All stories need a premise and I hope you’ll forgive me if I state ours outright. There is a woman and she has convinced you to let her show you her collection.
You met her at a farmer’s market and she charmed you. She was wearing mushroom earrings she made herself; Amanita phalloides, death cap mushroom. Like the earrings, her dress was homemade. It is made of blue denim with a floral print. There is a large pocket in the front where she stores her wallet.
She lives in Canyon. You do not see her house until you are about 100 ft away from it; the forest is too dense and the drive too winding. It is an old house, at least a hundred years old, in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The front door is crimson, surrounded by a tan arch and a white stucco wall. The roofs are sloped, with terracotta shingles. It is a handsome house and it would be fair to wonder how it stays in such good condition, given that she lives alone and, according to her, no one has visited since her mother died.
She offers you a selection of drinks best described as “quirky”: licorice tea she brewed before you came, an unopened bottle of limoncello, a dandelion root beverage she says is like iced coffee, Manzanita cider that she brewed at home in her cellar, and an off-brand Cola which you graciously accept and pour over ice.
As mentioned earlier, the point of this visit is so she can show you her collection, which is in her basement. She has not specified what she collects and you have never found a polite opportunity to ask. With your drink in your hand, she guides you past a stand-offish maine coon and down a flight of stairs. While this is technically the basement, it is clearly not what she was referring to when she said her collection was in the basement. Before your eyes have the opportunity to adjust to the dim concrete room you are in, she takes your free hand and guides you down another flight of stairs, seemingly carved directly into rock.
As you traverse these stairs, a musty stench invades you. When you get to the bottom, the Cola no longer tastes like cola. It tastes like sweaty socks and upturned earth. It smells as if the dirt around you has grown resentful and hungry without living things to keep it company.
She pulls a small cable and a series of lights flick on almost, but not quite simultaneously. She is holding your hand tightly, with pride. It might be almost romantic if you couldn’t now see the source of the smell.
Every inch of the left wall of the tunnel you find yourself in is host to some form of mold. There are fuzzy molds in pastel hues, slime molds in neon yellow and green, black mold spotting in the midsts of everything else, and yet more molds you have never seen before with oddly hooked hairs or quivering, shifting masses.
“After I found my mom…” she trails off, seeming to register your shock.
After a moment, she continues, taking a slightly different tack: “When I came home from the hospital the next morning, I found mold in the kitchen. There had never been mold in the house before. For weeks after, I kept finding new molds throughout the house. I tried to get rid of them at first, but now I take them down here and grow them on the wall. I think they’re my mother’s way of still speaking to me.”
Seeing that you are still silent, she guides you forward, saying, “Here, let me show them to you.”