Authors: Jeremy C. Shipp
Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #General, #Short Stories (Single Author), #Fiction
Advance Praise for Fungus of the Heart
“…Shipp’s writing is alarmingly bizarre, but that doesn’t do justice to the moral consciousness that is woven throughout these stories. Every tale in this collection is its own world, its own universe in a nutshell, and yet they are linked by Shipp’s increasingly sophisticated insights on what it means to be human. This book is a triumph.”—Joe McKinney,
Apocalypse of the Dead
“The stories contained in this volume are extremely original, compelling, chaotic, twisted, and undeniable. This is truly imagination unleashed.”—
“Each story was unique and the prose is so well done, the words perfectly manipulated to flow almost like poetry. I was incredibly impressed that such disjointed images could be captured and relayed so well, through the written word.”—
“[Shipp] has an uncanny ability to reach you through a story, grab you by the neck and shake you until your eyeballs twitch. And this isn’t as bad as it sounds; no, he makes you want to read more, and makes me want to live one of his stories.”—Keith Dugger
“As I was reading this collection, I kept trying to decide whether Jeremy Shipp’s skull was really a giant blender filled with lysergic acid and pixie dust—topped off with a healthy dose of aged absinthe—or a spooky insane asylum peopled with creepy attic clowns, mischievous goblins, gnomes, tree spirits, zombie polar bears, and other assorted freaks.”—
Ye Olde Imagination Shoppe
“At every turn in these stories, Shipp demonstrates a macabre whimsy.”—
Dust & Corruption
“You’re in for a something surreal, something beautifully fantastic and I promise you, you won’t be bothered by the battle scars you walk away with. You’ll be grateful, satisfied that you bear those marks, proud that you took the journey right along with these misguided, damaged characters.”—TS Tate
“This is a truly excellent selection of short stories from perhaps the most sensitive member of the modern Bizarro literary scene. His stories manage to be both weird and heartfelt.”—T.J. McIntyre
“…Shipp manages to find meaning and soul in the craziest of stories. This bizarro collection will leave you laughing, crying, and hiding under the covers. Sometimes all at once.”—Daniel Pyle,
Down the Drain
“…dark and edgy, blurring the line between fantasy and reality with ease. Jeremy C. Shipp delves deep into the human psyche to reveal man’s worst fears.”
Blanket of White
“Just Another Vampire Story” first published in
Darkness Rising 2: Hideous Dreams
“Ticketyboo” first published in
Flesh & Blood Magazine
“The Escapist” first published in
“Monkey Boy and the Monsters” first published in
Mosaic Art and Literary Journa
“Kingdom Come” first published in
Harlan County Horrors
Fungus of the Heart © 2010
by Jeremy C. Shipp
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
Cover design: M. Garrow Bourke
Book design: Jennifer Barnes
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 978-1-935738-00-8 / 978-1-935738-01-5
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010933091
Jeremy C. Shipp
Also by Jeremy C. Shipp
Sheep and Wolves
For my brother Joshua, and all the other monster lovers of the world.
Table of Contents
The Sun Never Rises
in the Big City
Adeline positions herself in front of the Venetian blinds, and the blades of light cut her body into thin slices. As expected, she’s wearing the black dress I bought her for my thirty-fifth birthday. And I can tell she’s been working on her game face.
I smile. “How can I help you, Adeline?”
“That depends, Mr. Edge,” she says. “How do you feel about pro bono work?”
“I can’t afford to be nice.”
“What about for old friends?”
“You’re not my friend.”
Adeline laughs a little, then holds out her cigarette. “Surely you’re generous enough to share your fire.”
I hold a lit match close to her face. And this has nothing to do with nice.
“Thanks,” she says, taking the rod into her mouth, sucking in the poison.
This time, she doesn’t cough.
I almost thank her.
After a few more toxic breaths, she takes an envelope out of her purse. “One thousand now. I’ll pay the rest when you get the job done.”
I count the money. “Alright. So who’s the unlucky bastard this time?”
“I thought he was killed in combat.”
“So did I. So did everyone. Turns out he was the only one who survived the bombing. A local farmer took him to his house, and Marty lived with the enemy for the next six months. He didn’t know any better.”
“Right. Eventually, his memories returned, and he killed the family, and came home.”
“So what’s the problem? The war change him?”
“No, Marty’s the same asshole he always was. I’m the one who’s changed. I’m not the naïve country belle he married, and I can tell when someone’s cheating on me. It’s one thing for a soldier to relieve himself with barbarian whores while he’s thousands of miles from his wife. But he’s home now. And I should be more than enough woman for him.”
“You should sound angrier.”
“Don’t say sorry. Just keep going.”
Adeline nods. “And I should be more than enough woman for him.”
“You are. You’re too much woman for any man.”
“Are you making fun of me, Mr. Edge?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Adeline gives a look like she’s ready to wring my neck. Then she laughs. “So what do you say? Will you be my private dick again?”
“You don’t need me for this, Adeline. You’re more than capable of catching Marty in the act.”
“True, but when that time comes, I’ll need you there to keep me from killing him.”
“One more thing. I won’t be able to pay you the rest of your money until three months from now.”
“You said you’d pay me when I get the job done.”
Adeline stands, and leans against my desk, her cleavage spilling towards me. “Please, Frank. I don’t want to do this by myself.”
And maybe my friends are right. Maybe I’m sick in the head, and I enjoy succumbing to a woman’s charms.
But it’s not as if I’m really powerless.
I could snap my fingers, and she’d show me more than this small portion of her breasts. I could reach into my desk, press the button, and she’d lose everything.
So maybe I am crazy.
But I’m still a man.
The problem with stakeouts is that Adeline hates spending long periods of time in enclosed spaces, and her anxieties usually end up ruining the mood. But tonight, she’s really on top of her game.
She hasn’t even stuttered once.
“This is a bad idea,” I say.
Adeline wipes the sweat off her forehead. “You only say that because you didn’t come up with it.”
“You two may be identical, but Berta’s nothing like you. Marty will see through her.”
“Berta knows what she’s doing. If you recall, my sister’s a professional actor.”
“That’s debatable. I’ve been to one of her shows.”
“She’ll be fine. Marty and I don’t talk much, so all Berta has to do is sit there and look pretty. And that’s something the women in my family are very good at.”
Adeline smiles. “Is that your sly way of paying me a compliment, Mr. Edge?”
“Keep dreaming, sweetheart.”
“I will.” She pulls up my sleeve, and checks my watch. “Marty should be leaving for one of his so-called business meetings soon. He’s a devil behind the wheel, so you’ll have to break the law to keep up with him.”
“I know how to do my job.”
At this point, Adeline gasps, and coughs, and gasps again.
“Adeline?” I say.
“No!” she says, clawing at my face with both hands.
I pinch her arm.
She hugs her chest, and glares at me. “Fuck you, Frank. I did everything you wanted me to do. Every fucking thing.”
“I didn’t do this,” I say. “I didn’t even bring the Remote with me.”
“You’re an asshole. I wish—” She gasps again, and stops talking.
I check for a pulse.
And probably due to the shock of the situation, my defenses weaken, and I almost cry.
“Adeline,” I say. “Maria.”
I stare at her lifeless body until the front door of the mansion opens. Then a dark figure approaches my car. So I roll down my window.
“Dinner’s ready,” Margaret says, smiling at me. And like any good wife, she ignores Adeline completely.
“Alright,” I say. “I’ll be right in.”
“Do you want me to wait for you?”
“No. Go on ahead.”
My wife’s a pro at hiding her feelings, but tonight I can detect her anxiety. Because she giggles all the way back to the house.
Her doctor has her on a strict laugh regimen in order to lower her stress levels and strengthen her immune system. She needs to be healthy and strong, because I want another boy.
I decide to deal with Adeline’s body later.
So I take off my fedora and trench coat.
And kiss her corpse goodbye.
Sex with Margaret normally jostles my frustrations and forces them from my mind, but this morning is anything but normal. And I can’t stop thinking about Adeline.
I don’t know who killed her, and I don’t know who stole her body from my car last night.
But the real mystery is why I even give a damn.
Adeline was a rag, after all. Human, though just barely.
No one in their right mind would spend any time or energy over such a pathetic loss.
So I really must be crazy.
After filling my wife with my legacy, I get out of bed, and put on my pants. “I’m going to the office.”
“OK,” my wife says.
I don’t kiss her goodbye, because she didn’t make me forget my problems.
A short drive later, I’m in my office, and the Remote isn’t in the bottom drawer of my desk.
So I search the entire room.
More often than not, when a Remote goes missing, the culprit’s usually the rag bound to the device. But I strongly doubt Adeline killed herself.
She worked too hard to please me.
My gut tells me Adeline’s death was a murder, and I can almost feel the murderer’s presence. I’m sure he’s still out there.
Lurking in the shadows of this labyrinth we call a city.
And if I don’t do something, he’ll get away with the killing.
I could hire a private investigator, but I’m sure he’d wonder why I’d spend so much money investigating the death of a rag. He’d look down on me, so that’s out of the question.
I can’t call the police either, because they’d just laugh at me. Legally, killing a rag isn’t murder. And according to the handbook, in the case of a rag’s death, we’re supposed to call up the Agency and ask for a replacement.
Because people are cheap. Investigations aren’t.
So if I want to find this killer, I’m gonna have to do the legwork myself.
“You’re an idiot, Frank,” I say.
And I call up the Agency, enter my ID number, and wait.
Finally, a man says, “How can we help you, sire?”
“My Remote’s missing,” I say.
“Would you like your replacement sent to your home address?”
“That won’t be necessary. I just want the coordinates.”
“We’ll transmit them to your handheld in ten to fifteen minutes. Do you need the coordinates for your rag as well?”
“We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Would you like your replacement sent to your home address?”
“I don’t want a replacement. Not yet.”
“If you were dissatisfied with your previous rag, we’d be happy to send you a new questionnaire. We can assure you—”
“I wasn’t unhappy with her. I didn’t kill her. I’m just too busy for a new rag right now. I’ll call you back when I want a new one.”
“Thank you, sire. Is there anything else we can do for you today?”
I hang up.
About half an hour later, I’m standing in an alley, in front of an adobe dome.
I check my handheld again.
This is the right place.
Since there’s no door, I say, “Hello?”
Moments later, a man wearing a neon tunic climbs out of a hole in the top of the dome. He sits up there, and aims a slingshot at me. “Can I help you?”
I pull my mag out, and point the barrel at his face. “Put the toy down.”
“I’d rather not.”
“If you hit me with that thing, I won’t hesitate to kill you.”
“I won’t shoot you unless you attack me.”
“What if your fingers slip?”
“That doesn’t usually happen.”
“Did you steal my Remote?”
The neon man lowers his slingshot. “Oh, you’re him. I’ll be right back.” He disappears down the hole.
I wait for over five minutes. “Are you hiding in there?”
Finally, the man returns with the Remote. My Remote. “Sorry that took me so long. I forgot where I put it.”
I point the gun at him again. “Give it to me.”
He obeys, throwing the Remote at me.
And I catch the device with my free hand, and say, “Why’d you kill her?”
He laughs. “I didn’t kill anyone. I’m a Nymph.”
So he’s one of those pacifistic sissies out to ruin this great country.
My finger twitches, and I almost pull the trigger. Because I remember the day I found one of those Nymph pamphlets in my thirteen-year-old’s closet. Thankfully, I made this discovery in time. I sent my son to boot camp the next day, and when he returned six months later, he was good as new.
Still, these bastards nearly emasculated my son with ideological poison.
And that’s not something I can forgive.
“A man gave me the Remote,” the Nymph says.
I take a deep breath, and lower my weapon. “What man?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me his name.”
“What did he look like?”
“He was wearing a mask. Like a gorilla. He told me you’d be coming for the Remote eventually. He said I should give you a message. Something about a clock, I think. To be honest, I was halfway in another plane at the time. But I definitely remember him mentioning a clock.”
“That’s all you can tell me?”
So I pull the trigger.
I miss, and he ducks into his hole. Then I blast his dome a few times, and the pansy shouts something about Gaia’s heart.
Maybe I hit him. Maybe I didn’t.
Either way, no one’s going to try to kill me for this. The only people who care about Nymphs are other Nymphs, and they’re certainly not going to seek vengeance. They’re pathetic.
And if I killed this coward, then I did him a favor.
“You’re welcome,” I say.
In the bunkhouse, my servants take turns holding my balls, testifying to their innocence. And they know I won’t hesitate to exercise my legal right to blow their brains out if I catch them in a lie. So I watch their eyes.
Victor the cook says, “I didn’t kill her, sire. I would never vandalize your property.”
And Victor looks anxious, suspicious, guilty.
The only problem is, so did everyone else.
“You’re lying,” I say. “If you tell me the truth now, I’ll let you live.”
“I don’t know anything,” Victor says.
“I know you know something. Your friends told me. They sold you out.”
I point my mag at his face. “You’re the liar.”
Then Victor releases my testicles, and cries into his hands.
“Put those back,” I say.
The cook obeys. “I’m sorry, sire. I stole her body. Please don’t kill me.”
I lower the gun. “Did you kill her?”
“Where’s the corpse now?”
“I took her to her parents’ house. They hired me.”
And I want to kick myself. I should’ve seen this coming, but I tend to forget rags have families. “Congratulations. You just saved your life.”
“Thank you, sire.”
I shoot him in the foot. “Don’t steal from me again.”
He groans. “Yes, sire.”
“Give me the address, then get yourself cleaned up.”
From there, I drive back into the city, to a little shack in the Smokestacks. Of course, I put on my respirator before leaving the car.
“Who are you?” the man at the door says.
“Frank Edge,” I say. “Adeline was my rag.”
“Oh. I see. Come in.” He sounds like he’s about to cry, but he doesn’t.
I enter the transition room.
“We’ll have to wait here a minute,” he says, over the sound of rushing air.
“You fucked with the wrong guy,” I say.
“You’ll have to speak up.”
After a long silence, the man opens the second door, and I enter a small world of vulgarities. I shudder.
These people exist at the bottom of the social Pyramid for a reason.
They don’t see themselves as separate from animals, so they cut holes in their floor for plants to grow out of. And their material objects aren’t unified by a common theme or idea.
This space speaks only of chaos and neglect.
I feel like tearing this place apart with my bare hands, but for now, I lean against the wall and cross my arms.
“You can take off your mask,” the man says, removing his own. “This place is sealed tight.”
I don’t move.
At this point, the wife approaches me, holding a baby. “Who are you?”
“Frank Edge,” I say. “Adeline was my rag.”