:: Article

Notes on Beynon’s Veil

By Gordon Collins.

 

 

We have already found several specimens of the unnamed Cubensis with the blue tinged caps which are so valued by furniture makers. Also, several Elfwick Bluespots and a kilo of Turnham shells for the restaurants and a broad disk of sunset floom for the potters. We picked various Agarics which could be sold in the markets as medicines — some spurious such as the bi-cupped for virility and the plenirod for diseases of the spleen but others had been proved to contain anticarcinogens. Our superiors at the Seibu corporation encourage us to pick anything valuable in order to fund future expeditions. I discovered a Shimada’s sponge which covered a rotten oak trunk as if a white jelly had been spread over it. I had been told that less than a teaspoon of this rare growth, added at the pulping stage of paper manufacture, will ensure the most consistently coloured ream of high quality paper.

We scraped it off and bagged it up ready for our contacts in Manaus who sold it for more than $40 a gram to the paperers. None of this was what we came for. Michael, David and I, Dr Melanie Andrews, have been searching for a month for Beynon’s veil. Michael has put himself in charge of navigation. David and I follow, checking our own maps. There has been so much misdirection that at times I have found myself thinking that our maps have been sabotaged. Most of the landmarks are fungi, though, and it is just as likely that these have receded, been overgrown or picked, possibly even by ourselves.

As we progress further from the camp, the specimens become more and more unusual — a drift of bubblegum-blue caps fill a clearing, grey blusters grow upside down from vines. There are so many unidentified species that we give up collecting them. The ones we do recognise grow more erratically, on the wrong trees or spreading in lines rather than circles. All indications from the surrounding fungi show we are getting closer. We go further, as deep into the forest as we dare, until today we find it. It’s just as we had hoped, a large and complete ring of tall stemmed fungi with its distinctive sombrero cap almost oscillating on the faintest breeze and inside this the veil. We know immediately. Without saying a word we start digging.

This specimen almost certainly contains Dr Richard Beynon’s body. The discovery of his eponymous veil will be the mycological event of the year. Of even greater importance for us, though, is Beynon’s notebook which catalogues the biology of hundreds of new species as well as the veil itself. He had been our leader and our inspiration. He had discovered over fifty species and delineated three new classes. He had opened up studies in mycology which were unheard of ten years ago and which now form the scientific foundations of Seibu’s pharmacological concerns. Before then, most of us had given up on Richard’s dreams of a mycoculture that would provide us with new foods, medicine and even computation. But his recent discoveries had made us believe again. We all knew his green notebook. He had taught each of us from it and we all carried a similar one. It would be buried, safe in its vinyl covering, deep within the veil. In the middle of the mounds of fur which formed a vague silhouette around his body like a sleeping ghost.

Beynon’s veil takes around a year to spread to such a large area which is consistent with the time of Richard’s disappearance. That is just the surface, though. The mycelium spread out for miles around and we had already found them tangled in with Psilocybe or blooming out in bright orange caps high up a mahogany tree. It is the canonical example of an ecosystem’s “controlling presence”. Yes, I now believe such an outlandish theory. I have observed the veil’s influence in every specimen we have encountered in this area. I have seen it activate sporing in Chetinas as if it were sending smoke signals. I have seen how it lays out paths of dead saplings to create a river of nutrients. If a Cordyceps can control an insect’s brain then why shouldn’t a more advanced organism control a whole ecosystem? What do I mean by advanced? A highly symbiotic system for, if there was one thing we all agreed on, Beynon’s veil cannot be one simple fungi but a complex of fungi and an organising principle.

David is in furthest, ignoring the protocols and digging with a fervour that cannot be motivated by science or even profit alone.

“David, step back,” I say to him but he carries on digging out clods of earth filled with mycelium in the area where Beynon’s hand might be. Michael points to David’s ankle. The fool has left it exposed. I stare at the vein there and wonder if it is unusually green. A fur is appearing on his shoe and around the exposed area.

“David, come back,” I say again. He turns. His face is pale and his head is lolling. He returns to his excavation.

Michael and I step back. “Leave him. We’ll come back with the hazard unit,” Michael says.
He can’t mean it. I try to think but we have to leave. “David, come on,” I say but he won’t come and I can’t go back in. “David, we’re going. We’ll come back with help,” I call to him.

At the base we wave to our colleagues in the main building and check ourselves into quarantine. I file the report on the intercom while Michael checks the medical supplies and food stores. The others say they will try to find David. I am becoming unbearably tired.

I don’t trust Michael. I cannot get over the way he left David. It was the right decision but the way he did it without a moment’s regret has shocked me. Michael appeared on the scene two years ago, having previously been in Tokyo. His background isn’t in mycology but in revenue conversion. He is thoroughly Seibu Corporation. They say he pushed Beynon to find the veil without a proper safety plan and now he has to bring it in to save his job. That may just be a rumour. We eat together in silence, take a cocktail of antifungals and soon we both fall into deep sleep as the sickness takes hold of us.

We dream together. It’s hard to describe. David is there too and Richard. We are in the veil together investigating. I know Michael dreams it too. We were all in it, not talking but growing closer and closer together. Growing into the rainforest.

I wake first, finding myself in his arms. I check in with the main building. They haven’t been able to locate David. I must have slept for over 24 hours. I stuff everything I need into a bag and set off without Michael. I find I know the way without the map. I walk without stopping. At the veil, David is alive but only inasmuch as he is a host to the mushroom. He sits on his haunches. Stipes grow from beneath him and his head would not support itself if it were not for the growth all the way up his back and neck. He has excavated the notebook which lies on his lap. I retrieve it with care and sit a little way from him to read it.

The vinyl covering is cracked and the tendrils of the mushroom have become entwined with the text, taking nourishment off the organic solvents in the ink. Words streak across the page and join with networks of other pages. Understanding it is an exercise in cryptomycology. Its meaning is dependent on the very mushroom it is describing. But it’s not just the writing I struggle with. Richard’s train of thought seems uncharacteristically convoluted. On one page it seems clear that Richard believes the veil to be hermaphroditic and on another not so and on another entirely asexual. Does he think it is continually hybridising itself? I scratch away at the fungus enveloping the letters but this just blurs them. I must read along with the growth of the fungi, taking account of the fur covered paragraphs and the sentences distorted with mould.

Another page is addressed to me. I am sure of it. He is preparing me. I am getting tired again. I am entering the same sleep I had before but I find I can keep reading. If anything it is becoming clearer. Richard is describing the same symptoms I am experiencing but it’s not just Richard. I mean it must be, but it is as if he is writing from the perspective of the whole rainforest. I have a very strong impression that he is there next to me, once again helping me understand the significance of what he has written.

Green tendrils mix with the black ink and shades of purple webs cover each page. I realise that the mycelium turn clockwise as they grow, turning the letters “y”s to “g”s and “r”s to “o”s. My fingers delicately turn the pages in ways that surprise me; their tips round down the corners and weave themselves among the living words. I understand that the veil is beyond taxonomy. I try to see where this is written but I can’t find the page. I read on. Now the script is different. On this page the letters are capitalised, the ink thicker, the growth older. I no longer try to simply understand it. There isn’t enough time. Now I must simply believe it. Michael will be here soon. Michael has hardened against us. That’s the only way I can say it. Michael brought us here. He knew what would happen. His footsteps are felt all around.

I take out my own green notebook. I smear each page against the veil, the ink smudges instantly. I place it under Richard’s body. It won’t fool him but it might delay him. I take Richard’s book and walk further into the forest.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gordon Collins has been a market risk analyst, a maths lecturer, an English teacher in Japan and a computer graphics researcher specialising in virtual humans. He has degrees in mathematics as well as an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. His short stories have been published by Unthank Books, Galley Beggar Press and others. He presented the paper Borges and Infinity at Maths and Modern Literature 2018. As well as teaching and writing he is developing an app for displaying scalable literature. His work can be viewed here.

His short story, Notes on Beynon’s Veil was selected as one of two runners up in the inaugural Desperate Literature Prize 2018 by judges Euan Monaghan, Hestia Peppe and Eley Williams.

 

ABOUT THE ART WORK
Found image from Fungi, Ascyomycetes, Ustilaginales, Uredinales by H C I Gwynne-Vaughn (1922), edited and manipulated by 3AM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 5th, 2018.