“Hold up,” he says gently. He cuts into a more bushy part of the woods, off trail. I follow. There, growing out of a gnarled, knocked-over tree trunk, is a collection of mushrooms. They look like a series of little tables, stacked all over one another, like something Alice would’ve skipped over while tiny in Wonderland. “This,” he says, with a tone of awe. “This is what I’m looking for.” He gestures for me to come closer with him, and he starts pulling supplies out of his pack.
I hover my hand over them, letting my thumb fall to graze the top of one.
A long time ago, as teenagers, Teal and I were fighting and she said something she’d intended to really hurt me with. Talking to plants is gross. It’s not natural. You’re unnatural.
It didn’t sting as she intended, and not because I knew that it had come from jealousy. She’s always hated that she can’t control her gift and took that out a lot on me, like it was my fault or something.
No, I didn’t care about what Teal thought because “talking to plants” feels like the most natural thing in this whole universe. Hearing the songs of plants (and dirt, and mushrooms), being able to reach their cells with my mind, with the tips of my fingers, sensing what can only be described as their consciousness, because yes, plants are conscious, they know what color you’re wearing, they know if you’re blocking their light, they have nervous systems and can feel pain. Talking to them is as easy as the inhale and exhale of breath.
We literally share an evolutionary ancestor with plants. At some point in our lineages, the lines converge into one. How can speaking with them be unnatural?
“What are you?” I ask the mushroom in a reverent whisper.
And then I listen.
“Oyster,” I announce a few seconds later. Edible, too.
“Holy crap,” he says. He reaches his arm out, where the hairs all over the mushroom tattoos stand straight up. “You just knew that, huh? With your gift?”
He’s got the same awe still in his voice. He’s looking at me with that sparkling, black heat in his eyes, and he clears his throat, glancing down. I think he doesn’t want me to freak out again. “If we could see through the forest floor,” he says, “we’d see fungal threads—called mycelium—every-freaking-where. These mushrooms, they’re sort of the fruit. The rest of it, the parts we can’t see, are the body.”
I sit on the forest floor and close my eyes, placing my hands on the dirt. When I connect—when I sense what he’s talking about—there’s a click in me. It’s like I’m plugged into the Matrix, only it’s not lime-green code everywhere—it’s those white veins of mycelium, connecting everything in this forest in miles and miles of microscopic strands of silk.
“The plants use the threads to exchange resources. And to communicate with one another.”
His voice is nearer but I don’t open my eyes. “I can feel it.” I say it as a whisper.
“What’s it feel like?”
I shake my head, keeping my eyes closed. “It’s like . . . I don’t know.” I blink my gaze open. “No, I do know. Sometimes plants get extra chatty. Some old trees especially.” I look around me, at the big oaks, wide and tall and ancient. “Once I heard from a tree, what connects everything in this world is story. Stories hold the universe together. And that’s what I see, this . . . mycelium . . . that’s what it feels like. It feels like stories, connecting all plants, like the most complicated and beautiful spiderweb of all time.”
He’s close to me now, sitting next to me. I see the whole forest, the whole world, in his eyes again, and me there, too. I don’t lean away when he comes even closer. “Sage,” he says, his voice husky, and he kisses me.
My whole body is alive with my own veins, veins that have been created and connected to the veins of mushrooms right here in town, which are created and connected to the veins and webs and threads of mushrooms the world over. Everything electric with life. With stories. One might say that mushrooms are older than story, but only if they believe mushrooms didn’t also tell stories.
This is my story right in this moment: Tenn, kissing me so gently, his tongue touching mine, coaxing my mouth more open. Tenn, who I loved at fifteen. Who I’ve loved since fifteen.
All we do is kiss, and that’s more than okay, in these woods destined to be destroyed, which breaks me every time I think about it. But for now, they hold stories and dreams and dappled sun poured between the trees, poured all over us as we kiss, like sweet sunflowers made into light.
Excerpted from Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland Copyright © 2023 by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.