Book 2 of Kudzu brings us somewhat down to Earth, so to speak, where for the last decade or so, genetically engineered Kudzu has spread rapidly across the globe. This chapter (re)introduces Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII, a gentleman of letters. Sir Reginald first appeared as an unused pseudonym that I had created to be the author of A Perfect Creature (in Like a Vorpal Blade from Circlet Press (it appears, incidentally, that there will be a reading of this story at Confluence next weekend, read by Elektra Hammond). He has since gone on to found an ezine, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, and is proud to say he’s got more than a bit part in the story Kudzu: A Prologue (in Galactic Creatures from Sparkito Press), a story which is, as the title implies, a prologue to this current endeavor.
Kudzu, a Novel
Book II: A Green and Verdant World
The end of the world started with a love letter.
Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII stared at the page, which obstinately refused to fill with words. His fountain pen pressed against the rough-fibered paper. Ink pooled under the nib, absorbing only slowly into the irregular, fibrous sheet. Pulped kudzu made for a terrible writing surface – barely a step above papyrus–but it was plentiful, and cheap, which was always a plus.
A shadow fell over him, and a hand pulled the empty glass from his peripheral vision. He heard the splash of liquid. Amber, he knew, and harsh to the tongue. Cheap whiskey, because fuck if he could afford anything better on a writer’s income.
Calin, bartender and proprietor of the eponymously titled Calin’s Pub, cleared his throat.
“S’not the way I remember it.”
“What would you know of love?” Sir Reginald said. He stroked the burnished silver of the fountain pen, which had been a gift from Lady Chatsworthy, perhaps the first who had won his heart, if not his hand. She had used this very pen to transcribe a story he had dictated – improvised, really – and he had subsequently learned to use the thing, messy ink and all, in order to write the story which he had dedicated to her.
Calin’s laugh harrumphed from his burgeoning gut. “I’m a bartender, which is sort of like being a country song. I can’t tell you shit about love, but I know heartbreak inside and out.”
“Then you should understand metaphors, and artistic license.”
“It was a vid-phone call, not a letter. I got the whole thing recorded off the security cam.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve told me a thousand times.” Grump drained his glass in a long swallow, pushed it across the bar toward Calin. “I’m writing a damned story, not the history of the world. Or would be without your incessant interruptions.”
This time Calin laughed out loud, the sound echoing against the dark-stained pine siding of the walls. An infectious sound, overpowering the jukebox which warbled an old David Bowie song from well-worn vinyl, and bringing smiles to the lips of the other patrons.
The front door swung open with a bang and a gust of hot, humid air. The verdurous light of the setting sun cast sheets of brilliance across the perpetual twilight that was Calin’s Pub. It was Kevyn Vaughan, a gentleperson of the finest calibre, which is to say, entirely self-created and very nearly as fictional as some of Sir Reginald’s characters. Kevyn was sometimes kind enough to act as a second reader for Sir Reginald’s sordid tales (her mastery of grammar was negligible, but her enthusiasm for a well-turned phrase was intense enough that he could plan his revisions just by watching her face as she read). She was an easy-going person who, to the best of Grump’s knowledge, was utterly unflappable.
And yet, here she was: flapped. And out of breath.
“Turn on the news!” she said, between gasps. “There’s something up there!”
Grump wasn’t sure which of the patrons had asked, and as is the universal nature of pubs, the hubbub of inebriation quickly resumed, drowning the poor girl’s response. Woman, Grump reminded himself; she’d been five when the world ended, and now she could drink legally even by the absurdly repressive standards of even twentieth century puritanism.
Calin, however, was less easily distracted than the crowd.
“Kill the jukebox, Reg,” he said, as he fetched the step-stool from under the bar.
Sir Reginald capped his pen and tucked it safely into the pocket of his waistcoat before he made his way through the other patrons. He carefully tugged the jukebox’s oft-repaired electrical cord from the wall, and David Bowie’s voice crawled into silence, to mingled cheers and jeers. Calin fumbled at the old flatscreen hanging over the bar. Without batteries, the remote control no longer worked, and these electronics hadn’t been designed for manual intervention. An entirely predictable design flaw, from Sir Reginald’s perspective. Still, the thing flickered to life.
“It’s all talking heads,” Kevyn said, following Sir Reginald to the bar, “on all the stations, making shit up to fill the time. The Reuters news feed is still pretty uncontaminated.” She reached over the bar for a glass and filled it, holding it under the cracked and yellowed tap advertising a brewery that had not survived the apocalypse.
“Got ya,” Calin said, pushing buttons until the screen showed the Reuters logo. Below it, words in stark white against the dark blue background:
Breaking News: UFO Enters Earthspace
Calin turned up the volume, and the cool, detached voice of the newscaster cut across the pub.
“It’s the Martians,” someone said, hope hiding in his voice.
“Martians?” said another. “Are you really stupid enough to believe the government propaganda? The Martians are long dead.”
The argument that resulted was as stupid as it was unexpected, but it drowned out the television with drunken efficiency.
Sir Reginald put his notebook in his bag, and tapped Kevyn on the shoulder to get her attention.
“If you want to see what’s really going on, come with me.”