Hank Kirton

Skunked

Harvey Joel Drexler and his psilocybin-hyped mind weaved through impossibly intricate writhing patterns of swampy tangle. He was trekking into the very heart of the marsh. His crappy apartment was well behind him, his lousy job forgotten. He was on an inspired mission, determined to eat skunk cabbage and catch frogs. Harvey was 47 years old and every second of his life showed like tree rings on his collapsing face. This effort was necessary. The mushrooms in his gut prodded him onward with eager excitement. He felt sure he was on to something big. Something cosmic. He sought change. Mud sucked at his steps. Dragonflies sang. Cattails watched him with stoic surprise. Wisdom leaked from the trees.

The skunk cabbage plant has contractile roots. It reaches into the earth, tapping directly into the brain of the planet. That’s what Harvey was after. Direct communication. He wanted to talk to the moss. He wanted to get to the bottom of things. A small frog jumped away from his clumsy advance and he reached for it, losing his balance, landing with a scrambling splash into a stagnant pool. The septic smell of the water soaked into his clothes. He stripped them off and groped back to his feet, standing naked as a newborn in all that stinking, roiling green. This was the way it was supposed to be. It was ceremonial. A pilgrimage. Like something ordained by great green entities.

And then he spotted the skunk cabbage. It was right there. Now was the time.

Huge spreading leaves surrounded a spotted pod. The very heart of the matter. The soul of the swamp. He crouched by the plant. It regarded him like a stoned god. His mushroom-enhanced vision bled through tendrils, spilling chlorophyll-infused consciousness into the humid air. It was thrilling, mysterious stuff. He fell to his knees. The unpleasant stink of the plant was designed to keep predators at bay but he insisted on close proximity. He was not afraid. He looked at it. He breathed it. He tried to make a sound but his throat had closed and all he managed was a drool-drenched sputter. He wiped his numb lips with a muddy hand. The mushrooms guided him, speaking in slow, drawn-out bubbles of dark, narcotic thought. Images instead of words. He longed to decipher their language. Paramecia giggled in his pores. Were they laughing at his folly? He joined them, his breathy laughter rising up into the trees like errant balloons. He felt itchy but didn’t scratch. It was not uncomfortable. It was a divine itch.

He reached for the leaves with a shaking hand.

And then stopped. Oh shit, he didn’t want to hurt it. He’d heard recently that plants felt pain. They got distressed. Screamed. He didn’t want to torture the magnificent thing. He placed a trembling, gentle hand around the center pod, felt heat there. A tingling frequency reached up his arm and into his mind, spreading thick, oozing GREEN through his nervous system. His spine was an antenna, picking up a photosynthetic eukaryotic broadcast. But he still couldn’t decipher its language. It spoke with whispers of algae and the soothing patter of the warm rain that had suddenly commenced like a jeweled baptism, blessing Harvey, giving him permission. It was NOW!

And then, before he could stop himself, Harvey seized the heart of the plant in his fist and tore it out. The mushrooms demanded a ruthless act. It was time to merge.

The hushed tones of the plant broke into an ear-curdling scream and he closed his eyes as a verdant miasma rose up in his mind and he bit into the strong, foul-smelling pod like an apple. It crunched against his teeth and a holocaust of flavor filled his mouth and sinuses and lungs.

He felt like a serial killer; worse, a cannibal. The cabbage kept screaming while he chewed and swallowed, inhaling the fetid smell like a bad memory. He gasped and choked and tried to cough. His throat closed around the burning chunks of flesh. Oh god he couldn’t breathe. Sudden panic seized him and he punched his gut and tried to Heimlich himself, to no avail. His vision, which had been bright, phosphorescent green, darkened. He tried coughing again but it was no use; his throat was closed for business. His lungs struggled, strangling to death in his laboring chest and he toppled face down into the thick, emerald water.

The frog regarded him with wise, primordial eyes.

The skunk cabbage stopped screaming. It was done. Things were back in balance.

It took three days for the swamp to consume and incorporate Harvey Joel Drexler. A pack of Cub Scouts would discover his moss-crawled bones in the fall.

***

From: Everything Dissolves

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