A FESTIVE FRIEND

Once upon a time, the Earth was completely covered with tall trees, stretching up to the sky – many of which had been standing for hundreds of years. The world changed around them, but they remained the same. Inside the most ancient of the trees lived the elves and the fairies. Guardians of the land and its creatures, these nature spirits roamed far and wide protecting all living things, but they always returned to the shelter of the trees… Connor noticed his little sister’s eyes closing as she drifted off to sleep. He stopped reading and gently closed the book. Dimming the nightlight, he tiptoed out of her room. “Thanks for reading Josie her bedtime story,” said Connor’s mum, Ellen, “she loves those fairytales.” He didn’t mind. He was very protective of his 6-year-old sister, especially since their dad had passed away two years ago. He tried his best to be the man of the house – a tall order for a 14-year-old boy. FAMILY RITUALS Crunching her cereal at breakfast the following morning, Josie told her brother she had really enjoyed her bedtime story. “But you fell asleep before I’d finished, sleepyhead!” laughed Connor. “Did I? But I remember you telling me about the old trees and their fairies. It made me think of our Oaky. I love that tree – I bet there’s a fairy living inside it!” Oaky was little Josie’s name for the huge oak tree they passed every day, on the way to school. “Well, little miss, I have a treat for you,” interjected her mother, “I know you’ve been counting down the days until Christmas… so we’re getting a Christmas tree today! And it will be a very special one because it will be a living one, with its roots attached, so we can plant it in the garden afterwards.” “Yay! A special tree!” said Josie skipping around the room. “We’ve had a rough couple of years since your dad’s been gone, so I want to make this Christmas as magical as I can for her,” said Ellen quietly to her son. FESTIVE FIR The Christmas tree was a large fir, bristling with emerald green pine needles and had something special about it. The family busied themselves hanging colourful baubles and silver tinsel on the outstretched branches. Even Connor, who usually thought this little ritual was a bit boring, was caught up in the moment.

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FAIRYTALE FRIEND That evening, Ellen found Josie talking to the Christmas tree again. “It’s going to be ok,” said Josie, “because Mr Elf says he won’t let them chop down Oaky.” “Darling,” said Ellen, gently, “sometimes sad things happen and you just have to accept them.” “No,” said Josie, “I believe Mr Elf!” During the next few days, the family prepared themselves to find the old tree gone. But the machinery was still there, and the tree remained standing. Seven days before Christmas, the machinery disappeared – as if it had never been there at all. At home, the local newspaper fluttered through Ellen’s letterbox. One article caught her eye: 200-year-old tree granted reprieve. It reported that the owner of the supermarket had a ‘change of heart’ and wasn’t extending his car park, after all. “Josie! Connor! Tree-Tee is saved!” shouted Ellen, wondering what had happened. “See – I told you Mr Elf would save it!” said Josie skipping around the Christmas tree, humming a celebratory tune.

EXCITING NEWS Dropping Josie off at a Christmas party, Ellen looked proudly at her daughter – the little girl looked adorable in her pale green dress. Connor was with them, bouncing his football impatiently. He sighed when his mum began chatting to Sandra, one of the other mothers. Connor hoisted his sister onto his shoulders. Josie placed the cardboard and taffeta doll with its tinsel halo and plastic wand at the very top. “The tree looks beautiful,” pronounced Josie. She sat contentedly at the foot of the tree, gently pressing her fingers onto its greenery and tracing the gnarled texture of its bark. Connor carried the empty decoration boxes out for recycling, while his mother prepared dinner. The sound of laughter drifted from the living room. Josie was giggling, then she started talking animatedly – mother and son looked quizzically at each other and went to investigate. They saw Josie chattering away to the Christmas tree. “Who are you talking to darling? To the fairy on our tree?” “No! Don’t be silly. She’s not real; she’s just a paper doll.” “Oh, I see,” said Connor, trying to keep a straight face, “so there’s an invisible fairy flying around the room, is there?” “No, there’s no fairy here. He’s an elf. Mr Elf, he says he’s called. Our Christmas tree is his home.” Connor dissolved into giggles. His mother poked him on the arm to quieten him. “Well, that’s lovely. But tell Mr Elf it’s time for your dinner now,” said Ellen. “Too many fairytales for Josie,” Connor whispered to his mum.

PLANNING PERMISSION That Monday, Ellen walked her children to school as usual, with Josie trotting a few paces ahead. Suddenly she topped and turned around to face them. “What’s happening to Oaky?” Josie suddenly shouted. The old tree was cordoned off and bound with fluorescent tape. A few metres away from it, sharp-bladed machinery stood poised to tear it into the ground. A notice informed the area was being developed to extend the nearby supermarket car park. “No!” cried Josie, “they’re going to kill Oaky!” The ancient tree had stood in the village for as long as anyone could remember. Generations of villagers had picnicked, played and shared kisses underneath the protection of its branches. Ellen’s husband had loved this place. He often brought the children there, kicking a football with them on the grass around it, and lifting Josie up so she could examine the shiny acorns nestled between its leaves. “Gosh, I remember your dad carving our initials into that tree when we started dating,” said Ellen. “Daddy’s Oaky,” said Josie, starting to cry. “Wasn’t it was brilliant to hear that the old tree behind the supermarket isn’t going to be chopped down anymore?” Ellen said. “I wonder what changed the owner’s mind?” “Well, I work with the supermarket owner’s wife,” said Sandra, “I overheard her talking to a friend. She said things had been very strange at home. Apparently fuses kept blowing, pipes burst, electrical devices wouldn’t work. It was driving her crazy. Her husband was behaving strangely too – he seemed afraid of something, but he wouldn’t tell her what was going on. “He locked himself in his study and was talking to someone. At first she assumed he was on the phone, but as nothing was working she went outside to peer through the window. The blinds were drawn but she could see the silhouette of her husband cowering in front of what appeared to be a tiny man standing on his desk! The next day, the supermarket owner cancelled the car park plans. He bought his wife some beautiful flowers and asked her never to mention it ever again! Everything has retuned to normal in their house now.” CALM AGAIN As Ellen and her son walked away, Connor said: “Mum, you don’t think Josie was right about Mr Elf, do you?” “No, dear, of course not – it’s only a fairytale,” said Ellen, resolving to plant the Christmas tree far away from their house – just in case.

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