Father Fungus, Part 2
Ori had been lying on the humming, glowing ground for quite some time. Diana had settled his head in her lap, gently stretching and turning his head, watching over him, while the Walker watched the entry to the elder fungus. The boy was breathing steadily, like he was asleep, yet his eyelids had seized to flutter moments ago and Diana prayed to Acantha for him to wake up. Eventually his lids opened and he let out a yawn. “Good morning, Diana. I had the weirdest dream.” smiling weakly he stared, becoming aware of his awkward position. Diana gently let go of his head, smiled back at him and replied: “Good morning, Ori, you stupid little prick-pusher! You gave us quite a show.” She was still holding his hand, but let go after she noticed a strong pulse. His eyes though, were a completely different story. Before they had been as dark as the night sky, with only the tiniest tint of blue, yet now they showed streaks of green as well as yellow dots, surrounding his slightly dilated pupils. She had witnessed people change their eye colour, but mostly elderly ones, which often times meant they were going to go blind. But then it had been a gradual and rather complete change of colour, while this struck her as quite odd. “How are you feeling, thorn-prince?” she teased him. He yawned again, stretched his limbs and tried to get up. “Feeling just grea-uh…” Barely managing to get into a sitting position he had nearly collapsed if it wasn’t for Diana’s firm, calloused hands, keeping him upright. “Easy, slow down. You need to breathe first. And have some water.” she gestured to the Walker, who unslung and threw the metal flask to her, Diana catching it adeptly mid-flight.
As soon as the cactus water had run down his throat, Ori let out a soft sigh and said “This feels like home. It was so weird, Diana. I could see everybody, well not actually see, but feel them. Their heartbeats, their breathing, them moving around, but it wasn’t really like seeing. They were above me, but I was like everywhere at once.” She stared at him but didn’t reply, so he went on: “There was no moon, and no sky, it was dark, yet I was able to see with my fingers I guess… but they were longer and not even fingers.”
He looked at his hands, grabbed his left index finger and obviously content with finding it intact spoke again: “They told me so much, everything really. Did you know they have a whole network?” He looked at her, the question hanging in the air, like the soft glow of the fungus heart. “Who?” “Well, the fungi of course! They are all connected by the Mycelium. People had something like this in times before the Great Darkness, they said. But it was rather primitive and they relied on metal tendrils, who weren’t even able to regrow, once they had been cut. But the principle was the same. Many sharing their stories to become one. The fungi are the fungi, but they are also one. And they want me to become part of them.” Diana squinted and replied: “I won’t allow that. We need you as our pathfinder, remember?!” Her own shock that she had been trying really hard to hide from him, started to show. Laughing, Ori said: “Well, they know. They said, they are going to tell me where we have to go and after we have found what we are looking for and I’ve grown out of this shell, I could join them. Really it is nothing like you think. They rarely even talk to us any more, because nobody would answer. It is a great honour to become part, to grow together.” His earnest expression, much too earnest for his limited number of years broke the spell and a giggle escaped her “Ori, I don’t know what has gotten into you, but it doesn’t matter to me as long as you’re well.” She squeezed his right shoulder and tickled his belly, like she had done so many times before, when he was but a wee one, rolling around the sands with his siblings. He laughed and said, turning to the Walker: “I’m serious. I know where to go next. They told me, or he told me to be more specific. They are one, but this one was a human before. His name was Eban, he lived here with his folks many moons ago, he told me. He wanted to have a place near his people while they were stil alive, so they grew him this steading. The fungi I mean. They can just grow things, like anything really. We are inside a huge fruit body. And they see so far, oh you cannot imagine what I’ve seen. There is water, but not just water, it never ends, like the desert.” Sighing and slightly swaying, Diana was worried he might faint again, but he steadied himself instantly “Let me lead the way, please!”
The walker who had listened intently on everything said and unsaid before replied: “After we’ve gotten some food into you. You have suffered quite a traumatic experience. I only witnessed something similar once. It was when I learned with Blaise and he found this weirdly shaped thing at one of the stalks in high summer. Later he told me it was an ergot kernel and that they were quite common but you should never eat them, because your mind might not return. He barely even touched it and licked his finger. Then he went into a similar state of trance you’ve just snapped out of. Although he didn’t glow, like you did.”
“I, I glowed?!” Ori interrupted him. Nodding, the walker continued “Blaise gained an even deeper understanding into the nature of rye, the ergot told him a lot and he was never one to dismiss a lecture” He smiled at that, but his smile soon was replaced by a deep sadness “It was just some days before they came for him. The raiders, I mean. He had so much still untold.” Going quiet, Diana and Ori stared at him. It was the first time, they had experienced him showing that much emotion. Only when he had told them the story of his growing up there were hints of sadness, but he was quite good at masking them, still if you listened to the pauses between his words there had been some unshed tears, lurking. Clearing his throat he said: “Here, have some scorpions Ori, I smoaked them outside, while you were out. I already removed the stingers.” He handed him a handful of crumpled dark-brown scorpions and he ate them, one by one, chewing raptly and enjoying the rare treat. “They are delicious! I’ve never eaten something like this before!”
Again, the Walker smiled and said “I used some mesquite from my stash.” He padded one of the many pockets of his belt. “I rarely find something that is worth smoaking, so I took my chances.” Also crunching on some of the scorpions, he handed some to Diana as well. She took them, but stashed them away in her pouch, made of cactus fiber. She flashed a short smile at him and said: “We ought to get going, we can reach the next shelter if we hurry. The sun doesn’t show for two hours or so. Although we lost some time, we can still make it up. I just don’t want to be caught off-guard by anybody. The Plutonium tribe haven’t showed their ugly faces for quite some time, but you never know. So let’s pack up and leave!” Grabbing her spear, she left the structure. Ori and the Walker exchanged a look and after Ori accepted the Walker’s hand to help him stand up, they too walked out of the elder fungus. Passing the threshold, Ori whispered into the night breeze: “Farewell, Eban, tell them I’ll be back.” The fruit body seemed to glow brighter for a moment but it might have been the starlight caught on the dunes. Once the Walker had scattered and hidden all remains of the small fire he had started before to smoak the scorpions, they continued walking.
As Diana had said, after several miles they encountered a dwelling, long abandoned, one of the old concrete ones, the corroded metal door standing ajar. Diana approached it very slowly, sniffed once and said: “There were some jackals or hyenas, not sure, but they have left days ago so they won’t use it again. And if they change their minds, well,” she shrugged “We already agreed we could use every protein available. And I for myself wouldn’t mind a little fat as well.”I need to grease the tip of my spear, it is getting dull from the sand.” After taking camp inside the shelter, Diana and the Walker went to sleep, while Ori watched the entrance, the traces of dawn already coloring the desert in all shades of yellow, orange and red.
(to be continued)
Listen to my recording of this story over here.
Please also read the other parts, linked below.
This is an ongoing dystopian narration I publish in between the poetry,
whenever I find the time. The next chapter might be added in a week or two.
Picture: Idan Arad via unsplash