Don't Tarry by Shirley Golden

Mum said bears and wolves had been set loose; she muttered something about cages and escape. Harry said the trees unraveled their tangled arms and captured trespassers, binding them into their hollows.

“Is there a headless horseman?” I asked. “Are there dead bodies with maggots in their eye-sockets?”

“Have you finished peeling yet?” Mum leaned across to examine the pan of potatoes.

“If I was Ichabod Crane, I'd investigate,” I said.

“I told your brother not to let you watch that film.” She waggled a flour-encrusted finger in my face. “If you'd read the story, you'd know he was no handsome hero. You must stop playing in that forest, Beth.”

“But if I was Ichabod Crane…”

“You promise me, Beth.” She placed the soiled hand on my shoulder and gripped, demanding a response.

“But why?”

“Never mind the whys and wherefores. You stay away. It's not safe any more.”

I snuck a hand behind my back and crossed my fingers. “I promise,” I said.

We perched on the iron railings that crossed the stile. Jessica blew the biggest bubble and burst it; a pink web covered her lips, which she rolled off with the tips of her fingers and popped the globule back in her mouth. She stared beyond oak and chestnut as if she could see right to the end of the path.

“My dad says there's a demon with claws as long as his belt.”

“And razor sharp teeth?”

She shoved me. “You scared?”

“I'm Ichabod Crane,” I said.

“Who's he?”

I scowled. “He's a detective. He investigates murders, and there's a headless horseman. He's a man of science... he doesn't believe in demons, not really.”

“Yeah?” She blew another bubble, which cracked like a bone breaking. “So, what would he do?” She resumed chewing.

“He'd take his instruments. He'd go where others don't dare.”

“Is that what you're going to do?” Her eyes were huge disks.

I nodded. “Aren”t you coming?”

“You're Icha-thing Crane,” she said, “but where's your instruments?”

I scanned the ground, violet with shuddering harebells. Along the tree line, shadows swallowed moss-infected roots. A metal pole glinted through the bed of indigo, and I hopped down and claimed it.

“Look,” she said. From the bottom railing, she unhooked a flap of yellow plastic with black letters, OT ENTER ■ CRI, cut short by ragged edges.

She wrapped it around the looped end of the pole. “You've a banner. You're a knight.”

I'm Ichabod Crane, I thought, and smiled.

She hugged her body, her voice oddly high. “Do you think there are demons? Why would my dad say so? He said not to dawdle, especially at the edge of the woods.”

She looked from side to side as if a monster might emerge from no where and drag us into the ripple of trees. But her fear increased my bravado; my chest swelled. “It's like a fairy story, or Santa Claus. Harry says parents tell kids stuff for all sorts of strange reasons, like a lie. Only they'd say it wasn't. You wait here. I'll bring back the head of your demon.” And I forced out a wink.

I set off at a march, back regiment-straight, chin jutting, head high. I tried not to think of the faltering light.

I kept my eyes to the front, saw the dark snarl of branches open up. I kept my burnished pole raised. Its flag snapped in the breeze like the jaws of her demon.

Shirley Golden writes short fiction and novels. Her stories have been published in various places, including 1000WORDS, The Glass Woman Prize and Ether Books. Writing is her obsession. Getting published and occasionally paid is the icing on top! To find out more, please visit or Tweet to her @shirl1001.