First Person

Abandoning anxieties in abandoned worlds: A time traveller’s guide

Read by Keely Shannon.

My older brother Tristan first took me time travelling in 2016. Alongside a proper road-trip playlist, Tristan packed rubber boots, wheat crackers, fleeces, water bottles, ropes and headlamps.

We found the mouth of the cave in a pine forest on the western side of Vancouver Island. The entrance to the cave bore sharp fangs as if to ward us away. Stalactites had formed gradually from limestone. That happens when minerals, mainly calcium, pool in the water then steadily drip from the ceiling. A stalactite can be up to 190,000 years old. Looking upwards, my mouth hung open in awe.

I breathed in the cool scents of earth, and a pitter patter echoed throughout the stone chambers like a symphony hall. My headlamp cast jagged shadows down the cave’s throat. I noticed the pointed formations down below: stalagmites had been trampled to stumps, and the cave’s floor was engulfed by at least a foot of murky water. Tristan had taken me to an abandoned flooded mine from 1864.

The further we crept inside the mine, the lower the ceiling became. Eventually, we were crouching. My legs shook, keeping slightly above the water and my rubber boots squeaked obnoxiously with each shuffle. Being only 5’4”, I was able to shimmy further than Tristan, who is a little over 6 feet. I pretended I was a settler in desperate search of copper, coal, and iron. 

‘Don’t go any further than I can see you. Might be a bear or some shit,’ Tristan warned me.

I retorted, ‘Yeah, yeah, whateva’ loser.’ However, I didn’t make it far.

I spotted a few members of the Orthoptera insect order. The cave crickets had scraggly antennae and speckled armoured shells. Most were the size of a thumb. This sent a wave of goosebumps down the nape of my neck and stole me away from my trance. With thoughts of cave crickets pouncing in our hair, the mines regurgitated Tristan and I only moments later.

I’m 21 now and I time travel once or twice a month. Vancouver Island has an entire system of abandoned relics if you know where to look. There’s an overgrown highway, a plane crash in Tofino, a tremendous electrical power plant by Jordan River, and a minesweeper (a type of warship from WWII). Moreover, there is a ghost town, hotel ruins, and a mansion all hidden within Sooke’s woods. 

I’ve always seen these places as massive interactive time capsules. Nothing is like them. Without loud noises, buzzing, or churning, they are estranged from the modern world. In fact, I find it impossible not to notice how quiet my surroundings feel every time I go. If you harness the ability, time travelling is a miraculous gift. 

I have trouble separating myself from anxiety in the real world. More so, an overbearing feeling that something bad is about to happen again. I developed complex PTSD from sexual assault, and time travel has become an escape because I can pause and let go. I no longer feel defined by the events of my past when I am so immersed in someone else’s history. This gives me a moment to find the peaceful person I once was, by, strangely enough, being a person I am not. 

Step one: Clear your mind. Allow yourself to inhale and exhale with ease; nostrils then mouth. Drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth then unclench your jaw. Gently relax your shoulders following the rest of your muscles. Even the muscles in your face. Shuffle your feet back and forth on the ground. 

Since my first trip, there are several factors I have learnt to consider. Otherwise, time travelling is extremely risky. In other words, an easy way to break another one of my ankles (or the laws against trespassing). As my brother always told me, ‘Only one illegal thing at a time.’

Maybe I am just paranoid, but I could slip through rickety roofs or choke on asbestos. I could even run into the wrong kind of people. The kind who spray-painted swastikas on the walls of a few places I’ve been. Then again, there are those who wrote ‘carpe noctem’ and ‘imagination is the best nation.’ I like those quotes. Personally, I prefer carpe diem over carpe noctem though.

Step two: Disappear. At the new location, try to seize the day and imagine a time long before your present existence. Close your eyes till you’ve done this completely.

The minesweeper of the Royal Canadian Navy was painted grey, and blended with the gloomy overcast day. The WWII ship was tethered to the dock with massive coils of rope, each as thick as a cobra. To climb aboard I had to hurl myself over the crack, grip the ledge and perform an adrenaline-fuelled pull-up.

Minesweepers from this era are roughly 50m in length, 8.4m in beam (width), and three stories high. Two levels were submerged in the ocean. Many of the entrances were barricaded with rusted locks and chains, including the steering headquarters. This was perched like an observatory overlooking the chimney, port, and starboard. On the main deck, most importantly, there was one door left ajar to sneak inside. All of the levels were accessible by portholes or ladders from there.

The engine room was on the lowest floor. I had to rely on my flashlight because there was no natural light. Walking on the metal platform, there was a chilling stillness; an empty atmosphere that called for whistling steam and swivelling pistons. The pipes and temperature gages reeked of gas, oil, and chemicals. The fumes made my brain fill with static and prickled my nostrils. I lifted my shirt to muffle my breath through the cloth. Then, I climbed back up to the sleeping quarters picturing myself wearing a naval uniform. 

There were bunks, crammed one on top of the other. The material looked itchy, and I wondered how many times I would’ve smacked my head to get up and use the toilet in the middle of the night. Not to mention, all the seasickness that would occur. ‘Gross,’ I whispered to myself with an unpleasant shiver.

On the top floor was the dining room. Aside from a few empty beer cans, the lockers and fridges were left empty. The tables had checkerboards painted on the surface and were the size of school desks. Old tattered documents were scattered everywhere too. The boat logs were all written in typewriter’s ink. After some reflection, I knew in my bones how close the crew must have been. The copious weeks, if not months, confined together plotting routes, sharing meals over family stories, missing home, and wondering how or when the war would end. 

Step three: Go home safe and sound. Breathe in and out again. Deeper and slower this time, filling yourself with a sense of clarity. Think of all that makes you feel alive. Entwining your toes in long grass, occasional sunlight patches, and booming laughter. Josie, you love to paint remember? You love surfing, writing, and traveling too. Don’t forget your friends, your cat Pippin, mum and dad, and your sister and brother of course. 

I took one last look at the shattered glass and graffiti before stepping back outside through the hatch door of the ship. After each voyage, I feel a sense of relief. When I return to the present I find a way to heal. I re-envision how my life appears to me. I found myself thankful I was neither in 1939, nor at war. Not since I last checked the news anyway.

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About Author

Josie Hjermstad (she/her) is a 21 year old bilingual writing student. She enjoys creating short stories, persuasive essays, and documenting interviews for journalism. She is also passionate about social justice and politics. Josie loves to spend her time with friends and family, creating art, as well as in the great outdoors, (preferably on a surfboard or skateboard).