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

August 13, 2007

28. Storm Shelter

The sky-road progressed to the north, towards the mountains visible on the horizon, along a wide and busy highway, past houses and humans below. The wind grew so strong that Patch and Zelina had to take care not to be blown off. The sky to the northeast was busy with human flying machines, the kinds with wings that did not beat. They rose up from and plunged down to the earth. The distant roars that followed them across the sky were unsettling, made Patch felt as if an owl or hawk was circling above him, ready to pounce.

The sky grew dark. But the day was not yet over – this was the dark of stormclouds, not sunset. Patch and Zelina had just left the area of human buildings, and entered a large wilderness cut in two by the highway the sky-road followed, when the first huge drops of rain began to fall. It was soon obvious that they had to find shelter. This wind and rain would sweep them right off the sky-road, if they stayed.

This wilderness below was like nowhere Patch had ever been. Its ground was damp and muddy, shot through with ponds, streams, and rivulets. The ground was thick with small vine-choked trees and bushes, and rising above this dense undergrowth were trees he did not know, with peeling white bark, slender vertical trunks and a profusion of short, thin horizontal branches. These branches made it relatively easy for Zelina to climb down to the ground, but they did not climb, extend and overlap like the branches of elms, maples and oaks. There were a few other trees beyond the white ones, strange trees whose bark had mostly peeled away, revealing pale wood underneath like bones under skin; but these trees were few in number, and even if they had formed a sky-road it would have been rendered impassable by the weather. They had to find shelter on the ground.

There were no leaves yet on the bushes to block the rain. As Patch and Zelina poked their way through the brambles and bushes, rain streamed off the branches and fell on them, and the ground beneath them grew wetter and muddier with every passing heartbeat. The rain caused animal smells to rise like ghosts from the earth, and as they ran, seeking shelter, Patch smelled mouse, chipmunk, rat, squirrel, raccoon, frog, turtle, innumerable birds … and something that reminded him uneasily of the quick, sharp-toothed things he had seen twice from on high in the Kingdom of Madness. Something that was definitely predator, and probably fox.

The sky flashed with light, and there was a sound like a tree trunk breaking in two, and the air itself shook.

"Oh, this is terrible, terrible!" Zelina wailed.

"There's nothing here!" Patch shouted. He had to shout to be heard over the noise of branches flailing in the wind. By this time Patch was thoroughly miserable. "We'll have to just stay under the bushes!"

"No! Look! Over there!"

Patch looked and saw nothing.

"Follow me!" Zelina cried, and set out at a dead run. It was all Patch could do to follow her, first through more bushes, then through a stand of huge clubgrass. He was convinced they were utterly lost, and half-convinced that the storm had driven Zelina mad, when they suddenly emerged from the clubgrass onto the edge of a pool of fresh water so big that Patch could not see across it. A huge fallen tree extended into this pool. And the ground beneath this tree's overturned stump was warm and dry.

There were three squirrels already sheltering beneath the stump, along with two large, ugly, foul-smelling birds that Patch did not recognize. He followed Zelina onto the blissfully dry ground. The other squirrels backed away from Zelina. They smelled of fear.

"I am Patch son of Silver, of the Seeker clan, of the Treetops tribe, of the Center Kingdom," Patch said. After a moment he reluctantly added, "This is my friend Zelina, the Queen of All Cats."

He expected full introductions, but the squirrels said nothing, only stared. Patch sighed and looked at Zelina, who was cleaning herself. He supposed she was the problem. But he wouldn't have found this shelter, or crossed the bridge, without her.

"Where do you come from?" one of the squirrels whispered, her voice full of fear.

"The Center Kingdom."

She backed away a little further, almost to the curtain of rain. "But how did you get here?"

"From the Ocean Kingdom."

"This is the Ocean Kingdom," another squirrel said.

"Then from your southern lands, across the waters."

"What do you know of the monsters?" a third squirrel demanded angrily.

Patch blinked. "Monsters? What monsters?"

"The monsters who hunt near our homes," said the first. "They killed my mate. They carried him into the sky and killed him."

Patch didn't understand. "You mean hawks? Owls?"

"We mean monsters," said the third squirrel. "They grow among the trees and snatch us up from the ground with long metal claws like vines. They have driven out us out of our dreys and into this swamp, where we must live like rats."

"I don't know anything about monsters. I'm just trying to get back to the Center Kingdom. Who are you?"

A little less suspicious now, the squirrels introduced themselves as Hindlegs, Brokenclaw and Mudwalker.

"Beware the wasteland," Mudwalker said. "It is near the wasteland that the monsters hunt. You must stay out here in the swamps."

"We just came from the wasteland," Patch said, "well, from the sky-road above the wasteland, and we didn't see any monsters."

"You were very lucky," said Hindlegs, the squirrel who had lost her mate to the monsters.

"Excuse me," Patch said in Bird to the big, ugly, stinking birds. "Do you know anything about monsters around here? With long metal claws?"

"Sorry," one of them croaked, "We're new around here."

"Say, you speak good Bird," hissed the other. "Have you seen anything dead?"

"Excuse me?"

"Dead bodies. Corpses. Fresh would be best, but we'll take maggots and rot if we have to, we've been flying for days to get here."

"No, sorry," Patch said.

The first bird peered at Patch quizzically. "How about you? How are you feeling? Sick? Weak? Feverish? Dying?"

"I feel fine, thank you."

"Pity. How about your friends?"

"I'm sure they're fine too."

The birds sighed and turned back to the water.

Then a reptilian head rose out of the shallows at the edge of the pond. It looked like a growth on the end of a stalk, emerging from a large shell that was mostly hidden by the water.

"Pardon me, young squirrel," the turtle said in excellent Bird, "might you indulge me for a moment?"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

a turtle who can speak bird, there's something you don't see every day. :D Coolio chapter, liked that very much! what are the monsters then? I'm getting worse at guessing these. :D Looking forward to reading more!

ps. hope the roadtrip's going well!! it's raining here... :(

August 14, 2007 at 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the "monsters" are construction equipment...maybe backhoes? The long metal claws is what makes me think that.

August 14, 2007 at 5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read everything published untill now and it's very good.

I did have to use google earth to make some kind of sense of Patch's locations and route.

How long is this novel actually? Or more specifically, how many more chapters will be posted?

August 14, 2007 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Wow, the backhoes would have been a nifty idea. But it's something else, as you'll see...

I said in the FAQ that there will be 60 chapters, but I'm beginning to realize it'll be more like 90. (The chapters aren't numbered until I post them, so I can't give you an exact figure, but we're now slightly less than 1/3 of the way through the book.)

August 15, 2007 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Phayona said...

Great chapter as always, I know I'm like 2years late posting behind everyone but Its still a novelty to me, its also great I dont have to wait onthe chapters, I can barely wait to click "next chapter" much less. However did you guys survive the wait. "Beasts of New York" has become my drug. I just moved to NYC so its kool to be learning about the places albeit via the animal route. BTW this story also hits home for me because guess which animal has managed to capture my attention ever since I have been here? Thats right.. THE SQUIRREL. There are no squirrels in Jamaica and I have found them so facinating since getting here... Anyway back to the story........"Patch darling wait up!..I'm coming"

November 2, 2009 at 8:55 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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