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

August 16, 2007

30. Monsters

On the way back to the sky-road, Zelina found a robin's nest that had been blown to the ground by the wind, and as the mother robin looked on helplessly, the cat greedily shattered and devoured all the eggs. Patch thought of the robin babies who had accepted him into their midst and taught him Bird, and tried not to look. There were worms all over the ground, as always after the rain, and he ate several. He didn't like their sludgy taste, or the way they squirmed in his mouth, but at least they filled his belly.

"Do you think there are really monsters near the highway?" Zelina asked, when they were finished eating.

"I don't know. But I know those squirrels were frightened." Patch considered. "Let's follow our own scents back, just to be sure."

They retraced their trail back towards the highway. The strands of the wire sky-road were in sight when Patch, leading the way with his more sensitive nose, suddenly stiffened and halted.

"What is it?" Zelina asked.

Patch said nervously, "I think I smell fox."

"What's a fox?"

"You don't want to find out."

Patch took a couple experimental paces forward. The sky-road was so close – but the fox-smell was definitely stronger here. In the aftermath of the storm the wind was swirling around, and Patch couldn't really tell the direction from which the scent came, except that it had recently been between them and the highway … and could now be anywhere.

"We'll go south, towards the human lands," Patch said quietly. "Keep your eyes and ears open, they're better than mine."

Zelina agreed. The fox-smell diminished as they went south, but did not disappear. Patch tried going to the west towards the road again, but it intensified again. They continued south.

"There's something behind us," Zelina said, her voice tense. "Moving in the bushes. Something bigger than us."

Patch knew the human lands weren't far away. If they could reach the fence on the southern border of the wilderness they would be safe.

"Run!" he said.

Both he and Zelina sprinted south as fast as they could. They ran so quickly that by the time Patch smelled the sharp scent of metal beneath his paws it was too late.

The next thing he knew, he was dangling upside down in midair, and his left hindpaw was encircled in a ring of agony. The earth was above his head, bouncing dizzyingly closer and then farther away. Patch screamed with pain, fear, and confusion. When he looked down he saw his hindleg ensnared in a tight loop of glittering wire. The wire hung from a branch bouncing slowly up and down.

"Help!" he cried out to Zelina. "Help me!"

Zelina looked north, to where the rustling sounds had come from; then south, to where the fence that marked the wilderness boundary was visible through the trees.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Patch," Zelina said, her voice quivering with emotion. "I don't know how. And there is something dreadful coming. I can smell it."

"Please," Patch begged her.

"I'm so sorry," Zelina said, and took two steps south –

– and then, suddenly, a branch flew high into the air, and there was a silver flash of metal beneath it, and Zelina too dangled upside down from a wire noose, helpless and screaming.

Patch tried to struggle, but any motion only tightened the wire around his leg. The pain was awful. Blood dripped down his leg onto his body. Being upside down made him feel sick, and he could barely understood the things he saw. He saw motion, something pushing through the upside-down trees, but it was only from its smell that he understood that this was the fox.

"Oh happy day of dangling delights," the fox said, and there was laughter in his voice. "Oh loyal monsters, oh helpful gravity, you have done your work so well."

"These aren't your monsters," Patch managed to say, though it was hard to talk upside down. "This is human work."

"This is human work," the fox agreed, "but it works for me. They bring traps, and I frighten into them panicky rabbits, stupid squirrels, and foolhardy cats. And then my dinner hangs in the air before my eyes."

"Let me go!" Zelina cried out. "I am the Queen of All Cats!"

"Are you indeed, oh little morsel swinging in the breeze? Well, your majesty, I am most graciously honoured to make your ever so brief acquaintance. Allow me to introduce myself as well. I am Talis the hungry fox. And I bear the sad news that between royalty and hunger, there is really no contest."

"You are a vile beast who should have been fed to your brothers and sisters," Zelina hissed. "You are so repulsive the moon weeps to see you, if you ever dare turn your loathsome face to the sky. You conspire with rats and reptiles, you copulate with cockroaches, and when other foxes smell you they drive you from their dens!"

Patch saw a gleam of metal from the ground between the fox and the cat, and he understood.

"Right," Talis said, "you die first."

He ran at Zelina; and a branch leapt upwards, trailing a wire in its wake; and suddenly Talis too dangled in the air, hanging from his foreleg, yowling with shock and pain. Through his own dizzying agony Patch felt a certain deadly satisfaction.

But by the time the humans came that satisfaction had long since dissipated. By then it was night, and Patch could no longer feel his own paw.


Anonymous Rakie said...

lol, zelina is possibly not as dumb as she appears. :D

eeek, those snares are horrible!! hope patch is going to be okay, can't wait to find out how they get out of this one. Benevolant human intervention, prehaps? *looks hopeful*

August 17, 2007 at 12:46 AM  
Anonymous briangc said...

Poor Patch!

Terrific characterization on the Fox. In fact, the characterization for all the species encountered so far has been terrific.

August 17, 2007 at 6:31 AM  
Anonymous Rakie said...


*throws shoe at jon for almost-literal cliffhanger*

forgot that. :D

August 17, 2007 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Rakie: Heh.

Briangc: Thanks.

August 17, 2007 at 8:45 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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