Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

The Mushroom Queen

It’s the middle of the night and the woman can’t sleep. Perhaps it’s the full moon, or the fool moon, the kind of moon that keeps you awake thinking stupid thoughts. She puts on her glasses and sees that it’s 2:55 a.m. The man lies beside her generating too much heat. There’s a small brown dog nestled into her armpit. A white dog sleeps at her feet. She’s wedged in between them like a crooked tooth.

For about an hour now she’s been thinking about the two races of man. One race is very, very slow; they crawl upon the earth like slugs, leaving silvery slime trails wherever they go. The other race is very, very fast, about as fast as electrons, and when they pass by, they leave a radiant residue. Though you can never be sure if you’ve actually seen them, or if there’s a smudge on your glasses picking up the light in a funny way. The two races live side by side, completely unaware of one another, sucking on the same earth.

But on the night of the fool moon, a special moon that occurs once per decade—or every 9.3 years to be exact—when the moonrise lag is equal to the moonset lag, causing great upheavals of the deep, cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, the slow race can sometimes catch up to the fast race. All of this is just nonsense, of course. It’s the duration that’s the important part here. Nine-point-three years is a long time to be married.

The woman sighs and digs her toes into the fur of the white dog. She looks out the sliding glass door at the garden in moonlight—they still don’t have curtains. It really is beautiful out there, like a scene from Last Year at Marienbad, her favorite film, but enacted with owls, rabbits, voles, and coyotes. A tiny, mournful cry reaches her through the partially opened door, some small furred thing losing its life out beyond the chicken-wire fence and the scrub grass, where the man keeps the piles of lumber that once was the trellis under which they were married.

A bit of white flashes by in her peripheral vision—a flap of cloth?—then disappears behind the farthest clump of jade plant.

Kicking off the blankets, the woman rolls carefully from the bed so as not to disturb the dogs and man. She shakes a sweater from the pile the man left on the floor, where the jeans and underwear he shucked off still retain his shape, as if his body had dematerialized. She walks to the door and looks out. It’s the one thing they had agreed on, a luxury but well worth it: the lawn, the decorative clumps of shrubbery, the thin, drooping leaves of the Mexican bamboo, the shooting spears of flax. And then she sees it again, diving behind the nearest jade plant. Coming closer to the house where the dogs and man lie paralyzed in sleep.

The woman slides the glass door open wider and steps out onto the deck, closing it behind her so the dogs won’t get out. She stands there for a moment to let the moonlight rain down on her. It has a definite tone, like tiny silver shavings striking glass, a tone that shifts as the silver bounces off her head, her shoulders, her upturned face. The moon is past its highest point; she can feel her energy ebbing. She thinks again about the two races of man. What if the fast race can sometimes clean up the messes of the slow?

What is wrong with her marriage anyway? Nothing that can be pointed to, no crimes, no infidelities. Some petty cruelties in times of stress, but who isn’t guilty of that? Nevertheless, she feels restless, bored, slow. There’s nothing wrong, but everything’s wrong: she’d like that on a t-shirt, please.

For months now she’s been fantasizing about being more than she is. What if she could step into the fast, fast world without being missed? What she wants now, more than anything, is a placeholder, someone to keep her life intact while she goes on a little reconnaissance trip.

Her toes grip the redwood boards and she steps out onto the lawn.

Just as she reaches the jade plant, another woman steps out to face her. They are nearly identical, mirror images, though the doppelgänger, as benefits a creature of the moonlight, is more glamorous-looking than her sun-fattened twin. Even so, to examine herself three-dimensionally is unnerving for the woman. Mirrors don’t tell half the story. Is that really what her nose looks like in profile? The skin of the other is beaded with tiny water droplets, her white cotton nightgown translucent with moisture. The woman reaches out to touch her, but just as she’s about to make contact, the other one grabs her by the throat and tosses her into the jade plant. Our woman is gone.

Her double crosses the lawn, steps onto the deck, slides open the door, dries her feet on the pile of discarded clothes, and climbs into bed.

• • • •

The white dog lifts his head and wags his tail. Then he stops, sits up, and looks again. He’s confused. His eyes tell him one thing, but his nose, the more reliable source, tells him another: She may look like his beloved mistress, but she smells, definitively, like rabbits. There’s nothing the dog loves more than killing rabbits.

He wags his tail again. The woman sleeps. Maybe his nose is wrong. He’s getting old, almost six, though not very old for his breed. He has another six years in him, he can feel it, but things are starting to break down. He can’t bank the curves like he used to while chasing the neighbor’s cat off the lawn. Thank God the mangy creature was taken out by coyotes (tracked, tricked, cornered, and devoured—he had heard it all one night). Thank God he didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of another failed chase, the cat’s mocking glance as it jumped onto the fence and disappeared into the street, where the dog could not go without a leash.

The woman digs her toes into his fur, like the other one had done. She turns onto her side, pulls the blanket up to her chin, tucks the brown dog, that small, furry shithead, into the curve of her body, like the other woman had always done. Everything checks out, except for the strange straw-and-dandelion smell of rabbits. Perhaps, like his hips, his nose is starting to go.

• • • •

Our woman, the original, sinks into the soft, moist ground at the base of the jade plant, terrified. She tries to scream, but soil fills her mouth. She opens her eyes, but there is nothing but darkness. No air, no sound, the world is extinguished. And yet she lives on, packed in with the weight of the earth; no longer merely slow, she is immobile.

• • • •

The small dog knows of course that the creature in bed with him is not his beloved mistress, but he also realizes that it would be dangerous to let on that he knows. This “woman” is so much a copy of his woman that it obviously took a great deal of effort to pull off the stunt, and great effort usually comes with great desire. The small dog knows there’s nothing more dangerous in the world than desire. He also knows that to raise an alarm about this fake would be to risk the life of his true mistress, who is obviously being held captive somewhere.

What he needs to do now is to convince this dimwitted white brute to stop sniffing her like she’s some kind of rabbit he’d like to snatch up in his teeth and shake to death. That stupid white fluff likes to leave his rabbit carcasses all over the lawn, those pretty little brownish gray rabbits that come to feed on the garden and leave their delicious pellets behind for the small dog to find and eat. That’s what the dumb white leg-humper is missing: This fake woman doesn’t smell like rabbits; she smells like rabbit poo.

• • • •

Some fun facts about fungus, the most prevalent organism on the planet.

About 250 million years ago, a meteorite struck down around Siberia, creating tidal waves, lava flows, hot gases, and searing winds. The land grew dark under a cloud of debris, causing ninety percent of its species to die out. Fungus inherited the earth.

Animals are more closely related to fungi than to any other kingdom. Millions of years ago, we shared a common ancestor. Man is just a branch off the fungal evolutionary tree, the branch that evolved the ability to capture nutrients by surrounding its food with cellular sacs, or stomachs. As animals emerged from the water, they developed a dense layer of cells to prevent the loss of moisture. Fungi, on the other hand, solved the problem of moisture retention by going underground.

Mycelium, a web-like mass of tiny branching threads containing one or more fungal cells surrounded by a tubular wall, is the vegetative part of fungus. It’s the stuff that grows and spreads out through every cubic center of soil in the world. Every time you step on a soccer field, a forest, a suburban lawn, you walk upon thousands of sentient cells that communicate with one another using chemical messengers. Mycelium helps heal and steer the ecosystem, recycling waste into soil. Constantly moving, mycelium can travel several inches a day. There have been experiments conducted in Japan that show slime mold successfully navigating a food maze, choosing the shortest distance between two points, disregarding dead ends.

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies, the reproductive organs, of mycelium. They feed on rotting things, like rabbit poo, and troubled relationships.

• • • •

The Mushroom Queen was tired of living underground. She can assume any form. Her skin is nicer than human skin. Firm and white, it has no pores, only spores, because mushrooms are self-propagating, which can get pretty lonely. So, she deposed herself and came to the woman’s house from the east, traveling west along the shore of a wide green river, over the Appalachians, beneath the Great Lakes, flowing across the midwestern plains. She was born over a century ago in the unkempt garden of a red-brick house that was once a home, then a nursery, then a nunnery, and is now again a home.

That is where our woman arrives now, sucked across the country and extruded from the ground beneath a trellis of tangled vines that sprout purple flowers in the summer. They have switched places, our woman and the Mushroom Queen, the discontent of one calling to the desire of the other. Nature abhors a vacuum.

• • • •

The man thinks this woman is an improvement over the other. Not that he knows there’s been a switch, only a sudden unexplainable change in personality. He doesn’t question it, as he’s unaccustomed to questioning good fortune when it rains down on his head. This woman is more pliable than the other, more eager. The other one never wanted to make love in the morning. And as he sinks his fingers into her flesh and buries his face in her dark curls, he falls in love with her all over again.

The Mushroom Queen has gills behind her ears, but the man does not notice. He delights in her damp, earthy scent, her luminous whiteness, the way her body forms around his. She opens her mouth to laugh at his jokes, but no sound comes out. Already the walls of the bedroom are covered in green slime.

• • • •

At breakfast, the man makes “the usual”: boiled eggs, toast, a wedge of Brie, apricot jam, and good strong oolong tea. The Mushroom Queen sniffs the Brie with its waxy casing of Penicillium camemberti. It wouldn’t do to eat a distant cousin, so she pushes it aside. “You love Brie,” says the man. The Mushroom Queen shrugs. “Maybe you’re pregnant.” A grin spreads across his face. She laughs her soundless laugh. If the Mushroom Queen wanted to propagate, all she would have to do is point a finger and a mushroom would bud out of its tip. She pushes her egg away, too fresh. “What can I get you instead?” says the man.

The contents of the compost bin would be nice, thinks the Mushroom Queen. She would like to take the bin to the guest room, where it is dark and damp, spread it out on the duvet, and roll around in the coffee grounds, potato peels, and carrot tops, but that wouldn’t be good for their relationship.

This is her first time imitating human form, and the Mushroom Queen is not very good at it. One breast has come out larger than the other. She forgot to grow earlobes—what will she do with all those earrings the other woman owned? Her hair moves by itself, as if stirred by a celestial wind. Unlike human hair, which is just dead keratin, the hair of the Mushroom Queen is mycelium embedded with charcoal. Speech is difficult, though not impossible. Moving air through a mushroom is no problem, just look at the spore dispersal of the Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball. Tone modulation is difficult for her, lacking a muscular diaphragm. Much easier to nod and smile; the man does all the talking anyway.

The Mushroom Queen bathes in the normal way when the man wants to take a bath with her, but she doesn’t feel fully clean in water. While he’s napping, she goes out into the garden and tears open a bag of premium potting soil, rubs herself down in the shade of the tree ferns.

• • • •

Our woman’s body is pressed down through a root sieve, releasing the hundred trillion cells of her symbiotic microbiome into the soil. They wriggle away in search of a new host. What’s left of her—the approximately 37.2 trillion cells that had once been organized into brain, liver, eyeballs, bellybutton—are absorbed by the tube-like hyphae of the North American mycelium web and fanned out across the garden. In her newly dematerialized state, she is simultaneously nowhere and everywhere. But this is just an illusion, temporary vertigo brought on by her sudden vastness. In reality, she covers a little less than three square acres, one edge dangling in the cool green waters of the Hudson, the other pushing up against the crumbling blacktop of Route 9. There’s a maple tree growing out of her forehead, its flame-colored leaves the color of panic.

• • • •

Days pass. At night, the mist rises from the Pacific, rolls up the cliff, and settles around the house, muffling it from the neighboring houses. One morning the dogs find the lawn covered with mushrooms. The woman used to come out with the weed puller and scoop out each fungus by the root, afraid the dogs would eat them. Her people had been mushroom foragers in the old country, but she’d lost the knack of sorting edible from poisonous.

The dogs sniff the ground beneath the nearest jade plant. There’s something lingering among the watery stems of the succulents, a sad, familiar scent of laundry detergent and lemon verbena hand lotion.

• • • •

What does the Mushroom Queen wind up eating? Fermented things, like pickles, soy sauce drunk directly from the bottle, kimchi, forgotten packages of ham gone slippery with pink goo, old strawberries melting into their green plastic basket, glued together by a whitish fur. She hides eggs under the quilt in the guest room until they rot, sucks out the yolks, chews on the shells to clean her “teeth.” She drinks beer, endless bottles of beer, though the man is surprised. The other woman never touched alcohol; “empty calories,” she called it. But the Mushroom Queen never gains weight, only biomass.

How does the Mushroom Queen feel about the dogs? They’re competitors for the rabbit pellets, and they don’t give anything back, their own waste too rich in erythrocytes from the meat they eat to grow mushrooms. They’re suspicious of her, particularly the little one. It’s a good thing they can’t speak. The man ignores them. It was the woman’s job to feed them. Their leashes hang limply from the doorknob. The Mushroom Queen can’t risk walking them, can’t expose herself to the neighbors, not knowing how to address them. Besotted with the myth of personhood, humans have names. Mushrooms have no such cult of personality. All is mycelium; mycelium is all.

• • • •

It takes a great deal of concentration to concentrate the self, but nothing banishes lethargy like a well-defined villain. At five cell layers thick instead of one, our woman has condensed herself from three acres down to the size of the lawn in her own backyard. But she’s still flat and thin enough to move through the soil without snagging parts of herself on telephone poles and sewage pipes. She’s heading west against the earth’s rotation, gliding through the rich dark loam of the Hudson River Valley as easily as a manta ray swimming through the Sea of Cortez.

She’s heading home, never mind that home is the place from which she had recently dreamed of escaping.

• • • •

The small dog leads the white dog on a tour of the woman’s closet. They check the shoes, but nothing is missing, not even the pale blue sneakers she wore when she walked them around the block—the only time she left the house. The man left the house almost every morning, coming back hours later smelling of coffee, cigarettes, and something altogether different.

The woman had taken them on endless loops around the neighborhood, making sure to pass the parking lot where tourists stop to gawk at the cliffs above the ocean. They always fawned over the dogs, and, by extension, the woman. She needed it, that daily dose. The man used to admire her, long ago, back when the dogs were just pups.

The man is such a messy eater. The small dog likes to snuffle under his chair, looking for crumbs. Occasionally, he’ll get up on his hind legs and peer at the screen he’s peering into, try to make sense of the sinuous writhing shapes he finds there. Then the woman walks into the room and the image instantly changes to black ants marching across a plain white ground.

• • • •

Born into darkness, the Mushroom Queen cannot sleep. At night she wanders the house picking up objects at random, trying to guess their purpose. There are wedding photographs on the piano, the man and the woman surrounded by smiling friends, children playing musical instruments. The man is ducking under colorful streamers of a maypole. The bride looks happy in her butterfly-embroidered dress. Will she try to find her way back from the garden on the shores of the Hudson? What will happen if she does? Which one will the man choose?

The Mushroom Queen wants to experience love, that’s why she came here in the first place, but she always wants to be known. She has learned about the distinction from the books in the basement of the red-brick house. Seeping into soggy cardboard boxes, she consumed page after page of Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Gone with the Wind, and realized that to be loved is not the same as to be known. For instance, Karenin loved his wife, Anna, in his own way, but he did not know her. How is the Mushroom Queen going to get the man to see her clearly, to fall in love with her without the use of deception?

There are so many things she can do: Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom, to unclog his arteries; Lentinula edodes, the shiitake, with its powerful anti-cancer, anti-viral, and anti-herpes polysaccharides; Ganoderma lucidum, the reishi mushroom, for longevity and sexual prowess. Then there are the Death Caps and the Amanita ocreata, the Destroying Angel—so like the common button mushroom, except for the foreskin-like veil connecting its egg-shaped cap with its chubby stem. That and its liver-dissolving qualities. The Mushroom Queen loves all these mushrooms, but to win the man’s affection, she’ll do it the hard way, using nothing but the clumsy human heart. Or its fungal facsimile.

• • • •

The small dog is angry with the white dog. More than once he’s come upon him in the hallway, the big white idiot, lying on his back, paws in the air, tongue lolling out of his mouth, writhing with ecstasy under the fingers of the Mushroom Queen as she scratches his belly. Disgusting.

The small dog follows the imposter as the man leads her onto the lawn, to the hidden bower where he and the real woman used to make love in the afternoon. He watches them from behind the acacia tree, sees the Mushroom Queen arch her neck, roll her eyes back until only the whites are visible, spread her mushroom-brown lips in a silent yawl of pleasure. His woman never abandoned herself in this way.

• • • •

Our woman trails the rains as they sweep across the continent. By early August, she’s made it all the way to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. She climbs the foothills, the land rising and falling, rising and falling, like a roller coaster. At five thousand feet, she reaches a broad, high meadow sheltered from the winds by an aspen grove. She weaves in through the orange paintbrush and chamomile, the primrose, fireweed, and horsemint. The air is cool and thin, the soil moist and rich. It would be lovely to settle down in this place, but vengeance keeps her moving. A jagged wall of granite rises above her, a hundred times more daunting than the Appalachians. Up ahead is the timberline, where there are no trees, no soil, and very little water. She can’t cross that line, can’t go up and over the mountains, but she can go through. She can release polysaccharides, glycoproteins, chelating enzymes, and acids to dissolve the rock, creating micro cavities in the granite, but that would take too long. Time is running out—she can feel it in the very tips of her hyphae. She hunkers down among the lupines, pushing up mushrooms as she contemplates her next move.

• • • •

The Mushroom Queen’s attention is beginning to wander. There’s a hollow spot under the floorboards near the bookshelf where the termites have set up a colony. There are nightly rat revels in the crawlspace above the bed. The garage roof sinks in the middle like a swaybacked horse. Pine roots have buckled the concrete driveway. Silverfish scuttle among the cutlery.

The house is calling to her and she has no choice but to respond. After all, she is a saprophyte, a primary decomposer of twigs, grass, stumps, logs, and other dead things. It’s what she does; it’s nothing personal. Besides, human love tasted so much better on the page. Already her hyphae are slipping in between the man’s cells, prying them apart.

Soon she will dissolve him.

The dogs are next. For now, their abundant fur has kept them safe, that and their reflexes. The Mushroom Queen has stopped feeding them, hoping to slow them down. They are starving, growing weaker by the day. How much longer can they dodge her sticky threads?

• • • •

Unloved, unbrushed, his belly empty, the small dog fills his days with happy memories. Like laundry day, when the woman used to dump the fresh load onto the bed and drop him into the heap so he could root and dig and roll around in the warm fragrant cloth. No one does laundry now that the woman is gone. The dishes are piled in the sink; the floor, unswept. Without the woman’s constant ministrations, the walls themselves are caving in.

• • • •

Back at the timberline, beetles arrive in clicking clouds and land on the woman’s mushroom caps. They burrow deeply into her soft pink flesh, mandibles gnawing into her spore-rich underlayer. How good it feels to be cleaned out like this!

A rainstorm sweeps through and the beetles are picked up by the wind. They’re carried up and over the mountain, legs and wings covered in spores. They settle down near Grand Junction, Colorado, and scuttle away into the fields. The spores sink into the mulch and germinate a fresh new webbing of mycelium.

Reborn, the woman waits to see how much more of her will make the crossing. By early September, she’s half her size, but twice as determined. Hugging the Colorado River all the way to the California border, our woman enters the Imperial Valley. Shimmying along irrigation canals, spawning under fields of cantaloupes and cabbages, sucking up life-giving nitrogen, she fans out into San Bernardino County. From there she hops lawns all the way to Point Dume.

• • • •

Sensing her rival’s approach, the Mushroom Queen establishes a mycelial perimeter from the Pacific Coast Highway to the very edge of the cliff above the ocean. She puts on galoshes, rubber gloves, steps into a couple of trash bags, making sure to tape the plastic securely around her wrists and ankles. Then she seals her head and neck with several yards of cling wrap. Fully protected, she goes into the kitchen to whip up a batch of poison. The house, the man, the dogs: they all belong to her now, and she’s not willing to share them.

• • • •

Giddy, triumphant, our woman breaks through the cracked terracotta patio and surges under the grass. She follows the lawn mower as the man, recklessly barefoot, paces out wide, even rows. The Mushroom Queen walks behind him in her battle gear wielding a power sprayer.

Our woman can taste the individual ingredients: olive oil, baking soda, apple cider vinegar. Such wholesome things, how often had she used them herself? But now they were dissolving her. She sinks down through the sod and the trucked-in dirt, past the chicken-wire gopher barrier, and finally settles into the sand and clay that are the true soils of this land. A fleeting thought crosses her mind: Without the artificial lawn, the fertilizer, the monumental water bills—all things that she and her husband had fussed over—the Mushroom Queen could never have gained a foothold in their lives. Nothing grows in clay and sand, not even fungus.

Clinging to the underside of the mulch layer, the woman crawls all the way to the back of the property and takes shelter in the shade of the disassembled trellis. She tries to will herself back into human shape, but it’s no good. She lacks the skill, and furthermore, she can no longer remember what she looked like.

The Mushroom Queen, as she can see despite the many layers of Saran Wrap and Hefty Cinch Sak, doesn’t look very human anymore. Her forehead bulges from the pressure of her cap. She’s thickened in the middle, grown cylindrical, stem-like, but love is blind.

How can our woman fight the Mushroom Queen if she can’t traverse the poisoned lawn? Perhaps she could enlist the aid of some parasitic bacteria, but that might harm the dogs. And the man. Furthermore, she’s never been the kind of person to press her case out of stubbornness until everything around her lies in ruins.

And then she remembers something she heard as she was driven from the lawn, something whispered to her by the Onychomycosis fungus growing on the third toe of the man’s left foot: The man knows there’s been a switch.

He knows and he does not miss her at all.

The fight goes out of her completely. She shrinks a little bit further into herself, the sand and clay sucking precious fluids from her mycelium. If she stays here a moment longer, she’ll have to wait until the spring rains to make her escape. Where will she go? Back to the alpine meadow with its primrose and chamomile? Back to the garden behind the red-brick house with its rich alluvial soil? What had once been a prison now seems like Elysium.

Truthfully, she doesn’t blame the man; he owes her nothing. Wishing to escape is the same as escaping. Her vanity is bruised, but everything in nature is as it should be. What is a wedding trellis after all but a basket made of loosely bound twigs through which the things you gather may fall out along the way?

And furthermore, our woman does not miss her human form. What a relief it is to escape that tired paradigm of head-torso-limbs, so much more trouble than it’s worth. She likes her new spread-out state. As her very own magic carpet, she can go anywhere.

She had longed to join the fast race, but now instead she’s joined the eternal race: fungus will survive the destruction of the environment, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the waters. Fungus will survive every apocalypse until the Earth falls into the sun, and maybe even after. She’s gotten what she wanted. Well, almost.

She does not blame the white dog for betraying her with the Mushroom Queen. After all, he’s just a dog, uncomplicated, happy-go-lucky. Like the man, a love pig. But the small dog is different. She’s always suspected that he’s not a dog at all, but a demoted human soul sent back in a fur suit to atone for his sins. The small dog can be made to understand.

She has a plan, but it’s risky, given her limited skills as a relatively new fungus. Her mycelium is pluripotent—it can create any type of mushroom—but she lacks control. Some of the beetles that came to her rescue in Colorado didn’t make it over the mountain; they died writhing in the meadow. She had poisoned them. But what are her choices? For now, the Mushroom Queen is distracted by the man, but eventually she’ll turn the dogs into soil.

At least if our woman can transform them, just as she had been transformed, digest their extracellular matrix, carefully separate their cells and braid them into her mycelium, they can all be together again.

• • • •

The jade plant, a desert species, does not waste energy on growing an extensive root system. Its roots are shallow and wide and spread out from the trunk horizontally mere inches below the surface in order to capture every drop of rain. These shallow roots act as a protective umbrella for the creatures that live below—an entire family of alligator lizards, several voles, and a bonded pair of carpenter bees. The male bee is black and shiny, about the size of a Kalamata olive. When he takes to the air, his wings make the sound of a miniature chainsaw. The female looks even bigger than her mate because of the pollen-dusted hairs covering her golden body. Wherever she flies, she leaves behind the scent of flowers—no wonder the male can’t resist her.

Under the jade plant where she first entered the soil, among the lizards, voles, and bees, our woman spins out fresh strands of mycelium and begins weaving a mat, a raft. A lure.

• • • •

The small dog walks over to the nearest clump of jade plant. Shaky from hunger, he lifts his leg against the plump green leaves. That’s when he sees them: three little mushrooms forcing their way through the soil at the base of the plant. They’re pink and tender with snug-fitting egg-shaped caps arranged in an arc, like the outspread tips of a woman’s fingers. Those familiar pink fingers that used to offer little bits of cheese, then reach for the tuft of fur at the top of his head and scratch and scratch until he couldn’t take it anymore. He can picture his mistress standing on tiptoe somewhere underground, reaching and reaching for the surface, only her fingertips breaking through into the mist-dampened air.

He starts digging frantically, trying to get her out before she suffocates. Soil flies all around him, clinging to his paws, his whiskers, his russet fur, but there are no fingers beneath the tips. No outstretched hand. No woman. Just mushrooms.

He sighs a deep, shuddering doggy’s sigh. She’s never coming back, his beloved mistress; he’ll never see her again. No one misses her but him. Despondent, he opens his small, sharp-fanged mouth and eats the mushrooms, one by one, until there’s nothing left but a dug-out scar in the earth at the base of the jade plant.

Liz Ziemska

Liz Ziemska is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her fiction has appeared in such places as Tin House, Strange Horizons, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Tordotcom, among others. She has been awarded the Pushcart Prize, nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, and received Honorable Mention for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize.