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

September 4, 2007

47. Towards the Ramble

Early the next morning, six days after he had collapsed on the very edge of death, Patch descended slowly back to earth while White watched anxiously from above. When he finally reached the ground he waved goodbye with his tail and set out across the grass towards the wild Ramble in the heart of the Center Kingdom. He walked with only a slight limp, but he knew climbing would be painful and running impossible.

The morning was bright and beautiful. Despite Patch's many worries, despite the terrible news of Redeye's victory in the Battle of the Meadow and the destruction of the entire Treetops tribe, despite his fears for the fates of Twitch and Tuft and Brighteyes and above all his mother Silver, it was wonderful to be home again, breathing the rich spring air, walking across the green fields and beneath the majestic trees of the Center Kingdom. Patch felt almost like he had never left, as if his perilous journey across half the world had been nothing but a terrible nightmare.

There were no other animals around. This corner of the Kingdom was always quiet. The Dungeon was nearby; and animals stayed away from the Dungeon as if its steel walls might reach out and swallow them whole. Even Patch, who had spent much of his life roving around the Kingdom in restless exploration, had been here only two or three times before, and had not remained long.

He walked northwards, towards the Ramble, until he caught a whiff of the unforgettable smell of the Dungeon: the mingled scents of dozens of alien creatures, all stinking of madness and despair. Uneasy, Patch detoured west rather than come any nearer. His wounded leg was aching like a bad cramp by the time he reached the stately procession of massive elm trees that led to the Ramble. These elm trees formed Patch's favourite sky-road in all the Center Kingdom; but he was earthbound by his wounded leg, reduced to trudging on the grass beneath.

The colonnade of elms ended at a concrete plaza adorned by various manmade constructions. On the other side of the plaza was one of the great automobile highways that ran right across the Center Kingdom. It was one of those days when humans had invaded the Center Kingdom in droves, and he had to plan his route carefully. Humans no longer held any great fear for him, but some of them had dogs. Patch went around the plaza, staying on grass. There were no automobiles, but he still had to wait before crossing the highway. A huge horse was passing, moving steadily despite the burden it dragged, a huge wooden box on wheels. Three humans rode atop the box.

Patch stared up at the huge animal as it clopped past. He was always awed by horses' enormous size. Most said they were the largest animals in the Center Kingdom - though Patch had heard whispers that somewhere within the Dungeon, imprisoned by walls the size of tall trees, there lurked pale and gargantuan predators from the uttermost North, bigger than any horse. Once Patch had dismissed those rumours, but since his encounter with Siva the tiger, he was no longer so certain in his disbelief.

Past the highway he continued up a wide and grassy hill dotted with cherry trees and shot through with huge granite outcroppings. The bright sun was approaching its blue-sky zenith by the time Patch crested the summit and looked across the Narrow Sea to the raw and wild Ramble, the sprawling heart of the Center Kingdom. He frowned when he saw that the trees of the Ramble were thick with crows. Crows were harmless, as far as he knew, but it didn't seem right that they had occupied King Thorn's territory.

He began to move northwest, intending to circumnavigate the Narrow Sea and approach the Ramble from the west; but he had not gone far when he encountered a cold northeasterly wind that blew directly to him from the Ramble, across the Narrow Sea. This wind stopped Patch for a long moment in mid-step, as if he had turned to stone. It carried a stench of blood and death so overpowering that his eyes watered and his ears seemed to ring with dissonant noise.

Something was wrong in the Ramble, terribly wrong.


Anonymous Rakie said...

cool chapter! took me a minute to figure out what the dungeon was... gah, i am far too hungover for thinking today. Eeeeeee, so what's going on in the Ramble?? Can't wait for more!

September 5, 2007 at 1:18 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Tiano said...

It's been too long for me--where in Central Park is the dungeone; or what is it? Tge "Great Avenue" is Fifth, yes? Not CPW? I should have asked a long time ago, but I was being such a know-it-all, as a native, assuming I had it all pictured in my head. But I'm from Brookly. now if this had been set in Prospect Park, there would have been a hell of a show!

September 5, 2007 at 2:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm figuring that the "Dungeon" is Central Park Zoo...

September 5, 2007 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

"The Dungeon" is indeed the Zoo.

(And there will be a brief afterword that describes the various settings in human terms.)

September 6, 2007 at 11:38 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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