“The Spotted Growth” – the March 2019 short story

It started out as a small red bump.  Richie thought it was a pimple.

Richie had never had a pimple on the side of his neck before, but skin was skin, and he had heard of pimples on people’s eyelids before, so this didn’t disturb him, besides the general itchiness of it.  No one mentioned it when he got into the office on Monday, and no one mentioned it throughout the week. This surprised him, as he thought that it was growing larger daily.

On Saturday, Richie woke up and saw that there seemed to be little white dots forming on the head of the pimple.  He poked at it gingerly, but it didn’t seem to hurt at all. He squeezed it a little more, but the weird dime-sized bump didn’t seem phased.  He took a photo of it with his phone, and then zoomed in. There were definitely little white bumps, but they didn’t seem to be the usual whiteheads he was used to.

Richie made a mental note that he should go to the doctor, but then remember he had a soccer game to get to. He quickly threw on a shirt, grabbed his cleats, and headed out the door.  

After the game, Richie went out drinking with his teammates.  Five drinks in, he was about to head home, but Ava, the girl from marketing that he had a crush on, showed up with some of her friends.  Fortified by the confidence of whisky, he started up conversation and proceeded to spend the rest of the evening talking and drinking.

Ava’s charm went well beyond her physical attractiveness.  He had a confidence and can-do attitude that Richie really admired.  She mentioned she also had a side project where she was making huge sculptures out of scrap metal, and Richie thought that was really amazing.

Sunday morning came and went, and Richie woke up as the late afternoon sun was on its descent.  His head pounded, and the whirlwind of the last night slowly put together a clearer picture. He remembered a few rounds of shots, singing with Ava at a karaoke bar, and getting her phone number before putting her in a Lyft.

Feeling like death warmed over, Richie slogged his way into the shower.  He let the hot water steam the headache away, and lathered up a nice shampoo.  Richie grabbed a bar of soap and a washcloth, and started to scrub himself. As he began to wash his shoulder, he felt a sharp pain in his hand.  

Richie yelped and pulled away.  He wiped the water from his eyes and looked down at his hand, surprised to see a ring of puncture marks slowly filling with blood.  Richie quickly turned off the water and threw a towel around himself as he opened his cabinet to find gauze and bandages. As he passed the bathroom mirror, he gasped.

Growing from his neck was a giant mushroom.  The cap was bright red, with white dots speckled across of it.  The stalk was twisted and a sickly brown. It looked to be about five or six inches tall, and the cap was about that in diameter.  As Richie got closer to the mirror, he could see that instead of gills, the mushroom had concentric rows of pointed teeth.

The pain in his bleeding hand forgotten momentarily by the shocking discovery, Richie grabbed his toothbrush and used the handle to gently poke at the mushroom.  The mushroom reacted violently, bashing it’s fangs into the toothbrush. Richie realized that the mushroom must have bitten him earlier in the shower.

Richie hoped he was still drunk, but upon further inspection of his bleeding hand, he was quite unfortunately sober.  Not sure exactly how or why he had a giant, tooth-filled, defensive mushroom growing out of his neck, Richie decided that his new priority in life was to get rid of it.  

Richie walked to the kitchen and took a kitchen knife, but seemingly reading his mind, the mushroom suddenly shrank down, pressing it’s toothy cap into Richie’s neck.  Richie gasped as the teeth started to dig into his skin.

Richie put down the knife, and the mushroom relaxed.  Richie quickly picked up the knife again, but the mushroom was quicker, dropping down so that Richie could feel the teeth pricking his jugular.  

Perplexed as to how to handle a giant, biting mushroom growing out of his neck, Richie sad down on his couch and picked up his phone.  Richie could feel the mushroom watching him browse and searched “giant mushroom on neck” to no relevant search results found. Richie looked up the urgent care number for San Francisco General Hospital, but as he was about to hit dial, the mushroom pressed its teeth into his neck again. Calling for an ambulance wasn’t going to work.  

Richie tried calling Ava.  The mushroom didn’t move, and as he slowly tried to explain to her what was happening, the mushroom just sat there, seemingly unsure of itself.  Maybe it could only tell if he was taking direct action to get rid of it?

When Ava reached Richie’s place, she first regarded the giant spotted mushroom not with horror, as Richie had assumed she would, but with deep thought.  She slowly moved her hand towards the growth, and it immediately bared its fangs at her. She moved her hand away. She picked up a knife, only to have the growth start to clamp down on Richie’s neck, enticing her to drop the blade back on the table.  

Ava asked for Richie to close his eyes.  She moved towards the mushroom, and it seemed to still be able to sense her intent and prepared to bite Richie’s neck.  Richie opened his eyes to see Ava sitting still, contemplating deeply.

Ava stood up, asked if Richie had any power tools (he didn’t), and then asked if he had any liquor (he did).  She asked for the keys to his front door, and instructed Richie to start drinking again. She watched as Richie safely took his first drink without the mushroom attacking him.  Assuring Richie that she would return, Ava grabbed Richie’s aluminum fruit bowl, emptied it unceremoniously on his living room rug, and left.

Richie, unsure of what to do besides trusting Ava, poured himself a second drink and turned on the television.  

Richie regained momentary consciousness.  He could hear Ava talking to someone estimating how many drinks he had imbibed.  Richie realized he wasn’t in his own apartment anymore, but was laying flat on a bed somewhere.  Richie tried to turn over, but he realized there was some giant metal disc attached to his neck, preventing him from turning over.  There was a scratching sound coming from the disc, like there was something trying to claw its way through.

One of the many people standing around Richie noticed he had woken up, and someone wearing nurses’ scrubs appeared in his view.  The man told Richie he would be okay. Apparently the Center for Disease Control had shown up and with some of UCSF’s top infectious disease pathologists working together, Richie wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Richie let out a breath of relief, and asked about the large disc attached to his neck.  The nurse told him Ava had made it for him out of his fruit bowl.

Ava had guessed correctly that the mushroom seemed to only be aware of others as long as Richie was conscious, and while he was passed out, she had drilled a hole at the base of the bowl, sliced it in two, then welded some latches onto the sides of the bowl so that it would reconnect.  Understanding that the mushroom’s only defense was its threat to the host, she had completely neutralized that threat by creating a barrier the mushroom couldn’t bite through.

When Richie woke up from his surgery, his neck was throbbing, but there was no more metal disc attached to his neck, nor was there a giant toothy mushroom.  Richie smiled weakly as the beep of the various monitoring devices sounded rhythmically.

His throat was parched, so he found a call button and awaited a nurse, who showed up momentarily.  Richie asked about the surgery, and the nurse informed him that the mushroom had literally taken root in his neck, and that they found tendrils making their way towards his heart, lungs, and spine, but fortunately it was removed before it could cause any permanent damage.  

Richie asked what had happened to the mushroom.  The nurse said that it was removed and flown back to the Center for Disease Control’s headquarters in Atlanta.  Richie figured they’d be able to figure out what it was, and where it had come from. He smiled, thankful that everything had gone according to plan.  

Richie reached around to scratch his shoulder.  He had been laying down for a while, and hadn’t showered in a while.  The small red bumps with tiny white specks didn’t seem to mind the scratching and Richie drifted back to sleep.  

The End.

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