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

September 10, 2007

52. The Gate Beneath

"Hurry," Coyote said, in a scolding voice. "We have to reach the Gateway before nightfall, or you'll be ratmeat sure as sunrise. Run, Patch. Run!"

Coyote broke into a loping gallop, and it was all Patch could do to keep up. They ran north, towards the Great Sea; first across green fields, then down towards a steep stone-walled ditch where a human highway lay half-buried. This was Meadow territory, and Patch was nervous to cross it, but he saw no other squirrels. Indeed while he was with Coyote he saw no other creatures at all, not a bird or even a beetle.

"Here," Coyote said, coming to a halt on a steep and overgrown slope that followed a human wall down to the edge of the highway ditch. "Look carefully."

Patch frowned. The air here stank of Rat, and the patches of sand on the grassy slope were lacy with recent rat-tracks. The slope was thickly covered by a creeping plant that was something between a vine and a bush. The wall behind it was made of crumbling brick. In a dark hollow at the very base of that wall, almost entirely hidden by the shining leaves of the creeper plant, a few shattered bricks lay loose in a small pile. A damp and sickly wind sighed out of the small dark hole there uncovered; a wind like a dying breath, a wind that smelled of rats, and darkness, and water, and a hundred years of decay - and something else, something Patch did not recognize, something that made him think of the legless, slithering monstrosity he had seen in the Kingdom of Madness. He shivered and backed away slowly from the dark hole in the broken wall.

"Of course there are countless roads to the Kingdom Beneath," Coyote said. "Every sewer, every gutter, every broken basement wall. But this gate is special. This passage is very old, little Patch, older than almost all the human mountains. If you would seek the King Beneath, you would do well to begin your journey here."

"I'm not looking for the King Beneath," Patch said, alarmed. "I'm looking for King Thorn."

"Of course you are. And you know where he is. He's in the North."

"Then I'm going to the North."

"Of course you are." Coyote's smile widened. "And I suggest you hurry. It will be night soon. And come nightfall, this is not a healthy place to be, not for the furry likes of you. Lord Snout is coming, and he is not alone. I suggest you put distance between yourself and this gateway before it grows dark, Patch son of Silver. All the distance you can manage."

Patch looked at Coyote for a moment. Coyote leered back. His teeth seemed somehow sharper now, and his golden eyes were no longer full of laughter; they were glittering predator's eyes. Patch backed slowly away.

"Run, Patch," Coyote whispered. "Run before it's too late."

With those words terror rose like a tide in Patch's mind, drowning out all the rest of his thoughts. He whirled and ran as fast as he could. When he reached the Great Sea he was only barely aware of it; he kept on, to the North. Despite the threat of owls he ran until it was too dark to see, and when he climbed a tree for the night, he went as deep into its interwoven branches as possible. There he huddled gasping with fear, as if surrounded by deadly enemies, and all his dreams that night were nightmares.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

mwahaha, i'm hoping he'll have to come back to that gate at some point, i really want to know what the kingdom beneath is like. :D very cool chapter!!

September 11, 2007 at 1:08 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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