Hello again dear reader or listener, I have the pleasure today to share with all of you, an exclusive snippet from indie author Adrian M. Gibson’s upcoming novel, Mushroom Blues, as part of his book tour!! He spoils us really. I have the honor of calling Adrian a friend and seeing all the work he’s putting into this book and its release is a thing of beauty. Let’s get to it then!
Two years after a devastating defeat in the decade-long Spore War, the island nation of Hōppon and its capital city of Neo Kinoko are occupied by invading Coprinian forces. Its fungal citizens are in dire straits, wracked by food shortages, poverty and an influx of war refugees. Even worse, the corrupt occupiers exploit their power, hounding the native population.
As a winter storm looms over the metropolis, NKPD homicide detective Henrietta Hofmann begrudgingly partners up with mushroom-headed patrol officer Koji Nameko to investigate the mysterious murders of fungal and half-breed children. Their investigation drags them deep into the seedy underbelly of a war-torn city, one brimming with colonizers, criminal gangs, racial division and moral decay.
In order to solve the case and unravel the truth, Hofmann must challenge her past and embrace fungal ways. What she and Nameko uncover in the midst of this frigid wasteland will chill them to the core, but will they make it through the storm alive?
Case File #42-56
Spirit Island | 5:44 a.m.
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NO GOOD DAY ever started with death before coffee. Especially the moldy kind.
I stood on the shoreline of Spirit Island, gazing down upon a lumpy trash bag. It was nestled in an icy bed of seaweed, next to a rotting mycopaper lantern. A handful of bioluminescent motes floated above the water. Waves lapped against the bag where a large rip revealed a pale patch of hairless skin. Pungent saltiness rose up from algae and cold ocean spray, overpowering whatever I was about to find in there. I took out a face mask and put it on—NKPD protocol, and no way I would let anything contaminate me.
My feet crunched on gray sand as I adjusted my weight, heart beating faster. The bag was too small, especially for a body. But I knew what must be inside. Why else would dispatch have sent me a one-eight-seven code on my pager?
Before touching the crime scene, I took out my voice recorder: “Detective Henrietta Hofmann. Nineteenth of Twelfthmonth. Spirit Island. Black bag, suspected murder.”
I sighed and put the recorder away, staring down into a brackish pool amidst the seaweed. There were puffy bags under my dull green eyes. My lips were chapped and my hair was straggly. I hadn’t had time to fix myself up, rolling straight out of bed to rush over here. Not that anyone would give a shit what the middle-aged female detective looked like, wrinkles and all.
Goddamn, I needed some caffeine.
Grey clouds overhead threatened snow, and bitter winds rippled across Kinoko Bay. They whipped my ponytail, sending stray strands of gray-blonde hair across my face. I pulled my trench coat tight with a shudder.
Nightmares of a car on fire had kept me up last night. I’d slept like shit, as usual. It was a miracle I’d even remembered mittens—anything to shield my skin from winter’s frigid touch was welcome.
I put aside personal gripes to focus on why I was here: That bag.
In an attempt to move, I froze. Sticky sweat accumulated inside my mittens. It wasn’t like the bag was going to come alive, finger-like fungi wriggling everywhere. This wasn’t the first dead body I’d seen, either. Not even close.
But God, I fucking hated mushrooms and mold and the whole bloody mycological lot. Not a day would go by in Neo Kinoko where I wouldn’t curse Frederick for exiling me here. That prick.
I had to get my shit together. Focus. Forget about my bastard ex-husband—he could rot in a pile of fucking fungi for all I cared.
Reaching inside my jacket, I traded the warmth of my mittens for a pair of examination gloves. A shock of cold greeted my hands as I bent down. Both of my knees cracked with the weight of age.
Down at bag level, I could already smell something foul. Hints of brine and decomposition invaded my nose. The scent memory of that foul combination lingered on my tongue.
Snapping on the gloves, I began to examine the bag. Seaweed draped across the black plastic, as if trying to pull it back into the sea. I spotted remnants of thick blue rope tucked between the green-brown fronds. Could have been tied to something to weigh it down. Bricks, or rocks?
There were small Hōpponese logograms on the rope. I couldn’t read them, so I made a mental note to check with forensics and get them translated.
Nothing else was visible on the outside.
I pinched the ripped opening and lifted it. First to hit me was the stench: The brine was just a sample—nothing compared to the punch of putrid flesh now wafting from the opening.
Tiny red crabs with slime mold and fruiting bodies on their shells scuttled out of the bag. I sifted through a filthy muck. And then I felt it, something round and bloated. I widened the opening, wincing as I stared into the eyeless cavities of a fungal child’s human-like face.
Memories flooded my mind: Playing in the grassy backyard, sledding in the winters, summertime visits to the cabin in southern Coprinia, jumping off the lakeside dock. Then, a memory-turned-nightmare.
Fire. Blood. Fear. Screaming.
I was haunted by the memory of Elisabeth. Her face stared back at me, cold and empty, features that were a subtle blend of Frederick’s and my own. I winced. Suppressed recollections bound by trauma, alcohol, and years of destructive behavior.
Bloody Hell, I had to focus.
I turned my head away from the bag and into the crisp ocean breeze, trying to escape from the repulsive smell and taste. The thought of a dead kid chilled me. But deep down, I was more disgusted by the fact that the victim was a fungal. I could hardly stand to see mushrooms on a dinner plate, let alone be in the presence of mushroom people—even when they were a lifeless corpse.
This city was a purgatory—Frederick knew and made sure of that—but I had a glimmer of hope that it could also be a chance to start anew. After years of drowning in a pool of booze and prescription antidepressants, anything was an improvement. But war and suffering lingered in this Hellhole.
And fungi were everywhere.
Hōppon, Neo Kinoko. These places had become wastelands wrought by the destroyer of worlds—my people. What was sold to Coprinians as the rebuilding of a liberated society was, in reality, the world’s most public open-air prison.
A scam, a sham. Just like my being here.
The waves lapped rhythmically as the sun continued to rise. Seagulls squawked out on the bay. I returned to the small, decapitated head inside the bag. Sand dripped along decomposing skin, and my eyes began to water at thoughts of the past. The cool sting as tears trickled and pooled at the edges of my mask before starting to freeze.
I had to clear my head and prioritize. What happened to this child?
The neck appeared cleanly cut, but … I leaned in closer: There was a thin patch of skin removed from it, right at the fleshy edge near the jugular. Strange.
Both eyes were removed or eaten post-mortem by sea lice, crabs, or fish. The skin of the face was pockmarked and peeled away from water exposure. What remained had a waxy quality and a pallid discoloration. The nose was deformed and the lips half-eaten, decayed. As well, the victim’s hair was shaved and the mushroom cap atop their head was completely gone. Severed at the stem.
All that was left was the bloated base connected to the skull. Severe bruising below it.
I burned with the impulse to look away, an inexplicable dread. But my investigative instinct urged me onward. I slowly searched inside the bag, through the sand slurry around the partially submerged head. A section of cut-off leg revealed bone amongst decaying muscle. I saw two more shapes: Distended limbs, the flesh puffy and peeling.
My optimism for an ID drew me to the child’s partially opened mouth. White filaments crawled out between the gap, draping down the lips like a macabre curtain. My stomach churned. I proceeded anyway, ignoring my gut feeling to stop. Turn away. Leave.
I gently unlocked the stiff jaw, peering inside. The sight made me gag. A carpet of wet white mold and mycelium coated the inside of the victim’s mouth. Tongue, roof, gums. The parasitic growth continued all the way back to the throat, where it clumped together like dense cotton balls.
Probing for teeth with my gloved finger, I cringed at the cushiony softness inside. Not a single one—just a rancid stench. Each tooth plucked out, like the ambitions of a life not lived.
I pulled my finger out of the victim’s mouth. It was then that I saw the mold and mycelium quiver, ever so slightly.
Suddenly the filaments began to shake. I fell backwards, startled. Half of my ass was submerged in freezing water and algae. The moist mycelium slithered out of the victim’s mouth. Then the woolly mass clogging their throat exploded in a burst of spores.
The minute particles ejected outward. They flew at me in a translucent mushroom cloud that I couldn’t avoid. I scrambled back onto the damp sand on gloves and boots, feeling the spores enter into my eyes. They grated and stuck. I blinked furiously, desperate to rub them out. Part of me was considering rinsing them out with seawater—even if it stung, at least that might sterilize the spores.
“Fucking Hell,” I cursed. How could I be so Goddamned careless?
My eyeballs were raw and watery. I massaged them with the sleeve of my jacket, praying I wouldn’t get infected.
Ten years of the Spore War. Two years since it ended in Coprinian victory and occupation. And still, the only thing we had to fend off the fear of contagion were shitty masks and a dwindling supply of anti-fungal meds.
Angrily, I tore off my examination gloves and mask and threw them onto the sand with a wet slap. I shoved a hand into my jacket pocket and took out a small plastic bottle. Removing the cap, I shakily shoved two pills into my mouth. I swallowed them dry.
Even though I’d never heard of anyone actually getting infected, the anxiety of it happening to me wasn’t worth the risk. I stared at the head in the bag, mycophobia attempting to override my rational mind. My limbs trembled and my teeth crunched together.
Goddamnit … I took a deep, sweaty breath beneath my mask. I still had to do my bloody job. But there wasn’t even a body left, just … parts.
I stood and stashed my pill bottle. Shoving the examination gloves and my mask into a disposable bag, I unclipped the radio from my belt. My ass was frozen, pants covered in sand—a small price to pay to get away from that fucking head.
Dialing in my radio, I spoke into the receiver: “NKPD dispatch, this is Detective Henrietta Hofmann of the Homicide Division. Badge number 881. Do you read me?”
“We copy, Detective Hofmann,” a crackly female voice replied.
“One-eight-seven confirmed at Spirit Island. Send a forensics team over, ASAP.”
“Over and out.”
I clipped my radio and returned to the dead child. Glaring at the rotten head, I felt a nagging unease that it might burst open and release more spores. The cavernous void of the child’s lifeless face and empty eye sockets stared up at me, while frigid wind nipped at my exposed skin. Time threatened to stand still, and all I could do was grind my teeth beneath the aging contours of cold-reddened cheeks.
There was no way I could pass this case off to anyone else. Ridgeway would outright refuse. Plus, no one in Homicide would care about a fungal kid, and I was the bottom rung on a ladder full of small men with big egos.
I sighed heavily. Mold and mutilation, a bag washed ashore—how the Hell was I going to solve this one?
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Don’t know about you guys, but already from the this short teaser, I feel like Henrietta is a Massive Mood(Tm).
Adrian M. Gibson is a Canadian SFF author, podcaster and illustrator (as well as occasional tattoo artist). He is the creator of the SFF Addicts podcast, which he co-hosts with fellow author M. J. Kuhn. The two host in-depth interviews with an array of science fiction and fantasy authors, as well as writing masterclasses. He lives in Quito, Ecuador with his family.
For the latest updates, follow Adrian on Instagram, Twitter, and Threads @adrianmgibson. You can also stream/watch new episodes of SFF Addicts every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and more.
Keep your eyes peeled for all the other stops in Adrian’s book tour, which will also include an interview with the author, from yours truly!
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.