Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chaps 1-4 first draft for Death Angel; NaNoWriMo

Blogging takes time, and since I am behind on my novel, Death Angel, for NaNoWriMo as it is, I’ve been not wanting to take the time to blog about it.

I’ve been busier this November than last (traveling to see my daughters and grandson and a few Syracuse friends, and so on).  Last year, I made 65,000 words and this year I may not make 50,000.  I have less than half what I should have and the days are relentlessly zooming by. 

The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to just keep writing, but what do you do when problems crop up?  I’m not sure I like this way of working, but I am still trying to stick it out.

I have more written than what I’m including here, but it isn’t arranged in chapters yet.  Please remember that this is a FIRST DRAFT and full of errors. of all kinds.

For those who have already read the first two chapters (which have had some few revisions, but not many), I tried to include links to each chapter, but my links did not work and I do not have time to fiddle around any more--I already lost too much time trying.  I'm sorry.

I was hoping to include a few notes on proposed changes in the chapters, because I AM aware of many faults and problems, but I need to use the available time to write on—and come back later to deal with these.

I NEED to get to work, but I wanted to mention that I did post two new pictures at my Detroit blog of the Cranbrook Art museum, which I haven't blogged at since spring.  And also.

Death Angel, a Mycology Mystery
By Mary Stebbins Taitt

Chapter 1:  Back Off

             "Rune," Larry Thompson said, "back off.  You're putting yourself in danger, asking too many questions."
                   Rune looked up from her computer in her closet-sized office to see Larry looking over her shoulder. On her screen was an old clipping.  The headline read, "Four Renowned Cornell Mycologists Dead of Mushroom Poisoning!" Under that, the subtitle read, "Terrible Accident Claims Four Cornell Profs."
                   "Why are you worrying about this old accident?" Larry asked, pointing at the clipping. “I know those training sessions Dr. McHaggerty had all week for the teaching assistants have piqued your interest, but that accident was thirteen years ago.”
                   “McHaggerty’s been talking about this for years.  He talked about it when I originally took Mycology. He talked about it again when I assisted my senior year. But I was distracted then by other problems in my life.  True, he calls it an accident. But he explains how to avoid the accident, and I can’t believe that those intelligent, experienced professors would make the same mistake McHaggerty expects Mycology 158 students to understand and avoid.  I think it was no accident.  I think it was murder and there is no statute of limitations on murder," Rune answered.
                   "You think they were murdered.”  It was not a question.  “The police insisted it was an accident.  They wouldn't listen when a number of us suggested murder.  We went round and round about it."
                   "If you don't think it was murder, why are you telling me to back off and butt out? Are you threatening me, Larry?"
                   Larry reached over and pushed the door shut.  Rune looked up, surprised. Her office was so small that closing the door made her slightly claustrophobic.
She was not exactly afraid.  It was hard to be afraid of Larry; she liked him too much.  He was the head audio-visual guru at the college of Environmental Sciences and Forestry or ESF.  His office, like hers, was on the entomology floor of Illick Hall.  The door to his office and AV storeroom was right next to hers, at right angles down the same little alcove hallway as hers on the second floor, and not far from the elevators. It was a convenient location for a man who pushed around carts of equipment all day every day.
          Already, since Rune arrived for training just over a week ago, Rune and Larry had reestablished the friendship they had begun when Rune first came to the College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry.  Rune had been the only girl AV Geek at her high school, but it was not that shared interest that had deepened their friendship.  Larry was a good listener, a perceptive if reticent advisor and a gentle soul. Rune liked him, plain and simple.
                   Larry leaned close to Rune, as if to whisper in her ear, and then backed off suddenly, looking suspiciously around the room.  Then he leaned back toward her again.  "This place might be bugged," he whispered, so quietly Rune could hardly hear him, "Can you spare time for . . . " he paused, looking at his watch, "how about dinner?  King David’s?"
                   "You're not going to haul me off in a dark alley and murder me, are you?" Rune asked, jokingly.  A small shiver ran up her spine.  She'd known Larry Thompson more than four years, and he did not strike her as a murderer.  Larry was unapologetically gay, swishy gay.  He had a bit of a lisp, a way of standing when at ease and limp gay wrists when he wasn’t pushing equipment around, but he didn't dress to the nines like some of the gays Rune had met in San Francisco.  He wore baggy old-man pants, baggy old-man suspenders, a ratty old dress shirt with frayed cuffs, and a ratty old suit jacket.  He was greying and balding and his thin hair hung in wisps about his slightly baggy face.  His eyes, however, were intense, dark grey and full of life and intelligence.
                   Rune thought of Larry as "sweet."  She could think of no one she knew who was nicer than Larry.  Suddenly, however, she also thought of him as a possible suspect in the murder of four professors.  Silly of course, but why else would he be threatening her, if in fact, that’s what he was doing?  But the professors were from Cornell and he was at ESF; they were mycologists and he was an AV man.  Cornell was over an hour away, over 50 miles.  It was too far for easy friendship between the two schools.  Rune felt slightly confused and disoriented, but rose and followed Larry out of her office and down the stairs of Illick to walk through the Syracuse University Campus and down the hill to Marshall Street.
                   They made it to King David’s new door to the upstairs, walking down from campus, without Rune's being dragged into a dark alley, though they had passed several dark alleys with young hipsters squatting and smoking cigarettes behind decorative wrought-iron fences.  Rune laughed at her own fears, but she still had a creepy feeling.
King David's had just moved upstairs after years and years downstairs.  Word was that Chipotle’s had offered King David’s a deal too good to refuse.  Upstairs, it was the same as it always had been downstairs, and Larry chose a table in the back, away from the doors and windows, where the light was low.  He examined the other patrons.  "Pat yourself down," he said.  "I'd do it for you, but I wouldn't want you to think I'm coming on to you."  He said this with great solemnity, and Rune had to laugh.
                   "You're kidding, right?  Is this some kind of joke? Halloween is still almost two months away."
                   "No, I'm not kidding.  Pat yourself down.  I just want to be sure."
                   "What am I looking for?"
                   "A tiny mic like this," Larry said, holding out a miniature microphone.
                   "Really?" Rune sounded worried, even to herself.
                   "Don't worry," Larry said, "I've disabled this one."
                   Rune found no hidden mics, and they sat down.  Larry ordered her a sampler platter and himself a veggie sampler.
                   While they were waiting for the food, Larry leaned over and whispered to Rune, "You know, don’t you, that Dr. Calyx (), one of the four professors from Cornell who were murdered . . . I mean who died, was my lover."
                   Rune sat up straight and looked at Larry.  Although he was clearly gay in his speech and mannerisms, she had always thought of him as asexual.  Never had she seen him on or off campus with a partner.  It was hard to imagine him with a lover.  Not that she wanted to imagine it in too much detail.
                   "Were you down at Cornell?  I thought you were a permanent fixture here.  I thought you'd been here forever."
                   "I've been here twelve years.  I couldn't stand being at Cornell after what happened to Calyx.  Dr. Otis got me the job here.  I came primarily for Eilyn." He said, pronouncing the name “AY-lin.”
                   "Eilyn?  Dr. Otis's wife?"
                   "Yeah, we were  . . . um . . . close . . . friends."  Larry turned brilliant scarlet.
                   "Larry!"  Rune exclaimed.  Larry turned his face away, and when he finally turned back, he had composed himself.
                   “Moving right along . . .” Larry said, “What I wanted to tell you is that someone around here is not going to be happy that you’re poking your nose into something they consider not your business.  Seriously, Rune, it could be dangerous.”
                   “That someone couldn’t be you, could it?” Rune asked, smiling.  “Where we you the week of August 19th, thirteen years ago?”
                   “I was in North Carolina with my mother who had a brain tumor.  I was there most of that summer, and there are hundreds of witnesses who saw me that week, because they had a big fundraiser to raise money to help my Mom pay for her medical bills.  She was a social worker who had helped many families in the area, and they turned out in droves.  I was on stage helping my mother to stand.”
                   “Oh dear,” Rune said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.  What happened to your Mom?”
                   “They raised enough money for the operation, but when the doctors opened up her skull, the tumor was bigger than they thought it was.  It had spread throughout more than half her brain.  They took out what they could and closed her up again.  Before the swelling had even gone down, she fell from the hospital fire escape—or jumped.  She died.”
                   “I’m so sorry, Larry.”
                   “It was the same day Calyx died,” he said.
                   Rune got up, went around the table, and hugged Larry.  He buried his face against her belly. His shoulders trembled.  Run stroked his back. A few tears came to her eyes.  She always seemed to feel the pain and grief of others more strongly than most people appeared to.
                   The meals came, and Rune sat back down.  They ate a few minutes in silence.
                   “But Larry, why did you tell me not to ask questions? I was just curious how four renowned mycologists who should have known better could actually have poisoned themselves.  I only wanted to turn over a few stones.”
                   “Some stones are better left unturned,” Larry said.  There was a stubborn set to his jaw that Rune never seen before.
                   “You didn’t kill them?” she asked.
                   “No,” he said, “but someone did. I’m absolutely sure of it.” Again, that shiver.  The cold fingers up her spine.
                   “Why are you warning me?”
                   “Because I like you.  I care about you.  I don’t want anything untoward to happen to you.”
                   “And you think it might?”
                   “Yes.  If you keep poking around, yes.”
                   “But it happened at Cornell, not here.”
                   “No, it happened in the mountains, up in the Adirondacks.  On a backpacking trip.  It was a long backpacking trip.  Several people here were involved in various ways.”
                   “Rune,” Larry said sharply, “Leave it!  Leave it alone.”
                   “Okay, Larry.  I’ll be more careful.”  Rune decided to move her questioning undercover.  “Maybe.”
                   “Don’t be more careful, Rune.  Stop.  Give it up entirely.”  Rune nodded, but was unconvinced.  Larry stared at her.
                   Rune shook her head a bit.  She couldn’t help her self.  Larry shook his. They stared into each other’s eyes with such intensity that finally, Rune had to look away.
                   “It would be in your best interest to believe me,” Larry whispered softly, still looking intently at Rune.  His eyes seemed to grow huge as she looked back at him, as if they were trying to tell her something, if she could just understand what it was.

Chapter 2:  Dr. McHaggerty, Lesson 1, and his take on the Long-ago Four Dead Professors.
       “Four world-renowned mycology professors at Cornell died of mushroom poisoning after a joint mushroom-collecting trip on a backpacking expedition,” Dr. Colin McHaggerty said, in booming voice, looking out over the faces in the Marshall Auditorium.  On two of the three screens behind him, images of a grinning Grim Reaper holding glowing white mushrooms appeared. In the center screen was an enlarged copy of a newspaper article with the headline, "Four Renowned Cornell Mycologists Dead of Mushroom Poisoning!" It was the same article that Rune had pulled up on her computer when Larry had some in to give his dire warning about her questions.  Fog drifted out onto the stage, curling, wafting and thickening. It poured in a milky waterfall off the stage into the first row of students, spreading into the audience.  The lights dimmed slightly and the room seemed to grow suddenly cold. Rune shivered.
       McHaggerty paused dramatically.  He wore black pants, a black shirt, a black tie with white mushrooms on it and a light-weight black cape that fluttered, lifting high behind him in an unseen breeze.  His thick, wavy, grizzled and somewhat wild red hair and beard created a red-gold halo around his face.  The already low lights in the auditorium dimmed to near darkness and a light came up under McHaggerty’s face, shadowing his eyes making his face look skeletal. A groan rose from the students in the audience, almost a shriek.
       “Apparently,” McHaggerty said, “many different kinds of mushrooms were collected that day.”  He paused again, turning his face from left to right.  The students could no longer see his eyes, which were deep in shadow as if there were only empty sockets.  “Including Amanita phalloides, the Destroying Angel!” He thundered. Photographs of the destroying angel mushroom, glowing white against a black background, appeared on the screen.
       Another long pause followed and then the lights came up to full brightness and the light under McHaggerty’s face disappeared.  Two warm yellow spotlights appeared on his face from above.
       “Some mushrooms, “ Dr. McHaggerty, said, smiling widely, his voice now cheerful and light “are delicious and wonderfully edible.”  On the screens to the left and right appeared photos of edible mushrooms, the common garden mushroom, morels, shaggy manes, chicken of the woods.  Each was labeled with the common and Latin names.  In the center pane was a photograph of a plate of cooked mushrooms, garnished with parsley and set on a red and white checked tablecloth.
       “Some mushrooms,” McHaggerty said, and the lights dimmed to half-brightness, “while not poisonous, are distinctly unpalatable or inedible.” More labeled photos appeared.
       “And some mushrooms,” McHaggerty continued, as the lights fell to darkness again and the light under his face came up, “are deadly poisonous.”  The screens to the left and right showed the destroying angel, the death cap, the fly agaric and other deadly mushrooms.  The Grim Reaper came up on the center, holding white mushrooms in his right hand and the limp body of a deceased victim over his left arm.
       McHaggerty paused again.  The lights slowly came back up, and the chin light faded away.  McHaggerty, moving slowly, pulled on a pair of thin beige rubber gloves.  From a shelf in the podium, he took a handful of white mushrooms.  The three screens behind him showed a close-up video of his face and gloved hands, holding the mushrooms.
       “Amanita phalloides,” he said, thundering again, “is so poisonous that even touching it can be dangerous.  Some of the toxins can be transferred to the skin, and from the skin to the mouth or to the food you are going to eat.”  Behind him, the three images each show a different photograph of Amanita phalloides, labeled with common names, and the Latin name.  “Amanita phalloides is a common mushroom and can be found in woods, fields and in your own backyard.”
       Again, Dr. McHaggerty paused dramatically.  Then he walked out from behind the lectern, strode to the edge of the stage, and leaned out so far over the edge toward the audience that it seemed he might tumble off the stage into the laps of the students in the front row.  He was still holding the Amanita phalloides in his right hand, gesticulating with it, and the closest students leaned visibly away from him.  Their faces looked stricken.  Rune, sitting onstage with the other teaching assistants, elbowed Bart on one side and Cassie on the other and they all snickered and giggled, covering their mouths with their hands.  No one was looking toward them.  All eyes were riveted on Dr. McHaggerty.  It was the first day of classes at the beginning of the semester in September.  The students, looking amazingly young, had never seen McHaggerty in action.  They’d heard through the grapevine, as students always did, and in increasing numbers, that the class was good, but they hadn’t known just how riveting it would be.
       “Can anyone tell me,” McHaggerty asked, “how those four doomed professors could have avoided dying of mushroom poisoning?”
       A hand shot up, front row center.  “Aaron Weiner,” Rune whispered to Cassie.  Cassie nodded.  They had received sheets and sheets and sheets of printouts of the pictures of the 500 students in the Mycology EFB 158 class and had made flashcards from the pictures and spent the last week during breaks in training trying to learn the names of the kids. Although Rune had thought learning the names of all the students from their photos before class even started was not only impossible, but also insane, McHaggerty had insisted, and they had studied those faces day and night, during every break in the training.  It had paid off.
       “Yes, Mr. Weiner?” McHaggerty asked.  Larry appeared from a side entrance and ran over to the student, who was shrinking in his seat, and held a microphone to his mouth.
                   The kid trembled slightly, then seemed to pull himself together, sat up straight, thrust out his chin, and spoke in a clear if soft voice, “The safest thing is to not eat mushrooms at all, or at least, not wild mushrooms.”
                   The audience roared.
                   Dr. McHaggerty held up his left hand.  “Please,” he said, quietly, but in a voice that carried throughout the auditorium, “be respectful.”  The laughing stopped instantly.
             McHaggerty leaned toward Aaron Weiner and said, “Mr. Weiner, that is an excellent answer, and thank you for it.  One certain way to avoid mushroom poisoning is to not eat mushrooms.”  He spoke the last three words with great conviction, articulation and intensity.                     
            “Eating store-bought mushrooms, while not 100% safe, is probably 99 and 42/100ths percent safe.”
                   The audience laughed.  Rune wondered if anyone is the class knew that McHaggerty had made an allusion to an old ivory soap commercial that said that ivory soap was 99 and 42/100th percent pure.  She hadn’t known it herself until Larry had told them in the session yesterday as they went over the details of the first lecture.  As the audiovisuals man and all around man-Friday for Dr. McHaggerty and the whole biology department at ESF, Larry knew the scoop about almost everything, or so it seemed to Rune.
              A girl in blond pigtails two kids down from Aaron Weiner in the front row raised her hand. "Melanie Simmons," Peter Schilja, another of the TAs, whispered to Bart, and Bart gave him a thumbs-up. Rune agreed, smiling at Peter and adding her thumbs-up when he looked down the row at her.
         Peter, at the beginning of the training week, instructed the team how to pronounce his difficult name:  “SHEEL-yih,” he repeated, over and over, every time one of us mistakenly said Shil-JA. “SHEEL-yih,” he’d say, gently at first, and then a little more assertively.  Angel, another of the six teaching assistants, kept saying it wrong longer than the rest of them, and got red-faced angry when Peter (“Never Pete!”) insisted on correcting her.  Now she was sitting in the hot seat looking stony-faced and concentrating on McHaggerty.                   
          Now, Rune looked at Melanie Simmons.  She had a sweet face, rosy cheeks, dimples, and those thick blond braids.  Rune thought that probably at most colleges the girls would not be wearing braids, but here at stumpy school, it was pretty common. Braids, work boots, flannel shirts with t-shirts underneath, that was the uniform most of the kids wore, and with good reason.  They spent a lot of time hiking through the woods, measuring trees, collecting flowers, taking mushroom spore samples, running transit lines and stomping through what Cassie, another of the six TAs, laughingly called "mush puhsh."  She said her boyfriend from Detroit called it that.
           "Yes, Miss Simmons," McHaggerty said, inclining his head toward her and smiling.  Larry approached her with the microphone. The girl spoke clearly in an almost childish voice that amplified rang sweetly in the large room like a small bell
           "If you learn your mushrooms one at a time and stick with ones you know are safe, you should be okay.  My grandmother who came over from Italy taught me to collect field mushrooms.  I've been doing it all my life, and we've never gotten sick."
           Rune looked at the girl in wonderment.  She looked Swedish, not Italian, with her blond hair and blue eyes.[i]
           "Very good, Miss Simmons.  Tell me, how do you know which one so pick?"
           "Grandma taught me to pick the white mushrooms with pink or brown gills underneath.  She said never pick any that were white underneath, and not to pick them if you couldn't see the gills.  Also, they have a certain shape and texture.  I've seen death angels and they don't look the same.  They are more delicate looking.  But I tried to show my friend Georgia and she couldn't see the difference, so I guess it's sort of subtle.  Anyway, I'd never go by shape alone, but I find myself not even looking underneath some of them because I know right away they are wrong."
           Rune and Cassie nodded their heads to each other and smiled.  Melanie Simmons was smart, articulate and correct.
           "Very good, Miss Simmons, excellent," McHaggerty said, smiling broadly.  Are you saying that you only collect one kind of mushroom?"
           "No, not exactly.  That was the one kind I learned at first.  But I found out from someone else that a mushroom most people call Toadstools, one that often grows in fairy ring and has a shape like a hat, sort of, and is tan colored and small is also edible.  And morels.  I found some of those, looked them up, learned that they were edible and tasty, have been collecting them ever since."
           "Do you collect them together?" asked McHaggerty.
           "No, never.  I read somewhere, I forget where, that it is a bad idea for beginners to collect more than one kind of mushroom at a time."  A kind of collective sigh of approval went up from the TAs and was echoed by some of students. Everyone recognized a good answer
           "You've just hit the nail on the head, Miss Simmons.  Larry, give this girl a get out of jail free card."  Larry took two cards out of his pocket and handed them to Melanie.  One was a duplicate of the monopoly card, which said, on one side, "Get out of Jail free."  That card could be used in the future to drop a bad grade or be excused from a quiz or lab report.  The other card was a fake dollar bill the size of a credit card good for a dollar at Dollar Dooley's.  Everyone knew that at Dollar Dooley Card was good for a coffee, Tea, hot chocolate or scone, or one of the biggest, fattest cookies in town.  Melanie slipped the cards into the chest pocket of her red and black hunter-plaid flannel with the ragged cut-off sleeves.
           "The way to avoid mushroom poisoning," McHaggerty reiterated with a flourish, stepping back behind the podium, as Melanie's face flashed across all three screens, is to learn one safe mushroom at a time and collect one safe mushroom at a time, and look at each one carefully as you collect it, as you clean it, and again, as you cut it up for cooking.  An image appeared on the left screen of Rune, with a field guide in one hand and a hand lens in the other, comparing a mushroom to its image in the field guide.  On the middle screen, an image came up of Bart carefully cleaning mushrooms on a kitchen counter with a field guide propped in a cookbook holder, holding a mushroom up to the book.  The right screen showed Cassie cutting mushrooms, removing the dirty parts at the bottom, and comparing her mushroom to the field guide.
           A second set of three images showed the same sequence, only with Angel, Eliza and Peter as models.  There were six TAs, and each was triple-checking to be sure the mushrooms were safe.  They all ate the mushrooms after the photo shoot and none of them had gotten sick.  Not yet anyway.  Thinking of the four Cornell professors, all of whom were renowned in their field, dying after consuming their own collected mushrooms, Rune felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up and a shiver coursed down her spine.

Chapter 3:  Shaggy Manes and Angel

      “I’d like you to get out your book, Start Mushrooming, by Stan Tekiela.  We’re going to begin by learning the “Safe Six” mentioned in Mr. Tekiela’s book.  Since it’s fall, and they relatively abundant right now, we’ll start with shaggy manes.  You can find them on the lawns around campus.”  The three back-lit screens filled with images of shaggy manes, tall thin shaggy looking mushrooms that were dark at the bottom.  They were a very pale tan at the top, then white and grey, and finally a sort of charcoal dark grey at the bottom, with thin stems.
            "Shaggy Manes are one of the safer mushrooms to collect, with certain caveats.  There are two other species of mushrooms that some people regard as similar. "
            A new shot of shaggy manes appeared in the center, with its Latin name, Coprinus comatus.  One the left was an image of the parasol mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, and on the other side, the Scaly Ink Cap or Feltscale inky Cap, Coprinopsis variegata (Coprinus quadrifidus).

            "How many of you think that these mushrooms look alike?  Don't be shy," he thundered, “I know many of you probably do."
            Aaron Weiner raised his hand.  Melanie Simmons raised hers.  Rune was surprised to see the smart kids confessing to not being able to distinguish the mushrooms. She had to admit that they were pretty confusing at first glance.  One by one, the kids in the front raised their hands and the wave spread backwards through the room.  Dr. McHaggerty waited.  He waited until every kid had his or her hand in the air.
            "Hmmm  . . ." he drawled. "Have you maybe gone too far the other way?  Hands down.  Put you hand up if you can tell me how these mushrooms differ."
            Melanie, Aaron, and several other kids raised their hands in the front, and a smattering of kids further back.  Dr. McHaggerty pulled a pair of small binoculars from his breast pocket and peered at the audience.  
            "Mr. Maynard?" McHaggerty called, in a clarion voice.  "Stand up."
            It was a kid in the shadows in the very last row, and sitting close to the exit door as if he wanted to make a hasty exit.  He stood up, and Larry hurried toward him with the microphone.  
Jacob Maynard, Rune thought to herself.  She didn’t say it aloud, since Dr. McHaggerty had already announced his last name. 
Jacob didn't wait for Larry and the microphone.  "The shaggy manes are tall and thin and whiter,” he said, in a thespian's voice loud and clear without sounding strained.  “They don't open as much as the parasols. And the shaggy manes are dark around the bottom. (Add any other more obvious salient details. Or give some to Melanie?)"
            "Very good, Mr. Maynard.  Excellent." Dr McHaggerty said, smiling broadly, and repeating what Jacob Maynard had just said in case someone had missed it, which Rune doubted.  "Any other comments?"
            Melanie was waving her hand wildly.  "Yes, Melanie?"
            "The shaggy manes are in general a lighter color and I read in one of the texts you had us buy that the melting, auto-digestion or black inky stuff is a key to the Coprinus and Coprinopsis groups.  The parasol mushroom doesn’t have that but the shaggy mane and feltscale inky cap does."
            "Good Melanie, I see you've been reading ahead,” he smiled down at Melanie kindly, then looked out at the whole class.  “Your assignment for next session is to read about shaggy manes in all three of your assigned texts.  I trust you can locate them without my giving you all the page numbers."  The page numbers appeared on the screen and many of the students immediately began copying them down, but they faded away again immediately, and a gentle groan went up from the audience.
            "Come, come," McHaggerty chided gently, "we're not in kindergarten any more.  I'm sure you've all heard of indices."
            Somewhere near the back of the room, a small voice said, "Excuse me, what are indices?  Is that some kind of disease?"  There was a titter of quiet laughter.  Apparently, no one wanted to laugh out loud at what seemed to be the foolishness of other students.  
            Jacob Maynard stood up and said, loudly and clearly, "Indices are the plural of index, which is an alphabetized listing of topics in the back of your book."
            "Thank you, Mr. Maynard," Dr. McHaggerty said, “I am sure Mr. Smith was not the only student who had a moment's confusion." Rune laughed and elbowed Cassie.  McHaggerty always called his students Mr. Smith or Miss Smith when he didn’t want to announce their names to the whole class.  He didn’t mind embarrassing the entire group, but was usually fairly careful not to embarrass individual students.
            "The Parasol mushroom is edible and delicious, and is one of the wild mushrooms that can be eaten raw, but we are going to talk about the Shaggy mane this week.  Comatus, the species name of Coprinus comatus, does not mean comatose.” Laughter rippled through the auditorium.  “Comatus means leafy and refers to the scaly appearance of the mushroom cap. It's most important use is as food." 
            Three images of mushroom dishes flashed on the three screens. The plates and bowls of mushrooms were arranged artfully on red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and garnished with nasturtiums, an orange, edible flower.
            "Shaggy Manes are delicious.  They are very delicate.  Some people use them in soups, stews and stir-fries, but they are so delicate that unless handed very gently and added near the end, they disappear in these concoctions. I recommend frying them very lightly in butter or olive oil and add in either nothing, or just a touch or garlic, onions or shallots, and perhaps a few drops of wine.  The flavor is so delicate and good that no added flavors are needed for full enjoyments.
            "If we are lucky, we will be serving some small samples of shaggy manes at the end of our first field trip session.  However, I must warn you that there is a small possibility that you could have an adverse reaction if you drink alcohol after consuming these mushrooms.
            "Let me explain." The screen filled with images of another mushroom, clearly labeled "Common Inky Cap, Coprinopsis atramentaria."  "This mushroom, the Common inky cap, used to be placed in the Coprinus genus, because it autodigests like shaggy manes.  However, DNA sequencing has led taxonomists to rename it Coprinopsis atramentaria. Like the shaggy mane, it is edible and delicious, though smaller.  It does often grow in large colonies and is relatively easy to collect.
            "Here's the caveat: Coprinopsis atramentaria, the common inky cap, is also called ‘tippler’s bane.’  It contains the chemical coprine, which is an analog of the chemical, Disulfiram, used to help people addicted to alcohol to quit drinking.  It is a harsh way to stop.  If you consume alcohol for up to three days after enjoying a nice meal of inky caps," a picture flashed on the screens on cooked inky caps served over wild rice, "you will become violently ill.”  A cartoon followed on the screen of a man with a green face and then a man barfing.
            "The inky cap mushrooms are not toxic when consumed alone, but in combination with alcohol, they will make you extremely sick.  The combination causes vomiting, (look up symptoms).  No fatalities have been recorded, but you might wish you were dead for a while.  The other mushroom, the Feltscale inky cap, is also a Coprinopsis.  Some books say that it is edible and tasty and better and richer than shaggy manes.  Other books say that it is unsafe to eat because it contains the same coprine as Common Inky caps and they mention people having allergic reactions to them.
            "No coprine has been isolated in Coprinus comatus, the shaggy mane, but some people report feeling ill after eating the mushrooms with wine.  Therefore, if you partake of the mushroom tasting at the end of the field trip, please refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages for three days."  Some tittering and a few groans from the students followed this statement. “Since a good number of you, I would guess most of you, are underage for drinking in this state, that should not offer a terrible hardship.”  More laughter and groans.
            "As Miss Simmons so kindly mentioned, notice in these images the inky black autodigestion that both the shaggy manes and the inky caps show.  That inky black stuff you see at the bottoms of the mushrooms, you will also note on the leaves below.  Those are mushrooms that have completed disintegrated into black slime. That black slimes contains the spores of the mushrooms, the equivalent of seeds.
            "Shaggy manes and inky caps should collected only when they are not overly consumed by autodigestion. If, however, only a portion of the mushroom is black and a goodly portion of white, tan or brown remains, you can remove that blackened parts and eat the rest." Photographs followed of a hand with a knife in the process of removing the blackened portions of shaggy manes and inky caps.  "The inky caps are so small that it may not be worth the effort to gather any that are imperfect, for when you remove the damaged portions, there will not be much left to enjoy."
            A few titters of amused laughter followed.
“Collect shaggy manes and inky caps only when you will be able to eat them almost immediately.  They are not mushrooms that keep well. And remember; collect only one or the other.  Not both.  ONE mushroom variety at a time for safety.
            "Now," Dr. McHaggerty continued, "We will have some introductions and logistical information that you should not note down.  On you class schedules, you each were given a section number and two instructor names for your lab and field trip sections.  If you have those with you, please get them out."  A rustling of papers and whispers followed. 
            "Good.  There are 500 seats in the auditorium.  We have 500 students and a waiting list of over a hundred.  If any of you don't like what you've seen and heard today, you can drop the course without penalty though November first and someone else can take your place.  We are recording every session for those students who were unable to join and for anyone who misses a class or simply wants to review the day's lecture.  I prefer this for some students, if they are easily distracted by note taking and miss something important.  The lecture can be found online at  I assume by now you all know how to navigate the Internet. In addition to the videos of class, Larry and George will also publish online at transcripts the written lectures.
            "Also, as an aside, you can find all my mushroom recipes at Please, unless you are very experienced, do not try any recipes for mushrooms we have not discussed in class." The addresses all appeared on the screen and the students scurried to copy them down. "All this info is on the handouts I emailed to each of you this morning. I am assuming that with your computer-lab cards, you can print your own handouts. " McHaggerty smiled a crooked, ironic smile, laughing softly at the way the kids looked up suddenly, as if they hadn't been copying the addresses.
            “We have 5 lab and field trip sections, each divided in thirds.  The sections are 1-5 for the days of the week, 1 being Monday, 2 Tuesday, 3 Wednesday and so on.  The second number is the subsection, and there are five of those.  We have ten teaching assistants who work with the class.  They work in teams, and the teams are:  Team One: Carter Campbell and Angelina Navarro, team two: Peter Schilja and Eliza Landon, team three: Cassandra Sampson and Scott Robinson, team four: Bart Johansson and Rune Carmichael, team five: Ellen Wright and Bella Romano.”  As Dr. McHaggerty introduced the teams, the TAs stood up and bowed.  “I know it’s a lot to remember, but each of the TAs will have an opportunity to introduce themselves in both class and lab.”
            “If you are looking at your lab and field trip assignments,” Dr. McHaggerty continued, “you will notice that there are three numbers.  The first is the day of the week, the second is the team or section and the third is the individual or subsection within the team.  If you look at the chart above, you will see that for example, with team one, Mr. Campbell is subsection one and Miss Navarro is subsection 2.  There will be times when your team will be divided into smaller groups. All this rather boring information is explained in the handouts.
            “Now, this morning and for each of the next nine session, one of the TAs will introduce themselves.  We will begin with Angelina Navarro.  Angelina?” Angelina had been sitting at the edge of her seat, turning paler and paler and now she leaped up.
             "My name is Angelina Navarro," Angel said.  She paused and looked out over the sea of faces, took a deep breath and stood up tall and slim and straight, piles of curly black hair with purple and green highlights falling her back. Her skin was dark, the darkest of anyone in the room, with exception of a few African American students sitting near the back of the room.  She wore black lipstick and black eye shadow and skull and crossed-bones earrings.  She was dressed all in black, black biker boots, black leggings, a black tunic, and a black T-shirt with a picture of white mushrooms. George, Larry's assistant, narrowed the spotlight onto the image of the mushrooms and text under it, which read, “Death Angel.”  
"My name is Angelina," Angel repeated, after a dramatic pause.  “But most folks call me Angel . . . or . . . Death Angel."  She paused again.  McHaggerty had made them practice their introductions, coached them on their spoken word, their projection, and their pauses.  He had stood at the back of the auditorium holding his hand to ears.  Larry had a mic, but Angel's voice was strong and resonant.  She could have been heard in the back without the mic, and Larry lowered it to let the unamplified timbre of her voice resonate in the room.
             "I am a first-year graduate student majoring in ().  I am doing my thesis on ().  I am interested in becoming a ().  And I ride a Harley, also called Death Angel, which some of you may have spotted in the () motorcycle lot.” Across the screens came three pictures of Angel, the one in the center showed her riding the bike, the outer two showed her standing and kneeling by the death-angel logo in her black outfit. “If I see any of you touching my Death Angel, you are dead meat!" With that, Angelina whipped out an oversized cardboard cut-out of a handgun, and gripping it with both hands, pointed it out into the audience.  The kids screamed and leaned away when the gun swept over them, even thought it was obviously fake.
            “I am one of the two TAs in section one of the Lab and field trip sections.  I am subsection two.  My partner is Carter Campbell.  Carter stood up, bowed to the left and right, and sat back down.
            Angel retreated hastily to her seat. She had spoken calmly and clearly and done her little skit they way they had planned, but Rune could see that her face was drawn and slick with sweat. She wondered if she too would panic when it was her turn to speak before 500 students.  She hoped she could do as well has Angel had.

                   Chapter 4, Breakfast at Cosmos
Dr. McHaggery touched Rune's shoulder as the TAs filed toward the exit at the end of the TA meeting after class.  She paused and turned toward him as the others continued out the door.
                   "Have you had breakfast?" Dr. McHaggerty asked.
                   "A slice of toast and a half a cup of coffee," Rune said.  She'd hit the snooze a few too many times.  Just that morning, she'd decided to move the clock across the room so she'd have to get all the way up when the alarm went off.
                   "How would you like some real breakfast?" Dr McHaggerty said, beaming at her with a look that Rune interpreted as fatherly fondness.  She looked into his face, which was cheerful and radiant with friendliness and eagerness.  Rune's next class wasn't until eleven o’clock, so she smiled at Dr. McHaggerty and agreed.
                   Rune had to jog to keep up with Dr. McHaggerty's long strong stride.  He was famous in his Mycology Projects 2 class, which met Tuesday and Thursday mornings, for out-walking all the kids in his field trips, which he led himself without the benefit of TAs.  He didn't seem to notice that Rune was panting slightly, breathless in her replies to his questions about her year away from school.
                   "We missed you, Rune!  You went where?" he asked again, when she'd stumbled slightly on an uneven sidewalk square that was raised several inches above the level of the others.
                   "Slovenia," Rune choked out, gasping for breath and catching herself.  Why did she have to be so clumsy in front of Dr. McHaggerty?  She didn't want him to think she was a total klutz.
                   "Why Slovenia?"
                   "Well, I think you know I was taking this low residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts at the same time I was doing my undergraduate work here at ESF, right?"
                   "How could you do that?  If I remember right, you were carrying 23 and 25 credit hours a semester instead of the usual 12 to 15 credit hours."
                   "Stupidity, I guess."
                   "Or sheer brilliance.  Didn't you graduate summa cum laude?"
                   "No, just magna cum laude.  I got an F in a research project that was ruined when the power went out and there wasn't time to do it over."
                   "Ok, don't be coy with me, Rune.  I know you're smart, but what's this about your taking an MFA program at the same time?  That's absolutely out there."
                   "Really, Sir.  It was kind of a stupid thing to do.  It was horrendously difficult to have so much homework."
                   "What were you studying at Vermont College and how does this relate to going to Slovenia?"
                   "So, have you published a book of fine art photos yet?"
                   "Nope.  I have my MFA and a collection of photographs, but no book, except the Creative Thesis, of course."
                   "Will you show them to me?"
                   "Sure. I'll print out some copies . . . I don’t have a copy of the thesis, I only had enough to money to bind one for the school library, and I managed that only because I was required to."
                   "If you have them on your computer, I'll give you a CD or a thumb drive and you can put them on that."
                   "Sure.  I'd love to have you see them.  I'd like to hear what you think."
                   "Great, now what did this have to do with Slovenia?"
                   They'd arrived at Cosmos and been waved toward the booths.  Rune slid in expecting Dr. McHaggerty to sit across form her and was surprised when he slid in next to her.  His thigh was touching hers, so Rune shuffled over a little.  Dr. McHaggerty moved again, so that again, he was touching her. Rune moved a third time, and so did Dr. McHaggerty.  If she moved any farther, she'd be crushed against the wall with all the condiments in her face.  She stayed where she was, but felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable.  She wished McHaggerty had simply sat across from her, where she could look him the eye and talk to him.  This was too weird.
                   "Excuse me for a moment, I'm so sorry, I need to use the restroom," Rune said.  Dr. McHaggerty stood up and Rune ran into the restroom, washed her hands, peed, washed again, and when she came out, she sat across from Dr. McHaggerty, close to the edge of the bench.  She tried to make herself look large and firmly planted.
                   Rune smiled at Dr. McHaggerty.  She could feel that it was a toothy grimace of a smile.  [She liked Dr. McHaggerty so much], and hated to do anything to offend him, but was still uncomfortable after feeling trapped by the bulk of his body.  McHaggerty was a big man.
                   The menus had arrived and Rune busied herself looking at hers.
                   "If I remember right," Dr. McHaggerty said, cheerfully, with no apparent offense, "You love frettas, would you like one now?  I'd be happy to get you one. It's on me, no arguing."
                   Rune, relieved that Dr. McHaggerty seemed neither offended or upset, was eager to please him and agreed to let him get her a fretta.  He also remembered that she liked grapefruit juice and ordered her that and pumpernickel toast with caraway seeds.
                   "You have a great memory, Dr. McHaggerty."
                   "Call me Colin, please."
                   "Oh, no, Dr. McHaggerty, I couldn't do that."
                   "Please I mean it.  Call me Colin, that's my name.  Now, tell me about Slovenia."
                   " They had a scholarship contest in the photography program for their semester abroad program.  I applied with a portfolio of tree flowers that I did as a joint project course for Dr. Liebermann and Dr. Miller.  Talk about triple use--I got credit in EFB, credit in EFC, and won the scholarship for a semester in Slovenia.  I couldn't have gone, otherwise."
                   "Tell me a little about it.  Where did you stay?"
                   "The program was four months long and I spent two months in Ljubljana and two months in Bled.  Then I traveled briefly in Italy and Austria, flew home and hitchhiked from New York to California and back, taking the southern route out and the northern route back."
                   "Hitchhiking! That's dangerous, especially for a girl."
                   "I did jump from a moving car a few times," Rune said, wryly.  "But as you can see, I survived."  I have a few scars, Rune thought, but thankfully, they aren't visible.  "But you were asking about Slovenia, and I have to say that it's a beautiful country, and almost wholly unspoiled.  There are tourists, but not as many as elsewhere. Big beautiful mountains, the Slovene Alps, Karst geography unlike the other alps."
                   "So caves, then?"
                   "Yes, caves, waterfalls, gorges.  Like Pratt's Falls or Chittenango Falls.  Huge caves.  And Castles everywhere.  And amazing churches."
                   "I assume, being in a photography program, you took lots of pictures?"
                   "Of course! How could I not?" she asked, laughing.
                   "Would you be willing to give a presentation if I arranged for you to have 5 Illick or Marshall Auditorium?"
                   "Do you think that many people would want to see my travel photos?
                   "If this was a semester project toward a postgraduate degree, I imagine it is more than ordinary travel photography."
                   "I already had my MFA; this was a postgraduate semester.  But sure.  I'll show then to five or five hundred.  I'd be happy to."
                   The food came and Rune dug in with gusto.  Dr. McHaggerty sat and watched her eat, smiling with humor on his face.  "You do enjoy your food, Rune, it's amazing you stay so lean."
                   "Lots of exercise, I guess," Rune said, with her mouth full.  "MMmmm, good."
                   "There's this movie I'd like you to see," Dr. McHaggerty said.  "It's called 'A School in the Forest' and is about a naturalist who makes a huge difference in life of an autistic child.  It's playing at the Manlius, and I would be happy to take you.  Tomorrow night?"
                   "Okay," Rune said.  Her mouth was full, again.
                   "Dinner too?"
                   "I'll take my car on the field trip and we'll leave from there after the tasting.  That would be more efficient.  What do you think of the other TAs?"
                   "Nice.  I don't really" munch munch "know  "some of them yet," munch munch "but they all seem nice." Rune said between bites of potato and sausage. She was trying to get a piece of pepperoni, a piece of egg, a piece of broccoli and a piece of black olive all on her fork at once.
                   "Nice," Dr. McHaggerty said, "is such an insipid word."
                   "My brain cells don't work when I am concentrating on food, why don't you talk?"
                   "Yes, I do remember that about you.  Oh, look, here's Jody. Jody . . ." McHaggerty called, "Come sit with us.  Can I get you some breakfast?"  Jody came up looking slightly reproachful.  Rune had no idea why she was getting the “evil eye.”  Rune shoved over and after hugging Dr. McHaggerty, Jody slid in beside her.
                   "Still love those frettas, eh, Rune?" she asked, sounding slightly sarcastic.  Since this was unusual for Jody, Rune leaned toward Jody and gave her a kiss on the cheek and a one-arm hug.  Jody felt a little stiffer than normal, and Rune puzzled about this as McHaggerty ordered Jody a bran muffin, a yogurt, and a tea without asking her what she wanted.
                   "Thanks, Doc," Jody said, still sounding slightly miffed.
                   Rune reached over and squeezed Jody's hand.  "Is something wrong?" she asked, puzzled.
                   "Like you don't know.  Like you have no idea."
                   "I don't know," Rune said, "I have no idea.  Please, enlighten me."
                   "You really don't know, do you?" Jody asked, with wonder in her voice.  Then she smiled a radiant smile and hugged and kissed Rune.  Rune was confused but relived.
                   "Dr. McHaggerty was asking me about my year away from school," Rune ventured, slightly nervously.  "Have you told him about our misadventures on the way to Mexico?"
                   "Actually, no."  Jody smiled a weird mysterious smile.  "But now that you've mentioned it, I think I will.
                   "Rune had an opportunity to attend an art school in Mexico, down on Yucatan Peninsula."
                   "You didn't tell me about that!" Dr. McHaggerty said, looking pointedly at Rune.
                   "You asked about Slovenia.  I never had a chance.  I was busy," she added, pointing to her half-eaten fretta.  "Let Jody tell it, her food's not here yet.  I want to eat mine before it gets cold."
                   "While Rune was still in Slovenia, she emailed and told me about the special classes in the Yucatan and I applied too, late, and got in because there was a last minute cancellation.  Rune's old Indian was in the shop for major repairs, so we took my brother's old Volvo.  We had a great time singing, telling stories, counting hawks, and learning the new vegetation.”
While Jody was talking, Rune concentrated on eating and studying McHaggerty’s familiar face.  He was, she thought incredibly handsome and charismatic. His red hair was long, very curly and somewhat bushy and only slightly grizzled, he had an untrimmed thick, bright red beard, brushy red eyebrows, and a great tan. He was, she thought, the rare redhead who tans well.  His eyes were often a brooding grey green or grey blue, depending on the light. Right now, they seemed brighter than usual, with twinkling highlights. His attention was focused on Jody, but he glanced at Rune and smiled at her when he saw her looking at him.
                   "I had read that you could stay free in any jail if you asked,” Jody was saying,  “and they had to let you, so we decided to try it.  It was in Wyoming (check route to Mexico), in some Podunk town where we got off the highway after driving all day.  We drove up to the jail and Rune started chickening out.  I just marched in, said we wanted to spend the night.  They said they had to lock us in, and they did.  He did.  There was only one sheriff there.  It was a one-horse, one-sheriff town.  Well, actually, there were probably more horses than people.  He left us there all night alone, and came back in the morning and let us out.  Rune was worried and didn't like it, she said it made her claustrophobic, so the next night, we camped on a fire ant nest and got all bitten up in the morning; it was terrible.  Those fire-ant bites hurt and stung and itched and burned for more than a week.  I kept thinking of that cozy jail cell."
                   "I kept thinking of rape and mayhem," Rune said. "I don’t trust men, I guess."
                   "None of them?" Dr. McHaggerty asked. He had a puppy-dog look on his face.
                   "Well, it depends on who and what you mean.  You for example, I'd trust with my life."
                   McHaggerty grinned, but Rune continued, "but not with my body."
                   "What do you mean?" Dr. McHaggerty asked, now looking somewhat crestfallen.
                   "I don't trust men sexually." Rune said.  "They all seem to want one thing and one thing only and they don't care if it's in my best interest or not."
                   "What about Larry?" Jody asked. "She snickered slightly.  Everyone knew Larry was gay.
                   "I like Larry.  I like Dr. McHaggerty, too.  But they both need to stay out of my personal space." Rune peered up at McHaggerty, wondering how he'd react.
                   Jody was grinning now.  She had a sort of triumphant look on her face.  Rune thought maybe Jody too had had bad experiences with men and was pleased that Rune had spoken up about it.  Rune decided to ask Jody about it privately later.

[i] Revisit Melanie Simmons being Italian and blond


John said...

I am really enjoying the story Mary. I like the characters and I also feel I am learning as I go as I had no idea about the different types of mushrooms. I am looking forward to more.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Thanks so much, John. I hope you aren't horrified by the melodramatic and upsetting scene.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I mean the one int he next post)