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134 • bats I don’t believe you, she said to him, as the sun sat on the edge of the hill. It’s true, he said emphatically. And you said this was a mountain and it’s really a big hill. It is a mountain, he said. It’s over a thousand feet above sea level, and that makes it a mountain. She stared hard and suspiciously at him, not sure what to say, and finally out of instinct said, I don’t think that can be right. What would you know? he said, annoyed.You live in the city right near the beach.You live at sea level.What do you know about elevation? She wasn’t entirely sure what he was getting at, but she wasn’t going to say so. Instead, she shook her gleaming blonde hair just because it was there to shake, and she thought it’d look special against the sunset. He noticed.Your hair makes black lines against the sun. It’s not black. There’s no black in it. It’s a hundred percent blonde. She thought she should be as precise as possible with the York 135 b a t s boy.What’s more, she continued, Mother says it’s “translucent.” She thought she had him with that word. That may be true, he said, but with the sun like that your hair blocks the harsh rays and makes it look like a squiggle of black lines. She was offended now, and no longer wanted to wait for the purple he claimed would fill the sky around the mountain, going into the mountain itself, when the sun dipped below the horizon. She’d asked him why he’d called that hill a “purple mountain” and he’d said, I’ll show you before dinner. It turns purple most days, especially in summer. Aware that he’d pushed things too far, he pulled back. He was delighted this girl was visiting from the city, and he tried to regain lost ground by distracting her, rekindling her interest. At dusk there’ll be bats in the sky, he enthused. Bats? she cried. No! Yes, bats, he said, pleased with her reaction. Vampire bats? she asked, incredulous. He wanted to say yes, to frighten her, but that wouldn’t achieve anything.Well, it might in time—over days and weeks—if he had time, but she was there only for the afternoon and evening, so he didn’t want to take the risk. No, no, just plain ol’ bats. Dad says they’re called Western Free-tailed bats, he said. He respected facts. They were both silent, and fell to watching the sunset with their own thoughts, their own intensities. We watch sunsets at the beach all the time, she said. There are so many reds and oranges and purples in so many patterns, especially when it’s cloudy. I didn’t know the colors reached this far away from the sea. Yes, it’s wonderful, he said, and shortly the mountain will go purple. And then it will be grey and black like the sky. The bats will come in the grey, at dusk. If you throw a rock or a stick high up into the air, they will go for it, thinking it’s alive, something they might want to eat. And you can hear them the whole time.You can hear their wings flapping flapping flapping . . . 136 j o h n k i n s e l l a Soon the two of them would be called into the house for dinner, and there were mosquitoes about, but they stood transfixed, caught in the stretching and contracting of time as the mountain went purple and loomed massive before them, loomed much greater than any hill could loom, then blackened as the sky went grey. I think I can hear a squeaking sound, she said, though she thought she might be imagining it. She wanted there to be bats. Bats echolocate, he said seriously, and moved ever so slightly closer to her. It’s how they see in the dark, he confided. They see with their ears, because they are . . . Blind as a bat, she said, and they both laughed quietly. They hear their own sounds come back, he added, after a moment. They send sounds out of their throats that bounce off things and come back and tell them the precise shape and movements. The boy felt his description was...


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