An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
Around the edge of the garden, something moved. The bushes rustled. Whatever it was made a chirping sound unlike any bird she knew. Something small and brown moved between the leaves. Megan sat up and tried to get a better look. Was it a mouse? It moved out of the bushes. Megan’s heart froze.
The thing waddled over the grass. Its brown cap shone in the sunlight. It swayed a little on its pale stem as it moved. Megan jumped up. Wand drawn in a shaky hand, she came at the creature. From this close, she could see its mycelia coming out from under its cap. Pale, as thin as human hair. Floating in the wind like tentacles, feeling, sensing. Its stem was no thicker than her wrist, the cap about the size of a small dessert plate. Some mycelia carefully examined the ground, the grass, settled on a dandelion. It didn’t have eyes, but the undulating mycelia seemed to study her with the same childish curiosity as it examined the flower.
Megan faltered, she lowered her wand. It was, dare she say it, cute.
But mushrooms weren’t cute. They were dangerous, she knew. Creatures of death, of decay. Evil and filled with the darkest magic.
It seemed to deem her unthreatening, for it waddled a little closer. Megan stepped back before any of its mycelia could touch her. No way was she letting it taint her with its darkness. The mycelia that it had stretched out towards her leg drooped. She couldn’t help but smile. It really was cute…
She glanced at the wand in her hand. She knew what she was supposed to do. Kill it before it tainted her garden further than it already had. But as she glanced back at the creature so delightfully examining a dandelion like it was the most precious thing in the world… Maybe she’d watch it for a little longer.
Megan sat in her favourite shady spot, under an old birch tree in the centre of her garden. And watched the little mushroom waddle around. She still held her wand, ready to use it at the first sign of trouble, but for the moment it was unnecessary.
The mushroom had moved on from the dandelion and now sat in the middle of a group of daisies. Its mycelia drifted gently in the wind, occasionally brushing one of the flowers. Every time they did, the mushroom chirped happily.
Thus far, it had done none of the dark things Megan had been warned against. It hadn’t spread any spores around. It hadn’t summoned a whole army of fellow mushrooms. It hadn’t tried to constrict her in its mycelia to grow its children in her corpse. The plants it touched hadn’t died. Not even the dragonfly that landed on its cap seemed to get harmed in any way. The mushroom made a chortling sound when it happened, apparently delighted a dragonfly would choose its cap to perch on. It waved its mycelia like a human would their hand as the dragonfly left.
Megan wondered if she’d just encountered the one not dark mushroom, or if all of them were like this. Maybe this one was dark as well, and she’d been fooled by its harmless appearance. She shook her head, she couldn’t imagine this cute creature had done a single bad thing in its life.
As she refocused on the mushroom, she found it a lot closer to her than she remembered. It waddled towards her, mycelia outstretched like the arms of a toddler wanting to be picked up. Megan didn’t move away this time. It hadn’t hurt the dragonfly, so it wouldn’t hurt her either.
When it reached her foot, it stopped. It gently tapped her shoe with its mycelia before curling one around it. It toddled closer, still wrapped around her foot. It examined her leg like this until it was close enough for Megan to reach out. In the shadows under the tree, its cap had a subtle purple tint.
Megan didn’t know where the compulsion came from, but she wanted to pet it. She reached out her hand. A few hair-like mycelia brushed against her skin. They tickled but didn’t hurt or even itch, as she’d still somewhat expected from all the stories she’d heard. Its cap felt soft and smooth. Silky. It was cool to the touch. When Megan petted it like she would her cat, it made a pleased chirping noise that transformed into a high pitched purr as she continued.
It really was adorable.
More mycelia came out from under the cap. How did they all fit under there? They curled around her hand, her arm. They examined the hand still resting on the ground and entwined with her fingers. They touched her face, tapped all her features. Megan closed her eyes and allowed it to tap over her eyelids.
Her nose tingled. She sneezed. The mushroom twitched under her hand and pulled back from her face. Megan laughed. “I didn’t mean to startle you, I just got some dust in my nose.”
The mushroom chirped. Megan got the sense that it was happy.
The tingle in her nose didn’t go away. She sneezed again. The mushroom chirped softly. It touched her face, squeezed the mycelia entwined with her fingers in reassurance. A warm happiness quieted her mind. Megan watched the mycelia float around. In the darkening shadow of the tree, the pale mycelia seemed to glow. She strained her eyes, her vision was fuzzy.
Megan yawned. It was like the mushroom itself was radiating warmth. The warmth was like the afternoon sun, only more dusty. Pleasantly warm, but not strong enough to burn her skin. Perfect for a nap.
She curled on her side and watched the mushroom. Mycelia undulating in slow waving patterns. It seemed like she was watching them through a cloud of dust. She rubbed her eyes. The mushroom bumped against her side. She scratched it under its cap. Her eyes fell closed. The mushroom purred.