A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

July 27, 2007

12. Fresh Kills

The first thing Patch noticed about his new home was its stinking, choking air. The earth itself seemed clean enough. And the tall golden grass, while strange to him, did not seem unnatural. But the air was so rank and sour that every breath threatened to make him ill. As he had approached, Patch had seen that this hill was surrounded by strips of wasteland, and he could hear the distant roar of herds of death machines. But this air did not smell like death machines. This air tasted of death itself.

Patch knew after only a few breaths that he had to leave this poisoned place right away. But he could not see where to go. The golden grass that surrounded him reached higher into the sky than many of the Center Kingdom's bushes, and was far too thin and flimsy for a squirrel to climb. All he could see, in any direction, was a wall of golden reeds.

The burning in his lungs from the rancid air grew steadily worse until he began to half-choke on every breath. Patch began to run, scampering through the dry grass, just trying to get away – but there was nothing to get away from, except the enveloping air, and from that there seemed no escape. He began to panic, and ran in circles, his breath growing faster and more ragged.

"Silver," Patch panted. "Tuft, Brighteyes, Twitch, Sniffer, somebody, help!"

But there was no one to help him. His friends and family were on the other side of the world; they might as well be gone forever.

Patch was beginning to grow dizzy. He realized that if he did not get away from this toxic air, he would soon die; if he closed his eyes to sleep on this golden hillside, he would never awake again.

"Oathbreaker," Patch choked aloud, thinking of Karmerruk with rage. The hawk had sworn on the blood of his nestlings not to kill Patch, and then he had carried him to this deadly island. Patch should have tried to wriggle free while he was over the great water. He cursed himself for not doing so. But the island hadn't looked deadly. In fact, much of it had looked green and pleasant. If only Patch knew which way to go to escape this choking air, and this labyrinth of golden grass.

Then Patch realized: he did know which way to go. He had a memory.

The marvellous sights he had viewed from high above had been so wonderful, Patch had committed them to his memory book. He knew exactly how this island looked from above. He knew that the island's green heart lay east of these poisoned hills. And while the golden grass around him concealed almost everything, it could not hide the direction of the setting sun.

Patch ran away from that sun, ran for the east, trying not to breathe deeply. Soon he grew weak and had to slow to mere scampering. Patch knew he was near collapse – quite aside from the foul air, it had been a truly exhausting day already – but he did not allow himself to stop. He knew if he rested now he would never run again.

The deadly golden hills seemed endless. Every time Patch fought his way to the top of one, he saw another rising before him. His lungs and muscles ached as he ran, and his talon-wounds burned as if Karmerruk's claws still dug into in Patch's flesh. He lost all sense of time. He began to feel that he had always been running through these hills, trying to breathe this thick, fetid air. His legs quivered with exhaustion, his every exhale was a cough, but his fear drove him on. Fear – and a faint sense that the air was becoming slightly clearer.

And then, descending yet another hillside, he saw gleaming metal ahead. Patch had never been so happy before to see the straight lines of something human-built. It was a wire fence. Beyond it lay a concrete plain from which several mountains sprouted; beyond that, herds of death machines rumbled; and beyond them, Patch saw, and smelled in the wind, blue water, green trees, and clean air.

Patch climbed up and down the fence, and without hesitating, he had no strength with which to hesitate, he crossed a field of pale uneven stones and ran past several sleeping death machines onto concrete. There were no humans in sight. He scampered right across the concrete plain, then up and down another fence, and through more golden grass, until only one more obstacle stood between himself and the green trees.

But this obstacle seemed insurmountable. Patch stood before a wasteland strip, even wider than that which surrounded the Center Kingdom. Endless hordes of death machines hurtled down this strip in both directions. Their ghastly, grinding roars were deafening, and the filthy air they belched was almost as bad as that of the golden hills. There was no pattern to the movement of these death machines; there were no hanging lights at which they might halt for a time; and there seemed no end to their number.

Patch wanted to howl with frustration. He was sick and wounded, and his head was spinning with pain from breathing bad air for so long. The air here was better than the hills, breathable, but it still ached in his throat and made him want to retch. All he wanted was to reach those trees he could see in the gaps between the death machines. They were so near. But there was no end to the death machines; there was no way across. And the sun was setting, and he had never been so tired.

In the end Patch retreated into the grass, curled up into a kind of rough bowl in the ground, and tried to sleep. He had never slept on the ground before. Patch thought longingly of where he had slept last night, in his own warm drey in the Center Kingdom, lined with grasses and leaves and newspaper. Patch's last thought, before he finally allowed his exhaustion to carry him into sleep's dark embrace, was that he would never see his own drey again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger seems to have lost my earlier comment, so lets try again.

It would be Patch, not Path in the first para. I don't go about looking for typos, honestly...

Um, and I have no idea what exactly this place is supposed to be. [Air worse than that of a big city? Yellow grass? Large machines??] I have never been to US, let alone NY, so it adds to that alien landscape in an alternate universe, high fantasy/adventure feeling, at least for me.

July 28, 2007 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to be a wheat field by an interstate, but I didn't know those could be toxic.

Thanks Jon, for an interesting read.

July 28, 2007 at 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I only paid attention to the toxic air, that's why I couldn't figure that out. It seems obvious enough now that you mention it.

I need to improve my reading comprehension.

July 28, 2007 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Fixed "Path" to "Patch" - oh, the joys of spellcheckers. Thanks.

Fresh Kills, on Staten Island, was once the world's largest landfill; they've now covered the dump with soil and are trying to turn it into a park, but the seething mountain of rotting trash beneath still emanates enormous amounts of methane (and, at least in this story, other toxic gases too)

July 28, 2007 at 10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this explanation. I had a busy and bad week, but I am now back to reading this story. 7 chapters, must catch up.

August 5, 2007 at 1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These comments are as much a part of this experience as the story. I mean, of course the story is the main event.

But it's very interesting and illuminating to read iva's comment--not having been to NY, or even the US, and not knowing what Fresh Kills is. And then anonymous guessing that it's a toxic wheat field.

I'm reminded again of how cool the world can be, when we hang out and just groove on all our differences.

That said, originating in one of the boroughs of NYC, I was relieved to be in on where Patch's forced flight had led him to.

September 2, 2007 at 8:32 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Switch to

Go to the home page.

Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

Sign up for Jon's low-frequency mailing list:

Powered by Blogger.