Saturday, July 18, 2009

Daily Story 94: Personal Growth

Jenny pulled her golden hair up into a bun for the third time, stabbing a chopstick through and sighing as a thick lock slipped free. Her mind was somewhere else, a deep imaginary cavern of endless flourishing mushrooms - a thousand new species, each born of an awkward or stressful situation. Yanking the chopstick free, Jenny began to wind her hair up once more and design a new mushroom for her personal forest rather than think about her surroundings. The murky depth of the tunnel, the earthy smell, these things were comforting even if they weren't real; certainly they were better than the grimy vinyl of government upholstery.

The Federal Police in the seat in front of her were silent - serious expressions in dark suits just like on television. They didn't need directions and weren't interested in asking any other questions. They had asked plenty back at Jenny's apartment, taking pictures of her mushrooms and digging through her computer. They had already done a background check on her a year before, when they cleared her to do her research in the ruins of New Strausburg, but they asked her everything again. There were names, a long list of them, people and organizations. Terrorist sympathizers. For a moment she thought about the drifts of corpses in New Strausburg and wondered how anyone could sympathize with the ones that had murdered them - and then retreated to her mental cavern.

The car stopped, and one of the officers turned to look at her for the first time since they left her apartment.
"This the place?" Jenny nodded, and the officers opened the doors. "Good. Come with us."
It was windy out, as always, leaves and trash blowing through the air. Jenny paused for a moment before the doors to her partner's apartment building, savoring the smell of rain, and then headed upstairs. She felt mildly uneasy about telling the officers where Victor lived, though of course they could have found out on their own quickly enough - and besides, she reminded herself, he hadn't done anything wrong. They were just scientists, and not very exciting ones at that. The agents knocked again and again, louder each time, and Jenny was just drifting off into her socially-maladjusted fantasy world when one kicked the door and sent some part of the deadbolt bouncing along the floor.

They advanced with guns drawn, telling Jenny to stay in the hallway. Instead she found herself following, walking into the familiar room with its overflowing bookshelves and mushroom-filled aquariums so similar to hers. Victor was there, in the middle of the room. He was laying face down, the back of his skull cracked open from the inside.
"Cordyceps," she muttered, and one of the officers grabbed her by the arm.
"What did you say? Do you know what that is?" He was pointing to the long thin stalk of some alien fungus that had grown inside Victor's head, pushing and straining for freedom until it had finally burst forth.
Jenny shook her head as she tried to pull her arm free. "Not like this," she said, "nothing even a tenth that size."

The other was already on the phone, talking about an 'imminent attack'. Before she knew it, Jenny was being swept outside into the windy night. "You think this was on purpose?" she asked, still feeling numb from shock. The officer just nodded and opened the car door for her. Gathering up her disheveled hair before the wind could make it any worse, she wrapped it in a bun. As she felt her pockets for the chopstick, she noticed something caught in a stray hair. It looked almost like… Giving up on her hair, Jenny lifted the rust-stained collar of her shirt up to cover her nose and mouth.

The officer turned to follow her gaze, and saw a cloud of spores sweeping across the city.