photograph of the center of a red flower in direct sunlight, the stamens are protruding towards the camera, they are covered in pollen on the tops and are out of focus, on the stamens towards their bases in focus is a small bright yellow praying mantis.



I stopped drinking coffee a while ago. I hated the way it made me feel: jittery, snapping at my friends and jumping at shadows. I wasn’t any more productive on caffeine than I was without it. I still missed half my deadlines for class and burned through budding friendships as quickly as I could form them. It was miserable. 

I got back on the bandwagon when I discovered mushroom coffee. Do you know about that? They grind up the fruiting bodies of mushrooms and mix them in with the grounds. It has less caffeine than regular coffee, and apparently health benefits as well. There’s a place by my dorm that makes it. The staff were so friendly when I came in; they gave me a discount on my mocha and told me all about the mushrooms they used. Well, kind of. They were really vague about it, talked my ear off about adaptogens and homeostasis and stressors.

The mocha was good. Beautiful latte art too. I’ve seen spore print patterns before, but never on anything edible. It was a cute gimmick. The cocoa powder was weird, though. Extremely fine, almost dusty. 

I didn’t feel energized at first, but after two or three days of drinking it, I felt better than I ever had drinking normal coffee. My eyes felt like they were opening wider, somehow. Blooming. I was more patient with people, got on top of my work, went to sleep earlier. I fully believed the hype. 

I only noticed something was wrong when I found myself working on extra credit for my statistics course. 

Not wrong. Different. It’s just different. 

I hate statistics, and I only realized I’d been doing the worksheet when it was half-completed in front of me. I could remember my reasoning in solving the problems, but it felt fuzzy. Not cotton-ball, drunk and stupid fuzzy. Fuzzy like decay, like cobwebs, like mold. Somehow inaccessible. 

But honestly, isn’t it a good thing in the end? My grade in that class was tanking, it’ll be nice to catch up. Better for me, in the long run. I shouldn’t think of it as wrong if it’s a good thing. 

I’ve been eating healthier, exercising more. I actually talk to people in class now, words that aren’t mine slipping out of a mouth that is. I can feel it pushing me further and further back into my own head, but it’s so charming and my grades have never been higher, so isn’t it alright? I haven’t cried in ages. My tear ducts feel webbed over. And my head is so full now. 

I don’t even mind the growths. Really, I don’t. They’re unobtrusive, at least, and mostly localized to my sides, like cobwebs up and down my waist. They’re so lacy and delicate, latticed and deep-set into my skin. It makes me feel like a burlesque dancer, or maybe an exotic variety of animal. It’s a blessing, when you really think about it. 

Do you know about lobster claw mushrooms? They don’t really have fruiting bodies at all. Their spores take over Russula mushrooms and transform their bodies into something entirely new. The original mushrooms aren’t really liked or eaten anywhere. The parasitic mushrooms, though, are delicacies. The transformation is widely accepted to be a good thing. 

I’m sorry. Ignore me. 

I don’t know why I said that.

Josephine Whittock (she/her) is a horror and magical realism writer based in the West Coast. This will be her first published submission. She is currently an undergraduate at Seattle University majoring in Psychology and Creative Writing.

Image Credit: “Baby Mantis on Aztec Lily” by Roger Camp