Come to Pitskerry Island!

A new start! Sublime landscape! Unique ecology! Zero violent crimes! We want you to join our community!

The garish flyer screams up from your doormat. An illustrated border of tiny toadstools rings the text, the kind you’d find in a children’s story, all coloured a dark shade of red.

The air changed in consistency as the ferry neared Pitskerry. It went from that seawater cocktail – fresh fish with salt and seaweed – to something thicker, mustier, ripe. From a distance I could see the island exactly as it had been illustrated in the flyer: half town, half forest, all rocks, choppy waves and anger.

There were more people around than I expected. Not hundreds, of course, not an isolating cacophony, just a small bustling crowd, women clad in overalls and caps and fishing waders. One stood, waiting at the port and carrying a sign in gloved hands, my name painted on it in dark red. She was pale, pallid, her skin so soft looking I thought her face might immediately bruise a dark grey if I merely pressed a finger to it. She beamed at me as I approached.

“Morning!” I called, waving as I walked towards her. The woman said nothing. Instead, there was a brief reaction from the people around me, as if I had shouted, their faces turned toward me, then away quickly. But the woman just nodded, pointed further into Pitskerry, then gestured as if I should follow.

black and white photo of leaves

I do, and we walk past a sign on the road ‘Welcome to beautiful Pitskerry. Population 53’. The ‘3’ was a darker red, freshly painted. Most of those fifty-three must be outside today, I thought, watching the marketplace breathe as flowers, coffee, juice were exchanged.

Walking through the crowd I notice that nobody speaks, not even to order a pastry from the stall, nor to navigate a busy crossing. It’s not unfriendly – they still nod, smile, conduct transactions perfectly well without words, even gesture animatedly in the manner of conversation. People flow down streets, round corners, into buildings, like signals silently shooting through a nervous system. The air still smells musty, like a cupboard that’s been shut for too long. Sweet, like a malted biscuit or rotting potatoes, wet and sticky like growing earth.

A smattering of pastel cottages dot the space between the main part of town and the forest. She led me to the lemon yellow one at the edge of the trees. She left me there and I closed my eyes to rest for just a moment.

I was woken in darkness with a knock at the door.

A different day it might not have made any impression, been relegated to the recycling, but that day, it settled in your brain and grew roots. Not long afterwards you rang the number on the leaflet, enquire about offer of a free cottage on Pitskerry, book a ferry.

Come to Pitskerry Island! A new start! Sublime landscape! Unique ecology! Zero violent crimes! We want you to join our community!


I grasped for my phone to check the time, but found it wasn’t on the small bedside table. How had I managed to sleep with this smell? Musty and deep and sticky, thick, like soil. Mouldy, rotten, like earth that’s had something die in it, turn to fungus, spread powdery roots.

The woman at my door was the same one who collected me from the pier, her cloudy white face still set in that same rigidly joyful smile. Her hand spread outward at me, palm up in a gesture of offering. The glove she wore earlier had been removed, and I could see a single mushroom growing from the centre of her palm. No join between it and her skin; her pallid palm turns seamlessly to pallid fungus.

Suddenly, spores hit my nose, a small puff of them emanating from her palm directly into my lungs.

But then, I could hear. She tells me not to be alarmed, that her name is Fern, her best friend’s name is Sage, that since they’d come here and made the change they were never alone. She smiles, open mouthed, and I see her tongue is all mushroom-cap, scaly, and white as her skin.

Once more she gestures for me to follow her and once more I did, cautiously stepping barefoot, towards the dark forest.

Black and white photo of a hand cupping a tree trunk

As we walked through the trees, over roots, under vines, she continued to speak, mouth motionless. Their community, she was telling me, lived in harmony since the change. Since the elder woman, in a rage at their small community being wrecked once more by violence, walked into the forest and returned to Mother Fungus, brought her back to the community. Since they joined the Mother Fungus and threw those who refused to the waves.

“Mushrooms communicate faster than anyone can understand, do you know? They’re almost one organism, still individuals, but their mycelium is one.”

So, I had a choice. “No individual can leave the mycelium. You stay here, you’re one of our community, forever. You know and love the women here, you’re free from violence, from arguments, from lonely crowds. But a mushroom dies when uprooted. Join us, and you cannot leave. But you become part of the community and you thrive. You have a choice.”

We'd walked up to the outskirts of Mother Fungus, I realised. Large, beautiful living plate mushrooms, pink, orange, ghostly grey-white, spread across the forest until the trees were too thick to see them. And that smell, overripe, like earth birthing something sweet and alive.

You say yes, plunge your hands, your bare feet, your face, into the Mother in the midst of the wood. Feel stipes and stalks growing through your nose, spores running through your lungs. You feel the veil and gills sprouting and moulding through your blood vessels. Mushroom cap pushing through the skin on your shoulder, the back of your throat. You feel the mycelium. Feel each one of fifty-three people. You speak silently, know it is heard throughout Pitskerry.

Come to Pitskerry Island! We want you to join our community!

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