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

July 20, 2007

5. A Welcome Discovery

"Patch!" a voice chirped. "Patch, is that you?"

Patch looked to the sky and his heart filled with relief as a bluejay fluttered downwards and settled on a nearby branch. Nothing dispels fear like the unexpected arrival of a friend.

"What are you doing here?" Toro asked, amazed.

"I came to get food," Patch said. "You said there was food here."

"There is. Just down there." Toro pointed with his beak deeper into the mountains. "Inside those black things. Around them too, sometimes."

"The rocks?" Patch asked doubtfully, but as he looked, he saw the skins of what he had taken to be rocks fluttering in the cold wind.

"Some of them are full of food. Food falls right out of them. Go on down, I'll show you."

"Go on down," Patch said, even more doubtfully.

"It's perfectly safe. Just follow me," Toro said.
The bluejay launched himself into the wind, angled his wings into a slow gliding turn, and came to rest on the concrete, next to where a heap of black things stood beside one of the caged little trees.

"Easy for you," Patch muttered. "You're a bird. You just fly away from trouble."

But the sight of his friend perched casually right next to a sleeping death machine, combined with the promise of food, was enough to bring Patch down to the concrete. He scampered towards Toro as quickly as possible, turning his head from side to side to look for danger. He found it everywhere. There were humans both behind and ahead of Patch, a row of sleeping death machines to his right, and to his left he smelled rats. Many rats.

"This is it!" Toro said when Patch reached him.

Toro sounded as proud as if he stood before a hill of acorns as high as a human, rather than a pile of huge, foul-smelling black things like seed-pods, their shiny skins flapping like leaves in the wind. Patch looked skeptically at the trickled heap of decaying sludge beneath one of the seed-pods, and said, "You said there was food."

"There's food inside them," Toro promised. "Just go inside. That's what the rats do."

"It's rat food?" Patch asked, horrified. Rats would eat anything, the more rancid and disgusting the better.

"Rats come here," Toro admitted. "That's how I found it, I saw them. But sometimes it's good food too. Once, right here, I found the most marvellous seeds I ever tasted. They were wonderful."

Patch sniffed the air. He smelled bluejay, death machines, rotting sludge and rats. He smelled his own fear and hunger. But there was something else beneath all that. Like the faintest hint of wine in muddy water, or a single musical note almost drowned out by a howling crowd, Patch smelled something so delicious that his mouth began to water.

"What is it?" Toro asked.

"It's here," Patch said. He leaped up on the nearest black thing. Its material had a strange slick feel, made an alarming crinkling noise when he landed, and was so soft his claws tore right through it. Patch jumped to the top of the pile of huge black seed-pods, and ripped open the skin of the uppermost one with a few bites. The wonderful smell was suddenly stronger. Patch hesitated only a moment. Then he dove headfirst into the hole he had made.

It was so dark inside the seed-pod that he could not see. His snout encountered dry fluttery things, wet sticky things, even hard metal things. In his hunger he pushed them all aside, squirming deeper and deeper, following his nose towards the smell that made him dizzy with hunger. He found paper, like the newspaper with which his drey was lined. He tore the paper open with his teeth. And inside he found a whole mound of food like nothing Patch had ever tasted before. It was soft, salty, and delicious. There was enough to fill the bellies of a dozen squirrels.

Patch ate, and ate, and ate.

Until dimly, through all the debris that surrounded him, he heard Toro's high, harsh cry that meant: "Danger!"


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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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