Mold & Mutilation

[1] Case File #42-56

Spirit Island | 5:44 a.m.


NO GOOD DAY ever started with death before coffee.

I stood on the shoreline of Spirit Island, gazing upon a lumpy trash bag. It was nestled in an icy bed of seaweed, next to a rotting mycopaper lantern. A handful of bioluminescent motes floated above the water. Waves lapped against the bag where a large rip revealed a pale patch of hairless skin. Pungent saltiness rose up from algae and cold ocean spray, overpowering whatever I was about to find in there. I took out a face mask and put it on—NKPD protocol, and no way I would let anything contaminate me.

My feet crunched on gray sand as I adjusted my weight, heart beat- ing faster. The bag was too small, especially for a body. But I knew what must be inside. Why else would dispatch have sent me a one-eight-seven code on my pager?

Before touching the crime scene, I took out my voice recorder: “De- tective Henrietta Hofmann. Nineteenth of Twelfthmonth. Spirit Island. Black bag, suspected murder.”

I sighed and put the recorder away, staring down into a brackish pool amidst the seaweed. There were puffy bags under my dull green eyes. My lips were chapped and my hair straggly. I hadn’t had time to fix myself up, rolling out of bed to rush over here. Not that anyone would give a shit what the middle-aged female detective looked like, wrinkles and all.

Goddamn, I needed some caffeine.

Grey clouds threatened snow, and bitter wind rippled across Kinoko Bay, whipping my ponytail and sending stray strands of gray-blonde hair across my face. I pulled my trench coat tight with a shudder.

I yawned. Nightmares of a car on fire had kept me up last night. It was a miracle I’d even remembered mittens—anything to shield my skin from winter’s frigid touch was welcome.

I put aside personal gripes to focus on why I was here: That bag.

Sticky sweat accumulated inside my mittens. It wasn’t like the bag would come alive, finger-like fungi wriggling everywhere. This wasn’t the first dead body I’d seen, either. Not even close.

But God, I fucking hated mushrooms and mold and the whole bloody mycological lot. Not a day would go by in Neo Kinoko where I wouldn’t curse Frederick for exiling me here.

That prick.

I had to get my shit together. Focus. Forget about my bastard ex-hus- band—he could rot in a pile of fucking fungi for all I cared.

Reaching inside my jacket, I traded the warmth of my mittens for a pair of examination gloves. A shock of cold greeted my hands as I bent down. Both of my knees cracked with the weight of age.

Down at bag-level, I could already smell something foul. Hints of brine and decomposition invaded my nose. The scent memory of that foul combination lingered on my tongue.

Snapping on the gloves, I examined the bag. Seaweed draped across the black plastic, as if trying to pull it back into the sea. I spotted rem- nants of thick blue rope tucked between the green-brown fronds. Could have been tied to something to weigh it down. Bricks, or rocks?

There were small Hōpponese logograms on the rope. I couldn’t read them, so I made a mental note to check with forensics and get them translated.

Nothing else was visible.

I pinched the ripped opening and lifted it. First to hit me was the stench: The brine was just a sample—nothing compared to the punch of putrid flesh now wafting from the opening.

Tiny red crabs with slime mold and fruiting bodies on their shells scuttled out of the bag. I sifted through the muck. And then I felt it, something round and bloated. I widened the opening, wincing as I stared into the eyeless cavities of a fungal child’s human-like face.

Memories flooded my mind: Playing in the grassy backyard, sled- ding in winter, summertime visits to the cabin in southern Coprinia, jumping off the lakeside dock. Then, a memory-turned-nightmare.

Fire. Blood. Fear. Screaming.

I was haunted by the imagery of Elisabeth. Her face stared back at me, cold and empty, features that were a subtle blend of Frederick’s and my own. I winced. Suppressed recollections bound by trauma, alcohol, and years of destructive behavior.

Bloody Hell, I had to focus.

I turned away from the bag and into the crisp ocean breeze, trying to escape the repulsive smell and taste. The thought of a dead kid chilled me. But deep down, I was more disgusted by the fact that the victim was a fungal. I could hardly stand to see mushrooms on a dinner plate, let alone be in the presence of mushroom people—even when they were a corpse.

This city was a purgatory—Frederick had made sure of that, exiling me to a place he knew would make me miserable. But I held a glimmer of hope that it could also be a chance to start anew. After years of drown- ing in a pool of booze and prescription antidepressants, anything was an improvement. But war and suffering lingered in this Hellhole.

And fungi were everywhere.

Hōppon, Neo Kinoko. These places had become wastelands wrought by the destroyer of worlds—my people. What the government had sold to Coprinians as the rebuilding of a liberated society was, in reality, the world’s most public open-air prison.

A scam, a sham. Just like my being here.

Waves lapped rhythmically as the sun continued to rise. Seagulls squawked nearby. I returned to the small, decapitated head inside the bag. Sand dripped along decomposing skin, and my eyes began to water at thoughts of the past. The cool sting as tears trickled and pooled at the edges of my mask before starting to freeze.

I had to clear my head and prioritize. What happened to this child?

The neck appeared cleanly cut, but … I leaned closer. A thin patch of skin had been removed near the jugular. Strange.

Both eyes were removed or eaten post-mortem by sea lice, crabs, or fish. The skin was pockmarked and peeled away from water exposure. What remained had a waxy quality and a pallid discoloration. The nose had deformed and the lips were half-eaten, decayed. As well, the victim’s hair was shaved and the mushroom cap atop their head was gone. Severed at the stem.

All that was left was the bruised and bloated base connected to the skull.

I burned with the impulse to look away, but my investigative instinct urged me onward. I searched inside the bag, through the sand slurry around the partially submerged head. A section of cut-off leg revealed bone amongst decaying muscle. I saw two more shapes: Distended limbs, the flesh puffy and peeling.

My optimism for an ID drew me to the child’s partially opened mouth. White filaments of mycelium grew out from between the lips, draping down like a macabre curtain. My stomach churned. I ignored my gut feeling to stop and turn away.

I gently unlocked the stiff jaw, peering inside. The sight made me gag. A carpet of wet, white mold and mycelium coated the inside of the victim’s mouth. Tongue, roof, gums. The parasitic growth continued all the way back to the throat, where it clumped like dense cotton balls.

Probing for teeth with my gloved finger, I cringed at the cushiony softness inside. Not a single tooth—just a rancid stench.

I pulled my finger from the victim’s mouth. It was then that I saw the mold and mycelium quiver.

All of a sudden, the fungal threads began to shake. I fell backwards, startled. Half of my ass was submerged in freezing water and algae. The moist mycelium slithered out of the victim’s maw. Then the woolly mass clogging their throat exploded in a burst of spores.

The minute particles ejected outward. They flew at me in a translucent mushroom cloud that I couldn’t avoid. I scrambled back onto the damp sand on gloves and boots, feeling the spores enter into my eyes. I blinked furiously, desperate to rub them out. Part of me was considering rinsing them out with seawater—even if it stung, at least that might sterilize the spores.

“Fucking Hell,” I cursed. How could I be so Goddamned careless?

My eyeballs were raw and watery. I massaged them with the sleeve of my jacket, praying I wouldn’t get infected.

Ten years of the Spore War. Two years since it ended in Coprinian victory and occupation. And still, the only thing we had to fend off the fear of contagion were shitty masks and a dwindling supply of anti-fun- gal meds.

Angrily, I tore off my examination gloves and mask and threw them onto the sand. I shoved a hand into my jacket pocket and took out a small plastic bottle. Removing the cap, I shakily shoved two pills into my mouth and swallowed them dry.

Though I’d never heard of anyone actually getting infected, the anxiety of it kept me on edge, urging me to prevent a terrifying hypothetical. I stared at the head in the bag, mycophobia attempting to override my rational mind. My limbs trembled and my teeth ground together.

Goddamnit … I took a deep breath. I still had to do my bloody job. But there wasn’t even a body left, just … parts.

I stood and stashed my pill bottle. Shoving the examination gloves and my mask into a disposable bag, I unclipped the radio from my belt. My ass was frozen, pants covered in sand—a small price to pay to get away from that fucking head.

Dialing in my radio, I spoke into the receiver: “NKPD dispatch, this is Detective Hofmann of the Homicide Division. Badge number 881. Do you read me?”

“We copy, Hofmann,” a crackly female voice replied.

“One-eight-seven confirmed at Spirit Island. Send a forensics team over, ASAP.”

“Copy, detective.”

“Over and out.”

I clipped my radio and returned to the dead child. Glaring at the rotten head, I felt a nagging unease that it might burst open and release more spores. The cavernous void of the child’s lifeless face and empty eye sockets stared up at me, while frigid wind nipped at my exposed skin. Time stood still, and all I could do was grind my teeth beneath the aging contours of cold-reddened cheeks.

There was no way I could pass this case off to anyone else.

Captain Ridgeway would refuse, ‘cause he’d been dumping all the shitty cases on me. Plus, no one in Homicide would care about a fungal kid, especially with all the protests over missing children the past few months. Cops were burnt out, pissed off, and I was the bottom rung on a ladder full of small men with big egos.

I sighed, praying this dead kid wouldn’t be the death of me.

Mold and mutilation, a bag washed ashore—how the Hell was I going to solve this one?

Press for Mushroom Blues

review of mushroom blues on grimdark magazine by esmay rosalyne.
"“Adrian M. Gibson completely breaks the mold of conventional storytelling in Mushroom Blues, a wonderfully weird, darkly disturbing and freakishly fungal sci-fantasy noir debut that is more dangerously addictive than any drug imaginable.”
review of mushroom blues on before we go blog by krystle matar.
“The prose is clean, precise, and beautiful. Its pacing is breakneck and breathless. This is a story arc that carried me through the whole gamut of emotions: horror, fear, grief, awe, resentment, empathy, love, relief.”
10/10 review of mushroom blues on fanfiaddict by frasier armitage.
“Mushroom Blues will send its spores into your imagination, and its ideas will grow so big, you can almost taste the mycelium wrapping itself around your brain. And it’s delicious.”
8.5/10 review of mushroom blues on before we go blog by eleni argyró.
“[A] fast-paced narrative that brought this new, psychedelic, and gritty world to life. Mushroom Blues excelled at hitting many of the iconic beats of noir, while also turning many on their head. Overall, this debut impresses with how layered it is and, while primarily a character-driven story, the plot doesn’t lag too far behind.”
review of mushroom blues by matthew higgins on fantasy book critic.
“Mushroom Blues is a tightly written trip through the criminal underbelly of a pulpy cyberpunk inspired city. Themes of colonialism, trauma and addiction deepen the central narrative as the plot races feverishly to its powerfully psychedelic climax.”

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