Mushrooms, Otherwise known as Fungus by Randy Cockrell
“And in other news…”
I half-listened as I changed my three-month-old daughter, Becca. It was always bad news on the TV and I was too engaged with my first-born to care about whatever was troubling the rest of the world. My world was perfect.
Still on maternity leave, I took Becca down to the kitchen and poured my husband, Ron, his coffee and put it on the table at his place. This was his first day back to work from paternity leave. We’d had such a nice time this last three weeks. I was sorry that he had to go back to work already.
He came into the kitchen, adjusting his tie. “I’m sorry I have to put this thing on again.” He sat down at his place as I put a bowl of cereal in front of him.
“Then don’t. You don’t have to wear it.”
He shook his head. “No. If you want to get ahead, dress for two levels above where you are. That’s the CEO. He wears a tie, I wear a tie.” He scooped cereal into his mouth.
I shrugged. Ron was ambitious and I couldn’t blame him, so was I. But my system was still swimming in maternal hormones. At the moment, I couldn’t generate any sympathy. “Your call.”
I pulled Becca to me and pulled up my shirt. One of the best parts of the day was nursing time. I could feel her little mouth clamp onto my breast and begin to suck. I still couldn’t believe that I had a baby and I was feeding her. Me. Out of my own body. The wonder of it was still overwhelming. When I looked up, Ron was smiling at me. “I’m going to miss this.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
He took a deep breath. “Yeah. Oh. Did you see the news? Some sort of infection is sweeping through India. Killing babies.” He studied Becca, still going strong on my breast. “That sucks.”
I nodded but didn’t answer. What must those parents be feeling? I’d be frantic.
Ron scooped up the rest of his cereal and gulped down his coffee. “Home by six.” He got up, grabbed his brief case and kissed each of us on the head.
“Drive safe.” I was talking to his back as he headed out the door to the garage. He waved and was gone.
After Becca ate, she had a bath, clean clothes, and was down for a nap. Time for me to shower and dress. Then it was into the kitchen, the baby monitor on the counter, as I washed up the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. The TV cycled through to another news cast. I listened this time as the story about India came back on. “Just in,” the newscaster looked into the camera, face concerned. “It seems China has had a similar outbreak as India. The government there has been keeping it quiet but refugees coming over the border of Nepal have reported children dying by the thousands.
I shook my head as I dried my hands. Poor parents. How awful.
“The Indian government has called on the United Nations for medical support.” The newscaster went on to the next story and I turned off the TV. I was glad I didn’t live over there.
That afternoon, I met some other mothers at the park. Of course, Becca was too young to run and play but it was good to get her out into the fresh air. “Did you hear about India and China?” I asked as I sat down.
“Yes. What a nightmare.” Carol’s baby was the same age as mine. We were in the same room at the hospital. “I cannot even imagine.”
“It’s the conditions,” Margery said with a sniff. “The sanitation over there is non-existent. No wonder there’s disease running rampant.
“What if it get’s here?” Joan stopped talking to wipe her three-year-old’s nose. “I mean, with air travel, disease can spread around the world in no time.”
Margery shook her head as she watched her four-year-old son go down the slide. “The people with the illness are not rich enough to travel. We’re safe enough.”
We all nodded but I wondered. I took pre-med in college before transferring into computer science. Disease was no respecter of socio-economic classes. Look at the plague back in medieval Europe or the flu back in the 1900’s. Millions of dead. Europe lost so many people modern historians marvel that the continent recovered.
I mentioned it at dinner that night.
Ron nodded. “It’s all everyone was talking about at work. Apparently, there is something going around in the bigger cities.”
It felt like my heart was in my throat. “What kind of something?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Lot’s of kids sick. But it’s all a rumor. There’s nothing on TV about it.”
After dinner was cleaned up and Ron was watching a recorded game, I got on the internet and did a search. Pictures put up by private individuals showed grieving parents. YouTube videos showed anguished parents pleading with everyone to stay home and not go out in public. A fungus they said. Some kind of deadly fungus.
I told Ron.
“Can’t be. It would be public by now if there were that many cases.” He went back to the game.
I could hear Becca begin to cry over the baby monitor.
I went upstairs. The poor thing was screaming as I went into the bedroom. “That’s okay, sweetheart. Momma’s here.” I picked her up. Out of the spot where her skull met her neck, something white sprang out.
I screamed, holding Becca out from me face down in the crook of my arm, something long and white. Blood seeped from around the base of it.
Ron came racing in.
“Call 911. Something’s wrong!” I sobbed as Becca kept screaming.
Cordyceps, the doctor said. A new, virulent strain of fungus. By the end of two years, every child under the age of five was dead.
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