Backyards: The Forest

Words by Samuel Maguire

Pictures by Erin Michelle

Published on February 26, 2014

We left Ipswich when I was ten years old and moved out to the country. It was my three other siblings — an older sister and two brothers — and my mum. She was raising all four of us alone and trying to study at the same time. A couple that she met at church rented out the huge property to her for very cheap. It was ten acres of wilderness, so if you made your way to the very edge of the yard there was only untamed bush as far as you could ever think to walk.

We didn’t watch much television while we lived there; the yard was too interesting. It was a forest of climbable trees and mazes of lantana. It was easy to get lost in: the paths always rearranging themselves, every adventure coming to a different end.
There were a lot of ghosts, mainly of our pets, the ones at the bottom of the food chain. Our ducks were torn apart by wedge-tailed eagles. Our chickens died one by one, eaten nightly by a monstrous carpet snake. My brother tried to stab the snake with a pitchfork once. The forks bounced off its scaly hide.

We followed a hammering noise into the forest one day. None of us knew which direction it was coming from. I was a slow walker and I rounded a corner to find that I had lost the group. I followed a path through two lines of trees. The hammering noise grew louder.
The path led to a huge hall enclosed by lantana. There were two slopes of earth leading up either side of it. It looked like the foyer of a big mansion, with tunnels leading off in every direction. The hammering noise grew closer and stopped.
I have never felt as lost or alone as I did just then. The forest seemed to have a sentience. There were places it would share with us, and places that were not ours to explore. You could only feel your way through it; sight and direction were of no use. I ran back home as fast as I could.

My memories of the place are as tangled as the vines and branches we used to climb. I thought I had imagined it, as it seemed too vivid and beautiful to be real. I never could find it again. Every time I tried the paths twisted until I was somewhere new. I told my sister about it recently, and she said she had once been there, under similar circumstances. She was much braver than I, and had explored the tunnels, but she accidentally knocked a nest with two baby birds in it to the ground. One of the babies had been lost in the tangle of vines. She never found the place again.

Samuel Maguire missed his Hogwarts letter and now he writes because it is the furthest he can get away from a real job. He has been published in Stilts JournalScum and various other things.

Erin Michelle draws pictures and writes words. Follow at