Folk name: fool's mushroom
"He pulled out of the parking spot, drove alongside her and called her name out the window, not sure whether or not that would be less startling than honking the horn. Perhaps the horn would have been the better choice, he wondered, when she stumbled in her haste to back away."
Tragedy is sometimes like a slow-moving poison. We don't always realize that something is wrong right away. It might take several hours to discover the problem and even longer to see how far the toxins crept, how much collateral damage there is.
We meet Simon Ash about a year after his life has been decimated by an event that started out as just one random, tragic circumstance and that led to a chain of horrific events that left him standing completely alone at ground zero. He has no anchor, no future, nothing but an overriding determination that he can salvage just a little of what he lost.
Unfortunately, when we only look backwards, we end up losing our way, getting caught up in the trickery and black magic of the world.
A type of this trickery is described in British folklore, where it is said that a ring of mushrooms represents a wild and magical place where fairies gather to dance and sing. However, shadow energies exist in these rings, as well. The old tales warn people from getting too close to - or heaven forbid, from entering - these rings because sometimes, those who do get spirited away into the fairy realm, never to be seen again.
I have a fascination with places and circumstances that possess both a light-hearted magic and a perilous mystery. All too often, life presents us with choices that seem harmless - a moment in time where nothing could possibly go wrong. And suddenly, things do go wrong. Suddenly, something (a relationship, a living situation, a livelihood) or someone disappears.
It is part of our nature to impose logic on the world, to find answers to our questions, to make sense out of the senseless. Unfortunately, the world does not share our sense of logic or justice. Sometimes, there are no answers. Sometimes, what is lost will never be found. Sometimes, we won't get the chance to discover why something happened.
There is a certain malevolent fairy-like energy that has passed through Simon's life, stealing away someone very dear to him. What has actually happened to her? Simon makes up his own story to help him make sense of the events. The outside world becomes the fairy ring and in his story, his daughter willfully and foolishly stepped into the magic circle and was spirited away. When Simon meets someone else who fell into that metaphorical fairy world and who, one day, returned, he becomes obsessed, believing it is a sign that his daughter will also return.
He is not ready to accept that dark magic doesn't work that way.
I also wanted to explore the dark magic of obsession and the way it (like some types of mushrooms) can literally alter our state of mind. As a feminist, one of my favorite explorations of obsession is that of a sexual nature - a man obsessed with a woman, specifically - and how that affects both parties, and interestingly, how women are so often saddled with taking the blame for a man's obsessive behavior.
Mary is the object of many male characters' obsession in this story, and the one who is blamed for their feelings and behaviors, simply because she is beautiful, because she is openly sexual, because she is an independent woman. In some interpretations of Christian tradition, these qualities are not to be trusted in a woman. These are indemnifications, not strengths.
When Simon meets Mary, we already have an inkling that he is still in the hallucinogenic phase of grief, seeing things that aren't there, making decisions that the average, healthy person would not make. The obsession he develops for Mary is different, however, than what she has experienced in the past. Simon's state of mind is so altered that he believes if he can solve the mystery of Mary's past - to metaphorically find out how she disappeared into the fairy ring and then made her way back to the human world - then his daughter will be returned to him.
This slight shift of focus reminds us that obsessive behavior is not the fault of the woman at the receiving end. Simon - and later, the men in Salome who threw their lives away for Mary - must take responsibility for their own choices, for their own actions.
Obsession often makes fools of us, turning the seemingly harmless person into a liability. One of the scariest qualities of poisonous mushrooms is that the average person can't distinguish them from a harmless fungi. Many look just like their wholesome counterparts, and when you get right down to it, mushrooms, in general, don't tend to look harmful, no matter what their level of toxicity.
Like these mushrooms, Simon seems innocuous, innocent, incapable of causing harm. But under the effects of his poisonous grief and obsessive behavior, he spreads toxins into the lives of those around him, just like fungi spores.
The symptoms of poisoning by fool's mushroom begin several hours after ingestion and include a cycle or two of severe illness. Many people assume the cycles that follow indicate that healing is underway. Tragically, it is death that follows, unless treatment is obtained immediately.
Simon's encounter with Mary is his second cycle into his poison. He believed things were improving. He believed he was slowly rebuilding his life. He had no idea he was still at the mercy of the poison.
Will he survive?
Will the rest of us recognize our own second cycles and pull out in time?
You can buy The Poison Box here. (And stay tuned for the release of the audiobook!)
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