CHAPTER 13 - Bonfire Night

At first, the waiting was easy. The weather was fine, golden and sunny, and there was plenty to do. The fairies were busy getting Dan up to scratch on flying. She was relishing the hard work and the exercise, and catching up fast. The elves were busy trying to teach the Elfcat to chase Ragwort, but as he couldn’t tell the difference between Ragwort and Hogweed, it wasn’t very successful. They were in high spirits all the same, until the day the military police called at Wildside.

Gromwell, the goblin sergeant of police, arrived oozing with satisfaction. Ace had to face him alone. He was the leader, he had to take the blame. Madge had warned him not to make it worse for himself by trying to argue, so he just listened while Gromwell gave him a gloating lecture, but it was very humiliating, and he was grateful to Madge and the others for making themselves scarce. But there was no getting away from it; he couldn’t deny what he’d done. Ace got another official warning.

It could have been worse. He knew that, Madge had really let him have it straight, he could have been taken into custody to await trial, if the police had thought the attack too serious for a simple warning. But he was very down-hearted. It was the first time, since they were three years old, that Ace and Will hadn’t been able to share the blame for something, and it unsettled both of them. They were subdued for days, and Madge was getting quite worried about them, until Phil took their minds off it by suggesting something exciting to do. They all suddenly jumped on a train and went to visit the airport, leaving the fairies stunned but reassured.

All through September, they saw plenty of the children. The younger ones all came rushing out to play after school, though Rowan and Dominic had a lot of homework now, and David was so overloaded with work, he hardly ever came out. He was throwing himself into it, and no-one wanted to distract him. He always had his music on while he worked, though, and always left the window open. The sprites knew he liked it when any of them popped in to listen.

October brought days of high wind and heavy rain, that left the horse chestnut bare, its great curtain now just a framework of branches once more. Every day it grew dark earlier. Wildside was a mess of puddles and fallen leaves, though the gentians still gleamed bravely here and there. The sprites saw less now of the children, and even David sometimes had to shut his window against the awful weather. Still no news came. None of them knew about all the puzzled phone calls between the planning office and the architect, trying to sort the figures out, nor about the furious letters winging to and fro between the Greater Manchester Countryside Unit and Mr. Pearce’s solicitor. But Sally explained to Madge that the longer it went on, the the better it was looking for them, and the worse for Mr. Pearce.

Greatly encouraged, Madge decided to use the wet weather to get the young sprites to listen to some lessons on sprite law. Clover was bored to tears by this, and furious with Ace who kept making it all last even longer by constantly interrupting, and asking who made all these laws, anyway, and why, which made Madge get on to politics, which was even more boring. But she cheered up when one Saturday morning the weather turned crisp and cold, and Tony came looking for the sprites.

It was half-term. The Connollys were starting to build their bonfire, and Tony was a bit worried about the gentians. The sprites helped him choose a good spot. Hogweed was beside himself with excitement. He hadn’t realised it was so close to Bonfire Night, his favourite night of the year.
Tony was helping Dominic and Joseph lug an old sideboard onto Wildside. This was going to be the middle of the bonfire.
“This is far enough, Tony,” panted Joseph. “Why go any further?”
“I think we’d be better over here,” said Tony. “I was talking to, er, someone, who said it’d do less damage over here.”

Dominic caught on, and backed him up, so they shoved it a bit further, then went to start knocking on all the neighbours’ doors, begging for firewood. They soon gathered loads of stuff, because people saved all their garden rubbish and old furniture for them. The Connolly bonfire had been going for years. Mr. Connolly and Adam came out to help them build it, and most of the sprites were out and about, watching with interest. They weren’t that deep in cover; Tony and Dominic could see them plainly, and it amazed them that no-one else noticed. They didn’t notice Nightshade watching too, though. Will and Ace did, and wondered what he was up to, but he didn’t seem to be doing anything but watching and listening.

“It’s pretty big already,” said Mr. Connolly proudly. “Leave it there all week and it’ll grow even bigger. People will remember things they want burning and bring them along.”
“This is going to be the biggest one we’ve ever had, isn’t it, Dad?” said Tony.
“I shouldn’t wonder. But it might be the last one, so better make it a good one.”
“Don’t say that,” said Dominic. “We might win, yet!”
“You might,” said his dad, kindly. “But I don’t honestly think so. I don’t want you raising your hopes too high, only to be disappointed.”
“So you’ll have spent the whole summer working for no reason,” said Joseph spitefully. “What a waste of time.”
“You don’t know what you’ve been missing,” said Dominic, grinning at Tony.
Adam looked up sharply. That was what David kept saying. Why were they grinning like that? He glanced at Joseph, but Joseph hadn’t noticed a thing.

Ace was looking very thoughtful. He beckoned to Will to come away, and they went into their house. Ace shut the door carefully.
“What’s up?” asked Will.
“Tony’s dad. You heard him, he doesn’t think we’re going to win. Maybe we’re too optimistic. But Mr. Connolly, he’s brilliant, he can do electricity, he must know what he’s talking about.”
“I know what’s worrying you. It’s that dream you had, isn’t it?”
“Well, it feels like it’s already started.”
“I suppose. You want another plan?”
“I do. A back-up, something absolutely foolproof. And I don’t want anyone else knowing about it, or Nightshade will get to hear. I don’t know how he does it, but every plan we make he discovers and tries to spoil. What are you doing, Will?”
“Checking for bugs. How do you know he hasn’t transformed Ragwort into a fly, or a beetle, or anything, really, that’s small and you wouldn’t even notice it was there?”
“That’s a point. We’ll have to sweep the house. And not talk about it when we’re outside, even when we’re on our own.”

They made a couple of brooms and swept the whole house, and when they were satisfied it contained no living insects, they settled down to think. Will was on the table, Ace was on his bed, leaning against the wall, with his knees drawn up in front of him.
“So what’s it going to be? Come on, get creative.”
“We want something that’ll make it impossible to build on Wildside,” said Will, thinking out loud. “It would be impossible if something was built here already.”
“Well, yes, but that wouldn’t help us.”
“Ah, but it needn’t be anything big - not too big to spoil it, but say, something beautiful like the Taj Mahal, only smaller of course, or old like Windsor Castle, who’d let him build anything then?”
“Supposing a Taj Mahal or a Windsor Castle suddenly appeared on a patch of waste ground in Cheadle - just supposing - would that provoke a paranormal investigation, d’you think?”
“Oh, definitely,” said Will.
“And how many years did Madge say you got for that?”
“Twenty, I think.”
“Yeah, right, I wouldn’t rule it out totally, Will, but if you can think of anything slightly less illegal it might be good.”
“Well, if we can’t do anything to Wildside, can we do anything to Mr. Pearce?”
“Like drive him crazy, you mean? That sounds good.”
“Not crazy - if he was crazy, someone else would run his firm for him, and they’d probably want to build here too.”
“Shame. I think I’ll put another nightmare on him anyway, just for fun. What d’you think? Just one wouldn’t do any harm?”
“Should be OK so long as you don’t get mad at anyone.”
“I’ll be so sweet to everyone, you won’t believe it.”
“I’ll be watching. But why does he want to build? It’s not just so a load of old ladies can have somewhere nice to live?”
“No, it’s money,” said Ace. “Tony said he’ll make loads of money from selling the flats when he’s built them. Some humans really love money, Pearce must be one of them.”
“Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute!”
“This sounds good,” said Ace, rubbing his hands. “Let’s have it!”
“That’s the answer - money. We’ll get someone to buy Wildside off him, for more money, much more money, than he’d get from building on it.”
Ace held out his hands in acclamation.
“That’s brilliant! We can easily make some money - is it legal, though?”
“I don’t see why not. It’d be real money. Madge never mentioned that you couldn’t.”
“I bet she’d call it counterfeiting, all the same. But we’ll go for it. It’s too good an idea not to use it.”

Deep down, they both knew perfectly well it wasn’t legal. But the excitement of risk and danger was too tempting. Their eyes met, shining with mischief.
“Who would you ask to do the buying?” said Ace. “It’d have to be a grown-up human.”
“Not Sally,” said Will. “She’s a bit too like Madge in some ways. What about Cyril? He cares about this place, too.”
“That’s very good - I can’t see him fussing about a bit of counterfeiting. How much do we need to make?”
“Oh, say a million pounds.”
“A million? How long’s that going to take?”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds. They have things called fifty pound notes, so you’d only have to make twenty thousand. That’s, say, five hundred each every day for twenty days.”
“Ugh. That’s an awful lot of work. But it’ll be worth it.”
Ace stopped grinning and looked serious.
“Yes, I am. If this all goes wrong and we do end up in prison, which Madge obviously thinks we will one day anyway, it’d still be worth it. We’ve got to save your tree. Nothing’s too risky, no price is too high.”
“Thanks,” said Will quietly. “That’s another reason to keep it to ourselves. Not fair to drag anyone else into it.”
“That’s settled then,” said Ace cheerfully. “Now how are we going to get hold of a fifty pound note to copy?”
“That’s the trouble. People don’t leave those lying around.”
“Could one of the children borrow one from their parents?”
“I doubt it,” said Will. “None of them are rich. Only rich people use them.”
“Right, so we’ll have to get inside someone’s house, who’s rich, and sneak a look inside a purse or a wallet while they’re watching television or something.”
“Is there anyone on Cherrytree Close who’s rich?”
“I don’t know - hey, yes, those two you never see, young couple, both got fantastic cars - I bet they’re rich!”
“Number four, you mean? Where that foul cat lives!”
“No point making it too easy,” said Ace. “We’ll try it this evening.”
“OK,” said Will, “but I don’t think it’s fair to try anything that dangerous without telling anyone what we’re doing. If we didn’t make it, no-one would ever know what happened to us.”
Ace thought about that, then said,
“Well, tell Cory then. He never goes out, so there’s no chance of his being overheard. He doesn’t natter about things, anyway. Listen Will, you go and tell him, and I’ll start watching the house. Meet me in the lilac tree as soon as it’s dark, and bring a decent piece of paper.”

Ace and Will climbed cautiously into number four through the cat flap. They knew the cat was in, but Ace had just seen the young man who lived there coming in with take-away meals, so they reckoned that was too good a chance to miss, while the humans were eating and watching television. Ace saw his reflection in the stainless steel cooker and stopped to tidy his hair, but Will hit him and pointed to the table. There was a handbag on it.
“Where’s the cat?” hissed Ace.
“Probably licking the food trays,” said Will. “Come on!”
They tried to open the handbag. They had to pull it over onto its side, without letting it fall with a bump, which wasn’t easy, it was so heavy. They soon found out that it was the purse inside it which was making it so heavy. It took their combined strength to pull it out onto the table. With trembling hands they opened it and flicked through the notes, blue ones, brown ones, purple ones, and yes - there it was at the back, a single red one, a fifty pound note.
Casting glances around for the cat, they cautiously eased the note out and looked at it with growing concern.
“Look at all those swirls, and colours!” gasped Ace. “We’ll never do it, it’s too difficult!”
Will was looking worried too.
“There’s something inside the paper,” he said. “Hold it up to the light.”
They stared in horror at the metal strip and the watermark.
“Good grief,” said Will. “Look, there’s a hologram too.”
“This is awful,” said Ace. “It’s like they’re just making it difficult on purpose.”
“Well of course they are, you halfwit, they don’t want them being copied.”
“But humans can’t copy things!”
“Not like we do, obviously, but haven’t you heard of printing presses? And could we have this conversation another time?”
“Right - you got the paper?”
Will pulled out a bit of thick white paper.
“Steady does it,” he said. “Get the paper right first, size and thickness. I’ll do that, and you can do the colours.”

He stared at the paper and it rustled as it changed to the thickness of a banknote. As they checked it for size, the cat in the next room pricked its ears, and stretched. Ace was staring at the swirls and colours, trying to fix them in his mind, and when he was ready he blasted them onto the blank sheet. They checked anxiously that the notes were identical. The serial number was identical too, but neither of them realised that that mattered.
“Brilliant,” said Will. “Well done. I’ll add the hologram, look, it’s a rose.”
They held it up again, checking, and realised they hadn’t done the watermark.
“It’s that woman’s head again, I’ll do it,” said Ace.
“That woman?” laughed Will. “That’s the humans’ queen.”
“Is it?” said Ace. “They still have one, do they? Wish we did. We might not have all these stupid laws, then.”
The cat crept into the kitchen and heard them talking. They were just discussing what to do about the metal strip, when without warning the cat pounced and pinned them both to the table.
Will shut his eyes. “Goodbye,” he said.
But Ace didn’t give up.
Calling on every bit of strength he had left, he imagined the cat back into a kitten. The huge mouth full of teeth suddenly disappeared, and they were under a bundle of fluff, softly mewing. Will pushed it away, grabbed the copied note, and pulled Ace to his feet.
“Can you jump?” asked Will, and Ace nodded, too exhausted to speak. They jumped off the table and ran for the cat flap. Will bundled Ace outside, then changed the kitten back into a cat before its humans saw it. He dived out, and shoved a stick against the cat flap so it wouldn’t open. They both leaned against the wall, panting for breath.
“Well, that’s one,” said Will. “Only 19,999 to go.”

On Sunday afternoon all the children were out on Wildside, adding things to the bonfire, running around, and talking to the sprites. Ace and Will were shut inside their house working furiously hard, but everyone else was enjoying the sunshine and the fun.
Hogweed was on the ground, taking a keen interest in the bonfire. Goblins are very fond of fire, and he kept giving Dominic and Tony good advice about where to place things. They didn’t mind that, but he worried them, the way he was so slow to move if Joseph or Adam came too close. Those two were astonished how much good wood they were finding on Wildside itself.
“I’m sure this log wasn’t here yesterday,” said Adam, puzzled.
Tony and Dominic grinned at each other. They knew Dan and Phil were transforming twigs into logs for them to find.
“It’s a shame they took that tree away, the one they chopped down,” said Joseph. “That would have been good to burn.”
Tony clenched his fists. “I’m glad Ace didn’t hear you say that,” he said quietly.
“That nutter? He’s gone, ages ago. What are you on about?”
Tony ignored him.
“Where is he, anyway?” whispered Dominic.
“Clover says they’re up to something, him and Will. No-one’s seen them all day. She said it in a really bored, what-are-they-up-to-now sort of voice.”
“I know what you mean,” said Dominic. “Fairies are as bad as girls, sometimes. Bet it’s something really cool.”

When darkness came, the temperature fell fast. The children went indoors, and the sprites gathered in Rose’s kitchen for hot drinks. Ace and Will, with £50,000 stashed away, staggered to the brook for some water before collapsing onto their beds. And the hodgepig, who was getting very sleepy, sniffed with interest at the huge, silent bonfire. It smelt warm, and woody. It smelt like a good place to sleep. Interested, it climbed inside, deeper and deeper, until it came to the old sideboard. Lovely shelter. It clambered inside, curled up in a ball, and started to dream its long winter dreams.

When Will and Ace still didn’t come out the next day, Clover was beside herself with curiosity.
“They are definitely up to something,” she said to Madge.
“I know,” smiled Madge, “ but it may be something harmless, like the drums for their band.”
Clover looked at her. She didn’t think so, and she didn’t think Madge did either. But if Madge wasn’t going to interfere, neither was she.
Joseph and Adam trundled past, with a barrowload of garden rubbish for the bonfire.
“Bother,” said Clover. “Rose and I are off to Laura’s, we’ll have to creep through the grass now instead of flying.”
“No, you won’t,” said Madge. “You can hit 100 now, I’m sure you can. They’ll never spot you at that speed. What are you doing at Laura’s, anyway?”
“Helping her and Gemma. Making costumes for a fancy dress party!”
Madge beamed. “That’s lovely of you. I think I’ll slip into number eight. See what Tony’s up to.”

When they’d finished unloading the barrow, Joseph and Adam started playing football, squashing gentians, dodging Barking Mad, and getting further and further down Wildside, until they hit nettles and brambles and the ball disappeared with a hiss. Disappointed, they started to search for it, sure that they’d find it punctured. And so it was.
“Bother,” said Joseph. “That’s that, then.”
“It needn’t be,” said a strange voice behind them.
They stared at each other, then turned. Standing on a stone was a tiny creature, dressed all in red, smiling at them pleasantly. It was Nightshade. Joseph made a gurgling noise in his throat, and clutched his head. Adam stared, with wide eyes, then said,
“What are you? Oh, this is heavy. I knew something funny was going on.”
“Ah, such a shame, that we haven’t met before,” said Nightshade. “I am a sprite. The Sprite, you might say. You’ve probably been told they don’t exist - but here I am.”
He continued smiling at their shocked, stunned faces.
“I had no idea that two of the children who live here were so intelligent, so handsome, so wise. The rest of them appear to be squeaking idiots and sentimental morons.”
“That’s true enough,” said Joseph.
“But you were disappointed about your ball. Allow me to help you.”
Nightshade repaired the ball with one glance, and the boys picked it up, turning it round and round in amazement.
“I love helping intelligent people like you,” smiled Nightshade. “I know!” he exclaimed, as if he’d just thought of it, “why don’t you come and see me again later? About sunset? That will give me time to think of a wonderful surprise for you!”
“Yes, all right,” stammered Adam.
“I am honoured,” said Nightshade. “Until sunset, then.”
He jumped away so fast they thought he’d disappeared.

At dusk, when Ace and Will slipped out to the brook, they found Phil waiting for them.
“What on earth are you up to?” he said. “You look absolutely shattered. Do you need any help?”
“It’s not a thing anyone else can help with,” Will sighed.
“As illegal as that? Well, I’m here if you need me. Give me your kettle, I’ll fill it for you.”
“Thanks, Phil,” said Ace. “Just try and keep the fairies off our backs, will you?”
“Understood,” said Phil.

At the same time, Joseph and Adam walked warily across Wildside in the gathering gloom.
“I’m scared,” said Adam. “This is really spooky.”
“I know, but it’s exciting too. We’ll be famous when we tell people we’ve met The Sprite. Probably be on the telly.”
They waited in the same spot, shivering slightly, when suddenly Nightshade was there before them.
“You keep your promises, I see,” he said delightedly. “So do I. Now, I noticed by your shirts that you both support a football team called Manchester United. Hard to get tickets to see them, isn’t it?”
They nodded in agreement, hope dawning in their eyes. Nightshade pulled two pieces of paper from his pocket, that he’d stolen from a house where people often left windows open.
“Here you are!” he beamed. “Tickets for the match on Saturday!”
“Wow, thank you!” said Adam.
“Yes, thanks,” said Joseph. “How did you get them?”
“I have my ways,” said Nightshade. “Oh, I am enjoying this. Will you come again tomorrow? Just one thing, though. Don’t tell anyone about me! It’s a secret. Until tomorrow, then.”

By Tuesday night, Ace and Will had made £200,000. They were making the notes sprite-sized, intending to expand the lot in one go, when they needed to.
“This is worse than the gentians,” gasped Ace, collapsing on his bed as they finished that day’s quota.
“We’re getting faster,” said Will, “but it’s still a killer.”
“We need something decent to drink. You can’t work this hard on brook water.”
“We need more paper, too. We can’t make them out of nothing.”
“We ought to go and see Cyril,” groaned Ace. “Start talking him into it.”
“All the way to Hilton Street? I’d die. I’d have a job getting as far as Clover’s.”
“We’re going to have to ask for help,” Ace decided. “Someone who’s not going to natter. Someone who’ll take pity on us and give us a drink. And who won’t nag us for being illegal.”
“Only one option then, isn’t there?”
“Dead right.”

They stood under David’s window, looking up.
“I can’t do it,” said Will. “It’s too high.”
“What?” said Ace. “You can do twice that, no problem. Just tell yourself you’re not tired.”
“I’m not tired, I’m a total wreck. I can hardly remember how to walk, never mind jump.”
Ace was swaying on his feet. It was worse than being drunk. He waved a finger carefully in Will’s direction.
“You’re a willow, aren’t you? You’ve got to go deeper than you think you can. Find some strength you didn’t even know was there. Now go for it, are you ready, jump!”
They both just made it. David pulled them gently into the room, and put them on his pillow.
“What’s up? You look awful. Can I get you anything?” he asked, concerned.
“Yes please,” said Ace. “Have you got any milk?”
“No problem,” said David, and went to the fridge. When he got back they were both asleep. He shook them gently.
“Can you make yourselves a cup?” he asked.
They both groaned.
“Not a chance,” said Ace. “No strength left.”
David gazed around his room, looking for something a sprite could drink from, and spotted an empty film canister. They took it in turns, and polished off half a pint between them.
“Thank you very much,” said Ace. “I knew you’d help us. No-one else knows what we’re up to, because it’s probably illegal. D’you want to hear about it?”
“You bet,” said David, sitting on the bed next to them. “Fire away.”

The elves’ instinct to trust David was sound. He was completely untainted by love of money, and it never crossed his mind to ask them to make some for him. He thought it was a brilliant plan, though he could see that Madge and Sally might not approve.
“Just you come here every day, d’you hear me? You’ll kill yourselves trying to do all that just on brook water. I’ll make sure you get some good drinks, and some decent paper to work with. And I’ll take you round to see Mr. Carter right now, if you want. It won’t be the first time I’ve carried you both. I do understand, you know.”
“I believe you do,” said Ace. “David, if there’s ever anything we can do for you, just say it and it’s done.”
“Dead right,” said Will.
“Can you stand up yet?” asked David.
“I think so,” said Ace, trying it. “Hey, look at all your drawings! Have you drawn all of us?”
“Well, yes,” said David. “I do a lot of drawing. You don’t mind, do you?”
“ ’Course not. Where am I? Let’s have a look.”
Ace was quiet for a long time when he saw the sketch.
“It’s beautifully drawn,” he said. “But I’m not that good.”
“Yes, you are,” said David seriously. “You’re so modest, you don’t realise how you appear to other people.”
“I’ve heard him called a lot of things,” said Will, “but modest is a new one.”
“Come on,” laughed David. “Let’s go and see Cyril.”

David walked round the corner to Hilton Street, which ran parallel to Cherrytree Close. The houses were much older here; little terraces that had been built to house the workers when the railway was newly-built. The elves were in his pockets. They were so still he felt sure they’d fallen asleep again. When he’d found number sixty, he shook them both.
“Wake up!” he hissed. “We’re there.”
He knocked on the door, and looked around as he waited for it to be answered. The tiny patch of garden, choked with weeds, ancient curtains hanging at grimy windows, peeling paint on the front door. A bit of a contrast to the other houses, all smartly done up.
Eventually, the door opened.

“Hello, Mr. Carter,” said David. “D’you remember me? You lent me your penknife one day in the summer.”
“Aye…aye, I remember. You’d best come in.”
David followed him through a tiny lobby into a shabby sitting room, made cosy by a coal fire, and lit by an ancient standard lamp with a wonky shade. Mr. Carter moved a newspaper off a chair, and said,
“Sit down, lad. What can I do for you?”
“It’s about the elves,” said David, getting straight down to it. “I’ve brought two of them to see you.”
Ace and Will climbed out of his pockets and stood up straight on the arms of the chair, looking at Mr. Carter. His old eyes blinked and stared as he tried to focus, tried to believe what he was seeing.
“For a moment, I thought…but they’d be old, now…you look just like they did, years ago.” He smiled. “But now I look closer…well, hello Ace, lad. Nice to see you again. Shame about your tree,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I knew you were talking to an elf. I never realised you were one yourself.”
He turned to Will.
“It was you he was talking to that day, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” said Ace. “This is Will. We’re twins.”
He laughed at Mr. Carter’s astonishment.
“You can’t get away from them, can you?”
“I wouldn’t want to,” said Mr. Carter, slowly. “But Cory and Mal? Are they still alive? Are they all right?”
“Cory is,” said Will. “Very old, and very frail. But he still lives on Wildside, though he never comes out.”
“Mal we’d never heard of until you mentioned him,” said Ace. “After that, Cory told me just one thing. He said, ‘He died, and it was my fault’. Do you know any more?”
“It was a long time ago. Just before the war. I remember it well enough, though there’s not much to tell. Mal said he’d fallen in love. He always went a bit crazy in the apple season.”
“Mal’s an apple-tree, David,” said Will quietly.
“Oh, right.”
“Trouble was, she was a farm girl called Betty. He asked Cory to make him the size of a man, so he could dance with her at the Harvest Supper. And Cory said he would. But neither of them made it to the dance. I never saw either of them again.”
“So what happened?” said David. “Cory accidentally killed his twin?”
“Sounds like it, doesn’t it?” said Mr. Carter. “And lived unhappy ever since, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Ace pulled himself together.
“He’s certainly done that,” he said.
“Old times,” said Mr. Carter. “You bring back old times. But you didn’t come here to talk about old times. You’re trying to save the last bit of the farm, aren’t you? Is it something to do with that?”
“Yes,” said Ace, “it is. We’ve got a plan, it’s probably illegal, but it’s brilliant. And we can’t do it without a grown-up human.”
“I’m listening,” said Mr. Carter.
“It’s simple enough,” said Will. “We give you £1,000,000 and you offer it to Mr. Pearce, the landowner, in exchange for Wildside. Mr. Pearce gets rich, Wildside and everyone who lives there is safe, and you become the owner of the last bit of your farm.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Carter.

David and the elves stared. They hadn’t expected it to be that easy.
“Don’t you want to know where the money’s coming from?” asked Will.
“I already know, Mal…I mean, Will. I’ve seen elves making things! I’ll do it gladly. Now, this offer to Mr. Pearce should go through a solicitor. I’ll need to write a letter, and my hands can hardly hold a pen any more. I don’t suppose you could help me, could you, lad? What’s your name, anyway?”
“David. David Chambers. Tell me what to put, Mr. Carter, and I’ll print it on a computer and bring it round for you to sign.”
“You don’t have to call me Mr. Carter. My name’s Cyril. Write something like this: ‘Dear Mr. Hambleton, (that’s my solicitor’s name) thanks to a recent, er, legacy, no, substantial legacy, I am in a position to make a purchase of land. Accordingly, I wish you to correspond with (fill in the chap’s name and address there, David, lad) and make him an offer of £1,000,000 - no, that’s far too much, why should the greedy sod be that rich? - £500,000, if he will sell to me the piece of land he owns on Stockport Road, now known as Wildside, formerly Moseley Farm. I remain, yours sincerely, C. Carter Esq.”
David was scribbling it down.
“Posh letter, Cyril.”
“Commercial English,” said Cyril. “Was a clerk after the war. Can’t talk it, only write it.”
Ace and Will were grinning with satisfaction.
“Half a million’s enough?” shouted Ace. “Fantastic!”
“Only six more days work!”
“Come in the kitchen a minute, will you, David? I’ll find you Mr. Hambleton’s address. It goes on the top left of the page.”

When they’d gone out, Will said,
“You can’t kill someone by doing a transforming wrong.”
“I know,” said Ace. “We’ve got to find out what happened.”

In the kitchen, Cyril fumbled through a drawer until he found the piece of paper he was looking for. He put it into David’s hands, then clasped his old hands over David’s young ones.
“Don’t give your heart to elves, lad. They’ll leave you, and you’ll spend the rest of your life missing them.”
David smiled at him.
“I know,” he said, “but it’s too late. And I’d rather have known them, and miss them, than never have known them at all. Wouldn’t you?”
Cyril nodded. “Aye, you’re right there, lad. I would.”

The hodgepig was still sound asleep, warm and dry at the heart of the bonfire. It was the mice who discovered he was there. Early on Saturday morning, they smelled him while they were investigating some crisp packets full of nice crumbs, which had been dropped by the bonfire. They were very concerned. The hodgepig was no friend of theirs, but they knew what bonfires were for. They couldn’t leave a fellow-animal to be roasted alive. None of them dared go in, to look if he was asleep or just rootling around for slugs. They had a prolonged squeak about it, involving lots of tumbling around and dramatic gestures, and in the end they decided that two of them would stay watching the bonfire until they were sure he’d got out before the fire was lit.

The mice weren’t the only ones who were worried. David was worried about Ace and Will. They hadn’t managed to jump into his window last night, he’d had to go down and carry them in. He’d never seen them so worn out, and still they hadn’t finished. Dominic was worried too, about Joseph.
“He’s in a dream,” he said to Tony. “D’you know what he reminds me of? You!”
“What d’you mean?”
“Early this summer. You were always in a dream. You changed totally, almost overnight. That was when you first met the sprites, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” said Tony. “But Joseph hasn’t…they’d have told us!”
“The ones we know would have,” said Dominic grimly. “And where’s he getting all that stuff from? United tickets, new trainers, a new watch? D’you know what I think? I think he’s met those evil sprites, and they’re bribing him.”
“Nightshade and Ragwort. I’ve seen them, they’re horrible. You know what they did to Hogweed. If you’re right, then Joseph’s in danger. I know he’s a pain, but he’s still our brother.”
“I think we ought to go and see David,” said Dominic. “Find out if it’s happened to Adam too.”
“Come on!” said Tony. “Let’s go!”

David listened, and realised with a sinking feeling that they were right.
“They’re off to the football this afternoon, of course,” he said. “At least they’ll be safe there. We can’t tell the sprites, they’ve got enough on their minds without this. We’ll handle it ourselves. We must make sure they’re never on their own. It’ll be easy enough tomorrow, we’ll be making the guy, and then it’ll be the bonfire.”

Tony, Dominic and David stuck like glue to their brothers on Sunday, listening to every word and watching every move. They spoke a bit about the wonderful football match they’d seen, but not as excitedly as you would have expected, and David noticed how often their glances strayed away down Wildside, towards the place where Nightshade lived. Everyone was out helping to make the guy. They had an old suit from Gemma’s dad, which they stuffed full of dried grass, and the head was made from a old football in a torn pillowcase. They rubbed shoe polish on the top to make it look like Mr. Pearce’s shiny black hair. They were working near the bonfire, and Tony was delighted to see two of the mice again. He let them run up and down his arms, but what they were squeaking about, he hadn’t the faintest idea.
“Finished!” said Dominic. “All but the face. I think Ace ought to have the honour of doing that.”
“He’s not coming, is he?” said Joseph.
“I think he might be,” said David. “Leave it till dark. We’ll see, then. I’m going in now - come on, Adam, you can come too. Mum wants a hand in the house.”

As darkness fell, the children gathered around the bonfire. The two mice ran to each of them in turn, squeaking and waving their paws about, but no-one realised they were trying to say anything. Then the sprites came out, all excited, they all loved fireworks. Will and Ace were just hoping they could stay awake long enough to see them. The sprites stayed well back, out of sight of all the grown-ups who’d be arriving soon. Tony and Dominic dragged the guy over towards Ace.
“It’s Mr. Pearce!” said Tony. “D’you want to do the face?”
“Ha!” said Ace. “Nice one. Yeah, I’ll try.”
He stared at the blank white cotton, trying to make the colours of a face appear, but nothing happened. He glanced at Will, with a worried frown, then uneasily at the others to see if they’d noticed. Phil strolled over, and looked over Ace’s shoulder, and when Ace tried again, so did Phil, and this time it worked. Tony and Dominic ran off to climb the bonfire and set the guy on the very top.
“Thanks, Phil,” murmured Ace.
“Did you see that?” whispered Rose to Clover. “Whatever they’re up to, they must be doing a lot of transforming.”
Clover shook her head, in wonder.
“If I don’t find out what it is soon, I’ll go pop,” she whispered back.

The grown-ups were coming out now, Mr. and Mrs. Connolly of course, and the other children’s parents, along with all their friends and neighbours. People were bringing fireworks and passing them to Mr. Connolly, and laying out trays of food and cans of drinks, on a big trestle that Mrs. Connolly was looking after. They began to see rockets in the sky, from other bonfires that had already started.
The mice were beside themselves. They had to find Tony, they decided. Surely he would understand. But by now, there were people everywhere. They ran between all the legs, looking for Tony, and when they found him, they ran up his legs and down his arms. Tony held his hands out flat, and one mouse stood on each hand.
“You shouldn’t be here!” he laughed. “Run off home before someone stands on you!”
But they squeaked, pointed to the bonfire, spread their paws to resemble spikes, snored, and pointed to the bonfire again. Tony finally realised that they were trying to tell him something, but he still didn’t have a clue what it was. He edged back into the shadows, and called to the sprites.
“Can anyone make out what these mice are trying to say?”
The sprites gathered round, and the mice burst into a frenzy of squeaks and paw-waving.
Clover gasped. “It’s the hodgepig! It’s asleep in the bonfire!”
Ace groaned, but before he could say anything, Phil took charge.
“Chill out, Ace, we can handle this. It doesn’t need all of us. I’ll take Dan and Hogweed.”
They ran off, leaving the rest gaping.

“Well!” said Ace, leaning against a comfortable brick and putting his hands behind his head. “Nice one, Phil.”
Tony ran back, shouting to his dad,
“Don’t light it yet, Dad! There’s a hodgepig, I mean a hedgehog, asleep in the bonfire!”
The sprites fell about laughing.
“What did he call it?” said Madge. “A hedgehog? What a daft name for a hodgepig!”
Mr. Connolly wasn’t convinced.
“How do you know? Have you seen it? Well, then.”
Phil, Dan and Hogweed got as close as they could without being seen.
“We’ll have to move really fast,” said Phil. “Dan, can you fly past Tony’s dad so fast that his match blows out?”
She nodded, excitedly. This was the first time anyone had trusted her with the flying part of a plan.
“Keep doing it for a couple of minutes,” said Phil. “That should be long enough.”
“We must be quick,” said Hogweed. “Smoke kills you before fire. Shall I go first, Phil? It won’t bite me.”
“Thanks, Hogweed. Let’s go.”

As Mr. Connolly struck his first match, he was startled to feel a sudden breeze across his hands, and the same thing happened again and again. Dan was enjoying this. Meanwhile, Phil and Hogweed climbed and crawled through the stacked wood, trying to find the hodgepig. It was so dark in there, they couldn’t see a thing, but Phil remembered the old sideboard, and felt sure the hodgepig would have chosen that. So they kept aiming for the centre, and soon heard the snores. Hogweed poked it to wake it up, and it was in a very bad mood. It snarled at him, and wouldn’t listen, so Hogweed calmly picked it up and carried it out. Tony and Dominic were watching anxiously, and when they saw them safe, clear of the bonfire, Tony called,
“It’s all right now, Dad! The hedgehog’s gone!”
Suddenly Mr. Connolly found that the strange breeze stopped and he could light a match. He held it to his kindling, and the first flames caught hold. Then the hodgepig realised what danger it had been in, and with a grudging grunt of thanks, it trundled off into the night. Dan flew back to the other fairies, who clapped her, unstintingly.
Very nice work, Dan,” said Madge. “Very nice indeed.”
Hogweed and Phil joined Will and Ace.
“I’m impressed,” said Ace. “Fast, stylish, effective.”
Phil grinned. “I learned it from an expert.”

It was a glorious bonfire. The flames towered higher than the houses at one point, sending red sparks into the sky. From where the sprites were watching, the people were black silhouettes against the fire. Mr. Pearce’s effigy shrivelled and burned. The children had hot dogs and baked potatoes, parkin and treacle toffee, and Rowan and Laura took some coke and some beer to the sprites. Ace stretched luxuriously, and took a swig of beer as the first mega-rocket bloomed in the sky.
“This is more like it,” he said. “Hey, wake up! You’re missing the fireworks.”
“Huh?” said Will.
“Have some beer,” said Ace. “Drink to success. Only one more day.”

David was trying to keep an eye on Adam, but it was difficult in such a crowd.
Nightshade won’t try anything with all these people around, surely? he thought. He wandered around, keeping an eye on everything, listening to snatches of conversation. Most people seemed to think this would be the last bonfire. He stood, fists clenched, gazing into the fire, then heard someone speak, behind him. It was Cyril.
“Are they ready?” he asked.
“Tomorrow, but they’ll be shattered.”
“Come on Tuesday, then.”
They stood side by side for a while, watching a spectacular thunderflash, then Cyril caught sight of Mrs. Kowalska.
“Come with me a minute, will you, David?”
He wandered over to Mrs. Kowalska, who was talking to Rowan.
“Evening, Sarah,” he said. “Have you told them yet?”
“Hello, Cyril. Yes, I was just telling Rowan.”
“Mrs. Kowalska’s going to buy one of the flats when they’re built,” said Rowan to David, sadly.
“It would be such a blessing to me,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “I can’t manage a house any longer. And yet to leave this place would break my heart. It was on this field my Stefan asked me to marry him.”
“That was in the war,” Cyril explained. “Sarah, Betty and I worked on the farm. Stefan was a fighter pilot, Polish Squadron. After the Battle of Britain, he was sent on leave up here, for a rest.”
“Wow,” said David. “Aces high.”
“Well, we all met him at the Ritz Ballroom in Manchester,” Cyril continued. “We went dancing there; everyone did.”
“Stefan often came to the farm,” said Mrs. Kowalska. “He carved our initials on the horse chestnut - they were the same - Stefan Kowalski and Sarah Kennedy. Old times.”
“He was a great chap, your Stefan,” said Cyril.
He turned to David and Rowan. “Always two sides to everything, you see.”
“Cyril,” said David, “what happened to Betty?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one,” smiled Cyril. “I married her myself.”
“She was a good friend to me,” sniffed Mrs. Kowalska.
“Come on, Sarah lass, let’s go and find you a cup of tea.”
He smiled benevolently at David and Rowan, and the two old friends walked away.

Rowan was distraught.
“Whatever happens now, someone will be hurt! I don’t want anyone to be hurt! Oh David, if the sprites are all driven away, I don’t think I can bear it!”
David felt his heart suddenly racing, though he didn’t know why. He pulled her round to face the horse chestnut.
“Look at that tree,” he said. “It was here before us, before the farm, even. When this was all still Moseley Wood. It’ll still be there, whatever happens. And we’ve not lost yet.”
They stood together, quietly, listening to the crackles and bangs, smelling the fierce smell of woodsmoke and fireworks, until Laura ran over to get them.
“Come on!” she called. “It’s time to do the sparklers!”
“Oh, I’d forgotten!” said Rowan. “I’m coming, Laura.”
She and David ran to join Sally and the children. Each lit a sparkler, and Sally had two. With their backs to where the sprites were hidden, they raised the sparklers high and each wrote a letter in the air, so that letters of living fire spelled out the word, ‘Wildside’.