It only took five minutes to get to the park. With the sun on her shoulders, Athena hummed to herself as she started to fill her dustbin bag with rubbish. It always amazed her what they found. This morning there was the usual collection of sweet wrappers and lollypop sticks but there was also a silver belt buckle in the shape of a skull and cross bones. She was still examining it when she heard a whistle. She looked up. Her grandad was over by the swings. Dangling from the end of his pick-up stick was a Lincoln City football sock.
Athena smiled and waved back.
‘Can we save it for the Dragon Tree?’
‘It’s the bright colours. You can see it from a long way off.’
‘O.K, if you must.’
Athena made a mental note to herself. If you added the scarf to the ribbons and neck-tie already in her bag, she would have eleven new bits of material to hang from the Dragon Tree, bringing the total to twenty-five. That would surely make the dragon happy.
‘Grandad, can’t we stop now?’
Athena held up her wrist and tapped her watch.
‘We’ve been picking litter for twenty minutes. You promised.’
Her grandad lifted his baseball cap and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
‘Yes, O.K. I could do with a bit of shade.’
The Dragon Tree was a tall sycamore tree growing at the bottom of the park in the corner where it was always damp or wet. You got there by following a crooked path through an avenue of trees. In summer, the leafy branches formed a thick arch above your head which meant that it was always murky and cool beneath. The nearer you got to the Dragon tree, the chillier it became. In fact, it was the scariest tree in the whole village. Athena had shivered the first time she saw it. So had Jonny Razor. He was pressed to her chest in a baby sling made from two of her grandad’s scarves. His nose had gone cold.
‘You feel it too, Jonny Razor? I think this place must be haunted. Unless it’s a dragon’s lair.’
Jonny Razor had nodded his head.
‘I thought as much. I knew I could smell smoke.’
And that was when Jonny Razor had whispered into her ear and Athena had learned that dragons like brightly coloured ribbons because brightly coloured ribbons make them happy, cuddly and less likely to spit fire at passers-by.
Which was the reason why Athena was returning to the Dragon Tree this morning. More ribbons clearly meant a happier dragon. She called over her shoulder at her grandad.
‘Come on, slow-coach. I need to stand on your shoulders so that I can get to some of the higher branches. Hurry.’
‘I’m walking as fast as I can.’
‘Have you tried running?’
‘Not with my knees.’
‘Well, get some new ones then.’
Athena shook her head before racing further ahead. He really could be too annoying at times. She wondered how her granny put up with him.