McMurdo Countdown: Objects in Mirror…

2 Aug

Before you dismiss this 100 word story for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers as the usual science fiction spores attack crap, take a good  long look at the picture that inspires this week’s entry and then listen well. This is how my father died. He breathed in a spore in a desert in Arizona which lodged in his lung and produced a fungus called Aspergillus. It entered his brain via his circulatory system and grew, disrupting balance and coordination which prompted immediate brain surgery to remove what the doctors thought was a tumor. What they found instead was a plant and when they saw the extent to which its tendrils had merged with healthy brain tissue they closed him up and began years of what we jokingly came to call Roundup therapy. Four years, one kidney and many hospital stays for drug induced dementia later, Alan won the battle but lost the war. Weakened by the long campaign to rid his brain and body of the fungi, he succumbed to heart failure and passed. I have absolutely no doubt that he is in a better place than where he spent his last few years.

We humans tend to think we are the masters of our world, lords of creation and shapers of our collective destinies.

We are not.

We are fragile and we are, in the inevitable end, food for the real masters.

Keep your eyes open. The future is happening all around you.

Sweet dreams, D.

8 August 0800

This is all we know.

Mutated Aspergillus fungi. Rapid cytoplastic streaming. Inhaled spores grow into Labyrinthulmycota colonies. Blood/brain barrier breach. Explosive growth. Blindness, cranial overpressure, sudden death. Launched at high velocity from bursting skulls, spores spread faster than victims can be isolated.

Seven billion souls. Six continents. Five days.

How long would the extreme cold and the stormy ocean surrounding Antarctica keep it at bay?

For a while.

Three hours ago the headaches started. Sight fades as realization dawns. We are the disease. Slime is the cure.

Too late for us.


Last words?

History tailgates.


46 Responses to “McMurdo Countdown: Objects in Mirror…”

  1. Madison Woods August 3, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    We expressed it differently, but part of our messages are the same. I did not know the Aspergillus grows like that which was found in your father… wow. That’s frightening. Sorry if the photo dredged up past trauma, Doug.

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 12:51 am #

      Dear Madison,

      My intro re my father’s plight, battle and surrender was not intended to evoke sympathy and I have long since come to terms with his loss. He’s with me still, all around, every day. So no, don’t worry, the picture did me no harm. My immune systems battles far worse daily. I though it was a great picture, though I had to wonder at its effects on the imagination’s of your army of FF followers.

      Thanks for being there and for reading and commenting. Headed your way soon. (Have to go mow the fungi.)



      • Madison Woods August 3, 2012 at 1:49 am #

        Haha, I think half the army balked 😉 But the other half were properly stimulated by the change in scenery, I think. Personally, I love the sci-fi bent many of the stories took. The reason I like the picture, and even ran home to get my camera to take the picture, is because of the change in my perspectives the sight of it caused. And anything that evokes such visceral reaction deserves a little extra attention in my book.

  2. TheOthers1 August 3, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    That gave me the willies just thinking about it. It’s almost like being controlled by aliens. *shudder*

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 12:52 am #

      Our world is stranger than it seems at first, second, or even last glance, eh?

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting, CC.



    • chriswhitewrites August 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

      This fungus is scary, but fortunately very rarely does it infect humans (apparently.) Sorry to hear about your father, Doug, and the idea certainly conjures up a 19th Century horror story in my mind. Another absolutely terrifying infection is Toxoplasmosis ( ) and now scientists have discovered it increases your chances of violent suicide by almost 33%! Nature has had enough…

  3. Craig Towsley August 3, 2012 at 12:40 am #

    Heavy introduction Doug, (my condolences) (also the “then listen well” part was dead-on perfect) but an eye-opener. Masters of what, indeed.

    But then the ratcheting of the short sentences, culminating in the launch was wonderful, as was the despair in the countdown in the second half. Ah…launch, countdown – interesting contrasting elements sir.

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 12:55 am #

      Dear Craig,

      Thanks for taking such an insightful gander at my submission this week. I am reminded of yours when I think of mine shortened to its ultimate; Mother Nature is a bitch. (Bitch vs. Witch) A stretch, but nevertheless, that’s how my mind works.



  4. Kwadwo August 3, 2012 at 1:43 am #

    Reminds me of the episode in Grey’s Anatomy where they found a coniferous seedling in a man’s lung. It’s strange how living things learn to adapt to survive.

    • Kwadwo August 3, 2012 at 1:49 am #

      Also reminds me of The Happening, a movie where plants released toxins that induced suicidal tendencies in humans. Apparently it was a defense mechanism against humanity’s destruction of ecosystems.

      • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 1:56 am #

        The Happening was a good movie. I enjoyed the premise and the promise. When it finally happens, we won’t quickly know what hit us.



  5. Carol Deminski August 3, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    Doug, although your father may have passed a while ago, I can feel the resonance of what you wrote about him and the condition he suffered very strongly. I accept that you came to terms with it, but still for me as a reader, it was very shocking to read such a thing.

    I never even knew that something like that could happen to a human being, but when I think about it again, I “know” my body is currently hosting millions of bacteria in my gut and many other places on my body, so why it wouldn’t also host spores, fungi, parasites and many other alien life forms is something I “forgot” because it is very challenging for us humans to believe we are not the masters of our own domains, as you so rightly point out.

    In any case, thank you for reminding me of my humanity, by sharing yours.


    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 1:54 am #

      Dear Carol,

      You are welcome. And thank you in turn for such a discerning comment about my father and my story this week.



      • Carol Deminski August 3, 2012 at 1:56 am #

        My pleasure Doug, as always you are deeply thoughtful, something that I truly enjoy about your writing and who you are as a person.


  6. N Filbert August 3, 2012 at 1:56 am #

    wonderful Doug. Fun and frightening!

  7. kindredspirit23 August 3, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    Talk about my story sending shivers! Doug, yours scared me even more!
    I love watching “Dexter” and such. I like stuff that “could be true” not “based on truth”. The idea that pollen could move in and kill us sits with me right up beside “DNA enhanced” corn.

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 2:03 am #

      Dear Bookman,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my story this week. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you find it? Not on the usual beaten paths.



      • kindredspirit23 August 3, 2012 at 2:05 am #

        Oh, I just went to your blog page from your comment. I have found that is a good way to find people I want to read.

  8. beebeesworld August 3, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    The depth and clarity of your writing bring this work close to my heart. We can loose control in the blink of an eye.

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 2:46 am #

      Dear Beebee,

      That’s why each moment is so important. Thank you for reading and commenting.



  9. raina August 3, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    Hi Doug, Dearie me, that is horrific, and real. Thanks Doug.

  10. Adam Ickes August 3, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    Moral of the story: stay away from Arizona. Another great one, Doug.

  11. Jan Brown August 3, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    Very scary, but loved the countdown. Elegantly accomplished.

  12. Nifti August 3, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    I agree with “scary”, moreso after reading the comments. Well done Doug. Glad you can write of that experience so beautifully.


  13. Susan Wenzel (@SusanWenzel) August 3, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    Dear Doug,

    For once your writing has rendered me speechless.

    But…I will try. Since you wrote, so shall I.

    First, that is a horrific way to die. Pure horror show stuff. I am in shock.

    Your writing…sublime…and terrifying. How true is it that we think we are lord of all when in actuality, we are master of none. We can control our world no more than we can control the whims of the weather…yet we try. We are fools in fools clothing.

    Congratulations on this most excellent piece of writing…reminiscent of King’s Captain Trips.


    PS – And I most certainly won’t have sweet dreams tonight. I most certainly shouldn’t have read this right before bed. Doh! 😉

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 5:42 am #

      Dear Susan,

      Just when I thought this week’s writing was a bust you come along to keep me going. Thank you for not sleeping…I mean for enjoying…kind story. Your praise speaks volumes to me.

      Looking forward to reading your story. Off to watch the ‘Limpics’ now. Will check in later in the deep dark of night.



      • Susan Wenzel (@SusanWenzel) August 3, 2012 at 5:51 am #

        Hahaha…I was *just* telling my daughter that it is the OOOO-lympics. She too insists on calling them the “limpics.”


  14. Sandra August 3, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    A powerfully emotive introduction followed by an equally powerful piece. I didn’t know about this aspergillus spore, but it sounds absolutely horrifying. As does the scene you set in your submission for this week. Good one.

  15. rochellewisoff August 3, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Hi Doug,
    Brilliant! I never cease to be in awe of your writing. Your intro is as gut wrenching as the story itself. Puts me in mind of some House episodes. I applaud you for turning your pain into creation and sharing it with the rest of us humble peasants.
    Finally finished mine:

    • dmmacilroy August 3, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      Dear Rochelle,

      You are sweet as that picture is sour. Thank you for reading and commenting. Every day is a miracle.



      • rochellewisoff August 3, 2012 at 10:07 am #

        If everyone saw the world with your attitude it would be a very different place.

  16. unspywriter August 3, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Once again, you’ve left me a story that I’ll carry with me for a while, and in a good way. The back story as well is stunningly poignant. What a loss to you, but your story shows us it’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature. Wonderful read.

    Here’s mine:

  17. Joanna (Lazuli Portals) August 3, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Oh, heavens, Doug! I’m so glad you included your intro, because it made your powerful piece stronger still. Glad I read this at 12:32pm and not just before bed, because those dreams would *not* have been sweet. Grateful for each day.

    We had to follow a humourous path this week:

  18. Jan Morrill August 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Doug, the story of your father was shocking and powerful. I’ve never heard of the Aspergillus fungus. I see in your intro how well-loved he was. Thank you for sharing your dad’s story. It made your flash fiction quite frightening.


  19. Janet August 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Doug, very moving this week. Both your dad’s story and the fiction piece reminds us that we are part of the environment and the natural world, for all it’s wonder and it’s horror. Thanks for sharing.

  20. elmowrites August 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    You have a knack, Doug, for making your opening words as captivating as your stories themselves and this week you’ve done it again. I’m now even more terrified of the desert and will be staying away from Arizona for the foreseeable, although there’s something in your post that reminds me something is going to get us in the end.
    The story itself is vivid and punchy. It reminds of John Wyndham tales, like the Day of the Triffids, which I have loved ever since I was introduced to them. Mind you, he always seems to fall back on a happy ending, and you haven’t balked at going the other way.

  21. claireful August 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Very powerful stuff Doug – and I echo what Carol said about your father and taking our bodies for granted.

    But I wanted to comment on how subtlely you handled the countdown – the use of ‘for’ and ‘too’ instead of Four and Two was masterfully handled. Great piece of writing.

  22. vbholmes August 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    No sci-fi tale can top the true-to-life story of your father’s horror. Aside from the physical debilitation caused by the Aspergillus fungus, the knowledge that alien vegetative tendrils were invading his brain tissue must have been incomprehensible. Expressing sympathy seems inadequate.

  23. tedstrutz August 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Excellent, Doug. The story about your dad gave even more import.

    p.s. I’m sure he’s up there, watching down on his son revolving in his lawm chair each night… proud as can be.

  24. rgayer55 August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    and to think you almost didn’t write one this week (I read an early comment on Mad’s site). Look how many people you’ve touched, and educated, with this story. I’ve heard of people dying from inhaling spores–mold under wet leaves can be nasty. Like your father, these cases are often misdiagnosed multiple times, treated incorrectly, and wind up a disaster. I appreciate you sharing some very personal information to make this story even more real for the rest of us.

    Thanks for the comment about tall boots on mine. Some of the readers are asking for chest waders 🙂

  25. Joyce August 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Lots of food for thought. Excuse the pun, please. It was a great story with so much expressive detail and as if so thoroughly researched. So sorry for the loss of your father, too. I lost my father in 1982 when he was just my age now. He died of malignant brain cancer after fighting it unsuccessfully with chemo and radiation. But, I have never heard of one from this kind of disease. it really does make one wonder and think about the way foods affect us when consumed, or when not, when they spoil and continue to grow in ways one does not realize, as you so well described.

  26. Running from Hell with El August 3, 2012 at 8:33 pm #


    Gosh. This reminds me somewhat of Michael Crichton’s Prey, with its combination of scientific fascination and horror. I am so sorry for the hell your dad went through. That sounds truly awful. The story, and all variations of it, however, do get my thoughts spinning.



  27. sustainabilitea August 3, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    There have been so many insightful comments on your excellent piece that I don’t know what more I can add. I’m sorry about your father, particularly in his struggle and the horror and stress of it for all of you as well. I think what I liked best was the way you looked at something most people just call a disease and made the horror of it live. I don’t know if I could express it in a better way, but calling something a disease almost makes it sound benign even when it’s killing someone. You took us literally inside to view the crawling awfulness of it.

  28. billgncs August 4, 2012 at 1:24 am #


    thank you for sharing

  29. Carrie August 4, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    That is scary. You hear these kinds of stories and so many you pass off as ‘urban legends’ what a horrible way to go.

    Loved your story this week, Doug. Both real and fictional 🙂

  30. chriswhitewrites August 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    I first heard about this fungus the other day, and did indeed think “How long have we got?” as well as “We don’t have a chance…” A well crafted story as we all stare a the ticking clock.

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