Once the troops had disappeared, there were only the nunjas to deal with, a task which the residents of Fernilee, along with Odi and the newcomers, set about with zeal. They no longer had their nets, but what they did have was a fire hose, conveniently placed in the centre of the main avenue.
Every town had one of these; not just to put out fires but, by Mr. Smyle’s express decree, to keep the streets clean. Now, this particular hose was able to perform an even greater act of hygiene.
“Who are we to disobey orders? Turn it on!” bellowed Gordon, as he and Horse held on to the nozzle. One good blast and over 50 nasty nunjas were firmly flushed away, screeching with fury as they skimmed along the avenue at 40 miles an hour.
“Sorted!” Gordon slapped his hands together with satisfaction. The nunjas, who weren’t prepared to slosh around on wet tarmac in the middle of a storm, ran to find shelter from the deluge, their banshee screeches louder than ever,
“Are you all right, Gordy?” asked Wisteria.
“That I am!” he replied. “And do you know what I’m going to do next? I’m going to dig up the patio and plant a tree!” Everyone started to cheer and, hugely encouraged, the Scotsman found a pickaxe and started the job right away, pausing only when shots were heard from Kinder Scout.
Uncle Jeff reached into his car for a pair of binoculars and trained them at the top of the hill where the choppers and tanks had come to rest. What he saw made him gasp.
“What is it, Jeff?” said the man next to him. It was Richard Hadwin, his face gaunt after months of imprisonment. Jeff said nothing; just handed him the binoculars.
“It’s Joe!” cried Richard. “He’s up there with Elymas!” He stood, frozen with horror, as events on the mountain were unfolding, and only his lips moved silently in prayer. “Oh God, please help him!”
“What are we waiting for?” Jennifer Hadwin cried and ran to Jeff’s car. “Come on!”
“Jennifer, it’s no use. There’s nothing we can do!” Jeff tried to reason with her, failing miserably.
“I don’t care. I want to be with him, no matter what happens. He’s been alone so long!” She’d hardly spoken when the whole sky lit up with a blinding flash and the most stupendous clap of thunder made the pebbles bounce in the Zen-style gardens.
“Look!” Odi cried, and everyone stared mesmerised as Kinder Scout began to crumble. “Avalanche!”
Jennifer Hadwin screamed with horror. “Joe! Oh Joe!” Richard held her tightly, unable to speak. All that could be heard was the rumbling of the shivering mountain as it collapsed into a cloud of dust, and the bitter, racking sobs of Joe’s mother.
“It’s going to hit us!” cried Wisteria. Everyone watched the rocks and peat and gorse bushes sliding remorselessly towards them.
“Down the pot-hole!” yelled Odi. “Follow me!”
He didn’t have to say it twice. The whole village and their visitors leapt, one by one, into the tunnel where Roots had led Laurel, the Hadwins and Odi to safety once before. Now Odi was in charge.
“Feels like I’ve been here before!” said Odi.
“Déjâ vu, it’s called,” said Richard Hadwin then added, a little too quickly: “Not that I believe in that sort of thing.”
It was some time before the skies cleared and the storm died away. A chill of silence hung over the Peak, as Jennifer and Richard Hadwin, Uncle Jeff, Odi and his parents and the residents of Fernilee emerged by the canal.
Everybody squinted to see what damage had been done and were horrified at the huge gap now yawning where the shivering mountain had stood so proudly since the ice age. All that was left was a tall, thin column; the rest of Kinder was now covering the whole of Fernilee.
Jeff pulled out his binoculars again.
“Thank goodness we got out!” said Wisteria.
“Aye, in the nick of time! A minute later….” Gordon shuddered at the thought.
Jennifer Hadwin, who had to be dragged away from Fernilee by her husband, was gazing into the distance, as if in a trance, not noticing when her husband squeezed her hand.
“Well, the little beggar!” Jeff exclaimed.
Jennifer grabbed the binoculars, focused them at the top of the column and began to sob with joy! "It's Joe! Joe’s alive! He’s alive! Richard, Joe’s alive!”
Then it was Richard’s turn to look, then Odi’s, then Laurel’s, then Gordon’s, then Wisteria’s…. Everyone just had to see for themselves. On the top of the column, was Joe, waving his arms wildly.
“Now, all we have to do is get him down,” said Jeff. “Any volunteers?”
“Bags not!” declared Odi with feeling. “I’ve had enough adventures for a lifetime - another 8 lifetimes, at least!”
“Come on,” Jeff reassured him. “Let’s see if there are any spare helicopters around.”
“And then can we look for Miles and Alice?” asked Jennifer. She couldn’t rest until each of her children was safe.
She didn’t have to wait long. As the party began their trek towards Fernilee, a double-decker bus passed them by, stopping further down the road. The passenger door opened and a young woman appeared.
“Who’s for a tour of London?” she said.
“Laurel!” The whole village crowded round to greet their long-lost leader as she stepped off the bus, quickly followed by Miles and Alice.
“Guess what!” said Miles. “We’ve just passed a car on the motorway – going backwards!”
“I declare this mission officially over!”
Getting Joe down from the remains of Kinder Scout was quite easy. All it took was a helicopter, borrowed for the purpose by Uncle Jeff, and the comforting arms of his father who held the boy closely as the two of them were winced up into the aircraft. On board, Mum, Alice, Miles, Gordon and Odi were waiting to greet him, cheering madly to see Joe safe again. Odi kept jumping up and down with excitement and had to be warned by Uncle Jeff.
“You’ll bring us all down if you’re not careful,” he said, trying to keep the machine on an even keel.
Rescuing Roots was another matter. The young man was perched so precariously, the slightest movement could have sent him crashing to the ground. In the end, it was Gordon who came up with the solution. “Lower me down until I’m just below him, and then he can use me as a safety net.”
With a great deal of manoeuvring, Jeff managed to get the helicopter into position and Gordon was let down to within a foot below the branch to which Roots was clinging desperately. Once in position, Gordon stretched out his legs and braced his body against the rock while a second rope was lowered for Roots.
“Now, put one foot on me, then grab the rope.” Gordon commanded. “But take it easy, or you’ll end up as strawberry jam!” Roots had no intention of taking the fast route and after tentatively placing one foot on his friend’s broad chest, reached for his lifeline. Just as expected, this movement caused the branch to crack and, but for Gordon blocking his descent, he’d certainly have had a thrilling return to earth. Fortunately, the human bridge allowed enough time for Roots to grab the rope before the branch gave way completely. He swung out from the rock and Gordon flipped himself upright so as to catch him, in case Roots’ injuries had weakened his grip.
“Gotcha!” yelled Gordon in triumph. “Haul us in, Richard!”
Half an hour later, Roots was lying on Wisteria and Gordon’s sofa, looking very sorry for himself, yet secretly enjoying the attention. To everyone’s relief, the offending bullet hadn’t penetrated his side, only glanced his shoulder, and it was its sheer force of impact that had pushed him over the edge.
It was amazing how many people could fit into the Hadwin’s front room. Five Hadwins, Odi and his folks, Uncle Jeff, Gordon and Wisteria, Beech, Larch, Horse, Laurel and the somewhat bemused driver of the double-decker bus. Most of Fernilee’s residents were there too and had perched themselves on the stairs.
Everyone was talking at once, swapping experiences and consoling each other over the scariest bits. It was into this state of comfortable chaos that another guest appeared. “My goodness! Looks like I’ve been missing something!”
“Captain Bob!” cried Joe and Odi, running to give him a hug. “You’ll never guess what’s happened….!” “I’m sure I won’t,” the Captain laughed, “But I’m equally sure you’ll tell me all about it!”
Eventually, people began making noises. “Looks like it’s time to go,” remarked Jeff.
“Right ho!” Roots said, and sat up on the sofa, much to Jennifer Hadwin’s displeasure. “Oh no you don’t!” she ordered. “You’re not going anywhere in that state, young man. In fact, you’re staying here with us until your trees grow back!”
“Aye, we’ll start right now!” said Gordon, “there’s plenty of good peat to go at now! Let’s get back to Fernilee and plant a forest!”
“Which reminds me…” Now it was Uncle Jeff’s turn to speak. “I’ve just been on the phone to the Home Office who are so glad to be rid of Elymas and his corrupt government, they’ve agreed to hand over stewardship of Fernilee Forest to…” he paused and turned to Roots. “What IS your name, by the way?”
“Oh Wow!” The tree people whooped with delight. Only Roots remained silent, blinking with astonishment.
“It means the forest is yours, Roots!” explained Laurel. “You can live there for as long as you like, and no one will ever chase you away from it again.”
“Well, that’s very nice but, but the fact is….I’m not going to live there.” “What?” his fellow tree lovers howled. Roots raised a shushing hand, “Unless, you all come with me!”
“Thought you’d never ask!” bawled Gordon.
“And, seeing as we’re in a speechifying mood, I’d like to make another announcement!” Solemnly, Roots wobbled to his feet, fobbing off Wisteria’s efforts to hold him upright. “When Laurel first said about these young’uns being imprisoned at Babel by those horrible nunja people, I was only too happy to help. But now I’ve got to know Alice and Miles and Joe and Odi, I’m even happier. You’ve had a rotten time, but it’s all over now; it ended happily and now you’re back with your parents…..So, so, all I’d like to say is…..” The assembly had begun to chat amongst themselves, so he banged a teaspoon against his mug to get their attention. “I declare this mission officially over!”
But, instead of the cheers he expected, the children fell silent, looked at each other, and burst into tears.
“Aw, sack this for a mug full of snail slops! What’s the matter now!?”
“Oh, Roots, I’m going to miss you!” wept Joe.
“I’m going to miss you too!” whimpered Alice.
“So am I!” snivelled Miles.
“Me too!” howled Odi, out-blubbing everyone else.
“No, you’re not!” Jennifer Hadwin decided it was time to take charge. “Now stop that silly noise everyone and listen to me! Nobody is going to miss anybody, because we’re all going to meet up whenever we feel like it. Odi, Roots, Gordon, Wisteria, Laurel and all you tree people, you’re all coming here for a barbecue next week. You, Jeff, when you’ve quite finished re-organising the government, are also invited, and as for you, Captain Bob, I’ve a bed settee in the conservatory and I expect you to use it whenever you’re scuppered! Do I make myself clear?”
Nobody dared to argue.
Two years later, when new shoots of the forest were pushing green towards the sun, when bluebells were at their bluest and soft meadows sweet, a crowd of happy people set off on a hike, laughing and joshing, with picnics strapped to backs, and children chasing butterflies, relishing their freedom.
Most of the tree people were there for this gathering, which promised to become an annual event. Roots, Beech, Larch, Horse – Gordon was with Wisteria while Laurel only had eyes for her fiancé, a rather nerdy-looking chap called Jeff!
Older members of the party included the Hadwins, the Rogers family and Captain Bob with his daughter Sandra and adopted granddaughter Elysha, all chatting and laughing with each other, relishing the moment.
One young lad stood quietly, lost in thought.
“What’s up, Joe?” asked Odi. “Penny for them.”
“I’m just enjoying….”
“Life!” said Joe. “Life.”