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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #477
The Mushroomians, Part II
David Gunn

To recap last week's exciting chapter, a group calling itself the Mushroomians had detonated a bomb over Phoenix. The mushroom-shaped cloud that resulted from the explosion contained innumerable fungi of the mushroom ilk that rained down over much of central Arizona. Jerome had been camping on a high desert plateau seventy miles to the northwest, and the particulate matter had even reached him. His hike back to his car was very slow, as he had to wade through the millions of mushrooms that now littered the ground. They were so deep that they partially covered the cairn that marked the only trail that led down off of the mesa. He would surely have missed it were it not for the dog.

It was a big dog, nearly seventeen hands high. Its black fur was eerily luminous in the half-light of the obscured-by-mushrooms sun. Two rows of bony plates that ran parallel down its back clanked incongruously as they occasionally flexed into one another. The animal had appeared out of nowhere, loping easily over the spongy groundcover, its nose down, snuffling intently. It was so focused on its quarry that, at first, it didn't notice Jerome. But then Jerome's boot accidentally punted a portabella into the flank of the dog ... which stopped, looked up, and growled, baring its fangs.

"Dogma, stop!" The command came from a man clad in a bright orange terrycloth robe who suddenly materialized from behind a nearby outcropping of aspartame. He, too, seemed interested in the fresh overlay, for he intermittently bent down to pick up and sniff a fungal unit before casting it aside. The dog had not relaxed its angry countenance and, in fact, had advanced on Jerome. With more urgency, the man repeated his order. "Stop, Dogma!" This time the dog paused to glance suspiciously at the man, its compound eyes glinting iridescently. But only briefly--then it resumed its investigation of Jerome. The man sighed, withdrew a theremin-shaped device from his valise, aimed the antenna at the dog, and pressed a recessed trigger. Instantly, an electrical charge sparked between the rows of plates on the animal's back. The dog howled, snapped ineffectually at the plates, and at last shrank back from Jerome. It continued, however, to curl its upper lip, baring its fangs in a vaguely threatening manner.

"Dear chap, frightfully sorry about that," apologized the man. "But you were in Dogma's way, you know. Or what he perceived was his way." The man then tried to explain the ancient Chinese practice of fang shui, in which dogs with big teeth are trained to balance the chi in an environment. Dogma apparently thought the area presently occupied by Jerome could only achieve harmony and symmetry when it was free of all objects. Like Jerome.

Jerome edged out of the space that the man had described. And still the dog stared balefully at him. He looked skeptically at the man, who sighed resignedly.

"Quite right. The story's a fraud. Hullo, my name's Baskerville, and I'm a fungalologist." And he extended his hand, which was covered with a quarter-inch-thick coating of lichens.

He said that the dog, Dogma, was a truffle hound, and they lived in the nearby village of Klondike. When they learned of the precedent-setting precipitation of mushrooms, they rushed to the mesa to see if any of them fell into the highly profitable Tuber genus. Regretfully, so far, they did not.

On a whim, Jerome kicked a little hole in the mushrooms directly in front of him with his boot, reached down, and picked up a Tuber melanosporum, the highly prized black Périgord truffle. Dogma gnarred spitefully and lunged for the fungus.

"I say, good show!" exclaimed Baskerville, as Jerome tossed him the ascomycete. Dogma, briefly followed the trajectory of the truffle with his beak, then refocused his attention on Jerome--in particular, his backpack.

"Dogma sure seems to have taken an interest in you," sniffed Baskerville suspiciously. You sure you haven't been collecting truffles yourself?"

Jerome set down his backpack, unzipped a pouch on its side, and withdrew a little custard-topped dessert cake that smelled headily of brandy. "It's a trifle, not a truffle," he said.

A sudden shower pelted them with hundreds of mushrooms, evoking a bay of bewilderment from Dogma. Baskerville led his hound forward onto the mesa, presumably in search of truffles, and Jerome started down the steep, squeaky path that led to his car.

It was hard to see clearly through the pouring fungi, but not so hard that Jerome failed to spot the giant pools of morels that abutted the trail. He couldn't identify many basidiomycetes, but he sure knew his morels, with their unmistakable standards of right and wrong. What truffles were to Baskerville, morels were to Jerome--he prized their distinctive scorched earthenware flavor over all other fungal comestibles. Which presented him with a morel dilemma: should he stop and load up on this toothsome treasure-trove?, or should he festinate to his car, drive home, and ... and what? For all he knew, his house might be buried in shitakes. Why, they might have even hit the fan that he'd carefully assembled in his carport. He compromised. He grabbed a handful--two handfuls--then continued on towards the car.

As he squeaked down the trail, a memory tendril finally slithered into his recollection buffer: Klondike wasn't just a nearby Arizona town--rather, it was the name of an experimental fungal research facility that had been linked to the Area 51 military test site in Nevada. Behind him, he thought he heard the bay of Baskerville's hound, much closer to him than it had any right to be.

The murky cloud overhead liberated more mushrooms--mostly chanterelles and boleti. Jerome wondered how much of his car would be visible by the time he got there. Then abruptly, in the gloom off to the right, he spotted the oversized silhouette of Dogma stalking him.

Will Jerome make it to his car in time? Will the trifle's custard topping still be fresh? Will some plausible explanation of these oddities emerge next week, since they won't be satisfactorily answered on this 477th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar? Can Kalvos now seamlessly move the show into Interview Mode?