Allow me to wax poetic about these tiny newborn birds. Never before have I felt such softness. As I reach for them, gentle prickles of static electricity cause strands of their avian gossamer to stand at attention before my fingertips trace whispers through their feathery down. My ears fill with the cooing of birds; two angels with wings outstretched. Two beacons of my newfound tranquility.
I sat, terrified, as they hatched the night before. Each one fought so hard to enter the world and battled to escape the confines of their once nurturing, but now worthless, container. But the fight went well for them. At the end of the battle, two strong, white doves met this world. Two porcelain baby birds. I watched, spellbound, as their mother expressed her thoughtless, impelled teleology to feed them before they could start to cry. And as the last bits of nourishment trickled down their throats, the warm body of their mother kept them protected against the dangers of night.
When I woke up this morning, the two baby doves greeted me with stares of admiration and love. I felt how hot the room was and noticed the dampness of sweat in my armpits and crotch. I shrugged away the discomfort. The little white doves needed warmth more than I needed clean, dry clothing.
The mother cared for the needs of her two white babies as I gazed at them with satisfaction. I brushed the belly of one with the back of my knuckle. Its down ruffled against my touch and stuck straight up as I traveled against its grain. Time passed and I stroked each of the tiny white babies for hours, savoring the sensation of their delicate fluff against my sensitive skin.
With each stroke, though, dull panic began an inexorable metastasis within my chest. These baby birds were growing. Even though part of me knew it was impossible to notice growth after only a day, its very prospect was abhorrent. No longer would they be soft, delicate, and tiny. They would be coarse. Thick. Bulky.
I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. I cried for so long I expected the two white babies to have grown up and flown away by the time I stopped. When I opened my swollen eyes, though, there they were – soft and tiny as ever. But their mother was gone.
I placed my tear-soaked hands over the faces of the tiny, white birds. I could hear their muffled coos of protest through my palms, but I remained resolute. My eyes closed and I imagined the quiet beauty of bluebirds; the birds of happiness. Minutes passed. Then hours. And then I knew I could let go.
The wide eyes of two bluebirds gazed adoringly at their mother, who had finally returned to care for them. I put their legs together and stretched their arms wide, as if they were perfect, angelic wings. Wings that would always be small, delicate, and soft. Glowing cheerfully in the nurturing warmth of the room, I stroked the downy lanugo dusting their tiny blue faces, chests, and bellies.
It was my rapist’s birthday the other day. Seven years ago, on that day, I endured the horror of having my autonomy stolen. Afterward, as the years dragged by, I grew to associate all birthdays with his. It took away a lot of the fun one might associate with the events. Especially the parties.
I’d been unwilling to break my silence about the experience. The people around me knew something must’ve happened. To them, there had to be some explanation why I changed from an ebullient extrovert into a person whose very essence screams, “stay away.” I didn’t say anything, though. I just remained cold and as detached as I could manage without being overly hostile. The masses of friends I had seven years ago evaporated into a few professional acquaintances. They didn’t need me, so I didn’t need them. I could manage alone.
So why am I writing this? Because I’m starting to make a change. Seven years of my life spent circling the drain wasn’t something I was ready to continue at 26 years old. Perhaps enough time had passed for me to start healing. The few books I’d read about trauma suggested that might be the case. The incident feels no less raw, though. The physical sensations haven’t dulled. Essential, daily bodily functions force the memory of his violence into every occasion. Every twitch of muscle. I have to sit there and think of him and how his atrocious legacy still dominates my body. The same body in which he planted his flag and claimed as his own. His body, rented by me.
But, as I said, I’d begun to change. Despite the hideousness of the prior seven years, I’d been able to hold down a good job. It’s basic web design stuff; nothing too glamorous. But the customers kept rolling in and the pay was good, so that small bit of positive reinforcement kept my finances afloat. More than afloat, really. Since I’d withdrawn so far away from all the fun and excitement I used to have, all I’d done was save money. Over those years, I was able to accumulate quite a bit in my savings account. Thanks to that, I was able to leave the city and rent a small cottage on a sprawling farm in rural Washington. The new scenery helped more than I’d expected.
The couple from whom I rent the cottage, Karen and Jessica, are in their 60s. You couldn’t tell by looking at them. Decades of hard work kept their bodies conditioned and strong. It wasn’t until they invited me to celebrate Karen’s 61st, which induced an involuntary shiver I was able to mask as a cough, that I had any idea they were so much older. I would’ve assumed mid-40s. They had no problem with my polite refusal of their invitation. On the day they interviewed me as a potential tenant, I told them I was private and, in an understatement that almost made me laugh, a homebody.
I spent my first month in Washington setting up the cottage. I arranged and rearranged the furniture, cleaned every surface I could reach, and even started a small garden in the back. I’m pretty proud of the garden. As we all know, Washington gets a ton of rain. That, in combination with the excellent soil quality, yielded the speedy growth of the basil, parsley, and rosemary I’d planted.
That month was the first time in seven years I didn’t feel the constant weight of my abuser on my back. Yes, I still remembered him many times each day. I still felt, with excruciating, perverse nostalgia, how much I cared for him even after he’d used me. But the terrible clarity of it all had begun to fog. Edges were blunted. I had three nights of amazing, dreamless sleep. Not once during those three nights did I feel his hot breath in my ear as he sobbed, “I’m sorry” with each devastating thrust. Things were quiet; as quiet as the dead I’d so often admired.
The next two months saw the gradual lifting of my mood. I became a frequent visitor to Karen and Jessica’s home. We would drink wine and talk. Sometimes we’d play Scrabble, which they eventually stopped suggesting because I knew all the 2-letter words and annihilated them every game. For a few brief moments, things felt, I’m cautious to say, like they did before the rape. I was laughing and talking with ease; my foul-mouthed sense of humor causing gasps of surprise and tears of laughter from the two women who’d made me feel like their daughter.
As the golden sunshine of summer transmuted into the leaden gray of winter, the relationship I’d developed with the couple, especially Karen, allowed me to do something I couldn’t believe. Late in December, a few days after Christmas, I revealed the assault to them. With a level of clinical dispassion of which I never imagined myself capable, I told them everything.
They were crying by the time I’d finished. When the last word of the story left my mouth, I felt invigorated. Proud, too. Proud of myself for having the courage to finally tell the story of why my life had changed for the worse so abruptly. Proud of the fact I’d found friends who could help me emerge from my shell and who genuinely cared about what had grown inside for those seven years. I loved them.
The night I wandered back to my cottage, tipsy from the bottles of local wine we’d shared, I collapsed into bed and fell asleep. He met me in my dreams. The rasping humidity of his sobbing apologies in my ear, the impossibly-heavy weight of his body on my back, and the incomprehensible indignation of having my autonomy stolen all coalesced into an interminable nightmare. When I awoke, sweating and shaking, it was still pitch dark. A glance at the bedside clock told me I’d only been sleeping for an hour. My sweat-soaked clothing clung uncomfortably to my skin, and I rolled off the bed to take a shower.
I stood up in the darkness, took a step toward the bathroom, and bumped into something. Someone. I gasped and reached out to push the person away. Strong, heavy arms wrapped around me. I shrieked and squirmed in a futile attempt to free myself. Putrid, wet breath filled my nostrils and changed my scream into throat-shredding retches. The arms gripped me tighter and my fingers dug into the assailant’s body. I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell he was naked. No clothing shielded his flesh from the assault of my fingernails, and I raked them over him, hoping the pain would make him release me.
My fingernails slid into his flesh far more easily than they should. I felt my first, then second knuckles disappear into his body. When I dragged them over his flesh, I felt the skin slough off and hang from my fingers. A smell, somehow even worse than his breath, filled the room. I choked and vomited against his chest. A thick, rasping voice choked out the words, “I’m sorry.” The pressure of his grip disappeared. The smell evaporated. He was gone.
Still in a panic, I ran across the room and flipped the switch for the main lights. The bulbs illuminated the puddle of bordeaux vomit on the floor. My fingernails, which I’d expected to be coated in foul slime, were clean. Confused and beyond terrified, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and went through the tiny cottage. It was obvious no one was there. The door was still locked and deadbolted from the inside. No windows had been disturbed, either. But something had been in there. I went into the bathroom, placed the knife on the sink, and went to wash myself.
I showered with the curtain open, soaking the floor, so I could see everything. The knife was perched on the side of the tub and in easy reach if whatever it was came back. It didn’t. Nothing did. I towelled off and put on fresh clothes. As I cleaned my puke from the hardwood, I worried I had either consumed far, far too much wine that evening or I was going completely nuts. The knots of terror in my chest gradually untied as exhaustion took its toll on my consciousness. When I finally had the confidence to go back to bed, with every light in the cottage still blazing, I slept immediately.
The next morning, I told Karen and Jessica about my nightmare. They hugged me and made me breakfast and told me not to worry. I decided to wait to tell them about the purple stain on the hardwood until I tried another couple times to get it out. We ate our breakfast and the two of them griped about the inordinately cold temperatures which would make the next growing season a major pain for them.
After we ate, Karen and I chatted while Jessica went to organize their office. An hour later, she came back apologizing profusely. She handed me a piece of mail that had arrived a week after I’d moved into the cottage. It had been forwarded from my old address. Jessica told me it must’ve gotten mixed in with their bills and that she’d be much more careful in the future. I laughed and told her it was okay.
I tore open the envelope and read the short letter inside. My head began to spin. I asked if I could use the phone to make a quick long-distance call. “Of course,” Jessica replied. I dialed the number at the bottom of the letter. A woman answered. I asked to speak to Ryan. There was a pause, and in a voice much sadder than the cheerful “hello” I received when she picked up the phone, she answered me. Then she hung up.
I shook as I handed Karen the letter, which she read aloud to Jessica.
“Marie, I am finally doing what I should’ve done seven years ago. No, eight years ago. Before we ever met. Before I could hurt you. I don’t deserve to continue living. I’ve always wanted to say how sorry I am, but I destroyed those words for you when I did that unspeakable thing. Still, in my darkest moments, it’s something I need to say. And I know that need will go unmet as long as I’m alive, since I can’t bear the thought of making you endure the sight of me again. Once I’ve mailed this letter, I will do the only thing I can to adequately express my sorrow. If you need to know I’m serious about this, please call this number and ask for me.”
The number I called was written below the body of his message, followed by his scrawled signature. I thought of the embrace from the night before and the words that were drooled into my ear. My knees gave out and I fell to the floor, screaming as I cried. Karen and Jessica could only hold me as years of incomprehensible feelings flooded out in painful, wracking sobs. Over and over, they told me it was going to be okay. And, as is customary, peppered within their sincere assurances that things would get better were liberal declarations of, “I’m sorry.”
When I was 17, I was in a head-on collision with another driver. I think I was unconscious for a minute or two after the impact. When I came to, I was confused and couldn’t feel any pain. I couldn’t move much, though. Something was pinning me. A downward glance showed me what it was. There was a metal rod impaling directly under my knee, through what the doctors later told me was my patellar tendon. It had pushed through the tendon, lifted my kneecap, and driven itself up the length of my thigh. It wasn’t too deep inside; I could see it bulging under my skin.
A minute later, I felt everything. I screamed and screamed, thrashing for a bit before realizing any movement only intensified the pain in my knee and thigh. Then I looked out the cracked windshield and saw the other driver. His devastated skull sat on his neck like a mashed fruit. I could see his tongue lolling out of his ruined mouth. Without a lower jawbone to hold it in place, it hung down to his Adam’s apple. The remaining eye stared, unblinking, at the damage its owner had caused.
Another wave of impossibly acute agony surged through me, blurring my vision and forcing me to bite down on my own teeth until I felt at least one molar crack. Some part of my consciousness registered the fact I was hyperventilating and worked to calm my breathing. A couple moments later, the wave had passed. I realized no cars had come upon our accident yet. I tried to reach into the back pocket of my shorts for my cell phone, but there was no way the rod in my knee would allow that much movement. In exchange for my attempt, the unbearable pain resumed.
Once I’d regained my senses, I looked again at the remains of the other driver. There wasn’t much I could make out. It looked he he’d had a beard; hair was puffing out from the skin of what might have been his cheeks. Even though he was the one who’d caused me all this pain, I felt bad he was dead. No one deserved to have that happen to them. While I studied the gore with morbid fascination, the man’s neck jerked and sent the fleshy wreckage of his face flopping back and forth. He jerked again. This time, his shoulders and torso moved as well. I gagged as the movement forced his head downward and bits of his crushed brain oozed from the hole that was once his face.
The man continued moving as if he was enduring a terrible seizure. My pain came back. Unable to bear the sensation, I blacked out. It couldn’t have been very long. When I came to, there was something wrong with the man’s body. Something I couldn’t understand. The hole where his face had connected to his throat was stuffed with something. It slid out in a thick, wet mass onto the twisted steering wheel and dashboard. From my vantage point, about six feet away, I could only describe it as a worm or snake. Still, it was unlike either of those things. The body was grayish-white and oozed heavy, milky yellow discharge from gaping pores which covered the entirety of its length. That length increased as I watched with growing horror.
The return of the pain in my knee was unable to overcome the fear sweeping over me at the sight of the monster. Over ten feet had unfurled from the carcass and had draped itself along the dashboard. It was lying on surfaces coated with pulverized glass from the windshield, and I could see chunks of it sticking in its pores as it moved. The thing didn’t seem to mind. Once another few feet came out, I saw its tail end finally discharge itself from the man. The parasite squirmed off the dashboard and onto the crumpled union of car hoods. The viscous, milky slime clung to every surface it touched and kept the creature connected to the contacted surfaces by thin ropes. It uncoiled completely and its full length lay wetly on our cars. The smell coming from its body was thick and putrescent with a revolting, cloying sweetness. I struggled not to retch, not wanting it to hear me.
The pores stopped oozing. An unsettling, peristaltic ripple passed through the thing’s body. Ugly flatulent sounds leaked from each pore, and I saw something moving inside them. With an explosive jolt that caused me to jump in shock, bright red tendrils burst out of its pores. Each one was about as thick as a pencil and every pore contained at least 20 of them. They grew and grew in length, some laying flaccidly on the cars and some erecting themselves and flopping around like severed electrical cables.
I screamed when a couple of the tendrils brushed against me as they grew. But seconds later, every one of them pushed downward and dragged the main body onto the surface of the road. An 18-wheeler was driving toward us. It screeched to a halt and I watched an overweight trucker stumble out of the cab and run toward us. First he looked over and saw the dead man was far beyond help. Then he saw me and my look of pain and terror. He opened his mouth, presumably to say he’d call 911, but the tendrils leapt into his mouth and throat before he could get a word out.
The trucker grasped the thick cord of tendrils invading him and tried to pull. More shot out from the thing in the road and wrapped themselves around his fat form. Over the course of a minute, the main body had been pulled over to the trucker. Gradually, the tendrils retracted from the man’s mouth while the body forced itself into his throat. The putrid seminal fluid again began to leak from the creature as it pushed deeper and deeper. A little while later, it was inside. The man was soaked from head to toe with the vile substance. But he no longer looked afraid. He just looked calm. He turned around and walked back to his truck, leaving a trail of milky-yellow slime. I heard the engine start and the truck drove away.
Another car noticed us soon after. The paramedics were called and I was brought to the hospital. I never told anyone what happened. I assume everyone was confused about what the slime was, but I didn’t hear them talk about it. All they were concerned about was the wound in my leg, which required two years to recover. I never saw the parasite, or any hint of it, again. It was another five years before I’d conquered my fear of driving. I’ve done my best to forget about what I saw. No matter how hard I try, though, I still shudder when a truck passes me and I see the driver through his open window. I know that thing is still in one of them. At least one.
I don’t know anything about Facebook. I started an account late last year to promote my website. Not much happened. I plugged my Facebook address pretty much everywhere I went, and while fans trickled in and one or two even shared some of the content I posted, my page wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as I’d hoped.
Fast forward a couple months. Same problem. In total, I think my page was stuck around 100 “likes.” The majority of those were from the first week I started the page and a bunch of nice Reddit users felt sympathy for me and visited, clicked “like,” and never came again. I can’t blame them, to be honest.
I was in a creative rut. Very little new content was coming out, and whatever did reach completion was nothing but a rehashing of older, more popular stories I’d done in the past. I was hoping to piggyback on their successes. It didn’t work. It was obvious that interest was waning.
All this was coming at a bad time. My Tumblr, which had done spectacularly well for the first four months of its existence, was also stagnating. Followers were disappearing. Again, I can’t blame them. Why follow a blog that just reposts old stories without putting anything out that’s new or interesting? I’d reached a point where I was starting to think writing wasn’t for me and I’d have to rethink everything I’d envisioned for my future.
Out of nowhere, sometime in April, I got a notification on Facebook that my page had been mentioned. I clicked through, and was astonished to find out that a page with nearly 10 million fans had posted one of my older stories and had credited my own Facebook page as the content creator. Messages and “likes” came in droves. Friend requests, too.
I didn’t know what to do with all the newfound interest in my work. My creativity hadn’t been piqued by it all, but my enthusiasm had reemerged. I chatted with people who messaged me, I gave advice to aspiring writers, despite not really believing any of what I was saying, and I even agreed to collaborate with another, semi-well known author on a piece at some point in the fall.
As April progressed, more and more people were visiting my page and inhaling my old content. Each day, I’d spend hours replying to notifications and messages; sometimes holding 10 real-time conversations at once. It felt good to be connecting with people again. It’s something I hadn’t really done at all since high school, and that was almost 20 years ago.
I grew close with a few of the people who’d been messaging me. People from all over the world, in fact. We chatted about nothing and everything, to use a cliche that I despise but find impossible to avoid. The more we talked, the closer we got. There were about 25 people out of the hundreds who I really felt a connection with. I think it was mutual, too. We chatted together on Facebook, and then we started doing group emails.
In May, Charles, one of the 25, suggested a meetup. Obviously for some of them, it was impossible. Quite a few were way too far away for that to be possible for them, but 8 or 9 of us were all within around 300 miles of one another. After working through some logistical issues, we made it happen. Seven people showed up. I got to meet seven, wonderful people: Charles, Lynn, Malcolm, Anita, Bev, Mellie, and Raj.
We met up at a small restaurant in the Tribeca area of NYC. We chatted and laughed and had an all-around fantastic time. I enjoyed myself and my new friends more than I can even express. But it was Bev who really stood out.
We’d grown close online, but I never had any hope of getting much closer than that. It all changed when we met. While we all shared stories and jokes and beers around the table, Bev and I held hands. She squeezed my fingers with her own and I stroked her wrist and toyed with her bracelet. During the brief glances we shared with one another, we both knew something special was happening.
When it was obvious the night was coming to an end and everyone headed back to their respective hotel rooms or homes, Bev and I remained together. We headed back to her hotel room and let things take their natural course. It was truly wonderful.
After it was all over, Bev got up from the bed to take a shower. I propped myself up with my laptop on my lap, happily reminiscing about the time not only she and I had spent together, but the time all eight of us had shared hours earlier. I decided to go on Facebook and leave individual messages for my new friends to show how much I appreciated them.
While clicking through to where I needed to go, I realized I’d never even visited their pages before. We’d all just chatted either on my page or through email. I clicked on Malcolm’s first. It was weird. A lot of his friends had posted some pretty depressing emo stuff on his wall. I wrote my little “thank you” paragraph, and then headed over to Charles’ page.
Same thing. Just sad stuff. I wrote my letter and moved on. Lynn, Raj, and Mellie’s were the same. A strange feeling started inside my chest and gradually bloomed outward while gooseflesh prickled my limbs.
I clicked on Anita’s wall. More depressing messages. One in particular caught my eye: “We’ll always you love, Anita. You will always be our beautiful, sweet daughter.” It was from her parents. Dated 2011.
The feeling of discomfort and dread intensified. I went back to all the other pages I’d just been to and scrolled down. All the depressing messages were from between 2009 and 2016. They all had something in common: they were saying some variant of “goodbye.”
Doing my best to control my breathing, I navigated to the one page I hadn’t visited yet. Bev’s. The message on her wall, dated February 2nd, 2016: “God bless you and keep you – you were taken from us far too soon, sweet girl.”
A loud thud sounded from the bathroom, causing me to jump. I got up, quietly asking “Bev?” “Bev, are you okay?” No response. I walked slowly toward the bathroom, a sense of doom weighing down my body. I knocked on the door. No reply. Just the sound of water running. I turned the doorknob and entered the bathroom.
The room was steamy and warm with an intense, unpleasant odor. “Bev?” I asked, my head starting to spin with fear. I gripped the shower curtain between my thumb and forefinger and carefully pulled it open. I screamed. Hot water streamed down the remains of a bloated, rotting corpse. Stringy blonde hair was plastered to the side of a gray face with a purple tongue bulging through lips that looked like dark-green banana slugs. Grayish-yellow slime drooled from between her legs and puddled thickly near the drain. Before I could turn away and throw up, I saw the bracelet on her wrist that I’d played with at the restaurant.
I heaved and retched into the toilet, trying to tell myself this was all impossible and Bev was alive and normal and everything was okay. I closed my eyes and turned around to face the tub. I made the sign of the cross, opened my eyes, and nearly fainted with relief. The bathtub was empty. I inhaled. The smell, for the most part, was gone. I sank to the floor and tried to collect myself.
The horror I’d felt was replaced with an immediate concern for my own mental health. I didn’t know if I should call 911 right away or go to the hospital first thing in the morning and get checked out. I dragged myself to my feet and headed toward the bedroom to lie down for a few minutes. As I was crossing between the rooms, I glanced in the garbage can next to the sink. My used condom sat inside like a deflated grub, covered in grayish-yellow slime.
For the last three decades, small groups of mycologists have been visiting a village deep in the Brazilian Amazon. It is suspected, based on some evidence, the village is atop a colossal fungal colony, similar to the Armillaria solidipes in Malheur National Forest, Oregon, only dramatically larger. If that’s the case, the fungus would be the largest living creature on Earth.
The hundred-or-so expeditions before ours yielded inconclusive results. Genetic tests have shown there is a type of fungus unique to the general area, but attempts to grow it in any environment outside a 40-mile radius of the village have been futile. My trip down last March was with the intent of seeing if the fungus could be grown artificially under specific chemically-induced conditions.
A biotechnology firm had recently developed an interest in that particular mushroom, believing it might have anticarcinogenic properties. As a result, the two members of my team and I were given far better equipment to take with us than we normally had. We were happy to oblige. When we arrived, the native people were as friendly and inquisitive as always. They’d taken a liking to all the scientists who’d visited them. While the lab was set up a hundred yards from the nearest structure in the village, it was common for the scientists and villagers to interact when the workday was over. A few of us even figured out a few words of their local dialect, although no one was anywhere near conversational level. It didn’t matter, though. Food, drink, and wrestling were the common languages we spoke. And for 32 years, everything had gone well.
Everything, that is, except our research. We’d been stuck for the better part of a decade. With no ability to grow the fungus aside from that small, incredibly isolated locale, the likelihood of fully determining its properties was low. Further, without massively-invasive and destructive digging, we’d never be able to find out the true size of the fungal colony below us.
Things became complicated, though. And they changed for the worse. I’m not going to write out an explanation of what went on or why I’m the only person in our group to survive the last trip, but I will share my journal entries from that period. I have to warn you, though: the things I saw were unlike anything I could have imagined. And they’re things I hope no one will ever have see again.
March 9th, 2015 9:00am
It’s been absolutely pissing rain for six days now. Jared estimates the rainfall is exceptionally high, even for that time of the year. He thinks at least 20 inches have fallen. I believe him, too. I can see why the village folks have their huts elevated off the forest floor. Otherwise they’d be in knee-deep water. You know, sort of like our fucking lab.
Ok, it’s not that bad in the lab. Maybe only ankle-deep. But I swear, I’m going to knock Frank’s teeth out when we get back home because it was his responsibility to make sure the place was sealed tight before his crew left. The dickhead.
Anyway, Annie said “fuck it” and hiked through the water to see if the trails had been flooded. They were. Big time. None of us are getting out of here for a while, so I hope no one gets hurt or sick. The place where the helicopter usually lands might as well be a lake and when it’s all drained away it’ll be 4 feet of mud. The sat-phones work fine, though, but when I called Rakesh, he just told us to suck it up and get some work done. The rain should be tapering off tomorrow. Well, as much as it tapers off in a rainforest I guess.
March 10th, 2015 8:15am
Well, the sun’s out. God DAMN there’s a lot of water around. Thankfully, it’s draining into the ground pretty quickly. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being on top of (maybe) the largest mushroom on Earth; mushrooms loooove their water. I can’t even imagine how much that thing can hold.
Yesterday, we laughed at Annie while she picked the leeches off her legs after her little hike. Well, we laughed until she starting throwing the nasty bastards at us. Then we just hid and giggled. Only in a rainforest are there so many leeches that you’ll get them even in water that’s moving.
We didn’t do any work today. I think tomorrow’s going to be a good day, though. At the rate the water’s draining, we should be clear to start getting new samples. Whenever it rains a lot, that big bastard underground sends up thousands of little mushroom caps that grow in less than four hours. We’ll have more than enough samples to play around with.
Side note, though: I think I’m getting a cold.
March 11th, 2015 12:00pm
I have a cold. You know how summer colds are the worst because the humidity makes the sinus pressure so much worse? Yeah, well a cold in a rainforest is about 1000x worse. I’m sniffling and blowing snot all over the place while Jared and Annie are out doing field work and hanging out with the villagers. Being stuck in here gave me the time to do stupid Frank’s job and make sure the place was airtight, and after that was done, I had the opportunity to play with the cool toys from GeneMedica. That said, I don’t even know what half this shit is. We’re mycologists, guys. Not geneticists.
Update @ 3:15pm
Something started happening a little while ago and it’s definitely relevant to our work so I’m going to do my best to detail everything. I called Rakesh and he agreed I should document it all.
I was sitting at the computer and looking out the window when what looked like dark orange smoke started pouring from the ground. And I mean pouring. The visibility went to practically nothing. The tree that’s about ten feet from our lab was nearly invisible. Outside, I can hear the villagers yelling to one another. They seem pretty frightened. I’m unnerved, to say the least. Unnerved, but also excited. Is this a spore bloom?
I’m assuming it might be, and even though I’m in the lab which I know is finally sealed properly, I’m putting on my hazmat suit. I’m probably being overcautious, and I know Annie and Jared are out in the stuff without any protection, but something about the ferocity of the way it’s coming out of the ground worries me.
Update @ 3:35pm
Jared just came back. Well, he’s still outside but he’s at least back where I can see him. He’s acting like he’s high out of his mind. He’s walking around and laughing to himself. Like, a lot. It doesn’t look like he’s having any problem breathing, but the amount of orange powder in the air and stuck to the surfaces of nearly everything is disconcerting. I can’t imagine having that stuff in his lungs.
I yelled out to him about Annie and the folks in the village. He just yelled back how awesome they were. There’s no way I’m getting through to him until his buzz wears off. It doesn’t appear that he wants to come in the lab, and I’m glad about that. I don’t think it’d be a smart move if the only mostly-clean area gets contaminated.
Update @ 7:15pm
Annie came back and is in the same state as Jared. They played around outside like two kids and wouldn’t listen to a word I yelled from the lab. They’ve since fallen asleep outside on the picnic table. I’m going to bed.
March 12, 2015 6:30am
The spores (I’m calling them that from now on because there’s no other conceivable explanation) stopped coming out of the ground overnight and after it rained early this morning, they’ve blended in with the mud. I’m not taking off the hazmat suit, but I’ve disconnected the breathing apparatus and just using the filters in the mask. I strongly doubt there will be any particulate matter small enough to penetrate the filters.
Jared and Annie seem to be no worse for wear, aside from exhaustion. After cleaning themselves in the river, I agreed they were probably fine to come back in the lab and sleep. As for me, even though I’m miserable with this cold, I’m too excited to stay in here. I’m going out, first into the village, then to the forest around us. I want to see if that spore explosion could confirm the presence of that enormous mushroom.
Update @ 10:20am
I spent a little over an hour in the village. None of the people seemed injured, just a bit confused. I’m concerned, however, about the skin irritation a few of them developed overnight. Annie, too, has red blotches on her back and stomach. She insists they don’t hurt, but they look painful. They remind me of eczema. Jared, so far, isn’t having any skin problems. He’s been coughing up disgusting orange crap from breathing in all the spores yesterday, but that’s the worst of his problems. I’m heading out into the forest for a few hours.
Update @ 2:00pm
My trip to the forest was unsettling. There were many, many injured animals. They appeared to be suffering from a skin condition similar to that of the people affected by the spore eruption. I’m going into the village once more to see how their symptoms have progressed.
Update @ 3:50pm
I returned to the lab and found Annie and Jared having sex with one another in the middle of the main room. When I entered the lab, they didn’t even try to hide themselves. They just continued doing what they were doing. That is entirely uncharacteristic of Annie, first of all, who is happily married and Jared, who, as far as I know, is gay. Neither of them ever appeared to have any romantic interest with one another and their interactions have always been professional.
I approached them and they greeted me happily, but not even pausing their action. The blotches on Annie’s back looked much worse. As they went about their business, they talked to me about how much better they were feeling after getting some rest. Annie, who had been riding Jared chest-to-chest, leaned back and exposed her chest and stomach. The flesh was terribly damaged. Jared, too, had started to show signs of skin deterioration. His own chest and belly were riddled with ugly, red, eczematous patches.
When I asked if they’d be okay with stopping for a few minutes so I could take a look at their skin, they didn’t argue. Annie hopped off Jared and they stood in front of me, naked and beaming. I have no medical training, but I thought it was important to get samples of their damaged tissue. While I’d never done a biopsy before, they didn’t look hard and Jared and Annie consented.
I made the first cut on Annie. As the knife went in, when I expected to hear a gasp from pain, she groaned with what I could only identify as pleasure. I glanced up and saw her with her head back, smiling. I took the sample, bagged it, and put it in the refrigerator. Jared, too, expressed delight at the feeling of the scalpel sliding into him, his pleasure manifesting itself more obviously as he regained the erection he’d lost following his interrupted sex with Annie. I did my best to stay professional, but I was very, very disturbed.
I put his sample in the fridge next to Annie’s. When I turned back around, I was horrified by what I saw. Annie and Jared were kissing again, and rather than resuming their intercourse, she had invaginated his navel with her index and middle fingers. She slid them in and out of his abdomen, blood trickling through his public hair to the base of his erection and dripping onto the white floor. All the while, as they kissed, both their faces shone with ecstatic glee.
Feeling sick to my stomach, I backed away and walked outside. From the village, I heard screams of rapturous joy. Many of the villagers had congregated in the center of the main huts. They were all nude and writhing against one another. Men. Women. Children. And bright blood glinted off their dark skin.
March 12, 2015 5:15pm
As much as I thought I had to, I wasn’t ready to go into the village just yet. There were things I needed to do back in the lab. Annie and Jared obviously aren’t healthy and I’m worried about how safe they are around one another. I remembered GeneMedica had supplied us with three bottles of Laphroaig 30 to use in celebration if we had any breakthroughs. So, I did what any self-respecting scientist would do: got my fellow researchers blackout drunk and locked them in their respective rooms with a fresh bottle to call their own.
Then I called Rakesh. He seemed more freaked out than I was. He’d known Jared for 20 years; apparently he’s in a 25+ year monogamous relationship with his partner, and, to directly quote Rakesh, “gayer than gayer than gay.” Rakesh agreed with me that stranger things have happened than two people pairing off when stuck in a bad situation, but with everything else going on – the spore eruption, the skin lesions, the pain/pleasure rewiring, and whatever the hell was happening to the villagers – it was impossible to say it was just a situational fling. He commended me for figuring out how to keep Jared and Annie safe, then he told me to get my ass into the village and take notes.
I have a sinking feeling it’s going to be really, really ugly.
Update @ 8:00pm
It’s hard to form a coherent narrative when you’ve been traumatized. At the same time, it’s easy to recall the details of that which traumatized you. The first things I noticed, upon leaving the lab and starting the 100-or-so yard walk to the village, were the bird feathers. They were raining from the trees and blowing in the weak wind. I couldn’t make out much through the thick canopy, but I could see one bird very clearly. It was perched on a branch nearest the trunk and vigorously rubbing its body against the bark. Once one side was denuded of feathers, it started on the other until the same result was achieved. Then it leapt from the branch and flew in a bizarre, insect-like trajectory that didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. It went out of sight before I could learn what was happening to it.
A dog ran out from the general direction of the village and stopped in front of me. Its fur was mangy and the visible flesh was punctured or rotted away. Its tail wagged furiously and its ears were up, making it look incredibly happy despite the painful-looking condition of its skin. I reached out to pat its head, and it obliged, pushing its snout and head against my palm very hard; almost as if it’d never felt the touch of a person before.
It ground its skull against my hand and I felt something slide. I recoiled and pulled back. The skin stuck to my gloved hand as I pulled, tearing the fur and flesh from its head. The dog, with blood trickling down its face and its tail still wagging, stared at me and began to eat itself off my glove. I didn’t shoo it away. I didn’t know what to do at all, aside from continuing my walk to the circle of huts.
With each step, the details of the natives, who still swarmed in the center of their village, became apparent. I can only describe their activity as an orgy. Every conceivable pairing was demonstrated, all the way up groups as large of six. Most sickening to me, aside from the atrocious and seemingly-indiscriminate disparities in the ages of the participants, were the injuries. Every person had terrible damage to their skin. It appeared to be the same as what Annie and Jared are dealing with, but most of the villagers were much worse off; likely due to their constant and frenetic activity with one another.
They paid me no attention as I walked through their midst. Every so often, I’d come across a corpse. Each had profoundly-disfiguring damage to them. While I know some of it was the result the fungal spores’ effect, a good portion was clearly from the action of another person. This was verified when I saw a young man in the crowd, a rictus of pleasure etched across his face, having his entire back flayed open by his partner. The man gasped with clear delight, his nudity making obvious the arousal he felt despite the terrible injury. His partner pressed his face into the wound and planted tender kissed on the exposed ribs.
There were more acts like that, but they’ve all blurred together. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I called Rakesh once I got back and while he expressed eympathy for what I saw, he insisted on the importance of documenting the behavior and progress of those affected by the spore cloud. I promised him I’d do a better job tomorrow if I was able to get any sleep tonight. I checked on Annie and Jared; both were snoring. Their skin looked worse, though. I’m not sure what to do. Rakesh assured me that by tomorrow evening they’ll be able to get a helicopter to us. When I asked about where it’d land, he told me not to worry about it. So I’ll do my best. I’m going to get drunk and try to fall asleep.
March 13th, 2015 6:15am
Before I went to sleep last night, I bound Jared and Annie to their beds. It was something Rakesh suggested and I eventually decided it would be for the best. I could deal with them being pissed at me as long as they didn’t hurt themselves while we waited for the helicopter. Apparently ours would be the first of a few; there’s a medical helicopter scheduled to come in minutes after we’re taken out. While I’m really happy the villagers will get medical attention, it absolutely sucks so many of them will be either dead or terribly disfigured. If we’d been able to figure out the workings of that massive underground fungus, we might have been able to prevent this from happening.
I’m heading down to the village again. I’m bringing my voice recorder so I can document enough detail to make Rakesh happy. I’m not going to transcribe it all, but I’ll put what I feel are the most important parts in this journal.
Update @ 12:00pm
What I saw yesterday was paradise when compared to the devastation and depravity I was forced to observe today. Rakesh, I wish you hadn’t asked me to do this. I understand why you needed me to, but I’m not the same person I was a few days ago as a result. There’s just nothing I can express other than sadness and terror. Well, maybe one thing. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of solace in the fact those affected by the spores don’t appear to be in pain. But the other side of that is how they gleefully destroyed their fellow villagers. People who were entirely innocent. People who, even as I write this, continue to scream with impossible ecstasy as they’re torn apart. So Rakesh, you asked for details, so here. Choke on them.
Woman, woman, man grouping. Severe skin deterioration among all three. Severe mutilation of the man’s genitals. All that appears to remain is approximately 5 inches of his urethra, which is being stretched and pulled by both women. Each woman takes turns performing oral sex on the remains of the man’s genitals. The smaller woman, when not occupied with the man, had created holes in the larger woman’s thighs, into which she thrusts her fingers and tongue. All participants in these acts express joy.
Man, boy grouping. The dead man is on his back in the dirt while the boy sits in the gashed crater of the man’s belly. The boy is laughing and pulling out loops of the man’s intestines. Every so often, the boy will duck his head into the dead man’s stomach cavity and move around, as if trying to swim. He then erupts upward, reminding me of a dolphin leaping out of the water, before settling back down in the belly of the dead man to repeat the process. Large bite marks are visible on the boy’s arms.
Man, man, man, man, man grouping. Four men are having intercourse with gaping wounds in the torso of the fifth man. The fifth man is on his back on a small table, chewing on what appears to be the dismembered hand of a child. The child from whom he got the hand is not in sight.
Woman, woman grouping. The women are engaged in mutual oral sex. Each woman’s belly has been torn out and is dangling her viscera either onto the dirt or onto her partner’s body. The woman closest to me is bleeding very badly and will not live much longer.
Side note: As these observations were made, I noticed a change in the surface of the spore victims’ skin. Aside from the growing blight of sores, the skin appears to be growing sticky. It also appears to be weakening. I watched a boy, whose back was relatively free from deterioration, get pushed back against a hut. When the boy moved forward, the skin stuck to the hut and tore from his body with each step. This is similar to what I experienced yesterday with the dog’s head.
Man, woman, woman grouping. The older woman is flaying all skin from the other two group participants. Both the flayed man and younger woman are sitting, apparently chatting happily, while the older woman removes their skin with a small knife. The scraps of flesh are being thrown both at the other groups of villagers and into the forest. This flesh is particularly tacky and is sticking like glue to whatever it strikes.
Woman, man, woman, woman, infant grouping. The woman on the ground appears to be in the process of giving birth to what may have been a healthy, unaffected infant. The man and other two women are pushing the infant in and out of the mother with a great deal of force. I have no doubt the infant is no longer alive. All four living participants are either laughing or yelling with excitement or pleasure.
It was that sight which forced me back to the lab. I’d reached my limit. When I walked in, Annie and Jared had escaped from their rooms. Once their flesh had deteriorated, it was not difficult for them to slip out of their bindings. I hadn’t bothered to lock their bedroom doors after tying them up.
They had resumed their intercourse from the day before. Jared was atop Annie, chest to chest. When I entered the lab, Jared, surprised and delighted to see me, lifted himself off Annie. Their skin clung together and the force of his motion tore the flesh from the muscles. Amused by this, Annie pulled back from Jared and attempted to disengage their genitals. Her vaginal walls clung to Jared’s penis as she moved, sloughing off and separating from her anatomy.
They stood in front of me, like they did yesterday, happy to talk about how much fun they were having. I couldn’t stand to look at them. I asked if they’d kindly go back to their rooms and wait for a little while. Even though they looked confused, they listened to me. I locked them in. That’s when I began to write this entry. As I type, I can hear them moaning as they pleasure themselves. I don’t know what I’m going to do between now and the eight hours before the helicopter is supposed to arrive, but I’m compelled to go into the forest and see if I can salvage anything useful from this horror show. Even if I don’t see anything, maybe it can help clear my head.
Update @ 6:00pm
The first important thing I noticed was how the chunks of flesh thrown by woman who flayed her two partners had sprouted mushrooms. Small, stringy mushrooms. Everywhere I found chunks of flesh, I found the mushrooms. Also of note: the orgy of hideousness in the village had abruptly stopped. I hurried back to see what had happened. I thought at first they might all be dead, but they were there, smiling and wandering around aimlessly. Their injuries were horrific; some catastrophic. Those too hurt to move lay on the ground. The sticky flesh that had touched the dirt had begun to grow the same mushrooms.
Gradually, those capable of walking started to spread out in all directions. They moved slowly, picking their skin and throwing it on the ground as they walked. Over time, they increased their speed. I ran behind a group of boys. They pulled small strips of skin from their bodies and flung it to the dirt with each step. The bit off their own lips and tongues and spit them on the ground or at the trees. They ran and ran and ran, leaving a trail of gore behind them. I looked from side to side and saw the other villagers running and tearing themselves to shreds as they went.
I must have gone a few miles before I couldn’t continue. The hazmat suit was too heavy and I was overheated and exhausted. I turned around and trudged back. The closer I got to town, the first few scraps of flesh that had been torn off had already started sprouting the same stringy mushrooms. I was overwhelmed with visceral disgust and scientific intrigue. Back in the village, no one was left alive. Whoever was capable of running away had done so, and all the corpses remained where they’d fallen or been dropped. Each of the carcasses were sprouting bouquets of fungus.
Out of nowhere, I remembered Annie and Jared. I ran back to the lab, threw open their doors, and saw the consequences of being too late to help them. Both were dead. They’d torn themselves to shreds and blanketed the bedrooms with their flesh and blood. With no dirt or plant life for the mushrooms to grow on, the flesh just sat there. Useless. I don’t know why I did what I did next, but at the time, it felt like the only way to honor them.
I scooped up what I could of their remains and threw it on the ground by the lab. I sat and watched as the mushrooms grew. Now I’m waiting for the helicopter.
That’s the end of the journal. The helicopter picked me up around 10pm. The other teams came in later to do whatever investigations needed to be done. Physically, I was fine. Aside from stewing in a sweaty hazmat suit for two days with a terrible cold and too few fluids, my body was no worse for wear.
The bodies of the villagers were found over the course of the next few weeks. Some of them had made it almost 45 miles before their bodies gave out and they dropped. All that could be recovered were bones.
It’s almost a year later and I’m back in the area with a new team. Having to wear a hazmat suit at all times when we’re not in the lab sucks, but no one wants to go through what happened to our colleagues. The research difficulties we’d faced for the last ten years still plague us, but at least a few questions about the fungus have been answered. Still, when it’s quiet or I’m working alone, I think about the villagers blindly running as far as their bodies would go, all while tearing themselves apart just so they’d fertilize the ground with the spores of that which had possessed them. And I can’t stop thinking about how, because of it, a full five miles had been added to the radius of where that particular mushroom grows.
Like all good scary stories, this one begins with a testicle self-examination. Or, as its colloquially known: jerking off. It was my last day in Guatemala and I was sitting in the hotel, waiting to go to the airport, and abusing myself to help pass the time. Things were going as well as could be expected. Until they weren’t. My left middle finger brushed against a lump on my right testicle. My erection wilted like a primrose at Chernobyl.
I did a cursory examination, hoping it might be an ingrown hair. But I knew it wasn’t. It didn’t have the itchy pain of an ingrown hair. No pain at all, actually. It had all the telltale signs of a growth I absolutely did not want anywhere on my body, especially not on my balls. Within 20 minutes, I’d cancelled my flight, phoned Renee to tell her the flight was delayed, and called an emergency clinic to tell them I was on my way.
I started up a Tumblr blog last November so I could get better exposure for my writing. I was surprised by how quickly it took off. There’s a big horror subculture that seems to enjoy the type of stuff I write, so it didn’t take long before I’d gotten well over 10,000 followers and was cruising along pretty well. As the blog got more established, though, some frightening things started to happen.
Before I go on, I need to give a little background info. For those who don’t know how Tumblr works, they have something called “reblogging,” which just means you repost something that someone else had put on their blog. It shows up in your own blog with the creator’s name linked to it. It basically can allow content to go viral very quickly. Like, you can post something and then someone with a large and established blog might reblog it to all their hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, who can then do the same, and over and over and over until it eventually dies down.
Obviously, wanting to spread my stories and “brand” as far and wide as I possibly could, I sought out opportunities to get my content reblogged by one of those well-established bloggers. After a month or so, it happened. A story of mine got shared well over a thousand times. I gained hundreds of followers. That type of thing happened on many occasions over the following months, leading me to where I was late this April.
In April, after one story did particularly well, I started getting weird messages in my inbox. All of them said something similar. Something along the lines of, “hey I reblogged your story and started getting really personal messages from you – can you please not?”
I was shocked. I thought someone had hacked my account and was spreading harassing messages around. The prospect of someone ruining my reputation before I ever got a chance to really get my writing out there terrified me. As the days went on, more and more people started telling me that I’d sent them unsettling messages.
On April 22nd, when the influx of notifications had slowed and I’d changed my password about 100 times, I was starting to think it had all blown over. I’d posted another story that was met with surprising success. As I watched the reblogs fly and the new followers accumulate, I got a message from a woman named Beverly. All it said was, “I never told anyone about that abortion. Get the fuck out of my head.”
Five minutes later, from a man named Arjay: “But my mom swore she never told anyone about my accident with my cousin.”
Then more came.
Dana: “Fuck you! I couldn’t have stopped that car from killing him!”
Janelle: “Who are you? My father never so much as spanked me. Message me again and I’ll call the police.”
Muhammad: “I didn’t expect him to join and now he’s dead and you’re harassing me about it? Who the hell do you think you are?”
Vivian: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!”
Martin: “She was just lying there. I couldn’t help myself. Please don’t tell.”
I was terrified. I wrote a frantic email to Tumblr staff begging them to see if they could track what was going on and stop it. They never replied. More and more and more notes flooded my inbox. Every single message was from someone who’d reblogged one of my stories. Every single message claimed I’d brought up something to them that was deeply personal; something they’d never told anyone before; sometimes things they never even knew themselves.
I stopped visiting Tumblr for few days and deleted all the email notifications I had about new messages. I tried to keep myself from panicking. It had to be some sort of joke or the work of an extremely determined hacker. My therapist, who only knew I was getting unwanted messages, got me to calm down. He got me agree to give it a month before I visited the site again, and I could figure out a plan of action to either get the messages to stop or to be able to ignore them without panicking.
I took his advice. A little over month later, which was just last week, I went back. I discovered my number of followers had gone from 13,000 to 4,000. So much of what I’d worked to build was gone. The fear of what had happened coupled with the immense frustration I felt from losing what I’d dedicated so much time to. My decades-vanquished anxiety and depression returned with a vengeance.
As I went through my page stats, I saw no one had reblogged one of my stories in three weeks. Part of me knew I had to try to get a handle on the situation and take whatever steps were necessary to get back to where I had been. I waited for a time when it looked like the site was getting a lot of traffic, and then I reblogged one of my older, more popular stories. I prayed it would attract some new followers. Followers that hadn’t heard about my ruined reputation.
No one bit. There wasn’t any indication anyone had read it whatsoever. It was like I’d just thrown the story into interstellar space, never to be seen again. An hour or two passed. I checked the stats. Still just one reblog – my own. I glanced up at the toolbar and saw there was a message waiting for me. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and my hand shook as I moved the cursor to click the icon.
“I watched you eat your little sister. Your little twin sister. Consumed in utero. Before she even knew what pain was, it was the only sensation she ever felt in her short life.”