The Glass Mushroom

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Well, let’s see, we’ve had to throw ourselves on the mercy of your parents for a place to sleep, you’ve got an unhealthy obsession with Topshop, and we’ve been transported back in time by a hideous lamp!”


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Length: words

The Glass Mushroom by spiderweb_kiss

Noel stopped in the rainy street and peered into the crowded window of a junk shop. “Noel,” Julian groaned.

“Just a little peek, Ju! I promise I’ll be quick!”

The misty rain was beginning to sink through Julian’s bulky jacket and he was achingly cold, so he capitulated. Noel did a little skip as he opened the door. “Jesus,” Julian muttered, rolling his eyes. Noel stuck his tongue out.

A musty smell, of yellowing books and old smoke and dust, made itself apparent as soon as they stepped inside. But it was warm and—more importantly—dry, so Julian said nothing. Their entrance had triggered a mellow gold bell at the back of the shop, and a short man in a grey jumper appeared at the counter. “Can I help you?”

Julian shook his head. “Just browsing.”

A rail draped in disastrous 1970s clothes was bolted to the back wall, but Noel blessedly made a beeline for some chunky Perspex furniture. Julian began poking a hideous green-and-red-herringbone cushion, and then moved on to browsing the shop’s paltry vinyl section.

“Look at this, Ju!” Noel said, holding aloft a disgusting lamp. The bright red of the glass shade hurt Julian’s eyes, even through the thick layer of dust it had accumulated. It had obviously been in the shop for quite a while. “This is brilliant,” Noel said, “We could buy it for the flat!”

Julian was beginning to regret agreeing to move in with Noel.

“It could go on that little table you bought last week,” Noel observed, upending the lamp to look for a price. “Looks authentic. 1980s, I reckon.”

No. Not this. He had let Noel keep that Warhol-y self-portrait, he’d let Noel choose the sofa, but he was not, NOT, having this thing in his home. “It’s disgusting,” Julian said, “Put it down.”

“What? It’s brilliant!”

Julian tried to foist the lamp from Noel’s slender hands, but the electropoof fought back.

“It looks like a glass mushroom!”

“It’s retro, yeah?”

“No, it’s shit!”

“Let go, you tart!”

“No! Put it down!”

The lamp flickered to life, which was strange because it wasn’t plugged into anything. Noel and Julian stopped fighting, stopped tugging, and stared down at it.

And then time exploded. It was like being drunk in a crowded place, voices and images rushing past in a sickening whirl. A blur of filthy London scenes blossomed and died like rotting flowers around them.

Just as Julian was sure he was going to throw up, they landed in a heap on a grimy floor. Lights flickered above them from turquoise to ruby to emerald, a shimmer of cigarette smoke and glitter curling above their heads. Music pumped and glimmered with vibrations that seemed to tear the air, and a small crowd of oddly-dressed people had collected around them.

“You alright?” Julian asked Noel quietly, helping him to his feet and assuring the people they were fine. Noel was more disorientated, stumbling and muttering things about some people just not understanding retro lamps.

They were in a nightclub, it transpired, a nightclub where everyone was dressed in loud fabrics, hair teased into wild manes even Vince Noir couldn’t manage, make-up artfully smeared Cleopatra-style around their wide eyes.

Noel quite liked it.

“But where are we, you berk?” Julian kept hissing in his ear as they negotiated the throng of people. They were attracting a lot of stares—Julian wasn’t sure if it was because of the way he was dressed, their odd entrance, or if it was simply because Noel was so beautiful.

“Dunno,” Noel replied absently, “Look at that girl’s boots! Genius! I’m gonna ask her where she got them—” Julian grabbed Noel’s collar and pulled him back, choking him a bit.

“Noel, does it not disturb you in the slightest that under five minutes ago, we arguing over a lamp in a charity shop, and now we’re in a hellishly-decorated nightclub?”

A vacant shrug. Julian steered Noel to the exit, barging past the people in dated outfits. Lots of them had shoulder pads. What the fuck was going on?

They tumbled out of the exit, into the damp, cold night. They were in Camden. “Fair enough,” Noel muttered, looking around. Then he nudged his friend. “Oi, Ju, d’you think it’s too late to pop into Cyberdog? I saw one of those cool belts in there the other day, and—”

Julian wasn’t listening. A wet sheet of a newspaper had just flown into his leg, buffeted on the rainy winter breeze. The date at the top of the page was October 2nd, 1983.

“—Chris Corner had one like it, but I reckon I’d pull it off better, got more of an arse than he has—”


“—And besides, if I get it in a different colour, it won’t look like I copied him—”



Julian gestured broadly, waving his hands at all the weird things that shouldn’t, by all rights, be going on. “Look at the Elephant’s Head!” He bellowed.

The pub that they knew so well, the pub they’d used myriad times for filming, the pub Noel was obsessed with, wasn’t even there. In its place was a tattered-looking Tammy. Noel fell silent; Julian shoved the wet newspaper into his hands.

“What am I looking at?” Noel asked, unsettled. Something wasn’t right. He repeated this for Julian’s benefit.

“Of course something’s not bloody right!” Julian yelled, “We’re in 1983!”

Noel scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

After a few wrong turns while negotiating the 1983 Tube system, Noel and Julian stood outside the building where their new flat (had they been in the correct decade) should have been. They hadn’t been sure what else to do, so they’d come here.

They were sitting on a low garden wall. The wet privet bush behind them brushed their skin, scented their hair with rainwater. Julian felt a bit numb.

Noel was confused. “But why?” he said. It was pretty much the only thing he’d been saying for the past half hour.

Julian shrugged, leafing through his wallet. He had a couple of credit cards but knew full well that they wouldn’t work. “How much money do you have, Noel?”

Shrugging, Noel got up off the wall and dug around his back pocket. He held out his pale white hands, showing Julian the contents of his pockets: €3.50 in small change, a Topshop store card and a sequin. Julian groaned.

“I guess that’s hotels ruled out then.”

“We could busk,” Noel offered.



Choosing to ignore this suggestion, Julian sighed again and started thinking. “OK. So we were in the junk shop, and then everything went wobbly, and now we’re in 1983.”

“Could have been the lamp,” Noel said vaguely. He was busy inspecting a very retro-looking powder pink car that was parked in the street.

“The what?” Julian snapped, but then it made sense. The lamp. That fucking lamp. “Noel, come on. We’re going back to the junk shop and complaining to the owner.”

Stuffing his hands in his bomber jacket, Noel remained still and stared at Julian. “Ju. It’s the middle of the night. The trains aren’t running. The shop will be closed. Besides, d’you really want to be thrown in the wacky shack?”

Nodding dejectedly, Julian sat back down on the wall. The sounds of a city falling asleep were all around them: the quiet wet tearing noise of cars on the rain-slicked roads, the distant call of drunken revellers going home, the subliminal hum of streetlights. Noel was wandering around: walking into the glittering black road, kicking the puddles of dirty rainwater, kneeling down beside Julian’s legs—

“What are you doing?”

“Sitting down. The wall was hurting my arse.”

They fell silent again, until Noel started twitching on the wet ground and listing all the things they didn’t have in 1983. “Nicky Clark straighteners, MP3 players, The Boosh, gel pens, Mike—”

Julian frowned. “Mike is 26, Noel, which means he was born in nineteen-eighty-one.”

“Well, do you see him around?” Noel pointed out. Mike was more or less Noel’s official caretaker, talking him out of the tantrums that Julian only exacerbated, making sure he fed himself properly, fixing his computer whenever it broke (which was often). “Even if we did find him, he’d be two years old,” Noel continued. “Which is no good to anybody.”

“Mike lived with your parents.”

“And what?” Noel’s head tilted until it was resting against Julian’s leg.

“Well… Can’t we just go to your old house and ask to stay with them?” Julian asked.

Noel looked up at him, unable to comprehend the utter stupidity of this. “First of all, Ju, have you met my mum? She’s never gonna believe we’re from the future. She might not even recognise me as her son! And also, I’ll be living there, too. Only I’ll be ten. And thirdly—”

“Fine,” Julian muttered, “We’ll sleep on the streets with all the other tramps. I’m not the one that will get interfered with—you’re the skinny one.”

The woman who answered the door had a pretty, angular face. Noel had forgotten how young his mother was when she had him. “Hi,” he said, watching her slightly guarded expression and the way she eyed Julian. “You’re probably going to shut the door in my face, but I’m Noel, your son, and I’ve come from the future—”

The door slammed shut, making them both jump. “MUM!” Noel yelled, pounding on the door. “Fucking open the door!”

Inside, the sounds of Noel’s mum calling for her husband to fetch the shotgun were vaguely audible.

“Maybe we should go,” Julian said, tugging nervously on Noel’s belt loops.

Noel didn’t reply; he was yelling information about himself through the door. “I was born on May 21st! I don’t have a middle name! Mum! I drew you a picture of a giraffe and its on the fridge! I broke my arm when I was twelve—”

“Noel,” Julian interrupted, quietly, “That hasn’t happened yet.”

“—Alright, I bought Mike a stuffed toy with my pocket money when he was a baby and he hates it!”

The sounds of a latch scratching and a couple of mumbled words from the other side of the door. And then it opened. Noel’s parents stood in the hallway, inspecting him and Julian. There was a terse pause, and then Noel’s dad cracked a smile.

“The future, eh?” he said, and—not giving them a chance to answer—“Who’s this?”

“Julian, he’s my friend.”

In unison, Noel’s parents stepped aside to let them in. Noel and Julian breathed out identical sighs of relief. “I knew your parents were weird,” Julian said under his breath to Noel as the went inside, “But I never thought they’d actually believe us.”

The guest bedroom at Noel’s parents’ house was flowery and girly, but clean. It also only had one bed, which Noel was now standing beside, stripping off. Julian tried not to look.

He failed, as usual. Noel’s body was beautiful, there was no other word for it. His bare, slightly golden skin was smooth and (Julian would wager) soft, his delicate back sweeping into an elegant curve and his gorgeous hips just slim enough to be androgynous, sexy.

It wasn’t that Julian had any unnatural feelings for Noel. God, no.

“Sorry we have to share a bed,” Noel murmured, already sliding under the covers. “I’d offer to go on the floor, but—” His face wrinkled into an adorable pout.

“Nah, it’s fine.” Under Noel’s expectant gaze, Julian felt he had no choice but to throw off his t-shirt and jeans, too. He crossed the room to switch the lights off.

The darkness was incredibly comforting after the gaseous, artificial whiteness. The atmosphere in the room went sodden and tense as Julian negotiated his way around the bed and got in. The double bed was spacious, but Noel’s long, smooth body seemed to be sprawled across the entire thing.

“I’ve got no room,” Julian whinged.

“Me neither,” Noel said, shifting on the rough warm sheets. They smelled familiar, of washing powder and home.

“Bollocks you haven’t.”

“Fine, I’ll move!” Noel griped, his voice rising in pitch. He shifted away, far away, until he was on the edge of the bed. “Happy now?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“Well I’m not.” Noel moved back, flinging himself so that his body really did take up all of the bed.

Problem was, now he was half-lying on Julian and the skin-on-skin contact made both of them lose their breath. Neither moved, or said anything. Noel knew he’d eventually have to get off before Julian recovered and punched him.

The rustling of bedclothes wafted the scent of washing powder, and Noel flinched. But Julian’s arms only encircled his ridiculously thin waist and pulled him close. “Drama queen,” Julian whispered in his ear, hot breath making Noel shiver.

Though he prided himself on being very sharp, Noel couldn’t formulate an answer. He elbowed Julian lightly in the ribs, and then Julian pinched Noel’s stomach. They both tensed again. Julian’s hand lay flat on Noel’s tightly muscled stomach, and the longer it stayed there the more awkward the moment became.

Finally, Noel relaxed and shifted so that they were pressed as close as possible. He turned, awkwardly kissing Julian’s mouth. It was so quick, so fleeting, so much like a scrap of silk brushing Julian’s mouth, that he barely noticed it had happened until it was over.


“ ‘Night, Ju.”

In the morning, Noel bustled around the kitchen making peanut butter and chocolate spread toast. The kettle was boiling, sending curlicues of smoke towards the ceiling, and a couple of hash browns were frying on the hob. Julian sat at the kitchen table silently watching Noel.

Awkward, much?

A dark-haired toddler came into the room, tugging self-consciously at his Transformers pyjamas. Though his features were soft and babyish, Julian automatically recognised him. “Hey,” he said, trying to be friendly, but the child was already backing towards the doorway fearfully.

Noel turned around, forsaking his sugary breakfast for a minute. “Jesus!” he squeaked, and then, pulling himself together, “Hello, Mike.”

The child cocked his head to the side, looking at the tall, lithe man at the sink. Julian supposed that on some level Mike recognised his brother, but really it was probably just Noel’s guileless ability to make everyone like him. The toddler went up to his brother, allowing himself to be picked up and cradled against Noel’s hip.

While being utterly mind-bending to see Mike as a two-year-old, cradled in his brother’s arms like that, the sight made Julian smile uncontrollably.

“Hey, Mikes,” Noel was saying, beaming, “I’m—”

Julian shook his head frantically. They weren’t yet sure what would happen if the 10-year-old Noel was to meet his adult self, and how could they expect a toddler to keep a secret like this from his brother?

“I’m… Vince,” Noel told the child, who was busy staring at Noel’s toast.

“What’s that?”

“Peanut butter and chocolate spread on toast,” Noel said proudly, taking a piece with his free hand and giving it to Mike.

“My brother eats this. He’s called Noel.”

“Wow,” Noel said enthusiastically, “He sounds cool.”

“Nope. He’s a bitch,” Mike said, with all the venom a two-year-old can muster.

Noel almost dropped his little brother in shock. Julian spluttered with laughter.

Mike was fussing to be let down, so Noel gently lowered him to the floor and watched in a dazed state as the little boy ran out of the kitchen.

“He’s a bitch,” Julian repeated, grinning. “I wonder where he learned that.” The tension had eased a bit, and as Noel brought their plates to the table (the toast and a banana for Noel, hash browns for Julian) they fell into a conversation. They were chatting quietly about their situation when Noel’s mum came in wearing a dressing gown. Noel did not miss Julian glance momentarily at her legs, and kicked his friend under the table.

“Oh,” she said. “You’ve already got breakfast. Noel-I mean… the young Noel… is still asleep. You’d better go out before he wakes up.”

“Thanks, Mum,” Noel said through a mouth of toast, spraying crumbs at Julian and receiving a glare. “We’re going to try and find the lamp. Can we have a lift to Portobello?”

“No way. You’re a grown man, Noel. Get the train.”

“Fucking British Rail,” Noel muttered darkly under his breath, pulling his jacket tightly around him. It was freezing, the sort of winter morning where the pale gold sunlight was cold and cast sharp shadows on the ground. “Where was that shop, again?”

They were walking up Portobello Road slowly, glancing around them in search of something familiar. “There!” Julian shouted, squinting as he spotted a familiar shop front in the distance. A few people stared at him, but neither he nor Noel noticed. The junk shop was exactly where they remembered it. It was even painted the same colour.

The closer they got, though, the clearer it became that the words “PETERSON’S FISHMONGERS” were painted on the window. Stopping outside the offending fishery, they stared at the window for along time. “Are you sure this was the one, Ju?” Noel asked, with a sinking feeling.

Julian nodded, speechless. It had never occurred to him that the junk shop might not have been opened yet. “What do we do now?” Julian asked, looking bewilderedly around.

Shrugging, Noel scuffed his boots on the icy pavement. “Dunno. D’you think Topshop will be open?”

“For fuck’s sake, Noel!”

Noel looked up bewilderedly, big blue eyes wide. “What’s wrong?” They’d had six disagreements since waking up wrapped around each other that morning.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Well, let’s see, we’ve had to throw ourselves on the mercy of your parents for a place to sleep, you’ve got an unhealthy obsession with Topshop, and we’ve been transported back in time by a hideous lamp!”

It was several seconds before Julian realised he’d gone too far. Noel’s dangerous, moody side was beginning to shine through. He glared a piercing, bright blue glare. “You’ve got to calm down,” he snapped. “You’ve been acting like a maniac all day and it’s not fucking helping any.”

“I’ve been acting like a maniac? You were the one who fucking—” Julian stopped himself. Yelling at Noel about what had happened the night before was not going to help in the slightest.

It was too late, anyway. Because Noel was storming off down the road, barging past people to get away. Julian followed, being forced to sprint as Noel sped up. Neither of them knew where they were going and eventually Noel’s high-heeled boots slowed him down.

They slowed to a halt in a residential street where the skeletal, leafless trees reached meet the white sky. Noel leant on the silvery bark of one of the trees, catching his breath and waiting, red-faced, for Julian to catch up.

Breath crystallised into puffs of white smoke as their panting calmed down. The first thing Julian said was, “Was that really necessary?”

“Nah,” Noel said, grinning cheekily, “I just figured you could use some exercise, old man.” He poked Julian in the stomach and Julian flinched. Noel’s face fell as he realised they were still being serious.

“Look… I’m sorry. But you really fucked with my head last night,” Julian admitted, quietly.

Oh shit, Noel thought to himself. Oh shit. Why did you think you could do something like that without Julian freaking out? Fuck. “What—” His voice shook. “What about last night?” he asked, guardedly.

Julian’s stare was a hot hazel, burning right to the core of Noel’s being. “You know what. You just… kissed me.”

“But I thought—” Noel started, and then hastily shut up. I thought you loved me too. I thought all those looks and mutterings in your sleep meant that you wanted me just as much as I fucking want you, Julian.

For his part, Julian was beginning to feel a gnawing guilt at the pit of his stomach. He knew he’d been sending Noel some horribly mixed signals all year (partly because of his own denial) and if Noel felt anything like he did, it was no surprise they’d ended up in this situation. See, Noel was fluid, and emotional, and bound to just go for something if he wanted it. Julian made rules for himself in his head, rules about it not being gay as long as it was only physical, rules about not giving in to what he wanted or he’d only get hurt.

And now Noel was going to get hurt. In that moment, there on a cold morning in 24 years in the past, Julian decided that he hated himself. “Oh Noel,” he croaked. “I’m all fucked up inside.”

Then, all of a sudden, they were clinging to each other and crying freezing tears that stung their cheeks. “I really think I want you,” Julian was sobbing into Noel’s hair, “but you have to understand that I can’t-I really can’t. I’m too used to being your friend, and I… If you’d done this sooner, when we first met, it probably would have been different, but—”

Noel had gone rigid in Julian’s arms, and the older man pulled away. At first he thought Noel was angry, but then he saw that the younger man was staring past him into one of the houses. Following Noel’s gaze, Julian saw the hideous form of the red glass lamp in somebody’s window.

“Think we can buy it off ‘em?” Noel asked, quietly.

“OK,” Noel’s mother said, putting the disgusting lamp down on the kitchen table. She, her husband, Mike, the adult Noel and Julian were all congregated in the kitchen. “How do we… do this?” she asked.

Noel and Julian glanced at each other, trying to remember what been happening before they were suddenly flung back in time.

“Rub it?” Suggested Noel’s dad from his perch on the kitchen counter.

Noel rolled his eyes. “With your awful sense of humour around me during my formative years,” he murmured, “It’s a wonder I ever became a comedian.”

“Noel!” Julian yelped. “We’re not supposed to talk about the future! We might accidentally change something, and go back and everything will be all wrong!”

Another eye-roll. Julian had obviously been watching too many time travel films.

“A comedian?” This was Noel’s mum, who looked apprehensive about the whole thing.

Mike was looking from his mum, to his dad, to Noel, to the strange moustache-ed man he didn’t like. He was awfully confused.

“Can we get back to the subject?” Julian said, testily.

Noel shrugged, looking down at Mike as he gently stroked his hair. “Maybe if we both just—” he made a vague gesture, “—Hold on to it, like we were doing when the time-funk happened.”

They all nodded, and then went about saying their goodbyes. Noel hugged both his parents, picked Mike up and planted a kiss on his cheek, and then waited for Julian to finish shaking everyone’s hands. Something still gnawed away at Noel, a wrenching hurt in his chest. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Julian rejecting him. Still, if his plan worked, it would all be sorted out soon enough.

Smiling shakily at one another, Noel and Julian took hold of the lamp in unison.

The lamp flickered on, glowing a series of eye-ache-inducing colours. The room began to ripple and swirl, colours running together and then forming new shapes as minutes, days, years whirled past. The roar of time in their ears was deafening.

When the cacophony stopped, they were tangled together in a swathe of black bed sheets, naked as the day they were born. Noel sat up in bed, propping himself up on his elbows. Julian was asleep beside him with a dreamy grin on his face.

It slowly registered with Noel that they were in their new flat. The mattress they were lying on was on the floor, and cardboard boxes full of their possessions were piled around them like towers. An empty bottle of champagne was rolling around on the hardwood floor with two fluted glasses either side of it. Julian’s 2007 planner was lying on top of a pile of take-out menus.

“We’re home,” Noel muttered to himself, grinning uncontrollably. Julian snorted in his sleep and shifted, throwing the covers off and revealing an expanse of perfect creamy skin. Indulgently, Noel leant down and placed a kiss on his friend’s stomach. It didn’t wake him up.

Noel had not been sure if his plan was going to work, but after Julian’s tearful rejection he hadn’t known what else to do. So, before he left 1983, he wrote a letter to his younger self in the hopes it might change things. He stashed it in the fireplace in his bedroom, where—if he remembered correctly—the younger Noel would eventually end up hiding his porn.

DEAR NOEL, it had read,

Here is some advice for you, from someone you can trust. I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but when you grow up, never be apologetic about how you feel. Don’t hold things back and if you love a person, tell them. Don’t make the mistake I made and hold it inside until it’s too late. It will make sense eventually.

Judging by the double mattress they were lying on and the vanilla-sweet scent of sex in the air, the plan had worked. The younger Noel must have found the letter, told Julian how he felt a bit sooner. It couldn’t have worked out better.

Julian was stirring and mumbling things, gradually waking up. Noel grinned and savoured the moment, the pale champagne-coloured light turning Julian’s skin to gold, the slow realisation blossoming on Julian’s face.

“We’re home!” Julian shouted. “2007! Glorious 2007!”

“Yep,” Noel giggled. He was still getting used to the idea of him and Julian being together, knowing he’d have to backtrack and learn everything all over again. He hoped he hadn’t changed too much by leaving the letter, but however things had worked out, it would be worth it for this. God, but it was so perfect.

“What are you staring at?” Julian wanted to know, before leaning in for a wet, passionate kiss.

When they broke apart, though, Julian was glaring. “Noel,” he said, as evenly as he could, “What is that fucking lamp doing in our flat?”