Just to wet your whistle, here’s the first chapter of the next book:
Man, one of us really needs to mow the lawn. Luck and I are sitting on the back porch, smoking, watching the morning mist rise slowly over the Kentucky grass. Luck is almost six feet tall now and growing every day. His round, sapphire eyes are much larger than a human’s would be, and his proportions are odd, tall and impossibly slim. But Luck’s skin tone is pale Caucasian, like mine used to be, and his hair is the same sort of short, hot mess that mine is, owing to the fact that both of us shaved our heads about the same time last winter. Though his hair is very dark brown and mine is a sandy, mud color. As he’s grown, Luck has morphed from a creepy, little monster into something strange and beautiful. Or maybe I just see him that way because we’re family. I created Luck, he’s a Jones, and he’s also the closest thing to a son I plan to have.
Anyhow, there sure is a lot of grass. It might not bother me if it were all the same height, but it’s jagged. My backyard looks like someone abandoned the property, shameful really. Especially out to the right. There’s this one little hillock of growth that juts up above the rest. It’s darker too, and a lot more plant-like than grass-like. Oh shit. I hope it’s not kudzu, blown into our lawn to create semi-permanent landscaping problems. As I smoke and sip on my coffee, my eyes keep going back to that bushy spot. It bothers me, doesn’t look right, seems dangerous. I can picture Hannah tripping over it and breaking her ankle. Hannah is my ‘apprentice’, which in reality means, Hannah is my blond headed, big eared, nine year old bundle of attitude. Her mother got stolen by the things in the woods, and now, it seems, Hannah has become my problem. She has a dad, for what he’s worth, which isn’t much. But, since the girl already sees things that most people don’t, I let her come over and we try to teach her the stuff she might need to know in order to avoid losing her mind. I have my doubts as to our effectiveness. By ‘our’, of course I mean Trouble, Pain, Luck and myself. Pain is another Jones, and Trouble is the same type of creature, but we call her a Reynolds, since she’s not officially family yet. Weren’t they just playing dodge ball out here yesterday? How did someone not notice that clump? Plus, we’re planning a family barbeque this week, it’ll be dark out by the time we eat. Snakes like to live in kudzu. People could step right into a snake pit in the dark.
Fuck. I hate this part of my personality. Damn plant’s probably been there for a month, not bothering anybody, doing it’s plant thing. But now that I’ve noticed it, I’m just going to have to go dig it up. By way of procrastination, I should check to see if it’s mowable before I commit to breaking out any gardening tools. With a light sigh, I set my coffee down on the porch and head down the steps to the lawn.
“What’s up?” Luck asks.
I shrug. “Got a bug up my ass about the lawn.”
“You’re gonna mow? We haven’t even eaten yet.”
I don’t answer because I don’t know. Naturally, Luck finds my silence annoying. I hear him grumbling under his breath, and now his footfalls are behind mine on the steps. We cross the foggy lawn together and, once Luck sees what I’m going for, he gets very quiet. When I look, Luck’s face is stern, almost scary. Guess he doesn’t like kudzu either. Luck stops about six feet away from the plant. I’m still going.
“Meegan.” He says while I’m kneeling. “Meegan.” Luck repeats it louder as I stretch out my hand to touch the bush. It’s definitely not grass. The leaves are all wrong, wide and wavy. Doesn’t really look like a vine. “Meegan!” Luck is stepping closer. I’m examining the foliage between my fingers. The leaves are thick and warm, also dry. There’s no dew on this bush. Luck is saying something else, but I’m caught by a familiar and unhealthy curiosity. I plunge my hand down between the leaves, trying to find the root. My fingers brush up against a solid mass. I feel along it, moving my digits from stalk to stalk. The plant shudders at my touch. Ahhhh. Luck is actually yelling now, but I’m aglow in the knowledge that this thing in my lawn is a person. Maybe not a ‘person’ in the literal sense. Maybe it’s some kind of Fae garden pet. Anyway, it’s obviously responding to my touch, and nothing that wants to hurt me could’ve passed the wards we have on the property, so, I’m entertaining visions of becoming a pet owner. I’m picturing water bowls and food dishes. I’m wondering if it’s as smart as a dog. What does it eat? Can it digest table scraps?
“What are you little guy?” I coo quietly.
Luck groans and slaps his forehead as the plant I’m talking to replies. “Trash, exiled for my inadequacies, and unworthy of your patronage.”
I yelp, surprised, but also delighted. The voice was reasonable and intelligent. Sounds male. “Show me your face.” I say.
“Meegan, for Christ’s sake.” Luck is standing on my left. “Tell it to get out.”
The green mass in front of me moves, and now it’s beginning to make sense. Little person was lying prostrate. My hand was on it’s shoulder blades. The creature rises to a kneeling position, and I can see that it is a Reynolds. Every other set of people I know of who know about this sort of being, refer to them as Filth, Filthy Ones, Illegitimate Ones, Wrong Ones, and any other nasty name they can think of. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for their bad reputation, I’m just saying, that as for me and my house, we’ll call them Reynolds. This Reynolds has that basic, elongated, humanoid shape; he’s about two feet tall, but he’s covered all over in leaf like growths. Are they flaps of skin? Is this his hair? The answer, it turns out, is a bit of both. As I’m staring at him, I see the leaf blades on his limbs relax and fold down, becoming part of his body. This person is several shades of deep green once his body settles into itself, and he’s kneeling with his eyes closed, which I find odd. He’s starting to look a bit like a dude with eighties metal hair, or maybe dreadlocks. Hmph. I’m smiling at him, and now he blinks, which makes me flinch and giggle with excitement. Dude’s eyes weren’t closed. They’re just the same green tones as his skin. I lean closer to examine them. The irises are a slightly richer green than the part that would be the whites. So, his eyes are green on green, in a green face, with green plant camouflage for hair, and all those retractable leaf decoys on his body. Somebody made this guy to blend in, in a meadow, or a garden, perhaps in a tree. Not on the subway. He surely wouldn’t blend on the subway. Oh yeah, a fact about Reynolds: they’re made not born. The ritual requires a sentient sacrifice, hence the overly negative labels. Every single one of these people represents a murder; they wouldn’t exist if somebody hadn’t lost their life to facilitate the process.
“What brings you by?” I ask with a smile.
“Meegan,” Luck says. “You should go inside. I’m gonna kill it.”
“Luck!” I snap. “Stand down!”
“You’re not my boss.”
Another factoid: Reynolds are subjugate to their creators, unless they’re exiled, in which case they can’t do anything, not even eat or drink, unless they get claimed by someone else. Joneses , like Luck, are not subject to anyone, thanks to a rite I accidentally invented. So when he says I’m not his boss, it’s true, but I used to be.
“No, Luck. I’m not your boss, but I am your family, and you’re gonna have to live with me for the rest of your life, so permanently pissing me off would be stupid.”
Luck snarls, but he crosses his arms, which is all the backing down I think I should expect.
“Go on.” I say to the plant man.
Plant man takes a deep breath, which makes the leaf decoys on his chest ripple a little even in their folded down position. “I have come to beg your mercy. Though I by no means merit such high favor, I beseech you this day, allow me to prove my usefulness. I would serve Your Ladyship in the hope of one day earning a small place among the Filth of your great house.”
“You want me to claim you.” I interpret.
“I beg only the chance to earn the favor of your excellent mastership.”
I squint. That was a little messed up. He doesn’t have the verbiage right. Some of them are very old, like Pain, and their speech reflects it. But I’m betting this Reynolds is from a more recent time. Why would he try to affect antiquity? To seem what? Respectable?
“You sound fake. Why don’t you talk the way you normally do?”
Plant man lets out a ragged sigh. “I… I don’t expect you to claim me, but I hoped you might let me serve.” Plant dude’s little jaw trembles but his fists are clenched. “And maybe, you would feed me sometimes, if you like what I can do. My old master… I haven’t been exiled very long. I was spoiled. I know I was spoiled, but I’m not used to being hungry. I know your Joneses can destroy me, but the sound of my stomach eating itself makes me think I’m losing my mind. Please, let me work for you. I’m a great spy, even in Faerie. Sometimes even people with true sight overlook me when I’m hiding.” To prove his point, Plant Guy flares his decoy flap thingies, and now I’m talking to a bright, leafy bush. “You could let me eat the grass if your want. I could keep the lawn down, like a goat maybe.”
Awe. I smile sadly at the little thing. “What should I call you?”
“Meegan! You can’t be serious.” Luck is outraged.
I’m trying to think of plant names that aren’t too feminine. Now it dawns on me. I can call him what I thought he was. “You’re name is Kudzu. I name you Kudzu. From now on, Kudzu is who you are.” It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you have to use three definitive statements to name and thereby claim a Reynolds.
“Fuck.” Luck growls. “What about pissing me off permanently? Does that not matter at all?”
“Not when you’re being unreasonable.” I shrug. “Come here, Kudzu, and open your mouth.”
Kudzu obeys me, a look of fear and shock on his face. with his mouth hanging wide open, I can see sharp green teeth, like little blades of grass against the deep, hunter green of his tongue. Quick, like pulling off a band-aid, I run the back of my hand along his upper teeth, lacerating my skin.
“Drink till it stops bleeding, Kudzu, then we’ll go up for breakfast.” I should tell you that, due to the blood ritual that made them, blood remains an important part of Reynolds magic. By giving him some of mine, I’m cementing our new bond, eradicating the natural longing he would’ve had for his old master, and healing any injuries, helping him grow, be strong, healthy, smart, all that good stuff. If I were to take his, I would be tying our lives together, which means he would have to die whenever I do, like Luck or Pain. Mortality goes with freedom and it’s part of being a Jones. That’s the difference. Incidentally, taking blood from Pain and Luck is what turned my skin a blueish tint, gave me light purple freckles, peridot eyes, and opaque white fingernails. My hair’s pretty shiny too. I would still pass for human, but I might be hospitalized and put on oxygen if I went out in public without a glamour. Here at the house, I look like the freak I am, thanks to the reflections don’t lie ward, which dispels any glamours at all. Speaking of wards, there’s another one on the house itself. Kudzu won’t be able to enter unless we work the welcome ritual. “Luck, would you ask Pain to get the bread and water ready?”
“No!” He snaps. “But I will tell him what you’ve done.” And in a whir, Luck is gone. Another whir and he’s back with Pain and Trouble a half a step behind.
Pain Jones, my huge friend, is the picture of restraint as he stops his towering copper form a few feet from me. Pain is taller than Luck by at least four inches. He has copper skin with matte black, asymmetrical markings. His eyes are emerald green, and his hair is ginger colored and it grows in a Mohawk that starts on his head and ends at the base of his spine. Pain’s face is longer than Luck’s which is round like the moon. Pain’s jaw is squarer, his teeth are longer, and his temperament far more reserved. With a level voice he says to me:
“Your kindness, dear heart, will surely destroy us all. Trust me now, and consent that I should kill it, and so preserve our family’s peace.”
“Pain, his name is Kudzu, and I would no more kill him than I would you.”
Kudzu’s still sucking on my hand, but his eyes are glued to Pain and Luck.
“You wound me, Meegan Love, to suggest that your loyalty to this upstart is anything like the love you have for me.” Pain is dangerously close to sounding angry, and I am dangerously close to being angry.
“You think because I forgave you for Andy, and didn’t get mad about the taxes, that I’m going to consent to murder?” Some background: Pain turned my absolutely innocent, and totally normal, human friend Andy Bruce into a slave, and Pain devised a method of taxing the local population without them knowing it in order to finance our household, because I’m basically unemployable. “Bullshit, Pain. I may not be your master, but you do owe me some respect. You wouldn’t even have all your power and freedom, which you use in ways I’m completely against, if it weren’t for me! If you kill a Reynolds who belongs to me, or even one who wants to belong to me, I swear to God, it won’t matter how much I love you. I will never forgive you for that!”
Pain’s eyes are like pools of sparkling heartbreak as he takes in my stern face. “Meegan, love.” He croaks.
“Pain, love” I reply calmly. “My ‘delicate morality’” (I’m quoting Pain here) “is not going to budge on this one. Kudzu is mine now, and he’s coming to breakfast. I need some bread and water to work the ritual.”
“Is he going to sleep in our bed?!” Luck whines, horrified.
I sigh. The bed is getting crowded. All of us sleeping in it when the guys were less than three feet tall was no problem. Lately, it’s like sleeping in a pile of linebackers. “No. He can sleep on the couch.”
“Little fucker.” Luck growls.
And to my surprise, Trouble chooses this moment to step forward. Trouble has grown to about three feet tall. She has yellow eyes and hair, the traditional round Reynolds face, and lovely periwinkle skin. Her soft voice is almost absorbed by the morning fog as she reaches a hand up to touch Luck’s leg. “Luck, I think Kudzu is neat.”
Luck’s mouth drops open. “Neat?”
Trouble straightens her shoulders and meets Luck’s gaze. “He’s not as beautiful as you are, but I like his eyes.” She turns to Pain. “They remind me of your eyes, though not so wise. Don’t you think he’d make a really good spy? I think Kudzu could find out all kinds of things, and he could fit into places that both of you are too brawny to get to. I like Kudzu.” She says to me with a smile. “It’s a perfect name.”
Luck swallows and runs his hand through his hair. “I was mostly worried that he would bother you. I don’t want you to have to work extra, you know, sewing him clothes and stuff.”
“Oh, Luck,” Trouble gushes. “There was a suit I wanted to make for you. I found this blue that matched your eyes, but I don’t want to mess it up. If I could practice on Kudzu, since he’s so much smaller, then I might feel more like I could make something good enough for you.” Trouble is literally batting her eyes, and Luck is eating it up, blushing. I almost here the pi-shaw. “And, Pain.” Trouble continues. “Lady Meegan bought me a suede that would look so handsome with your hair. Would it be too forward of me to make you a shirt?”
“There is no need, gracious Trouble.”
“I want to, Pain. You’re so huge and strong. It would be an accomplishment if I could sew something that would make you look even greater, if that’s possible.” Trouble shakes her head like the task is daunting.
To my utter shock, Pain is buying it too. Pain, my wise, capable, sophisticated, ancient friend, is a tool for Trouble’s praises.
“You honor me, beautiful Trouble. A gift from your hand would be a light to my soul.”
I want to laugh, but I think it would be counter productive. Whatever hold Trouble has over my guys, she’s putting it to good use. I shoot the girl a grateful look and make a mental note to buy her a cookie or something.
“Allow me to fetch my Lady’s bread and water.” Trouble smiles.
“Oh no. Let me get it.” Luck pipes up. “And I’m sorry, Meegan.”
I gape. “You’re forgiven.”
“Lady Meegan.” Pain says, kneeling beside me. “May I impede upon your mercy once again? I have been too impulsive and hasty. I have failed to honor you as the Lady of the house.”
“Of course, Pain, and thank you for being reasonable.” Is he under a spell of some kind? I shoot a questioning glance at Trouble, but she just bats her eyes.
Breakfast went well. Giving Kudzu a bath wasn’t bad. As it happens, Kudzu finds that body odor detracts from his ability to hide in plain sight. This means that Kudzu is the first of his kind that I’ve ever met who actually bathes regularly without being instructed. He’s also familiar with toilets, toilet paper, toothpaste, all the important stuff, and his leaf like hair will never need to be brushed. I’m liking Kudzu more and more as the day goes on.
“How long have you been in exile?” I ask while we dry the breakfast dishes. Pain left them for us. He says that since I have a new servant, there’s no call for Joneses to bother with household chores.
“Since late fall when my master realized that my camouflage is only effective seasonally.”
“Wouldn’t that be obvious?”
Kudzu shrugs. “Fairies don’t always think things through. He made me to spy on the LC, but that was in early summer.”
“You’re less than a year old?”
“Still older than Luck.”
“Really?” Kudzu’s eyes shine up at me from where he’s standing on the counter. It’s kind of a shock to hear such a reasonable voice coming out of his strange plantlike form, but it’s a pleasant shock. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t smitten with my new Reynolds. On a side note, I like it that his leaf decoy things cover up his junk. Makes it okay that he doesn’t have clothes yet.
“Mmm Hmm, made him in early November.”
“I know.” I grin. “I’m proud of him. Were you ever used for making crethe?”
“No.” Kudzu looks down, his voice is level and without emotion. “What kind are you making?”
“Oh, we don’t do that. I think it’s disgusting.” (Crethe are what happen when you cross a Reynolds with and animal, common practice in some parts of Faerie.) “I’m just trying to get an idea of how damaged you might be mentally.”
Kudzu laughs. “Smart to know what your working with.”
“Exactly.” I nod.
“Do you mind if I ask what you have planned for me?” Kudzu sounds careful, but not timid. Also, I’ve noticed that he’s not flinching when I move. Whoever owned him before must not have been too brutal. He doesn’t assume I’m going to hit him.
“I don’t really have any plans.” I admit. “I claimed you because you were hungry.”
Kudzu takes a moment to think about that. After a while he says: “That’s unusual.”
I laugh. “May I touch you?”
Now he laughs. “I belong to you. You can do what you want.”
“I know, but I don’t want to invade your space without permission.”
“You don’t need permission.”
“I want permission.”
Kudzu coughs a little. “Then you have my permission.”
“Good.” And I reach over to riffle through his hair foliage. It’s warm and as I gently twine my fingers down towards Kudzu’s scalp, it gets warmer. He’s trapping his own body heat with his leaves. Kudzu shivers a little when I reach his skin. I smile and turn to face him more directly, examining the twists of his hair branches, and lightly touching the curves of his face. Kudzu is holding as still as he can, just staring at me. “You are so neat.” I whisper, stealing Trouble’s word.
Kudzu grins. “Who do you want me to spy on? We have a whole season before I become useless in Faerie.”
“Shit, I don’t know, but I’m not sending you into Faerie. I don’t have any territory there. The Fae are allowed to kill you on sight.”
“If they see me, they’d still have to catch me.”
I shrug. “I’m not risking your safety over nothing, and there isn’t anything I feel compelled to find out right now. If you want, you can roam my territory and see what’s going on, but it’d just be general fact finding.”
“I can do that.” Kudzu replies agreeably. “In the human realm, I’ll still be useful in fall and winter. You might keep me for a while.”
“I’ll keep you forever unless you ask to be released.” I answer. “Wherever you end up, try to be home for dinner, and I’d prefer for you to sleep in the house, someplace comfortable and within all the wards.”
“I thought you wanted me to sleep on the couch.”
“Sure, but you don’t have to if there’s someplace you like better. I just want you to be safe and warm. I don’t like to see Reynolds shiver.”
“I think you may be lune, what’s the word? Attic, lune attic.”
“A lunatic?” I smile.
“Yes, but I can work for a lunatic.”
“Oh good. I like that you’re not holding it against me.”
“You want me to get cable?” Kudzu asks randomly.
I stare at him.
“My last master wanted cable. I had to figure out how to get it into Faerie, which was tricky. Getting this place hooked up wouldn’t be a problem. I mean, as long as I’m out.”
“Sure, go for it.” I answer.
Kudzu nods. “Good. I like Psych, and I haven’t seen it in months. Do you like Psych?”
“Iaaahave never seen it. I don’t watch a lot of TV.”
“I think you’ll like it. My old master said that those men are lunatics, and you are a lunatic, so I think you’ll like it.”
I reach out and scruff his foliage. “I like you.” I say, and Kudzu smiles a little before zipping our of the house.