Max and the mushrooms (4) – (Max narrates)

It was my thirteenth birthday; six whole months had flown by since we’d moved to the little Berkshire village, all the way from Cornwall. I rather missed my early morning dog walks; down on the beach – waves crashing off the rocks as the sun rose: beaming like a distant, hazy sphere; bright orange glow, spellbinding horizons, beach BBQs over long, lazy, sun-drenched days. Anyway – that was over, now it was tall, woody forests, luscious acres of rolling green fields, and a strong stench of manure. Enough to make you retch up your breakfast; which is exactly what I did the morning my friend Jam knocked on the door and force-fed me a magic mushroom.

Standing on the doorstep: grey hoody, baggy blue jeans, and sizeable yellow beanie (joint smoking baby on the logo) – stood the five-two drug lord; his overgrown blonde hair projecting from the fold of his hat, dangling in his excitable blue eyes like a shaggy sheepdog, waiting to be walked. ‘Check this out’ he exclaimed – pulling a handful of pointy-headed, dark, mini mushrooms deep from his zip pocket. ‘They look nice!’ was my instinctive, sarcastic response. ‘Don’t be ungrateful!’ Jam replied – before the force-feeding began – ‘they’re for your birthday!’

My parents’ house was part of an 80s style cul-de-sac – neat looking, square boxes with minimal character, but fully functional for a family of four. Luckily for us – the other occupants had vacated for the morning: walking Rex – our cross-eyed spaniel, with gammon slab tongue and bark that sounded disturbingly like a woman screaming. Checking the clock – we had at least an hour to experiment and celebrate my first day as a teenager.

The mini mushroom tasted revolting, like a slimy, earthy slug – slipping its way through my digestive system. I couldn’t hold it down – like a spawning tadpole – I ran to the sink. The adrenaline took over; barging Jam out the way I flung the bathroom door open and burst like a broken pipe. The immaculate, porcelain sink, became a deep, despairing swamp: filled to the brim with stinking, glutinous, black and brown sick – with a few cheerios floating on the surface – like muddy inflatable rings. I’d never seen anything like it.

‘Maybe we should boil it like tea?’ – was Jam’s heartfelt, sympathetic response. As I turned to face him, hunched over the sink – I caught a reflection of myself in the mirror; pale at the best of times – now looking like I was dressed for Halloween: painted ghostly white, spooky green eyes, and an intricate ginger afro – resembling a clown’s wig; ‘pennywise the puking clown’ was Jam’s hilarious joke: before I punched him as hard as I could on the arm – making him scream like my dog.

Eagerly perched on my white leather sofa: it was time for Saturday morning tea and biscuits. Jam tried to convince me that ‘it’s just like cuppa soup’ – so I necked a cup, trying to think nice thoughts, and not puke on my Mum’s Persian silk rug. Jam’s strategy was to soak up the brown juice with his digestives – mashing up the sweet biscuits with his pursed lips – looking like a grandad sucking a boiled sweet. After a couple of cups each – we decided to clear up the crime scene and make a run for it – before any sober beings returned. A quick note on the side – “gone to the park” and it was time to let the adventure begin.

There was a crispness in the air that mid-October morning; an abruptness that tells you summer has gone: time for your gloomy winter sentence to start. Nevertheless – the old village still had its community spirit; kids riding their bikes, a whistling postie – still in shorts, and in the distance – getting closer – an old lady – big, butch – stomping down the street, side to side: looking like the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. I turned to face Jam, but he was miles away – looking horizontal – like the wind was pulling him backwards. The marshmallow was getting closer, and closer, mouth wide open; something came out, but the words weren’t in order, so I sank to the pavement laughing – uncontrollably.

Jam was back now – he had an orange stick – he told me it came from space as he glided it through the clouds, assiduously; fiery traces of light glowing majestically – it was beautiful. ‘We need to follow the light’ Jam exclaimed with an earnest sense of conviction – ‘the stick will guide us’. I tried to touch the stick, but my hand was too huge, bright yellow and warm: like I was holding the sun. We must have understood each other’s thoughts as we both began to swim towards the woods; the road had turned into jelly and there was no way anyone could walk on it.

We swam forever, miles it seemed – until a progressive beeping sound caused us to drag ourselves to the side. The laughter was contagious – not that the potato driving the children’s car would have agreed. The giant spud spoke Russian, small black moustache and specs, mouth opening and shutting like Pac-man as he hovered past; slowly disappearing with loud foreign music, blasting out his buggy. We knew we had to get away from the darkness, the people – the enemies, they were coming for us.

Jam held the stick high as it guided us to the woods; a couple of evil-looking kids came screeching past on bikes. We began to make haste – the tunnel to the other side in site. Finally free – we entered the planet of safety. It was like another world, a jungle in space; new breeds of alien birds with purple beaks, dipping at puddles with sharp tongues. Trees that went up for miles; glowing in fairy lights as the sound of baboons echoed through the forest.

We came across a stream – now a canyon – deep, rocky, perpetual cliff edges – tantalizing vertigo, must hold on; ‘wow’ I said to Jam – he faced me – his bloated pupils and glittery green face – grinning in agreement. We sat by the stream, mesmerised by the beauty of it, slowly sinking back to earth. I had no recollection of time, or how long we’d been on our adventure; when the brightness began to slip away and a heavy, exhausting dankness began to cloud my mood – I knew the fun was over. Jam looked at me, announcing – ‘best day ever?’; it was certainly a birthday I’ll never forget.


A.T Hawthorn – 26.10.19


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