Universe W-2020: The Old Man’s Cabin 2
June 21st, 2019
A Pile Of Mushrooms
“Em!” Chuck screams to no one in particular.
His eyelids peel open and stay open, the blue skylight unblotted by the canopy above brings him kicking and screaming into waking consciousness. The trees are in full bloom, their leaves shining like emeralds, uncut and perfectly imperfect. For a moment his mind is blank, then the confusion sets in, gripping him with the familiar at this point it’s not even a fear of being drugged unconscious and dragged into the forest again. His shoes are missing, his suit is torn, he ran out of Cannabis two days ago, and…
“Wait, what?” Chuck says aloud to himself, backtracking his train of thought. “If I ran out of Cannabis two…” counting the days on his fingers, “and my suit is all…” looking down to see the tatter, “ahhh fuck a duck and call it Buck.”
The memories all flood in at once, bursting the dam that once walled Chuck’s consciousness off from his unconscious. The suited man drops to the ground in convulsions, his mind subject to a more than a fever dream’s worth of visions; decadent cinnamon buns, a suited cat, death, drugs, drugs, and more drugs leave a ragged Chuck stumbling through the sticks until night changes to day changes to night once more. When the stream dries out, he stands up to find himself situated in a small clearing surrounded by a circle of rocks.
The stones portray various hues of purples and pinks embedded with crystalline patches of marbled quartz. A single path lies ahead of Chuck, carved through the forest with a rusty machete and leading directly towards a distant mountain, the peak of which blocks out the sun’s rays before the canopy can even get the chance. The trees around him dance and shudder as he debates not taking the obvious path forward; he looks to his left – dense forest; he looks to his right – dense forest; he looks to his rear – sparse forest leading to a rock face. With a grumble or twom Chuck stands, dusts his suit off with palms strapped in dirty gloves, and proceeds down the path.
The walk brings Chuck to something of a plateau before the path continues down the hillside into a valley that reeks of swampland, even all the way up here. He turns around and starts back the way he came, but stops when a tree kisses him on the lips, and without even asking first. The walktrail Chuck followed up to this point has vanished, it seems, the raked and tampered dirt of the path covered in debris, the felled logs which bordered the trail scattered amongst the greater forest. ‘God damnit,’ Chuck thinks to himself, looking to his bare feet.
The further down the hillside he travels, the more Chuck wishes he had some shoes – the air is warm, but the soil, soggier by the step, is anything but. At last he reaches the base of the downslope where a river runs until it’s out of breath, and then keeps on running. Chuck hears the river singing to him as he dips a toe in the water – a melodic babble akin to the sweet half of a siren’s song turns to a guttural, haggard lovechild between a bellow and a belch when he realizes how cold the water is, how unfordable. Wiping his toe and the small hairs sprouting from its knuckle, Chuck realizes he’s two options of crossing: unevenly shaped and precariously spaced steppingstones, or a rotten-looking log.
At a loss regarding what he has to lose at this point in this (with his luck) endless toil of a life, Chuck steps up on the log. It’s shaky at first, but sturdy; when he approaches the midpoint, he scoffs as the current dislodges one of the stepping stones below him, sending it barreling under his bridge. ‘I’m so at one with the Universe, man, it was all meant to happen.’
On the other side of the rapids juts what a pygmy might describe as a waterfall, but more gradually sloped. The linn’s long dried out now, more of a climbable mound than anything else, and it stands studded with boulders large enough to use as proper steppingstones. As Chuck climbs, the previous river is flipped the bird. It sings a somber tune and flows steadily.
It is atop the mound where Chuck finds the altar. A large circle of purple and pink stones surrounds the sliver of flatland atop the dry cascade, an isle of none, carved out of drought and stranded betwixt two streams of air pulled by the current of the rivers below. In the center of this ring is a structure carved from near-translucent quartz crystal, the altar, a stone ripped from time and chipped away at by a force unknowable until its true shape took form and its purpose was fulfilled, but who’s purpose? The carver’s, the rock’s, the one to find it’s, or someone greater’s? It matters not, for Chuck has found it, and he is firmly purposeless; as he approaches the shrine, a strange energy overtakes Chuck, an energy of certainty, an energy conjured so long ago and far away only to be imbued into a physical structure in this now – a now so then and when compared to other nows that it might as well not be a now but an if – and into a structure of belief no less, of subjective meaningfulness to one and objective meaninglessness to another.
Chuck removes his fedora and fans his face. The aura dusts into the wind and he notices the altar is littered with cracks and divets.
Sat atop the altar are three offerings, and by the looks of them, they were offered recently. On the left, a pile of Mushrooms; on the right, a square of Paper perforated into four smaller squares; in the middle, a murky Brew held in the petrified pinkish-white rind of an unknown fruit.
Suddenly, a rustling erupts from the other side of the mound, a monstrous bustle of bushes derooted and trees timbered to make way for something large, something with strength and a lack of fucks to give. Chuck ducks down below the altar, holding a hand over his mouth so he doesn’t shriek. Footsteps approach, heavy, as if they were strapped with ankle weights. The mound itself trembles along with Chuck as the encroaching steps turn to grabs and the something large ascends the mound to meet Chuck.
Then, stillness, followed by a slurp that echoes into hard silence.
After a grace period our wanderer stands. The rind soup has been removed, leaving only the Fungus and the Ephemera to be chosen from. Chuck, knowing what he must do at all times except for the present one, takes a deep breath and grabs hold of the surprisingly dry mushrooms. He eats every last cap and stalk available to him, the familiar saltless saltine taste bringing a much-needed smile to the blank space inside his goatee. Before he continues on, he glances down at the Ephemeric tabs and realizes they’re not perforated but weathered into the grooves of the altar, as if they were left out in the rain to degrade.
Climbing down the mound upon which the altar will stand ‘til the end of timelessness, Chuck proceeds to the next river. Again he’s faced with a choice: jump to a sandbar in the middle of the river and then to the opposite bank, or crosswalk a stone bridge that appears structurally unsound at best and an accidental stoppage at worst. He concludes on jumping and sinks calf-deep into the muddy sand. A maelstrom of expletives follows.
After washing his legs off in the river, Chuck follows the path, now lined with stones, pink and purple stones, rather than fallen trees and branches, until it sinks into the terrain, once dry dirt now a full-blown marsh on its way to graduating into a quagmire. He can make out some semblance of where the path might go, but regardless of his instincts, Chuck’s steadily trailblazing at this point, reduced to nothing more than the Perception’s rusty machete to carve a stroll through a jungle so jarring, a fleshy tool to be used, but… for what purpose?
See, that’s a trick query, Chuck is purposeless, and so too shall be his being used. Either it’s all meant to happen or none of it is, and one option is significantly less stressful
Leaping from stepping’ to ‘stone, Chuck precariously makes his way through the mosquito-, tick- and horsefly-infested swamp, the buzzing of nature’s parasites and winged leeches nearly drowning out the eeeeeeing in his ears. Nature tries not to take offense. Tries.
At the end of the swamp Chuck comes to a small stream. His legs are tired and his lungs, hungry for smoke, almost persuade him to stop, but his bellyful of mushrooms convinces him to keep going. With one final bound he clears the trickle, further dirtying his suit with an unnecessary somersault on the speckish ground. Before him rises a foothill and behind it, the mountain. Within him, a cloud of doubt is evaporated by the shine of Psilocin.
Overcome with jubilation, dopamine and an increasingly intense Psilocybin high, Chuck sprints up the foothill. His giddiness is cut short about seven steps later, however, when his bare foot splatters a fresh, steaming pile of nasty.
“Oh come the fuck on now, really? REALLY WITH THI–” sniff “Wait, I know that smell.”
Chuck quickly swings his head back and forth, surveying the area until he spots a very familiar tuxedo-furred furball staring him down from up the path. The Mongrel dashes, Chuck following him all the way to the mountain’s peak, the Mushrooms allowing him to ignore the screams for help his legs are trying to send to his brain. Upon reaching the summit and striding over the arrow-shaped rock that he doesn’t even notice, Chuck comes to a pastureish clearing with a cabin set back near the treeline. It is here that he shares a startled look with a curly haired hippie sitting lotus in the grass.
“Who the fuck are you?” Chuck calls out, firing the shot heard ‘round the mount’. “And where’d the cat go?”
“I… am surprised to see you, Chuck!” the hippie calls back. Usually you’re…” he trails off. “And, I’m much…” again. “Well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Anyway, how are those ‘Shrooms treating you?”
It is at this moment that Chuck’s pupils dilate and he notices a massive four-legged dragon, scales blue as a bruised Mushroom and green smoke pluming from its nostrils, flying circles over a volcano that’s allegedly in the distance. He says nothing, the expression on his face speaking volumes.
“Delightful!” proclaims the hippie, turning towards the cabin. “Please, follow me. We must talk.”
Once inside, the hippie leads Chuck into a bedroom. Chuck lays down on the squeaky wooden floor and looks up to the ceiling. The pattern in the wood seems to be very lively today, actively dancing and morphing with the breeze pouring in through the windows. The hippie sits down on the bed on the other side of the room and smiles, taking out a pipe.
The hippie speaks. “You asked who I was a moment ago. I have many forms that go by many names, but for you today, I am a being known by some as Hoontr The Weed God.”
Chuck sits straight up at the mere mention of his Herb. “I thought I smelled something wonderful.” He had no such thought. “Lemme get a hit; it’s been days, yo.”
Hoontr The Weed God chuckles. “I shall, but first,” he hums before taking in a cloud of smoke, “I must hit you with something.”
“Oh?” Chuck says, the black holes that are his pupils locking on to the pipe and absolutely nothing else. The pipe may as well be doing the talking. “What’s that?”
“The nature of your existence, my son.”
Chuck pauses for a moment as the air stirs inside the wooden cavern. A feeling of butterflies and slight nausea erupts in his gut, but he reasons that it’s probably just the Mushrooms. The feelings subside. “Heavy.”
An entire universe is born and dies. Chuck smiles ambivalently.
“I think I’d rather have the hit.”
A smile, unequivocal, emerges from Hoontr The Weed God’s face as he nods, the smoke bobbing with his hair. “Of course you do, you’re Charles Leary. You’ve lived a very challenging life up until this point, and will continue to do so until the day it ends, if that day is ever witnessed. You were brought up whilst having your emotional and mental states constantly beaten on and mauled by a man who found your birth to be something of a, shall we say, mild inconvenience, until the day he was finally rid of the obnoxious pester (his words) that is you. But since then you’ve taken ample care of yourself, despite the fact that you’re entirely alone in life, save for some employees, and yet… you still feel worthless.”
“How did y–”
“Of course, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, you know that from experience; you’ve gone on to become the most powerful man in all of luxurious New Manhattan, a utodystian metropolis of your own design where nothing matters but wealth and knowing of you, and wealth doesn’t even matter because you essentially have all of it and nobody knows of you because you’ve managed to keep yourself entirely out of the gnawing, ravenous eye of the public. And your spirit, your consciousness? It operates on a dubious level.”
Chuck isn’t sure if the room is spinning because he, himself, is spinning, or because the dragon’s decided to play dreidel with the cabin. Hoontr The Weed God notices this and, clearing the ash from the bowl, begins to pack the pipe with fresh, purple herb.
“It’s all worked out swimmingly for you, Charles, your life has gone more or less exactly how you wanted it to go, or at least, how you’ve thought you wanted it to go. You’ve shaped your destiny.”
Chuck hasn’t closed his mouth in sentences.
“It’s almost as if your life was a prophecy, written on a scroll by a deity many, many eons in the past… or maybe… in the future?”
The rooms stops spinning, Chuck’s lips have a reunion. Chuck finds himself in a perfectly present state of mind; everything is sharp and pristine. He erratically rises to his feet, staring into the eyes of this seemingly omniscient hippie, and tries to find the words.
“Not a deity, though,” Chuck says with words not his own. “Just a being in another universe. That’s what you were gonna to say next, right? That my existence has worked out so well, against all odds, because my life is nothing more than symbols scribbled on paper? That I’m the main character of some dude’s story, therefore I’m actually invincible, like I had some sort of continuity forcefield around me at all times?”
Hoontr The Weed God the hippie smiles and holds out the pipe, bowl packed to the brim. “I wasn’t going to say anything next, my child, lest you shan’t have spoken. Smoke Chuck, and rest here for a moment. The climb up must have been tough.”
Chuck apprehensively takes hold of the pipe and The Weed God rises. The bed is lumpy but soft, as if it was stuffed with leaves and grasses, but in Chuck’s current state it feels like marshmallows. The Mongrel crawls out from under the wooden bedframe and climbs up, curling into a ball on Chuck’s chest. The Weed God places a kiss on Chuck’s forehead before taking his leave out the back door. As Chuck finally satiates his starving lungs, the cat begins to purr and the pair gently drift off into slumber.
A Good Sign
“How’s he doing?”
“Well, the building hasn’t collapsed, so that’s a good sign.”