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Monday, December 5, 2022
Pete was an unhappy mushroom. He hadn’t always been unhappy; as a young spore, he had danced and frolicked and laughed. His good nature and whimsy had allowed him to develop a wide circle of close friends, but now he was old, lonely and unhappy. His former friends had found jobs elsewhere or fallen in love, and, in ones and twos, had gradually moved out of Pete’s neck of the woods. Fungus-wise, Pete had the whole pine grove pretty much to himself, save for some orange jelly fungus growing in the old dead log to Pete’s left, but the orange jelly fungus kept to itself and, besides, Pete couldn’t speak a word of Italian.
And so, day after day, Pete stood in his spot in the grove in a gloomy and unhappy silence. But his spot was shady, the air moist and the soil rich in nitrogen, and so, in his unhappy state, Pete told himself that he liked being alone, that he didn’t miss his friends, that he didn’t long to be young again, that he had his shade and moist air and nitrogen-rich soil and his
1,000 Extra Hard Sudoku Puzzles Edited by Will Shortz
and what else could a sad old mushroom like him ask for?
But then one day, Pete finished the thousandth extra hard sudoku puzzle. He closed the book. Instead of the calm satisfaction he had expected from this feat, Pete was overcome by a gnawing emptiness. Pete looked about him at the tall, indifferent pines, at the mean, thorny brambles, at the cold, dumb rocks, at the old, rotting log, at the patches of dirt abandoned by all his friends. There was Sue’s patch and there was Larry’s patch. And Sebastian’s. And Madison’s (Oh! If only he had had the courage to ask Madison to the dance. If only!). And the twins’, Fred and Ted. And Molly’s and Sam’s and the other Sue’s and Archie’s and… A tear rolled slowly down his face. “Woe!” he cried aloud. “All the digits, in all the rows and all the columns and all the boxes, in all the puzzles and yet, I still feel… hollow.”
“Ma vicino, tutti i giochi numerici del mondo non possono riempire il vuoto di un vecchio tronco in decomposizione. Per questo è necessaria l'amicizia o la riproduzione asessuata,” said the jelly fungus.
“Nein sprechen Deutsche,” Pete replied unhelpfully.
The jelly fungus shrugged and went back to its knitting. Pete cried and cried and cried. His vacuoles dried up and his cap wrinkled. Exhausted, he fell asleep.
The next morning, Pete awoke to the sound of scuttling. The source of this scuttling sound was a large citrus long-horned beetle, scuttling from underneath the brambles, making its way directly to Pete. The beetle wore a tall, pointy, floppy gray hat. Clenched in its mandible was an elegant pipe. Stopping just short of Pete, it made a slight bow, took a puff of the pipe, and then, in a posh British accent, said, “Hello, you must be Pete. I’m Will.”
“Shortz?” asked Pete groggily.
“No, Long,” answered Will Long.
“Huh?” said Pete.
“My name is Will Long,” said the beetle. “I’m a wizard and I’ve been sent to cast a spell on you.’” At the word “wizard,” he wiggled his pipe meaningfully.
“Sent by whom?” asked Pete, now more awake, but not yet awake enough to be scared.
“Never you mind all that, chap. Are you or are you not Pete the Mushroom of the Pine Grove and do you or do you not wish to be young again?” said Will.
“Well, yes, but—”
“No buts!” interrupted the wizard. He grabbed a nearby twig and, wielding it like a staff, twirled it potently. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
With a few more twirls of the twig, another puff of the pipe and a brief incantation in Ancient Greek, Will Long, wizarding beetle, shrank and spun Pete the Mushroom into a tiny spore. In a final flourish, Will summoned forth a powerful northern wind. He scuttled away.
The wind scooped Pete up and carried him out of the pine grove, across the stream, out of the forest and up and away into the sky. There Pete tumbled and rolled and floated and soared, for several days, lifted by drafts and thermals and blown about by the breeze. At first, Pete was terrified and homesick, not to mention airsick. Pete was angry with himself for letting a wizard get the best of him, catching him off guard so early in the morning like that. He was angry with whomever had sent for the wizard (probably that good-for-nothing, moldy jelly fungus!). Of course, he was also angry with the wizard for cursing him out of his shady grove with its moist air and nitrogen-rich soil.
But then a warm breeze spun Pete into a somersault. Unexpectedly, he laughed. He remembered that he was young again and that he could be happy again. He grinned and launched into a cartwheel. “I’m frolicking!” Pete shouted to the wide sky.
Soon, a rain came and Pete fell back to the earth. He landed in a lovely spot beside a creek. It was far, far away from home, but it already had a bustling community of mushrooms.
New friends!
thought Pete excitedly. But, alas, they were chanterelles and spoke only French. Try as he might, Pete couldn’t manage more than a “Gem apple Pete.” So, despite the company, he couldn’t make any friends. Pete grew lonely, unhappy and old, all over again. He wished desperately for a wizard, but none came.
The End.
You can trick an old mushroom into a new one, but you can’t teach an old mushroom new tricks. And don’t even bother trying to mushroom a new teach into an old trick.