Anthropopathogenic Cordyceps Fungi

We’re in a storytelling class right now. I stretched my first assignment so that it would dovetail a little bit more with my Production 1. It’s been years since I’ve actually sat down and written a story. I basically took an experience my brother Phil had- and added a bunch of horrible stuff. PREPARE FOR THE FUNGUS: STORYBOARDS FINISHED BY SUNDAY.

We call them Chandeliers. They first started appearing in the jungle a few months before our team arrived. But our financiers paid to learn how island reptiles stay hydrated in the dry season, not to receive excited reports at the discovery of vibrant new fungi flowering in the canopy. They’ve since cut us off. But that’s not important. There’s enough money left from our original grant to last out the week. Longer, if Dawn doesn’t return.
Three weeks ago, we saw the first Chandelier, and immediately realized it was unlike any other flora in the jungle. My knowledge of fungi isn’t specialized, but Dawn’s is, and she thought we were on to something. Huge colonies of fungus blooming out of trees high in the air. They adhere to the branches with a thick, foul sap. It gives their stocks a solid foundation as they stretch greedily out in every direction. We were astonished at the extraordinary amount of morphological variety between colonies. Shape and color seemed to be specific to each new Chandelier that we found.
Our team is small, and made up of three passionate young biologists. It didn’t take long before we completely abandoned our project goals in order to research Chandeliers full time.
Every morning at first light, the three of us would set out to document as much of the fungal variety as we could. The island we’re inhabiting isn’t big. Probably one square mile. We all covered the grounds eagerly, but Dawn noticed the patterns first.
5 days ago now, I was photographing some of the Chandeliers at eye-level. Pete had a much more romantic idea of biological research and preferred sketching them. Dawn climbed up a tree to get a new angle, and she started calling us immediately. It took us a minute to stabilize on the tree before we saw them: dozens of Chandeliers hidden in the next tree level. They looked almost uniform. Copper, lined with sick-yellow plumes. But what really got our attention was the sap. The sap adhering to the branches was the same foul stuff as the Chandeliers below us. But in this sap, you clearly make out the rigid white lines of a rib-cage.
We shared a brief moment of hysteria thinking the species we discovered was evolving at lightning-speed on the island. But as we calmed down, I was able to identify the emerging skeletal form in one of the Chandeliers as a reptile. All of the rib-cages appeared to belong to a local gecko. Pete and I climbed down to collect samples of the low-hanging Chandeliers, but Dawn moved upwards, eager to see if there was more hidden in the tree layers.
Dissecting the Chandeliers was easy. The rigid stocks put up resistance only briefly before crumbling into dust, and, just as we hypothesized, inside of every specimen was a dead host, mostly varieties of crab.
Dawn returned mid-dissection with an enormous grin on her face. She’d found another layer of Chandeliers- more complex in form and color than the last two- and more sparse. It had taken her the entire day to spot them. The core of this specimen was a more impressive life-form as well, a large male spiny-tail iguana. The questions we had were innumerable. Pete and I scribbled notes furiously. He and I had been working on new grant proposals- scrambling to find the means to stay on this island and flesh out this new organism. Dawn headed right back out to see if she could reach the canopy.
That was 2 days ago. We waited until morning light to go looking for her. The malaria medicine makes us all feel a out of sorts, and we were worried that Dawn had taken a fall. Eight hours of hiking later, we radioed for help. It was dark by then, and Peter and I decided to sleep until the boat arrived in the morning.
I can hear the prop-motor across the ocean now, and I’ve found Dawn. I can make out her sun-burnt figure in the tree-line hanging highest in the distance. She doesn’t respond to any of our calls, but I can see that her eyes are open. We don’t want to leave our work, but Pete and I both agree that it’s important to get her back to the main-land.
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