Kudzu, a Novel
Book V: Hearts and Bones
Their clothes were still damp when the lights went out.
“Interesting,” Michael said.
“Mmm?” Colleen murmured into his chest. She’d been half-asleep, drowsing in the comforting carpet of his hair. She uncurled from him; the air was cool on her belly and thighs, where she’d been pressed against Michael’s body. “Where’d everything go?”
“Give your eyes a second to adjust,” he said. “There’s still some luminescence from the lamp-leaves.”
It was true; the lamp-leaves were pale ghosts of themselves, a thousand tiny moons scattered like stars around them. They shimmered, reflected in the still, black waters of the lake. The moss was a soft, dark gray against the twisted forest of the walls, and, draped over the vines to dry, their clothes were wraiths, specters hovering in the air.
“Where are the cats?” Colleen asked. The damn things had been adorable at first, gathering around Michael and her, investigating, following them around. Watching as they fucked with something akin to amusement, and disdain. There were plenty of hiding places for them, of course, but they’d shown no inclination to hide before now.
“I don’t know.” Michael rolled to his feet. He checked their clothes. “They’re still wet.”
Colleen rubbed the goose-flesh from her arms. “I’m cold,” she said. “And I’m still wet, too. Get back here and warm me up.”
“We should figure out what happened to the cats.”
“You want to go stumbling around in the cold and dark? Naked? Come here.”
It got cold in the night.
Or what passed for night here. Even without any way to tell time, Michael was sure that the darkness had lasted significantly longer than half a rotation of the kudzu ball. It clearly wasn’t influenced by external events, which meant there was no telling how long it might really last.
Colleen shivered in her sleep.
He rose silently and checked their clothes again. Still wet. They wouldn’t dry until tomorrow, whatever that meant.
He rubbed warmth into his arms. It just made the rest of him feel colder. It would be stupid to have survived this long, only to freeze to death.
If they only had a blanket.
A soft green light filtered through the covers, playing against Colleen’s eyelids. Henry was curled around her, hand on her breast, semi-hard against the small of her back. She pressed against him, felt him swell.
She reached behind her and guided him in.
He kissed her shoulder, her neck. Her ear. Eyes still closed, she twisted to meet his lips, opened her mouth to his tongue—
Not Henry’s lips.
She screamed. Kicked and thrashed, fighting her way from the man’s clutches, from the confining blanket, which fell apart around her.
He sat, draped in moss, shock and hurt on his face. In her panic, she had struck his face, reopening his wound, but he didn’t seem to notice the blood.
“Don’t ever do that again,” she said.
He had made a blanket of moss, somehow, in the middle of the night. It had been warm in there. Her breath misted in the cold, morning light. There was frost on the moss, under her toes. She shivered, crossed her arms over her breasts.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He covered his lap with a pillow of moss.
Their clothes were still damp, and Colleen couldn’t imagine putting them on. But she also couldn’t imagine standing naked in front of Michael. Or curling up with him for warmth. Not now. She couldn’t even look at him.
An orange tabby strolled past her, brushing briefly against her leg, to the water’s edge. It stared into the water, then slashed down with claws unsheathed. A small fish flopped on the mossy bank. The cat batted at it.
Colleen dipped her fingers into the water. It was warm, at least compared to the air.
“I’m going to wash up,” she said.
She felt Michael’s eyes on her as she waded into the water.
“Water’s perfect,” she said. “Come on in.”
It heated up as quickly as it had cooled off, frost turning to dew and dew to a brief fog that condensed and dripped from the ceiling. And then that, too, faded.
Cats fished on the shoreline. Pudgy bees, which Michael hadn’t seen in the room yesterday (yesterday? what did that mean, here? before it got dark, then) lumbered their way through clusters of kudzu flowers.
Michael climbed out of the water. He dried himself with his shirt, then tossed it to Colleen, who had followed.
“Thanks,” she said.
He didn’t answer, just reached for his pants.
“How long are you going to not talk to me?”
He didn’t answer that, either.
Michael toyed with the idea of finding a sturdy piece of kudzu to fashion into a rudimentary spear, but quickly abandoned the idea; even if they had something to cut and sharpen it with, they didn’t have a fire on which to cook a fish, or any cooking utensils. That was assuming that he could actually spear one of the things.
And the idea of making a living thing dead made his stomach roil. He didn’t have a problem with meat, per se. It was just the idea of converting something that was alive and moving around into just meat. He’d seen enough bodies after the accident that he didn’t feel he could be part of that process.
Instead, he turned his efforts to their damaged space suits. Useless now for their intended purpose, they still had all sorts of electronics that were worth salvaging. After stripping them, he tore two large swatches out of Colleen’s suit and, using thin kudzu creepers as thread, turned them into packs that they could hang from their belts. He cut the arms of her suit off, and then again at the elbows. Tied off at either end, they became waterskins. His own suit, he cut apart and, adding remnants of Colleen’s suit, converted into a blanket.
“Looks like an astronaut-skin rug,” Colleen said, when she returned with her arms full of berries and seed pods.
“You don’t have to use it if you don’t want,” he said.
Colleen dumped the food on the moss between them, sat.
“At least you’re talking to me again.”
Michael tossed her one of the packs, started filling his own: electronics first, then blanket, then seed pods. Not the berries; they’d crush too easily, releasing their juices over everything.
“Yeah,” he said, popping a handful of berries into his mouth, “at least there’s that.”