73 comments

Submitted on 07/17/2020

Categories: Mystery Creative Nonfiction Drama

       “Don’t do it that way. You’re going to strip the screw.” Dad corrected as he pushed up from his chair to retrieve the tool out of mom’s hands. They were replacing the screens in the kitchen windows, the last home improvement project of the summer. Winged insects buzzed in and out into the night air. My mother handed the tool over, the familiar look of defeat in her eyes, and went back to the stove to stir the boiling pot of pasta. Her eyeglasses slipped to the end of her nose from the moisture in the air, grey tendrils escaping from her loose ponytail. Dad returned to his seat across from me to read his newspaper. It was the week before I would enter middle school.

           “Come See Our Newest Attraction! The Red Bat!” The local zoo summoned in bold print on the back of dad’s paper. I had been to the low budget zoo the year before on a class field trip. Small dirty cages with depressed looking animals circling about. The most impressive animal they had was a giraffe. He had an extra tall doorway leading into his own small dirty cage. The main attraction though, was Smokey Joe, the chimpanzee. Smokey Joe got his name because he smoked Marlboro Reds, up to a pack a day. He inhaled and everything, which was rare for chimp.

           

           Staring at my ceiling that night I dreamed about the red bat. I first learned about bats in my Ranger Rick magazine (I had wanted a dog but dad said they were too messy and got me a subscription instead.) Did you know bats have belly buttons? Although, I don’t know if they are innies or outies, I suppose it just depends, like in people. And mother bats breastfeed their young, because they are mammals, not birds.

           Bats have always had a bad reputation, known mostly as disease-ridden, rabies-transmitting guardians of the night. But they are actually quite important to the ecosystem. Seed dispersers, vital pollinators, they also keep the insect population down. One bat can consume up to 600 mosquitos in one night.

            But I had never read anything about them being different colors, they were always some version of black. Was it really red? Was it the only one? For the next 3 days I became consumed with the mystery of the red bat.   

           I had been particularly interested in bats after an encounter with them earlier that summer. One evening, like most others, I sat between my parents on the couch. I was well into my summer reading, Where the Red Fern Grows, while Mom was lost in another cheap romance novel from the bargain bin at the drugstore.

            “Do you hear that?” she asked turning to me. A particular scratching sound was coming from above our heads.

           “Probably a squirrel,” Dad said. 

           “But squirrels are diurnal,” I stated.

           “Then a mouse,” he said looking down at me annoyed. But mice are so light you don’t hear them walking about. I kept that to myself though, as I made my way outside to investigate.

            Walking past the window, glowing blue with the nightly news, I looked in at my parents. It was like looking into a diorama I had made for school the year before, a three- dimensional model with two life-like figurines sitting at either end of the couch, stoic bookends with only space between them.

           Nothing like the framed picture on the end table of a moment frozen in time before I was born, dad in his uniform and mom in her nursing outfit. (She stopped working when I was born and never went back.) His arms wrapped around her waist from behind, their heads thrown back laughing, exposing their white necks.

           

           Dad got up from the couch without a word and came to the side of the house with a ladder he had retrieved from the garage. He nudged me out of the way as he steadied it against the house. 

           “Stay right there. It’s too dangerous,” he ordered pointing at me, and then at the ladder, and then back at me again. I nodded. He went back into the house.

            With specific instructions not to climb up, I waited dutifully. I heard my mother through the freshly screened kitchen window sheepishly suggest an exterminator as my father scavenged through the closets, a broom falling out nearly hitting her.      

           “Don’t need an exterminator,” he said as he walked past her. She bent over to pick up the broom and caught my eye looking at her through the diorama window. She turned to say something to him but he was already gone. That would be the last time she would be stuck in the place between action and consequence. She wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand.

           Hot sweat stung my eyes. I turned and climbed the homemade wooden ladder. Creaking with every rung, I made my way to the top. I poked my head inside the round window and looked around.

           Dusty beach chairs from long lost summer days when we would go to East Matunuck State Beach stood propped against the pink insulation. My favorite part of those trips was the car rides home. Sitting in the back, stuck to the hot leather seat, dried salt making my skin tight against my bones. From the time the sun set to the time it got dark out was an hour, which was the time it took to drive home.

           We would always stop at Salty’s, a seasonal clam shack that only accepted cash, on the way home. Within minutes of ordering the girl would bring two grease-stained paper bags to our car window and a stack of napkins. I would get a cone of vanilla ice cream, vanilla was only flavor they had. I got to eat it in the backseat before dinner so it wouldn’t melt.

           ‘Too hot!’ Dad would scream as he bit into a clam cake that Mom held to his mouth while he drove us home, the hot grease burning it with every bite. We’d laugh as he swerved between lanes.

           

           Next to the chairs were my old baby things. A stroller, a crib and boxes upon boxes of baby clothes, perfectly folded and organized by age. Mom was good at things like that. They had kept all my baby things in hopes of another baby, but another baby never came.

           Whatever was in the musty attic must have already checked out I thought as I tilted my head in a little further, the night air was thick with dust and humidity. Then I saw them, twenty, maybe thirty, little blood-sucking (they don’t actually suck, they lap) vampires taking refuge at the opening of the window, inches from my face. They cloaked themselves in their wings like militant little corpses. Their transparent skin pink in the light of my flashlight, blood flowing from whatever victim they stole it from the night before. I scrambled down the ladder, skipping rungs, my heart racing. A knot formed in my throat when I saw my father round the corner with a butterfly net. Without a word I watched him make his way up the ladder. Less then a minute later he calmly came back down, walked past me, and then past my mother and got the phonebook.

            

           “Mom, can we go to the zoo today, pleeease?” I pleaded with my mother after my father left for work. Summer was nearing its end and soon I’d be back in the real world of complex equations and required reading.

           “Not today,” she said softly shaking her head not bothering to look up. She was trimming the roll of screen to fit the dining room windows. I had almost given up when that Monday, my mother announced the three of us were going to the zoo after breakfast. My father looked up from his newspaper as if it was the first he’d heard of it.

           We were the first in line at the zoo that morning. After they stamped our hands and gave us a bag of feed for the goats, I was off like a bat out of hell. (No pun intended.) Flamingos, meerkats, cranes, ostriches, lemurs, they were all a blur as I whirled past cages and exhibits. I only stopped to see Smokey Joe. I was worried lung cancer may have gotten the best of him but there he was in all his glory, a head of lettuce in one hand, a cigarette in the other. By the time he had gotten down to the filter I was ready to continue on.

           We were nearly to the exit when I saw it. A dilapidated shelter, cracked boards nailed together with the words “Red Bat” scrawled across the top. It had one small peephole to keep the light out. Bats aren’t totally blind, contrary to popular belief, but they do use echolocation to navigate. With nervous anticipation I climbed the three cinder block steps and peered into the aperture. And there it was. Hanging from a rope was a Louisville Slugger, painted red. My eyes filled with tears of anger and disappointment. I quickly wiped them away before anyone saw. On the ride home, skin tight from my salty tears, my parents told me they were getting divorced, but I was too upset to care. 

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73 comments

Cece Lin
16:16 Jul 22, 2020

You have a way of pushing the story forward that I really liked. I also love animals - Snakes are my fav - and bats are fascinating to me!

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Sarah Greenwood
16:44 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you so much Cece!

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N. Thorne
20:49 Jul 24, 2020

I loved this, so well written! You did such a great job with the imagery, as a reader I felt like I was right there with that family. And there was a subtle undercurrent through the whole story so that last line didn't surprise me. The perspective from a child's point of view and the things that occupy at that age in the midst of family discord was captured so perfectly. My favorite part was the picture of the diorama, with this line being my favorite: "a three- dimensional model with two life-like figurines sitting at either end of the cou...

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Sarah Greenwood
20:59 Jul 24, 2020

Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful response. I’m so glad you got exactly what I was trying to do 🙏🏼

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D. Jaymz
18:27 Jul 23, 2020

I enjoyed reading this piece, thoroughly. Your word choices were exquisite. You started out with conflict foreshadowing trouble with the parents and threw crumbs of hints along the way. Excellent. 👌 An interesting, informative, and emotionally packed tale. Your dialogue and descriptive language made the characters memorable. I liked the sub-plots. They were effectively used. Smokey Joe was a star in his own right. The bait and switch tactics by the 'low budget zoo' emphasized your descriptive portrayal. The reader could say onc...

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Sarah Greenwood
18:36 Jul 23, 2020

Lol a Smokey Joe Sequel. I like it. Thank you so much for reading and your thorough input. I really appreciate it. Let me play around with those edits and see what I come up with thanks again D.!

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Conan Helsley
17:03 Jul 22, 2020

First let me just say that I LOVE bats described as militant little corpses. Just beautiful. As to the rest of the story, it was a great idea. There were parts I felt could have been arranged better, (But I had never read anything about them being different colors, they were always some version of black. Was it really red? Was it the only one? Was it lost from somewhere far away? For the next 3 days I became consumed with the mystery of the red bat.) This I think should have been placed after this. (I had been particularly interested ...

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Sarah Greenwood
19:17 Jul 22, 2020

Again thank you for your wonderful input. Let me play around with it and try your edits. Thank you again. I really value critique 🙏🏼

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Conan Helsley
23:21 Jul 22, 2020

I do too, that's why I tried to be as honest as possible. People always think I only want praise, but I'd much rather know what I do badly so I can correct it.

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Elle Sin
05:44 Jul 23, 2020

I am deeply amazed with how you played the whole plot event ✨. I'm glad I got to read it, thank you for the like sister! 🥺 Hugs to the innocent child though ghaaad..

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Sarah Greenwood
09:24 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you so much Elle!

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Karin Venables
02:59 Jul 23, 2020

I loved the descriptions in this story. And I really like the nasty practical joke the zoo played on their visitors. (Well not really. It was despicable.) You got the emotions of the hurt feelings a child has when they find out about lies and liars. It's so true, something as awful as their parent's divorce wouldn't even register. Good job.

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Sarah Greenwood
09:25 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and your thoughtful comments Karin ☺️

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Scott Doran
19:39 Jul 22, 2020

I particularly liked the creative touch of Smokey Joe.

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Sarah Greenwood
13:17 Jul 28, 2020

Thank you Scott! I think I’ll write another with Smokey Joe as the protagonist lol

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Kevin Dupont
18:04 Jul 22, 2020

This was exceptional. Just a roller coaster of a story with a unique character voice and an ending that paid off. I do want to know more about Smokey Joe though!

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Sarah Greenwood
19:16 Jul 22, 2020

Lol thanks Kevin. Smokey Joe was real too. Although I’m sure he’s succumbed to tonit by now.

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Kevin Dupont
19:48 Jul 22, 2020

No way! I tried Googling but couldn't find anything about him. What Zoo was he at?

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Sarah Greenwood
19:52 Jul 22, 2020

It was called Southwicks zoo in Mendon, Ma. But that was thirty years ago

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Pamela Abwao
15:06 Jul 22, 2020

I enjoyed reading it though I had to have insomnia due to bat phorbia I imagined a red bat next to me(I have never seen them. My store has lots of bats. I deserted it after some myths? that they are Carriers of COVID-19

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Pamela Abwao
15:06 Jul 22, 2020

I enjoyed reading it though I had to have insomnia due to bat phorbia I imagined a red bat next to me(I have never seen them. My store has lots of bats. I deserted it after some myths? that they are Carriers of COVID-19

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Sarah Greenwood
15:19 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you Pamela. Although I’m sorry it brought up your phobias !

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Deborah Angevin
09:51 Jul 22, 2020

A well-written story with brilliant descriptions! And it is great to know more things about bats :o Also, would you mind checking my recent story out, "Red, Blue, White"? Thank you!

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Sarah Greenwood
11:00 Jul 22, 2020

Oh I already like the title. Be there soon. And thank you.

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09:07 Jul 22, 2020

This is a well crafted story. The story is relatable and very enjoyable.

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Sarah Greenwood
11:01 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you Vickie!

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María Barrios
22:28 Jul 20, 2020

I could feel the tension in the air. I liked it a lot.

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Sarah Greenwood
22:44 Jul 20, 2020

Thank you so much Maria!

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Jonathan Blaauw
15:57 Jul 20, 2020

You know, you're one of those writers who makes it look deceptively easy. This story is so easy to read and yet, at the same time, address some deep topics. I love all the animal facts; this is the second time in a row a story of yours has taught me something new (lots of somethings in this case). Also the dual themes of the red bat and the parents divorce - excellently intertwined. I really enjoyed this. Plus I have tons of bats where I live (in summer) so it's cool to know some new bat stuff now. Flying bats I mean, not the baseball variety.

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Sarah Greenwood
16:09 Jul 20, 2020

Thank you so much Jonathon! You made my day 😊

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Joanne X
15:19 Jul 20, 2020

Hi Sarah! I really enjoyed reading your story, you were able to capture the voice of a curious yet sophisticated child so well within your writing! I was really engaged throughout your writing and the background you gave on the characters made them feel that much more realistic. I also really enjoyed learning some new fun facts about animals! Overall, really nice story! :)

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Sarah Greenwood
15:50 Jul 20, 2020

Thanks Joanne! I’m so glad you liked it

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James Ashton
21:17 Jul 17, 2020

I really enjoyed the complexities of this story that took some thought for the reader to truly understand the level at which your writing is at. For instance, the baby things in the attic can be seen as the happy memories that are all in the past for the family. This is also immediately followed by the trip to the zoo where there is no happiness or joy in the trip, and everything the narrator was excited to see ended up disappointing her. Then you understand why, when you realize that it's being used as a cushion to break the news of the par...

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Sarah Greenwood
21:51 Jul 17, 2020

Thank you so much James. I really appreciate you input

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Charles Stucker
20:24 Jul 17, 2020

"Than a mouse," Less then a minute later Two of those ever annoying typos that spellcheck won't find. The Red Bat mystery certainly evokes the sleazy carnival atmosphere of the dilapidated zoo you deftly describe. The last line has me wondering- were there signs earlier in the tale? Dad seems overbearing "You'll strip the screw." "Stay right there." "Don't need an exterminator" Then there is the image of them sitting on opposite ends of the couch. But my parents did that because when we kids were small, we sat in the middle, between t...

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Sarah Greenwood
21:19 Jul 17, 2020

Thanks for the input Charles! I always look forward to your review. I was going for a ‘i wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then’ feel. And blaming the lack of another child and showing they used to be carefree and happy. But I see what you’re saying. Let me do some editing. Thanks!

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Sarah Greenwood
21:58 Jul 17, 2020

And the than/then mystery is my kryptonite. Also, I tried to make them seem distant by comparing them to the diorama, ‘stoic bookends’ etc and the jaunt to the zoo was made to soften the blow of the news of divorce. But obviously it wasn’t as effective as I wanted it to be so let me reread

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Juliet Martin
19:14 Jul 17, 2020

I think this story is brilliant! I love the way you manage the mystery of the red bat - it is not overplayed but drives the plot forwards and sets up the anticlimax at the end. It is so clever how you weave together the stories of the bats and the parents' relationship, and you give the impression of so much history in a short amount of time. Both plots develop at a really nice pace. I also love the little details - the glasses slipping down the Mum's nose and the return of the salty skin motif - it is so subtle but gives the characters so m...

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Sarah Greenwood
19:36 Jul 17, 2020

Wow thanks Juliet! You made my day I’m so glad you liked it 🤗

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Christina Paul
12:23 Aug 10, 2020

This was so well done; the images of the 'decaying' zoo and suggestions of the decaying marriage were really effective. Smokey Joe really spoke to the place (Please tell me he is not based on a real zoo resident! haha) Using the child's perspective dealt with difficult themes subtly and brilliantly.

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Sarah Greenwood
13:46 Aug 10, 2020

Thank you so much Christina! And yes Smokey Joe was a real attraction 😆

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Mary Black rose
00:09 Aug 04, 2020

I felt so bad for her at the end, but nice twist! Love your writing style! I'm new to Prompts, and yours is the first story I've read, and really enjoyed! Lovely!

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Sarah Greenwood
00:41 Aug 04, 2020

Thank you Mary. And welcome !

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Mary Black rose
15:45 Aug 04, 2020

Thank you so much!

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