The Leng Extract

Expeditionary Notes of the Second Mycological Survey of the Leng Plateau Region

Aug. 3

No adventurer has ever followed lightly in the footsteps of a missing survey team, and today’s encounter in the Amari Café did little to relieve my anxiety. Having arrived in Thangyal in the midst of the Summer Grass Festival, which celebrates the harvest of Cordyceps sinensis, the prized caterpillar fungus, we first sought a reasonably hygienic hotel in which to stow our gear. Lodging accomplished, Phupten led me several blocks to the café—and what a walk it was! Sidewalks covered with cordyceps!  Thousands of them laid out to dry on tarps and blankets, the withered little hyphaeriddled worms with their dark fungal stalks outthrust like black mono-antennae, capped with tiny spores (asci).  Everywhere we stepped, an exotic specimen cried out for inspection.  Never have I seen so many mushrooms in one place, let alone the rare cordyceps; never have I visited a culture where mushrooms were of such great ethnic and economic importance. It is no wonder the fungi are beloved and appreciated, and that the cheerful little urchins who incessantly spit in the street possess at their tongue-tips (along with sunflower hulls) the practical field lore of a trained mycologist; for these withered larvae and plump Tricholoma matsutake and aromatic Boletus edulis have brought revivifying amounts of income to the previously cash-starved locals. For myself, a mere mushroom enthusiast, it was an intoxicating stroll. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like for my predecessors, treading these same cracked sidewalks ten months ago.

Phupten assured me that every Westerner in Thangyal ends up in the cramped café presided over by the rosy-cheeked Mr. Zhang, and this was the main reason for our choice of eatery. Mr. Zhang, formerly of Lhasa, proved to be a thin, jolly restaurateur in a shabby suit jacket, his cuffs protected from sputtering grease by colorful sleeve protectors cut from what appeared to be the legs of a child’s pajamas. At first, while we poured ourselves tea and ate various yak-fraught Tibetan versions of American standards, all was pleasant enough. Mr. Zhang required only occasional interpretive assistance from Phupten, and my comment on his excellent command of English naturally led him to the subject of his previous tutors—namely, the eponymous heads of the Schurr-Perry expedition.

Here, at a moment that could have been interpreted as inauspicious by those inclined to read supernatural meaning into random events, the lights dimmed and the power went out completely—a common event in Thangyal, Phupten stressed, as if he thought me susceptible to influence by such auspices. Although the cafe darkened, Mr. Zhang’s chapped cheeks burned brighter, kindling my own excitement as he lit into a firsthand account of the last known days of Danielle Schurr and her husband, Heinrich Perry.

The full tale appears in Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft Unbound.