Jem and the Humans by Jamie Harbison
Early one morning, just as the birds of Wilderberry Wood started their song, Jem woke
up with a wonderful idea. He would go and see if he could find any humans. He had
heard lots about them in stories but had never actually seen any. The older elves in the
village did not seem to think much of them but Jem's mother had once taught him never
to judge another elf before walking in his slippers. He wondered if that went for
humans as well. He decided that on that very morning, he would find out for himself.
He was in for a wonderful adventure.
During his breakfast he asked his Dad about them.
"Where do humans live, Dad?" he asked.
"Well Jem," his father answered, "A few of them live on the other side of Deepstone
River but over there, beyond the hills, is a town where hundreds of them live."
"Can we go and catch one Dad?" Jem asked.
"Oh no," chuckled his father. "They are about a hundred times bigger than the biggest
elf. What would you do with such a thing?"
"Really Dad? That
big? What do they do all day then?" he asked.
"Being so big, Jem, they are very clumsy and go around breaking things mostly,"
answered Dad. "Why Uncle Morris told me that just the other day, he saw some of them
wearing these daft yellow hats, smashing a perfectly good house to rubble."
"Why on earth would they do something so silly?" asked Jem.
"Nobody knows, my son. It's a mystery." "Can I go and see them Dad, can I please?" asked Jem. Not very happy with the idea,
Jem’s father told him that humans did not know anything about elves and could be very
dangerous. Jem begged and pleaded with his father who eventually gave in.
"As long as you're careful and you take someone with you," said Dad finally. With
that, Jem quickly finished his breakfast and ran down to Aelyn's house. Aelyn was his
best friend in the whole world and he would not dream of going on such an adventure
without him. After much persuasion, Aelyn's mother also agreed to let them go, but not
without a stern warning.
"They are mean and nasty things, those humans," she said. "If you get in their way,
they're likely to squash you like a bug. As long as you promise not to get into any
trouble and you're both very, very careful, you can go."
"We promise," sang Jem and Aelyn together. Aelyn's mother gave them both some
mushroom sandwiches and dwarf apples to eat for lunch, and she packed a small bottle
of dewberry juice in case they got thirsty. So off they went, headed for the hills in
search of humans.
Excited, the young elves skipped along the path and wondered what they would do
when they found what they were looking for.
"Let's catch one and make it our prisoner," said Jem. "With such a big slave, we could
make it do anything!"
"My Mom said that they are so stupid that they do more damage than good," Aelyn
warned. "So we will probably end up doing more work cleaning up after it."
"They must be an awful nuisance then," thought Jem as they came to the edge of the
forest. "Well, we'll just have to go and see," called Aelyn as he ran ahead across the
meadow. Jem raced after him. After a little while they found their first signs of human life. Jem was the first to spot it
– a great big metal thing, about twice their size with a hole at one end. It looked like an
enormous tin can and smelled just like cooking apples.
"There's something in there,” noticed Aelyn as they walked around it, inspecting their
find closely. Sure enough, when the little elves looked closer, they saw ants marching
in, taking turns collecting some of the sticky stuff that lay in a puddle at the bottom and
marching back out again. Aelyn was about to climb inside to see what the sticky stuff
was when Jem suddenly noticed how sharp the edges of the hole were.
"Look out!" shouted Jem.
"Whew, thanks mate," said Aelyn. "I didn't realise how dangerous this thing was."
"No problem," answered Jem. “These humans must be pretty awful to leave such a
treacherous thing lying around." They left the ants to their endless task and continued
on their way, not very impressed with humans so far.
After a brief rest under a tree and some delicious lunch, Jem and Aelyn continued.
They had not gone far when Aelyn noticed some smoke rising up from over a nearby
hill. They walked quickly to the top and peered over the other side. They were
dismayed at what they saw.
"What a mess!" exclaimed Jem.
"Whew, and it stinks too!" said Aelyn holding his nose.
"That must be the town where the humans live," said Jem as he started walking towards
"Do we have to?" moaned Aelyn. "This is what we came for my good friend," answered Jem politely. They walked
together down the hill making sure they kept well out of sight. It was not until they had
reached the first set of houses that Aelyn stopped holding his sensitive nose. Despite
the smell, they were both fascinated by the sights and sounds of such a big place.
Everything towered over them and before long they had forgotten about the smell
"Hey!" called Jem. "There's a whole lot of humans over there and they're carrying
something. Let's go see what they're up to." Sure enough, only a short distance away,
there was a group of boys carrying a very large sack, standing by a door. The two little
elves dodged in between some large flowerpots in order to stay out of sight. They
could not quite hear what was being said so they crept a little closer. When they got
near, they saw that the sack was absolutely brimming with toys of every kind. Jem
could see teddy bears and dolls as well as a train set and about a dozen multi-coloured
balls. The elves looked at each other, puzzled.
"What are they doing with so many toys?" whispered Aelyn. Before Jem could answer,
the door swung wide open. An enormous woman stood in the doorway and started
talking to the boys. Another human, this one very tiny, peeked out from behind the
woman's skirt. The small one pointed straight at Jem and said “Goo-ba!” This
surprised the elves a great deal because they thought they were very well hidden.
“Do-beeyuh-a-noddoo-mama!” said the little human and tugged at her mother's apron
while pointing at the elves. Luckily for the elves, the woman just picked her up and
carried on talking to the boys. The baby turned her head and looked down at Jem and
Aelyn again and smiled. The elves smiled back and were happy to discover how cute
the little humans were. What they saw after that horrified them. The mountain of a woman disappeared into the house, leaving the door ajar. Jem could
just see through the gap and watched her as she picked some of the baby's toys out of a
box and carried them back to where the boys were waiting. She gave the toys to them
(presumably to look at, Jem thought, because surely they did not need any more toys
when they had so many already) and one of the boys stuffed them into the sack with all
the rest. Jem could not quite make out what they were saying to each other after that
but the next thing he knew, the boys had gone and the woman had closed the door. The
elves could hardly believe their eyes.
"Did you see what just happened?" asked Jem in disgust. Aelyn stared back with eyes
big as saucers. He said to Jem: "Those horrid boys stole that nice baby's toys. I can’t
believe it! I never thought humans could be that
"Let's get them back!" said Jem defiantly. "They may be bigger than us but we must not
let them get away with such a terrible thing.”
"All right, let's go," agreed Aelyn, and off they marched in search of the group of toy
Just by luck, Jem spotted them out of the corner of his eye. They had slipped around
the side of a very large building and the little elves raced to catch up with them. Before
the elves got there, the boys just managed to get the sack through a door, which was
then slammed right in Jem's face. He was not very happy with that at all.
"They got away!" he said angrily.
"Here, let's try the window," suggested Aelyn, already halfway up a nearby drainpipe.
Jem scrambled after him, determined not to lose track of the boys. When they got to the window pane, they had to squash their noses right up to the glass in order to get a
good look. Neither of them will ever forget what they saw.
The room was large and airy. There was hardly any furniture but that was just as well
because there must have been about a hundred little humans there, all sitting on the
floor with a few of the bigger ones walking among them. There was something very
special about these little humans that Jem could not quite put his finger on. They all
looked excited but at the same time very sad. He wondered where all their Moms and
Dads were. At the far corner a door opened and the boys with the sack walked in.
“Surely they would not dare steal any toys from these children,” whispered Jem. Each
of the boys went up to the sack in turn and took out as many toys as they could carry in
their arms. Then they went around to the little ones and gave each of them a present.
One by one they started to smile and Jem was filled with joy. He sniffed back a happy
tear and looked over at Aelyn. He too had a little sparkle in his eye and a dopey grin on
his face. The boys were not stealing from the little humans at all. They were collecting
toys from those who had many, in order to give to those who had nothing.
The two young elves could not wait to get back to the village to tell everyone what they
had seen, so they slid down the drainpipe and began the journey home. As the sun was
going down behind them, Jem felt glad that he had been given the chance to see just
how nice some humans could really be.