01 Feb Runners: Part 1 “Slough”
For the last three decades, small groups of mycologists have been visiting a village deep in the Brazilian Amazon. It is suspected, based on some evidence, the village is atop a colossal fungal colony, similar to the Armillaria solidipes in Malheur National Forest, Oregon, only dramatically larger. If that’s the case, the fungus would be the largest living creature on Earth.
The hundred-or-so expeditions before ours yielded inconclusive results. Genetic tests have shown there is a type of fungus unique to the general area, but attempts to grow it in any environment outside a 40-mile radius of the village have been futile. My trip down last March was with the intent of seeing if the fungus could be grown artificially under specific chemically-induced conditions.
A biotechnology firm had recently developed an interest in that particular mushroom, believing it might have anticarcinogenic properties. As a result, the two members of my team and I were given far better equipment to take with us than we normally had. We were happy to oblige. When we arrived, the native people were as friendly and inquisitive as always. They’d taken a liking to all the scientists who’d visited them. While the lab was set up a hundred yards from the nearest structure in the village, it was common for the scientists and villagers to interact when the workday was over. A few of us even figured out a few words of their local dialect, although no one was anywhere near conversational level. It didn’t matter, though. Food, drink, and wrestling were the common languages we spoke. And for 32 years, everything had gone well.
Everything, that is, except our research. We’d been stuck for the better part of a decade. With no ability to grow the fungus aside from that small, incredibly isolated locale, the likelihood of fully determining its properties was low. Further, without massively-invasive and destructive digging, we’d never be able to find out the true size of the fungal colony below us.
Things became complicated, though. And they changed for the worse. I’m not going to write out an explanation of what went on or why I’m the only person in our group to survive the last trip, but I will share my journal entries from that period. I have to warn you, though: the things I saw were unlike anything I could have imagined. And they’re things I hope no one will ever have see again.
March 9th, 2015
It’s been absolutely pissing rain for six days now. Jared estimates the rainfall is exceptionally high, even for that time of the year. He thinks at least 20 inches have fallen. I believe him, too. I can see why the village folks have their huts elevated off the forest floor. Otherwise they’d be in knee-deep water. You know, sort of like our fucking lab.
Ok, it’s not that bad in the lab. Maybe only ankle-deep. But I swear, I’m going to knock Frank’s teeth out when we get back home because it was his responsibility to make sure the place was sealed tight before his crew left. The dickhead.
Anyway, Annie said “fuck it” and hiked through the water to see if the trails had been flooded. They were. Big time. None of us are getting out of here for a while, so I hope no one gets hurt or sick. The place where the helicopter usually lands might as well be a lake and when it’s all drained away it’ll be 4 feet of mud. The sat-phones work fine, though, but when I called Rakesh, he just told us to suck it up and get some work done. The rain should be tapering off tomorrow. Well, as much as it tapers off in a rainforest I guess.
March 10th, 2015
Well, the sun’s out. God DAMN there’s a lot of water around. Thankfully, it’s draining into the ground pretty quickly. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being on top of (maybe) the largest mushroom on Earth; mushrooms loooove their water. I can’t even imagine how much that thing can hold.
Yesterday, we laughed at Annie while she picked the leeches off her legs after her little hike. Well, we laughed until she starting throwing the nasty bastards at us. Then we just hid and giggled. Only in a rainforest are there so many leeches that you’ll get them even in water that’s moving.
We didn’t do any work today. I think tomorrow’s going to be a good day, though. At the rate the water’s draining, we should be clear to start getting new samples. Whenever it rains a lot, that big bastard underground sends up thousands of little mushroom caps that grow in less than four hours. We’ll have more than enough samples to play around with.
Side note, though: I think I’m getting a cold.
March 11th, 2015
I have a cold. You know how summer colds are the worst because the humidity makes the sinus pressure so much worse? Yeah, well a cold in a rainforest is about 1000x worse. I’m sniffling and blowing snot all over the place while Jared and Annie are out doing field work and hanging out with the villagers. Being stuck in here gave me the time to do stupid Frank’s job and make sure the place was airtight, and after that was done, I had the opportunity to play with the cool toys from GeneMedica. That said, I don’t even know what half this shit is. We’re mycologists, guys. Not geneticists.
Update @ 3:15pm
Something started happening a little while ago and it’s definitely relevant to our work so I’m going to do my best to detail everything. I called Rakesh and he agreed I should document it all.
I was sitting at the computer and looking out the window when what looked like dark orange smoke started pouring from the ground. And I mean pouring. The visibility went to practically nothing. The tree that’s about ten feet from our lab was nearly invisible. Outside, I can hear the villagers yelling to one another. They seem pretty frightened. I’m unnerved, to say the least. Unnerved, but also excited. Is this a spore bloom?
I’m assuming it might be, and even though I’m in the lab which I know is finally sealed properly, I’m putting on my hazmat suit. I’m probably being overcautious, and I know Annie and Jared are out in the stuff without any protection, but something about the ferocity of the way it’s coming out of the ground worries me.
Update @ 3:35pm
Jared just came back. Well, he’s still outside but he’s at least back where I can see him. He’s acting like he’s high out of his mind. He’s walking around and laughing to himself. Like, a lot. It doesn’t look like he’s having any problem breathing, but the amount of orange powder in the air and stuck to the surfaces of nearly everything is disconcerting. I can’t imagine having that stuff in his lungs.
I yelled out to him about Annie and the folks in the village. He just yelled back how awesome they were. There’s no way I’m getting through to him until his buzz wears off. It doesn’t appear that he wants to come in the lab, and I’m glad about that. I don’t think it’d be a smart move if the only mostly-clean area gets contaminated.
Update @ 7:15pm
Annie came back and is in the same state as Jared. They played around outside like two kids and wouldn’t listen to a word I yelled from the lab. They’ve since fallen asleep outside on the picnic table. I’m going to bed.
March 12, 2015
The spores (I’m calling them that from now on because there’s no other conceivable explanation) stopped coming out of the ground overnight and after it rained early this morning, they’ve blended in with the mud. I’m not taking off the hazmat suit, but I’ve disconnected the breathing apparatus and just using the filters in the mask. I strongly doubt there will be any particulate matter small enough to penetrate the filters.
Jared and Annie seem to be no worse for wear, aside from exhaustion. After cleaning themselves in the river, I agreed they were probably fine to come back in the lab and sleep. As for me, even though I’m miserable with this cold, I’m too excited to stay in here. I’m going out, first into the village, then to the forest around us. I want to see if that spore explosion could confirm the presence of that enormous mushroom.
Update @ 10:20am
I spent a little over an hour in the village. None of the people seemed injured, just a bit confused. I’m concerned, however, about the skin irritation a few of them developed overnight. Annie, too, has red blotches on her back and stomach. She insists they don’t hurt, but they look painful. They remind me of eczema. Jared, so far, isn’t having any skin problems. He’s been coughing up disgusting orange crap from breathing in all the spores yesterday, but that’s the worst of his problems. I’m heading out into the forest for a few hours.
Update @ 2:00pm
My trip to the forest was unsettling. There were many, many injured animals. They appeared to be suffering from a skin condition similar to that of the people affected by the spore eruption. I’m going into the village once more to see how their symptoms have progressed.
Update @ 3:50pm
I returned to the lab and found Annie and Jared having sex with one another in the middle of the main room. When I entered the lab, they didn’t even try to hide themselves. They just continued doing what they were doing. That is entirely uncharacteristic of Annie, first of all, who is happily married and Jared, who, as far as I know, is gay. Neither of them ever appeared to have any romantic interest with one another and their interactions have always been professional.
I approached them and they greeted me happily, but not even pausing their action. The blotches on Annie’s back looked much worse. As they went about their business, they talked to me about how much better they were feeling after getting some rest. Annie, who had been riding Jared chest-to-chest, leaned back and exposed her chest and stomach. The flesh was terribly damaged. Jared, too, had started to show signs of skin deterioration. His own chest and belly were riddled with ugly, red, eczematous patches.
When I asked if they’d be okay with stopping for a few minutes so I could take a look at their skin, they didn’t argue. Annie hopped off Jared and they stood in front of me, naked and beaming. I have no medical training, but I thought it was important to get samples of their damaged tissue. While I’d never done a biopsy before, they didn’t look hard and Jared and Annie consented.
I made the first cut on Annie. As the knife went in, when I expected to hear a gasp from pain, she groaned with what I could only identify as pleasure. I glanced up and saw her with her head back, smiling. I took the sample, bagged it, and put it in the refrigerator. Jared, too, expressed delight at the feeling of the scalpel sliding into him, his pleasure manifesting itself more obviously as he regained the erection he’d lost following his interrupted sex with Annie. I did my best to stay professional, but I was very, very disturbed.
I put his sample in the fridge next to Annie’s. When I turned back around, I was horrified by what I saw. Annie and Jared were kissing again, and rather than resuming their intercourse, she had invaginated his navel with her index and middle fingers. She slid them in and out of his abdomen, blood trickling through his public hair to the base of his erection and dripping onto the white floor. All the while, as they kissed, both their faces shone with ecstatic glee.
Feeling sick to my stomach, I backed away and walked outside. From the village, I heard screams of rapturous joy. Many of the villagers had congregated in the center of the main huts. They were all nude and writhing against one another. Men. Women. Children. And bright blood glinted off their dark skin.
March 12, 2015
As much as I thought I had to, I wasn’t ready to go into the village just yet. There were things I needed to do back in the lab. Annie and Jared obviously aren’t healthy and I’m worried about how safe they are around one another. I remembered GeneMedica had supplied us with three bottles of Laphroaig 30 to use in celebration if we had any breakthroughs. So, I did what any self-respecting scientist would do: got my fellow researchers blackout drunk and locked them in their respective rooms with a fresh bottle to call their own.
Then I called Rakesh. He seemed more freaked out than I was. He’d known Jared for 20 years; apparently he’s in a 25+ year monogamous relationship with his partner, and, to directly quote Rakesh, “gayer than gayer than gay.” Rakesh agreed with me that stranger things have happened than two people pairing off when stuck in a bad situation, but with everything else going on – the spore eruption, the skin lesions, the pain/pleasure rewiring, and whatever the hell was happening to the villagers – it was impossible to say it was just a situational fling. He commended me for figuring out how to keep Jared and Annie safe, then he told me to get my ass into the village and take notes.
I have a sinking feeling it’s going to be really, really ugly.
Update @ 8:00pm
It’s hard to form a coherent narrative when you’ve been traumatized. At the same time, it’s easy to recall the details of that which traumatized you. The first things I noticed, upon leaving the lab and starting the 100-or-so yard walk to the village, were the bird feathers. They were raining from the trees and blowing in the weak wind. I couldn’t make out much through the thick canopy, but I could see one bird very clearly. It was perched on a branch nearest the trunk and vigorously rubbing its body against the bark. Once one side was denuded of feathers, it started on the other until the same result was achieved. Then it leapt from the branch and flew in a bizarre, insect-like trajectory that didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. It went out of sight before I could learn what was happening to it.
A dog ran out from the general direction of the village and stopped in front of me. Its fur was mangy and the visible flesh was punctured or rotted away. Its tail wagged furiously and its ears were up, making it look incredibly happy despite the painful-looking condition of its skin. I reached out to pat its head, and it obliged, pushing its snout and head against my palm very hard; almost as if it’d never felt the touch of a person before.
It ground its skull against my hand and I felt something slide. I recoiled and pulled back. The skin stuck to my gloved hand as I pulled, tearing the fur and flesh from its head. The dog, with blood trickling down its face and its tail still wagging, stared at me and began to eat itself off my glove. I didn’t shoo it away. I didn’t know what to do at all, aside from continuing my walk to the circle of huts.
With each step, the details of the natives, who still swarmed in the center of their village, became apparent. I can only describe their activity as an orgy. Every conceivable pairing was demonstrated, all the way up groups as large of six. Most sickening to me, aside from the atrocious and seemingly-indiscriminate disparities in the ages of the participants, were the injuries. Every person had terrible damage to their skin. It appeared to be the same as what Annie and Jared are dealing with, but most of the villagers were much worse off; likely due to their constant and frenetic activity with one another.
They paid me no attention as I walked through their midst. Every so often, I’d come across a corpse. Each had profoundly-disfiguring damage to them. While I know some of it was the result the fungal spores’ effect, a good portion was clearly from the action of another person. This was verified when I saw a young man in the crowd, a rictus of pleasure etched across his face, having his entire back flayed open by his partner. The man gasped with clear delight, his nudity making obvious the arousal he felt despite the terrible injury. His partner pressed his face into the wound and planted tender kissed on the exposed ribs.
There were more acts like that, but they’ve all blurred together. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I called Rakesh once I got back and while he expressed eympathy for what I saw, he insisted on the importance of documenting the behavior and progress of those affected by the spore cloud. I promised him I’d do a better job tomorrow if I was able to get any sleep tonight. I checked on Annie and Jared; both were snoring. Their skin looked worse, though. I’m not sure what to do. Rakesh assured me that by tomorrow evening they’ll be able to get a helicopter to us. When I asked about where it’d land, he told me not to worry about it. So I’ll do my best. I’m going to get drunk and try to fall asleep.
March 13th, 2015
Before I went to sleep last night, I bound Jared and Annie to their beds. It was something Rakesh suggested and I eventually decided it would be for the best. I could deal with them being pissed at me as long as they didn’t hurt themselves while we waited for the helicopter. Apparently ours would be the first of a few; there’s a medical helicopter scheduled to come in minutes after we’re taken out. While I’m really happy the villagers will get medical attention, it absolutely sucks so many of them will be either dead or terribly disfigured. If we’d been able to figure out the workings of that massive underground fungus, we might have been able to prevent this from happening.
I’m heading down to the village again. I’m bringing my voice recorder so I can document enough detail to make Rakesh happy. I’m not going to transcribe it all, but I’ll put what I feel are the most important parts in this journal.
Update @ 12:00pm
What I saw yesterday was paradise when compared to the devastation and depravity I was forced to observe today. Rakesh, I wish you hadn’t asked me to do this. I understand why you needed me to, but I’m not the same person I was a few days ago as a result. There’s just nothing I can express other than sadness and terror. Well, maybe one thing. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of solace in the fact those affected by the spores don’t appear to be in pain. But the other side of that is how they gleefully destroyed their fellow villagers. People who were entirely innocent. People who, even as I write this, continue to scream with impossible ecstasy as they’re torn apart. So Rakesh, you asked for details, so here. Choke on them.
- Woman, woman, man grouping. Severe skin deterioration among all three. Severe mutilation of the man’s genitals. All that appears to remain is approximately 5 inches of his urethra, which is being stretched and pulled by both women. Each woman takes turns performing oral sex on the remains of the man’s genitals. The smaller woman, when not occupied with the man, had created holes in the larger woman’s thighs, into which she thrusts her fingers and tongue. All participants in these acts express joy.
- Man, boy grouping. The dead man is on his back in the dirt while the boy sits in the gashed crater of the man’s belly. The boy is laughing and pulling out loops of the man’s intestines. Every so often, the boy will duck his head into the dead man’s stomach cavity and move around, as if trying to swim. He then erupts upward, reminding me of a dolphin leaping out of the water, before settling back down in the belly of the dead man to repeat the process. Large bite marks are visible on the boy’s arms.
- Man, man, man, man, man grouping. Four men are having intercourse with gaping wounds in the torso of the fifth man. The fifth man is on his back on a small table, chewing on what appears to be the dismembered hand of a child. The child from whom he got the hand is not in sight.
- Woman, woman grouping. The women are engaged in mutual oral sex. Each woman’s belly has been torn out and is dangling her viscera either onto the dirt or onto her partner’s body. The woman closest to me is bleeding very badly and will not live much longer.
Side note: As these observations were made, I noticed a change in the surface of the spore victims’ skin. Aside from the growing blight of sores, the skin appears to be growing sticky. It also appears to be weakening. I watched a boy, whose back was relatively free from deterioration, get pushed back against a hut. When the boy moved forward, the skin stuck to the hut and tore from his body with each step. This is similar to what I experienced yesterday with the dog’s head.
- Man, woman, woman grouping. The older woman is flaying all skin from the other two group participants. Both the flayed man and younger woman are sitting, apparently chatting happily, while the older woman removes their skin with a small knife. The scraps of flesh are being thrown both at the other groups of villagers and into the forest. This flesh is particularly tacky and is sticking like glue to whatever it strikes.
- Woman, man, woman, woman, infant grouping. The woman on the ground appears to be in the process of giving birth to what may have been a healthy, unaffected infant. The man and other two women are pushing the infant in and out of the mother with a great deal of force. I have no doubt the infant is no longer alive. All four living participants are either laughing or yelling with excitement or pleasure.
It was that sight which forced me back to the lab. I’d reached my limit. When I walked in, Annie and Jared had escaped from their rooms. Once their flesh had deteriorated, it was not difficult for them to slip out of their bindings. I hadn’t bothered to lock their bedroom doors after tying them up.
They had resumed their intercourse from the day before. Jared was atop Annie, chest to chest. When I entered the lab, Jared, surprised and delighted to see me, lifted himself off Annie. Their skin clung together and the force of his motion tore the flesh from the muscles. Amused by this, Annie pulled back from Jared and attempted to disengage their genitals. Her vaginal walls clung to Jared’s penis as she moved, sloughing off and separating from her anatomy.
They stood in front of me, like they did yesterday, happy to talk about how much fun they were having. I couldn’t stand to look at them. I asked if they’d kindly go back to their rooms and wait for a little while. Even though they looked confused, they listened to me. I locked them in. That’s when I began to write this entry. As I type, I can hear them moaning as they pleasure themselves. I don’t know what I’m going to do between now and the eight hours before the helicopter is supposed to arrive, but I’m compelled to go into the forest and see if I can salvage anything useful from this horror show. Even if I don’t see anything, maybe it can help clear my head.
Update @ 6:00pm
The first important thing I noticed was how the chunks of flesh thrown by woman who flayed her two partners had sprouted mushrooms. Small, stringy mushrooms. Everywhere I found chunks of flesh, I found the mushrooms. Also of note: the orgy of hideousness in the village had abruptly stopped. I hurried back to see what had happened. I thought at first they might all be dead, but they were there, smiling and wandering around aimlessly. Their injuries were horrific; some catastrophic. Those too hurt to move lay on the ground. The sticky flesh that had touched the dirt had begun to grow the same mushrooms.
Gradually, those capable of walking started to spread out in all directions. They moved slowly, picking their skin and throwing it on the ground as they walked. Over time, they increased their speed. I ran behind a group of boys. They pulled small strips of skin from their bodies and flung it to the dirt with each step. The bit off their own lips and tongues and spit them on the ground or at the trees. They ran and ran and ran, leaving a trail of gore behind them. I looked from side to side and saw the other villagers running and tearing themselves to shreds as they went.
I must have gone a few miles before I couldn’t continue. The hazmat suit was too heavy and I was overheated and exhausted. I turned around and trudged back. The closer I got to town, the first few scraps of flesh that had been torn off had already started sprouting the same stringy mushrooms. I was overwhelmed with visceral disgust and scientific intrigue. Back in the village, no one was left alive. Whoever was capable of running away had done so, and all the corpses remained where they’d fallen or been dropped. Each of the carcasses were sprouting bouquets of fungus.
Out of nowhere, I remembered Annie and Jared. I ran back to the lab, threw open their doors, and saw the consequences of being too late to help them. Both were dead. They’d torn themselves to shreds and blanketed the bedrooms with their flesh and blood. With no dirt or plant life for the mushrooms to grow on, the flesh just sat there. Useless. I don’t know why I did what I did next, but at the time, it felt like the only way to honor them.
I scooped up what I could of their remains and threw it on the ground by the lab. I sat and watched as the mushrooms grew. Now I’m waiting for the helicopter.
That’s the end of the journal. The helicopter picked me up around 10pm. The other teams came in later to do whatever investigations needed to be done. Physically, I was fine. Aside from stewing in a sweaty hazmat suit for two days with a terrible cold and too few fluids, my body was no worse for wear.
The bodies of the villagers were found over the course of the next few weeks. Some of them had made it almost 45 miles before their bodies gave out and they dropped. All that could be recovered were bones.
It’s almost a year later and I’m back in the area with a new team. Having to wear a hazmat suit at all times when we’re not in the lab sucks, but no one wants to go through what happened to our colleagues. The research difficulties we’d faced for the last ten years still plague us, but at least a few questions about the fungus have been answered. Still, when it’s quiet or I’m working alone, I think about the villagers blindly running as far as their bodies would go, all while tearing themselves apart just so they’d fertilize the ground with the spores of that which had possessed them. And I can’t stop thinking about how, because of it, a full five miles had been added to the radius of where that particular mushroom grows.