General Fiction posted July 30, 2020


A hike in Austria Alps ended up on Mars.

Flies and Mushrooms

by Lisa Wharton

"There are tons of flies!" My 15-year-old son Sam, yelled excitedly as we walked into this quaint farm house in a small ski resort in the Austria Alps. It was a perfect setting for us as far as I could tell. It was situated right at the foot of several mountain peaks with rolling hills in sight, happy bunnies hopping around, goats grazing, and of course, the buzzing flies, the damn flies.

"This is really a heavenly place if not for these flies." I said.

"I don't mind them," said Sam while staring at them like a hungry animal. Recently we bought him a sturdy German fly swatter made of thick leather and he was eager to use it.

"They seem bigger and louder than the ones at home," I said annoyingly.

"I think it's the fresh Alps air that makes them strong and loud," said my husband Ryan. He knew I loved fresh air. But fresh air with such a noise? I wasn't quite sure.

"Do these flies always make that sound?" I asked. The buzzing noise drove me crazy.

"I certainly hope so." My husband said in disbelieve.

I knew that I asked a stupid question. But if you knew my later experience in the Alps, you wouldn't be so surprised.

#

We were in an idyllic place for once and these flies had to spoil it! Among five of us, Kent, my brother-in-law, his girlfriend, Judy, my husband Ryan, my son, Sam, and I, only Sam loved the flies. He chased them around with the German fly swatter. He even ignored the lovely bunnies with flopping ears, one up and one down, and the lovely goats that made little boo sound. Once we were in our cabin which was really a renovated farmhouse, a swarm of flies greeted us as though they were so happy to beat us coming here. They checked in just a little earlier and occupied the kitchen immediately. It was too bad for them that there wasn't any food to speak of here until we came in with fruit and bread. They could smell it. What else could get the whole family of flies to come out and greet us? Sam immediately started slaughtering. It was like heaven for him. He slapped right and left. Sometimes, he could kill two or three at once.

Always a loyal helper for my son, I waved a peach around as bait to keep flies in the kitchen. They were a bunch of suicidal flies. I managed to cook some lunch among chaos and maybe a fly or two ended up in the sandwiches I made. Who cares! It's extra protein, I told myself.

After lunch, we set out for a hike. We followed a path and found ourselves in the most beautiful forest dotted with yellow mushrooms. The sun light shone through the trees like arms stretching down from heaven.

"Let's pick mushrooms. Don't you want to have them for dinner tonight?" Judy showed us a handful of beautiful yellow mushrooms.

"Yes, in East Germany," said Kent.

"Why not here? We ate them all the time when we were young," said Judy, a professional violinist and grew up in East Germany.

"Me, too. I used to pick them in my backyard and cooked them for dinner." But I didn't tell them that they were wood ears growing on the rotten wood in my backyard.

"All comrades think alike," said Kent.

Picking mushrooms was labor-intensive and needed a sharp mind to identify the correct kind of mushrooms. Sam ran around still looking for flies. There was hardly any here, so he was just darting around, playing with sticks.

When we went back to our farmhouse, Judy cooked the most delicious mushroom cream sauce and Spaghetti. But Sam refused to eat the mushrooms no matter how hard we tried to convince him. He ate Spaghetti without sauce.

If you had gone through the mushroom education in America, you would know that it was impossible for anyone to eat hand-picked wild mushrooms. It was engraved in one's mind that "Wild Mushrooms" could kill you. Growing up in China in an era when the food was always in shortage, eating wild mushrooms or grass was much encouraged.

During the 1960 famine, people stood in lines to get a small portion of dandelions. Even dandelions were rationed back then. So, convinced by my fellow comrade from East Germany, I ate mushroom sauce without hesitation.

That night after I fell asleep, I had a dream. I dreamt of a snow-capped palace and a handsome prince beaming at me while engaged a fencing match. My heart stirred and a longing for adventure struck me. We are in the Alps. Why not?

In the morning after breakfast, we were all glad no one had been poisoned by the mushrooms. Then we set off to the distant mountain peaks. Kent picked an intermediate route heading toward the peak that stood over a gold mine. We walked by a waterfall and had a water break. We drank the water even though the cows upstream might have peed in it.

"This is natural spring water," said Judy. For Americans, natural spring water meant bottled water with a "Natural Spring Water" label on it. I drank slowly and tried hard not to think about the cow peeing in it.
We ran into an elderly couple with hiking sticks. They looked very fit and passed by us. Sam chased butterflies while I smelled the wild flowers. As we hiked, the mountain peak started revealing itself from behind the clouds gazed like a shy maiden. As I was staring at it, I could almost see a palace behind it and my handsome prince among the cloud. I wished I could go there or fly there. Maybe I should eat more mushrooms. I told myself. Now with that in mind, the yellow mushrooms appeared everywhere. Eagerly we pick them, putting them in our bags.

"Flies." Sam went ahead of us chasing them using the buzzing noise as a clue. He didn't return for what seemed like an hour.

"Where is he?" We grew anxious, and finally Ryan went looking ahead, taking the muddy path toward the mysterious mountain peak.

Staring at the mountain, I wished that Sam and Ryan had gone there, and I could follow them. They might as well have since there was no trace of them. No sound could be heard, or footprints be seen in the mud. We yelled and yelled, but still we saw no sign of Sam and Ryan. We decided to go back and engage the local police.

By the time we were back to the farmhouse, it was pitch dark. We went to knock on the landlady's farmhouse door and there was no answer. We wished that we could report it to the police but finding a policeman in this quiet resort town was like finding a needle in a haystack. We didn't know where to start. We couldn't even find a phone booth. We might as well be asking the mountain peaks. If we yelled hard, they might echo us back. We decided to have dinner and then figure out the strategy.

Judy cooked some more pasta with mushroom cream sauce as though it would make us feel better. Actually, it made us feel a lot better--way too much better. We were so relaxed that we sat down and played Judy's favorite board game. By the time we were done, we remembered that Ryan and Sam were still missing. Kent suggested that we should go outside looking for them.

"It's very dark outside," he said as though to scare us. I wasn't scared at all. Instead it piqued my curiosity.

"How dark could it be?" I imagined that long walking path lit with streetlights. But I was wrong. It was so dark that two mountain peaks were looming at us like two giants above our heads. They looked as though they could pick us up and eat us right away. The mushrooms we had kicked in and we decided to walk in the dark for a while. Two black cats joined us. We let them go ahead. We decided following them as though they knew where Ryan and Sam were. Then a cloud of flies appeared joining us. Their buzzing noise really helped to guide us in the dark.

"Let's follow the flies," said Kent. Seeing the flies, we were much more confident that we would find Ryan and Sam. Then my steps went lighter and the sky became brighter. I felt I was flying. I went to sleep. When I opened my eyes, I was lying in front of a snow-capped palace. Ryan and Sam were staring at me, smiling.

"Welcome!" said Ryan with his arms thrown wide in the air.

Sam jumped up and down. "It is fun here. Prince and I practice fencing all the time," he said. Finally his fencing skills were useful. He was a state champion in fencing multiple times.

"What..what's this place or what's this palace?" I asked still trying to wake up from my dream or still in the dream.

"A palace! Can't you tell?" said Sam as though I asked a stupid question.
"But..." I opened my mouth and was out of words when a flock of flies dressed in red marched by, waving flowers. I sat up dazed. I even enjoyed their buzzing sound.

"Do you want to take a hike in the woods?" asked Ryan. He looked at me cunningly.

"Sure." I nodded. Whatever, I said to myself.

As soon as we walked into the woods, the sun disappeared. We were under the canopy of a dense forest. It was full of stone statues of Greek gods in animal heads. Some had been made into fountains, shooting up beautiful streams of water from their mouths, ears and all other possible openings.

After the statues, we walked into an orchard through a neatly cut hedge wall. I saw cherry trees dotted with red cherries, apricot trees decorated with orange apricots, peach trees with pink peaches hanging, and persimmon trees covered with salmon colored fruit.

On the other side there were black berries, blue berries, and raspberries bushes. I ran toward the apricot tree, picked fruit within my reach, and started eating. Sam followed. Only Ryan stayed back watching with a smile. He knew us well but was too polite to follow.

He made me feel guilty but not guilty enough to stop. The fruit were just simply too delicious and eating them made me more delirious. Then something jumped out of the black berry bushes. It was a golden monkey staring at me with a mouthful of berries followed by a flock of bees buzzing as usual.

"We have competition," said I to Sam. Encouraged, we ate and ate as though it was our mission.

"Let's go," said Ryan, growing tired of watching us.

We entered the next part of the garden which was full of flowers in bloom dotted with butterflies and bees. The birds were chirping and singing tones that were familiar to my ears. Did I hear the "Silent Night"? This place is unreal, I said to myself. The flowers were red, green, pink, blue and black roses, peonies, impatiens, daisies, cleomes, and dahlias. I took out my camera and started snapping pictures.

"You don't have to," said Ryan.

"They will always be blooming," said Sam. I was surprised to know that Sam even cared about flowers.

"Why?" I asked. Nothings seemed to surprise me anymore. But I still wanted to know why.

"They're genetically engineered to bloom all the time," said Sam matter-of-factually.

A guide in a red uniform and a big black hat came in, riding a rather perfect white horse.

"That's a robot horse," whispered Sam.

"The King of the Mars wants to welcome you to the palace," said the guide after a bow.

"The King of Mars? I think I know who he is." My mouth dropped open and I agape.

"Yes, he is Elon Musk!" said Sam excitedly.

I was escorted to a Tesla car that looked like a carriage with a red canopy and covered by flowers. I sat in a leather seat between Ryan and Sam. All kinds of birds chased us and singing nice songs.

"What a royal treatment!"

"Only the best," said Ryan.

"You haven't seen the half of it," agreed Sam.

The car began traveling and soon it was speeding toward a beautiful lake. My heart pounded, and I wondered, Am I going to drown in the car? I was a good swimmer but drowning in an enclosed chamber of a car was my worst nightmare. As though reading my mind, the car didn't bother to close the chamber around me. Instead, it grew fins, and the bottom became a boat.

"It's an amphibian car!" I yelled.

"Are you surprised?" Ryan asked teasingly.

"No." I shook my head. I had heard of an amphibian car by Tesla.

We drove across the lake, and I saw many islands full of multi-colored flowers, where birds chirped and sang. I sniffed around trying to take in the fragrant. Then I heard a boat speeding up behind me.

"We're being chased." I yelled. On this strange planet where I had just landed, who could be my enemy?

A noise alerted me that the canvas top was rising over my head, closing us in, and our boat dove under the water. Through the windows I could see fish everywhere. I looked down and saw it was like a glass bottom boat. I began to enjoy the surroundings, but I saw that we were still being followed.

"Who is chasing us?" I asked anxiously.

"It's Elon. It's his way of showing off the amphibian boat."

"Wow. He's my hero. Can I meet him?" I couldn't believe my dream was coming true.

"Of course. He will have a private meeting with you today," said Ryan.

"Wow. It is like a dream coming true." I almost jumped, but realized that I was in a submarine and strapped in.

"Only the best for you," said Ryan.

This was my husband. Why would he encourage me to meet with this eccentric billionaire who happened to be single? Life had just taken an interesting turn. I told myself. But I was too intoxicated to question. Life was good and I would just embrace it.

The submarine I was in slowed down and I could hear the propeller behind me. I looked back. A white submarine sped toward us. Two incredible, tall wings fanned out from both sides of the submarine, on which many small propellers spun. The submarine's nose resembled a giant shark. Elon Musk, my hero, sat in a chair right on the tip of shark's mouth driving happily.

Then I heard Ryan's voice saying, "Yes."

My submarine rose out of the water and in no time, we were parked in a parking lot in front a red and white Tesla charging station. Elon Musk's shark submarine/car now minus the propellers parked next to our car. A little man in a white jacket and black pants came and opened my door. He bowed and gestured me to step out. Next thing I knew was that I sit next to Elon Musk in his shark car.

"Hello, Lisa. Welcome to Mars," said Elon.

"No way. Are we really on Mars? It has feel of the Disney World. I don't see the redness of Mars or feel the extreme cold."

"That's common misconception. Of course, we've overcome many obstacles before settling here. Basically we had to build a dome over our heads to create our new world. And the rooftop can control the amount of cold penetrating through. We have California like weather all year around with no rain or snow. We do generate occasional wind just to make it fun. We can make rain or snow or hells if we want. Only Hollywood needs them to make movies." Elon said casually as though it was just a piece of cake.

"Where are we going now?"

"It is a surprise. Are you ready?"

"Yes!" I nodded. I would do anything with him. "What did I do to deserve this, Elon, really? This has been beyond my wildest dreams, and just keeps getting better."

"I don't know. It may be chance or destiny." He turned to me and smiled, the most innocent and handsome smile I had ever seen. I guess I'm biased. But who wouldn't feel so in front of Elon Musk?

The car stopped, and we parked in a vast parking lot next to a red canyon full of cactuses. The temperature was comfortable, and a light breeze blew my face.

"It's windy." I said as though everything was new to me like a new born baby.

"I like it," said Elon while extending his hand to mine.

I grabbed it without hesitation.

I had to walk fast in order to keep up with him. He was a big and tall guy with enormous strength, which was what I could tell from his strong grip.

"But you don't get snow and rain. Isn't it boring?" I tried to tease him.
"It's OK. I love California weather. That's what we built. If you want excitement, let me show you something."

He pushed a button and we found ourselves in an elevator. This was not an ordinary elevator. It was surrounded by sea creatures swimming in an ocean, which I assumed was not real. But they seemed very real.

"Elon, are these real?"

"Oh, yes. They are real footage from the ocean at home on Earth." He said as though it was normal aspect of the elevator.

"No. Wait until I push the other button. Are you ready?" He looked at me with a mysterious smile which I thought looked very handsome.

I didn't know what to expect but was ready for anything from this man I admired thoroughly. I nodded.

He pushed the button.

Immediately the elevator compartment began spinning and shaking. If not for Elon's strong grip, I would certainly have fallen flat on my face. We hovered over on red, sandy mountains and valleys. Occasionally, burning volcanos spewed lava. Round craters could be seen everywhere. There were no trees, water or vegetation but dry lakes and rivers. Sometimes we saw clusters of white robot workers digging and shoveling. Some of them would point to the sky at us.

"What happy robot workers. Are we circulating on the real Mars?" I asked and couldn't hide my excitement. This is real and I'm on Mars. The best of all: Elon Musk is guiding me.

"Yes. This is my dream and it has come true. I finally can breathe," said Elon.

It seemed like a true confession from a very accomplished man. As we were talking, all of sudden our ship took a dive and dropped down to a deep valley. Before I could focus on the dry rocks on the bottom, we rose up to the top of a high mountain so fast that I could feel my heart almost jump out of my chest. Then we slowed down. I screamed all the way and fell involuntarily into Elon's embrace. He tried to calm me down.

"You are not good at riding the roller coaster." He smiled.

"I'm not good at everything. This is one of my weaknesses." I grimaced.

"That's okay. This is not a test." He patted my shoulder.

"Really, I thought it might be." I felt a little embarrassed. "I guess if I fail, you can just send me home. I've already had the adventure of a life time. Thank you, though." I fell back to him and hugged him tightly. "I've already felt very privileged." I whispered.

"Come on. It is just a start. You were chosen because I was mostly impressed by your courage and bravery." He hugged me tightly and gave me a long kiss, which, of course, put me into even deeper dream world.

#

The scents of a delicious breakfast woke me up. I opened my eyes and I could see the bright sunshine through the thin curtain. From outside, I could hear the happy cow mooing and the happy goats booing. From inside the house, I could hear happy bees buzzing. The most beautiful sound of all was Sam's happy yelling and the loud slapping sound of the flyswatter. Then another familiar sound floated into the bedroom and was followed by Ryan, my husband.

"Breakfast is ready."

"Wow, I'm glad that you made it!" I said and sat up right away.

"Of course." He came to the bed and gave me a big kiss. "Sam and I got a little lost but did make back eventually with help of some hikers I met on the way."

Then he sat next to me and said, "You have slept for a long time. Are you rested?"

"Yes. I had a couple of long and terrifying dreams."

"You have to tell us." Ryan loved to hear about my dreams.

"Sure." I nodded and figured that as long as I didn't mention the long kiss from Elon Musk, it would be fine.

During the breakfast, Kent mentioned the best mountain top restaurant was nearby. The only catch was to climb up a long and steep hill. After having the fried eggs and sausages, we all agreed that climbing the steep hill was the best for us.

After breakfast, Sam chased the rabbit with flapping ears while some of us read in the garden under the blue sunny sky with the most beautiful clouds. I looked to the sky and could still see the mountain peak covered with snow. But it was no longer mysterious to me. I knew who lived there and wanted so much to visit again.

"Let's go and climb the big steep hill," said Kent waving a hiking stick.
We instantly followed him.

"The restaurant owner is a retired police inspector. He is a ski instructor in the winter and a cook in his own restaurant in the summer. He raises his own trout and goats. We are in for a treat. But we must work for it," said Kent. He always managed to get all the local information about places and people. Speaking German helped him a lot, I supposed.

Very soon we were at the foot of the mountain. Then we raced forward. Being a competitive person, I tried to race ahead. I'm a runner, I said to myself. Of course, Sam charged forward and left us in the dust. The rest of us were not doing too badly considering some of us were way beyond the middle age. My legs were a little tired half way.

Then I looked at the snow-capped mountain peak. Extra strength kicked in as though my leg muscles were recharged by Elon Musk's battery packs. I moved forward in bigger strides. When we finally reached the top of the steep hill, a whole mile of it, I felt a sense of accomplishment. When a guest of wind swept through my sweat covered face, I even felt rewarded.

We arrived at a beautiful wooden restaurant in the middle of a forest. It was decorated by many window boxes full of colorful geraniums, pansies, and impatiens. Sam fed the happy goats. Many trout swam in a small pond. Cows were happily drinking the fresh spring water. The owner/cook soon seated us in his small but cozy restaurant. He served us with home-made cheese, bread, and Schnapps, a very strong and sweet liquor. After the first course, he asked us to go out and pick our own trout. It turned out to be much harder than we thought. Watching the happily swimming fish, none of us was ready to eat them, especially Sam. He suggested that we should just have some salamis or even mushrooms instead.

After what I had gone through, I said, "no mushrooms, please." Visiting Mars was fun but losing the loved ones was most painful.

After some discussion, we decided to let the cook to pick out trout for each of us. We went back to our table and were served with more Schnapps, which made us more relaxed and agreeable. When the trout was served, we were so hungry that we were ready to eat them. Two big lemon slices on top of the trout were staring at us like two big eyes of a philosopher. He was telling us, "Life is too short. Enjoy!"

I realized that the real happiness was on top of the hill in this small restaurant with some of my dearest family members. When we were done, it was already dark. The kind restaurant owner gave each of us a torch so we could walk downhill safely. I looked ahead as I was going down the hill and raved about how good the food was. I couldn't see the snow-capped mountain peak anymore. I was happy that I didn't have to live with genetically engineered flowers, fruits, or even monkeys and horses, and the artificial sky. I was so happy to live with the real ones.
Then I heard the buzzing sound, which I couldn't tell was flies or not and was almost mechanical. I looked around and couldn't make out where they were. Then I turned my vision to the sky, to the red planet Mars. Maybe someday I will be there for real, I said to myself.



Recognized


I love to travel and it often inspires me to write. The writing often turns into fantasy. In this story, you will find out who I often fantasize about.
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