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

August 8, 2007

24. The Beach

Patch was woken by the rattling sound of wind in the dry dune grass. The sun was warm and the beach was swept by a wind so strong that it lifted little tendrils of sand above the ground. The grass around him was like none he had ever seen before; golden and brown, wide-stalked, the roots of its blades matted and woven together like an enormous spiderweb sunk into the sand.

Patch was cold, and starving, and desperately thirsty. He had used almost all of his strength to cross the great waters. But there was no food on the beach. All he smelled was salt air and dry grass. He walked inland, moving slowly, so weak that it was difficult to ascend the sandy dunes. He had to rest for some time after climbing the small wire fence he came across, a fence he would normally have bounded across without thinking. Patch knew as he limped forward that if danger found him now, he would never be able to run away.

As he continued inland the grasses grew thicker and were joined by bushes and vines. He came across a vine with shining leaves and bright, tasty-looking berries – but its smell made his tail stiffen, and he steered around it. As the sand turned into earth, he found a few moist shoots and flowers, and devoured them, but they were not enough to satisfy his hunger or slake his thirst.

Then the wind changed, and he smelled two things. Fresh water, and a cat.

Normally Patch would have avoided the cat-smell. Cats were bigger and faster than squirrels, and far more vicious and dangerous; and while birds, mice and rats were their preferred prey, squirrels were not so different. But there was fresh water near this cat – and, too, cats often lived near humans, and Patch was far more skilled at surviving in human lands than in this desolate wilderness.

He changed direction and moved upwind, following the smells, until he crested a bushy ridge and saw a blocklike concrete structure mostly buried in the next ridge of sandy earth. Part of its flat roof protruded from of the earth, and in that corner there was a depression full of rainwater. It smelled stagnant but drinkable. The cat-scent was stronger than ever.

Patch approached with caution, but he went unchallenged as he quenched his thirst. At first he supposed the cat had just left. But when he descended the ridge, he saw that there was a large hole, human-made and big enough for a dog, in the side of the concrete block, and the outline of a small cat was barely visible just inside. Its fur was bristling and it stank of rage and fear. Patch froze.

"Who are you that dares disturb me?" the cat demanded.

"I am Patch son of Silver, of the Seeker clan, of the Treetops tribe, of the Center Kingdom," Patch said. "Who are you that asks?"

The cat took two stalking steps out into the light. She was all black but for the two green eyes that stared at Patch with haughty contempt. She said, "My name is Zelina, and I am the Queen of All Cats."

Patch wondered if the boat had taken him back to the Kingdom of Madness.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

... has the font gone a bit greyer, or are my eyes going funny? :D Very cool chapter as always! Hee, why do i suspect that all cats think they're the queen or king of cats? Some kind of royalty, anyway. That chapter seemed very short, i want to read more! :D

August 9, 2007 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Whoops - the grey was a slight template problem, now fixed. And fear not, the next chapter's a relatively long one...

August 9, 2007 at 5:40 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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