If you took the wrong turn off the main forest trail, chances were, you could get lost. Anyone knew that. Dylan knew that too, but the need to go see what kinds of berries hung on that bush just a few paces away from the trail overrode his rational thinking. And who knows how to think rationally when you’re ten and only had a couple hard-boiled eggs for breakfast?
Pine needles crunched under his feet as he stepped in between roots and, avoiding raccoon holes, finally made his way to what looked like a blackberry bush. But the berries weren’t blackberries. Number one, they were golden in color. Orange, almost. Number two, they were shaped a bit differently, rounder, as opposed to a conical in shape.
He reached out for one and promptly plopped it in his mouth. A burst of tart sweetness tickled his taste buds and he proceeded at grabbing another one, and another, and another.
“Dylan, where are you?” Angie’s voice pulled him to a halt. He froze with yet another berry barely touching his lips. His freckled face grimaced in exasperation, summer sun dancing across his cheeks.
“I’m coming! Just a minute! I need to pee!” Lying was easy, as always, and Dylan hoped that his sister would let this fly. After all, it was not his idea to go search for mushrooms, and he was tired of being a sidekick to her and her obnoxious friends. She dragged him with her only because she had to look after him while mom and dad were gone shopping. And, of course, on mom’s insistence, she had to get him outside “to get fresh air and not be stuck all day long in front of computer.”
He hated these trips, always either serving as a punching bag for her soon-to-be-boyfriend or a repository for their jokes, starting from his red hair and ending with his jumpy gait.
“Well, make it quick then and get your ass over here. Got it?” Angie called. “Catch up, we’re not waiting for you.” A few choked laughs followed this.
“Sure!” That was directed towards Angie in a bright cheerful voice of a smaller agreeable sibling. “You can suck it.” He added under his breath, and ventured further away, to the next bush.
It took less than a minute for Dylan to clear both of them, since there weren’t many berries to begin with, but when he looked a bit beyond, there was another cluster of bushes in the grove, beckoning him. He shrugged his shoulders and decided that it won’t do any harm if he quickly ventured out there. In a few minutes he was in front of them, grabbing at berries greedily. He took another step and saw a small incline lead to the base of the hill and continue into a clearing of sorts, with something dark standing hidden under the overgrown vines and more golden berry bushes. A hill? No, it was definitely not a hill, but a manmade structure covered with green.
“Whoa!” Dylan exclaimed and promptly forgot about his sister. “I think it’s a house.” His curiosity took over and he sprinted down, falling once and rolling on the grass, picking himself up and making his way to the object in question. The closer he got, the more certain he was it was, indeed, a house. A cabin, perhaps, or a shack, very small, maybe ten feet by ten feet by ten feet…
“Wait, it’s a cube. Its roof is flat.” He stood an arm length away from one of the walls, lush with greenery and completely hidden under a latticework of twisted vine twigs. He was afraid to touch it, afraid to push the leaves apart and see if it was made of wood or of metal, and if there is a door or a window in this wall. Instead, he circled the shack, carefully stepping around, in between what seemed to be a tree wall planted by someone. They grew to close to each other and too close to the shack, leaving only a corridor of about six feet between themselves and the structure. On all four sides.
On the third circle Dylan worked up his courage and came up closer to one of the walls, to where he supposed a door might be, because it was facing the clearing from where he came, so it seemed a logical place to start. He slowly raised his arm, and, trembling, poked a finger quickly and retracted it. Nothing happened. He then pulled the leaves apart and saw that it is indeed made of wood, some old oak or pine, and painted orange and looking old, very old.
“This is so cool…” He muttered and looked back briefly, suddenly wanting the company of Angie and her friends like never before. “I’m not a coward, I don’t need you.” He turned back his head and licked his lips. “You will see. I can do it myself. I will find the door, look inside, and then I will run back and tell you what I found. All alone. You just wait.”
Continuing to mutter. Perhaps more for his own comfort, Dylan gently hovered the palm of his right hand over the blanket over vines. Growing bolder, he tore at a couple of them, exposing wood, orange painted wood. The paint job was ancient, peeling off and hardly looking like orange anymore. Dylan’s heartbeat spiked to double the usual speed, pounding in his ears. His mouth has gone dry, and still he couldn’t tear himself away from the place. A little bit above the line of his eye sight, to the left, he saw what looked like a gap. Sure enough, when he traced it with his finger, right about the height of his waist, he found a doorknob, rough to touch. He grabbed it and turned.
“What the hell am I doing?” The hinges creaked its rusty song and the door opened an inch, held back together by the vegetation. A smell of berries hit Dylan’s nose. No, it was better than berries, it smelled like berry pie. He expected a dunk odor of mold and old wood, so this delighted him and he broke into a smile.
“I’ll only take a quick peak…” He said, and stuck his face close to the gap, simultaneously thinking back to all the R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps stories and feeling his spine turn to ice at the idea that someone, worse, something, might grab his nose right this minute and…
He shrieked and without having taken a peak inside fell on his butt and proceeded to crab-walk backwards on all fours, suddenly terrified of the place. The door stood ajar, as if waiting for him to proceed, and the smell became stronger. Dylan waited a minute. No scary monster poked his head out of the shack, no undead being stumbled out, and Dylan’s breathing returned to normal. He sat and brushed his dirty hands on his blue jeans, then licked the right one and smoothed his unruly red hair.
“Okay, okay, it’s just a fig-ment of my imagination.” Dylan loved new words and this was the perfect occasion to use the word figment which he learned from reading the other day. “I’m in a park. It’s not even a real forest, so nothing creepy can happen here. Nothing.” The insatiable need to know what smelled to deliciously inside got him on his feet and poking his nose inside again.
He took a deep breath and let it out, disappointed, grabbing the door and pulling it open halfway.
Inside it was dark, but sheets of light broke in between the wooden slats of the walls and the ceiling, which wasn’t so much a ceiling as it was a top side of a cube, because the interior was perfectly square in any way you looked at it. In the middle of the wooden floor lay a small colorful cube.
“What the hell is that? It can’t be this thing smelling, can it?” Without thinking, Dylan took a step in and kneeled next to the object.
“A Rubik’s cube!” He exclaimed and picked it up. “A scented one. Weird. I’ve never seen one like that before.” The cube smelled deliciously, a fragrance that suggested it might be made out of the berries he just ate as opposed to plastic. And it was hopelessly scrambled.
“Whoever left it here, didn’t know nothing about solving Rubik’s cubes. But I do, ha!” Dylan said, without any premonition about how right he was saying it just this very moment, and how wrong he was saying it just this very moment. Because the next moment, he turned it this way and that, then fixed his stare on what he decided will be the top, with yellow center, and twisted the side that had an orange center. The cube’s orange face pivoted, and for a second Dylan felt like the floor moved, but he ignored it, too concentrated on the puzzle at hand. He clicked the whole side in place, and simultaneously the same click, but amplified tenfold, emanated from behind his back. By the time he turned his head around and realized what was happening, the entire wall behind him, the one that was painted orange and had a door, shifted, rotated, and locked itself in a new position, door shut.
“NO!” He screamed, dropped the cube and run up to the door. There was no door. In fact, the walls ceased to be wooden, they were plastic now, solid, with strangle colored light oozing from each of them, all mixed up. Red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and white.
“Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT! ANGIE!!!” Dylan pounded on the walls, screaming his head off and finding himself on the throes of panic, his legs feeling weak, his knees growing soft, his eyes filling with water and spilling on his face in angry tears.
“I said, let me out! Please! I don’t want to die!” He pounded on each wall in turn, to no avail. The only effect was dull sounding thuds produced by his fists and his face smeared with snot as he tried to wipe off his face. Finally, he lifted his t-shirt, blew his nose into it and decided to think straight for a second.
“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die…” He sniffled, involuntarily picking up the cube and turning it in his hands. “Wait a second. Is this…” Understanding downed on him, and he looked around to confirm it, pointing at each wall and calling out its color, ending on the ceiling. “They’re Rubik’s cube sides, and I’m inside! So maybe all I have to do is solve it and it will let me out. Will you?” He asked out loud.
Silence greeted him. Dylan sat on the floor, cube in his hand, paralyzed, his eyes open wide in fear, multiple colors of light playing on his pale skin. His hands shook and his face got covered with a sheen of cold sweat. “If it’s a joke, it’s stupid.” He said, thinking back to Angie and wishing with all his might to turn back the time and never venture out for those berries. “All right then. Let’s see here.”
He sniffed once more and set to trying to solve the riddle. Each time he turned the face of the cube, a wall shifted and he got thrown around to it, because gravity shifted and whatever wall corresponded to the face he was pivoting, became the floor. At first he shrieked, but after a few of these tumbles he got used to them and didn’t even mind hitting his head on the walls. After all, they appeared to be made of plastic and didn’t hurt that much. Puzzle solving frenzy took over him, especially because his father bought him one recently and he was spending all his free time reading tricks online and watching YouTube videos on how to solve one. The toughest part was the last layer, and it took him what seemed like an eternity. At last, exhausted yet exhilarated, Dylan clicked the bottom face in place, and the floor shook him off to the neighboring wall, opening up into a door.
Fresh summer air gushed through it, and Dylan, beside himself, tossed the cube away and crawled out of the shack on all fours, crying and sobbing and continuing forward until he made it about ten feet away from the grove of trees at the bottom of the clearing. Then, and only then, did he turn his head back.
The woods looked at him, wondering what exactly was he staring at. The shack simply wasn’t there.
The trees that grew in a strange fence-like manner weren’t there either, replaced by an irregular growth of furs. Dylan gasped, but was unable to say anything, was unable to even call Angie for help, wondering if it was maybe the next day, because the sun was as high as when it was at ten in the morning, when he and his sister with her friends took off into the woods from the parking lot. His tongue simply wouldn’t move, and in this state he proceeded to crawl until he made it to the bushes with fragrantly smelling golden berries on top of the incline.
“Dylan! Dylan!” Multiple calls echoed around and somebody nearly tripped over him. He could only turn around and lay down on his back.
“Dylan, Christ, are you out of your mind? Where the hell were you when I was calling? Jesus!” Angie leaned over him, her face contorted in a genuine mask of concern. “Are you all right?” She added, her voice scared now.
“Angie-doll, did you find him?” Matt, her soon-to-be-boyfriend stepped out from behind her back. “Guys, over here!” He shouted.
“What happened? What–” Angie started.
“I… berries.” Dylan said, pointing at the bush above, quickly weaving a story in his mind.
“You ate those??? Are you crazy? What if they’re poisonous!” Angie exclaimed and proceeded to give out her botanical knowledge of all things weeds, which wasn’t much.
Dylan tuned her out and turned his head to the left, his gaze tracing all the way across the clearing. He thought that maybe for a moment he saw the cube-house and the grove of trees around it. He blinked and it was gone.
I’ll come here again. I’ll tell Max and we’ll come here together.
“Dylan, are you listening to me?” Angie’s voice brought him back.
“Yeah, sorry.” Dylan said. “But those berries were good. Very sweet. And so… orange. I wonder if… I wonder if there are red ones on the other side, and maybe blue ones that way…”