The Mushroom People (excerpt) By Kathy Briant
Chapter 1 – The Problem
He was a little fellow, not much bigger than your average waste basket, white as a page and stubby as an eraser. Chop Lee was his name and being a mushroom was his game. She was immediately attracted to him. She liked him. When she first met him, he was waiting for her, near the path, when she was going towards the city, that first time, lost and not knowing where her next steps would take her. She thought, my goodness, this is an interesting creature. He was shortish, maybe up to her waist, roundish, white, with cape sort of exterior with a wavy skirt, sort of slanted eyes, if you could call them eyes and a friendly expression on his face. She’d never seen anything quite like him. He was a real surprise.
Before, she had been re-directed to the other little mushroom, the one who carried the news, and got into the many questions she needed to ask him in order to get information, so she forgot Chop Lee. She thought they didn’t have names, but they did. Brilliant Blossom was another and the old one was called Meta Age. But she digressed.
“Here, girl, here.” he urgently waved his small hands at her after she had asked the sundog, she’d gotten so far and then lost her way again. He was whispering, but she could hear him very clearly. It was the way things were done sometimes, she learned, a little telepathy, a little talk, a few spores here and there of knowledge and before long, you were speaking their language, and could hear the voices in your head. He was kind and helpful. They talked for a while, and he gave her directions towards the city. She was always grateful for that, since she couldn’t do it by herself. He was such a charming, kind fellow. She liked him a lot. Sometimes the most interesting people came in the oddest packages.
“Chop Lee, you are the greatest.” she had exclaimed. He turned a little pink with embarrassment – a white mushroom boy, pink with embarrassment, now that was something to see. He shifted from one foot to another. “Awww, that’s ok Lis.” he always called her that, not Melissa or Lissa, but just Lis. “I am happy to help you.” And so he was a part of the first adventure, a little part, but an important part.
And that is why she answered his call for help right away. She didn’t exactly know how he called, not the phone, no letter or anything, but suddenly she heard him loud and clear in her mind. “Lis, Lis, Lis.” – he liked to repeat things three times when he was upset, it settled him somehow and slowed down his spinning mind. “Lis, Lis, Lis.” now he must be really upset, two sets of three this time? “Lis, Lis, Lis.”– now she was really alarmed. “What is it Chop Lee, what’s the matter?” She answered him. Now she didn’t exactly know how she answered him, something to do with the spores they had shared once, the contact they had made before, but they were in connection.
In her mind’s eye, she could see him hopping up and down with anxiety. She could visualize a small area around him, but didn’t recognize it, things were sort of black all around him. “Where are you?” She asked. He said “Here in the mushroom forest or what is left of it. Most got out, but everything was lost.” He had a little catch in his voice, his attempt not to cry. “What happened?” She asked alarmed.
“Well, well, well.” he stammered. “Well, well, well it was like this. I was out and gone travelling like the young are supposed to – you know when we reach the age of 40, we send down shoots and stay in one place, so you have to get your moving around done when you are young.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” she said, seeming to catch the repeating thing from him somehow, but wanting him to get to the point. There was nothing like a mushroom person for not getting to the point. They could wander in their speech around and around a thing and never really touch down, so you knew what they were getting to.
He continued. “So, Allan, my teacher was at home, when I got a big shriek call from him. He had to pull up shoots, which hurts like the Dickens and run for his life, he was telling me. I could feel his skirt slapping against the ground, which is painful for those over 40 and he is 55, but you wouldn’t know it. He seems so young. So smart too. He can answer just about any question. You know, I once asked him…”
“Ok, ok, ok, what happened next.” Melissa knew to keep him on track or you’d be there all day.
“Oh, oh, oh, sorry.” he said, and then resumed. “Something got into the underlying base of the forest and started to burn from the inside out! No open flames, just a smouldering sort of thing that took people by surprise. Lucky we can reach each other easily. The first ones just got scorched skirts, but had to rip up and head out very quickly or they would have been lost. The spore fields, of course were lost. All that knowledge, all that information they carried, gone forever.” He was very sad now. The mushroom people kept the news you know.
And then…she tried to lead him to the point. “Oh, yes, oh yes, then?”
“I got home as fast as I could. April, the good witch, helped me with some sort of quickening spell, so I was there in no time, just to watch the last of them dance and prance their way over the hot earth and away. They all went to the caves, you know with the stone floor, so the burning can’t get them. Allan said it followed them as they fled, all the way to the caves. Good they figured out to go there. We haven’t been there for decades, but it was still there, ready for us, waiting for us. Nice water, good heather to rest on, some small spore farms, just enough to make it comfy for the folks. All those scorched skirts needed some work, but everyone is ok.”