Mushrooms
A Short Story by Jim McCollum
Written using the suggestion "Tripping"
Originally featured on 10-05-2007
As part of our series "A Funny Thing Happened To Me on the Way to the Fall"

“God-damn, this is earlier than I’ve been up in a long time,” said Billy.

The bristly clumps of ice coated grass crunched beneath our tennies as we walked. We were out in Tom Macready’s field that morning after the rain, looking for magic mushrooms in the cow-pies. This old hippy lady told me we could find them if we, “waited for the rain, and then searched for the harvest in what that heifer Blue Belle leaves for you.”

So we got up early that morning to the gray clouds, holdovers from the rainy night. We guzzled some coffee in the 7-11 parking lot and listened to this Metallica mix-tape Billy keeps in his car. I drink mine with five of those French Vanilla creamers in it, else it’s too bitter. I wish I had a car too and I’m going to get one, or move out of my parent’s place. I'll pick one when I get a full-time job when I’m done with high-school.

Right now, I’m working after school and summers in my uncle’s hardware store.

The flat rounds cover the whole field. We’re looking for the fresh ones. We’re spread out and walking about ten feet from each other. I step carefully. so I don’t put a foot in a pile.

We’re about a hundred yards or so into the field when I see them, a tight cluster of brown hats poking up through the shit.

“I think I found some,” I say.

 

“They don’t look like much,” says Billy.

We pluck out the fungi, there’s enough to fill a big Ziploc bag that had my sandwich from lunch the other day. I still had the bag in my pocket.

“I can’t believe we’ve never known about this,” I say holding up the bag as we’re driving home. I can see strange vein-like lines in the mushrooms; the veins are where the magic is supposed to be.

“I know what you mean,” says Billy, “so far it’s the only cool thing about this crap-hole-town.”

We’re on our way back to Billy’s house, passing by the farm lands out by Tom Macready’s ranch. Outside my window, there’s an alfalfa field that extends out as far as I can see. A large sprinkler system sits idle in the green, a long metal pipe with large, spoked metal wagon wheels. Most of all, it’s just empty, no trees, no houses, nothing. There really ain’t anything here for us. Sometimes, we drive out to one of these deserted farm roads and get wasted if we can get someone to buy us beer. Sometimes, we come out and shoot guns at cans, and sometimes we get drunk and shoot cans at the same time out on one of these dirt roads.

When we get back to Billy’s house, we decide to call our friend Ted.

“Man, my back sure hurts,” Ted tells us me on the phone. “I guess I was just fucking my girlfriend in Montana too hard.”

Ted’s dad owns land both here in Idaho and in Montana, and sometimes Ted goes with him on business trips. Ted talks a lot about girls he knows in Montana and the parties he goes to there. Montana is a lot more exciting than here. People do keg-stands and shit all the time.

That’s one place I’d probably go if I had a car. I’d like to see another state.

We show Ted the mushrooms, and he gingerly holds the bag.

“Man,” he says, “dude,” he says, “this is some good shit.”

Billy grabs my arm, and we both laugh.

“Have you guys tried any yet?”

“Not yet, we were waiting to do them together.”

He sets the bag down on the coffee table.

“Aren’t you going to try one?” asks Billy.

“Are you sure these are magic mushrooms? These things can be poisonous.”

“I thought you were a total partier,” says Billy, “but now you’re acting chicken on us.”

They’re arguing.

“Once I had food poisoning, and I had the worst shits in my life,” Ted says, “I’m just saying let’s be sure, let’s look them up on the internet or something.

“You guys are both chicken,” I say. I take one of the mushrooms and swallow it.

“Damn, Pat finally grows a pair,” says Billy.

“Shut-up,” I tell him.

These guys, Billy and Ted, and my friend Skyler too, make fun of me for being such a fat-ass. Plus, I usually didn’t do things first. I usually waited until everyone had already done something, like when Billy, Skyler, and I went waterskiing with Ted and his dad on their boat. I waited until everyone had gone, but then I couldn’t even get up on the water when the boat pulled because of my fat-ass. I felt hot and tired from the sun, and everyone, including Ted’s dad starting calling me “Fat Pat” after that.

“What’s it feel like?” asked Ted.

“Nothing yet,” I say.

We all start watching television, some old sitcom. I get up to get a Coke and trip over the coffee table.

“Hey Fats, watch where you put your clumsy ass,” says Billy.

“I think it’s actually the mushrooms, dude,” I say.

“Are they working?”

“I think it is,” I say, “wait. Look at me!” I stand up and start dancing around to the music on a commercial. I’m laughing hard. I can always make them laugh by dancing my fat-ass around.

“Those things are making you loopy,” Ted says.

“Yeah,” I say, my voice is high and silly.

We watch more of the television. I have a Coke.

“Actually guys, I don’t think the mushrooms are working.”

“Oh well,” says Billy.

I lean over the side of the couch and puke all over the carpet. It’s thick in my throat, and there’s bits of blood mixed in with the breakfast burrito.

“Jesus Christ!” says Billy.

I puke again. I’m breathing heavily, trying to suck in air, but I puke again. I fall off the couch onto the floor.

“He’s getting fucking pale,” says Ted.

“Oh, shit,” says Billy.

I can hear them talking but I can’t focus on the words. They pick me up and take me out to the car, they’re talking fast.

“How many fingers and I holding up?” asks Ted.

I puke on the driveway.

“We have to get him to the hospital!” Ted’s voice is high and thin. It sounds like I’m in a metal box and he’s yelling from the outside.

“Pat,” Ted’s saying as Billy drives, “Pat, are you ok?”

I try to say something but my tongue feels numb and heavy.

“I think he’s going into shock or something. Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die.”

We pull into the emergency entrance to the hospital. They pull me out of the car and drag me to the sliding glass door. They get back into the car and drive away. I can feel tears welling up in my eyes, but I’m too weak to move, or call out.

 

When I wake up, I’m in a hospital bed. There’s an IV in my arm, letting a clear fluid leak into me. I can hear a telephone ring outside my room, and steps pass by my door. I feel hollow inside and the edges of my lips have a thin crust on them. My eyes feel sticky and heavy.

I hold my hand up in front of my face. It shakes.

A nurse knocks on my door and then comes in. She’s carrying a silver clipboard. She’s younger than some of the other nurses, and she’s pretty. She spends a lot of time outside, because her skin’s tan, almost so that I can’t make out the freckles on her cheeks.

“Hey there, guy,” she says to me, “I just have some questions for you.”

“The answer is yes,” I say, “I feel like an idiot.”

“Well, that one’s not on my list. I need to know more about what you ate and any drugs you took. I know it’s awkward, but I have to ask if you were meaning to hurt yourself.”

“No,” I said, “I just ate a mushroom I found because I thought it was one of those magic mushrooms, you know, the hallucination kind.”

“Where did you get it?”

“I found it in some cow shit. My friends and I were all going to eat them.”

“The same guys that left you at the door?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok,” she said, writing.

“Are my friends here?”

She sat down on the edge of the bed.

“No, they left. Is there someone I can call for you?”

I began to cry, but I tried to hide it by turning into my pillow.

“My parents,” I say, my voice unsteady.

“Hey,” she said, “you're going to be fine. You were pretty sick. Maybe your friends just got scared? It happens a lot with some of the OD patients.”

I wiped my eyes on the pillow.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Are you from around here?”

“No, I moved here from California.”

“Why?”

“I like the outdoors, this area is great for hiking and mountain biking.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said.

“Hey, can I ask you something else?”

“Ok, but I have other patients, so can this be the last question?”

“What’s it like in California?”

“I don’t know, um, it’s a big city, and there are just people, and cars, and buildings everywhere. I grew up there and then went to college there.”

“To be a nurse?”

“Yeah,” she leaned against the door, “but I have to see another patient, I will have someone at the nurse’s station call your parents.”

 

My parents came and picked me up. My dad kept taking his hat off and running his fingers through his hair while my mom signed the forms so I could be released. We walked out to the car quietly. I had my clothes in a plastic bag because they were covered in puke and I wore hospital scrubs. When we got in the car, my dad called me a “damn fool,” and I agreed with him. We left it at that.

“I’m just glad your okay,” my mom said as she stir-fried some veggies for dinner.

“Thanks, mom,” I said. “Hey, have you ever been to California?”

“I’ve never been there, but it seems like a nice place. I’m sure there are some nice people there if you don’t go into the inner city. Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” I say, “except I’m thinking about moving there after I finish high school.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Well, I’m thinking about maybe going to college over there.”

“College is pretty expensive.”

“I know, mom,” I say. “I feel like being in the middle of the city, in a huge crowd, feeling the crush of all those people like we’re water in pipes.”

“That’s an odd thing to say,” she said, “you must still have some of that mushroom in you. Now go get your father because dinner is ready.”

I went out to the backyard to get my dad. I kept thinking about this tv show I saw once where I saw a street so full of people, they didn’t seem like individual people anymore, just one mass, like a river, flowing down the street, eddying at the red stop hands, and rushing forward when the lights turned green.

Read More By Jim McCollum

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