“Focus you thoughts and clear your mind of all worries. What is it that concerns you? Now ask your question,” said the Tarot Reader.
“I’m really excited. In a few weeks I’ll be on my way to the Amazon to join a science team study insect habitats. Basically a biological survey in the jungle. My buddy and I will film and document the expedition team.” Peter thought for a second and continued, “For this trip, what does the Tarot have in stall for me, the jungle being dangerous and all?”
The Reader spread the cards face down on the table. “Choose your card.”
Peter was a photographer and cameraman for hire. He’s been working with the university science team for some time and traveled with them previously to Southeast Asia and the African Congo. This would be his third trip with the group. The pay wasn’t that great but they did cover all travel expenses. And he gets to experience the whole globe.
A little hesitant, he drew a card from the spread. It was the Nine of Swords. Peter saw the card and gave the Reader a concerned look.
“You know, you’re right to be concerned,” said the Reader. The Nine of Swords pictures a person sitting up in bed in clear distress, clasping his head with both hands. The swords line the wall behind the man menacingly. “This really is a grave card. There is trouble and pain ahead for those around you and possibly yourself. This card denotes a mental illness from within, so keep an eye out for potential problems during your trip.”
Peter and his friend Anthony, the other cameraman, was on a motorboat with the science crew heading deep into the Amazon. The boat veered into a narrow tributary where the flow of water was slow and still. After another hour of travel, they reached camp. They unloaded and bid the boat goodbye until its return in four days for additional supplies.
The next morning, after setting up camp an having a good night’s rest, the team began their trek into the jungle. Thick with trees and vines, their push through the jungle was slow and difficult. The heat and humidity only made the experience more dismal. Peter thought, ‘It isn’t any worse than the Asian and African jungles.’
Eventually, the scientists began their survey – insect community and habitat research. Peter and Anthony began filming their documentary.
The scientists had a productive day, having examined and studied colonies of termites, and various large and small insects. One scientist yelled to everyone to ‘come and see’ something quite unique.
A group of ants were busy scurrying about on leaves, vines, tree trunks and the ground. They were not moving in an expected orderly fashion, but each was zigzagging along and at times, going in circles. The scientist said to look closer as every single ant had this capped fungal spike coming out of its head and body. “Wow,” said the science crew. “This is Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, or Cordyceps fungus for short. The spike is actually fungus growing from within the ant’s body and brain, and exits out of the insect. The fungus infects the ant’s brain and basically takes control of its mind so that it spreads the fungal spores. It’s truly gruesome and creates a real-life zombie where the ant follows the ‘will of the fungus’ in order for Cordyceps to reproduce.” ‘That’s totally gross,’ though Peter. “I think I’ll stay away from that,” he said out loud as the scientists began to chuckle.
Later that afternoon and having a very successful day, the team decided to head back to camp. It began to rain.
The rain started slow enough but soon became torrential. Water seemed to explode from the cloudy sky, falling fast and in droplets that seemed larger than usual. Nearing base camp, the ground went from muddy to sloshy. Within a few minutes, there was about a foot of water covering the whole area. So much water poured from the sky that the river rose well over its banks and spilled into the jungle.
Parts of their camp had washed away and everyone was running around to salvage what they could. Rafts of Cordyceps zombie ants began floating into the base camp area. The team, solely focused on getting their camp back together, did not notice the rafts until the ants crawled onto each person and started biting. Everyone got bit multiple times. The bites weren’t too painful, but instead more of a nuisance.
The rain stopped and the water subsided. The camp has somewhat back in order. The next morning, Peter woke up feeling numb or dull. ‘I didn’t slept well,’ he thought. Exiting his tent, he needed to throw up. The rest of the team was already doing the same. As the morning wore on, he felt worse. He had this urge to walk. He turned away from camp and began walking, camera in hand and turned on.
Three days later, the boat returned to base camp with the promised supplies. But no one was there, probably on an expedition they thought. But something was off, something was wrong. The captain and crew of three looked around. The camp looked abandoned. ‘That’s odd,’ they thought. They searched the jungle and after about an hour, they heard rusting. The crew parted the thick plants in the direction of the noise. What they saw was just unbelievable.
A few of the men and women from the team were on the ground flailing and undulating. They noticed Peter with his camera gear near his body. The boat crew called out, but no one responded, as if they couldn’t hear. Looking closer, the crew saw that the each one of the team was covered in something slimy- a thin sheen. It was just on their skin – arms, legs, neck and head – not on their clothes. It was a thin shiny layer of ooze with capped spikes protruding from the surface of the slimy mass. Upon closer inspection, Peter was covered in fungus or what looked like small mushrooms. They turned him over and gasped. He was clearly alive, but his face showed bewilderment and pain. His eyes were open, but covered in a mat of fungal cones.
Unbeknownst to the boat crew, the science team and cameramen were zombies. The Cordyceps fungus, having been transferred by the biting ants, grew and spread inside each person’s flesh and took hold of their brain. They were under the control of the fungus, effectively becoming human versions of zombies. The Cordyceps fungus controlled their every thought and movement. It permeated their entire body and began to erupt through the skin. In horror, one of the boat crew picked up the camera to see what if anything had been recorded.
The Reader took his eyes off the card and looked seriously at Peter, and said, “Protect yourself. The illness will lodge itself in your mind.”
This is Dante P Ramon, your host and author of The Dark Reading, scary stories inspired by Tarot cards. I invite you to listen to our podcast regularly, and visit us on the web at TheDarkReading.com.
I just picked the Death card, so good night for now.
If you like my scary stories, please feel free to share this website TheDarkReading.com and our Podcast at anchor.fm/thedarkreading with your friends and colleagues. Thanks!
Season 1, episode 4.
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