You ate a mushroom thinking it would be a power-up. You didn’t grow any larger, or didn’t feel it anyway. You ate another mushroom just to be sure. Its spongy flesh fought against your mix of baby and grown-up teeth. You found a third mushroom under a pile of dead leaves and ate that one, too. Advanced for your age, you understood the importance of taking things in threes.
Standing tall, the distance from your head to the ground appeared the same as you remembered. You ran to the side of the house, where the notches that marked your height were carved, just to make sure. The mushrooms made you no taller.
So you figured they must work differently in the real world. Maybe the mushrooms made you stronger in a way you couldn’t see until you tested it. Since you couldn’t break anything or hit anyone, even yourself, without getting in trouble, you could only check for increased muscle by lifting something you couldn’t lift before. Starting with your dad’s pickup truck.
The shiny metal fender burned your hands, so instead you grabbed one of the back tires. You concentrated all your might into picking it up like a forklift, like a superhero. The truck didn’t budge an inch.
You tried to pull a tree stump out of the ground. It refused to yield.
By now your hands were hurting, but you weren’t about to break the rule of threes. So you ran out to the street and tried to push over a telephone pole. Before you could really put your weight behind it, a staple broke through the skin of the palm of your left hand. Why would anyone staple a telephone pole, you wondered. There wasn’t even any paper in sight.
When you saw the first drop of blood seep out through the staple-sized cut, that’s when your stomach started to ache and churn. You had never been squeamish about scrapes and bruises before, and immediately you realized that the fungi were still alive inside you, no matter how much you bit and chewed the caps and stems into bits and pieces.
From inside you the mushrooms could wage a war. They would stage a coup. Based on the churning in your abdomen, they were winning.
It dawned on you that a man who eats a mushroom and doubles in size is not the recipient of a gift but the bearer of a curse. The so-called power-up is a parasite. Poisonous.
How long before you would no longer have control over your thoughts? Until the mushrooms’ sway would spread from your stomach up your spine to your brain? How soon would the whites of your eyes encroach upon the brown and black centers, leaving you a zombie, a slave, a husk?
You knew what you had to do: the only fast enough way to get the mushrooms out of your body. You ran to the back of the house and knelt over the brownest patch of grass you could find. You stuck your index finger in your mouth, held your breath, and counted to three.