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Do you know what a Cordyceps is? I didn`t either, until twenty minutes ago. It is a family of thousands of different types of fungus, which grow all around the world, in various rainforests and jungles. The awful thing about them is that they are parasitic; they grow on other animals.
When an ant happens to run into some spores, the fungus begins to colonize its innards, starting with its brain. At some point, the ant will start to act visibly ill, by standing in place and shivering, or walking in circles. If a fellow colony member sees it in this condition, it will be dragged to the border of the colony and exiled.
Then, when it is almost over, the ant weakly climbs as high as it can up the vines, and locks its body on tight. Finally, it dies, and the fungus emerges from the back of its head, bursting forth like a long, foul fruit. After a short time, the little stalk spews forth its own spores, leaving the mummified and broken ant clinging to the stalk. Its eye cavities are 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 had been back from eighteen months on duty in the Philippines for less than three days. This was the first I had 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 had stayed in his room since he returned home, then suddenly got up and announced he was on his way to see me. They thought he was drunk; I thought he would never make it.
He must have come straight up to the roof and died, by the smell of it. I was just finishing a cigarette, torn up with anxiety and head throbbing. When the acrid smoke vanished, I caught a whiff of rotting flesh in the hot wind. It took me just a few minutes before I had found him, face down behind the vents and fans. A slimy gray column rose up obscenely from the base of his skull. A frozen waterfall of roots and tendrils dangled from his eye sockets and mouth. At the top of the stalk, were small arrangement of feathery wisps, white powder drifting idly from its tips.
The spores must have drifted over the north side of the building all day. It was my side of the building. I came down to my apartment to try to call the police, but my headache was rising to a feverish throb. As soon as I got through the door and I reached for the phone, pain flared in my head. It was so bad that I almost passed out. I have since tried three times, and I can never get my hand 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 they 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. A new thought has been rising up rhythmically in my head, like a record skipping.
This thought is joined by an image of my office tower. It is taller than my apartment, the tallest place I can think of. Although the bulge on the back of my neck is the size of a peach, the skin is stretched shiny, I am dizzy, and my eyes are cloudy, I think I can make it there.
No. I am 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.
If you live in downtown Chicago, I would get the fuck out.
Credited to Josef K.