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

August 4, 2007

20. The Bridge

Patch reached the bridge on the tenth day of his journey across the Kingdom of Madness. He had grown very skilled at surviving in human lands; at navigating along the wire sky-roads, avoiding other animals, finding dark places in which to hide when dangerous shadows or smells appeared in the sky or the air, finding foods in the little patches of greenery or the seed-pods that humans jettisoned from their buildings. He had grown so confident that he had begun to think of his journey back to the Center Kingdom as a matter more of mere time than of difficulty.

His optimism dimmed as he approached the bridge and began to understand is sheer colossal size. From far away it had seemed large but comprehensible. But as Patch grew ever closer, he began to realize that the towers of the bridge rivalled the mountains around his homeland for size, and its length was greater than that of the Center Kingdom itself. It would take Patch a full day to cross. And there was nothing green or growing on this bridge; it was solid metal and concrete.

The bridge's anchor was a gargantuan concrete block surrounded by a green area that reminded Patch of his home. This area had grassy fields, trees, bushes, and hills; and it was divided by wasteland strips, home to several human buildings, and patrolled by snarling death machines. From the grassy heights above the edge of the great waters, Patch could see the mountains of the Center Kingdom glittering in the distance. The sight of his home warmed his heart, but also made him feel oddly small and adrift. He had never in all his life been able to stand on the ground and see so far. The vastness of the world spread out before him made himself and his home seem tiny and irrelevant.

The air here was clear and free of any taint, the sun was warm, the food was plentiful, and the sparrows Patch chatted with briefly seemed perfectly normal. (They were unable to keep a thought in their heads for more than a few heartbeats, but for sparrows that is perfectly normal.) He seemed to have escaped the Kingdom of Madness without actually leaving the island. And there were squirrels here, he smelled them and saw them in the distance. It was a place that he could safely stay.

But he knew if he did, he would see every day, in the distance, the mountains that surrounded his home, and the bridge that led to them.

After taking in the wide hilltop view of the world, the great waters and the islands and the mighty bridge, and committing the view to his memory book, Patch turned back from his panoramic view and scampered towards the gigantic concrete stump from which the bridge extended. He assumed there would be some way a nimble squirrel could climb on to the bridge.

But he was wrong. The more he investigated, the more impervious to squirrels the bridge seemed. The walls of its base were solid concrete, unclimbable. Wasteland strips full of grumbling death machines curved, and coiled, and led up and into the bridge, but while Patch was willing to cross wasteland if absolutely necessary, he knew that travelling along it would be suicidal. Even if Patch swam out to where the mighty towers of the bridge were sunk, even if he survived the huge waves and powerful currents of the great water, the towers too were unclimbable. There was simply no way up, much less any way across. He would have to stay on this island forever.


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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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