The short story was about how a disease, perhaps from a parasitic fungus, took over people’s minds and made them climb telephone poles and trees so when their heads exploded the spores would spread. People had to stay indoors.

For some reason I thought it was a Tim Pratt story, but I cannot find it. I also have a recall that it might have been a podcast episode on either Pseudopod or Escapepod. I looked through both their lists and cannot find a match. This would have been approximately 10 years ago, give or take.


I think I may be confusing two stories. Part of it is clearly based on my recollection of "On a Blade of Grass" by Tim Pratt, but there’s definitely another story with people climbing poles and exploding, which is the one I’m interested in. The Pratt story is great, but not the one I’m interested in.


3 Answers 3


I don’t know if we’re talking about the same story, but I found your question while on a similar search. I found the one I was looking for. Episode 252 of Pseudopod, “The Cord” (2011).

The short story is by Chris Lewis Carter and was also released in Always Sometimes Monsters (2014), the PDF of which is provided by the author here.

Carl lifts a bony arm above his head and wraps it around the pole, then pulls himself a few inches higher.
I don’t want to believe it, but there’s no other explanation.
My neighbour, Mr. Richardson, has The Cord.
He’s infected, which means it’s only a matter of time before he’s ready to germinate.
“Oh, Jesus,” I whisper. “He’s going to kill everyone.”


Cordyceps isn’t stupid. It plays the odds. The higher elevation it has, the greater chance of it’s spores reaching suitable hosts.


Mr. Richardson howls like an animal being skinned alive, and his entire body goes rigid. There is a straining noise, like a layer of winter ice just before it shatters, and the back of his skull splits in half. A thick, green stalk bursts from the opening and begins to twist skyward.
He isn’t quite at the top, but The Cord has had enough.


If you are right that it's Tim Pratt, "On a Blade of Grass" (2011) uses the ant fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, as a metaphor for the possibility that there's an extrinsic factor that makes humans want to explore space, where they have been, in the past, consumed by an alien species nicknamed The Phage.

“Right. Right. The parasite gets into the ant’s brain. Normal ants aren’t stupid, at least not about ant stuff, so they stay on the ground during the day and go home to their nests at night. But after the parasite takes over, the ants have this uncontrollable urge to climb as high as they can when night falls. They climb to the top of a stalk of grass when it gets cold in the evening and just cling there ’til it gets warm again in the morning, then go back about their business. Except for the ones who get eaten by grazing sheep first thing in the morning. They die. But the parasite doesn’t. It lives on, comfortable and happy in a sheep’s guts.” He shook his head and tapped his glass, more insistently. “Parasites are the secret masters of the world. Not just the world. The universe. We think so highly of intelligence, like intelligence is the pinnacle of evolution, but that’s crap. Parasites use our own intelligence against us.”

However, there are no head explosions.


I think the novel “Cold Storage” by David Koepp is what you’re looking for. A space fungus gets to earth and takes over victim’s minds, causing them to climb whatever and then burst with fungal spores. It’s actually a fun read.

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