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

August 3, 2007

19. Daffa

As Patch journeyed through the human lands along the wire sky-road, he sometimes saw or smelled cats, rabbits and raccoons, and each time he was tempted to stop and strike up conversation, for he was desperately lonely. But rabbits were too stupid to bear talking to; and cats and raccoons were dangerous. He knew of them from the Center Kingdom, and knew that while they had no reason to attack a passing squirrel, they also had no reason not to. The smaller ones could run the wire sky-road almost as well as Patch, and worst of all, they might well be afflicted by the madness. It was best to keep moving quickly and not talk to anyone.

He had seen much strange behaviour since entering the human lands. Watching the concrete strips below, he had realized for the first time that humans actually rode inside death machines, and wondered how the two species had struck such a bargain. He had seen humans run down the street, smelling of sweat and terrible exhaustion, although they neither chased nor were chased by anything. But the strangest thing Patch saw was on the eighth day of his journey. It caused him to stop and watch bemused for some time.

What he saw, as he sat one of the sky-wires, was a human with dark skin, standing on the flat top of a building, holding a big broken tree-branch, and swinging it around him in slow circles. And in the sky above him, a flock of hundreds of pigeons flew in circles around this building, in the same speed and direction as the human's branch; indeed, it looked as if this branch extended invisibly until it connected to the flock, and that the human held them like dogs on leashes, controlling their motions. Patch could hear the birds chanting something that sounded like "Kabooti kabooti kabooti." The word was meaningless to him.

As Patch wondered if humans too were afflicted by the curse of the Kingdom of Madness, one of the pigeons fluttered weakly away from the flock and came to rest on the wire not far from him.

"What are you doing?" Patch asked the pigeon in Bird. He wasn't really hoping for a comprehensible response, but eight long days of lone travel had left him so lonely that even a one-way conversation seemed more agreeable than silence.

"Oh my goodness," the pigeon gasped. "Oh my goodness, I thought I would die. I just went to watch but then I was in the flock. I thought I would die."

"Who are you?" Patch asked hopefully. This pigeon did not sound mad.

"I'm Daffa. Who are you?"

"I am Patch son of Silver, of the Seeker clan, of the Treetops tribe, of the Center Kingdom," Patch said.

"Good heavens, you're a long way from home, aren't you?"

"You've heard of the Center Kingdom?"

"I am of the Center Kingdom," Daffa said. "I flew here. How did you get here?"

"I don't suppose you know a hawk named Karmerruk."

Daffa took two frightened hops away from Patch. "Is he here?"

"No," Patch said. "I made a bargain with him, but he tricked me and left me here, and he flew back to the Center Kingdom."

Daffa looked relieved.

"Do you know a bluejay named Toro?" Patch asked.

"I don't think so."

"Are you going back to the Center Kingdom? Can you find him and give him a message from me?"

"Can you tell me where he is?" Daffa asked.

Patch considered. "Not exactly. But you can ask around…"

"I'm not very good at remembering things like messages," Daffa admitted. "Really I can only remember faces and places. I can go exactly to any place I've ever been. But I'm not good with messages. A big cat told me to take a message once. He'd learned Bird just like you. I forget what the message was. But I can go right back to the big cat any time I want."

"A cat learned Bird?" Patch asked, intrigued. "I thought cats ate birds."

"This cat was different."

"Why did you come here?" Patch asked.

Daffa looked down and sighed. "I'm looking for my home."

"Looking for your home? But I thought you could go exactly –"

"I don't understand it either," Daffa said sadly. "I used to have two homes. I would go to one, and the humans would tie a ribbon to my leg, and I would fly to the other, and they would take off the ribbon and give me wonderful food. It was so much fun. But one day I got carried away by a big thunderstorm. And when I came back I couldn't find either home any more. The storm must have confused me."

"When did this happen?" Patch asked. He didn't remember any recent storm.

"I don't know. I'm not good with time either. But whenever it was, ever since then I've been flying around looking for my home. That's why I'm here. Then I saw the flock and went to see what they were doing. But that whole flock is mad!"

"What are they saying? Kabooti kabooti kabooti, what does that mean?"

"It doesn't mean anything."

"Do you want to come with me?" Patch asked. "I'm going to the crossing. You can come with me and look for your home." He nodded towards the pale towers visible in the distance.

"Oh, the bridge," Daffa said. "But we can't go together. I fly, and you crawl."

"I don't crawl!" Patch said indignantly. "I walk and I run."

Daffa shrugged as if to say he didn't see the difference. "Maybe I'll come visit you sometime if I see you. What did you say your name was again?"

"Patch son of Silver, of the Seeker clan," Patch began, but Daffa had already begun to soar into the sky.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so thoroughly hooked on your characters. Of course, Patch, but all the animals he meets, too. This last, Daffa, is wonderful—I want to say, so human.

I do hope this gets made into a book, as I'd love to give it to my granddaughters—6 and 8, but reading way beyond their years.

And, hell, if I didn't say it earlier—I meant to, but, like Daffa, don't always recall everything—I would love to do the design and layout on this one if it does get made into an actual book.

Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist
cell: 631/764/2487
email: steve@tianodesign.com
iChat screen name: stephentiano@mac.com
website: http://www.tianodesign.com
blog: http://www.tianodesign.com/blog

September 2, 2007 at 2:04 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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