Per Jay Lake’s post (and Cheryl Morgan), if you’re entertained by the previously unpublished kid’s fiction vignette posted below—one of the only things I have that’s unpublished and therefore exclusive—consider making a donation to Haitian disaster relief. Jay has more details here.
THE GREAT LOST BAT EXPEDITION
The Great Bat Expedition from Camp Crystal Lakes started out well enough. Nick, his sister Nikki, and their best friend Tom gathered outside Nickâ€™s tent in the mid-afternoon.
One by one they went through their list.
â€œFlashlight?â€ Nikki asked. She always kept the lists.
â€œCheck,â€ said Nick. It was one of his favorite words. Sometimes he would say it all day long. Those were the days Nikki and Tom would try to avoid him.
â€œBottles of water?â€
â€œNet for bat catching.â€
â€œCamera to take photo of bat talking.â€
â€œFake rubber bat.â€
â€œHey, wait,â€ said Tom. â€œThatâ€™s not a fake rubber bat.â€ â€œHey, wait,â€ were Tomâ€™s favorite two words. Many times the three of them had been saved from an awful fate by Tom saying, â€œHey, wait.â€ Like, â€œHey, waitâ€”isnâ€™t that a giant snake?â€ Or, â€œHey, waitâ€”maybe we should ask our parents about that first.â€
Tom was right. Nick hadnâ€™t had time to buy one at a toy store. Instead, heâ€™d found an old piece of tire.
â€œItâ€™s close enough,â€ Nick said.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t even look like a bat,â€ Tom said.
It actually had the same shape as the camp meatloaf.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter,â€ Nikki said. â€œSnacks and backpack to carry it all in?â€
â€œCheck,â€ Nick said.
â€œThen letâ€™s go!â€
They had a map, too. The map showed the way to a nearby cave.
They had decided on a visit to the cave ever since hearing the story of the Talking Bat of Camp Crystal Lakes the night before, around the campfire. A talking bat was too cool for them to ignore.
All around them was scrub forest and outcroppings of rock.
After about twenty minutes, Tom said, â€œHey, waitâ€”I think weâ€™re lost.â€
â€œWe canâ€™t be,â€ Nick said. â€œIâ€™m following the map. Check.â€
But it was true: they seemed to be heading away from the hills. The cave was in the hills.
â€œLet me look at that map,â€ Nikki said, snatching it away from Nick. She stared at it for a moment, then frowned. â€œLookâ€”you were holding it upside down. We need to go that way!â€ She pointed in the opposite direction.
â€œCheck. Well, donâ€™t blame me,â€ Nick said. â€œI donâ€™t like maps anyway.â€
â€œHey, waitâ€”I donâ€™t like you,â€ Tom said.
â€œOh, stop it,â€ Nikki said. â€œWe need to get to the cave. Forget the arguing.â€ Nikki didnâ€™t have a favorite word like Tom or Nick, but she did like phrases that started with â€œOh.â€
â€œYes, thatâ€™s what I always say,â€ Nick said, turning up his nose as he walked past Tom. And then added, â€œCheck.â€
After another twenty minutes, they seemed to be no closer to the cave.
â€œHey, waitâ€”is somebody reading the map sideways now?â€ Tom asked.
â€œNo,â€ Nick said. â€œWeâ€™re reading it right now. Check.â€
â€œOkay. I hate this bat trip. Even a talking bat isnâ€™t worth it.â€
â€œOh, be quiet,â€ Nikki said.
They continued on in silence for awhile.
Then Nikki said, â€œI wonder what kind of accent it has.â€
â€œWhat accent what has?â€ Tom asked.
â€œThe bat,â€ Nick said. â€œMaybe it sounds English. Or Australian. Or Czech.â€
â€œHey, wait–now why would it sound that way?â€ Tom asked.
Nick was about to answer but then he fell into a hole and disappeared. It was so sudden, Nick didnâ€™t even have time to shout out. One minute he was walking beside them through the underbrush. The next moment, he was gone.
Nikki and Tom stopped right where they were, shocked. Where had Nick gone?
Mystery solved a second later when a thin, reedy voice said, from somewhere beneath them, â€œI seem to have fallen down a hole. Check.â€
A few seconds of pushing away the grass revealed the pale face of Nick several feet below them, standing in a large hole of darkness.
â€œHey, wait–what are you doing down there?â€
â€œI fell down here! Check! You act like I planned it. Check!â€
â€œWell, we didnâ€™t fall in any holes. Nikki and I knew better,â€ Tom said.
â€œVery funny. Besides, itâ€™s not just a hole. Thereâ€™s a passageway down hereâ€”and I think I can hear bats!â€
Nikki and Tom looked at each other. They were both thinking about the famous Talking Bat of Crystal Lakes Summer Camp.
What if it was down in the hole with Nick?
Without a second thought, they both jumped down into the hole.
Nick wasnâ€™t real happy when his sister Nikki and his friend Tom landed on top of him in the hole. Even though they wanted to find the fabled talking bat while at summer camp, this whole expedition was going from bad to worse.
â€œCheck! Get off me! Check!â€
â€œHey, waitâ€”I didnâ€™t mean to land on you.â€
â€œOh, stop. Just get up and letâ€™s see where we are.â€
â€œItâ€™s too dark. Check.â€
â€œHeyâ€”thatâ€™s what the flashlight is for. Who has it?â€
â€œYou do!!â€ Nikki and Nick shouted at the same time.
â€œHey, waitâ€”I have it. One second.â€
Tom turned on the flashlight. They looked around.
Sure enough, there was a tunnel, leading off into the distance.
â€œIt looks dark,â€ Nick said. He was so scared he forgot to say â€œCheck.â€
â€œIt does look dark,â€ Tom said.
â€œDefinitely dark,â€ Nikki said.
â€œWell, if you two are afraid,â€ Nick said, â€œI guess weâ€™ll just have to climb back up out of this hole.
â€œHey, Iâ€™m not afraid,â€ Tom said.
â€œNeither am I,â€ Nikki said. â€œGirls donâ€™t get afraid.â€
â€œCheck,â€ sighed Nick. â€œCheck.â€
Down the tunnel they went. It was dark. Water dripped from the ceiling. Strange smells and sounds came to them from far away. Tom held the camera. Nikki held the flashlight because Nick was shaking too hard. Nick held the knapsack.
â€œHow will we know the talking bat when we see it?â€ Nick asked.
â€œItâ€™ll talk to us,â€ Nikki said. â€œSometimes, Nick, I just donâ€™t know about you.â€
â€œHey, wait, though,â€ Tom said. â€œNick has a point. What if it doesnâ€™t want to talk to us?â€
Nikki sighed. â€œI donâ€™t know. Then I guess we just go home.â€
Just then Nick fell into another hole and disappeared. It happened so suddenly Tom only had time to say â€œHey, wait!â€ and Nikki only had time to say â€œOh!â€
Nikki shined the light down into the hole.
â€œWhatâ€™re you doing down there?â€
Nick looked ashen. â€œNo jokes. That scared me. Help me up.â€
So they helped him up out of the hole and continued down the tunnel.
No one made fun of him. No one said anything. All three of them were scared.
They kept close together as they went forward.
After a few minutes, Tom said, â€œHey, waitâ€”do you hear something?â€
â€œI donâ€™t hear anything,â€ Nikki said.
â€œI hear something,â€ Nick said. â€œCheck.â€
â€œCrap. Now I hear something, too,â€ Nikki said.
They rapidly agreed that not only did they all three hear something, but that it was getting louder.
â€œIt sounds like the washing machine at home,â€ Nikki said.
â€œNo, I think it kinda sounds like clothes flapping on a laundry line in our yard,â€ Tom said.
â€œNo, youâ€™re both wrong,â€ Nick said. â€œIt sounds like a lot of people arguing.â€
â€œActually, now that I think about it,â€ Nikki said, â€œit sounds like a great big flock of bats coming right at us!â€
â€œHey, wait,â€ Tom said. â€œNoâ€”donâ€™t wait. Youâ€™re right. Run!â€
â€œHeyaaaaaaa!â€ screamed Tom and dropped his camera.
â€œOaaaaaa!â€ screamed Nikki and dropped the flashlight.
â€œCheckcheckcheckcheck!â€ screamed Nick and dropped the knapsack.
Then they all ran like a horde of bats was coming up the tunnel toward them.
But they werenâ€™t fast enough. In just seconds, a horde of bats had caught up with them, their wings getting tangled in their hair, their leathery bodies brushing up against their arms. They kept screaming, even longer and harder. The smell of the bats was overwhelming. They smelled like old paint and rotting cabbage. They didnâ€™t feel real good either.
â€œAggh!â€ theyâ€™ve got me, Nick said melodramatically, so that even through her panic Nikki stopped to give him a poke in the ribs. â€œIâ€™m hit!â€ Nick screamed.
â€œYouâ€™re not hit,â€ Nikki screamed. â€œYouâ€™re an idiot!â€
Finally, overwhelmed, they just collapsed against the side of the tunnel in a heap.
The bats flew on by and in a few minutes, all was quiet in the tunnel except for the muttered whisper of Nick going â€œcheckcheckecheckecheckecheckcheckâ€ over and over again.
Tom sighed and got to his feet. â€œI declare this expedition over.â€
â€œYes. Over,â€ Nikki said faintly.
â€œDone with,â€ Nick said.
â€œBut you havenâ€™t seen the talking bat yet,â€ said the Talking Bat from somewhere in the darkness over their heads.