The bats were always getting us into trouble.
Dusk was a warning– time to head home. If you could still see yellow, you weren’t late. Every day you pushed your luck, just a few more minutes as the sun reached out one last time.
It was worth the risk, because that’s when the bats came out, emerging from shadows like sprinters set loose by the crack of a pistol.
Peter walked Mia home every night, even though he had to pass his house to get to hers. Mia knew it wasn’t really to talk. He risked being late to watch the bats with her.
When they were six, they sat in the yard pulling up grass absentmindedly, stretching their necks to watch the race.
“Those are funny looking birds.”
“They’re not birds, dummy. They’re bats.”
Mia watched. “I think they’re beautiful.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed. “What are they doing?”
“Oh.” And then, “ew.”
They watched the dizzying dance for bugs. As soon as Peter focused on one, it flipped back the way it came and disappeared. He saw another, but it blended into the darkness and was lost to him. Frustrated, he shook his head, pushed himself up, and walked home.
When they were ten, they sat in the front yard until Dad yelled at her for spending too much time with the queer kid. Peter’s parents didn’t call him in anymore.
When lanky teenage legs made sitting on the ground awkward, they reclined on the grass and watched the bats dart convulsively from one invisible target to another. Peter could keep up with the bats now because he let them fly in and out on their own terms. He didn’t need to follow them; they would come to him.
Dad still yelled at Mia about hanging out with the queer kid, except now he wasn’t the queer kid, he was that faggot and if Mia knew what was good for her, she’d stay away from him.
“My dad won’t let me get my license,” Peter said to the bats.
“Why not?” Mia asked on their behalf.
“He says I’m too fruity.”
Mia pondered Peter’s fruitiness.
“My dad won’t let me get my license either.”
“Why not? You fruity too?”
“No, but my friends are.”
They lay in silence until Peter said, “When I die, I want to die at dusk.”
Mia frowned. What an odd thing to say. “Um…” She decided the best response was none at all.
“I want the bats to carry me away.”
“Oh.” Mia thought about it. “Well, then me too.”
“When the zombies come, you and I can go to the cliffs. We’ll jump and the bats can snatch our souls away before we hit the ground.”
“God, you’re such a weirdo.” And then, “It’s a deal.”
Someone’s feet crunched the gravel in the driveway. Probably one of the zombies. Neither of them looked up.
“Hey Fairy Boy,” the voice attached to the feet said, “Dad’s looking for you.”
Peter lay still.
“Think I should go?”
Peter stayed until dark.
Mia watched the bats. Peter couldn’t see well with two black eyes.
“Why did you let them hit you?”
“You obviously don’t understand the mechanics of getting beat up.”
The peppered air of dusk in June was uncomfortable. She found him at the cliffs, the cheap white material of his gown billowing around his legs as the winds tried to claim him. It was their last day, their finale. And he was at the cliffs.
“Have the zombies come, Peter?” she asked, only half jokingly, as her heart thundered in her throat.
He turned, not surprised by her appearance, but with his head tilted in curiosity.
“You said when the zombies came, you wanted the bats to take you away.” She spoke quickly, afraid that if she thought about what she was saying, her heart would swallow her nerve.
“Oh.” He just smiled.
The wind kicked up a tornado of dust and last years’ trash. Mia’s breath caught in her throat. Would that be him? This year’s discarded trash?
He reached out to her, his palm facing up, a gesture of friendship with a hint of desperation. “Stand with me,” it said.
She did. She’d promised.
They stared out over the town, where the zombies gathered. Where the zombies had always been. The town glowed like a bonfire.
Mia struggled to find her words, maybe for the first time in her life. “Peter, are you… is this…?”
Peter looked at her, his eyes glimmering with mischief and amusement, a frightening contradiction of what she’d expected to see.
“Today, we jump,” he said.
Mia scowled. He couldn’t be serious…
Panic seized her voice. Mia gripped his hand, ready to yank him back or drag them both to the ground or whatever it took to stop him.
Peter sucked in a deep breath, squeezed his eyes shut, and hopped once in place. Turning an expectant gaze to Mia, he smiled. “Well?”
He was serious, wasn’t he? Mia’s forehead wrinkled in confusion, frustration, no…just confusion. She slowly shook her head.
Well, what the hell? She hopped.
“There,” he said proudly. “We jumped.”
A wet laugh broke free and Mia giggled until she cried. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she said, “And the bats?”
Peter nodded toward the yellowing sky. “Right there. Ready to take us wherever we want to go.”
“You’re leaving, then.”
Peter sighed heavily, looking down on the town, a somber scowl overcoming his mischievousness. “Yeah.” He nodded slowly. “I am.”
Real tears tickled her eyes. She looked at her feet to keep from looking at him.
“They’ll take you anywhere, Mia.” He turned to her, his eyes dancing with excitement again, his voice urgent. “Anywhere you want to go. And if you want to go somewhere else, they’ll take you there instead. Do you see?”
She finally looked up at him.
“So,” Peter said, “where do you want to go?”
Jorie Daniels lives in rural Pennsylvania, near Amish country, where she writes and teaches history. Publication of her story “Table for Two” is forthcoming. She is a novelist at heart, but enjoys spreading her wings in the world of flash fiction.
© 2013 Jorie Daniels