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

August 11, 2007

27. The Highway Bridge

When Patch woke, Waterwatcher was gone, and Zelina was still asleep. Patch stood over the cat for some time. He knew he had to abandon her and continue alone. Even if she was the Queen of All Cats, she was only causing problems and slowing him down. But it was with a little guilt that he took to the sky-road alone.

His guilt did not last long. Nor did his solitude. For before the sun had travelled more than a quarter of its way up the sky, Patch heard shuffling tictictic noises behind him: Zelina's claws against the wires of the sky-road.

"Very thoughtful of you to let me sleep," she said brightly as she caught up with him.

Patch groaned to himself and kept walking.

The sky-road led east, as did the shore to their north. Another shoreline was visible farther north, across the great waters, and above that land, in the faraway northwest distance, rose the mountains of the Center Kingdom. They slowly approached a bridge that stretched across the great waters on their left to the other side of the channel. When they were level with it, Patch gave the bridge a single searching look, and then continued to the east.

"What are you doing?" Zelina asked.

"If we go straight, in time we can go around the waters," Patch explained.

"We can go over them right now. There's a bridge right there."

"We can't cross that bridge. Look at it. It's crawling with death machines."

"Automobiles," she correct him. "And not all of it. Look to the right."

Patch looked again and hesitated. It was true that on the extreme righthand side of the bridge, there was a little concrete channel too narrow for a death machine. But the thought of travelling along it made his skin crawl. Concrete was wasteland, something to be avoided if possible and traversed if necessary, not something to be used as a pathway.

"No," he said.

"Are you mad? This sky-road goes away from the city. The bridge goes right towards it."

That too was true. But – "No. It's a bad idea."

"Why?"

Patch searched for an answer. "There's nowhere to run. What if a dog comes? Or a hawk? It's a bridge for humans. It's not for animals."

"I'm not afraid."

"I'm going forward on the sky-road. You can do what you like."

"And so I shall," Zelina said. "I shall cross this bridge."

"Fine." Patch marched onwards.

But he did not go far before he slowed and stopped. Much as he hated to admit it, Zelina was right. The sky-road did lead away from the Center Kingdom. He thought it would eventually turn and allow him to go around the waters – but he didn't actually know this. If he continued, there might be any number of obstacles in his path far greater than a concrete channel free of any death machines. And while the risk of hawks and dogs on the bridge was real, it was also small.

Patch sighed and turned around. He caught up with Zelina just as she was performing an awkward and elaborate descent from the sky-road, a descent that involved two trees, a house, a wall, and several human-built things beneath the wall. Patch simply ran straight down one of the sky-road's dead tree trunks and joined her.

"I'm glad to see you have come to your senses, Patch son of Silver," she said. "Follow me."

They had to cross two of the wasteland strips Zelina called highways to get to the bridge, but that was no trouble, there were few death machines and fewer humans about. Once at the edge of the bridge Patch wanted to wait and survey the terrain, but Zelina kept moving. After only a moment's hesitation Patch followed. He didn't want to cross this bridge alone.

He had grown accustomed to the feel of concrete beneath his paws, but his overwhelming urge was to get away from this wasteland, not to travel along its length. Once they were in the channel, with concrete walls rising from either side of the concrete floor, Patch felt terror begin to tear at his mind. The walls were too high to jump and too sheer to climb. All he could see or feel was concrete. His muscles shuddered with fear, he wanted to turn back and run for his life – but Zelina kept going, indeed she sauntered casually onwards. Patch focused on her, on her sight and scent, and followed her trail exactly, breathing hard, trying not to panic.

The bridge arched across the waters like a rainbow. They were just past its peak when Patch saw and smelled two humans approaching. He squeezed his eyes half-shut and made himself continue. The humans stopped dead in their tracks, as if frightened. As Patch and Zelina darted past, the humans watched very closely and rumbled loudly to one another in their strange voices. Patch didn't think he had ever been so near a human before. At least they had not been accompanied by a dog.

He was so focused on his surroundings rather than his destination that the end of the bridge came as a surprise; suddenly, the wall to his right was wire not concrete, and green grass lay beyond. Patch immediately scrambled up and over. Zelina continued along the concrete, until, on opposite sides of the wire fence, they reached the endpost of a human sky-road. They had crossed the bridge.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Rakie said...

YAY!! *clappy* Ooh, that was tense, i'm glad they got across the bridge okay. And the bit with the people was funny. :D Cool chapter, keep em coming! :D

August 13, 2007 at 1:10 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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