Author: John McNeil
The weather was too good. It should be twenty degrees with snow on the ground, but it was sixty-five and sunny. Milo hiked the forest outside Edgewood with unease. Edgewood was a mean, hypocritical, self-regarding city, a place of enlightenment so bright that all the people sleeping under the bridges couldn’t even sleep in the dark.
While he hiked Milo’s sweat evaporated from his neck as soon as it formed. They didn’t deserve this pleasantness, he thought, and would pay for it. He gathered mushrooms often in these forests, and today he searched for one that looked like a rotting orange peel. A mycologist by training, he was three years unemployed since the beginning of the Unraveling. That was what they now called the cascade of plague, depression, and strife they had thought was just one bad year when it started.
In his days as a scientist, he hadn’t believed the myths about healing mushrooms in the forest. The world so plainly needed healing now, though, that he tried to believe. If he were a doctor he would have researched a cure, if he were a sociologist he would have proposed a social program, but he was an ex-mycologist, so he searched for magic healing mushrooms.
They would like the shade over this hilltop. There might be some there. But “I got them before you,” said a familiar voice as Milo stepped over.
“Hi Blake,” Milo sighed. A rival from grad school, the only other person in Edgewood who cared as much about wild mushrooms. And indeed, Blake already had a basket full of orange.
“You don’t need all of those.”
“No, but you don’t get any.”
“We need them to fix us.”
“They could stop the Unraveling.”
“It’s sad you talk like that. You used to be a scientist.”
“Used to be.” Milo lunged and tried to grab the basket, but Blake picked it up too quickly, so Milo just tripped and fell into Blake, knocking him over. They both rolled down the hill, twigs, and brambles dragging against them till they stopped.
Milo imagined grabbing a sharp stick, raising it high, and plunging it into Blake’s heart, killing him. Then he’d stand and with the basket of mushrooms held high in the air, inhale a deep breath of pleasant air on a sunny day, skip out of the forest and catch a bus to the Water Treatment Facility, bribe someone to drop the pulverized mushrooms into the water and then kick back and watch the world get better.
Instead, he sat up. “Never mind. Keep them.”
“You’re giving up?”
“Yeah, it’s stupid anyway.”
“Okay,” said Blake, “is this a trick?”
“It’ll be cold tomorrow,” Milo said. “This can’t last.” He stood and dusted himself. “Keep them,” he said, and walked back over the hill.
“I’m glad you gave up,” Blake yelled after him, “but you look a little pathetic right now.”
Once out of Blake’s sight he walked faster, then run at full speed, until he crashed out of the forest onto the streets. Inside his jacket pocket, his hand clenched the mushroom he had grabbed during the scuffle. He ran till he reached the bus stop. There he halted, doubled over and panting. As his body heat from the run dissipated, Milo felt chillier, like a cold front had come in just then. The cold and the mushroom, Milo thought. One of them had to work.