Friday, April 12, 2013

Early to Rise, Late to Bloom by Mark Allen Berryhill

Audra stared at her ceiling. She always woke up before her alarm. It wasn’t fair. She looked over at the pot in which the alarm grew. It quivered and twitched, and at this point looked like a slimy egg popping up out of the dirt. She gave it maybe twenty minutes before it bloomed and started shrieking. At least she would beat her brother to the bathroom.

She sighed and turned on her side, but jumped out of bed when her hand touched something wet and slimy. She pulled the cover back to reveal an irregular spot of dark red goo about the size of a saucer. She groaned and pursed her lips. The first time this happened she thought she had finally gotten her period, that maybe she had leaked in the night, but no, it was just her brother’s pet slime mold, Rusty, coalescing.

“Go do that somewhere else, you little asshole” she whispered.

She rummaged through the junk on her floor to find her cell phone on and tossed it at the little beast. It quivered and slowly oozed away.

She didn’t trust that thing. Last week she woke up and it was in her hair. She guessed it liked her, but as pets go that thing was pretty gross. Her mom said it liked her room especially since Audra did such a terrible job of keeping it clean. It wasn’t fair that he got a pet and she didn’t. For her next birthday Audra would demand a kitten.

She rummaged through her clothes pile, which had gone from being mostly clean to mostly dirty. She picked the bra she wanted to wear today and plucked off a tiny white mushroom.  Her mom would freak if she knew how dirty her room was. She flicked the mushroom into the slime mold, which dripped off her bed into a little pool near her feet.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

Her mom insisted that if she would just fold up her clothes and put them away like she was supposed to she wouldn’t look like such a slob. She sniffed the clothes she picked out and her jeans still smelled like laundry, and that was enough. It wasn’t like she was going to impress anyone. Everyone paid attention to the girls who didn’t look like little boys.

She gathered her stuff up and snuck out into the cold and damp hallway. Fungal shelves full of knickknacks lined the walls, giving off a faint light you could only see if you didn’t look directly at them, but at least they made it easier to avoid bumping into anything. If she woke her brother up he’d demand that to go first and then stink the place up and use all the hot water. So, she tried to be as quiet as possible. She had always wanted to be a ninja assassin when she grew up, but her mom said that would never happen unless she took school more seriously. Audra had already figured out that school was just a place to socialize, and she just didn’t see the point in that.

She opened the door and closed it without making much of a sound. The first thing she did was to turn the shower on—if her brother knocked on the door she could always say she couldn’t hear him over the sound of the water.

She flipped on the light and it flickered into a soft bioluminescence. Her mom needed to replace that bulb. She took off her night clothes and kicked them into a corner, then looked at herself in the door mirror. She thought of this as The Daily Examination of Shame.  Nothing. No change at all. What the hell was going on? She couldn’t think of another girl in her grade that was as underdeveloped as she was, it was ridiculous. She was tired of pretending to complain about cramps that she never had.

She thought back to the fourth grade. They split the girls and boys up and forced them to watch cutesy sexual education videos with kiddy cartoon euphemisms. Well, her fruiting bodies didn’t look like they were going to bloom any time soon. Everyone giggled throughout the entire video and it really pissed Miss Spink off. It wasn’t that they weren’t mature to understand what was going on, but they all had the internet, they might have titled the videos, “What You Already Know In Insulting Animated Form”. In fact, her best friend Tabby had already got her first period so it wasn’t like any of it was a secret.

That was a long time ago.
She tested the water, it was so hot it almost hurt. She turned the showerhead so that it blasted the wall instead and stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain closed. She peed into her hands and worked that into her crevices. If the girls at school saw her do that they’d eat her alive. It wasn’t like her family couldn’t afford antifungal soap—they didn’t have to do it this way. If her mom would skip the organic food that wasn’t any better for you than real food they wouldn’t have to use their own piss like poor people. And it didn’t even work, not like the medicinal stuff! She still got rashes. In fact over the summer it got so bad that most of the hair on her head fell out. The buzz cut she sported might reinforce the whole little boy thing, but no way is she going to rub urine into her hair no matter how “sterile” or “natural” it is
Her mom insisted that by using anti-fungal soaps humanity is just breeding more dangerous strains of infection. Before Audra was born her uncle had contracted a nasty brain fungus, climbed a radio tower, and then bloomed—to everyone’s horror. Or so she said. Audra knew her mom just liked being a weirdo and wanted a freak for a daughter.

The gritty bar of soap her mom bought smelled good, so at least there was that. Gym class would be so much worse if she stank on top of everything else. She scrubbed herself with that soap until it almost hurt, and when she rinsed the soap out of her eyes she looked down to see a trail of red swirling between her legs and going down the drain.

She gasped and turned around. Rusty had slipped under the door and followed her into the tub. The little bastard was way smarter than you’d expect it to be, or dumber. It slithered unsuccessfully up the side of the bathtub, trying to get out. She tried to scoop it up, but the water wasn’t helping, and soap, even stuff that wasn’t anti-fungal, did terrible things to slime molds.

She didn’t know what to do, so she adjusted the shower head to rinse it down the drain.

There was a pounding on the door.





Audra wished she could wash herself down the drain, too.


When he isn't gardening, Mark Berryhill spends his days exploring complex social issues through fart jokes. 
Copyright 2013 Mark Berryhill 

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