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

August 23, 2007

37. Water's Edge

But in each of the several days which followed, the wide river that separated Patch and Zelina from the island of the Center Kingdom seemed to loom larger and more impassable. Aided by Wriggler, who shared the enthusiasm Patch had once had for exploration, and by Wriggler's friends Quicknose and Backflip, they roved down the eastern shore of that river. They moved along sky-roads and rooftops and sometimes, greatly daring, across highways. They rested in the strips and squares of greenery and trees called 'parks' that seemed randomly dispersed among the concrete highways and buildings of the human lands. They ate nuts and shoots from those trees; scraps left fallen beneath tables and benches behind those buildings full of foods where humans went to eat; food discarded along with other human rubble in the garbage bags Patch had once thought of as seed-pods. They drank rainwater that puddled on ceilings and collected in rooftop gutters.

They met and spoke to other squirrels, some of them clan-brothers, most of other clans. Like Wriggler and his friends they lived in small groups of neighbours and came together in larger numbers only for mating season. Dogs barked at them frequently from windows and highways. They saw several cats from a distance, but Zelina was not eager to make contact with any of her subjects. She explained that since she had been betrayed, deposed, and exiled, she was disinclined to allow news of her return to spread before the opportune moment. Once, late at night, as they looked for a temporary drey large enough for them all, they passed very near several raccoons, and all of them froze with fear, but the raccoons merely leered at them and passed on without speaking.

As for birds, aside from the usual masses of pigeons, they saw amazing numbers of crows, in groups large enough that when they roosted on a tree there were often more birds than branches. Wriggler, Quicknose and Backflip were as surprised as Patch and Zelina; apparently such congregations of crows were unheard of. Patch tried talking to several of them, but the crows were curt, hard-eyed, and unfriendly. Usually they simply flew away without a word; and if they did speak, it was never more than "Be silent, groundling. Be away and stop pestering me."

The more they travelled, the less any route across the river became apparent. No boats travelled from one side to the other; even had there been any, Patch's previous boat experience had been so awful and nearly fatal that he would have rejected that option. The river was wide, dark, and cold, it exuded a foul and oily odor, and it was clear from watching its flotsam that its currents were strong and treacherous. As for the bridges, there were several, but all were concrete monstrosities that extended for a very great distance, and were packed with automobiles and humans at all hours of day and night. Only one bridge, the farthest south and most magnificent, had a concrete trail devoid of automobiles. This trail was always busy with humans, and sometimes they had dogs, but they might have risked it all the same – if not for the fact that this was the same bridge on which several families of falcons nested.

In sum, after three days of close investigation the river seemed impassable and the Center Kingdom unreachable. Until Zelina conceived an extraordinary alternative.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Rakie said...

gah! not sure that technically counts as a cliffhanger, but since it's on a friday and i'm not going get to read new chapters for several days, i think you still get shoed. :D

hope they find a way across, can't wait to find out what zelina's plan is. Heh, and the crows were fun. Feckin antisocial crows. :D

August 24, 2007 at 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Tiano said...

Jon,

It's been too long since I lived in Brooklyn. And, anyway, I'm famous for having little or no sense of direction. So where are they now, in Brooklyn? And needing to get to Manhattan and Central Park?

September 2, 2007 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Stephen - yes, that's exactly it.

September 2, 2007 at 10:53 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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