In the middle of the suburb of Ashgrove lies a dense grove of ash trees, hence its name. They weren't deliberately protected, amid the rise of houses and businesses, but nobody felt a need to cut them down, either. So there they stand, weirdly placed, an odd interruption to the urban landscape, like a block that was never developed or someone's tiny, misguided nature reserve. Get up closer and stare for long enough and you might see tiny lights flitting back and forth between the ash branches, as if fireflies existed in Australia. From the inside, those lights move at a very different speed. Much more slow and sedate. They are the Fae of the Ash Grove, and it is their entire world within those trees. Their lives whiz past ours at blinding speed and to them we are ponderous stone giants.
Two sisters, Tania and Monica took turns daring each other to step closer to the trees, each trying to get better photos than the other. None of them turned out very well until Tania stuck her arm in, past the tree trunks, and snapped a picture there with her phone. It hurt her hand somehow, but when she pulled it back, they could see at last. The tiny creatures flying back and forth among the grove had dragonfly wings and wore tiny silken clothes made of spider webs. They had leaves woven through their wiry hair and they appeared so magical that Monica did not waste any time on thinking. She dove right between the tree trunks as quickly as she could, and she was gone into the mysterious gloom.
Tania didn't know what to do. She called out to Monica a few times, but there was no response. Her mother had told her not to play in the ash grove, but here they were, and her mother had also warned her to take care of Monica. She couldn't abandon her sister, even if her mother would be angry. She followed Monica into the trees, and the quiet thumped into her ears like a thick blanket.
The world grew darker for a moment, but soon the faint lights of the place - from the creatures and even from the trees themselves - began to show her the shape of things. She couldn't see Monica anywhere.
She looked around her at the wonder of the place, so much more than a grove of trees. It was a whole world, and she stood towering above it like a skyscraper. She could see tiny ploughed fields under her feet and little Fae farmers shaking their tiny fists as she inadvertently trampled their crops. There were roads paved with pebbles and little Fae houses in the tree branches - mansions made like birds' nests of interwoven twigs.
And off a little way, there was an old woman, who must have been ninety, sitting on a throne woven together the same way, from hundreds or maybe thousands of tiny twigs. There were Fae weaving to repair little tears in her spider-silk dress, and she had leaves arranged in her hair, like the little Fae themselves.
"Excuse me," called Tania, "Have you seen another girl like me, only a little younger?"
The old woman looked puzzled for a while, as if she were trying to figure out some riddle in the speech. Then her eyes suddenly brightened and she reached into a bag beside her throne to withdraw an old battered mobile phone - Monica's phone! Its battery was long drained, but through some Fae magic, the old woman waved her hand over the phone and called up some photos. There were those first few pictures the girls had taken from the edge of the grove, and the one from inside, then a series of portraits of Monica herself. As the old woman flicked past the photos, the face grew older and more worn. Wrinkled, but more beautiful. Tania gasped and her little sister - now an old woman - nodded and smiled.
"You have to come back!" said Tania, but old Monica shook her head. "No, you have to! I promised to take care of you! I'm sure ... someone can fix this, or the faeries can make you young again with their magic, maybe?"
Monica smiled gently and shook her head again. She pointed to her throne and gestured at the miniature wonders around them as if that explained it all.
"But what will I tell Mum?"
Monica took a long time to form words. She hadn't spoken in decades. "Tell ... her ... I am ... happy ... and she was .... right. Don't ... come back ... and don't ... eat ... the ..." she made a clutching motion with her hand and furrowed her brow, then pointed at a big ripe fruit on one of the trees.
"Fruit?" prompted Tania.
"Yes! Don't ... eat the fruit. It will ..." Monica made a vague hugging gesture, "... keep you here."
Tania turned to go, but took a long last look at her sister, now aged long past her prime. She gave the frail old woman a hug, then tweaked her nose like they used to do.
"Mum's gonna kill me." She said in parting.
"Then ... bring her here. She can ... see for herself."
"Alright, I will." Tania lingered a moment longer. "I'll miss you."
"And ... I have missed you. It was ... good to see you again."
Tania gave a weak smile, then stepped out of the grove into daylight again.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - I have realised that, if I stick to this pace, it will take me 3 years and 8 months to finish all of Brisbane.
PPS - I may have to take some breaks along the way.