In an old town hall half-filled with 50 to 60 people who are members of the local speakers club, a white-haired man wearing an ancient tweed jacket, a well-worn white shirt and faded brown pants begins his speech. The audience has no idea what his presentation entitled “I was on a walk one day” is going to be about.
“I was walking one day through what I call the ‘alien forest’. I have not said this out loud to anyone before, as I didn’t want to answer any questions about why I had named it that. It is just that there appear to me to be trees and other, smaller plants in this forest that I have never seen elsewhere. But I’m no botanist. I believed that it might just have been my idle-minded impression. I see some of you nodding your heads. Nor have I ever said to anyone that I sometimes have the feeling that the plants there are actually listening to me, as they appear to me to be leaning slightly in my direction when I am singing, which I often do when I am walking there, but nowhere else. I am going to tell you now of the evidence I have that my feelings have had a reality base in them. I know you are skeptical, thinking that it is just a product of my being an old man living alone. Just hear me out before you decide either way.”
There began to emerge a restlessness in the crowd, some of the people in the chairs of the old theatre probably wondering whether they were going to hear nonsense and should not have decided to come to this presentation.
“The story I am about to tell you began when I was walking through the forest on a Tuesday morning early in November, a large coffee in my right hand. Leaves had begun to fall from maple, oak, and birch. I remember thinking that Mother Nature was wiser than my neighbours who, unlike me, would sweep and blow their leaves from the ground and into a recycle wheelie bin, thus denying their grounds of leaf enrichment.
One maple leaf in particular drew my attention. It was bigger than most of the others and had a beautiful reddish glow to it. But then I noticed something strange about it. The leaf was moving, not with the wind as you might think, no other leaves were moving as there was not even a breeze in the forest. It looked to me like it was moving because of something that was underneath it. The only way to resolve this problem was to walk over and lift the leaf up to see what might be under it. Was I ever in for a huge surprise!
As I lifted the leaf, I saw what first looked like a colony of worms, sliding and squirming, twisting, and turning around each other. Obviously, that was not something I had expected to see, never having seen anything like it before. I was mesmerized, standing over it and watching it with fascination.
Then, there was a change in what was going on. The worm-like entities or objects began to merge, looking like the top of a human brain. Once it was stable like that it began to excrete a white liquid, which gradually began to cover the ‘it’ that had been a ‘them.’ Just as gradually, the liquid began turning into a rubbery substance that resembled the top of a mushroom. I know about its texture as I reached down to touch it.”
Several members of the audience, and not just the females, emitted an eeewww when he uttered the last sentence.
“Now I needed to take a break from my observation at this point. This was not because I was grossed out by what I had seen and touched, but being an old man, and having just finished my second large coffee of the morning, I had to take a pee. I am not like the bear who poops in the forest. I need the refinement of at least an outhouse. And I knew that there was one about five minutes’ walk away, less if I ran or at least took bold strides.”
There were fewer eeewwws this time, but they still could be heard by the speaker, who smiled in response.
“Having done my business I returned to the place where I had been observing the odd phenomenon of nature that I had encountered. I recognized the location by the presence of the large maple that had supplied the large leaf, the lifting of which had begun the sequences of my discovery.
But, to my surprise, I could not see the object of my interest. At first, I thought it might be on the other side of the large maple, but I quickly discovered that it wasn’t. Now, I knew that no one could have gone there and moved it. That left the only alternative that I could think of. It had moved itself. Being a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I take with me a magnifying glass on my little adventures.”
The speaker then took the object mentioned out of the right pocket of the jacket that he was wearing. And it did look just like the one seen on book covers of the Sherlock Holmes series of stories.
“I then bent over very slowly, doing so as I did not want to tumble forward. When I bent over as far as I was able, I could see wormy squirm marks on the ground. Not only that, but I saw faint markings of a trail leading away from the spot. So on I went, tracking whatever it was that I was following.
I soon began to notice that there were other such tracks that joined what seemed to have become a path, albeit one hard to see if you weren’t looking for or expecting it. I followed it for a while, not needing my magnifying glass now. The path led to a cave. It was too small for me to enter, just big enough for me to stick my head in. But I couldn’t see anything but darkness.
I would have to go home and get a flashlight.
I scrambled back home as fast as I could, fetched my flashlight, checked that it worked, and made my way back to the cave. I then stuck my head and the flashlight into the cave. I saw a group of what looked to me like mushrooms, gathered together in a circle, each of them leaning slightly towards the centre, where a bigger mushroom stood.
When I was a teenager, a good friend of mine told me that he read somewhere that mushrooms came from another planet. It could be that he was right. Now are there any questions?”
There were none. What the speaker gradually came to understand was that there were clear signs that the people in the audience were not believing what he said. People were laughing lightly, shaking their heads, generally showing signs of disbelief, particularly after his closing statement. They probably thought that he was making it all up, that he was just an old crank with more imagination than knowledge. When his presentation as over, people walked out rather quickly. No one thanked him for his presentation, nor shook his hand. And no one asked him where the cave was. A few said, ‘nice story,’ which he probably accurately took as meaning ‘nice short story, buddy’. At first, he resented this reaction, but then he thought, ‘Well maybe a good way to keep a secret is to tell it as an improbable story. It is best that nobody does any harm to these remarkable creatures. I don’t think they plan to take over the planet, even though they would appear to have an intelligence not normally seen among mushrooms on earth.’