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

July 31, 2007

16. The Customs of Bones

"I'm sorry," Shiver said, when she had recovered. She could not bring herself to look at Patch as she spoke. "I'm not quite normal. Not quite. I have little attacks of madness like that. It doesn't happen often. I promise I'm the most normal squirrel you'll find in this whole kingdom. I'm so sorry it happened in front of you!"

"It's all right," Patch said. He searched for something good to say on the subject. "At least it doesn't last long."

"When it happens," Shiver said, "it feels like I am dying and being born, at the same time."

Patch didn't know what to say.

"Come into my drey," Shiver said. "It's warm."

"I'm not sure your family wants me here," Patch said uncertainly.

Shiver looked hard at Patch. "You don't want to go out there on your own, Patch. It's not like the Center Kingdom. It's not safe in this forest. No one is safe. You were lucky to find my family. Other squirrels wouldn't have been so welcoming."

"What do you mean?"

"Come into my drey. Stay with us."

Patch hesitated. He saw that all of Shiver's brothers and sisters, from their position around the tree, were watching him warily. He saw that because of where they stood and sat, there was no easy way to escape the tree, either by ground or by sky-road.

He followed Shiver into her drey. The entrance alone was larger than any drey Patch had ever entered; a long, dark tunnel into the heart of the tree. Patch did not recognize its rich, disturbing smell, but his tail stiffened as if danger was near.

"Did you have a mate, in the Center Kingdom?" Shiver asked.

Patch thought of Brighteyes, who Shiver resembled. "No."

"I have never had a mate," Shiver said. "I'd rather die without breeding than have mad, twisted babies. But you, Patch of the Center Kingdom, you are untouched, untainted."

They entered the main chamber of her drey, a hollow chamber in the heart of the tree big enough for a half-dozen squirrels. A fissure in its ceiling allowed in a few thin rays of daylight. There was a jumbled pile of white twiglike things in the corner. For a moment Patch did not understand what they were. Then he cried out in horror.

"What is it?" Shiver asked, confused. "Is something wrong?"

"Bones," Patch whispered. "Those are bones."

"Yes. Of course."

"Squirrel bones."

After a moment Shiver said, surprised, "It is not your custom, in the Center Kingdom, to sleep on the bones?"

"Whose are they?"

"Whose do you think? Our old, our weak, our enemies, those babies born dead or too misshapen to walk…Once we have eaten their flesh we sleep on their bones. They are warm and comfortable. Come and see."

Patch managed to say, "No."

"Don't worry. I throw the skulls into the waters, you won't hurt yourself on a tooth." Shiver climbed up onto the heap of bones. There was room enough for two.

"I can't stay here," Patch said.

"You must."

"I can't."

"You will stay here, Patch of the Center Kingdom," Shiver said harshly. "You will give me healthy children, normal children. Or your bones will join this pile. But either way you will stay with me."

As she spoke the last words she began to shake and bite the air again.

Patch ran as if a fox was at his heels. But Shiver, in the midst of her attack of madness, pursued him; and her affliction seemed to give her unnatural strength and speed; and outside the drey, her brothers and sisters waited.


Anonymous Rakie said...

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh aaaaaahhhhhhhhh that's HORRIBLE!! *throws a shoe at Jon* Eeeeeek, mutant cannibal psycho squirrels, that's the scariest thing ever. Eek, poor Patch, hope he's going to be okay. Awesome chapter, can't wait to find out what happens next! *bounces*

August 1, 2007 at 1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ewwwwwww! ditto.

August 1, 2007 at 7:24 AM  
Anonymous iva said...

actually I am not all that grossed out, but that might be because I saw first 20 min of trainspotting today. Now that* was ewwww...

*I will finish the movie one of these days. I do everything in bits and pieces.

August 5, 2007 at 2:02 AM  
Blogger Phayona said...

Wow Jon she kinda sounds like me I want to be married and have babies so badly lol.

November 2, 2009 at 6:10 AM  

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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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