by Asher Harrington
At the end of our street, a forest lies.
The houses keep their distance but the main road runs right to it
And continues for a little while. But when that little while is up
And gravel turns to dirt,
Cars, phones and watches,
Even compasses cease to work.
When the road stops, everything stops.
Even Time itself.
Well no, that’s not exactly true;
Time can never stop.
But it starts to act quite differently
Once you go beyond the road.
One morning many years ago, I went out there with my sister.
The sunlight dappled through the trees for the hour we explored.
But when we stepped back on the road,
A midnight sky appeared.
My two brothers, two sisters and I
Were kept inside for one whole month.
The forest became forbidden under penalty of a Spooning.
(A Spooning entailed our Mother whacking our ears with the wooden spoon.)
But being cheeky buggers
(As our father liked to call us),
We would play right by the forest,
Making dares to creep in further.
The time that passes in the trees
Has no equal measure.
And hour could be a day or a week
And a week could be a minute.
There is no rhyme or reason
To the give or take of time.
The forest likes to play:
Learn its tricks or you’ll be lost.
Going missing in the forest
Is a local right of passage.
Most local folk know better
By at least the age of twelve.
Tourists, on the other hand, love to
‘Loose themselves to find themselves’.
All well and good
Until their relatives turn up, panicked.
They beseech us but we’ve given up
On reports for missing persons:
An issue given the startling sum
Of permanently missing persons.
Of those long gone, it’s mostly men;
Are there sirens in the lake again?
There’s been a petition going ’round
For the council to look into it.
My name is Cat. I have a gift
For making people do stupid things.
When I give someone a dare,
They don’t need much incentive.
I suppose they like impressing me
But just one thing does that.
Like the forest, I like to play
But I’m not sure you will like my game.
In the forest, there is a castle:
A difficult place to find.
The forest likes to hide it. But I always find my way
To those ruins behind the red-rusted gates and tangles of sharp roses.
From the roof, watch headless creatures:
‘Gargoyles or angels?’
So old and faded: could be either.
But I’d like to know your answer.
Full of treasure is the castle,
But guarded by a monster.
Or supposedly, at least – oh, I do not doubt the monster
For enough people have seen it.
But a guard? If so, a piss-poor one;
Half its charge is in my bedroom:
Gold, paintings, dresses,
Forgotten maps, the rarest records…
But it wasn’t me who took those things,
They were all gifts, I swear.
I’ve never braced the gates and thorns
To see the monster’s lair.
All I do is challenge you to seek that ghostly home.
And prove your courage with a gift of something beautiful.
Mean or wicked, maybe. But a thief, I’m surely not.
Time is all I ever take of other people’s lot.
Asher Harrington is a Melbourne born and based fantasy writer. She is currently studying a Masters in Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. Along with a keen fixation on experimental fairy tales, Asher also enjoys musical theatre, cats and anything relating to Frankenstein.