I was relieved and surprised by how simply I found the cabin, counting my blessings that the campsite was still here. The area had changed so much in the passing years. It had been decades since my last visit. For all I knew, the structure could have been long since gone. Memories of my childhood came flooding in as I pulled up. For the first time in months, I smiled from within, remembering the joy I had as a young boy, not the events or emotions I had long since buried and forgotten as an adult. I found myself here, and in front of me, it stood, boarded up in all its eerie glory. The structure now looked smaller and way more rickety than I remembered it. The campground owner should have demolished it long before I stumbled across it when I was young. Even back then, it was already in a dangerous state of disrepair.
The cabin had been a right of passage for all the kids whose families regularly stayed at this campground. Set not deep in a forest but rather on the outskirts, with patches of Jack Pine, White Birch, and Spruce trees. They had converted it into a campsite made for humans, tricking their minds into supposing they had become immersed in nature. There were a few Balsam Firs here and some Trembling Aspen over there, giving campers the illusion of being in the wilds of the great outdoors.
My family and I would come here every summer, and I had fond memories of playing in the forest, searching for edible berries and crab apples. I saw my first wild turtle at the age of six, and I could still remember the design on its belly many years later. The shell was bland, olive green and brown, nothing exciting. It was the underside that stayed with me. Creamy yellows to reddish tones, with a striking design, lay hidden underneath bolts of vibrant yellow that ran down its legs and neck. I would later associate the turtle’s belly with a Rorschach test, and every time I saw an inkblot, I would think of that turtle.
Of course, there was running water, electricity, and even a sound system. Let us not separate ourselves too far from the creature comforts of civilization. At night, as the campfire’s rage was crackling and burning bright, we would make up scary stories about the cabin in the woods. The flames danced around as they changed from reds to yellows and orange with the pops of wood, and the glorious smell of an open fire mingled with the night’s cool, fresh breeze. If you were lucky, somebody would put the sounds of whales or rushing waterfalls over the PA. It was just loud enough to drown out the insects that inhabited the night. If you closed your eyes and believed hard enough, you could become one with nature.
There was this decrepit cabin way out on the periphery of the campsite. We called it the “creepy place.” All the children from around the campgrounds would gather there, and, against our parents’ warnings, we would play for hours on end.
It was aged and descending into extreme decrepitude, but it was all I could find, and I was attempting to make the best of it. The walls were a cluster of pastel particle boards. There was no rhyme or reason to their assemblage. Years of children’s destructive behaviour must have taken their toll on the cabin. No one knew who built it, and what they used it for was anybody’s guess; perhaps a storage unit or a temporary place for a seasonal groundskeeper.
I was searching for a lost life. Sometimes I felt like I was always searching, never having found the answer, with the knowledge of things left undone. Had my wants and needs finally been put behind me? Was my desire no longer about me? I could no longer think straight–I needed to rest my body and my mind. It had been racing down that inevitable spiral of self-destruction. I needed a place to regroup. Travelling across this vast country, revisiting your life one town, one province at a time, can be a tiring affair. Being on the run from yourself is a difficult task, no matter how fast you think you might be. It is both mentally and physically taxing on a body. I thought it would be best to stop. This land had grown unfamiliar to me.
The room was only ten by ten feet. Its contents consisted of one table and one chair, both weathered and white, metallic and collapsable. These had not been here when I was young. The table was still standing and seemed sturdy enough while the chair lay folded on the ground. I never bothered to pick it up and sit on it.
A haphazard collection of wilted yellows, pale blues, muted oranges, and cloudy olive green particleboard were cut and placed over missing boards and gaping holes. In no way did it look creative. Someone had installed them there to be functional, out of necessity. A patched-together collection, vomited up from reclaimed lumber. The room had three exposed windows, two on the eastern wall and a third on the west, that I never glanced out, never bothering to find out what was on the other side. None of the remaining windows had any glass, just the metal framing where the glass once lived. I guessed that it had all been smashed by restless children years ago, and all of its fractured pieces had long since vanished. Reminiscing and staring out, my window of choice was the one closest to the door on the north side of the building. It gave me a clear view of the entire campsite. I stood there for hours, lost in thoughts from another time. I used pieces of the old lathe I found lying around to fill each opening. They sat perfectly within the metal grooves of the frames. I left a little space at the bottom for the light to get in and for me to peer out.
Over what seemed an unmeasurable quantity of time since my arrival, life had grown in the open spaces and cracks, nature taking root in the lathe. What started as a moss-like substance quickly turned into leafy vines, dark and vibrant green, contrasting with the muted pastels adorning the room. My body and mind told me I was only in this cabin for a few hours, but as life grew around me, it seemed like it had been weeks, if not months.
I felt lost in time as the enduring light poured in from outside. Childhood memories bombard my senses. Disorientation took hold. All around the room, small clusters of cauliflower-like mushrooms sprouted upward. Their fruiting bodies grew larger, from a white cream colour to a yellowish-brown as they enlarged. I bent down for a closer inspection of this phenomenon. My hand accidentally brushed past a small ring of tiny brown brains of the earth. Its surface was soft and inviting, and a gentle crackle of electricity coursed through the fuzzy filaments that grew on top, making a connection with the palm of my hand. Even the most gentle contact caused their tops to open their gaping orifices. They expelled fine plumes of yellow and green spores into the new world surrounding them. I could smell the earth, deep and damp, while the taste of nuts and earthy greens filled my mouth and nostrils. New life took hold everywhere the spores landed.
I watched in disbelief as the foliage in the room grew, reaching for any bit of light or life they could encounter. If I put my hand close to the greenery, it would immediately grow towards me as it reached out for my touch. I could hear the stretches and creaks of the plant’s fibres. Not aggressively, but something inside of me understood. The plants held within them a yearning to connect with another life force. I could feel the extent of their loneliness and desire breaking my heart.
The carpet of vegetation continued to move across both the floor and random patches of walls closer to the ground where the spores could reach. The old wood frame of the cabin became the fertile bed in which a much more intricate network of cells could branch off into thread-like filaments, which helped accelerate and aid in the growth of these fungi.
I was transfixed by this awe-inspiring process, unable to take my eyes off it. I repeatedly tested how little energy it would take to cause the tranquil plums of smoke to erupt from what now looked like a bed of coral stretching across the floor. Calmness came over me as I watched the room grow. Now, a simple exhale of breath was all that it needed. I stood there in the corner, gently blowing across their surfaces. The more I exhaled, the more of the spores I inhaled. My anxiety and desperation slipped away.
As the vines of life expanded, taking over and colonizing the walls, the areas around the floor converted to soft tones of jade as little tendrils grew out of the moss-like textures. The white on the table took on brown tones, making it warm and inviting. Almost as if each leg changed before my eyes from an inanimate object into something breathing life anew. Spontaneous generation in the making, the legs took on the appearance of branchless trees, small at first, almost sapling-like, but they grew in diameter, not in height. Each leg grew thick and strong, like a northern pine. The moss-like substance had covered their surfaces, remaining flat and true. The folded chair that lay just off to the side of the table was now a mound of dirt and moss that only slightly resembled its former self. No longer was it a tripping hazard but a comfortable, inviting mound to lie on and get lost within.
As life continued to grow, all signs of artifice disappeared. Only the colours are offered up by life. Though the room remained angled and square, it was no longer an assortment of repairs but a room teeming with life. Its once decrepit walls now stood sure and strengthened, while the collapsing roof had become a glorious canopy above. The dark greens and browns only seemed to enhance the light that shimmered within. Finally, the door through which I entered became engulfed by the growing vines. The room had given me life, and though I knew where I was, I felt it had transported me to someplace new. Someplace I no longer needed to leave.
A low vibration slowly began to fill the room, barely noticeable as it increased in volume as the vegetation around me grew. A calming harmony filled the room. I believed the plants were emitting. With the increased volume came a very subtle melody. I was able to more than hear their sounds, the music of the plants. I was able to feel it as well. Their vibrations were floating around the cabin, a call and response arriving from multiple directions. Vines descended from the ceiling as stocks sprouted from the floor. Areas that had once held the appearance of slime mould were now an intricate collection of branches and leaves that unfolded out of the four walls. The organisms didn’t fight for space, but they grew in harmony. Every fibre of the plant creates part of a beautifully complex song of growth and life. As I lay there, allowing the vibrations to wash over me, panic and fear faded, replaced by hope and desire.
A lifetime was slipping away as if I had always been in this cabin. It was as though this room was a part of me, or I was becoming a part of it. I now lay in the bed that sprang from the once fallen chair. Its contours were comfortable and inviting, questioning my reality as fungi grew from my pant legs and sleeves. My thoughts were fading beyond my control; all I had were memories of dreams. I tried to resist, to keep my ideas as plumes exploded around me, filling my senses and removing my will to fight.
This place felt safe and non-threatening, and everything inside me had become calm and trusting. I felt as if the surrounding room had grown to protect me from outside dangers, receiving the nutrients for body and mind that I so needed. Branches and leaves wrapped my body like silk, cocooning me in the earth’s bosom. She held me deep in her protective embrace. I wondered, if only for an instant, what I would become. For now, I gave myself over without fear or hesitation.
As I closed my eyes, I allowed the calming nature of the room to wash over me. All my worries from yesterday and tomorrow were gone. I was now in a moment of bliss that felt like a lifetime. As I breathed in deeply, the last thing I thought about was the eyes of someone I had never seen before and my desire for them to look upon me, if only for a moment more.
Iner Souster works as a visual artist in Toronto, Canada, as a painter of landscapes and portraiture, a sculptor who creates musical instruments out of reclaimed materials, metal dresses out of hand-spun metal, and a collection of upcycled FauxBots. He is also an illustrator, photographer, and mixed-media artist. As a musician, Iner has recorded with his Junkstruments, producing film and television work. He spent a few years in the theatre as a performer, set designer, and prop builder. As a writer, J. Iner Souster's work has appeared in Spillwords, Friday Flash Fiction, 100 Word Project Issue 2, The Drabble, A Story in 100 Words, Free Flash Fiction, and 101 Word Stories. Iner's short stories have appeared in Wicked Shadow Press's anthology Rise: Stories of the Undead, Flash of the Dead, and Soulmate Syndrome. Iner's short, The Great Mystery, was published by Written Tales Chapbook VII: All About Life. Iner is the winner of the 2022 Friday Flash Fiction Edinburgh Festival Competition.