Once and Future Fungus

Once upon a time, in a magical land very close to Canada and visible from Sarah Palin’s house, President Donald J. Toadstool surveyed the map carved into his office desk, admiring his empire.

The sprawling United Provinces of Yuckistan, Oligarchistan, Usurperstan, Ringleaderstan, and Stalinistan first elected him in a landslide in 2016. UP-YOURS was his country. His kingdom, which he ruled with an undersized iron fist.

“Toadstool! UP-YOURS! Toadstool! UP-YOURS!” cried tens of thousands of his supporters, whom he called his Toadies. They’d gathered in the National Mall on his first inauguration day, which turned out to be bitterly cold, barely reaching 12 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-afternoon. However, the Toadies refused to disband, even when the temperatures dipped below zero.

When their rallying cries finally dissipated, it was Press Secretary Shawna Spicegirl who’d realized why their bare tattooed arms continued waving the national flag and appeared raised in fascist salutes into the wee hours of the morning. In the frigid temps overnight, his precious Toadies had frozen solid.

“Just bring in the Tonkas and scoop up the bodies,” his wife Melanoma had advised. “Do what we did in Slovenia. Dump them in mass grave. Maybe that Gitmo place.” She’d groaned. “I hate inaugurations more than I hate fucking Christmas.”

Melanoma didn’t hate inaugurations. Rather, she hated mess, which is why she couldn’t abide Toadstool. She once called him “Mr. Fatso Mess, who destroyed everything he touched.” He preferred to muck up things, make them ultra-dicey and spicy-hot. All part of his genetically disposed psychosis run amok.

Toadstool grabbed the telephone receiver custom-made for his tiny hands and pounded line four, the man he’d entrusted with his reelection campaign. “Brudi, get in here. Now.”

“Yes, Donnie, um, Mr. President.”

“I told you to call me Supreme Leader.”

“Yes, Supreme Leader, sir,” Brudi squeaked.

It had been five days since the day UP-YOURSians voted in the 2020 national election. Hours ago, the Associated Press called the race for his arch-enemy Jose Blandon. Even Toadstool’s favorite cable news station Faux Spews called the race for Blandon.

Brudi rushed through the door and bowed. “I must say, Supreme Leader. You are looking particularly plumb today.”

“Cut the bullshit,” Toadstool said. “The AP said I … lost. Me? The Great Donald J. Toadstool, whose destiny is to rule these provinces until I croak.” He jabbed the map with a short, fat finger. “God wants me to create an enduring line of succession for my scion, spawned from my divine spores.

“I need you to reach out to your stooges from Yuckistan. Have them execute the New York head of the AP today…by firing squad…on Fifth Avenue. That should send the right message. I’m the president. I’m staying right here.”

“Right away, Supreme Leader,” Brudi said, bumping into Toadstool’s favorite daughter on his way out.

“Watch where you are going, idiot!” Chanterelle said, ushering her father’s henchman out the door with a shove. “Oh, Dedy. It looks like we’ve lost this time.”

None of those close to Toadstool were permitted to mention any form of the verb lose in his presence. Of course, Toadstool used it with abandon. Everyone who disagreed with him was a “loser,” from General George Washington and his smallpox vaccine mandate to A-list celebrities who gossiped about his misshapen penis on Twitter.

“How do you think the Toadstool name came about?” Jimmy Kimmel had said on national TV. “Apparently, he hails from a long line of similarly endowed men.”

At Chanterelle’s utterance of the word lost, Toadstool refrained from launching into a tirade. Not with Chanterelle. She was beautiful, smart, and fit. Beyond reproach. Instead of reprimanding her, he banged his oversized head on the undersized desk he towered over like an ogre who’d crammed himself into his first-grader’s desk on parent-teacher night.

“Perk up, Dedy. Blandon couldn’t have won fair and square. Must’ve been a lot of fraud going on. He ran the most flaccid campaign on record. Believe me, I know flaccid when I see it. Consider my husband.”

“As usual, honey, you are the voice of treason,” Toadstool said, lifting his head from the desk. “Come, sit. We’ll look at this map together, and see what we can do.”

Chanterelle crawled onto his lap, nestling between his pudgy thighs. “Too many cheeseburgers, Dedy.”

Toadstool pointed to the southernmost province on the outstretched map. “What about Usurperstan? That was mine for the taking…Senator Graham Cracker assured me the winning votes were in hand,” he said, cradling his daughter’s bottom.

“Now, now.” She giggled and slapped away his hands. “Tell you what. Let’s get ol’ Cracker in here. A day without a drama queen is like a day without horse manure. And we both know how much you and I need manure to flourish.”

Toadstool pushed line two. “I want to see you now, Cracker,” he said and replaced the receiver.

Moments later, Senator Graham Cracker swept through the double doors into Toadstool’s office. She wore a full-length cobalt-blue sequined trench coat that made her look like a raincloud shimmering with the prospect of an emergent sun.

“Oh, Lawd,” Senator Cracker cried. “I had to do my blue sequins today. That horrible AP report said you—”

“Don’t you dare say the ‘l’ word, Cracker,” Toadstool interrupted.

“Donnie, darlin’, what self-respecting Southern belle would say such a thing at a time such as this?” She collapsed on the club chair in front of Toadstool’s desk. After ugly-crying for a long minute, Senator Cracker looked up, garish tracks of black mascara smeared on her cheeks. She snarled like the threatened feline she was. “Why are you here, Chanterelle?”

She rose from her father’s lap and leaned over the desk. “Helping Dedy win the election. How are you going to help, Cracker?”

“That’s Lady Graham Cracker to you, missy. Give me that phone. I’ll call my second in command. How many votes do you need?”

“I want to find 11,780 votes,” Toadstool said. “Everyone knows I won Usurperstan. Jose the Dumbocrat lost. He had like six people at his rallies. I had millions. Millions.”

“Hello, Brad?” Cracker said. “It’s me, baby doll. Small favor to ask. Can you find 11,780 more votes for President Toadstool?” He handed the phone back to Chanterelle.

“Well?” Toadstool asked.

“He hung up on me. Just like that.”

Toadstool pounded his desk. “Idiot.” He snarled. “We need another plan. A break-through strategy.”

Senator Cracker leaped to her feet. “I’ve got it.”

Toadstool scowled. “What’s your big idea?”

“Make the vice president toss out the electoral college votes on January 6.”

Chanterelle brightened. “That could work, Dedy. Then we can all keep grifting to our heart’s content.”

Senator Cracker stripped off her coat to reveal a bright yellow low-cut frock. She pulled a pair of lemon-yellow high heels out of her bag and slipped them on. “I just can’t be myself in flats.” Then she pulled a bottle of champagne from her bag and three flutes, uncorking it and filling everyone’s glass. “To four more years of grifting!”

“Not just four years,” Toadstool said. “To grifting in perpetuity.”

No longer content with a merely procedural overthrow inside the Capitol, Toadstool reached out to all his Toadies who had replenished their numbers since that fateful Inauguration Day, inviting them to a special “Save UP-YOURS” rally on January 6, via dark social media outlets aggregating the Alt-Right. He commanded they bring their fellow parolees, relatives with criminal records, and any other sorry-ass couch potatoes itching for a reason to scratch their asses. And arrive they did, by the busload, seething with trumped-up indignity and imagined grievances because the Toadies had been played like upright pianos, and guess who was Jerry Lee Lewis?

“Dedy, why do you insist on hosting these freezing-cold outdoor events in January of all months?” Chanterelle said, before her father took the stage, cupping her breath to warm her face. “I’m aging prematurely.”

“I’d tap that.” Toadstool winked, adding, “If you weren’t my daughter.”

After he, Brudi, and the rest of the platform speakers whipped the crowd into a violent frenzy, he told them to march on the Capitol. “You’ll never take back our country without taking out the Dumbocrats and hanging the vice president.”

Back in the Senate Chambers, Lady Graham Cracker was making an impassioned plea for setting aside Usurperstan’s electoral votes when a crazed mob began pounding the chamber doors.

“Lawd, are they planning to kill us?” Senator Cracker cried, wiping the sweat from her brow and smoothing her wrinkled Burberry jacquard suit. All she needed was a pail of scorched earth and a radish. “As God is my witness, no one could have foreseen the Toadies invading our sacred Capitol—.”

“They just killed a police officer!” Senator Snapping Turtle said. “My aide just texted me.” Then he pulled his head into his shell and waited to be evacuated.

Cracker pulled out her phone and dialed Toadstool. “What the hell are you doing? This was all supposed to be done procedurally, strictly procedurally. You know, yawn-fest territory? Can you hold a minute? We’re being evacuated.”

The security detail for the Senate Chamber started pushing everyone toward the front exit. She looked back to see whether Turtle had emerged from his shell and spotted a scary-looking Toadie wearing a horned helmet and clad in animal skins beating his chest. She resumed her call with Toadstool. “Are you filming a remake of ‘Dances with Wolves’? What in the Harry Hamlin is going on?”

“I told them to find the vice president … to hang him.”

“Here I thought you said, ‘bang him.’” Wishful thinking. Senator Graham tittered and then gulped. “You’d ruin that perfect head of hair? A full head of snowy white hair? Without a hint of gray? A silver fox if I ever saw one, and you’d put a noose around his neck?”

Shots rang out through the Senate Chamber.

She shrieked, then whispered, “Gotta go.”

The senator returned the phone to her bag and was secreted away. Once they’d all been moved to the safe area, she snuck around the corner, checked to see if anyone was listening, and punched in Toadstool’s number.

“Look, you can’t just send in your Toadies to kill innocent politicians because you lost the election. They’ll send you to jail for a long, long time.”

“Shut up, Cracker. I told the Toadies to go home.”


“Just now.”


“Are you near an exit?”

She tiptoed to a nearby door, propped it open with her handbag, and looked around. Lo and behold, Melanoma was flying by in a little black dress, skywriting “Surrender Toadies” in black smoke. Holy cow. That cool bitch could rock a broomstick.

But sending an Eastern-European immigrant to do a White Supremacist’s work was hardly the response the grave situation demanded, and Senator Cracker’s disgust with the whole thing was reaching a fever pitch. As a police officer herded her into the safe room like she was a wayward ewe and he a sheepdog nipping at her flanks, one of her heels snapped off.

Several hours later, the National Guard cleared the Capitol rioters, and the senators, some exhausted, others eviscerated, limped back into the Chamber to certify the ballots.

After some speechifying by the thunderstruck Dumbocrats, Senator Cracker rose to her feet, wrenching the microphone away from Snapping Turtle, who always spoke too long anyway.

“I don’t know about y’all,” Senator Cracker began, “but the attack on Congress was a tipping point for me. I have stood by President Toadstool my whole life. Well, at least since 2016. But I’m done. Count me out. He needs to be held responsible for inciting a mob to kill us. One police officer is dead. And two Toadies gone.” She sniffled. “To think, he might have killed one of you. Or me. And I wore my smartest ensemble today.” Senator Cracker removed her shoe and waved it above her head. “I sacrificed a Manolo Blahnik for this country.”

Chants erupted from the legislators and aides gathered in the chamber. “Lock him up! Lock him up!”

Senator Cracker vowed then and there to make Toadstool pay for his sedition, which was far worse than the procedural coup she had ginned up. She joined her colleagues in their raucous chants, “Lock him up! UP-YOURS! Lock him up! UP-YOURS!”

One year after the insurrection, the United States Penitentiary near Pennington Gap, Usurperstan, became the most heavily guarded facility within the federal prison system. It now housed the planet’s most notorious baddie since Osama bin Laden, none other than the treasonous Donald J. Toadstool himself.

After months of hand-wringing, Senator Cracker finally broke down and visited. As she scratched her name in the visitor log, she couldn’t help noticing that Toadstool had had no guests whatsoever during the last year besides Brudi, not even family members, bless his little pea-pickin’ heart. His children had all been incarcerated for tax fraud—Chanterelle, her indolent younger brothers Morel and Spores, and her half-sister Shirataki.

“What’s the nature of your visit, ma’am?” the guard asked.

“Conjugal,” said Senator Cracker, who felt a twinge of guilt for her part in getting Toadstool indicted.

Last night, the defeated former president had been shown on the Nightly News serenading his fellow prisoners with, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” accompanying himself on a colorful lute he’d made from Fruit Stripe gum wrappers and dental floss. Oh, how far her Toadstool had fallen. She thought he could use a bit of Graham Cracker cheer and maybe, just maybe, get the biggest, juiciest surprise of his big old life in that big old visit room.

As the senator rounded the corner, she glimpsed Toadstool sitting atop a picnic bench, surrounded by inmates, marking a 4/4 tempo with his tiny hands.

“Sing with me, fellas: ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.’”

“That’s the shit, Toadstool,” one of the inmates said.

“Sorry. How about a joke? Two Corinthians walked into a bar—”

The shit means he dug it, homes,” another inmate said. “Man, you were president?”

“Actually, I’m still president.”

 “Nah. You a dumbass.”

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