Literary Orphans

Where the Mushrooms Grow
by Ron Cruz

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There’s a dark, wet spot in the shag carpet stretched out in the Henderson’s living room. Detectives tried, but could not explain its origin. The spot is perpetually moist and dark in the middle, stretching outward in lighter colored rings. Mushrooms grow there every evening. The detectives took many pictures, from several angles, and even collected a few mushrooms and clippings of the carpet for the investigation.

Mr. Henderson had worked as a stockbroker in downtown Palo Real. The office was six blocks from the ocean in an old converted house which played host to a sidewalk cafe on the first floor, and his office on the second. The afternoon Pacific breeze rattled the trees, salted the air and seemed to soften the clients who sat across Henderson’s desk and charged him with the care of their money. On clear days, the chorus of squawking gulls and thundering tide would swell with the excited conversation from the coffee shop and create an atmosphere that could relax even the most rigid investor the village could offer. Henderson was aided by the fact that he was very good at his job.

Henderson left work at 3:16 p.m. everyday. He prided himself on his timely departures. He would pull into his driveway exactly thirty-two minutes later. He could drive faster or take a shorter route, but he loved the number thirty-two.

The first thing he checked when he walked into the house was the mushroom patch growing out of the carpet in his living room. He smiled as he padded the damp rug with his hand around them. He smiled as the thought of God choosing his family to bless with them. He smiled at the thought of eating them.
Little Sara Henderson was charged, upon her list of chores, to take care of the little fungi every day after school. She would kneel before them and pray. She would then pick the largest one and take it to her mother who was busily preparing dinner.

This was the only chore that didn’t need to be drawn from the fish bowl. All the other chores she and her older brother, Peter, drew from the paper filled fish bowl. The chores included everything from washing the wood-paneled station wagon, to pulling the leather bound bible from the bookshelf to read a prescribed scripture.

“It’s good for kids to do chores,” Mr. Henderson would say at the dinner table. He also said a number of other things.

“It is good,” Mrs. Henderson would agree, quietly. She would also agree with the other things.

On a cool evening in late August, Henderson, filled with the grace of God and a stomach full of holy mushrooms, walked through his front door, through his carport, and into the thick grass of his lawn. There was a small hint of the ocean in the air and a thin coat of fog on the shoulders of the wind. He walked out to the back yard and smiled at the large wooden cross he had set up. A bit of ivy grew along its base. He liked the way the waning sun reflected off the lacquer in the afternoon. He liked the shadow it cast towards the house in the morning as he ate his breakfast. Overall, he liked the way it focused the landscaping of the backyard, giving it purpose and him direction.

He knelt at the base of the cross, said a small prayer. When he was done, the sun had fallen completely behind the horizon and tossed an orange glare into the clouds in the sky and cast a chrome-tinted hue through the evening. Mosquitoes landed on Henderson’s face and he would smile and brush them away. He walked back to the carport, got into his car, pushed “He’s going to Shine,” praise tape into the tape player and rolled out through the neighborhood.

Mrs. Feldman sat on her porch drinking lemonade and waved as he passed. She smiled and tilted her glass. She liked Henderson, as did the rest of the neighbors. She taught his kids in Bible school on Sundays. She teamed up with Mrs. Henderson, preparing casseroles for the monthly church potlucks. She let Mr. Henderson handle her money since Walter, her husband of forty-five years, had passed away. She was also the last to see Mr. Henderson, according to the police reports.

Their street stretched out of the old housing development to a cross street which wound out passed the cemetery, across Main Street and under the freeway. Mr. Henderson checked his gas gauge as he crossed Main, smiled and touched the dashboard. He still had half a tank.

He wound around the ramp and onto the freeway. There were few cars out this night. The ocean could be seen to the left. The moon reflected on the water’s choppy surface. Henderson stayed in the right lane as he was getting off on the next exit. The tape came to the end of side one, went silent for a few seconds, clicked loudly and began to play out the other side. Henderson didn’t notice.

Dents and holes covered the off ramp sign from years of late night target practice. Henderson rolled by it and down the ramp. He came to a stop sign and looked in both directions and sped through. There was a gas station at the bottom of the hill. It was the only one in the area open all night. It had higher prices than the other stations in the area as well.

Behind the station was a narrow road that circled a giant, rocky hill and led to a dirt road that split three ways, all leading to the beach. The road to the right was popular with the teenagers looking for beer and a bonfire. Eventually a squad car would come out to break up their party in the late evening.

The road to the left went past an abandoned, burned out house that allegedly played host to a Satanic church with “bloodstains” on the floor. Kids would drift from the party to the house in sets of cuddling couples. Hand in hand, some would poke around the perimeter of the house. Others wouldn’t make it out of the car and instead would simply fog windows.

The center road was cracked, bumpy and filled with potholes. Fences ran along the roadside, protecting sand dunes. The area was littered with miles and miles of monstrous dunes the state listed as endangered. This thought always made Henderson smile. He knew God could make more sand dunes if he wanted.
Henderson stayed on the center road, which was hell on the car and took forever to cross. He had taken the road often, and had been stuck in wet sand on several occasions. At the end of the road, in between fenced off oilrigs and in clear view of the ocean, Henderson met with God.

A makeshift altar constructed from driftwood hid between a couple of beached rocks. Henderson knelt before it and cried out to the Lord. The response was always immediate. After a few hours of conversation with God, the Lord blew a strong breeze through his hair and sent him on his way.

“I don’t understand, my lord,” Henderson yelled. His knees were sore from kneeling. He sat back, resting on his feet and looked up the beach for the bonfire.

“When the tide is low, the fishermen rise,” his voice boomed out. “This is the time for the long, tuber worms to be pushed over lengthy hooks and cast into the ocean.”

Henderson sat back up, and nodded.

“You understand the instructions, but you don’t understand the why.”

“I do,” Henderson paused.

“You don’t. But there will be a time you understand,” the Lord finished. “You must have faith and do everything exactly as I have told you.”

“I have faith, my Lord.” Henderson sighed. “I’ll do it exactly as you have instructed.”
Henderson cried as he drove home. He turned the tape player up, but it didn’t ease his mind. He rolled his window down and pitched the tape to the freeway. There seemed to be no traffic at all. It was as if Henderson were completely alone.
The neighborhood was asleep as he pulled into his driveway. He worked the rest of the night away in the back of his carport. He sawed, drilled and hammered under his work lamp. He diligently paced himself through the night. Several times he grew tired and allowed the hammer to stray from its path and strike him on the finger or hand. Noah must have suffered the same, he thought. Jesus himself was a carpenter, he smiled. He continued, suffering his body through the night, accepting his splinters and reverential self-poundings as penance.

The wood he worked was rough and sturdy. He had picked it from the lumberyard a week prior, though at that time he didn’t know why. The Lord had guided him through the purchases. The Lord explained the importance of the mushroom patch in the living room. He guided him through the lumberyard. He explained the miracle to come as he helped him select the wood he would need.

“I’m just working on some home repairs,” he had told the pimple-faced clerk who had insisted on helping him.

“Patching a fence?” the attendant had asked, then pointed at the wood pile. “This wood is too rigid and rough for that, this is frame work beams and boards.”

“I’m just doing some repairs,” Henderson repeated. He wondered if Noah had to lie when he bought wood to build the ark. Did he even have to buy wood? Of course he had to buy wood, he lived in a desert! It was a desert, wasn’t it? It had never rained before the flood, so it must have been a desert. A desert with hardware stores, in between pyramids.

“This wood is for beams and foundations,” clerk continued to press. “You need lighter wood.”

“I need this wood here,” Henderson grunted as he picked out some good, straight pieces. “This will be fine.”

“That’s not meant for fencing, though.”

“I’m not working on a fence. I said home repairs.”

“Must be heavy-duty home repairs! Those are for frames and vice boards. What kind of repairs in your house are you doing?”

“Simple repairs,” Henderson said shortly.

“I can’t imagine them being simple,” he laughed and adjusted his hat. “Simple repairs is like patching walls or adjusting doors. I could even see –“

“Alright!” Henderson felt his face flush. He turned his shoulders towards the young man. “I’m building an ark. Alright? I know what wood I need! I appreciate your help, but please leave me alone.”

Working with that same wood, this night, Mr. Henderson smiled at the thought of that young man. He smiled at the thought of his open mouth and blank, wide eyes. Henderson’s smile stretched to a grin, which broke into a laugh. He found renewed strength, a fresh fount of energy, and the pace of his hammering picked up.

The air began to light with the morning sun, and Henderson was nearly done. He entered the house and continued his project in the living room. He spread out and weighted three support flats, in a row, in front of the television, through the middle of the spot in the old shag carpet. He picked a mushroom and plopped it into his mouth.

Behind the support flats were beautiful, painted crosses. Henderson had carved and painted an intricate flower design, lilies and roses, up the base and out over the arms like ivy. The red flowers and green, twisting vines looked fresher than new tattoos and brighter than the sun which began to creak through the blinds and lit up the curtains. Once everything was in place, Henderson rubbed the dust off his hands. He was ready to present his work to his family.
He took a moment to pick at a splinter in his finger, eat another mushroom and say a quick prayer when Peter walked into the room behind him.

“What’ya doin’ dad?” he asked as he rubbed his eyes and looked at his father praying in front of the easy chair.

“Help me lord,” Mr. Henderson sighed. He then turned, rose to his feet and buried the hammer into the center of his son’s forehead. His small body fell like a branch from a tree and collected in a mass on the floor. Henderson laid him out on the first cross, nailed his feet and wrists quickly and erected it on the support flat, nailed it into place. He did it exactly as the Lord had instructed him.
He went back and picked his wife up from their bed.

“What’s going on, Honey?” she mumbled as he laid her down on the bracket which would hold up her cross. She began to stir.

“I love you Rebecca,” he answered before nailing her to the cross. Her eyes flashed open as she let out with a scream as the first nail bit into her flesh. Her hand closed in around the nail.

Her fight ceased when Henderson grabbed her head and slammed it to the top of the cross. He sighed as her eyes rolled up into her head and he realized she would probably wake, at some point, hanging triumphantly high on the cross, just like her savior. He smiled.

Sarah was the young with few sins to absolve, according to the Lord, so Henderson suffered her the least and smothered her in her bed. He scooped her up in his arms and hung her on a cross with the rest of the family.

With the hammer resting on his shoulder, Henderson looked at his family. They hung brilliantly on their decorative crosses. He smiled as he realized he had more faith than Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. He rejoiced at the fact he had more faith than Lot, who had offered his virgin daughter to an unruly mob. His muscles flexed as he felt he had shown more faith than a room of disciples waiting to be coronated with tongues of fire – Henderson had given the World the greatest sign of faith ever, and he wasn’t done yet!

He walked through his carport and into his backyard. He looked up at the large cross he had prepared in the grass. He would do it just like the Lord had commanded. He knelt and prayed for a brief moment, worked a mushroom from his pocket and laid it over his tongue. As he pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth, sucking the juice from the mushroom, he took his place with his back to the cross. He pushed a nail into his hand, so it would stay, and then pounded it through with the hammer. It didn’t hurt as much as he thought. He put seven nails in his right hand. The pain numbed his arm as blood dripped on the grass.

The sun broke over the horizon in front of him when his work suddenly came to a halt. He clenched the hammer tightly in his fist, held several nails in his mouth and considered his free hand. He had done everything exactly as the Lord had told him, but how was he supposed to nail his other hand? He leaned back into the cross, held his hand up to the wood and began to cry. He had done everything exactly as the Lord had told him. He stared at his defiant hand, dropped his hammer. He had done everything the Lord had told him. The nails fell from his mouth as he realized the Lord wouldn’t ask him to attempt an impossible task. The Lord wouldn’t ask…

As the police officers arrive to the seen, astonished by what they found, Mr. Henderson begged them to help him. He begged them to nail his other hand and allow him to die.

 
–Story by Ron Cruz
–Background photo by Manuel Estheim