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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 23

 

Sir Reginald surveyed the walls of the laundry room. “Ah, there. Damn, I’m clever. Kevyn, help me move these dryers, if you would.”

Kevyn was doubled over, gasping for breath, holding her hand to her side. “Give me a minute.”

“You really must get into better shape, Ms. Vaughan.” He turned to Murphy, who was chewing her lip. “Kids today, and all that. Ms. Murphy, would you be so kind as to assist?”

“No.”

“What?”

“Do you have any idea how irresponsible it is to let that woman get her hands on a gun? She’s a psychopath! She will kill someone. I’m surprised I haven’t heard shots already.”

“I’m not,” Sir Reginald said. “You don’t think I’d give her bullets, do you? That would be highly irresponsible.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard it said, Ms. Murphy, that one should never point a loaded gun at anyone you weren’t willing to kill. I was never willing to kill you, especially not after the kindness you showed to my friend here. Now, then. Shall we get these dryers moved? And then we’ll be on our way, and we’ll leave you trussed up enough that you look like you had no choice in the matter.”

The dryers were industrial sized monstrosities — the sort an unlucky inmate might inadvertently fall into if she crossed the wrong people — and bolted together. In the end, it took all three of them to move them.

Sir Reginald tapped at the plaster. It was cold, and sounded like it had been laid over something solid. He continued until his taps rang hollow. A single kick shattered the plaster, and it fell in sheets. In the darkness behind it, the cinder block wall that lay behind the rest of the wall opened up into a small enclave, just big enough to fit Sir Reginald.

Murphy studied a piece of the plaster. A tight grid had been impressed in the back, as if there had at one point been a mesh backing. Whatever it had been was long gone, though.

“Interesting,” Sir Reginald said, looking over her shoulder. He shoved a piece of it into a coat pocket. “Kevyn, you go first, then Ms. Murphy. I suggest you hurry.”

A rope ladder was rolled up in the back of the hole. Kevyn released the catches, letting it drop into the darkness.

“The last time I followed you into a dark place,” she said, “I ended up in jail.”

“Fittingly, this time I’ll follow you into a dark place, and you’ll end up leaving jail.”

“You two suck at hurrying,” Murphy said.

Fine, I’m hurrying,” Kevyn said.

She stepped across to the rope ladder and disappeared into darkness. When she got to the bottom, Murphy followed. As she descended, Sir Reginald felt around the inside of the opening. His fingers found something that felt like paper — real paper, not pulped kudzu — taped to the cinderblock above.

He tore the envelope open and glanced at the note within. His own handwriting, of course, though he had no memory of having written it. He read it through once, then again, to make sure he remembered the instructions. He frowned when he got to the last line, then folded it and stuck it in his pocket, next to the plaster sample.

Murphy reached the bottom. Sir Reginald followed.

~

The instructions were rather specific. Turn to face Kevyn’s voice. Walk until you bang your shin. Turn left forty-five degrees and take twenty-seven strides.

And so on.

They passed through a door into a lit corridor. The door clicked locked behind them. Sir Reginald led, striding purposefully at a clip that kept the women hurrying behind him.

“When are you going to let me go?” Murphy asked.

“My informant tells me that we will be in need of your services until we’re free of this facility.”

“You have an informant?”

Sir Reginald ignored the question. He pulled up short at a heavy, metal door. It was locked.

Kevyn pulled out Murphy’s key ring.

The sound of pursuit came from behind them.

Kevyn frowned at the mass of keys. “Which one?” she asked.

“Ms. Murphy?”

“Fine, fine.” Murphy touched one of the keys. “Try that one. That works on most of the storage areas.”

The key fit and turned, and Kevyn pushed the door open. She fumbled for the light switch. They closed the door behind them, and Kevyn locked it.

There were more voices behind them. The sound of running feet.

Sir Reginald looked at the instructions again, then pressed a finger into an indentation in the floor. With a click, a piece of the flooring dropped and slid to the side.

“Again with the darkness,” Kevyn said.

“Again with the we-have-no-time-for-this,” Sir Reginald responded.

“There’s no ladder.”

“Then it’s probably not very deep.”

Kevyn sighed. She lowered herself into the pit.

“I can close it behind you,” Murphy said. “If you leave me free enough to push the button.”

“I wanted to show you something,” Sir Reginald said. He handed her the folded paper.

“What’s this?”

“Instructions I left for myself. Read them. Kevyn? You get to the bottom yet?”

“Yes. It’s not far. You’re probably tall enough to lower yourself down without jumping. There’s a tunnel, but it’s not very tall.”

“Good,” he said. “Move out of the way.”

“Wait,” Murphy said. “What does this mean? ‘Bring the Murphy woman.'”

“Yes, about that…” Sir Reginald grasped Murphy by the waist and lifted her over the hole. He lowered her as far as he could manage before letting her drop. “I’m very sorry, and please move out of the way with utmost haste.”

Sir Reginald pressed the indentation in the floor again, and, as the floor began to slide back into place, he leaped down into the pit.

The drop was both farther and shorter than he expected, and his legs gave out under him when he hit. He sat heavily, and his chin banged against his knees.

“Oof,” he said.

A light flared in his eyes.

Murphy. She’d found the flashlight. Of course. He’d given her the letter, which told exactly where it was. It was a battery-free flashlight; he could hear her cranking the handle to generate power.

“You lied to me,” she said.

“I think I bit my tongue,” he said.

“You fucking lied to me!”

“That’s a matter of interpretation, and intention, and knowledge, and a bit of omission,” Sir Reginald said. “Something perhaps best discussed over tea, rather than—”

Kevyn squeaked. “Something’s on me,” she whimpered.

Sir Reginald grabbed the flashlight out of Murphy’s hand and illuminated Kevyn.

Spiders. There were spiders on her head, in her hair. The light wasn’t good enough to see how many, or what type, but certainly more than could be dealt with reasonably in the dark, cramped tunnel. Trying to brush them off would be messy at best, with spiders smeared into Kevyn’s hair. And there was always a possibility of one or more painful bites.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just, let’s go. Let’s get out of here. Just follow the tunnel until it ends.”

“We could go back up.” Murphy’s voice sounded faint.

“How would you open the door?”

“I don’t know. I’d… I don’t know.” Murphy sighed. “God, I can’t believe this is happening to me. This is the worst day ever.”

“No,” said Sir Reginald, who still remembered those devastating weeks when kudzu overran the Earth, and half the world’s population died. “I think it is not. Let’s go.”

 

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