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

September 28, 2007

70. Fallen

Patch hurt. Worse: he itched. His whole body crawled with a horrible prickling sensation. But he couldn't move, not even to open his eyes. He was lying on some flat, rough surface. He felt fully awake, but his limbs and muscles would not respond to any of his commands. His head hurt, and he dimly remembered striking it on something, but it hardly stood out, really it was his whole body that hurt, but the hurt wasn't as bad as the maddening itching. And the itch was moving, as if he was covered by insects.

Patch lay there, senseless and helpless; and slowly began to realize that he really was covered by insects. They were crawling all over him, biting him, actually feeding on him, on his open wounds. And he couldn't move.

He heard a faint groan from somewhere. White. This wasn't a nightmare. This was real. He desperately commanded himself to move, to stand up, but nothing happened, nothing worked. The bugs kept moving on him, crawling and nibbling, they were all over him, he felt them prowling over his face, inside his ears.

He heard a faraway scrambling sound. Had White gotten up? No, it was something else - something growing louder, turning into a rumbling, and then a muffled grinding squeal of metal on metal that somehow sounded familiar.

There was a change in air pressure, and then there was light, he could sense it through his closed eyelids. There was a flash so bright his eyes squeezed reflexively shut, and the noise swelled into screeching howl that made him twitch - and with those instinctive reactions, Patch could suddenly move again, and he was immediately up on his paws and screaming as he shook loose the scores of cockroaches that covered him like a squirming cocoon.

The noise diminished, and the flickers of light grew less intense. The light came through a crack in a walls and lit the enclosure they had fallen into: a boxlike space with straight walls as high and wide as a small tree. This enclosure was full of rusted and half-destroyed human things, covered with mold and debris, and infested by countless cockroaches. There were so many insects they looked like a squirming, glistening carpet as they scurried en masse away from the light. There were so many on White they obscured almost all of her pale fur - but the sound and light had woken her too. She leaped to her feet and thrashed and scraped herself against the nearby wall until she too was free of cockroaches. By the time Patch joined her by the wall, the light had disappeared, the darkness was again absolute, and both squirrels were keening with terror and revulsion with every breath.

He could hear the soft motions of the cockroaches all around them, coming slowly closer. The squirrels hissed and growled and spat to keep the numberless insects away. It worked, but Patch didn't know how much longer they could hold out. He was weak and dizzy and sick; his body felt half made of flesh and half of pain.

"We have to get out of here," he moaned.


"I don't know!"

"Wait," White said. "Listen."

Patch listened, and in the distance he heard that sound again, that faraway scrabbling. Again it grew into the grinding metallic shriek, and again it was accompanied by flickering light that shone, mostly dimly but with patches of purest incandescence, from the crack in the nearest wall. Patch recognized it this time. It was the sound of the linked metal cages that carried humans through the underground, of wheeled metal feet striking sparks against the metal rails on which they rode. He remembered Zelina had called these things trains. There were train rails on the other side of this wall.

As the light grew, the cockroaches retreated from the glowing crack in the wall like a wave falling away from a beach, and Patch took in the surroundings with something like a rational mind. The enclosure in which they found themselves had clearly been built by humans. It was almost entirely covered in damp mold that carpeted the floor, spread across every wall, and had even conquered ragged patches of the ceiling.

There were a few items on which the mold had failed to gain a foothold. Four sheets of glittering metal protruded perpendicularly from the opposite wall, and four shiny white things like giant mushrooms grew from the floor between those metal sheets. Water gleamed on a sheer cliff that jutted from the wall to Patch's left, trickling from somewhere above in a slow but eternal waterfall that had fed all this gray-green mold, all this rot and decay.

As the light and sound from behind them peaked, Patch noticed that there were animal skeletons scattered around the floor: mostly rats and mice, but also a few larger creatures Patch could not identify, and one of the Legless, nothing but a chain of bones attached to hideous jaws. Mold was growing on all these skeletons. Some had entirely turned that sickly gray-green. Patch shivered as he realized that if there was any way out of this room, or any way back up through the gaping hole in the ceiling, those animals would not have become food for cockroaches and superstructure for mold.

White reached the same conclusion at the same time. "There's no way out."

Again lights and noises of the train dissipated into nothing. Again the silence was filled by the soft scurrying of tens of thousands of swarming cockroaches.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The situation sure looks bleak.

Another terrific and descriptive chapter.

September 29, 2007 at 3:56 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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