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Do you know what a Cordyceps is? I didn’t either until 20 minutes ago. It’s a family of thousands of different types of fungus, grows all around the word in various rainforests and jungles. The awful thing about them is they’re parasitic, they grow on other animals. An ant happens to run into some spores, and then it starts to colonize his insides, starting with his brain. At some point, the ant starts to act visibly ill; standing in place and shivering, or walking in circles. If a fellow colony member sees him in this condition, he will be dragged to the border of the colony and exiled.
Then, when it’s almost over, the ant weakly climbs as high as he can up the vines, and locks his body on tight. Finally, he dies, and the fungus emerges from the back of his head, bursting forth like a long and foul fruit. After a short time, the little stalk spews forth its own spores, leaving the mummified and broken ant clinging to the stalk, his eye cavities filled with drying fungus.
I mention this because last night, when I was up on the roof of my apartment complex, I found my brother’s body.
He’s been back from 18 months on duty in the Philippines for less than three days. This was the first I’d seen him. My parents called me up the day before yesterday to tell me that he was on his way up. They told me he’d stayed in his room since he got home, and then suddenly got up and announced he was on his way to see me. They thought he was drunk, I’d thought he’d never made it.
He must have come straight up to the roof and died, by the smell of it. I was just finishing a cigarette, all torn up with anxiety and head throbbing, and when the acrid smoke vanished I caught a whiff of rot on the hot wind. It took me just a few minutes before I’d found him; face down behind the vents and fans. A slimy gray column rose up obscenely from the base of his skull, and a frozen waterfall of roots and tendrils was dangling from his eye sockets and mouth. At the top of stalk was small arrangement of feathery wisps, a white powder drifting idly from it tips.
The spores must have drifting over the north side of the building all day. My side of the building. I came down to my apartment to try to call up the police, and my headache was rising to a feverish throb. I got through the door, and the moment I reached for the phone, pain flared in my head, so bad I almost passed out. I’ve since tried three times and I can never get my hand up on it.
The same thing happens when I try to get up and leave the room; I feel spines of ice tunneling up into my skull and my limbs lock up and shudder.
The ants, in their last moments crawl as high up the vines as he can climb. This is so the spore will spread over more of the colony below. In the end, the parasite controls the ant with an almost intelligent drive. God help me.
The pain is almost blinding now, and a new thought has been rising up rhythmically in my head, like a record skipping. Up. Up. Up. It’s joined by an image of my office tower. It’s taller than my apartment, the tallest place I can think off and although the bulge on the back of my neck is the size of a peach, the skin stretched shiny, and I’m dizzy and my eyes are cloudy, I think I can make it there. Up.
No. I’m sick. I need help.
The building pulses again in my mind. The cold wind. The roof and the sky. These images and concepts dull the pain momentarily as they pass through my mind. I think I can get there. Up. Up.
If you live in downtown Chicago, I would get the fuck out.