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

August 6, 2007

22. The Boat

The journey to the boat was difficult. It was not far away, and Glaw simply flew there, but between the bridge and the boat there stood a large, dense thicket of bushes and brambles like nothing Patch had ever seen before. There was no sky-road, he could not climb on their thorny branches, instead he had to run through their stalks. The bushes soaked up so much of the sunlight that the ground beneath was almost totally dark. Patch felt like a rat in an underground warren. He had to navigate by the contours of the ground, and by the time he finally emerged on the other side of the thickets, both Glaw and Daffa had tired of (or forgotten) his quest, and disappeared.

But he saw the boat. In fact he saw many of them. Humans had lashed together a hundred dead trees into something like a very large, flat log that protruded from the land into the great waters, and leashed to this log there were a dozen boats. There was a smell of fish as Patch approached, but there were no humans in sight, nor any animals except for gulls high above and a few frogs. Patch would have quizzed the frogs about which boat was best, but he spoke no Amphibian.

A rusting wire fence surrounded the pebbled field from which the boat-log extended. Patch climbed up and down it easily, although he had to take care while crossing the barbed, thorny strands of wire along its top. The air of the boat-log smelled of fish and the salty waters. Patch ran along its length, pausing at each boat in turn. All of them were the length of a smallish tree. All of them smelled foul and were jumbled full of human-things. One of them, however, smelled more powerfully of fish than the others. Patch decided that this one would be best.

The boat rocked back and forth on the waters, moving unpredictably, and Patch's leap onto it nearly went awry. He righted himself and looked for a hiding place. On either side of the boat, near its floor, tubular hollows ran up the length of the vessel. Near the front of the boat they disappeared into its interior walls, into spaces almost like dreys. These spaces seemed perfect for hiding – except for the foul, oily smell that reminded Patch of death machines.

Patch waited a long time in this boat. He could not get used to its ceaseless trembling and rocking, or the way it sometimes bumped against the boat-log it was leashed to. It was like an earthquake that would not stop, and Patch wanted to get off, back to the boat-log or better yet onto land, even though this was his only way home. He was on the verge of giving up and abandoning the boat when he heard the growls of an approaching death machine.

After the death machine fell silent, human footsteps clumped along the boat-log, along with the clicking sounds of something else. Patch waited anxiously. He nearly cried out when the whole boat suddenly tilted, then began to rock violently, as a human boarded the boat. He wondered suddenly what he was doing hiding in this horrible and horribly dangerous human thing. Had any squirrel ever done anything so mad and stupid before? Had the food and water of the Kingdom of Madness infected him as well? It would have been better by far to have stayed on the island.

Patch caught a whiff of two new scents, along with those of salt and fish and death-machines. The first was that of a human. But the second made him go weak with terror. It was the scent of a dog. The clicking sounds he had heard approaching had been dog claws. There was a dog on the boat.

An enormous, rattling snarl erupted from all around Patch, and the whole boat began to shake. Patch's teeth began to chatter, whether from dread or the constant, bone-jarring vibration he did not know. Then he sensed motion in his gut. They were moving out into the great waters, and moving faster than Patch had ever moved before, except perhaps when falling. The boat began to bounce choppily up and down, knocking Patch's head painfully against the ceiling of the hollow in which he hid. Patch curled up into a ball, closed his eyes, and trembled with fear.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oooooh, tense! i love how all the most ordinary of stuff is really terrifying for a squirrel. Very cool chapter!! :D

August 7, 2007 at 1:18 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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