When I was a kid my mother took me to a story-telling event featuring Jim May, who is a popular story-teller in our area. One of his oft-told tales is called “Tailypo” and it scared me so bad at that age that I didn’t sleep in my own bed for days.
Though Mr. May has written many of his own stories, Tailypo is one of many folktales that he performs. It’s been alternately titled Tailbones, Taily Po, Tally Po, and Tailipoesies and is a popular story to tell around the campfire.
I’ve decided to put my own twist on the classic tale. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to share it around your next campfire.
A New Twist On An Old “Tail”
Written by Michelle Roth, Inspired by Tailypo
It was three days to the harvest festival where all the young ladies in the village would don their best frocks and elaborate hats in the hopes of being the center of attention and get a proposal of marriage from one of the well-to-do young bachelors in the town. One young woman found herself walking in the woods with her trusty hound, a gift from her father to be her watchful companion.
The walk was an uneventful one until suddenly her dog growled and darted away from her off the path and towards the woods. She took off after him and she when finally caught up she found he had cornered a cat who was terrified and hissing at the hound. The girl called him off and he reluctantly obliged.
She walked towards the poor creature and found a scraggly beast with a hunched back, missing ear, patchy fur and two foggy white eyes – however, it had the most beautiful tail she had ever seen. It was long and feathered, it seemed to contain all the colors she had ever seen in a cat plus a few she hadn’t.
She took a bit of salted meat from her basket and lured the cat towards her. When it was finally close enough she grabbed the creature by the scruff of the neck and shoved it into her basket. She removed her belt and secured the lid.
The girl returned to the village and made her way to the butcher’s shop. Setting the basket on the counter she instructed the unsuspecting butcher to slaughter the beast and deliver it’s tail to the local taxidermist.
The butcher, feeling sorry for the poor animal but needing the money the girl offered for the task, severed the tail from the still living cat. The creature let out a scream unlike anything he had ever heard from a cat and quickly ran out an open window.
The butcher, disturbed by the encounter, wanted to be rid of the tail as soon as possible so he quickly delivered it to the taxidermist.
That night, the butcher awoke with a start and saw two cloudy white eyes starring at him in the dark.
“Tailypo, Tailypo….” a voice hissed. “I want my Tailypo.”
Terrified, the man sat up in bed but he found he couldn’t speak. The eyes and the voice were suddenly closer.
“Tailypo, Tailypo. Give me back my Tailypo.” It said more forcefully.
The butcher finally found his voice and whispered “I….I don’t have it anymore. I gave it to the taxidermist. Please don’t harm me.”
The cat was on top of him now, looking strait into his eyes. It hissed, scratched the man’s face, and was suddenly gone.
The next day the girl was found banging on the door of the taxidermist’s shop minutes before it was meant to open. When she was finally let in she saw the tale sitting on the taxidermist’s work bench.
“I need this preserved as soon as you can and delivered to the hatter’s shop today!” She demanded. She set down a pouch of money and left abruptly.
It was the most beautiful tail he had ever seen, and a part of him wanted to keep it, but he knew that the girl would bring hell down on him if he did. He went to work right away, treating the tail with utmost care, and delivered it to the hatter’s shop that afternoon.
Again that night, the strange cat visited the taxidermist.
“Tailypo…. Tailypo.” The cat hissed. “I want my Tailypo.”
The mans eyes went wide as he searched for the source of the voice. In the corner of his room her found the ragged beast starring at him with it’s white eyes.
“Tailypo, Tailypo. Give me back my Tailypo.” It pounced on the man’s chest and screeched the words at him.
Starring into the beast’s cold white eyes, the taxidermist whispered. “I’d give it to you but it… it’s with the hatter!”
The cat sized him up, as if trying to decide if he was telling the truth. It turned to leave with a guttural hiss, but not before scratching the man’s face.
In the morning, the hatter was surprised to see the girl already at her doorstep as she came down to open the shop.
“Did you get the tail?” She asked excitedly.
The hatter confirmed and was told to scrap all the feather work she had done on the girl’s harvest festival hat in favor of the cat’s tail.
“And affix it with the loveliest flower you can find and deliver it to my house this afternoon.” She said as she dropped the hatter’s pay on the counter and left without another word.
Though she was annoyed that she would have to start work all over on the hat, the hatter got to work right away as the girl paid handsomely for the task. She had a hard time finding a flower beautiful enough to complement the magnificent tail so she settled on a large, orange chrysanthemum.
The cat visited the hatter in the night.
“Tailypo…. Tailypo. I want my Tailypo.” The cat’s voice came from the foot of her bed.
The hatter awoke with a start and screamed.
“Tailypo, Tailypo. Give me back my Tailypo.”
Her voice trembled as she told the creature that she had already delivered it to the young woman. The cat stared at the hatter and suddenly pounced on her chest, scratched her across the face, and was gone.
The following night the young woman attended the harvest festival in her new hat. She had always been pretty, but with the hat on she seemed to radiate beauty. Her dance card was full the entire night and she even got a couple proposals of marriage.
The woman reveled in the glory of the night as she put on her night clothes. She climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep with a contented smile on her face.
Some time in the night she suddenly woke to hear her dog, who had been asleep at the foot of her bed, barking frantically. She sat up and the barking suddenly stopped.
Terrified, she lit a candle and scanned the room. There was no sign of her dog, but in the corner she did find two feline-like white eyes starring at her.
“Tailypo…. Tailypo. I want my Tailypo.” She heard from the corner.
The woman’s eyes darted to the beautiful hat that was placed with care on her dressing table.
“Tailypo, Tailypo. I finally found my Tailypo.” The creature purred as it seemed to smile in the darkness.
The next day a strange woman was found wandering the streets. She had a hunched back, missing ear, patchy hair, and two foggy white eyes. Since then it’s said she was often found in the village, seemingly lost, and mumbling to herself “Tailypo, Tailypo. Where is my Tailypo?”
Coincidently, it was about the same time that a cat wandered into the town. It was the most beautiful cat anyone had ever seen and was quickly adopted by a well-to-do family and treated like royalty for the rest of it’s days.
Interesting twist on the story! Love how the vain woman got her just deserts at the end. I also did a retelling of the Tailypo, simply called “A New Tailypo”. With good reason. It’s on Wattpad if you’d like to take a look.