Bewildering Stories

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With Apologies to Stan Schmidt, I give you:

Bewildering Stories Guest Editorial

Fungi in the Fine Print

by Steven Utley

As Guy de Maupassant asks in his story “The Horla,” do we see even the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Evidently not. Evidently we live in a world even more perilous than is generally realized. No one understands this better than researchers in the insurance business, who even now are adding to a great catalogue of conceivable catastrophes. According to my revised (January 2003) automobile insurance policy:

Loss caused by collision does not include loss due to:

  1. missiles or falling objects;
  2. windstorm or hail;
  3. earthquake, water or flood;
  4. theft or larceny;
  5. malicious mischief or vandalism; or
  6. riot or civil commotion.

I have to wonder, then, what does loss (excuse me: loss) caused by collision include? Even more perplexingly, to say nothing of vastly more alarmingly, the policy states (all in capital letters, which I spare the reader; the emphasis on particular words, however, is as given in the original document):

  1. There is no coverage for loss due to fungi. This applies regardless of whether or not the fungi result from a loss that is payable under any of the physical damage coverage. We will also not pay for any testing or remediation of fungi; or any additional costs required to repair any vehicle that are due to the existence of fungi.

  2. There is no coverage for loss to any vehicle that results from:
    1. nuclear reaction;
    2. radiation or radioactive contamination from any source; or
    3. the accidental or intentional detonation of, or release of radiation from, any nuclear or radioactive device.

Frankly, I’m willing to bet that if my car has been damaged by a nuclear or radioactive device, I myself will have been damaged by the same nuclear or radioactive device, in which case, I’m not likely to file a claim with my insurance agent.

But that other: fungi. Fungi ? Should I have known about this all along, is this something I can and should find out by asking an auto mechanic, or have we touched here upon arcane knowledge which insurance agents, having divined it from William Hope Hodgson stories, generally try to keep to themselves? It’s not that I doubt the capabilities of fungi. Fungi are creepy — in his book Plant and Planet (1974), Anthony Huxley called them “the misfits in the order of things: they are certainly not animals but neither, since they do not contain chlorophyll, are they real plants.” Scientists decided that the only thing to do was to give the fungi their own kingdom, which only encouraged their expansionist tendencies.

Understand, fungi are not easy to discourage. They’ve been around since the Precambrian, and lack of chlorophyll has never slowed them down one bit. There are thermophilic or psychrophilic fungi, thriving in temperatures above 50° C. or below zero, respectively. A species called Amorphotheca resinae grows in the fuel tanks of aircraft that use kerosene-based fuels. Some are able to grow without oxygen. “Wherever there is something organic to attack,” Huxley warns, “fungi will be found,” and if there’s not something organic — fundamental structural carbohydrates, which are the stuff of chitin in insects, lignin and cellulose in plants, and keratin in feathers and hair, among other things, such as your feet — why, there are always inorganic elements: some fungi release citric acid to dissolve silica, iron, and magnesium. You know that any organisms capable of doing all that can make pretty short work of a ’98 Chevy Cavalier, which is probably made of everything on the list, from iron to feathers.

So, I don’t even have to be driving along, ignorant of the fact that a nuclear or radioactive device has just caused some fungi to mutate wildly and grow to gigantic size and become ambulatory, when one of these gigantic ambulatory radioactive fungi runs in front of my car and I smash into it. I need only leave my car parked in the driveway, where any passing fungi can find it. And whatever happens, I have no redress.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley for Bewildering Stories

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