"Mutualism"
rating: +12+x

The air is so thick it's almost hard to breathe. It had even been musty in the forested area outside the cabin. Spores tend to do that.

When you first heard the word "Mycotherapy" perhaps you'd imagined some kind of pill, a powder, or maybe even a hallucinogenic edible. Most people don't expect the walls covered in chartreuse mushrooms and the spores in the air. The room is calm and comfortable, yet your stomach is in knots. The kettle starts to bubble and you grip the cup just a bit tighter and twirl the teabag's string around your thumb.

"Conventional mental health care is great… until it's not made for you… I know how frustrating that can be."

You're here because you're not quite human, but there's no other word that would describe you better. Your unique brain function has made every benzodiazepine, SSRI, and anti-psychotic you've been on completely ineffective in treating your litany of ailments. Constant generalized anxiety. Agoraphobia. Panic attacks. You've been in and out of psychosis for years. Therapy alone has done nothing but enrage you. You can barely function. You need something with a wider scope; something that will help regardless of how your brain works.

You're exactly the type of person I'm here to help.

"This treatment doesn't work chemically like the medications you've tried before. It doesn't rely on the existence of specific receptors in your brain to work its magic. It can't. It never specialized in a single species… or even a single phylum. The psychological function of its hosts doesn't matter. It will help."

Your knuckles are white from squeezing the cup and you've been shaking your leg since you sat down. You don't care about my ramblings. You might be even more anxious than in our consultation last week in the Library. That's understandable.

"The mycelium starts growing from your lungs. It's already growing now. You've been breathing in the spores. That's good. Normal. Gets the ball rolling." The kettle begins to whistle. "You shouldn't feel any physical discomfort at any point."

I reach to the table by my side and pick up the kettle, then lean over to pour it into the cup in your outstretched hands. A few stray drops of tea scald your fingers, but you don't mind. You know all of this already. You'd had to sign papers proving you did. Truth be told it wasn't for any authority's sake. There's no authority that regulates this kind of thing outside of making it disappear. It's only ever been for your peace of mind… and perhaps my conscience.

"Once it establishes itself it moves to your nervous system, spreads, and moves up to your brain." I reach up to tap the side of my head. "It turns off the part of your consciousness that causes you so much trouble. It will make you less afraid and more comfortable around others again. In nature that's what helps it spread and find a new host after you."

That aching constant tension in your chest from years of anxiety starts to loosen as you take a sip of the tea. You stop shaking your leg as I pour a cup for myself and take a sip of my own. You don't have any questions. You don't have anything to say at all.

"Just remember it won't stop there on its own, you need to make it. Take one of these before you go to bed every night. If you run out or lose your bottle of pills contact me immediately. You cannot miss a dose of this." I push the pharmacy-labeled bottle of Fluconazole toward you. Anti-fungal medication. If left to run its course without the medication it would eat until there's nothing left. Of course, you know that already too.

It's why the forest outside was so quiet. No birdsong. No skittering squirrels. Not even any insects on the ground. There's no proof of life at all outside of the trees and untrodden grass. Everything else has already been eaten by the sea of vibrant green antler-shaped fungi.

You'd heard it from others that came before you, from the rumors spread by happy people without a care in the world. You know I haven't been entirely truthful, at least not about what it is.

They told you I couldn't keep going at the rate I had been forever. The silence keeps growing, closer and closer to the town. Someone would notice the ecological collapse I caused. I noticed it.

Everyone knows you're not the only one getting something out of this arrangement.

And yet, that doesn't scare you anymore. For the first time in what feels like your entire life, you aren't afraid of everything.

I'm happy for you. Really, I am. Why wouldn't I be? This is mutually beneficial, isn't it?

I stand up, collect the teacup from your hand, and give you a nod as I walk toward the kitchen. You can hear me turn the sink on to clean up the mess.

Go home and enjoy your new freedom. There's nothing left for you to do here now.

I'll see you again for our next appointment.

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