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

October 6, 2007

77. The Chamber of Bones

Patch cried out with pain. He hadn't fallen far, but he had fallen onto the searing agony of his severed tail.

"Patch!" White gasped, not far away. "Are you all right?"

He groaned. "I think so."

He made his way slowly towards her through the eyeless darkness. The concrete floor was wet and cracked. He could hear water trickling and dripping behind him, in the tunnel he had entered, and in several places to his right.

White sniffed the air. "Is that blood? Are you hurt?"

"My tail," Patch groaned.

"Oh, no. Oh, Patch, I'm so sorry."

His nose touched White's side. "Never mind me. Did you get Silver here too?"

"Yes. She's right here."

"Can you save her?"

"I don't know. Maybe. There's one way -"

Both of them fell silent. There was a scuttling noise coming towards them, the scrabbling of claws on metal, something coming down the metal tunnel. Patch suddenly envisioned the smaller monster in the dark water. Could it fit through that tunnel? He was terrified that it could.

"The little one's coming!" he said. "Hurry!"

He grabbed Silver's leg with a mouth and began to drag her towards the several trickling sounds behind them. White hesitated a moment before joining him. The thing in the tunnel rattled closer. Patch pulled harder, moving as fast as he could.

The bleeding stump of his tail brushed against something metal and he groaned before turning to investigate. There was another metal tunnel here, this one barely big enough for a squirrel. It ramped down so sharply that if it was long enough the fall might kill them.

Something big and wet squelched out of the larger tunnel and onto the chamber's concrete floor. The little monster was in the room with them. They had no choice. Patch dragged Silver back with one final desperate push, and then they were falling, sliding through a hinged metal flap and skidding steeply down along corrugated metal walls.

Patch screamed when he hit bottom. They hadn't fallen far, less than a squirrel's length, but he had landed severed-tail-first on a carpet of sharp little things like sticks, and Silver's weight was on top of him. Then White landed on them both and agony exploded through his body. He had no breath nor strength with which to scream again.

"I'm sorry, Patch, I'm sorry!" she gasped, as he wept and choked with the pain.

"No," he managed. "Don't be sorry. We're alive. We're safe."

He pulled himself away from White and Silver. This chamber was if anything even darker than the last. A thick layer of dry and hard twiglike things covered its concrete floor like dead leaves in late autumn. They shifted and rustled as he stepped on them. It wasn't until he slipped on something smooth and rounded that he began to understand what they were. He had slipped on a skull. These were rat bones, hundreds of them.

"What is this place?" he gasped.

White had no answer. Something was moving about, hissing and snuffling, and Patch smelled something very like the King Beneath. The other monster. But little as it was compared to the King Beneath, it was much too large to fit into this chamber. They were safe - from it, at least.

"Never mind," Patch said. He decided to worry about whatever had killed these hundreds of rats if and when the time came. "How do we help Silver?"

He returned to where his mother's apparently lifeless form lay limp amid the heaped rat bones.

"Blood," White said. "It's your blood that makes you immune. She needs your blood."

"But - how?"

"Patch, you're already bleeding. This might kill you. It might kill you both."

"I don't care," he said. "What do I need to do?"

White was silent for some time. Then she moved, first to Silver, and to Patch. He felt her head against his, nuzzling his neck softly.

"Hold very still," she said softly, and bit him hard on the side of his neck.

Patch yowled with pain and surprise.

"Hurry!" she said urgently. "Lie down next to her, put your wound against hers. You have to share your blood with her. It's her only chance."

Patch obeyed. His mother's fur felt cold and dead, and her blood ran cool, and smelled of rot and decay. He pressed his bleeding neck against hers and kept up as much pressure as he could.

"How long?" he asked.

"I don't know," White said. "A long time."

Patch began to grow a little dizzy, and then weak. His neck began to throb, and then his head began to pound, joining the stabbing hurt of his severed tail in a symphony of agony. He felt dizzy, and the darkness around him seemed somehow to be blurring, and he began to shiver with cold. He remembered dimly that this was what the blackblood disease had been like. He was absorbing it from Silver, as she was absorbing his blood. And he was not immune. It was worse this time than last. The pain and weakness was so great that he almost didn't feel Silver beginning to shudder against him.

White said something, but Patch could no longer comprehend her, all his senses were smeared into a gray blur. He felt himself being moved, but he did not understand how or where or why. He had never felt so awful in all his life. He was sick, dizzy, confused, helpless, full of pain. He seemed frozen in an eternity of suffering. He wanted to die. Anything that would make this all-devouring misery go away would be a blessing.

Eventually he became aware that something had changed, something was different. The dizziness was going away. The headache was diminishing. The nausea was fading. He was slowly getting better, but he was still helplessly weak, desperately thirsty, ravenously hungry.

"Water..." he groaned, barely able to speak at all.

Something nudged against him. An empty rat-skull full of water. Patch drank. It helped a little.

"Is he going to be all right?" a voice asked that sounded almost as weak as his own.

"I think so," White said. "If only there was some food!"

The other voice said, sighing, "I'm so hungry."

Patch agreed with that sentiment. He had never been so hungry in all his life, not even that winter day he had gone into the mountains for food. That day seemed so long ago its memory was like something that had happened to a different squirrel, like a story he had once been told.


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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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