Of Monsters and Mushrooms
By Lesley Herron
Attila pried open his one good eye with a groan. Immediately he regretted this decision as light flooded each of his five senses. He thanked god he only had one eye, two may have killed him. He clenched shut his eye and tried to sit up. Even unable to see, he could still tell he was laying on a cold, hard service. He chanced the blinding void once more, hoping to gain an idea of his surroundings. His vision slowly adjusted, and the room wasn’t nearly as bright as it had seemed.
Walls were hidden behind teetering stacks of books. Which was odd considering the rest of the room was lined with bookcases. The books must have been removed to make way for the varying glass jars that caused the shelves to bow beneath their weight. They were all in varying stated of grime, containing some foul liquid or an impressive assortment of withered and preserved creatures. One of the creatures, apparently too well preserved for its own good, swiveled its large yellow eye to gaze back down on Attila. It let out a small angry cry and swirled around in its glass container.
A shudder ran down Attila’s spine as he continued to look around against his better judgment. There were dusty windows set high on the walls, and the ones that remained unbroken had yellowed panes. Even though there was some sunlight filtering in, the rafters were quite dark. Many small glowing eyes stared down at him from just above the thick wooden beams. He quickly averted his gaze to the ground to find it littered with torn pages from books, loose scraps of burnt parchment, and a smattering of random tools. An ugly twisted rat scampered over a pair of forceps before disappearing under a desk.
He looked around at his resting place, and a shiver of panic ran through him. He had been laying atop a cold porcelain table, complete with grooves in the edges that, Attila assumed, were for blood. The table itself was rusty and encrusted in dirt, complete with rusted over spigots and yellowed rubber hoses. He noted the large ten-legged spider that had set up his home between the old tubes and slid off the table rather faster than his pride would have liked.
Bare feet hit cold stone. Thankful it wasn’t a corpse of a small rodent, Attila looked around for his shoes. He had to get out of this place. He had to get to. . . What was he doing before he blacked out? Attila racked his brain, trying hard to remember. He scratched at his eye patch for a brief moment before a flash entered his mind. Brig. Brig had gone missing. Attila remembered the twisted look of fear on Brig’s face as he was pulled from their hovel during one of his recordings. A tape that would likely never make it to its destination.
Attila found his boots and began to tug them on over his feet. One of his toes met with something fuzzy that squealed when jabbed. He pulled his foot from his boot faster than Brig could pull a meal out of his hand, a speed that would make most gunslingers jealous. A shivering black ball of fuzz was staring up out of Attila’s boot with red eyes. It jet out of his shoes and disappeared into the rafters.
“I have really got to get out of here.,” Attila confessed aloud, shoving his foot into the now vacant shoe. He looked around once more, scanning his surroundings for his poncho. He spotted the ragged black fabric hanging on a hook near a door. Hopefully, the door was one that would lead him out, and not deeper into this hospital of horrors.
He slung his poncho on over his shoulders and reached for the knob. Something pulled at his subconscious and he stopped. He turned around, facing the room. His eyes scanned over the shelves, the jars, the desk, and finally stopped on what he was looking for. Sitting on the hairless head of a mutated skull was his hat. He breathed a sigh of relief as he moved to grab it. As he pulled it off the skull, something lurking inside peered out of one of the eye sockets and hissed at him.
Attila brushed off his antique, flat top cowboy hat, and decided he was finally ready to wash his hands of this weird facility. He returned to the door and wrenched it open, hoping what lay beyond was less deranged that what he was leaving behind. The outdoors, or perhaps a storage closet full of more jars.
Large white eyes peered back out at Attila from a veil of blackness. A wave of cold panic washed over him. The creature began to move. Slowly it stepped from the shadows into the light. Attila took a shaky step back, and then another, and another, trying desperately to keep some distance between him and the thing pulling itself from the doorway. A large red point began to emerge, unmistakably that of a beak. The rest of the creature broke free from the shadows, and the yellowing light from the windows bathed it in an eerie glow.
The creature was tall. Attila craned his neck to look up at the thing. It was skinny, deathly skinny, shrouded in a thick brown fur. The large white eyes swiveled furiously in the monster’s head before they landed on him. Long matted black hair was tangled in the thorns on the beasts back and shoulders. A puff of a dusty air issued from the visible nostrils in the creature’s beak before it opened its mouth and let out a terrifying shrill shriek. And then there was nothing but black.
There was that flash of a memory again. Brig’s terrified face as something pulled him from away from the camera. Long spindly black fingers wrapped around his arms, his neck, his legs. The nightmare monster that stole him had too many appendages, too many mouths, and thousands of eyes. As if it had been made from a jumble of other animals, by something that had only the slightest idea of how a creature should look.
A strangled cry rang from Attila’s mouth as he sat bolt upright. A pain like he never experienced lanced through every molecule of his being, paralyzing him. It pounded in his head, resonated through his bones, made his skin tingle. It was another moment before he realized he hadn’t actually sat up, but instead fell from a height, and landed on a stone floor. He was struggling to breathe through a puddle of his own blood that issued from his now broken nose.
A pair of hands gripped him hard on his shoulders and lifted him from the ground. Attila clenched his eyes shut, for fear of seeing that horrible monster with the white eyes and red beak once more. But the hands on his shoulders felt human.
“Hey. Wake up.”
That voice was definitely human. Or human-ish. At the very least it knew English. A sharp slap to his face cleared the fog from his brain. Attila, at last, opened his eye. There was a person, apparently human, peering at him harshly as if to determine his well-being. Blue eyes studied him from behind a pair of thin spectacles, one of the lenses cracked nearly in two.
“Where…where am I?,” Attila choked out over chapped lips. God, he was thirsty.
“You’re safe.” The man let go of him and stepped back, offering him a grubby handkerchief.
Attila pushed the cloth to his bleeding nose and looked around. He was certain this was still the room of horrors and curiosities, but at the same time not at all. There were no curious creatures crawling around, no jars of unknown subjects, and no sign of that mutated skull. The monster that dissolved from the shadows was nowhere in sight, thankfully. In fact, the room Attila was now absorbing in was a regular, albeit run down, medical office.
The man before him raised a brow. “Tell me what you saw.”
Attila raised a brow back, “What?” nobody could raise an eyebrow like a man with an eye patch.
The man grabbed a notebook from beneath a teetering pile of papers on his desk. The papers fell to the floor, but the man took no notice of it. He sucked on the end of a pen and began to furiously scribble away. “Tell me. What. You saw.” He spoke each word as if Attila was slow.
Attila shook his head. “I don’t know what’s going on. Where am I?”
“You’re in my home, now-”
“You live here?,” Attila quipped, his face pulled up in unabashed distaste.
“Yes?,” the man responded as if Attila’s question needn’t be asked.
“But this is…” Attila looked around, finally realizing where he was. He turned back, pulling the cloth away from his face. “A morgue.”
“And also my medical office.”
Attila pulled another face but remained silent.
“I saved you from the Sporing.”
“Sporing?,” Attila repeated. Was that the creature from the doorway? His head hurt even more.
The man stared at Attila as if he were the most curious thing he had ever seen. He sighed heavily, realizing he just might not get his questions answered. “Have you never been to the Surface?”
“The surface? Isn’t that what I’m standing on? I don’t live under gr-”
“No.,” the doctor interrupted. “The Surface is the name of our sector here.”
“Oh. Uh, then I guess not.”
“Thought so. Let me show you something.,” The man said, setting his notebook down. He moved over to a stack of medical books and toppled them to the ground, revealing the only low window in the room. He pulled aside a curtain to reveal a thick wooden plank. He then pried that aside to reveal the yellowed panes of glass. He rubbed a circle in the dust and beckoned Attila closer.
Attila peered through the dirt ring to the wasteland outside. The area, unlike the barren desert he was expecting, was filled with giant mushrooms. All kinds of mushrooms, sprouting up, unhindered by their height. Much of the blue in the sky was blocked by their large crowns. What sunlight could get through, did so in thick beams that shown down like searchlights. Through the circles of lights on the ground, he could just make out the red ground and how it looked spongy and bouncy. Attila had seen pictures of a rain forest. But these forests were nothing like those faded pictures in a dusty old book. This forest was very much alive.
Attila pulled away and let the man before him set to work at covering the window once more. He picked up his notebook and turned to face him, his face wide with an expecting smile.
“I don’t understand. I was tracking my friend through the Ashlands, how did I get here?”
The doctor sighed once more. “Only you know the beginning of that tale. We’re actually in the Ashlands, this is a bit of an oasis. All I can tell you is that I found you, unconscious, out there in the forest. Lucky for you, the Sporing had just started. You were only exposed to a minute amount of them. I was able to get you out of there before they could kill you.”
“There’s no wind out here. There’s no way for the mushrooms to spread their seeds. So in order for them to reproduce, their spores became parasitic. Once a spore gets a hold of you, you become a host.”
“What? No. That’s stupid.,” the doctor said, chuckling to himself at the thought of zombies. “No, they don’t control your mind or your movements or anything. Once the Spores enter your body, they begin to set to work at turning your body into nutrients. You won’t even notice. You’ll go about your daily life until one day you can’t move. And then suddenly, you’re just another mushroom”
Attila shook his head. “Uh, wow. I, uh, I was looking for my friend. He was taken, and I followed the track that, I guess, led to this sector. But…how come I’m not dead?”
“Eh, that’s not important. Now, tell me. What did you see? I’ve been documenting the hallucinations that those infected by the Spores have witnessed. I’m really eager to hear what you witnessed.”
Attila was looking around, suppressing the panic that set forth inside him. He set his gaze on a far wall, a doorway that seemed eerily familiar. “Um, it was a creature.” His own voice sounded far away, and distant.
“It was grotesque, black with brown fur. Fur like a coat. And spikes…no, branches from its shoulders and back. And…,” Attila paused, his brain struggling to recall the memory like a fading dream. “It had a red beaked face, and these…piercing white eyes. And this…this horrible shrill scream.”
“Ah.,” the doctor chuckled, before he set his things down. “ No. No. That was your scream you heard, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I was observing you from that corner over there. You played with your shoe for a bit, put an old bed pan your head and tried to leave. Then, well, screamed. My name is Errik, by the way. Apothecary, surgeon, mortician and massage therapist, at your service.,” he said, extending his hand.
Confusion still written on his face, Attila shook it meekly before uttering his own name in return. “Attila.” He glanced over to the table and saw his hat sitting next to an old bed pan. He made a mental note to shower thoroughly first chance he got.
“Most people, with their brains addled by Spores, usually see no creatures or monsters. They see only a warped version of their world. Warbling, rippling visions. A bad trip, if you will. Get the munchies and all that. But some, like you, seem to be able to break through the veil and see the Otherworld. The creatures that lie just beneath this dimension, hidden in plain sight. The Spores showed you your gift, and allowed you a glimpse into the Otherworld.
“Now, judging by the fact that your trail led you here, I’m going to guess that what took your friend is, in fact, from the Otherworld. There is a gateway deep in the forest. Perhaps your friend is there.”
“How do you know this?,” Attila asked, his brain a buzz from the sudden influx of information.
“Well…That’s where the forest spawned from.”
Attila swayed on the spot. He ran his hands through his long hair and sighed. “So…what do I do?”
“Well… There’s the problem. Most people can only see the creatures of the Otherworld with the help from the spores. But we can’t remain on the spores long enough to follow your friend through the gateway without becoming mushroom about a month later.”
“So…I can’t get my friend back?” Attila felt a bit sick.
“I didn’t say that. I said -most- people. I know of one person who can help us. He can see through the veil without the help of the spores.”
“Great!” Attila moved to wrench open the door.
“Hang on! You can’t go out there unprotected! And it’s been a long time since I’ve made the journey. We’ll need a plan.” Errik moved over to his desk, and pushed a few things off the table to reveal a large dusty map.
“Do you know anything about this area?”
“Alright then. I’m going with you. I told you that this guy -can- help, but I don’t know if he -will- help.”
“Well my brother -is- ever so stubborn.”
About The Author
This piece was Written by Lesley Herron. It’s part one of a cross over fan fiction for a book series in the works by Author J.D. Wiley. It’s a subtle way to encourage him to hurry it up, dammit. She tossed together this piece using a couple of his characters with some of her own.
Lesley writes simply for the love of it, and currently has a novel in the works. but spends most of her energy convincing her husband to get off his butt and record audiobooks.