Boggarts don’t generally pick up rubbish but Moulde has no choice today. Loosening tent pegs, pouring water on sleeping bags, opening cooler lids—nothing discourages this year’s campers. Like wild boars across Yorkshire moors, the bloody pillocks just keep marauding through the campgrounds of Alberta Western Provincial Park. What Moulde wouldn’t give to be back in the Old Country, back in the olden times when humans weren’t such arseholes.
Beyond, down at the slough, the current occupants of campsite C47 are faffing around, throwing rocks at sandpipers and such. Moulde pulls a reeking, empty milk jug out from under a scraggly cedar, a plastic marshmallow bag off struggling bunchberry, and a beer can crushing some long-suffering moss. She fills her cracked leather rucksack with the trash, the one she’s been using since 1504. It’s got a few centuries left in it, too, because it was crafted with respectful hands, from leather and hemp and magic. Not like today’s offensive plastic shite.
When she gets to the campsite, she tips the rubbish out. It makes a right fine pile on the scuffed ground between the camper’s shiny minivan and purple nylon tent.
Voices grow louder. With luck, the campers will react to the heap with dismay, and then realize how they’re part of the problem. A thick pine next to the picnic table makes a good boggart-sized hiding spot to watch the fun. Moulde crouches on a lower branch, ignoring her rumbling belly. The foothills are scant on edible forage, other than parasite-filled pike or cattail bulbs tasting of sewage. And the campers always bring wrongly coloured food, like hard tiny circles of cereal or that shoe leather they call pizza. What she wouldn’t give for a raisin bap or a simple baked potato.
“Holy crap, look! All the crap that we threw away is back here! Gross!” The campers’ vocabulary doesn’t seem to be any larger than their understanding of how to live a harmonious life. Moulde wants to leap forward and screech, “Ah’ll tear ye limb from focking limb, ye dozy bleeders!” but the other boggarts have threatened to cut out her tongue if she does that again. She makes do with a low, disgusted “Pshhh.”
The smallest camper, a wee bairn with a fringe of black bangs, stares curiously right at Moulde’s pine.
Moulde scuttles away, out the pine’s backside and through tall grasses, then past the raspberry hedge she’s planted at the bottom of the scree. She scrambles up the rocky slope on all fours to her cave near the top of the ridge and heads right to the back corner. She huddles there, hands trembling on knobby knees. The world is going to eat itself alive, with all this waste and ruin. Humans have lost their way, lost their very nature, more so than any time she can remember—all of ’em, every last one.
Finally, as dusk threatens, she flicks a finger at the empty oyster shell sitting on the ledge and whispers a few words. The memory of seal oil grows fainter every year but still there’s enough magic left to create a faint greenish comforting glow for the next century or two.
A crunch of gravel outside, then: “Found you!” The black-haired girl stares in from the cave entrance. “Hide and seek is my favourite game!”
Moulde screeches and jumps to her feet. “Bloody ’ell! Off wi’ ye!”
“You talk funny!”
Moulde studies the girl’s bramble-scratched arms, grubby face, and dirty pink overalls. Only one other camper has ever made it this high, a loud posh berk with synthetic clothing. Moulde arranged a “climbing accident” for that one. The campground closed down for a whole peaceful week. Eyes on the girl, she creeps an arm toward the cudgel leaning on the wall.
The girl holds out a fist with something in it. “Wanna share my toast?” Crumbs fall onto the cave floor.
Moulde darts forward, snatches the whole slice, and crams it in her mouth.
“Wow! You must be hungry.”
“That I am.” Moulde swallows the last bit and clears her throat. “... And I thank ye.”
“Karina next door back home says that we are all on one small planet and we have to be nice to each other. So I am!”
Moulde licks butter off her lips. “Does she now?”
“And she says that we are part of the forest and the prairie and the ocean.”
“Aye?” Moulde rubs a hairy ear. Was it possible? Could there be a few less daft humans about these days? Her heart feels a warm tinge of long-forgotten pleasure.
“And that we should practice self-care. To the planet, I mean. Because we’re part of it.”
Moulde sets the cudgel back down. This Karina-next-door-back-home that the bairn is rattling on about sounds like they might have a proper head on their shoulders. And so does the bairn. Such things should be encouraged. Never let it be said that auld Moulde doesn’t do her part. She pulls the oyster shell off the shelf and blows out the flame. Shared magic led to increased magic, and that could help the world, p’raps. “Take this home wi’ ye, there’s a lass.”
“Thank you. Um ...” The girl turns it over. “Is it special?”
“Aye. It’s got a sense o’ the world, it does. A memory, like.” Its influence on the bairn would be small and the nights ahead for Maulde blacker than treacle, but it’s all she has to give. She makes the flame again and douses it, then has the girl practice until she can do it too. The bairn’s enough in harmony with nature that she learns quickly.
“Cool! I gotta go. Mom’ll be worried.”
“Off wi’ ye, then. And, lass—” Moulde gives her the look that makes brownies keel over in a faint. “This chat we’ve had—it’s secret, mind!”
“Okay! I like secrets almost as much as forests!”
“Remember today when tha grows auld. Magic be real if ye live in harmony.” She squints up at her. “And teach the others? To stop wrecking the forest and the oceans? Will ye?”
“You betcha!” The girl beams and puts the shell in her overall bib pocket. She disappears down the slope in a clatter of pebbles.
Moulde curls up in the dark on her damp cattail mat. Tomorrow, if the next batch of campers have as much in their noggins as this bairn, she’ll go easy on them. Just a few wee spiders in their coffee mugs, p’raps—not a whole nest.
Copyright © 2021 Holly Schofield. Originally published in the Black-Eyed Peas on New Year's Day anthology. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her short stories have appeared in Analog, Lightspeed, Escape Pod, and many other publications throughout the world. She hopes to save the world through science fiction and homegrown heritage tomatoes. Find her at hollyschofield.wordpress.com.