Pleurotus Ostreatus

Here is a short story I have written for an upcoming anthology about Mendie, the last Flower Scout. She was a Flower Scout at the age of 10 when the Apocalypses hit. She lost everything including her parents and younger brother. She is now 20 and has survived because of following (her distorted view of) the Flower Scout code. The basic rules are be a good person and be nice to each other. However, if someone is not being very not nice, or she witnesses an injustice, she is more than willing to solve the problem with guns, knives, and rocket launchers.

Pleurotus Ostreatus

By

Joab Stieglitz

“We have a four-hour trip ahead of us,” Talia said. “If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.”

“So when do we leave?” asked Titus.

“Whenever you are ready, we can leave as soon as you are all prepared.

“How about now?” Titus asked.

“I was planning on sleeping a little longer,” Talia said.

Mendie looks at Titus and Talia. “I guess I will meet you outside in an hour,” she said.

“Sure,” Titus replied.

Mendie then left the room.

“Well, I guess we should get ready,” Titus said.

“Yeah,” Talia said before kissing Titus goodbye.

Titus said, “What was that for?”

“What was what for?” Talia asked.

“That,” Titus said as he pointed to where she kissed him on the cheek.

She looks at where Titus pointed and giggled.

“Oh, that. That was for good luck.”

“Good luck?”

“Yeah, you know. So you don’t die.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Titus said. “I’ll see you in a few hours then.”

“I’ll be there,” Talia said as she walked out of the room.

Titus got his gear together and walked outside to Mendie.

It was a bright sunny day, but there are dark storm clouds on the horizon. It was a very strange sight.

“What’s going on, Mendie?”

“We’re staying here for the night.”

“Why?”

“It’s too dangerous to go at night. There are nocturnal monsters that come out.”

“Like what?”

Then Titus heard a loud growl from behind him. He turned around and stared up at a monster. A large tentacle burst out of the creature and grabbed him. Titus tried to scream, but it plunged him into a world of pure blackness.

Titus woke up on his cot in the headquarters. He saw Mendie standing nearby, fully dressed and with her guns in her hands.

“Hey,” she said, “I was wondering when you’d wake up.”

Titus sat up and rubbed his eyes.

“What happened?”

“One of those tentacle creatures broke through the window and grabbed you,” she said. “I killed it, but not before it took you.”

“How long was I out?”

“About nine hours,” she said. “I got you some food. You hungry?”

“Very!”

Mendie tossed Titus a package of dried fruit and some water in a bag. Titus ate the food and drank the water.

“We should head out soon, Titus.”

Titus looked out the window and saw that it is dark outside.

“Did you sleep at all?” Titus asked.

She shook her head.

“I can sleep in the jeep,” she said.

Titus got in the back of the jeep, laid down and closed his eyes.

When he awoke, it was still dark outside. The only thing he could hear was the howling of monsters.

“Mendie. What’s going on?”

“We’re being attacked,” she said. “Monsters everywhere. They must have smelled the blood.”

“What’s going on?” Titus said, panicked.

“It’s OK, keep your voice down,” she said. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”

Titus stared out into the darkness and slowly felt himself slipping back to sleep.

“Rest, Titus,” she said.

“How can I rest at a time like this?! I’m ready to fight, Mendie!”

“You’d just get in the way,” she said. “Just stay in the back of the jeep and keep quiet. I’ll wake you if I need help…”

Titus drifted off to sleep again.

“Wake up, Titus! We’re here.”

Titus opened his eyes and sat up. He saw that they were in a forest clearing. The trees were old and large.

The jeep was gone, and the bodies of dead monsters lay all around. He heard growls in the distance.

“Took you long enough,” said a voice from above him.

Titus looked up and saw Talia standing on a branch above him, at the edge of the forest.

“Took me long enough for what?” Titus asked.

“To get here, of course,” she said. “Come on, we have to move quickly.”

“What happened? How did I get here?”

“I carried you, of course!” Mendie said, rolling her eyes.

“You what?”

“Don’t make me regret saving your life, Titus…” she said, before running off into the forest.

Titus stared at her for a second, then got up and followed her.

They traversed the forest for hours with no sign of life. Finally, they reached a large, wooden cabin.

“Welcome to Fort Defiance,” Talia said, smiling.

The fort was pretty run down looking. The wooden walls were all rotten and falling apart in places, with loose, splintered boards nailed over the holes.

Titus and Mendie walked into the fort. The interior was in slightly better condition than the exterior, but not by much. The walls still had large holes and patches in them.

Titus said, “It’s just you, Talia?”

“For now,” she said. “I had a partner, but he went rogue and left the fort. Said he was going North to find his fortune.”

Titus looked around and saw a large table. He walked over to it and sit down.

“The coffee’s still warm,” said Talia.

Titus nodded and took a sip of the thick, black coffee.

“What do you want us to do, Talia? What’s your plan?” Mendie said.

“I want you to help me kill the wendigos,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”

She turned away and began looking around the fort. Titus could tell she’s avoiding eye contact.

“We’re here to help you,” Titus said.

“Good,” she said, turning back around. “Now let’s go over the plan.”

Talia drew a map in the dirt with a stick.

“Wendigos are hideous, savage creatures. They have no home, other than whatever caves they can find.”

“The caves?” Titus asked.

“There’s a system of caves up near the Frostback Basin,” said Talia.

“When do they come out?” Mendie asked.

“Usually at night,” said Talia. “We catch them by surprise.”

“Surprise?” Titus asked.

“They don’t expect a group this large,” she said.

“There’s only three of us?” Titus said. “We should wait for more people to help.

“There’s no time!” Talia hissed. “Besides, this’ll be easier with fewer people. They won’t expect three people either. We’ll have a surprise advantage.”

“It’s suicide,” Titus said.

“I’ve done this before,” said Talia.

“What do you intend to attack with? Mendie asks. ,”I mean, they don’t exactly have a weakness.”

“We just have to hit them hard and fast,” said Talia.

“You don’t mean to attack them with pointy sticks, Talia! Do you?” Mendie said.

“We have to,” said Talia. “That’s all we have.”

“We have better,” Mendie said. “Titus, go get the toys!”

“How do I get back to the jeep?” Titus said.

“Just follow the path along the side of the creek until you get to the fork. Go to the right along the side of the ravine and you’ll be there. Two hours, tops,” Talia said. “Just go past the ravine and you’ll see it. A flat piece of land above the creek. You can’t miss it.”

“Got it,” Titus said.

“We’ll see you soon,” she said.

Titus nodded, and left the fort.

“Just rest, Titus! I’ll protect you, Titus! I carried you, Titus. She doesn’t think I can look after myself!”

Titus looked around. Everything was quiet, and there was no sign of anyone else. It was probably just the wind, Titus thought. Titus began walking along the faint trail, looking around to make sure nothing was going to sneak up on him. Every time a twig snapped, or the wind blew, his heart jumped. Still, he carried on.

Titus came to the fork. To the left the forest continued and the path became more even. To the right, the ravine wall hugged the path. Titus went to the right.

Titus kept walking, and the trees became more sparse. Eventually he emerged from the trees into a hilly, grassy landscape. Ridges ran across the landscape, both away from the path and toward it. As Titus walked along the path, he saw movement in the distance ahead of him.

He stopped for a moment and considered his options. There was someone out there. There was no doubt about it, he could see someone moving in the distance. It was a long way off, but in this sparse landscape, that meant it was really close. Titus could not make out much more than that it was human-shaped, but who else could it be out here?

Titus pulled his knife out of its sheath, taking care not to cut himself on its sharp edge. Crouching low, he crept through the hills toward the source of movement. As he got closer, Titus began to make out more details. It was a person, pale and skinny, with long black hair, wearing clothes made of animal skins and carrying a bow and arrow.

Titus was close enough now that if he jumped, he could reach out and touch it.

Its facial features were sharp and angular. Its eyes were yellow and serpentine, its nose was a snout, and long fangs protruded from its upper jaw. Long, slimy hair fell from its head, and its ears were pointy. It let out a long, low growl, baring its teeth.

Titus backed away, He was unsure of whether to attack. His knife may have been sharp enough to cause some damage, but it certainly would not kill the beast. The wendigo let out a growl, revealing its fangs. Saliva dripped from its mouth as it stared at him. It took a step toward him with its right foot.

Suddenly there was a loud boom, and the creature’s head disappeared in a cloud of gore. Titus turned to see Mendie holding a rifle. “Well done, Titus!” she said. “Now let’s go bring down the rest of these monsters!”

Titus watched as the Wendigo’s body fell to the ground. Then he turned and quickly followed Mendie.

“Titus used me as bait?!”

“Yes, I did,” she admited. “But you’re here now, so it doesn’t matter, does it? Thank goodness you’re smarter than the average bear.” She winked at him.

“You tricked me into walking into an obvious trap!”

“I didn’t trick you, Titus,” she said with a coy smile. “Come on, we need the hardware in the jeep.”

Titus followed her, fuming silently. Still, he could not help but notice how attractive she was when she was being badass like that. It was a good look on her. For a moment Titus felt like telling her that she was attractive when she was being bad, but he stopped himself. She was his boss. Titus did not want to mess that up.

They reached the jeep, and Mendie began handing equipment to Titus.

“I’ll take the automatic grenade launcher,” Mendie said. “You can have this.” She handed Titus a pump-action shotgun. Titus quickly checked to make sure it was loaded.

“Take extra ammo. This is going to be messy.”

She opened the jeep’s trunk. It was full of explosives. She quickly began assembling a makeshift bomb.

“You ready to blow up some wendigos?” she said with a smile.

“Always!”

“Perfect. Let’s go.”

Mendie walked toward the cave entrance, with Titus following closely behind. They went deep into the cave, through a long twisting tunnel. Titus walked slowly, quietly, making sure to check every corner, every rock or pile of waste, every time he heard a noise. It could have been a rat, a weasel or something else small. It could have been a wendigo. The beasts could take any form, but they all had one thing in common: glowing red eyes.

Titus walked quietly for an hour with his gun raised. He was not tired. He was not scared. He just listened for that one sound that screamed ‘ wendigo ‘. Titus heard nothing, saw nothing. He walked quietly through the darkness, until a noise behind him made him whirl around, gun raised….

“Titus!” a voice said, just as he was about to fire. “Titus stop, and lower your gun.”

“Mendie,” Titus said. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Come on, it’s just me,” she said, smiling. “You’re too jumpy. You need to stay alert.”

“I am alert! I nearly shot you!”

“Well, I’m not a wendigo. But I do have good news. There are no wendigos on our tail. I’d know. I’ve been listening out for hours, and I haven’t heard a sound.”

“Are you sure?

“I’m sure. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

“Okay,” Titus said. “So what’s the plan? Do we just walk, or…”

Mendie took the explosive from her bag and looks at it.

“If there are no wendigos here, there’s only one other place they could be. The cavern.”

“The cavern? What’s there?”

“Only where they breed. It’s a huge cave, miles beneath the Earth. That’s where they’ve made their home.

Titus said, “How do you know this?”

“I read it in a book at HQ,” she said. “We need to go there and wipe out the rest of their numbers. If we don’t, they could become unstoppable.”

“Do you know where the cavern is?”

“I’ve got a good idea,” she said, pointing down the tunnel. “It’s that way. Come on, we need to go. You ready?”

Titus looked down the barrel of his gun. He doubted that he would need it, but it could not hurt.

“I’m ready,” Titus said.

“Perfect. Let’s go.”

Titus walked down the tunnel with gun in hand. Suddenly, something moved in the corner of his vision…

It was just a rat, scuttling away from the light. Still, he was on full alert. The wendigos could attack at any moment.

Titus walked deep into the darkness of the cave, gun in his hands. He flicked the flashlight on, illuminating the cave. Its wet stone walls were covered in scratching and writings.

“This was their place. Hundreds of them used to live here.” Mendie whispered. “Let’s get searching.”

Titus began to search through the cave, but after nearly an hour, he found nothing. “Where the hell are they?” he muttered. Suddenly, a drop of water fell on his head. He looked up. Water was dripping through the cavern roof. “Mendie, I don’t like this.”

“It’s just water,” she said.

“No, it’s not. It’s the cave roof. Water from a storm is leaking through.”

“So? It’s just a cave, it’s supposed to have water in it.”

“But the roof. If too much comes down, the whole thing could collapse!

“Don’t be such a worry wart, Titus!” She said.

Titus continued searching. Hours passed, until finally he found something. A strange carving on the wall of the cave. It depicted a strange beast, looking like the unholy offspring of a boar, a wolf and a man. It had an array of sharp teeth, and its eyes were pure black. The caption below read ‘WENDIGOS: COME TO US’.

Titus said, “Are they expecting us?”

“No, of course not,” Mendie said. “It’s a drawing.”

“Looks like they’re expecting us to me!”

“We need to keep searching.”

Titus walked deeper into the cave but found nothing else. “Mendie, I don’t think they’re here…”

“Shut up and keep searching!” she hissed.

Suddenly, Titus heard a growl. Titus spun around to face a horrible creature. It stood at six foot three and was covered in grey, matted hair. It had the body of a man but the face of a savage beast, and a mouth filled with teeth that would make a shark jealous.

“Welcome to our home,” the creature said. “Please make yourselves comfortable.”

Suddenly, more of the creatures appeared. Titus turned to see the entry of the cave had been blocked off by more of the Wendigos. “Dear God…” Titus whispered. “What do we do?”

“We parlay,” Mendie said.

“You’re going to parlay with these things?”

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

“We don’t want to kill you,” the lead wendigo said. “Join us and become a wendigo yourselves.”

“No, thank you,” Mendie said. “Can we come to some arrangement where you don’t go killing the people of the forest.”

“We need to feast!” the wendigo said. “We can’t stop ourselves. We have to feast!”

“Can we… come to any sort of agreement, then?” she asked.

“Yes. We can offer you a place here, as our servants. You can feast on the flesh of the people of the forest,” the wendigo said.

“That’s not what I had in mind.” Mendie thought for a moment. “How about if I arrange with the people of the forest to give you animals to eat?”

“That wouldn’t satisfy us,” the wendigo said sadly. “We need to eat humans. It’s our nature.”

“Why can’t you eat other things? Have you ever tried? These caves are dark and moist. You could grow fungus to eat, like these pleurotus ostreatus.” She pointed to the mass of flower shaped mushrooms growing on the cave wall. “There’s something to be said for a vegetarian lifestyle.”

“We need flesh!” the wendigo screamed.

“If you change your mind, we can help get you started,” she said.

Titus stood in silence for a while, as the wendigos argued amongst themselves. Finally, the lead wendigo turned to Mendie. “We have reached an agreement. We will discuss with you how we will coexist with the people of the woods, and what actions we will take, later.”

“But we will feast on Titus now,” the wendigo said, with a wide grin across his face.

“TITUS, RUN!” Mendie screamed.

She opened fire with the automatic grenade launcher, firing deeper into the cavern. The grenades sailed past the wendigos and exploded into the wall of the cave, destroying a huge chunk of it and burying half of the monsters in rocks.

“Titus! Run! We’re leaving!” she screamed, grabbing his hand and sprinting deeper into the cave. The rest of the wendigos were stumbling over their buried fellows in an attempt to give chase.

After running for several minutes, they came to a fork in the tunnel. “Which way?” Titus asked.

“I don’t know!” Mendie replied.

“We’re going to die in here!” Titus said. “I can’t fight fifty of them by myself!”

“I have an idea,” she said. She pulled out a flare gun, firing it off. The tunnel was briefly illuminated in red. “The flare lit up the whole cave.

“Let’s go!”

Titus ran as quickly as he could through the cave, turning every so often to make sure none of the wendigos were behind them. Finally, he reached the end of the cave, finding himself at the base of a huge pit. A metal ladder was attached to the wall which went up to a hatch.

“Through here,” Talia said through the open hatch. “Come on!”

Titus sprinted towards the pit as wendigos came out of the darkness. They spotted Titus, growing wide-eyed. “FEAST!” they howled as they approached.

Mendie dropped her backpack and slid it down the wet tunnel toward the approaching monsters.

“Titus, give me your hand!” Talia said. He quickly did, and she pulled him up through the hatch. Mendie vaulted out of the portal right behind him.

“Close the hatch!” Mendie yelled.

Talia slammed it shut just as the bomb in the backpack exploded. Titus could hear the screams of the wendigos as they were baked alive in the hot, wet cavern.

“Mendie! You’ve done it again!” Talia said. “I knew you would!”

“Shut up,” she said, annoyed. “Let’s get home.”

They entered the woods and eventually emerged out onto the dirt road and back to the jeep.

Titus drove back to the city in silence.

It began to rain, and they stared out the windshield in silence.

“Titus,” Mendie said, “something is bothering you.”

“We could’ve died in there.”

“We’re going to be just fine,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“You never tell me what you’re going. You don’t trust me!”

Mendie’s eyes go wide. “You’re right. I’m so focused on the mission that I forget to live.”

“We’re supposed to be a team,” Titus said.

“I’m sorry, Titus,” Mendie said. “You’re right. Let’s go back home. We can talk it out over dinner.”

“You don’t need to go to any trouble,” Titus said.

“It’s no trouble,” she said. “I’m a great cook!”

“You are?” Titus said, surprised.

“Titus, you know so little about me,” she said, smiling.

Author: joabstieglitz

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