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

August 21, 2007

35. Creatures of the Night

The way out was through the shattered corner of a piece of glass inset about human-high into a brick wall. Zelina called the glass a window. The bricks of the wall, and especially the mortar between bricks, were just crumbly enough to give purchase to a squirrel's claws, and just strong enough to hold a squirrel's weight. Zelina too was able to climb to the window. But Talis had to remain behind, trapped on the ground.

"I'm sorry, Talis," Patch said. "We'd help you escape if we could."

"Don't you feign guilt to me, Patch son of Silver," Talis grumbled. "As well to have cut off one of my legs as to have made me swear that oath. Don't you worry about me. None need ever worry about foxes. We survive. I know from the smells what door the humans will enter. When they come in, I will run out. And in the meantime there are rabbits to eat."

"Don't forget your oaths," Zelina said.

The fox bared his teeth. "I should, and I would if I could, Queen of All Cats. Now be gone before this bile I taste becomes poison."

Patch had to maneuver carefully to avoid being cut by the shattered glass. The ground outside was a field of uneven concrete, dimly lit by a few human lights, surrounded by small mountains. The wind was cold and smelled of rust and chemicals without even a trace of trees or grass, but Patch drank it in like it was the wind of the highest sky. He had escaped the awful killing place, he stood once more beneath the moon. And the stars. For it was deepest night.

"We must find shelter," one of the other freed squirrels said fearfully.

"Yes," Patch said. "Do you know this kingdom?"

"No."

"We can't stay and talk! We must find shelter, now, it's night!" another squirrel exclaimed, and this one matched her actions to words by turning tail and running. The other squirrels followed her example until only Patch and Zelina remained, and Patch was trembling nervously.

"What's wrong?" Zelina asked, puzzled. "We've escaped!"

"It's night. We have to find shelter."

"What's wrong with the night? I have often stood on the metal stairs outside my palace at night and watched the moon."

"Owls!" Patch said.

It was more than owls. Squirrels fear the night for the blindness it brings, for its cold winds, and for the rats and raccoons that emerge and prowl through their native darkness. But above all they fear the owls, the deadly, relentless killers that cruise silently through the night sky, invisible and undetectable, able to see through darkness and see from far away the motion of mouse or squirrel or rat, and then swoop down and strike and kill and carry away, leaving nothing but darkness and silence in their trace. It was an article of faith among squirrels of the Center Kingdom that a night-time expedition would lead to death by owl. And it was not so very far from the truth; for dozens of owls hovered every night between the city and the stars, circling and seeking prey.

"We have to find shelter," Patch repeated.

"There's a sky-road," Zelina said, and indeed, across the concrete plain, there stood a severed trunk from which wires hung.

"No," Patch said. "We must stay out of open places, near the walls, in the shadows."

"I think your fear is strange," Zelina said, but she sounded nervous, and did not protest further.

Patch led the way along the mountain that had held them, sniffing the air, hoping to find some scent of trees. But there was nothing. Only human-smells.

"There has to be a tree somewhere," Patch said desperately.

"We can take shelter on the ground," Zelina suggested.

"On the ground the rats will find us. We must have a tree."

"Metal stairs."

"What?" Patch asked.

"Over there." She indicated a kind of metal latticework that clung to the wall of a building across the concrete plain. "See that tendril of the sky-road that connects just beside them? We can jump over. No rats will reach us there. And the metal will keep the owls away."

"It's nothing like a drey," Patch objected. "It's open on all sides. And it's human. It's metal."

"I shall spend my evening on the metal stairs, which I assure you are fit for a queen, even if some bedraggled squirrel does somehow consider them insufficient and unworthy," Zelina said haughtily. "As for you, I wish you luck in finding a tree before an owl finds you."

Zelina ran towards the sky-road, keeping near walls and to shadows like Patch had suggested. After a moment Patch sighed and ran after her. Both of them ran on three legs, favouring their legs wounded by the snares. Their journey was slow but they were not attacked. The metal stairs had a cold, slick, disagreeable feel, and although Patch had to admit that an owl was unlikely to try to swoop down through the lattice-wall of bars that stood on either side of the zigzagging stairs, he still felt like they were not sheltered at all. Although he was exhausted, he slept poorly.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Rakie said...

owls are scary. Cool chapter, it's a shame that Talis got left behind, i liked him. :D Looking forward to tomorrow already!!

August 22, 2007 at 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would Patch know what "glass" is? It's a small thing for sure but this struck me as a bit off.
Perhaps I mixed up the narrator with Patch? (I assumed it was from Patch's POV because of the use of "human-high").

My obnoxiousness aside, I am really enjoying the story!

August 22, 2007 at 6:35 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

I don't want to spoil anything, but I guess I can tell you that we haven't seen the last of Talis...

Oh, I think Patch would probably know what glass was - there's certainly plenty of it in Central Park.

August 22, 2007 at 11:58 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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