The Garden’s Yield

“Bill, what is this?” asked Susan, kneeling in the damp freshly-watered soil between a row of string beans and another of tomatoes. I didn’t answer her at first, concentrating on carefully pulling out a clump of weeds, taking are not to disrupt the stalk of one of my tomato vines. The moist dirt reluctantly gave up the clump of prickly weeds, the roots dangling wetly beneath my gloved fist. “What is what?” I asked, about to toss the clump of weeds to a growing pile on the edge of the row I was working in when a small speck of white caught my eye in the dirt clumped to the dangling roots. It was a grub, twisting and squirming from side to side, probably wondering what happened to the little nest it had made for itself in my tasty garden. Finally it fell to the earth, landing in the upturned soil where the weed had been moments before.

“It’s some sort of – moss. Spreading around the tomato vines. Want me to get the herbicide?”

“No, not yet. Hang on, I’m coming.” I picked up the squirming beetle larvae, and the thing twitched between my gloved fingers, it’s ugly worm-like body trying to squirm free. “Worse than the fucking slugs,” I muttered, and squeezed my fingers together tightly, crushing the pest. I wiped my fingers into the dirt, then pushed the hole back together and smoothed the ground before standing up and stretching. My back cracked, relieved of the cramped up position that I had been in. Susan was kneeling with her back to me, studying the ground with a fascination that she rarely showed when working in the garden. Normally she stayed out of it, preferring to can whatever I brought to her for canning, storing the jars of fresh vegetables in the cool basement for use throughout the year. But this year the weeds had been exceptionally bad, growing as fast as we could pull them, threatening to choke off the roots and crops in the small garden that I planted every spring and worked on until the fall. I’m not a farmer; rather, I find it relaxing and enjoyable, preferring to while away my non-working hours doing something productive instead of wasting it in front of a television or computer. The gardening began for me ten years ago, when we first moved to Hilltown Township in Pennsylvania. A friend at work suggested it to me once, and the reluctant attempt grew into a full-hearted love within days of tilling the ground for the first time. The first year, Susan and I took pictures almost daily, keeping them in an album of keepsake memories that we cherished. At first, it had helped ease the stress of the day and the grocery bill. Now, those things seemed trivial compared to the memories that they had more recently helped to alleviate… I carefully made my way through the rows of thick vegetation, taking care not to bump the delicious tomatoes or step on an errant bean vine. Finally, I knelt down next to Susan, my back once again bemoaning it’s position, to take a look at the new threat to my peace of mind. It wasn’t a moss, I saw, but a fungus unlike any I’d ever seen before. Reddish-brown, thickly covering the ground and maintaining the contours of the earth, it covered a small portion of the earth over the tilled mound and in between several tomato plants. Several ugly pod-like growths bubbled along it’s surface, each measuring about two to three inches across, with tiny black hairs waving along the surface, reminding me of warts that were on the chin of one of my college English professors. “Ever see anything like it before?” she asked, and I shook my head. “What are these things, look at these,” and she reached out to touch one of the pods with a finger. “Don’t!” I exclaimed, and she withdrew her finger with a hiss of breath. “Why?” she asked, her eyes troubled, and I shook my head. “Just – don’t. It could be dangerous,” I answered, feeling a bit lame. But to my credit, she nodded and didn’t reach for it again. I picked up a garden trowel that she had been using, used the tip of it to carefully prod at the strange fungus, feeling to my surprise a resistance that I hadn’t expected. The stuff felt more like a skin than a plant, resisting the sharp metal edge of the trowel. Finally, I tapped one of the spores, and we both immediately turned our heads in disgust as it popped easily beneath the blade, issuing a horrible stench and a countless number of dust-like spores into the air.

I immediately wrapped the top of my t-shirt around my mouth and turned my head away, but Susan wasn’t so lucky, getting any number of the foul-smelling spores in her face and hair. She coughed, standing up and stumbling down the row, choking and gagging, clutching at her throat and spitting. I followed her, catching her arm, easing her to the ground, noting with a small degree of alarm that her face was bright red, her eyes squeezed shut. She shook my hand off of her arm, gasped out rasping breath, and I could see more of them, issued from her mouth and floating away, and I realized that she had inhaled a number of the tiny spores.

“Water,” she gasped out, and I immediately left her side to run into the house, turning the faucet on, fumbling with a glass, and filling it to the top. Our golden retriever, Dusty, barked anxiously as I pushed past him through the screen door, and as I rushed down the wooden steps of our deck, he pushed past me and out into the yard, racing to Susan’s side. By either luck or the grace of God, I managed to hold onto the railing as he shouldered his muscular body past me to get to his mistress, and I reached Susan mere seconds after he did. I pulled him back, ordered him firmly to lie down, and handed Susan the glass of water which she eagerly drank. The redness was almost gone; only a faint blush of pink remained.

“Feel better?” I asked, and she nodded. Dusty abruptly took off and ran, barking at a squirrel, and we both watched him for a moment, Susan sipping a bit more water.

“He misses her so much,” she finally whispered, and I winced. She’d put into words exactly what I had been thinking.

“We all do, Hon,” I said, willing the tears not to come. Susan watched the dog frolic at the end of the fenced in yard, sniffing at the old swing set that I’d not yet had the courage or desire to take down. I changed the topic abruptly. “Your throat, how is it now?”

“Better. I’ll be fine. Do you want to get the weed spray?”

“No, you stay here and relax, drink your water. I’ll be right back.”

I hated using any sort of sprays in my garden. Insecticides, herbicides, any of that crap. The thought of ingesting chemicals meant to kill organisms made me cringe. For the most part, I avoided any use whatsoever of chemical sprays to keep nature’s pests at bay, preferring insect traps and hard work to keep the rows cleared of weeds and the yield uneaten by bugs. But now, here I was, carrying back a bottle of weed spray that I had purchased once “on a whim.” A whim that I was now grateful for, since I was reluctant to touch the strange fungus again. Standing over the reddish-brown growth, I carefully read the directions, taking into account the minimum recommended dosage, and then, just to be sure, sprayed the stuff with a few more doses. Satisfied that I’d covered it with enough chemical death to poison an elephant, I took the bottle back to it’s place on the shelf in the shed, hoping that I’d not to have to bring it back out again.

Susan was back on her feet, the redness gone. “I’m putting my clothes in the hamper,” she said, “and hopping in the shower. This stuff itches, I want to wash it off.”

“Sounds fine to me,” I answered, and she started back towards the house, Dusty on her heels.

She called down to me from the top of the deck. “I’m leaving the dog out here with you, Bill. He needs the exercise.” Dusty uttered a short dismayed bark as she carefully pushed her way past him and into the house, shutting the door in his furry face. “Go play!” she told him, “Go find your daddy!”

Dusty pawed the door, barked once more as she vanished into the house, then turned around and padded over to me. “Go find a ball!” I told him, and he perked up, looking around, swinging his large head from side to side. “Ball, Dusty! Go find one!” He bounded off, sniffing around for a lost tennis ball, and I returned to the garden, confident that I had found them all two days before when I mowed and brought them in the house. I glanced up once when he barked, then looked up a bit higher to the bathroom window; Susan was framed in the window, watching me, and I waved.

“Oh Dusty!” she called, and the dog exploded from the bushes, looking up at his mistress, his head cocked to the side as she lifted the screen. “Take it to Daddy!” she called, laughing, and tossed one of his dirty matted balls from the bathroom’s second-floor window. The ball arced down, bounced once on the ground, and Dusty leaped up in the air to catch it. I watched, grinning, only to find myself bemoaning his rare show of clumsiness when the ball bounced off his nose, sailing through the air, and plopping to the ground, right in the middle of several cucumber plants. Dusty bounded after the ball as I yelled for him to stop, a glimpse of Susan with a hand over her mouth which was opened wide in dismay.

The plants be damned, the vegetables the furthest thing from his mind, the big dog entered the garden like a bull in a china shop, trampling the plants and knocking vegetables off their vines in his haste to reach his treasured ball. He barked joyfully as he stepped on a cucumber plant, pushing his head down into the earth, and then uttering a yelp of surprise. His head popped up, he barked again, his eyes wary, body tense as he circled the plants, whining.

“Dusty, get back!” I snapped at him, and he cringed, not looking at me, his gaze unwavering from the clump of plants his ball landed in. Disgusted, I carefully moved the plants back, moving the leafy stems away to uncover his ball…  …and immediately cried out in disgust myself! The ball lay in the remains of a mutilated and rotting animal, sitting in the empty cavity that once held it’s intestines. It’s eyes were rotted from it’s skull, the fur missing in huge clumps from it’s back…or so I thought at first. On a closer second look, the missing fur revealed itself to be more of the odd fungus, oozing from the empty insides of the animal, spreading on the corpse, feeding on it’s decay.

I stood up, backed away carefully, grabbed the dog by his collar and pulled him along with me. “Susan!” I yelled, “Call Dusty!”

“Bill, I am so sorry, I didn’t think he would…”

“It’s ok, just call him into the house!” I told her, far more sharply than I intended.

She gave me a wounded look. “What is it?”

“More of that stuff. His ball landed in it.” I didn’t mention the rotting thing that it covered. That wouldn’t have settled well with her.

“He didn’t eat any of it, did he?” She stood on the edge of the deck, looking worriedly down at the dog as I led him to the stairs. She called him, and he padded silently and slowly up the stairs, looking back over his shoulder at me with sad eyes.

“No, he didn’t want anything to do with the stuff.”

She sighed in relief, pushed the unhappy dog through the door, and both disappeared back into the house. I returned to the dead animal, fetching the trowel and a plastic garbage bag on my way.

The thing wasn’t unidentifiable; after studying it’s fungus-covered body for a few minutes, holding my shirt over my nose in a futile attempt to ward off the ungodly stench, I realized that it was my neighbor’s tomcat. The thing often prowled the yard and surrounding woods and fields, stalking birds and rodents. Something must have caused a reversal of fortune for the poor animal, probably last night or the night before. A coyote? A large owl or hawk? Certainly not Dusty. I examined the rips and tears in the animal’s furred skin, seeing nothing recognizable as teeth or claw marks. But then something else hit me…it was an unseasonably warm day in June, 89 degrees out, and the insects were out in force – but none were on the rotting cat! No maggots chewing their way through the flesh, no visible fly eggs on the surface, and no ants trundling back and forth, carrying tidbits home to their colonies. It was as though nature’s garbage collectors were purposely staying away from the body.

I opened the plastic garbage bag, carefully prodded the cat with the trowel, trying to turn it to find the best place to lift it into the bag without touching it myself, finally settling on stabbing the thing’s empty stomach cavity with the sharp edge of the metal blade, lifting it, and dumping it unceremoniously into the bag. I started to tie it off, then thought better of it, examining the ground that the animal had been found on first. The fungus was here also, thicker than it was over amongst the peas and tomatoes. Bubbling up out of a mole hole in the soil, previously unnoticed because of the body of the cat, it spilled out in a misshapen and grotesque puddle of growths and spore pods in a diameter of about two and a half feet or so. One of my cucumbers sat on the edge of the growth, and I could see that the edge of the fungus had visibly expanded towards the vegetable, stretched out from the otherwise diametric puddle to cover it with a bit of the ugly growth. Using the trowel, I cut the cucumber from the plant, slid the blade beneath the vegetable, and lifted it to toss it into the bag along with the dead cat. It landed onto the dead animal’s head, rolled to the side, and with a hideous release of gaseous air, deflated into itself, releasing a thick cloud of the dark spores.

Surprised, I quickly averted my face, once again protecting my mouth and nose as I quickly sealed the bag, tying it off and making it as airtight as I possibly could to contain the spores and fungus within it. And without further ado, I sprayed the remaining fungus with the weed killer and dumped the bag into the bottom of the trash can, far enough down I hoped so that Susan wouldn’t be able to smell the stink of the rotting animal.

That night, with Susan complaining of a sore throat and a slight fever, we ordered Chinese from a small take-out a few miles down the road in the next town. While we ate, I flipped through a gardening book, hoping to find some mention of the odd growth that was slowly but surely overtaking the garden’s yield. No mention was made, nothing even closely mentioned or illustrated the reddish-brown proliferating fungus.

After dinner, Susan retired while I stayed up late, venturing onto the internet to attempt to research the odd stuff. Once again, I struck out, finally shutting down my computer and joining my softly-snoring wife.

The house was dark when I felt the wet nuzzling on my face, followed by a loud “WOOF!” The dog never had an accident in the house, and his nocturnal needs to go outside and water the tree were few and far between. And so it was without complaint that I slipped out from beneath the covers, taking care not to wake Susan, and following Dusty as he lead me through the house and down to the backdoor. I unlocked the backdoor, let him out, and sat down heavily at the kitchen table, my eyes closed, wishing I were back in my bed and not waiting hand and foot upon the self-proclaimed boss of the house.

His barking roused me moments later from the kitchen table, and I bolted to the door to yell outside for him to hush up and come inside. Even as I opened my mouth to yell, the shout died on my lips, my trembling hand rose unsteadily to grasp the wooden railing of the deck as I stood swaying on the edge of the deck. The yard was luminous beneath the starry sky, issuing a weirdly glowing dark red from beneath the green grass, encompassing all of my garden, running beneath the fence that bordered my property from my neighbor’s, and down to the edge of a stream that trickled at the edge of the woods beyond my yard. The stuff came up about twenty feet or so from the edge of the house’s foundation, just underneath the shed where it stood between my home and the garden.

And in the center of it all, Dusty barked and pawed at the ground, pausing every few moments to look up at me and whine anxiously. I called him, once, then twice, and only then did he reluctantly leave the glowing red patch of fungus that was slowly consuming my yard.

I decided not to tell Susan as I crept back up the stairs. Not yet, I wanted to see what the stuff would do, if it was growing or not. I was loathe to take a shovel out back and try to dig it up; there was simply too much of it. In the morning, I’d call out sick at work, take a leave of absence, and crops be damned. The time had come to stock up on the weed killers.

Her body was hot to the touch, I noted, sliding back beneath the sheets. No longer resting comfortably and quietly, she twisted and writhed beneath the sheets, tossing and turning as she moaned softly, pained and wracking sobs issuing from her throat.

I put my hand on her shoulder, shook her gently. “Susan? Susan, wake up, it’s okay…”

She cried again, shook my hand off of her body, her eyes opened wide, bloodshot and red, and an unintelligent and indecipherable string of words spilled from her lips. Without even realizing it, I quickly brought the palm of my hand across her mouth, giving her a good hard smack! Immediately her mouth snapped shut as her head whipped to the side, and she stayed that way for a long moment, not moving, before her head finally lifted and swiveled around to me, and I shook with horror at what she said:

“No…chemicals…” she rasped, her voice thick and wet with phlegm, her bloodshot eyes burning with a fiery intensity, “It…hurts…us…”

And then she blinked once, squeezed her eyes closed, her chin slumping to her chest as she shook her head slowly, as though clearing away a pain.

“Oh, God, Bill…” she moaned, her eyes spilling tears as she lifted her head, her features contorted with pain, “Oh, dear God!” And then she fainted into my arms.

I got up first thing in the morning with my alarm clock at 5:30 AM. Instead of resetting it as I normally would and relaxing for another hour or so in bed, I called my boss first thing and left a message on his machine outlining an obviously fabricated family emergency. But I knew that Ted wouldn’t complain; I’d not taken any time off since the two week period of bereavement time two years ago, and the company owed me two months worth of vacation time.

I showered and ate a quick breakfast of toast, checked in on Susan to be sure that she was still sleeping soundly and undisturbed (she was), left a note telling her to walk the dog in the front yard on the leash rather than out back where he might accidentally eat a piece of the fungus, and then headed out the door to run the errands I’d decided upon the night before. I purposely didn’t go into the backyard; I didn’t want to think about what might be back there, what might have grown during the night. What I was positive had grown during the night…not only in my yard, but also in my wife!

The hardware store’s doors were barely opened for business when I walked in and dropped my credit card on the counter, instructing the clerk to fill the bed of my pickup truck with close to $800’s worth of herbicide. He was shaking his head slowly as he rang up the purchase. “You must have one helluva weed problem, Sir,” he said, handing me back my card and giving me the slip to sign. I left without comment.

My next stop was the pharmacist’s, and this time I had to talk to him.

“Take her to the doctor,” he said. “I can’t prescribe or sell you any type of drugs or antibiotics to take care of an infection that bad. If you don’t have insurance, I know the walk-in clinic down the road can help you financially. Although,” he added, genuine concern in his voice, “From what you said about her night-terrors and the fever, I’d suggest you take her to the hospital instead.”

And so it was that I left empty-handed, dreading the thought of taking her to the hospital, probably a foolish fear, but dammit, Rebecca died there, wasting away, and they couldn’t do anything. But I also knew that there would likely be no other resolution…

When I arrived home not long after, Susan met me at the door, dressed only in her bathrobe, her eyes puffy from crying, her cheeks wet with tears. “Bill, he’s dead, he’s d-dead, I let him out back, and then I saw your n-note, tried to call him, but he wouldn’t come, and wh-when I w-went to see where he was, he just lay there!” Her voice cracked, the sobs rose, and I helped her into the house, sat her down on the sofa.

“Where is he?” I asked, but she only shook her head and cried that much harder. I gritted my teeth, walked to the back door, stepped out onto my deck, and carefully surveyed my once-quiet and beloved backyard. Sure enough, at the edge of the garden, a pile of orangish-red fur, silent and unmoving, lay in a heap. I wiped the back of my hand across my eyes, brushing away the tear angrily. I walked across the yard to his body, skirting the edge of the underground fungus, unwilling to walk on it, hoping that it hadn’t grown out more during the night. I approached his body warily, almost hesitantly, finally kneeling next to him and tentatively touching his furry body.

Nothing.

No sign of life, not a single rise of his chest, his closed eyes, appearing peaceful and undisturbed, remained closed as though he slept. And more importantly, no sign of the fungus. A harsh sob rose in my throat, and a tear spilled down my cheek, unchecked by my hand this time. With both hands, I carefully started to lift his heavy body, only to drop it in utter horror and disgust as his body tore with a sickly wet riiiippp from the puddle of fungus that had grown up and into his stomach in a waving, tetacular worm-like protrusion! I dropped Dusty’s body in my haste to back away from the thing, and it landed with a heavy thud onto the ground, bouncing before it split open along his stomach, revealing the hollowed out pit that the protrusion had hollowed into his guts. Tiny black spores, like a cloud of tiny gnats, drifted out of his innards that spilt onto the ground, exposing the hideous growth of fungus that covered his insides. My scream of shock, outrage, and horror exploded from my mouth as I watched the tiny spores drift over my garden and yard, carried away from me by the light breeze.

Susan was on the deck, wringing her hands, still sobbing. I knew she had been too far to see what I had seen, and so I did not worry about that yet. Not yet, anyway…for now, more important things were to be acted upon. I was convinced that something was now inside of her, growing from the fungal spores that she had inhaled, and that the fungus was much more than I had originally perceived it to be. My only thoughts now were to get her to the local hospital and away from whatever it was that now inhabited the soils beneath my yard.

Knowing something was seriously wrong despite not remembering the events of the previous night, Susan got into the truck for the ride to the hospital without protest; her bags, after I packed them, I stowed in the rear of the truck, on top of the chemical weed killers.

The ride to the hospital lasted a tearful ten minutes. I reassured her again and again that I would not leave her there, that the doctors would be able to treat the soreness in her throat and excise the spores without any sort of problems.

I think I believed my words more than she did…

At first the doctors did not believe my account of the strange fungal spores that she had inhaled. Just another crackpot in off the street, I suppose. But when the laboratory tests came back from the blood tests and throat cultures, they were singing another song when they hustled me out of the room to the waiting area.

An hour crept by, then another, and yet another. Several times, I’d look up to hear someone coming down the corridor, once a doctor, the other two nurses, one looking me in a queerly sympathetic manner that made me want to follow her and ask if everything was all right. The urges resisted, I was forced to wait even longer…

The night came before I knew it…and with it came the doctors, two of them, both grim-faced.

“It’s something we’ve never seen before, Mr. Kohler. Something treatable, we’re sure. But it will take more time, more tests.”

Always more tests…they lead me to the room in which she lay, drugged, two IV’s draining into her body, one into her right arm, the other into her neck. Her body, small to begin with, looked incredibly diminished beneath the sheets of the hospital bed upon which she lay.

“We had to sedate her, Mr. Kohler. She had a strange reaction to the drugs, began to scream and thrash about on the bed. We were forced to restrain her, I’m afraid. But please do not worry, she will be fine when she wakes up.”

I stood over her, touched her forehead, at once alarmed by the incredible warmth that I felt, and looked up at the two hovering doctors.

“A fever, Mr. Kohler, yes, but it is stabilizing, we believe. The medicine and antibiotics are helping.”

“And the fungus?” I asked.

They looked at each other, their uncertainty washing over me in an ugly wave. “We’re treating it as best we can, but we are not certain on what exactly it is. Something rare, yes, incredibly fast growing, very prolific in her lungs. Had you waited one more day, we might not have been able to treat her so successfully thus far.”

“But do you know what it is?” I asked again, “Can you get rid of it?”

“So far, we seem to have stopped the growth, yes, but after that…we are uncertain, Mr. Kohler. As I said, it’s a very rare form of fungus, we’ve never seen it before here. We’re doing the very best we can.”

I ended up kissing her good-night and driving home to my empty house. Night was falling when I opened my front door and collapsed warily into my recliner, exhausted and sick to my stomach. The air was thick with humidity, the trees waved in my backyard, and the red luminescent fungus glowed eerily beneath my lawn, expanding ever-so-slowly outward. The edge was closer to my house now, visibly closer. As it was also to the trickling stream, the tall maples, and my neighbor’s yard.

What would happen when it entered the stream? Work it’s way into the drinking water somehow? Certainly cattle drank from the water at some point…what would it do to the food chain? I shuddered to think of such things…

My thoughts gave way to an uneasy sleep, filled with unremembered dreams and periodic awakenings, my fingers clenching the arms of the recliner, sweat beading on my forehead. Finally I gave up on rest, and spent the remaining hours of the evening standing on my deck, acting the silent sentinel over my crop of glowing fungus.

Morning came with an agonizing slowness. As the sun’s first rays broke over the horizon, I drove my truckload of weed killer into my backyard and unloaded it. Thus I began the unpleasant task of spraying the contents onto my lawn, spreading the foul-smelling contents upon my entire lawn down to the stream, across my neighbor’s lawn (thanking God the entire time that he was on vacation to Disney World with his family), and over my beloved garden. Dusty’s body had all but vanished, I saw, leaving only a putrid and sickly mound of the fungus, thick and ripe with spore pods, from the side of which a white knob of bone protruded, all that remained of my golden retriever. I bit back my rage, and emptied a full bottle on the unholy mess. Spore pods burst as the chemicals rained down upon them, breaking open their fragile bodies, but I saw with no small degree of satisfaction that the chemical death weighted them down and kept them from soaring into the morning sky. Container after container of the stuff I poured and sprayed, dousing every plant and blade of grass in my yard, trees included. By midafternoon, the yard had visibly turned a sickly yellow, and my vegetable garden was finished. The leaves had wilted, some of the vegetables had fallen from their vines to rot in the damp soil. Come nightfall, I’d know for sure what remained of the fungus by the tell-tale glow within the soil. Tired from the day’s overexertion, I tossed the last remaining container to the side, climbed the deck stairs, and stripped down for a long hot shower.

Susan looked little better that evening. She still drifted in and out of consciousness, wasting away on the hospital bed. A third IV had joined the other two, this one adding blood when something inside her caused her to hemorrhage and bleed internally. My hands trembled slightly as I grasped one of hers, still and lifeless, still bound to the edge of the bed in a Velcro cuff. Before I saw her, the doctors had warned me of this, explaining that she still had violent fits from time to time, thrashing about and injuring a nurse who tried to medicate her. But since the early afternoon, the fits had subsided…but so had her health. Her once vibrant complexion was now a pasty white, her breathing labored and heavy, the rise and fall of her chest irregular.

Much like Rebecca, before she had succumbed to the leukemia. I bent my head down, sobbing silently, clutching her hand in mine.

It was gone. Not a trace remained of the glow. I stood on my deck, surveying the underlying yard with critical care, finally descending the steps to inspect the areas hidden from view. Of the thick growth that had consumed Dusty, there was no sign of life left within it; only a black pile of wet sludge remained, lifeless and dead. The stream appeared safe…from the fungus anyway. I shuddered to think of what my gallons of weed killer would do to the life in it.

My garden was also dead, but such is life. This year’s grocery bill would suffer, the memories a bit more prominent…but again, such is life. I sighed, thinking of Susan, and started back to the house to clean up – only to break into a run. The telephone was ringing.

The recovery was miraculous, the doctors told me three days later, as I walked alongside them to the doors, an orderly pushing the wheelchair in which Susan sat, still pale, but now smiling radiantly. I had brought her a clean change of clothes, and she showered as I packed up her things in the room and listened to the care instructions given to me by her doctor. “No exercise for now. Bed rest, plenty of it. Water and liquids, watch what you eat, and keep taking the antibiotics. We’re not yet sure why the symptoms and the growths disappeared, but they did. We want to see her once a week until we say otherwise, we want to run a few more tests. And Mr. Kohler, if there is any sign of a recurrence, call us immediately.” And he thrust a slip of paper with his home number into my hand.

Outside of the hospital doors, Susan stood up out of her wheelchair, and arm-in-arm should she slip, we walked over to my pickup truck. “I do feel much better,” she said, and leaned over to kiss me as she settled into the truck’s benchseat. I smiled, supped her face in my hands, and kissed her long and hard.

We stood, my hand holding hers, on the deck, looking out over the desolation that I had wrought in our backyard. The night’s sky burned bright with stars, the moon glowed thick and heavy high overhead. A harvest moon, bloated and orange. “There will be more gardens,” she said, and I silently nodded, not saying a word, listening to her voice and relishing every word she spoke. “More gardens, someday a much bigger garden, perhaps, over more land…” Her hand squeezed mine, and I squeezed it back. “More vegetables, fruits, an orchard perhaps…plenty of land to grow in…” Her voice was wistful, and I glanced over at her to see a tear drip from the corner of her eye, “More memories, Bill…of what we almost had, almost was, and what will be…” The moon reflected in her eyes, thick and red, and she turned to look at me, her lips curling up in a smile. “Definitely what will be,” she said, the words thick and heavy, wet in her throat…and even as I turned and shoved her with all my might down the deck stairs, even as she catapulted down the steps to land heavily with a wet crunch on the concrete slab below, her mouth opened wide, the tiny spores issuing out into a sudden breeze, spreading silently out into the world…

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