" he asked very softly.
"A little further down the street, yonder past the saloon. You can see the cross from here. You surely must know it."
The wolf thought to himself, What a tender young creature! What a nice plump mouthful! So he walked for a short time by the side of Little Red Riding-Ezra, and then he said, "See, Little Red Riding-Ezra, the crowd over there at the saloon—ranch-hands, I'd wager, with their pay in their pockets and itching for a game. And wouldn't your preacher like something to strengthen that tea of his?"
Little Red Riding-Ezra raised his eyes and saw a rowdy group of young cowboys pushing their way through the doorway of the saloon. And he thought, Suppose I take Josiah some brandy; that would please him. It's so early in the day that I shall still get there in good time.
And so, with a nudge from the wolf, he strayed from his path into the saloon to look for marks, and whenever he had picked one, he fancied that he saw a still more foolhardy one, and so dealt out round after round of cards.
Meanwhile, the wolf headed straight to the church and crept inside. He peeked behind the pulpit and between the pews and back into the rectory and saw that no one was home. So he slipped off his wolf's clothing and he laid himself in Josiah's bed to wait.
Little Red Riding-Ezra during this time had been running about picking marks, and when he had won enough money to fill his pockets—but not so much that the cowboys couldn't get good and drunk to forget what he looked like—he remembered Josiah and set out on the way to him with a bottle of brandy added to the sack of cakes and tea.
When he arrived at the church, he was surprised to find the side door ajar, and when he tiptoed toward the rectory, he was seized by such a strange feeling that he thought to himself, Oh dear! How uneasy I feel today, and at other times I like visiting with Josiah so very much.
Cautiously, he called out "Good-morning...er...afternoon." But he received no answer, and so he very carefully pushed open the rectory door. What he found inside was the preacher lying in bed with the blankets cast off, looking very out-of-sorts indeed.
"Oh! Poor Josiah," exclaimed Little Red Riding-Ezra with worry, "what big eyes you have!"
"All the better to see you with, my dear," was the wolf's smug reply.
"But, Josiah what big hands you have!"
"The better to hold you with, my darling."
"Oh! But Josiah, what a big..." Little Red Riding-Ezra looked down and his own eyes went wide. He blushed. "...er...what a big mouth you have!"
"The better to eat you with!" growled the wolf.
And scarcely had he said this, when with one bound he had pulled Little Red Riding-Ezra onto the bed and swallowed him whole!
Now the huntsman just happened to be passing by the church and thought to himself, What strange sounds old Josiah is making, moaning and groaning. He must be very sick indeed—I'll look-see if he needs anything. So he crept up the church aisle toward the rectory, and when he came to the doorway he saw that the wolf was lying in Josiah's bed and that he had just swallowed Little Red Riding-Ezra whole.
The huntsman stared at the scene before him for some time. So that's why he's called Little Red Riding-Ezra, he thought to himself. ...not so little, though.
And when the huntsman left, he was careful to close the door very quietly behind him, so that the pair might live happily ever after for a little while longer.