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

July 28, 2007

13. Solstice

Patch woke with the dawn, shivering with cold and once again aching with hunger. The morning was very quiet. The tall grasses he had slept in were topped by clumps of seeds, and he tried to eat some from a fallen stalk, but after a few bites he realized they might fill his belly but they had no sustenance. He needed real food. If only he could get to the trees across the wasteland.

When Patch poked his head out of the grass, his heart filled with hope. The sun on his face was warm, for the first time since winter had begun, and that was something; but also, the wasteland strip that last night had been full of death machines was deserted. He took a few tentative steps towards the green trees –

– and a huge death machine shrieked by, moving faster than any Patch had ever seen. Its slipstream was so strong that it knocked Patch sprawling onto the stony ground.

Patch got stiffly to his feet. He wanted to run away. But there was nowhere to run to but the poisonous golden hills. Again he approached the wasteland, looking warily down its length in both directions. He saw nothing. But death machines moved so fast, they could appear out of nowhere, Patch might be crushed by one the moment he set foot onto concrete.

On the other paw, he had to cross this wasteland sometime, or stay and die in this grass. And he might never get a better chance.

Patch put his head down and ran. He made it across the first half of the wasteland. He leaped over the little metal fence that ran down the middle of the concrete. And then he saw motion to his right, a huge approaching death machine, already far too near. It was too late to turn back. Patch closed his eyes and sprinted for the trees. An enormous roaring sound came from Patch's right, grew so loud that it seemed to swallow him up entirely – and then Patch went tumbling through the air – but he had not been struck. The death machine had missed Patch by a claw's width, and the wind in its wake had again picked up Patch and flung him hard against the ground.

This time when Patch got to his feet he stood on cool, grassy earth, near the base of a maple tree. And if his nose did not deceive him, and he was sure that it did not, a cool, sweet, enticing smell drifted down from the tree. A smell that meant the most wonderful thing in the world.

Patch climbed into this maple tree, out to the ends of its branches, and began to devour the sweet, delectable buds that had begun to sprout from its gnarled wood. The air here was still sour and acrid – but beneath that taint, he could smell the maple buds, and hints of flowers, of new grasses, of a forest beginning to wake from a long and dolorous sleep. Patch was sick and hurt, so far away from home he thought he would never see it again, and in a strange place with foul air, but he smiled all the same.

Spring was here.


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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.

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