This chapter gives the first clues as to what happened to reduce the world to its sorry state. Worry not! All will be revealed. Or implied. Or something. If you’re impatient, check out Kudzu: A Prologue in the Sparkito Press anthology Galactic Creatures.
Kudzu, a Novel
“Are you sure this is kosher?” Kevyn looked around them as Sir Reginald fiddled with the lock.
“Of course,” Grump said. “You think they’d have given me a key if it wasn’t? Do you even know what the word ‘kosher’ means?”
“Of course!” With enough offense in her voice to mean ‘not really.’
Of course, there was nothing kosher about their expedition: the key he held was the key to his old apartment, which presumably still existed somewhere under a sea of kudzu. Grump shifted to block Kevyn’s view as he palmed the key and replaced it with a lock pick he’d been given by an intrepid young lady he’d met in Edinburgh, back in… it had to be centuries ago now. Or had it been the girl in Weimar Berlin? The lock released. Edinburgh. Yes.
“Sylvie,” he muttered. He remembered her smile when he’d picked her locks, or rather, the locks with which she’d tested him.
“What?” Kevyn asked.
“Hm? Oh, she was a French lass I met in Scotland, long time ago. She’d married a sailor and followed him home, and then he died of the pox.” Grump could read the confusion on her face. She’d probably never heard the word ‘pox’ in her life; as unimaginable in the 19th century as not knowing what kudzu was in the 22nd. “Come on, then. You wanted to see, and this is the best place to see from.”
The observatory had been orphaned when the funds ran out and the college closed its doors, but it had a special place in Grump’s heart, and he had expended quite a bit of what little capital he had at his disposal to protect the facility from the encroaching foliage. With bankruptcy laws as they were, that meant acquiring the surrounding properties and setting up the anti-kudzu fencing there. As a result, the observatory was both one of the few good places left from which to view the night sky, and absurdly underutilized.
There was a point, Grump thought, where any good idea becomes so fetishized and absolutist that it begins to lose utility and can become distinctly disadvantageous. Private property freed the people from oppressive governments, and then became the means by which people were manipulated and controlled. That was why he’d never bought anything that required taking a mortgage. He’d rather give his money to a bartender than to a banker.
So here was a facility that could be a great boon to what was left of humanity, and it was abandoned because multiple no-longer-existent lenders held liens against a similarly no-longer-existent, bankrupt organization.
Grump held the door open and, after they entered, he shut it securely behind them. Kevyn flicked on her flashlight.
“No, the place is pretty much abandoned.”
“Doesn’t the telescope need power to work?”
Grump smiled in the darkness. “Yes. Just don’t ask where it comes from, as it’s distinctly unkosher. Come on, this way.”
The hallway he led her through ended at the foot of a flight of steps, next to a long-dead elevator. It was the first flight of many, and before they reached the top, Sir Reginald noted the sheen of sweat on the curve of Kevyn’s neck in the flashlight’s dancing glow. Noted it, and filed it away for use in a future story.
“So who d’you think is up there?” Kevyn’s hoarse whisper echoed in the empty hallway. “My bet is it’s the Martians.”
“Why are you whispering? There aren’t any guards.” Grump opened the door at the end of the hallway. Inside lay the great dome of the observatory; the darkness within seemed infinite.
“I… is that it? The telescope, I mean?” Kevyn panned the beam of the flashlight across the room. The telescope was a great, hulking mass in the darkness, stabbing down from the heavens. At its base was a chair, perched atop a low platform. It reminded her of her dentist. “I don’t know. It just seemed appropriate, somehow. You should always whisper in abandoned places. Out of respect.”
“If there are any ghosts here, I think they’d welcome the company.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Grump closed the observatory door behind them and made his way toward the telescope. “What did you mean, then?”
“I don’t know. I guess… I guess that’s what I meant.” Kevyn hesitated. “Not that I believe in ghosts or any of that.”
“Of course not. You have that screwdriver I gave you?”
Grump removed some screws from a panel built into the floor of the telescope platform. Inside there was a breaker switch. He flicked it, and the almost sub-audible sound of electricity hummed around them. There was a large switch on the control panel. Grump flipped it, and with a low rumble, the dome above them parted. Stars flickered. The Greenmoon was low in the sky, yet, but was, like the moon that glowed pallid behind it, nearly full tonight, a glittering emerald face whose beard trailed down into the horizon.
“No lights?” Kevyn asked.
“We don’t want to attract attention, do we? The power is routed only to the telescope and the dome. Lights would just attract attention.” Grump settled into the leather chair at the telescope’s eye-piece. He manipulated the controls with expert hands. “This is where I was when I first saw it. The so-called Greenmoon. Astrid — Dr. Kilgore — brought me here to show me, back when it was barely more than a seedling.”
“Dr. Kilgore? The Dr. Kilgore? You knew her?” Kevyn was wide-eyed. “You mean, when you were a kid, right? Why would she bring a kid here? I read that she hated kids, called them larvae.”
“A kid? I assure you, I was no more a child then than I am now.” Grump chuckled as he fiddled with the telescope controls. “Larvae. The mythology grows. Huh. That’s interesting. There really is something up there. You want to see?”
Sir Reginald could feel the nervous excitement very nearly vibrating from her body. He slid out of the seat and took the flashlight. After she was settled, he pointed out the basic controls, the buttons and levers, and showed her how they worked. There were dials and digital displays as well, of course, but he didn’t mention them. In his brief time here with Astrid, she had never told him what any of them meant, and he had decided, at the end of the world, that if he didn’t already have that particular bit of knowledge, it would be in disrespectful to learn it.
Besides, you see so much more when you have to search the skies than when you just go to some preset location.
As they worked, Kevyn quizzed him on his relationship with the notorious Dr. Kilgore. How well did he know her? It was complicated. How did they meet? The usual way. Wasn’t he too young to have gone on a date with the woman who destroyed the world? Time’s a funny thing, sometimes.
And then she straightened up, mouth open in wonder.
“Oh!” she said. “I see it! But it’s blurry.”
Grump moved her hand to the focusing controls so that she wouldn’t have to look away from the lens. He saw a smile curve her lips in the flashlight’s dim light.
“It’s… is it…” Kevyn frowned. “It looks like it’s been damaged.”
And then she was gone.
Or rather, he was. The air smelled of horse shit and coal smoke, and the cobblestone streets were lit by gas lamps. The sickly yellow light of them contained none of the ubiquitous green cast that tinted everything since Astrid had loosed her creation on the world.
Grump quickly switched off the flashlight and hid it from view, and wondered where — and when — he was.