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

August 1, 2007

17. Two Escapes

Patch scrambled out of Shiver's drey onto the branches of her oak tree and began to run up to a high branch. The routes to the sky-road and the tree trunk were guarded by Shiver's brothers and sisters. But the branch Patch aimed for did not connect to the sky-road at all.

Shiver lurched out of the drey behind Patch, and raced after him with terrible speed. Her claws clicked mechanically on the bark, and she made wet gnashing sounds as she bit the air. Gutbite and Headfirst followed her, as it became clear that Patch was not running for the tree trunk, and then Burner and Scream as well. Only Blindeye stayed where he was, perched on the highest branch of the tree, laughing quietly to himself.

The branch Patch had chosen ended in midair. It was strong, but it shook with the weight of six squirrels. When the branch divided, he scrambled up and out, away from the trunk, on a smaller branch; and Shiver was close behind him; and when this new branch divided, he raced even farther away from the trunk, on a branch as thin as a blade of grass, so weak that it bent beneath his weight – and as the branch bent, Patch jumped with all his strength – and fell from a terrible height –

– and landed with a loud splash in the pool of water beneath the tree.

The pool was shallow and half-mud, and Patch's hind legs caught in the slippery muck. He was lucky he had fallen into a place more water than mud; had he fallen into the deep mud, he would have been trapped and drowned. Patch thrashed about violently, managed to free himself, swam hard to the other side of the pool, climbed up onto a log that lay across the muck, and only then dared to look around. He had expected Shiver and her family to double back, run down their trunk, and pursue him. But they still stood on the branches of their tree. Shiver had recovered from her attack, and she looked lost and forlorn as she stared down at Patch.

"Don't go," she pleaded. "Please. I'm sorry. I said the wrong thing. I would never hurt you, Patch. I've waited for you for so long. I was so afraid you would go away. I'm sorry for what I said, for what I am. Don't leave me. Please, Patch. Stay with me. Together we can be mighty. Together we can become King and Queen."

"I don't want to be the King of Madness," Patch said.

He turned and fled.

The forest through which he ran was not at all like the Center Kingdom. Even at its most wild, even in the Ramble, the Center Kingdom was carved into small fragments of land, each with its own smells, landmarks, inhabitants. This forest was a single overwhelming mass of trees in all directions. As Patch ran, he knew he was not really escaping. For as he fled from the madness of Shiver and her family, he ran deeper into the Kingdom of Madness. It was dark and alien and endless, full of unknown sights and smells and dangers.

Patch saw now that this whole island was haunted by poison and insanity. He could not stay here. He would be eaten, by a fox or by other squirrels, or worst of all, by the madness itself. He had to escape.

He called to mind his memory book, his vision of the world from above. The waters around the island were too deep, wide, and violent for a squirrel to swim; but there were two human-built crossings. One south of the golden hills, and one on the northeastern corner of the island.

The crossing south of the golden hills was closer.

But the other crossing would take him back towards the Center Kingdom.

Patch came to a sudden halt in the middle of the sky-road as the idea struck him like a thunderbolt. If he could find a way to, and then across, the mighty crossing to the northeast, then he would be almost halfway back to the Center Kingdom.

He hadn't even thought about trying to go back home. It was impossibly far. No squirrel had ever made such a journey … unless you counted the dusty legends of the great migrations of the past. It required the crossing of two great chasms of water … but of course, one such crossing was already sheer necessity, to escape this Kingdom of Madness. And if he succeeded at the first, surely the second would be easier …

Patch turned from the east to the northeast, towards the Center Kingdom, towards his home. He began to run.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Rakie said...

run patch, run! :D
eee, lovely tense chapter, that was a lot of fun. Oh dear, i feel sorry for Shiver now... :D

August 2, 2007 at 1:33 AM  
Anonymous Iva said...

wow, what a squirrel. He has more initiative than most people I know...including me...

I got till here. Read the rest later.

August 5, 2007 at 3:14 AM  
Blogger Grim said...

Sigh shiver reminds me of my girlfriend😧

February 5, 2017 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger Grim said...

Sigh shiver reminds me of my girlfriend😧

February 5, 2017 at 9:36 PM  

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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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