It was an early summer evening in woodland by a river. Three children played amongst the trees and the ferns, they had erected a swing with old rope from one of the trees main branches that hung out over the low river and they took it in turns to swing on it attempting not to let go and fall into the shallow water below.
The three children were ten years old, Joe, Carl and Sue all went to the same school but since it was the holidays they were hanging out together in this desolate piece of countryside where few other humans came, especially adults. They had spent their pocket money and were now eating the goods they had bought; they had a plastic carrier bag full of sweets, crisps and cans of pop and discarded the rubbish on the floor as they ate.
Carl reminded them of the school project they were supposed to be doing over the summer holidays. Joe groaned at the mention of it, he had no interest in it whatsoever. They had to write a report on something about their hometown.
“We have to do it, it’s important marks,” Carl was reminding him.
“I don’t care,” Joe said.
“I do but I don’t know what to write about,” Carl was saying.
“Mine is going to be something to do with horses,” Sue said dreamily. She liked horses and often waked to the far side of the fields which led into the stable area. She was not allowed into the stables, they were for horse owners only. Her parents could not afford lessons for her so she secretly visited the fields and watched the horses from afar.
“What am I going to write about?” Carl was bemoaning the homework.
‘Don’t worry about it, Carl, we’ve got all summer to do it. Pass me some crisps,” Joe said without a care.
Carl looked into the plastic bag that held all the food and pop drinks that they had bought. He fished out a packet of crisps and threw them at Joe who had just finished off another pack. He discarded the empty packet by rolling it up into a tight ball and throwing it into the river. It landed with a slight plop and went under then bounced back to the surface where it stayed afloat and with the slow current was taken along with the flow.
“I might do mine on the horses that live in the fields,” Sue informed them
“Horses?” Carl said with a mouth full of sherbet.
“Well, they are part of the town. The farmer’s wife teaches kids to ride them,” Sue said matter of factly.
“Sounds great,” Carl said sarcastically.
“We can work together as a group,” Joe suggested, winking at Carl.
“Oh yeah! I’d end up doing all the work whilst you play around!” Sue protested; she knew what these boys were like; they would do anything to get out of doing any form of work. She finished eating the chocolate bar she was holding and let the wrapper fall to the ground as she rushed to join the lads. Joe had the football and was kicking it against the tree.
“Come on, man, pass the ball,” said an impatient Carl. Joe just grinned and carried on kicking the ball to himself. It was a half deflated football so did not bounce too well. Carl finished off the drink in his can then threw it at Joe. It bounced off Joe’s shoulder and fell to the ground beside him. Joe kicked the football against the tree one more time then with a twist of his foot kicked it really hard in the direction of Carl. Carl had to duck to avoid it.
The ball flew past him and landed near Sue. Joe stamped on the can that Carl had thrown at him. It was squashed flat by his foot with a metallic cranking sound. Carl went back to the plastic bag and took out the last crisp packet and opened it. He pretended to be bored of playing the football as he ate his food. Joe was teasing him to get up and join in with the ball playing. He kicked the ball at Sue a few times but she was not as good at kicking the ball back to him as Carl would have been.
Sue went to kick the ball but her foot slipped on one of the many crisp wrappers they had left on the ground. She skidded towards the ball and missed kicking it but did not fall over. Both the lads laughed out loud at her.
She gave the football one last kick then sat down next to Carl taking the plastic bag away from him to see what was left to devour. At the bottom of the bag were the small sweets they had bought with their last pennies. She took them out and unwrapped them then put the sweets in her mouth.
“Save me some” Joe protested but it was too late, all of the sweets were in her mouth and she held up the empty wrappers for him to see as she let them go so that they scattered in the slight breeze around the area.
Joe snatched the big plastic bag from her hands and inspected it. It was empty and in his disgust he threw the bag behind him. It caught up on the prickly branches of a bush.
“This is boring,” he said then he looked around and saw the half deflated football lying on the ground close by. He booted it into the river. It landed with a splash and half floated in the water. Joe spat at it then stormed off in the other direction.
Sue looked at Carl, her mouth still full with candy. Carl shrugged his shoulders at her then got to his feet and followed his friend. She rolled her eyes and decided she best go after them. The three of them left the scene their rubbish scattered all around, caught in the branches, flapping amongst leaves and floating in the river until it sank to the river bed. The football bobbed in the water.
The evening drew in as the sun set on the horizon. A slight wind blew up and flew across the countryside and towards suburbia. It whistled down the streets and past the houses as the darkness of night followed it. Back in the woodland glade where the children had been that day, the rubbish that had gathered moved with the wind. The crisp bags on the ground took flight towards the trees nearby. Some of the bags got stuck in the branches as the can flattened by Joe’s foot cluttered as it was blown along the ground by the heavy breeze. The plastic bag that was stuck in the bush fluttered like a tethered flag. It beat so strong that it tore itself away from the prickly bush and took flight into the nearest field. The crunched up can rolled in the direction of the horses’ field in pursuit of the plastic bag.
Half way between the river and the horses’ field was a very large and old oak tree. Its trunk was thick and round darkened brown with age. It carried many hefty branches that were in full fruit with acorns which attracted the variety of wildlife. This night the tree had attracted an ancient creature of nature. Leaning up against the bark and looking out towards the river was a man figure that was not made of flesh and bones. Instead the body was made of bark and leaf, the long arms were spindles of wood enthused together with vine and stem of plants as were his legs. His face was plant flesh so green in colour and instead of strands of hair atop his head fresh foliage grew from his hairline back.
A crisp bag flew past his face carried by the wind. From the trees the night birds began to call as if announcing to all that the Greenman had arrived as he pushed himself away from the tree. The Greenman waked silently with great strides towards the river. He wandered along the riverbank looking at the rubbish within it. The river trickled in the cool air carrying various pieces of litter, along the riverbanks larger pieces of rubbish had accumulated including some old car tyres.
The Greenman was distressed by the amount of it. Sweet wrappers floated on the water and a nocturnal duck picked one up in its beak as she paddled by. In the distance a muffled cry of pain came. It was from a cow. The Greenman’s ears directed him to where she was and he set out at a run towards it. He entered a field of cows, none were perturbed by his appearance, they all knew who he was.
One cow was crying out in pain. The Greenman approached her and her cry softened as she recognised this ancient creature. The Greenman was like a god to all animals. The cows distress was evident she had a plastic strip protruding from her lips. It was a piece of plastic that held a row of candy together. She had swallowed most of it and it was now cutting into her throat, close to choking her. The Greenman inspected her but did not have the tools to cut it out. He led her to the edge of the farmer and opened to gate and took her down to the farmer’s house.
The farmer was in one of the barns when he heard the cow cry out from close by. She was becoming frightened by the thing stuck in her throat and was making a weird noise. The Greenman watched from the shadows as the farmer came out of the barn and was a little stunned to see one of his cows in the yard.
“How did you get here?” he was saying when he noticed the plastic in her mouth. He immediately began to remove it cursing as he did it. “Damn kids never put anything in the bins!”
Now that the Greenman knew that the cow was in safe hands he headed back into the woods.
In her bedroom Sue lay on her tummy on the bed reading her book. Sue’s father called up from the stairs. “Lights out, Sue, time for bed.”
“Yes dad,” Sue called back as she switched off the light and turned on a torch. She disappeared under her bedcovers with her book and torch.
At Carl’s house down the road his mother crept into his bedroom because he was fast asleep on his bed, his TV talking to itself. She turned it all off and closed the door behind her.
In Joe’s bedroom in the next street Joe sat up playing a game on his computer.
Later that night Sue lay asleep in her bed, her torch still on beside her. She woke up with a start as a small hand was put over her mouth muffling any scream. A serious scary face was staring at her, it had a pointed chin and nose and glistening forehead above beady eyes. The creature stood only a foot tall and put a bony finger to his lips telling her to be quiet. She was sure it was a pixie.
In Carl’s room Carl was still sprawled over his bed, but now he had a pixie almost identical to the one in Sue’s bedroom sitting on his chest. This pixie also put a hand over Carl’s mouth as he prodded him awake. Carl tried to sit up as he awoke and was shocked to see a pointy eared head staring back at him. The pixie spoke first. “You have to come with me!”
Carl’s eyes widened.
Joe was still playing on his computer with accompanying headphones. He was engrossed in the game he was playing as his hands flittered back and forth at the controls. Suddenly in the screen he can see a reflection of someone behind him. His heart almost stopped as he spun around to find a pixie grinning at him.
“Hallo, Joe. This is your very early morning call. The woodland King wants to see you!” The pixie told him.
“I must be dreaming!” Joe said in disbelief.
“Oh no, you and your friends are wanted for a job!” the pixie laughed.
Joe went to stand up as the pixie spoke. “No one can hear you, Joe, well not human anyway. You are in a different time plane now. Follow me and all will be all right!”
“This is a dream,” Joe was saying to himself. “Am I being abducted…? Like in the X-Files?
The pixie gave him a puzzled look.
“Like on TV?”
“I don’t watch TV,” the pixie told him.
“How weird,” Joe replied, he could not imagine life without TV. “Who are you?”
“You may call me Theo. I am a pixie.”
“A Pixie? But that’s folklore, the sort of stuff my little sis reads about,” Joe laughed. “I must be dreaming.”
Theo opened the door and walked out beckoning for Joe to follow. Joe shook his head convinced he was dreaming so he decided to go with the dream and follow the strange little creature. They went down the hallway, past his parent’s door. It was ajar so he peeked in. His parents were asleep in their bed.
“They can’t hear or see you, Joe,” Theo the pixie told him.
“You sure?” Joe asked uncertain, his parents always seemed to have their ears open to his every movement. It had only been a little while ago that his dad had demanded he turn off the computer and go to sleep. Joe decided to check this out so yelled at his parents. “Mum, Dad time to get up!”
Nobody stirred except the pixie who had jumped out of his skin.
“Nope, they definitely cannot hear me,” Joe said surprised.
Theo took Joe out into the midnight air where a giant bird sat waiting for them. Joe was amazed at the size of it. He watched Theo climb onto its back then took the pixie’s hand that was offered to help him climb aboard.
“Wow,” was all he could say as he sat on the back of the giant bird. He felt the air change as the bird took to the sky and flew them away from suburbia and back to the fields they had been playing in earlier. The bird landed next to two other birds and pixies. He was surprised to see Carl and Sue there too with the pixies that had awakened them.
They all stood by the river. Sue was a little frightened unlike Carl who was as excited as he was.
“Jo, what is going on? Why have these pixies abducted us?” Sue asked.
“Do you think they’ll put us a space ship?” asked Carl.
“They are woodland pixies, Carl,” Sue reminded him.
“Whatever,” Carl replied.
Joe was beginning to doubt this was a dream. He stood in his pyjamas, like the other two and was beginning to feel cold. There was a deadly silence outside that he had never experienced before. He could not even hear a bird call. The pixies were whispering amongst themselves.
“What’s happening, Joe?” Sue asked.
“I’m not sure….” he replied. He watched the pixies back away from them.
“Where are you going?” Joe called out.
Theo called out. “We’ll be back soon, wait here.”
“Come on let’s go,” Carl whispered when they were out of earshot. The pixies vanished into the trees. “Let’s get outta here, this way home.”
They followed the river as the wind was beginning to pick up again blowing into them.
“It’s cold for summer,” Sue moaned as they walked. Suddenly the wind began to throw things up there, pieces of rubbish it had picked up on its travels, wrappers, paper cups, sheets of newspaper all hitting them on the body as they walked.
“My dad is gonna kill me of he discovers I am not in bed,” Sue was whimpering.
“You gonna tell him you were taken by pixies?” Carl asked her as he pushed another wrapper from his face.
“Our folks are not going to believe us are they? Pixies!” Joe cackled then had to duck as two plastic cups shot by his head. They had had to raise their voices in the noisy wind.
Carl began to laugh to. “This is crazy. I keep telling myself it’s a dream.”
“It sure feels like real life to me,” Sue said as she hugged herself in her pyjamas. “I’m getting cold.”
They walked along faster, keeping close together. The river seemed to go ahead for miles.
“The river isn’t this long. What’s going on, Joe?” Carl said after awhile.
“The pixie mentioned something to me about this being another time and place,” Joe remembered. “My parents could not hear me calling them.”
“My pixie said that too. Maybe we’re still on it,” Carl suggested.
“Joe, I was told we were to meet the woodland King,” Sue remembered.
“We certainly aren’t heading in the direction for home,” Joe had noticed.
The wind was so strong now it tore the words from their mouths. It was getting harder to walk in it, it was coming from all directions and bringing litter with it.
“Do you think we’ll ever get home?” Carl asked.
Joe lifted his shoulders in a shrug as rubbish flew into his face; he struggled to pull it off. Sue was trying to help but all kinds of rubbish pelted her from behind nearly knocking her over. The rubbish was attracted to them. The more they pulled of off each other, the more seemed to get blown on them. They were covered head to foot in rubbish. Sue was close to panicking and she found herself knocked down by the onslaught. The three of them tried to pull her to her feet but the litter grew until slowly they were drowned in the rubbish.
A huge pile of rubbish lay by the river. All was quiet, the wind had gone. The three pixies that had collected the children approached the scene and climbed up the pile. They dug into it with their hands, searching. Theo found Joe first and pulled him out. The second pixie found Sue, who took awhile to come round whilst the third had located Carl and was dragging him out by his feet. The kids sat on the floor getting their breath back.
“That was so scary!” Sue said to them all.
“Why are we here? What do you want?” Carl demanded.
“You are here to hear out the Greenman,” Theo told them.
“Who?” the kids asked.
An owl screamed out a warning making all the kids jump. From the wooded area came the steady thump of large feet moving towards them. The kids cowered together as a large figure appears from the darkness of the trees lit by the full moon. To the three of them it looked like a walking tree. It was the Greenman.
The pixies ushered the kids to their feet and told them to bow.
“Why?” Joe asked.
“Because he is the king of nature,” Theo informed him.
The kids bowed then stared up at this large creature. The Greenman looked them up and down then spoke in a deep booming voice, anger evident. “You litter my lands.”
They did not know what to say.
“You litter my lands,” the Greenman repeated holding out one of the crisp packets that they had discarded earlier that day.
“We’re sorry,” Sue squeaked.
The Greenman shook his head as the pixies looked at one another.
“You are now because I have brought you here and it has scared you,” The Greenman said. “Are you really sorry?”
The three of them nodded.
“You do not understand. How does it feel to be a victim?” The Greenman asked them
The three of them shook their head unsure how to answer.
“You are lucky people to not know what it is to be a victim,” the Greenman mused. “This rubbish you leave on the ground finds victims.”
“A victim? Of the rubbish?” Joe dared to ask.
The Greenman stared at him. “Yes, like the countryside, a victim of your litter. It causes irreversible damage. You will help us to clean it up.”
“But that is the street cleaners jobs,” Joe protested.
“Street cleaners clean the streets not the countryside,” Carl told him.
“We left all out litter today,” Sue reminded him.
“So you will clean up all the litter,” the Greenman told them.
“But it’s not all our rubbish! Why can’t you pick it up?” Joe protested.
“Because it is human rubbish. I am of another time, a long, lost, magical time that this world once was. I am of the natural world, where we respect the Mother Planet. WE cannot clear your mess. There is no need for rubbish you can pick it up, put it in your pockets and take it home,” the nature king told them.
“It makes a mess of my pockets,” Sue said under her breath.
The Greenman spun round at her, his ears had picked up her words. He glared at her then snapped his fingers. Terrified, Sue screamed and then she and her pixie vanished.
Sue and her pixie appeared in a field where litter was being blown across it by the wind. The pixie held a little lantern for them to see. A horse snorted in the background.
“What am I doing here?” Sue asked.
“You are going to help.” The pixie pointed to a plastic bag hooked on a bush. Sue walked over to it and took it down. She started to pick up the litter as it flew past. The pixie fished out a leather pouch from his pocket and gave it to her. “Put the litter in there. These bags are special.”
“In what way?”
“They are never ending,” he replied to her confused face. “You can keep filling them up but they are never full.”
They heard the whimper of a horse.
“There are horses in here,” Sue remarked. “Sounds like she’s in pain.”
Sue started towards the sound picking up rubbish as she goes. The whine grew louder and more anxious.
“Maybe we are making the horse nervous,” Sue said.
“Not me, they like me, they know I don’t litter their fields,” the pixie instantly replied.
Sue looked hurt by the remark. The pixie held up the lantern, a pony walked slowly towards them, one of its hind legs was having difficulty walking properly.
“She is hurt!” exclaimed Sue.
The pony nuzzled her and she gave it a stroke.
“Give me some light,” she said. She gasped as the light shone revealed the squashed can caught around the pony’s hoof.
The pixie grunted annoyed. “She must have trod on it and couldn’t get it off.”
“Do you think she’ll kick me if I try to take it off?” Sue asked.
“If she knows it’s your litter,” the pixie muttered. Sue bolted upright she was taller than the pixie.
“It is a can very like the one I drank earlier but it is not necessarily mine,” she said defensively as she removed the can from the hoof. She threw the can into the pixie bag. .
Back by the river the Greenman stood with the two lads.
“What have you done with her?” Joe had demanded when Sue had vanished.
“She has gone to help the countryside, as you two shall. I want you human children to understand what damage this littering does. For a long time now your race has become careless with its waste. The adults do not seem to understand, maybe you children will when you have seen the consequences of negligence,” the Greenman said to them. He snapped his fingers again, this time Carl and his pixie disappeared.
Carl and his pixie were underwater. He was stunned and tried to swim upwards but the pixie pulled him down. Fish swam by them both unaffected by these strange creatures swimming in their water.
“I can breathe underwater! I can talk underwater!” Carl was stunned but pleased.
The pixie pointed to plastic bag trapped under a bottle on the river bed.
“And you can pick up rubbish underwater!” the pixie pointed out. He gave Carl a bag like the one Sue was using to collect the rubbish in. They swam down to the water bed and it was then that Carl realised that they had shrunken in size so they could walk along it. There were various other water creatures about that scattered as Carl and the pixie walked along picking up the litter.
Carl came across a bottle with a fish trapped inside it. As he picked up the bottle little pieces of litter fell out then the fish free at last. He put the bottle in his bag then bent to pick up a soggy newspaper. A dead duck sprung up at him, he screamed and back paddled. The pixie grabbed it. The dead duck had a wire wrapped around its legs and wings.
“Looks like he got caught up, pulled underwater by the wire and drowned,” the pixie said as he inspected it. Carl was devastated as he watched the pixie dig a shallow grave to lay it in. Carl was saddened by the ducks death but carried on picking up rubbish from the riverbed, releasing fish and other river wildlife from bottles and rusty cans. A few dead bloated fish floated by.
“What happened to those guys?” Carl asked.
“Many of the chemicals you pour into our waters are unsafe. It can be poisonous, for fish, animals and plant life,” the pixie told him.
“It’s not me who puts the chemicals in,” Carl told him.
“I know, it’s the companies that make products that you buy and use. It is their waste they dispose of by pouring it into our waters. Your waters.”
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Carl protested.
“Maybe you can help by finding another way of disposing of it but economically,” the pixie suggested.
“I am just a kid,” Carl reminded him. He looked at his bag of rubbish, it seemed full. “I’ve seen enough.”
The pixie nodded.
At the riverbank the Greenman looked at Joe.
“So it’s just you, Theo and me,” Joe said unsure what was happening.
“I’ll show you around then,” Theo said to the Greenman who nodded. .
“So where are we going then? To join the others?” Joe asked.
Theo gave him a plastic bag. “Start picking up the rubbish.”
He looked towards the Greenman and saw that they were serious. He started to pick up the rubbish from the path with the two nature creatures following him. They come across a patch of ground covered in smashed glass bottles. The Greenman and Theo looked annoyed at it. Joe was aware something was in the shadows moving.
“What’s that?” he asked, Theo pointed to the ground.
“There’s blood everywhere,” the pixie told them.
From the shadows a creature sprang forward full pelt towards them. It landed at Joe’s feet. It was a little fox. It lay in the ground frightened, its paws bleeding.
“It has walked along this path and through this glass,” the Greenman said gravely.
Joe bent down to the fox and held out a hand to it. It cowered and whimpered.
“It’s only a cub,” he remarked. The cub sniffed his hand timidly. Joe stroked his head whilst Theo looked at its paws.
“We need antiseptic,” Joe said. He tore a strip from his pyjamas, spat on it then delicately started to clean the fox’s paws. “It needs to go to a vet, though none will be open at this time of night.”
The Greenman leant down and put his wooden hands on some of the cuts. Joe gasped as he watched the cuts disappear by the Greenman’s wooden touch.
The sun was going to rise soon as the three children came back together at the spot they had met the Greenman. They hugged each other, pleased to be reconciled. The Greenman stood before them holding their full bags of rubbish.
“Children, you have done well. You have collected much of the rubbish. Hopefully you have learnt a valuable lesson,” the Greenman said to them. The three of them nodded.
“You will be returned to the time that we took you. You will not forget any of this,” the Greenman said.
“It was an honour to be shown such a wonderful sight,” Carl said, he was miraculously dry from his night time swim.
“Can we do this again tomorrow?” Sue asked.
The Greenman shook his head.
“Will we see you again?” she asked.
The Greenman sighed. “I am afraid not. The human world is difficult for us to live in. Please do not forget all that you have learnt this night.”
He held up a hand to wave, the children waved back as the world changed around them. It faded and disappeared as they were zapped back home and into their beds.
The next morning Joe awoke in his room to the sound of stones being thrown at his window. He hurried to it and looked out. Sue and Carl were outside grinning madly, beckoning him down.
“Remember last night?” Carl asked.
“The pixies, the Greenman, all the rubbish? How we helped clear it up,” Sue said quickly.
Joe scratched his head, a little confused.
“Come on, Joe, how could you forget something like that? I went underwater, remember?” Carl said
“And you helped with the broken glass,” Sue reminded him.
“I thought it was a dream,” Joe said.
“No way, Jose. It happened; no one will ever believe us but me and Carl we had a great idea for our project,” Sue was saying. “The three of us can work on it. It will be a brilliant project!”
When term time started the three of them walked to school together carrying their summer project between them. They had worked on it all summer, making up puppets and writing a little script, now they were ready to perform it to their teacher and class.
“O.K. quieten down. We now have Susan, Carl and Joe performing their summer project,” the teacher was saying. The class clapped as the curtains were pulled back from their makeshift stage. Sue came round the front of the stage and sat before the class. She narrated the story as Carl and Joe performed the puppets from under the stage, all had been made from old materials and recycled rubbish. The puppets acted out the story that Sue related to them.
Sue began. “There were some children playing in the woods. They ate junk food and drank fizzy drinks but to discard their rubbish they didn’t really think. They left it there, in a pile; the wind blew up and sent it out for miles.”
Using a fan Carl made the rubbish blow across the stage.
Sue continued. “It got stuck in trees, caught in bushes, blew into animals homes, they lodged in natures cracks, tin cans rattled and rolled, Bottles smashed on the ground All the rubbish rolled into one. It became a beast of immense proportions.”
Joe controlled a large puppet made of rubbish as the monster.
Sue continued. “It chased the birds and frightened the cows. It left traps for all of Gods creatures”
They re-enacted on stage a puppet creature choking on some rubbish.
Sue narrated “The rubbish monster stormed the land growing bigger and bigger because every wrapper, every piece of litter makes the pile bigger and bigger.”
Joe replaced the monster with a bigger monster whilst Carl continued making the rubbish be blown around as Sue described what was happening.
“There is only one way to stop him and that is to dispose of your rubbish properly. Use the bins provided, take your rubbish home. Don’t leave it on the ground where he can get it and add it to his power. This country is a beautiful place and all the rubbish monster wants to do is destroy it! Only we can stop him!”