Am I awake? I think my eyes are open. But I can’t see a thing. So I must be dreaming. Now I see the faintest image of . . a twig? Right in front of my nose . .
Cripes! I remember. It’s nighttime. I’m not dreaming. My arms are backwards-clamped to a tree on the edge of Skitty Coot swamp bed, and there’s a stalk growing out of my chest. That Stank Hen must’ve planted a seed in my solar plexus after she went crazy on my chest. And my bird-dog Bonum, bless her heart, ripped a chunk out of my neck when she saw my predicament. She’s such a good dog. I hope she made it home alright, back to our safe, cozy cabin and my love. And I hope my love and my Bonum aren’t too sad about me being dead . .
No-no-no I’m not dead yet. As long as I can still make thoughts in my mind I know I’m not dead. I learned that in high school biology. Ms. Guthrie talked about how the brain is the last thing to go when somebody’s dying. Smart lady. And I seem to recall the time she talked about stalks . .
A-ha! I know what this thing is growing from my chest.
Ant fungus. Except it must’ve evolved- mutated. Now it can grow in a person. When things get too hot or too dry, that’s when the creepy-crawlies mutate to survive. I just might be the first person to have this mutant fungus growing out of me. Ms. Guthrie said ant fungus spores will latch on to an ant as it crawls across the ground. The fungus works itself into the ant and reproduces, then takes over the brain. Turns the ant into a zombie ant. Then when the fungus is ready to make more spores, it tells the ant to crawl up a plant and latch on, and then the fungus fuses the joints of the ant. That’s why I’m still latched onto this tree- my arm joints are paralyzed. Then the ant dies and the fungus grows a stalk from the ant’s head. Now I have a fungus stalk growing out of my solar plexus. But I’m not dead. I guess it takes a zombie person longer to die than a zombie ant.
I can see the stalk better now. It’s getting light out. And just like Ms. Guthrie said, there’s a fruiting body on the end of the stalk. Soon it will burst and release its spores. I sure hope my love and my Bonum don’t come looking for me. I can’t bear the thought of them turning into paralyzed, stalk-afflicted zombies.
“The swamp bed is up ahead. I can see it. We’ll set it up right in the middle and then fire it off.”
Cripes! People! Go away, go away, go away . . please . . Cripes. I can’t warn them. I can’t speak or even blink. All I can do is look at this fruiting body in front of my nose and think.
“What in tarnation? Hello? Uh . . you okay? Holy Beejeebus, Jim, look at this! Some poor guy strapped to a tree and stabbed with a twig . . or something . . ”
“Don’t touch it, Bob! It might have fingerprints on it. The police will need it as evidence. Is the guy still alive?”
“I don’t think so. Look- something took a bite out of the guy’s neck. And . . I guess there’s no straps after all. Maybe the poor shmuck was nailed up, but I don’t see any blood anywhere beside around the twig . . or whatever that thing is.”
I’m alive! And you guys are doomed if you don’t high-tail it outta here! The fruiting body’s gonna blow any minute- I can feel it. Please oh please leave . .
“You call the police. I’ll go ahead and set up the cloud seeder. Poor shmuck. But time’s a-wastin’, and if we don’t get a big rain this week, the Stank Hens will disappear. And when the Stank Hens disappear, so will the tourism.”
“Let’s at least get the poor guy down off that tree first. I think it’s the respectful thing to do.”
“You’re right. You take one arm and I’ll take the other. And be careful of that twig thing.”
Please don’t. The slightest vibration will pop open the fruiting body. Spores will go everywhere. You’ll be zombies. Please don’t.
“Jumpin’ Jehovah, they just snapped off! I didn’t pull that hard, did you?”
“No! The arm just kinda broke off. Like a dried twig.”
Great. Now I’m face down on the ground and the spores are released. But at least they’re trapped between my body and the forest floor. Now please, guys, just get a bulldozer and scoop up me and the ground below and incinerate the whole mess, and everything will be alright.
“I guess we made a mistake.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Would anybody believe us if we told them we didn’t mean to break this guy’s arms off?”
“How about we not call the police, and instead, carry the body and the arms out to the middle of the swamp bed, shoot the cloud seeder, then high-tail it outta here?”
“Works for me.”
Spores. Clouds. Rain. Cripes.
They flip me over and spores go flying.
“What’s all this black dust in the air?”
“Beats me. Let’s just do this and get outta here.”
“Good evening. Top story tonight- exactly one year after the biggest rain Skitty Coot has seen in over a century, the Stank Hen population has made an astounding comeback, and Stank Hens now number in the hundreds. In other news, two Department of Parks and Recreation employees- Jim Moore and Bob Meier- are still missing, details after the break.”
Do you have constructive criticism or a comment? I’d love to see!