It was night-time, and the fields were deep in smooth snow like icing. Low in the velvet-blue sky, almost touching the horizon, was a huge and golden full moon. The church clock struck midnight. Then from up above came the faint sound of sleigh bells, jingling in rhythm. Rabbits popped out of their burrows to look; owls perching on snowy branches twisted their heads until they were back-to-front; cats and teddy-bears, inside the windows of sleeping cottages, pressed their faces against the frosty glass to catch a glimpse. There it was – a silhouette passing across the face of the moon - a team of prancing reindeer, all flashing legs and jumbled antlers, followed by a deeply-curved sleigh loaded with sacks. The fat driver shook the reins and cracked his whip. Behind the sleigh, across the sky, spread a faint track of gold and silver glitter, which drifted slowly to earth, clinging to the branches of the trees, the eaves of the houses, the tops of the hedges, the fence-posts and the telephone-wires, so that soon the whole countryside was sprinkled with softly-twinkling lights; and then the sleigh flew above the houses of the town, decorating them in the same way. The streets were empty of traffic. In the middle of the town square a solitary fox looked up, and caught a twinkle on the end of its nose. There was the sound of jovial laughter, as rich and fruity as a Christmas pudding, and the drifting gold and silver glitter formed itself into letters across the screen -

“The Christmas Experience. Coming soon. From the Urizen Corporation.”


Dora was hardly paying any attention. She was sitting in front of the television, looking at the cards from the wooden box. On the backs of the help cards were the following pictures:

  • a churchyard, a church tower, and a gleaming wet flagstoned path
  • a man in an oldfashioned tall hat
  • a mouse on top of a stone
  • a squirrel at the bottom of a tree
  • an owl flying in front of the moon
  • a rusty nail sticking into wooden floorboards, with a thread attached to it, and an empty loop on the loose end of the thread

There were seven cards altogether, but the first card was blank. Also, there was now no sign of the card which had shown the front of her house. That one seemed to have vanished. Perhaps she had left it behind in the car when she escaped. But none of the cards now seemed to do anything special. If they had magical powers, powers to help her, then she couldn't work out how to activate them. She tried rubbing them with her fingers, putting them to her forehead, throwing them up in the air – nothing. She even tried putting one flat on the floor and stepping on it, wondering if she might somehow be able to step right into the picture, but there was still nothing. They were just pictures.

Eventually she put the help cards back in the box, and took out the clue cards again. She wanted another look at the one which showed a man's face made out of leaves, because she felt certain that she'd seen it before somewhere.

Here it was. If it wasn't for the mouth and eyes, you couldn't have told that it was supposed to be a man's face at all. His eyebrows, hair and beard were all made out of leaves, and his nose looked a bit like the trunk of a tree. He was certainly quite monstrous-looking, perhaps a little bit sinister, but at the same time he was smiling quite a pleasant smile, so that she couldn't quite make up her mind whether she liked the look of him or not.

Now that she was actually looking at the picture again, she felt much less certain that she had seen it before. She'd seen something like it: perhaps it hadn't been exactly the same. A face made out of leaves. The memory was right at the back of her mind, and every time she tried to get hold of it, it drifted a little bit further away, just out of reach. It was infuriating. She could remember a wall... a stone wall...

A moment later it came into focus. She was holding her Dad's hand, and he was saying “Look at that funny face made out of leaves”. She looked up, and there on the stone wall was a dark brown circle of carved wood. At first she couldn't understand what her Dad was talking about, because the brown circle didn't look anything like a face, or like leaves either: it was just heavy-looking curls of dark wood, all in a jumble. But then her Dad picked her up and put her on his shoulders and said “Look, those are his eyes, and that's his mouth”, and she started to see the face properly. She didn't like it, though, so he took her down off his shoulders again. It was years ago, when she was much smaller. They were in a big cool stone building, full of air and echoes. An old place. Like a museum or something.

A church! She remembered now – they were in a church.

She went back to the help cards, and picked out the one which showed the churchyard, the stone path and the bell tower. She hadn't paid much attention to the church itself before, but now she recognised it. It was St Michael's, the one in the middle of Heronsbrook. There were some steps which led up from the High Street into the churchyard. She was standing at the top of the steps, looking up the path towards the tower. It was a wet, chilly day, and the flagstones were gleaming with rain. The vicar appeared by the corner of the tower, wearing a blue-and-yellow anorak, with the hood up. He was pulling the collar shut with one hand, to keep the cold air off his neck.

There was a combined rush of wind and traffic, and the trees which grew all round the edge of the churchyard swayed darkly. Brown leaves came twirling down through the air.

“Excuse me,” said Dora, holding out the puzzle card which showed the face made out of leaves. “I'm looking for a face like this one. Have you got one in your church?”

The vicar took the card. “Oh yes,” he said after a moment. “Yes, we have got one a bit like that. Would you like to come in and see it?”

And he led the way between the gravestones and monuments to the porch.


“How unusual,” said the vicar, “for a young girl like you to be interested in boring old carvings.”

“I'm doing a sort of puzzle,” explained Dora. “My Dad gave it to me as a present.”

“Really! And it involves looking at old carvings, does it?”

“I don't really know,” admitted Dora.

“What's this card, then?”

“It's one of the puzzle cards. I remember seeing a face like that in the church, when I was little.”

“I see. So you thought you'd come and have a look.”

“Sort of.”

“So this puzzle card – it's a kind of clue, is it? Do you get points if you can find a carving that looks just like it? Are you supposed to go round spotting things?”

“I don't really know,” said Dora again.

“Well, I must say, it sound like a very unusual sort of puzzle. I expect it's meant to be educational. Is your Dad helping you with it?”

“No. He's away at the moment.”

By this time they were at the back of the church.

“This is where it used to be,” said the vicar, “on the wall just there. Only we've taken it down. It's in the bell-tower now.” He opened a big, heavy wooden door, and led the way through it into a square room, with another big wooden door on the far side. “That's the west door,” said the vicar. “We only open it for weddings and funerals. This is the way up.” In one corner a smaller door opened onto a winding stair, with stone steps so old that they were all worn down in the middle, and little pointed windows set deep in the wall. The vicar led the way up, and they came out into another square room, with ropes dangling from the ceiling and looped onto wall-hooks.

“Here we are,” said the vicar. “This is the bell-tower. Those ropes ring the bells if you pull them. Would you like to have a go on one?”

“No thank you,” said Dora, surprised by the invitation, and too shy to accept.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes thanks.”

“You should try it some time. You really should. It's loads of fun. Young people don't realise that the church isn't always about being serious – it can be fun as well. Singing, dancing, guitar-playing - we do try to appeal to the young. Of course, it isn't always easy, when you're working in an old building like this, with lots of old people in the congregation.”

“Mm,” said Dora, trying to sound interested.

“But you wanted to see the Green Man,” said the vicar. “He's over here.”

As well as being used for bell ringing, the room also seemed to be a convenient place for storing thing which were unwanted. It contained an old wooden pew; stacks of tattered old hymn books; folding chairs; electric heaters; brown curtains; and some old kneelers with the stuffing coming out of them.

In the corner towards which the vicar was leading her, Dora saw with a shock, was a huge skeleton carrying a scythe. It was grinning a hideous grin, with its head on one side and its jaws slightly open; staring at her and leaning towards her. For a moment she thought it was a real skeleton, but then she realised that it was carved from wood.

Propped against its shins was something else, also a wooden carving – round, about the size of a shield, and dark brown – a face made from leaves.

“It's not quite the same as the one on your card,” said the vicar.

It was true. The one on her card was smiling slightly, whereas this one was grimacing. Its mouth was open, stretched wide, and leaves were coming out from inside. Its eyes were wide and staring, perhaps in agony or perhaps in mad laughter.

“I like the one on my card much better,” said Dora.

“Yes, this one's rather sinister,” admitted the vicar.

“Why did you call him the Green Man?”

“Well, there are lots of faces like this in old churches – faces made out of leaves. Some of them are in wood and some in stone. They're always called Green Men.”

“Why does this one look so horrible?”

“I believe they're supposed to represent the plight of an immortal soul when it's forced to live in a mortal body. Instead of living forever like the angels, we have to get old and, er, pass, you know, pass away - just like the weeds and the trees. As if we were just part of nature. It's all because Adam and Eve wouldn't do as they were told when God created them, so they were banished from the Garden of Eden, where they could have lived forever... So the Green Man is full of pain and despair because he doesn't want to be made out of leaves. He wants to go back to being an immortal soul, like he was in the Garden of Eden.”

“Then why does the one on my card look quite nice?”

“I'm not sure about that. But they used to have lots of things like this in churches in the olden days: things that were meant to remind you of sin and suffering and, er, you know, er, passing away. Quite morbid. That old skeleton used to be on the outside of the tower, in a niche just below the clock. We try to keep things a bit more cheerful these days. It's our job to get people in here, not scare them off. It should be in a museum, really, not a church.”

“Can I touch it?” asked Dora.

“You mean the Green Man?”

“Yes. Can I turn it round?”

“If you like. You'll have to be a little bit careful with it, mind you, because it's several hundred years old. But it's made out of wood, so it should be quite solid.”

Dora had a vague idea that there might be some kind of clue on the back of the carving – perhaps a riddle written on paper and stuck or tied to the wood. But when she tried to lift the Green Man and turn him round, she discovered that he was even heavier than he looked.

“Let me give you a hand,” said the vicar, seeing that she was in difficulties. “My goodness,” he added, once he'd got hold of the carving, “he is heavy, isn't he? Must be solid oak or yew, I suppose. I don't know very much about wood.”

Between the two of them they managed to turn the Green Man and look at his back; but there was nothing there. Being designed to be hung against a wall, he was flat-backed. They turned him back the way he had been, and stood up straight.

“Thank you for your help,” said Dora.

“Have you seen all you needed to see?” asked the vicar.

“I think so,” she replied.

“And what do you have to do now? What's the next part of the puzzle?”

“I don't know. I suppose I should try to find out about the other clues.”

“I must say, it all sounds very intriguing,” said the Vicar. “Would you mind if I had a look at the rest of it? Just out of interest.”

Dora was starting to be a little suspicious about people who showed an interest in the box and its contents, but the box was in her hand, and she couldn't think of a good reason to say no, so she opened it instead, took out the cards, and spread them face-up on the seat of the old wooden pew.


“Hm,” said the vicar, “hm. Fascinating. I wonder why two of the cards are blank?”

Dora had been wondering that herself. There were now two blank help cards instead of one, and the picture of the church had disappeared.

“Some of these pictures look modern, but some of them look old,” observed the vicar. “I'm sure I recognise one or two of these designs,” he added.

“Do you?”

“The Ancient of Days,” said the vicar, pointing to the picture of a white-bearded man leaning out of a cloud with two streaks of light coming out of his hand. “It's a design by William Blake. And so is this one here, although I can't remember what it's called.” He pointed to the man lying flat on his back with a snake twined round his body and an angel flying over him.

“But that's a picture of my Dad!” said Dora.

“Is it? How do you mean?”

“The man's face looks just like my Dad.”

“I think that must be a coincidence,” said the vicar. “Anyway – this one - the angel with the fiery sword standing in front of the tree,” he went on. “That's an illustration of the Eden-story. Do you know the Eden-story?”

“The one about Adam and Eve, you mean,” said Dora.

“That's right,” said the vicar. “Do you see that snake coiled round the tree? That's the baddie.”

“I didn't know there was an angel in the story,” said Dora.

“Oh yes, an angel with a fiery sword,” said the vicar. “And actually there should be two trees in the picture, not one; but the story isn't often told in full these days. Adam and Eve were the first man and the first woman, and they lived in a beautiful garden called Eden. You know that bit, I expect. God told them they could eat anything in the garden except the fruit from one tree which grew in the middle, and if they ate that fruit then they would find out the difference between good and evil and they would die. But the snake came and told Eve that she ought to try the fruit, because it wouldn't really kill her, it would only make her wise. That snake was really the devil, you see. Eve did try the forbidden fruit, and then she persuaded Adam to try it too. If Adam had been strong then everything would have still been all right, but he gave in. And when God came to the garden that evening, they were both hiding from him, and he knew straight away what they'd done, of course. So he banished them from the garden, and he put an angel outside with a flaming fiery sword that faced all ways, so they could never get back in again. He also punished the snake, by making it crawl on its belly without any legs, and making it man's enemy for ever more.”

“But what was the other tree?” said Dora. “And why didn't they die when they ate the fruit, like God said?”

“The other tree was the tree of life,” said the vicar. “And although they didn't die straight away, they started to die as soon as they were banished from the garden, because they couldn't eat from the tree of life any more.”

“But that's cheating!” exclaimed Dora. “They didn't die because they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, like God said. They died because he stopped them eating from the other tree. And why did he let the devil get into the garden in the first place?”

“Those are very difficult questions,” said the vicar. “You might be a little bit too young to understand the answers. But anyway,” he went on, changing the subject rather abruptly, “this is the card that really catches my eye.” He pointed to the one which showed Santa Claus in a green outfit. “I've never seen that before! Santa Claus in green! I think I know somebody who would very much like to have a look at this picture.”

“Who?” said Dora.

“Well, the people from the Urizen Corporation would be interested.”

“Oh,” said Dora, “I've heard of them.”

“Yes, they're a very big corporation – they do lots of different things. They've been helping us with our marketing strategy – we have to have a marketing strategy these days, to help pull in the big congregations. They've sponsored quite a lot of events – hymn-singing festivals, Christian rock concerts, and all sorts of things like that. But at the moment they're working on a very big project to do with Christmas, and they've been advertising on the Internet for any unusual images of Santa Claus. I'm sure they'd like to see this one. Would you mind if I scanned it and sent them a picture?”

As before, Dora felt a little bit suspicious, but couldn't think of a good reason for saying no. “Will it take long?” she asked instead.

“Oh, no,” said the vicar. “No time at all. Five minutes. Probably even less than that. I'll take it downstairs to my office, scan it, send it, and be back here in two shakes of a lamb's tail. I promise.”

“All right, then,” said Dora; and the vicar departed from the room almost before the words were out of her mouth.


Dora packed up the other cards and then put away the box. She was wearing dungarees, with a pocket in the front of the bib, and the box fitted in there nice and tightly.

“What did you do that for?” said Adam.

She jumped and looked round. Adam was sitting on the end of the old pew.

“Adam!” she cried. “How did you get in here?”

“Same way as you,” said Adam. “I've been - “

“Don't say it,” she interrupted. “You've been here all the time. Then how come I didn't see you, and the vicar didn't see you either?”

Adam shrugged. “Search me. But never mind about that. The thing is, why did you let him go off with that card?”

“Because he said he'd bring it straight back!”

“I know,” said Adam, “but he might have been lying.”

“But he's a vicar!”

“I still don't think you should have trusted him. Trust nobody, that's what I think. And anyway, I didn't like him. I hate that story he told.”

“What, the one about Adam and Eve?”

“Yes, I've always hated that story.”

Dora thought for a moment. “Is that because your name's Adam?”

“Yes, and because of that story everybody goes around saying that all the bad things in the world are Adam's fault. I've always hated it.”

“It's only a story, though.”

“Yes, but it's not just any story,” said Adam. “It's the first one in the Bible.” Then he suddenly put his finger to his lips. “Shoosh! Listen!”

“What?” hissed Dora.

“Somebody else is here,” said Adam. “I can hear voices.”

“Perhaps someone's come to look round the church,” whispered Dora. “Or to do the flowers or something.”

Adam stood up on the pew-seat. In the wall behind the pew was a diamond-paned window, with several of the diamond-shaped pieces of glass missing. “They're out here,” said Adam, looking through one of the empty spaces. “The vicar's talking to another man. He's showing him the card.”

“Let me see,” said Dora. She jumped up onto the pew alongside Adam. It gave a loud creak and wobbled sideways.

“Careful,” said Adam. “I don't think this pew's very safe.”

“Never mind that,” said Dora. “I want to see.”

She looked out of the window. Cool air blew against her face through the gaps where the glass was missing. Outside she saw the rainy churchyard, and on the stone path between the grass and gravestones stood the vicar, talking to a man with a goatee beard and a ponytail. He was showing him the puzzle-card. She could hear the bearded man's voice: “Oh, wow, I've never seen this before.” He reached out his hand, and the vicar passed him the card. A moment later, he had slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket.

“He's stolen it!” hissed Dora.

“I told you you shouldn't've let it go!” said Adam.

“But I can't believe he just let him take it!” said Dora. “It doesn't even belong to him! It belongs to me!”

“We've got to get it back,” said Adam.

They must have been moving around on the pew in their excitement. It had already been creaking and wobbling under the strain – now it suddenly lurched sideways, gave an especially loud creaking and cracking noise, while Adam and Dora clutched at the window-frame in an attempt to save themselves, then gave way completely and crashed down flat, throwing the two of them full length onto the dusty floorboards.

But that wasn't the worst thing that happened. When it gave way, the end of the pew knocked into the Green Man and the wooden skeleton. The Green Man, being more-or-less round in shape, rolled heavily across the floor a little way, then fell with a clonk. The skeleton overbalanced and smashed down onto its face. Its skull split open, and out from the hollow space inside crawled a huge black beetle.

“Oh no!” cried Adam, jumping to his feet and backing hastily towards the other side of the room. “Get rid of it! Hit it with something! I'm scared of them beetles!”

“Calm down,” said Dora – but she too jumped up and backed away from the beetle. It looked like the same kind that had dragged her father through the wall: and the really frightening thing about it was that it was growing. When it had emerged from inside the wooden skull it had already been about the size of her hand – much bigger than a normal beetle ought to be. Now, however, it was nearly the size of the Green Man, and getting bigger all the time. And it was walking straight towards them – or rather straight towards Adam, as if it could sense his fear.

“Downstairs – quick!” cried Dora, and the two of them fled downstairs as fast as their legs would carry them.

They burst into the body of the church, ran pell-mell towards the south door, and almost barged straight into the vicar and the man with the beard, who were on there way in.


“Hey!” said the man with the beard. “Slow down! Where's the fire?”

“There's a beetle!” said Dora. “A great big beetle!”

The man with the beard burst out laughing. “Okay! Okay!” he said. “Don't worry! A beetle can't hurt you!”

“But he's huge!”

“Even a huge beetle can't hurt you. I admit they can be scary at times. I was in the Amazon once, and they've got some beetles out there that really make your hair stand on end. But the ones here...”

“This is the girl I was telling you about,” said the vicar. “The girl with the puzzle-box.”

“Oh, right,” said the man with the beard. “Pleased to meet you. My name's Gareth. Now listen, I would really like to have a closer look at this box of yours. The vicar's been telling me all about it, and it sounds like just the kind of thing I'm on the lookout for. You've got to let me see it.”

“Gareth is our adviser from the Urizen corporation,” said the vicar. “I was just about to scan that card and send it to him when he arrived. That was a coincidence, wasn't it?”

“God works in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform,” said Gareth. “Have you got the box on you? Can I see it?”

“You're not allowed to touch it,” said Dora rudely. “It's my box. My Dad gave it to me. Nobody else is allowed to touch it.”

The vicar raised his eyebrows. “Well, I must say -”

“Okay, okay,” said Gareth. “Don't worry. I'm not going to touch it if you don't want me to. But I'd love to have a look at it.”

“I want that card back,” said Dora. “The one of the green Santa Claus. It doesn't belong to you, it belongs to me. Give it back.”

“What card?” said Gareth. “I haven't got your card.”

The vicar stared at him, and raised his eyebrows even further.

“Well,” he said, “honestly, I -”

“Yes you have,” said Dora accusingly. “I saw you take it. You put it in your inside pocket. Give it back, or I'll never let you see the box.”

Gareth hesitated. “Look,” he said: “I was only joking, all right? I've got your card here, safe and sound. I was only going to take a picture of it. If I give you the card back, will you let me look at the box? Just look at it. I promise not to take it. I won't even touch it if you don't want me to.”

Dora was going to make him give her the card before she agreed to anything, but just then Adam nudged her. “Dora,” he whined in her ear, “the beetle! Look back there – the beetle!”

She looked back down the aisle, and there, sure enough, was the beetle, even though the small door at the bottom of the stairs, and the big door at the back of the church, had both slammed shut behind herself and Adam when they ran away from it. Perhaps it had come through those doors the same way it came through the wall when it took her Dad.

“Let's get out of here,” said Dora.

“Okay,” said Gareth. “My car's in the High Street. Why don't I drive you round to my studio, and you can show me the box, and I can take some pictures of the cards? That's all I want to do – just take some pictures. Agreed? My studio's only a few miles from here. Okay?”

“Let's go, let's go,” pleaded Adam, who by this time had grabbed hold of Dora's arm and was digging his fingers in for all he was worth. His face was stricken and white with terror.

When Dora looked back at Gareth and the vicar, however, they seemed perfectly calm; and it suddenly occurred to her that they could see neither Adam nor the beetle.

“Agreed?” repeated Gareth.

She rechecked the beetle, and found that she couldn't tell what size it was anymore. It was a wave of darkness. Somehow it seemed to fill the whole body of the church and curve away beyond the walls, the way the advancing curve of night fills the sky after the sun goes down. Its feet were clicking and scratching on the stone floor and its jaws were opening and closing with horrible delicacy. She could smell the the oil on its shell. She made a supreme effort not to panic.

“Give me my card back first,” she said, although her throat was so tight that her voice almost came out as a squeak.

“Okay,” said Gareth, extracting it from his inside pocket. “Here.”

He held it out and she snatched it away from him. “Come on then,” she said, and rushed through the door into the porch, with Adam clinging to her arm.