Unexpected Treasure - for Naked Came A Fungus
Lee French is a USA Today bestselling author of Girls Can’t Be Knights. She writes in a variety of fantasy and science fiction subgenres for teens and grownups. She is an active member of SFWA and a Municipal Liaison for her NaNoWriMo region. Sign up for Lee’s newsletter here: https://authorleefrench.com
Her shoelaces were untied.
The child lay on a bed of damp leaves, blinking in the late autumn chill. One leg stuck straight up, her jeans caught on a thorny branch reaching from a nearby gray tree.
Trees creaked in a light wind. Water burbled nearby.
She remembered walking with her mother. They’d cut through the woods to save time on their way to the grocery store. Did those woods have a stream? Had she heard a dog barking?
Mom had asked her to choose which trail to take. They’d both led to the store. One had offered the chance to see an eagle’s nest. The other took less time.
She hadn’t known which one her mom wanted her to pick. So she hadn’t made a choice.
Then this unexpected view of the sky through jagged fingers of sleeping trees.
“Mom?” she called out as she reached for her leg and tugged it free.
The branch tore her jeans. She winced at the sound. At least it hadn’t cut her skin. As far as she could tell, she had no injuries.
She sat up and poked the new holes in her pants. Mom would sigh and give her a look. Then they’d get a needle and thread to fix it together.
“Mom?” she called again, this time with her hands cupped around her mouth.
Dozens of brown, bulbous mushrooms surrounded her in a loose circle. Remnants of thin white sacks clung to their bases as if the mushrooms had burst free. Had she fallen into the center? Without disturbing a single one?
Curious about the strange fungi, she shuffled close to one on her hands and knees. They smelled...odd.
Like sunshine and hope, sparkles and happiness.
She poked an oval the size of her small fist with one finger.
Smooth. Soft. Solid.
The mushroom quivered. As she withdrew her finger, she watched it wobble on its stem.
With a tiny snap, the mushroom fell over. Impact with the ground caused it to collapse into shards of thin, shell-like skin.
The girl sucked in a breath. She hadn’t meant to break it. Did it belong to someone? Would they come yell at her?
Pieces of the shell shifted.
A tiny snout poked out of the debris. The lizard gazed at her. Its tiny slitted eyes blinked two sets of eyelids.
The brown lizard, no larger than a quarter, shook itself.
Shell pieces scattered.
Two small wings snapped open.
“Dragon,” the girl whispered.
She’d seen magnificent silver dragons the size of tow trucks on TV. Those amazing creatures had little in common with this tiny mushroom dragon. Their shape, mostly.
Did each of these mushrooms have a dragon inside?
This one croaked like a frog with a voice so tiny she barely heard it.
Though her ears understood nothing of the sound, she heard something in her head.
Her dragon darted to her. It climbed her leg and arm to reach her shoulder.
She reached to poke another mushroom.
“No,” her dragon said. “Not for you. Mine.” It pressed its cool, tiny body against her neck, making her smile.
Maybe Mom could have a dragon too.
Mom hadn’t answered her or come looking.
“How do I find the path from here?” the girl asked the dragon on her shoulder.
“Choose,” the dragon said.
She frowned at the ring of mushrooms, at the trees, at the thorny branches. “Choose what?”
“You’re no help,” she muttered.
Why couldn't Mom choose for her?
Because she had yet to find Mom.
Not sure which way to go, she stepped with great care over the mushroom ring and made a choice.
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Photos of Amanita pachycolea "The Western Grissette" or "Dragon's Egg" by Ellen King Rice