Artwork for
Vincent Daemon's Vietnam short story
OF CADENCE AND WEATHERED STATUES
by Kara Koma and Shaun Lawton


Friday, April 27, 2012

NIGHT SONG OF THE FUNGI

by Vincent Daemon



The weather had been terribly off considering the time of year. Early December was too late in the autumn for a run of eighty-five degree days with such high humidity. The bestial and violent storms that had pummeled the eastern seaboard as of late were astonishing to say the least. This latest one had been particularly bad. Blinding purple white and blue lightning had exploded with demonic and thundering roars well into the early hours of the morning—bringing with it large balls of destructive hail, seemingly endless cross patterned rain, and Hell-fury winds. Then, with the rising of the sun, these storms rolled out and disappeared into the grey winter ocean to reveal only cloudless bright and sunny skies.



Day 1


Upon waking, David figured he should check the destruction. Still exhausted, he stumbled out onto the back porch, lit himself a smoke, and began to survey the damage, of which it seemed there was surprisingly little. Ancient and empty old farm fields drifted back and out as far as the eye could see, with the occasional smattering of apple trees from which the local deer denizens ordinarily had their family meals. It usually brought David a great deal of inner warmth and pleasure to see the deer every day, frolicking innocently and munching on their apple cores. But there were no deer today, just an endless expanse of wet grass and broken tree limbs.

And an odd ball of...something white...that lingered as a still life about seventy-five yards back. To his eyes it looked like a crumpled plastic grocery bag, but even with the post-storm breeze still blowing, it moved not an inch. Both curiosity and a complete lack of anything to do compelled David to wander back through the muddy yard and investigate this “bag.”

Trudging his way back, he could see that this was no plastic bag, but something more akin to an orb. Upon finally reaching it, he saw exactly what it was: a large, white ball of mushroom-like fungus. Half a human head sized, easily. David tapped it lightly with his shoe, and it did nothing; didn't move, break, or anything else.

For a moment he pondered football kicking it further back into the yard, but thought better of it. “It's not bothering anyone,” he mumbled aloud to himself. “It's fine where it's at.”

Turning, he moseyed back to the house, where he heard a sharp voice bark out his name. It was his neighbor Victor, a burned-out old Vietnam Vet. “David! That was a hell of a storm last night. How's it look back there?”

“S'alright, I guess. There's a huge mushroom-fungi thingy growing back there, though, probably from all the weird warm and damp humidity.”

Victor replied, his answer virtually indecipherable since he refused to put his teeth in. But David knew how to decipher Victor's garbled speech through tone fluctuation and the man's jittery, cocaine- and meth-damaged verbal and physical cues.

“Fungus? Did you get rid of it?”

“Nah, it ain't bothering no one.”

“Oh,” came forth the old man's naturally harsh and monosyllabic reply. “Well, when you get a chance, could you bring my hammer back over?” Every word that came from Victor's mouth sounded like a bad character rendition of Sylvester the Cat.

“Yeah, no problem.” David then tossed his cigarette butt and went into the house to check his phone. He saw that his roommate James, who was away the next three days on a business trip, had called. He'd left a message questioning if there was any damage from the storm. David rang him back, reassured him that all was well.

The rest of the day came and went. David returned Victor's hammer, indulged in a few nips of whiskey while over at the Vet's house. Otherwise, he really just tried to focus and continue writing music, but his mind felt blocked. The more he tried to think, to create, the more his own mind seemed to resist the thoughts and impulses toward action. He essentially sat inside, on the couch, secretly and deeply mulling over the half-head sized ball of fungus in the backyard. He had never really seen a specimen like it. Fungus had always kind of freaked him out, but he simultaneously had a fascination with the stuff. The orb itself had been mostly an off-white cream color, with some darker mottled hues of brown spattered here and there, a lightly crackling skin raised on the top. It was just so...big.

Evening fell, the odd temperature still high and the humidity hanging around in thick unseasonal wafts, the scent of which seemed otherworldly and threw the general feeling of everything off somehow.

David felt as though he had lost time somewhere, really not remembering the day at all. It just sort of rushed past as he sat on the couch with his guitar, trying to write music that wasn't “there,” or more appropriately, that he could not access. It wasn't “writer's block,” he knew what that felt like. This was different, an empty-minded feeling overrun with a certain sadness, a melancholy of sorts. Not depression. And it felt like these thoughts and emotions were not his.

Sitting in the dark, alone, he decided to stroll out to the back porch for another smoke. Humid as it was, there was now a faint chill in the air, not altogether unpleasant. He lit up and let his eyes adjust to the bright moonlight that flooded the fields.

Staring up at the cloudless and starry-bright, late evening sky, he searched for the constellations in their fully visible glory. It was so much nicer to view the sky up here out of the city, away from the lights. In fact, it had become a regular habit of his, almost a nightly ritual, to “watch the skies,” as it were, as well as the borders of the deep woods far behind the house.

His latent interests in Cryptozoology and UFOlogy kept his imagination brewing and fed his curiosities about things unknown to (or denied by) man, even in this day and age. Unusual sounds emanated from the woods during the wee hours, and strange streaks of meteors and other mind trick light games had a tendency to fill these late evening skies. And he had, on occasion, witnessed some genuine anomalies. Of course, most of this he kept to himself, or translated into abstract lyrical tales to accompany his musical pieces.

That was when David heard the music. It was a faint and chilling tune with a high pitch, a keening tone, wavering and strange. It was oddly cooing, and in equal measures disquieting and comfortable. At first he thought it was coming from the neighbor's house on the other side, some surly old bastard he never talked to, didn't even know the fellow's name.

But that made no sense, really. So, eyes adjusted, he peered out over the blue fields to ascertain the source of this “music.” He couldn't quite manage that, but did see that there were now many, many more white shapes protruding from the ground—not unlike the “mushroom” from earlier in the day.

It kind of creeped him out, so he power-smoked his Camel and retreated quickly back into the house. Figuring he would just go to sleep, the intense silence of the empty old house did nothing but amplify the cooing, haunting music with an ever-wavering and vibrating pitch that echoed with callous beauty into the strange country night. He could feel it under his skin.

With the pillow firmly over his head, sleep finally came, but it was neither restful nor right. It seemed filled with visions and memories, none of them his own—nor translatable to the written word—just a deep unspoken loneliness and longing. Yet David remained completely dreamless.


Day 2


David awoke in a suffocating state of gnawing anxiety. Not just psychological, but a physical and emotional discomfort, which had left him feeling restless and angry, though he was not really sure at what. His sleep had indeed been dreamless, and far from restful. It felt like the frustrations of endless aeons had infected his mind. Ideas and concepts he had no real words for nor understanding of had taunted him all throughout the night. It felt like he was receiving transmissions, not having dreams.

In an exhausted stupor he headed outside for his wake-up smoke. He lit it, looked up from the porch, and the cigarette fell right from his mouth.

“What the fuck?”

The yard was now filled with these strange, white bulbous fungi, all of varying sizes and similar hues. The one he had noticed first, way in the back, was still there, only at least twice the size it had been the previous day. “You gotta be kidding me,” was the only response he could muster.

Then, that familiar bark, Victor: “You see this shit? This is disgusting...where'd all this come from?”

David could only shrug his shoulders, the anxiety in his gut knotting tighter. The air smelled off, really off, and the endless field was now filled with these orbs as far back as the eye could see.

“Get your boots on, I wanna go check it out.” David sighed at Victor's command, not really wanting anything to do with this weirdness. But his relationship with Victor was a strange one. He often helped the old coot with odd jobs and whiskey runs, and more often than not lent his ears to virtually all of Victor's griping and war stories. The guy was surly, but had for whatever reason let David into his life and they had indeed built a very unique friendship. As much as David would occasionally bitch about Victor's eccentricities, it seemed they both appreciated the bond that they had.

They slopped through the still muddy and wet yard, stepping over the various sized growths as they did so. Victor was babbling about something, but David could not keep focus. His mind kept wandering into areas of completely blank thought, the thousand yard stare taking over his vision. The only thing was, when he did that, it seemed—from his peripheral vision—as if the ground about him was shifting, moving around. But once he looked directly down, all the bulbous little things seemed to remain right where they had been.

“Pay attention!” Victor snapped, noticing the lack of focus and conversational retort. David merely looked at him, watching Victor remove his ever-present glasses and lick them clean with his toothless mouth. It was horrifying to behold. The tacky bastard put them right back on, breathlessly forging ahead into war stories and something about centipedes.

David felt the need to interrupt. “Hey, Vic—look forward and release focus of your eyes.”

“Huh?”

“Look forward. Release focus of your eyes. Notice anything?”

“You stoned or something? I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Vic, these things on the ground...I think they might be moving.”

“Yep. You're high.”

“No! I'm serious...just—”

Victor cut him off with a swift kick to one of the bulbs, sending its oddly formed shape exploding outward into a million pieces with a poof of dried spore-dust clouding up into the air. He kicked another, and another. “Don't do that, man, you don't know what's in those things,” David was compelled to say. As usual, David's words slipped in one of his neighbor's ears and out the other.

While kicking, the toothless fungus-punter questioned David. “You hear that fucking music last night? Kept me up all goddamned night. Was that you?”

“Nah, I heard it too, wasn't me. I'm not really sure where it was coming from. I didn't like it though. It was kinda creepy.”

Victor chuckled. “Creepy? I just thought it was annoying as fuck.” Sylvester the Cat couldn't have put it more eloquently himself.

As they ogled and discussed this fungi situation, David kept deliberately letting his visual focus wane to see them shifting and moving about, of their own volition, in the ground all around him. He would then force his vision back, and there they would be, motionless. He felt like he was going mad, like some horrible game was being played with him.

Eventually, they turned around, not making it as far out into the field as the largest and first bulb. Which brought David a bit of relief, as he felt like that large one was not something they should be messing with, destroying it or whatever negative juvenile act would have inevitably happened. There were just too many of these things for the two of them to keep stepping over or around and investigating.



The rest of the day played out like the one before it. There had been many attempts at song and lyric writing, but no actual substance came out. It had fallen into lost time. Hours spent in total silent solitude on the couch, the living room growing dark as the sunlight faded into another viciously bright moonlit night. David had been in a constant funk and zone of timeless existence, his mind feeling the wakefulness of the dreamless sleep once again in a passably (and regrettably) lucid state.

The night song from the previous evening, the creepy-cooing and high-toned wavering, began to ring its odd tintinnabulations both from and into the abyss of moonlit darkness. It brought David out of his semi-catatonic state, drawing him outside and into the evening.

He stepped out onto the porch, the sinister night song echoing like horny summer bugs. He stared out directly at the voluminous bulbs, and this time knew he could see them shift and move themselves around. This was no trick of the eye, but was indeed some sort of graceful dance, fluid and eerie, soft and entrancing, much like the night song itself.

Looking to his side, David noticed Victor was on his own porch, clad only in a pair of red boxer shorts with little snowflake designs on them. He called out to his neighbor, but the man just stood there, seemingly entranced, shoeless, a little hunched, his gut hanging over his skivvies. He stared into the white moon-glow field with that thousand yard look in his eyes. In his right hand he clutched a near empty gallon bottle of Seagram's 7.

David called out a second time, but Victor did not respond. He merely began to wander into the cool, misty field, slow and like an automaton, until his slightly limping figure could no longer be seen. He seemed to disappear, swallowed whole by the bright and wispy mists. David figured the old coot was tanked on whiskey again, and thought no further into it than that. Better to just let him go off hammered in a shell-shocked haze and wander the fields a bit, might cool him out.

David did find it odd, however, that Victor had spat back no sarcastic retort, dirty joke, nor genuine complaint about the return of the music, as he usually did, regardless of sobriety or state of mind.

It was then he saw it, through the mist, back where the largest of these orbs resided, that first bulb. There were plumes of some phosphorescent vapor poofing into the air, colors unique and beautiful. Glowing greens, purples, pinks. It was unlike anything David had ever witnessed before. The spewing of these interstellar neon colors began way in the back of the field, by that first bulb, and was being mimicked and repeated by each successive fungus bulb in the field, growing ever closer and simultaneously ever outward. The scent of the air was changing again, and the song was growing louder, more intense with each new expulsion of beautiful color from each bulb.

David thought it might be best to return indoors, away from any possible inhalation of this gloriously toxic-looking vapor. He went upstairs, a sort of panic seeping throughout his entire being. He locked himself in his bedroom, kept the lights off and peered out the window. He was searching for signs of Victor, but the man's form never returned. Instead, David found himself now entranced by the blaring song of the fungi, and spent the night coiled back in his dreamless state of waking sleep, watching the bulbs shift and dance around in the misty fields, spewing their neon ejaculate into the thick and low-clinging fog of the unseasonal weather.


Day 3


“Jim, dammit, listen to me! The entirety of the yard is filled with these things!” David bellowed into the phone.

“Are you stoned?” That seemed to be the all-around standard reply to David's concerns over the fungus situation.

“I'm telling you, these things are sentient, Jim. They sing...they move...of their own volition. They were dancing, man. And no, I'm not stoned.

“I think the isolation is just getting to you, man. You're lonely, need a woman or something. So there are a couple of mushrooms out back...”

“They're not mushrooms, man. I don't know what they are. But you should've seen the colors, I can't even describe them. Then Victor disappeared. I knocked a little bit ago—but he didn't answer.”

“C'mon, Dave, you know he gets drunk and flashbacky. What the hell did you smoke last night? And when was the last time you slept? Hell, you're not eating these mushrooms, are you?”

Dave had grown quite irritated and was almost growling into the phone. “I smoked nothing—cigarettes. Please, listen to what I'm saying. These things are everywhere. They are aware, Jim.”

James was obviously growing weary of David's near-hysterical ranting. “Look man, I gotta go. Meeting. You know how it is. Just relax and try and smoke some weed that's not laced with mushroom spores, heh.” The tone in his voice was almost flippant, and there was a heckling giggle.

“I am not smoking any weed!” David bellowed in frustration into the phone. But James had hung up already, gone to his supposed meeting.

David wanted to smash the phone, to throw it with full-rage force to the floor and smash it to a billion pieces. Hell, its how his mind felt anyway. Like it was being shattered into a billion pieces, one for each star he felt he'd passed in the cosmos.

The rest of the day passed like a corpse being dragged slowly by a tractor. David could feel such an insufferable pain in his bones, muscles, joints...in his mind. Even under his skin. By the time night fell, he was not sure if he had slept during the day, or not. It was a sluggish, pained existence he was enduring, worse than that of his usual reality.

Darkness filled the house once again, and beneath the light of the glowing full moon, so the song of the fungi began again. That wavering pitch, the melodic cooing of sounds that no human ears had ever heard before—and that no human larynx could emit. Around midnight, in the cool and humid mist, the sounds echoed out from seemingly nowhere and nothing at all.

Sitting with his guitar, he realized he had been strumming the same collection of sound and notes all day long, throughout this disintegration of time in and around him. His hands were sore and his fingertips bled. It then occurred to him that this repetition which he had been circling in on with his strumming was indeed, their night song, the nocturnal song of the fungi. He was playing it now in perfect time to the cooing melody. The realization of this filled him with a disconnected horror, and his instrument fell clumsily to the hardwood floor.

David tried to put the music out of his head, its beautiful clawing and scraping sounds rattling the inside of his skull. But he could not focus enough to be able to do so. He tried, with all his will, but there was no way to curb the sad strains of travelling aeons and endless cosmic cold. His deep horror evolved then into a sudden yearning to become one with the inhabitants of the farthest galaxial regions now. In fact, despite a part of David trying to resist this, he no longer had control over his own body, soul, or mind.

David disrobed down to his black boxer-briefs, and began to wander outdoors. The once atrocious scent that had been hanging in the air since the appearance of that first immense fungus bulb became now an inviting pheromone musk, causing David both an odd arousal and a euphoria the likes of which he had never experienced. He could almost see himself from outside of himself. No control over his physical being or his thoughts remained. It was at once stultifyingly unpleasant, horrifically confusing, and orgasmically enthralling.

This all seemed to be against his own volition, and David's being pulled out into the moonlit misty field. It felt like he was being pulled by invisible and warm marionette strings. He never stepped on a single fungus, yet never once looked down at his steps. On the soles of his feet he could feel the microscopic webbing of ancient mycelium that lay just beneath the grass, in the soil, tickling him softly as he wandered the neon mists. The natural neural network of the planet raised the ground in gentle ocean-like waves of beauty and brought them back down just the same. It was out of his hands now. It was time to go home.

In his boxers and nothing else, David stood still before the largest of the fungi bulbs, and watched as the most astonishing thing happened. Several different-sized bulbs raised themselves from out of the moist ground, and began to roll toward each other, placing themselves atop one another, rolling up themselves like off-colored snowballs. They were creating a figure, a design of some sort, almost like a human body. He watched as one after another joined in this weird puzzle-game, like some kind of Jenga of the human form.

Finally, amidst the spewing of neon vapors and the shrouding of cool midnight mist, the first and largest of the fungi upheaved itself, rolled to the top of the heap of the rest. It sprouted hair from its head, and sunk into the shape of the most beautiful human female's face, something from the dreams of David's soul. This fungal-being-thing of perfect female form approached David slowly, cautiously. In that strange wavering song she told him to “relax, accept” and brought her arms around him. As he laid his head down to her breast, he saw the form of something also vaguely human on the ground beside him.

It was Victor, his body growing out of the ground...or sinking down into it. He was the color of the fungi. Victor's face seemingly molded into the Styrofoam-like texture of these things. His features quivered and twitched, pulsating with some kind of life, and still wore the tongue-cleansed glasses of his former self. The lipless mouth parted and only a strained glossolalia came forth. In his right hand he still clutched his empty bottle of Seagram's 7 tight in a fungi-knuckled grip.

David merely looked at the Victor-shroom, and looked back to the fungi-woman in whose arms he now rested, an alien feeling of tranquility washing over him as he did so. Laying his head upon this strange, calming being's breast, he reeled in ecstasy when her nipples began to emit the sweet neon toxin spores, their up-close scent and dizzying attributes wafting directly into his brain like a wonderful noxious mist, his entirety of being becoming still and falling into a state of true peace.



James returned from his business trip, a bit exhausted and a tad cranky. He reeled in total shock as he pulled into the driveway to find not just the yard, but now portions of the house, covered with large white orbs of...fungus? He'd been calling David since he got off of the airplane to no avail. The yard was a mess, the house not much better. James could find no trace of David anywhere. He figured his friend and roommate was just exhausted and had gone downtown to cop some weed.

But the fungus littering the yard, that disturbed him greatly. He could see why David's skittery mind was having an issue with it. Grabbing a rake, he marched back to the far part of the field where he could see two large forms protruding from the ground. Upon reaching the two forms, he thought he had wandered into a bad joke of some kind.

He recognized Victor's glasses instantly, and noticed that the other form seemed to have a carving upon its “face” resembling David. They looked like they had been shaped out of thick, instant mashed potatoes and covered in a sheen of crackly, congealed gravy skin.

“Cute. Not funny, guys,” mumbled James, raising the rake above his head. He brought it down hard to tear apart the peaceful fungal forms now growing silently from the damp dirt.



~ End APRIL Issue ~





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