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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #476
The Mushroomians, Part I
David Gunn

Jerome awoke to a bright flash of light in the sky followed by the sound of a distant rumble. The earth beneath him trembled slightly, and several rocks tumbled down an escarpment into a gully adjacent to the outcropping on which he had pitched camp. His initial thought was of rain, and the potential for flash floods that would make his route through the Arizona canyon backcountry a perilous undertaking. But the rumble didn't dissipate like thunder. It continued to resonate. In fact, it seemed to be increasing in volume, like an approaching freight train. He rolled quickly out of his sleeping bag and peered towards the horizon ... where he saw a giant mushroom-shaped cloud billowing up into the sky. In the flat pre-dawn light, it was difficult to gauge the distance, but Jerome thought it was about seventy miles, southeast. Which would put the explosion, if that's what it was, directly over Phoenix.

The ground in front of him began to undulate, as if the bedrock had forgotten the meaning of structural integrity. More rocks fell, and Jerome was thankful he hadn't camped as usual under an overhang. The cloud was spreading outward as well as upward, and rapidly, too. Could it reach him, two counties and 4,000 vertical feet away? If so, was it radioactive? Not waiting to find out, he began to strike his camp. As he tried to dismantle the tent, the door zipper stuck, and he irritably abandoned it. Then he scooped his most indispensable camping gear into his backpack, jammed on his socks and boots, glanced towards the horizon--the cloud was closer still, nearly obliterating the dawning sun--and set off for his car, which was parked a good six miles away.

Even over rough terrain, Jerome was a fast walker. But the cloud was faster. By the time he had reached the defile in the slot canyon a mile from his campsite, a faint haze was overspreading the far rim of the plateau on which he was hiking. The ground was strewn with the rocky detritus from millions of years of erosion, and as Jerome hastened down a precipitous ravine, he stepped on a stone that kicked out from his boot. He fell, hard, knocking the wind out of himself. As he struggled to collect his wits, which had spilled out of his backpack, he became cognizant of an upsurge in the air temperature. Overhead, the first wisps of the cloud appeared, gray and black and foreboding. Jerome thought he detected movement in the cloud, and he unfurled his umbrella just in time to ward off a sudden deluge of particulate matter. He was terrified that it was some sort of congealed radioactive fallout, but the substance smelled woody and familiar. The torrent continued for another minute, then dissipated as the brunt of the precipitation moved on to the north.

Jerome tried to stand but he couldn't move his legs. A wave of panic swept over him as he imagined a serious back injury. But then he saw that his legs were merely buried in whatever had fallen from the cloud. He sniffed again, and the same woody odor triggered a long-repressed memory of a bacchanalia at which he danced with satyrs and fauns inside a giant fairy ring in the forest. He dug himself free, got to his feet and looked around him. The entire landscape was covered with ... mushrooms.

Morels, crimini, shitake, portabella, chanterelle, enoki, maitake, oyster, bolete--Jerome couldn't identify them all. He did, however, note a proliferation of green-spored Lepiota and fly agaric, the poisonous side of the Basidiomycota clan. As a member of the Four Corners Fungus Club, he was a mushroom aficionado. On the one hand, this mycological inundation was manna from heaven, but on the other hand, he wasn't ready for heaven or any other prospective afterlife environment.

Jerome withdrew a small crystal radio from his backpack and tuned the dial to 640 kilocycles, the official CONELRAD frequency. For ten minutes, he listened to the nondescript light classical music that was a mainstay of the station. Then the music stopped and a tense voice said:

"We interrupt this program to bring you an important announcement. A group calling itself the Mushroomians has today detonated fungi bombs in San Diego, Sacramento, Phoenix, Kansas City, Saint Louis and Peoria. They have threatened to next attack London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul and Tipperary. No reported deaths or injuries have resulted from the explosions and, aside from throwing the mushroom growing industry into chaos, there is no known reason for their actions. They have issued no demands. The Federal Mycological Council has advised that the non-toxic mushrooms be washed and cut into quarters, then soaked in salt water for an hour to eliminate impurities. Dry, then coat with an egg batter (optional), and sauté in butter and olive oil over low heat. Serve on toast with freshly ground pepper. Stay tuned to this frequency for news and recipe updates. We now return to our regularly scheduled program, 'Music Through the Millennia.'"

Jerome turned off the radio, readjusted his backpack and set off again for his car, the thousands of mushrooms underfoot squeaking as he waded through them. What nefarious plan were the Mushroomians hatching? Could he ever willingly eat an open-faced portabella barbecue melt ever again? And where did the composer Nicholas Francis Chase fit into all of this?

Due to time management issues, the answer to the first question cannot be answered on today's 476th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, however it may be addressed next week at this time. The answer to the second question is yes, certainly. And the answer to the third question lies not in the story's dénouement, but rather in the short-term memory of Kalvos.