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My Favorite Fungus
About the Author: Justin Rempel is a teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His debut novel is forthcoming in 2018 from Rebelight Publishing. He enjoys writing, running, and cucumbers.

“Where is she?” My voice, like my skin, is cold. To be honest, my tone surprises even me.

The mechanic backs up, hands raised defensively. “Look, man. I don’t want any trouble.” He is nervous. Accelerated heart rate, shaky fingers. A man undergoing extreme emotion. I think I know what that is like.

Holding my hands out to pacify him, I soften my tone. “I don’t want any trouble either.” There is a nametag on his striped coveralls. The nametag reads ‘Pete.’ “Pete,” I say, extending my open palms. It is the ancient way of peaceful greetings. I bear no weapons. The custom does not work.

“How do you know my name?” Pete wags an accusing finger at me. The world whines. I can barely hear him. I have a splitter of a headache.  

“Your nametag,” I explain calmly, but Pete cannot hear me either. He is too busy stumbling backwards through his toolboxes. Spilling over, they send Allen keys and screwdrivers clanking loudly onto the concrete floor of the garage. Their clamor drowns out my explanation. Now Pete will have Allen keys in the screwdriver toolbox and screwdrivers in the Allen key toolbox. Mick’s Auto will go down in financial ruin thanks to this anarchy. Pete should leave his toolboxes closed and latched.

Pete disappears behind a car. I cannot help but notice the car. It is a white 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier. 110-horsepower, 2.2 liter engine. Front-wheel drive. I like cars. The hood of the Cavalier is propped open, and I can see that Pete has been working on the engine. The fuel lines are dried out. There are visible cracks in the hoses, visible leaks beneath the car, and the strong scent of gasoline permeating the garage. Pete, on the other hand, has been replacing the spark plugs. He is not a very good mechanic. Should I tell him?

“Pete.” I take another step around the car. Something clinks. “I just need to ask you a few questions.”

“Stay back.” Pete rises from the opposite side of the Cavalier. He is wielding a monkey wrench.

“Pete.” My voice is level, my breathing even. I have missed my calling as a SWAT team crisis negotiator. “There is no need to become aggressive.”

“Oh, that’s rich coming from you!” Pete scoffs. “You’re the one who burst in here uninvited, shoving me around.” He brandishes the wrench, doing his best to look the part of a fearsome medieval warrior. Instead, the effect is that of a degenerative, club-toting Neanderthal.

Furrowing my brow, I reflect on my entrance. I do not recall using excessive force. Perhaps I was a tad excitable. There was good cause to be excitable. “I need to find her,” I explain to Pete.

“Well, find her somewhere else. I don’t know who you’re looking for. We don’t have any women working here.” Pete fakes a lunge at me with the monkey wrench. There is still an entire car between us. If I wanted to, I could leap up and slide across the roof, closing that gap. The wrench would come swinging down slowly enough for me to dodge the blow, or else grab his wrist. I could judo flip him onto his back, landing him on the concrete so hard that it would knock the air out of him. All of this I could do. But I do not. Because my head hurts too much. Because I am not crazy. Not like Pete.

Pete strikes the roof of the Cavalier with the monkey wrench. He thinks to scare me away as if I were a bear to be startled by loud noises. The only thing he has accomplished is denting the car he is working on. I guess that is one way to create labor for yourself. Pete bashes the roof again. This is not normal behaviour. His eyes are wide, his nostrils flared. A third time he strikes the Cavalier. A third dent. He must really hate that car.

As Pete swings the monkey wrench from side to side, the metal catches a ray of morning sunlight. It glints, and for a second I see a flash of lightning. I flinch. I am deathly afraid of lightning. It is perhaps my one rational flaw. The Achilles’ heel in my thinking, if you will. Well, that and this woman. I must find her. This has taken long enough.

“I am sorry, Pete.” I bow stiffly. “I seem to have wasted your time with my questions.” I am about to shake his hand when I remember how deathly afraid of my hands he is. I withdraw the offer, but it is too late. Pete has careened into a stack of tires, sending them rolling with a thud. Hopefully, he can get this place sorted before his boss shows up. Mick would probably not be too thrilled with all the loose Allen keys and screwdrivers lying around.

This story appears in our FEB 2018 Issue
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