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

August 7, 2007

23. The Great Waters

Eventually, after a period so nightmarish Patch had no idea how long it lasted, the motion and vibrations slowed and stopped. Patch felt like his brains had been scrambled and his muscles turned to mush, and his head hurt from the oily death-machine smells all around him. He could tell they were still on the waters from the way the boat continued to rise and fall. It moved more gently now, for which he was grateful.

He heard a dog's voice in the very great distance: "What's this? What's this? What's this?"

After a moment Patch realized it was not a dog in the very great distance. It was the dog very near to him, the dog on the boat. It sounded faraway because the awful rattling noise had driven Patch almost deaf.

"Master, there's something!" the dog cried out. "Master, there's something! Something here, something here … "

Patch froze.

"Squirrel!" the dog howled. "Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel! Kill it and eat it! Kill it and eat it! Kill it and eat it!"

The dog's snout thrust into the opening of the hollow in which Patch hid. The dog's fangs gleamed in the dim light, less than a squirrel-length away from Patch, and it drooled with homicidal lust. Patch whimpered.

"Kill you and eat you! Kill you and eat you!" it shouted at Patch, its voice a bit muffled, for it was half-muzzled by the hollow's narrow walls. The dog tried to push its head all the way into the hollow, and its fangs clashed together as it tried to catch Patch between them, but it was a large dog and its head was too big.

The dog's head was suddenly pulled away. Patch heard the complex, pulsating sounds of a human voice. Then a human head was at the end of the hollow, and a human eye was staring at him. Patch tried to retreat even deeper into the hollow, but he was already at its end.

The human head retreated. It was briefly replaced by that of the howling, blood-maddened dog. Then the dog was pulled away again – and a long metal branch was thrust into the hollow. The branch stabbed and slashed at Patch. Its end was dull but it was wielded with such force that Patch had only two choices; run away, along and past the metal branch, out of the hollow and into the open boat, where the dog and human waited for him; or stay and be battered to death.

He intended to stay nonetheless – but the branch got behind him and dragged him out of the end of the hollow. And suddenly there was sunlight on Patch's face, and a human standing above him wielding the metal branch, and a large dog leaping at him, snarling with bloodlust, its fanged maw open wide as if it intended to swallow Patch whole.

Patch jumped. There was no thought in this jump, only instinct. The jump carried him over the dog's head, so close that his paws grazed its ear, and onto a little platform, about the same height as the dog, made of a strange slick material. It was shaped a little like the benches of the Center Kingdom where humans often sat. Patch's second jump, as the dog turned its head to bite at him, carried him over the rest of the dog's body onto the floor of the boat. The human's foot lashed out and Patch barely sidestepped. His third jump took him onto another platform, at the back of the boat; and his fourth carried him onto the very edge of the boat, the thin wall of its half-shell, where he perched precariously for a long and dizzying moment.

The boat was deep in the midst of the great waters. The mountains of the Center Kingdom were nowhere to be seen. Nor were the towers of the great bridge. In the distance Patch saw a single strip of land; otherwise there was only water, extending forever in all other directions.

"Kill you and eat you!" the dog bellowed as it sprinted across the boat. The human came behind it, swinging its metal branch back and forth with deadly strength. The dog crouched for a running jump, and its mouth opened for a killing bite.

Patch had no choice. He leaped into the water. It was shockingly cold.

"Kill you and eat you!" the dog screamed from the boat, as Patch paddled desperately away. "Kill you and eat you!"

Patch swam. At first his only thought was to get away from the boat as fast as he could. But as the dog's maddened cries dwindled away, thought slowly replaced terror in his mind, and Patch realized he had to swim towards land. He could not see the land. He could not see anything but enormous waves ten times his height, and the cloud-streaked sky above. But sometimes, during quiet moments in the constant tumult of the waves, he heard the sounds of gulls, and he swam towards those sounds.

He swam for a very long time. He floated naturally, his tail served as an excellent rudder, and paddling with all four limbs he made good time for his size; but he had so very far to go. He grew cold, and then freezing. He grew thirsty, and then desperately thirsty, but he knew he could not drink the salt water that shrivelled his lips and withered his tongue. He grew weary, and then desperately exhausted, but he knew he could not allow himself to rest, despite the shooting pains in all four of his churning legs. The sun began to sink. This aided his navigation but frightened him greatly. Patch knew he would not survive a night in the waters.

The gull-sounds grew louder. He began to see gulls arcing through the air above him on the rare occasions when he raised his head from his fog of exhaustion. Then his right foreleg started to cramp so much it simply would not move, and he had to angle his tail carefully to avoid swimming in circles. The character of the waves that carried him changed, they grew choppier, topped with foam, more urgent and unpredictable in their movements, and though this meant he was coming closer to land, it also made it more difficult to fight his way through the ebb and tug of their currents.

The clouds were red with a dying sun when Patch rode the crest of an unusually high wave and saw land in front of him. When he finally staggered out of the water onto a sandy beach, on legs near total collapse, the sun had been almost extinguished. He barely managed the short walk up the sand, into the thickets of tough grass that grew in the dunes above the beach, and there he collapsed, too tired to be thankful for his life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nnnnnnnnnnnghn tense chapter!! :D Aww, poor Patch, you really do have to feel for him. That guy on the boat was a bit of a jerk - why on earth would you try and stamp on a squirrel?? that's just mean.
btw, can squirrels really swim that well? we don't have any where i live so i've no idea. :D
awesome chapter as always!!

August 8, 2007 at 1:42 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Squirrels are, indeed, excellent swimmers.

August 8, 2007 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dunn said...

They may be excellent swimmers, but unfortunately they can get exhausted. We learned that one summer when we left the lid off our small inflatable wading pool overnight. Sometime that evening a squirrel fell in and he drowned before noon the next day.

I felt terrible for the poor thing. After that we always left a float in the pool, just in case another animal fell in and needed to climb out.

I'm continuing to enjoy your story very much!

September 23, 2009 at 11:22 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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