We start our story in the higher altitudes of the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming in the year 1900. Two men are stranded in a small cabin near the treeline (the altitude where tall trees stop growing) due to a late winter storm. The two men are professionals, one them, Frank, is a physician, and the other Geertz is a biologist. Both are in their mid 30‘s and at the beginnings of hunger pains. They have been stranded in this cabin going on two weeks, and their supplies are running out while cold and fatigue continue to wear them down. They came to this place due to a particular fungus reported to grow at this specific area and altitude only at the beginning of spring at 9500 ft. Let’s join them now as the wind and snow howl about their cabin in the darkening of the late afternoon.
“She’s starting to blow again, Geertz. God damn it, man, that is the second storm to come in on us since we got stuck here!”
Geertz tossed another log from their vanishing pile of firewood into the fireplace, “Yes, it is a son of a bitch. Son of a bitch, isn’t that what you Americans say? Anyway, we accomplished our mission and have a few samples of Basidiomycota Agaricomycetes…ahh… let’s see…GeertzHolt. Yes, that’s it! Basidiomycota Agaricomycetes GeertzHolt. GeertzHolt after your’s and mine’s last name. Now you will have a newly documented fungi species with your name on it, doctor! What do you think about that?”
“Agaricomy…What? It’s a goddamn mushroom, Geertz. You’re the biologist here. I’m the doctor, remember? How did I let you talk me into this hair-brained adventure anyway?”
“Because I needed someone in case of a medical emergency. You know how risky these higher altitudes are no matter what time of year. Plus, you are my friend, and you like getting out into the mountains.”
“I like getting out into the mountains when I go fishing, yeah, were we packhorse all the comforts of home to the lake cabin in fine weather. I don’t really care for being caught in an old trappers shack damn near above treeline with minimal rations during a late spring blizzard!”
“Speaking of rations, what do we have left?” Geertz sat down on a wooden stump next to the box crate table that they sat around. The chest became their central point for eating, talking, and whiling away the days of figuring their situation out. It was located as close to the fire as possible.
“It doesn’t look good, Geertz. We got some hard jerky, a couple of potatoes, and those two rats we killed and stuffed into the snowbank covering the door. We didn’t come equipped for this man. We’ve been here for two weeks, and we’ve eaten our way through all of our major supplies thinking that the first storm would be the last. This double whopper has really got us in a bind.”
Geertz reached down to a pack nearby and opened the flap. He pulled out a bundle wrap of linen that he unraveled, exposing a small wooden container within the cloth. He sat the small box on the crate, opening it to reveal the contents. Inside the box were three brown-reddish mushrooms nestled into the moss from which they were collected. He stared down at them as if he were looking at a treasure; Frank got up and stood looking over Geertz’s shoulder at the fungi.
“During my studies about fungi of these parts, I came across stories from the Native Indians in these parts. The Ute’s, I believe they were called. At any rate, they had a story about a mushroom called hiitto’i that was said to have magical properties. Some say that it would give the shaman a vision quest. I am not sure if this species is that mushroom of their lore, but if we don’t make it out of here, I can note what I can learn about them. I am sure somebody would find us in the summer logging season, and if we are gone, my notes will still survive. Let’s get one of those rats from the snowbank, a potato, and a piece of one of our GeertzHolt’s and make ourselves a small but memorable dinner. What do you say?”
“I don’t like the sound of someone just finding your notes in the summer, but a rat meal with a magical mushroom sounds damn delicious. Besides, from my knowledge about psychedelic intoxicants, that mushroom may be a good thing. It could keep us from having hunger pains for quite some time, and things I’ve heard from studies on the topic of mind-altering chemicals, we might have a good time. I’ll get the rat!”
Frank headed towards the shack door, grabbing a pot on the way. He opened the door to a white wall of snow, dug out a rat along with some snow into the pale. He added a potato and some jerky into the mix. Frank brought the concoction back to the crate and began skinning the rat. Geertz took out a knife and carved a small piece off one of the mushrooms.
Frank hung the kettle over the fire to start melting the snow. Once the rat was dressed for cooking, he cut the potato into sizable chunks for a stew. He threw the contents into the now simmering water.
“Now for the magical ingredient,” Geertz quirked, taking a pinch size of one of the mushrooms and added it to the stew. They let the concoction brew come to a boil and then simmer for the next hour, skimming the broth from time to time. Frank began to sing.
“Rosie, you are my posie,”
Geertz butted in, slapping his hand to his knee in time, “I know this one! It’s all the rage back east. Albert Campbell, Ma Blushin’ Rosie!” he joined in with Frank as they restarted the chorus.
“Rosie, you are my posie…You are my heart’s bouquet…Come out here in the moonlight. There’s something sweet, love I wanna say,” they finished off together while getting up and doing a little waltz as they sang the chorus one more time. Laughing, they sat back down at their makeshift table. Geertz stirred the stew around one more time. The odor filled the small room.
“I believe she’s about ready, my friend. Get the plates,” Geertz ordered Frank.
Frank went to a nearby bucket of water that contained two plates, a couple of tin cups, silverware, along with half a bottle of rock gut whiskey that they had found stowed in the shack when they arrived. Frank brought over the supplies and set them onto the crate tabletop as neatly as a waiter at the Waldorf could do. He then went back for the bottle of whiskey, which he brought over, and poured half a cup full in each cup as Geertz spooned out portions of stew onto each plate.
“Here is the piece of mushroom. Its essence should be cooked throughout the stew. Still, just for certainty, I will cut it so that you and I get one half from the source itself,” he cut the cooked portion of the shroom putting one half on Franks plate, “there you are, and here I am,” as he placed the other half on his plate. Geertz raised his cup, and Frank followed suit.
“To our last nice meal, my friend. May we survive this misery and at least have an interesting experience from it. Bon Appetite!” Geertz lifted his cup in cheer, as did Frank.
“Bon Appetite!” Frank clicked his cup against Geertz’s cup. They both took a drink and sat the cups down. Geertz picked up his portion of the mushroom and placed it into his mouth, and chewed the small parcel.
“Mmmm…hmm…I think the meat juice and potato give it a rather gamey taste, but not bad. Due try yours, Frank.”
Frank picked up his portion of mushroom, brought it up in front of his eyes, giving a grimacing look at the slimy morsel.
“I think it rather looks like nasal mucus or, in layman’s terms, a booger,” he laughed as he placed the slug-like membrane into his mouth and chewed. “Umm-hmm…mmm…yes, I get what you say. Definitely taste the rat more than anything, but not bad.”
They spent the next 3o minutes eating their meal and sipping at the whiskey. Once the meal was finished, Frank gathered the plates and placed them back into the bucket of water. He then poured another round of whiskey.
“I am not sure if I am feeling anything from the mushroom, but I am starting to get a bit of kick from that whiskey,” commented Geertz as he picked up his replenished cup. Just then, Frank gave him a strange look as Geertz started to sip on his drink. Frank was staring intensely at him, and the pupils of his eyes were as large as saucer plates.
“Geertz, how are you eating that cup? And the sound of your drinking, what are you a horse?” Frank questioned Geertz, but Geertz only heard what sounded to him like a foreign language coming from the mouth of Frank.
“When did you learn Arabic? Is that what you’re speaking to me? And my your face Frank! Why you look like some devil in this firelight.”
The mushroom was beginning to take its effect on them both. Each man spiraling into a world of wonderment about everything around them. They both began examining every element within the shack itself, getting lost in each other's observations about anything. They spent what felt like hours discussing the meaning and intention of a fork left on top of the crate.
“I think the fork was developed from man’s ancient past and the invention of weaponry. Why, what else is it for than to stab the shit out of something!” Frank exclaimed. They both broke out into mad laughter for minutes without being able to control themselves. They ended up on their bedding rolling and holding their bellies from laughing so hard at ridiculous things.
After laughing for an extended time, they settled back on their bedding. The bedding was nothing more than blanket rolls along with some rags and straw they had piled together from the pack rats that had inhabited the cabin before their arrival. One of them which they had just consumed in their stew of magical wonder. It was dark outside. They could tell by the shuttered window of the shack had become a black shadow. The snow had reached just below the top edge of the shutter, where light would peer through during the day. The snow must have reached about 2-3 feet outside, but around their cabin, the snowbanks had drifted as much as six feet high, completely blocking the door. They had tried to keep the doorway clear at first, but the wind was too strong and frostbite too near to keep up with the speed that the snow kept piling up.
“I am starting to feel calmer with my mind now, Frank, though everything is still so intensely expressed. Colors, sounds, and touch just are heightened to the point of the unbelievable. I must try to make some notes of this if I can find my notebook. How about you?”
Geertz started to crawl across the floor toward where he thought his notebook was located. Still, he could never move more than a foot or so before he became fascinated with something within in the beams of wood on the floor. Frank partially understood what the man had said but then became amused in his own thoughts.
“Hahahaha, I just licked my skin. It’s so salty and strange to the touch on my tongue. The flesh is delicious. You should try licking your flesh. Wait, I want to test yours,” Frank began crawling toward Geertz, who was halfway across the single room of the cabin, still on all fours exploring the floor. Frank crawled up next to him, and they looked each other in the face, then Frank lowered his mouth next to Frank’s cheek and licked his cheek.
“Ha! Salty too. Perhaps a bit of dirt along with that taste.”
Geertz looked back at Frank, and his face appeared distorted, but he did register that Frank had licked him on the side of the face. Getting the same thoughts, Geertz then licked his own skin on his hand and made the same observations that Frank had on the taste and found it rather agreeable.
“I must note this in my notebook, Frank. I know it’s around here somewhere. I believe that it is….” Geertz started to heave from within his belly, “Frank, I’m feeling a bit ill in the gu…” he then vomited up some of the stew as his stomach twisted on his inside. The smell of the vomit got to Frank, and he too began to expunge some contents from his gut.
“I don’t think it is to worry Geertz. I have read that some mushrooms are toxic, which is a part of the hallucinatory effects of eating them. At least I don’t feel hungry.”
“Nor do I, Frank, though my gut is twisting something awful. I feel amazing and no, no hunger at all.”
Frank and Geertz continued in their mind-altered state well into the next day. It was late evening before they returned to what they considered standard other than being exhausted and having a feeling of bizarreness in mind. They both laid down in their bedding and were fast asleep within minutes. They didn’t stir until the following day.
“Frank…Hey Frank! The fires out, and it’s still snowing. Oh god, this isn’t good!” Geertz complained as he shuffled about the shack and looking out of the top crack above the shuttered window.
Frank crawled out from beneath his blanket, groaning as he got up. He hobbled over toward the crate table and picked up a large tin bowl that contained cold water from melted snow, ducking his face into the cold water and swished his head around. Frank lifted his face out of the icy water thrusting his head back, and gasped into the air. He exhaled a plume of vapor as his breath condensed in the cold air when he noticed a pain in the calf of his leg.
“For god sake! There’s a chunk of flesh missing from my calf!” He noticed a bloodied knife lying on the crate next to a plate with blood smears across its surface. He then shot his gave to Geertz, who was looking back at him in a stranger manner.
“Frank, do you recall, during our shroom experience, how we got talking about all the different foods we have eaten during our travels?” Frank looked at him questionably but gave a slow nod, mouth partially agape.
“You had mentioned that you had read survival accounts of cannibalism from recent testimonies of explorers in Borneo. I was on one of those expeditions, Frank. I wasn’t going to talk about it, but since we are in this predicament, I think it quite a judicious subject.”
“Yes, I recalled you being gone for several months last year. I never gave it much thought though, figured it was one of your field biological studies. I didn't recall a name in the article I had read.” Frank acknowledged.
“Our names were left out to protect ourselves. Frank, we ended up trapped by this indigenous tribe, and to put it bluntly, my colleague and I had to resort to cannibalizing one of our helpers. It wasn’t pleasant, but I must admit it also an amazing taste, quite like a well-prepared pork loin. Then sometime during our discussions last night, you had amused the idea that if starving, we could feed on ourselves!"
“Good god Geertz, you’ve gone mad! I did toy with the idea of how we could section parts of flesh or utilize appendages of the body for sustenance when faced with starvation. Still, I don’t think we’re near that far gone, man. We still have another rat and scraps in the cabin that we could stretch out for another week before getting that severe! Perhaps your eating of human flesh in Borneo has affected your mind, ole friend. I have read of such things happening from indulging in consuming human flesh.”
One Month Later
A crew of lumberjacks arrived at the small shack they were planning to use as a camp house for their high altitude timber season. After clearing away the remaining snow from the doorway, the crew boss entered the cabin to a grizzly sight. Inside were two bodies of men stripped naked. Each was missing a hand or foot. One was even minus his genitals. One man had his remaining hand resting on his bare stomach with an odd-looking mushroom gripped between thumb and forefinger.