Albacete (AL-ba-set) was the smallest of the Big Brown Bats. His name was a little too long and grand for a bat, his voice was just a little too low, and his ears a little too big.
The other bats his age in the colony thought he was great!
For a laugh, anyway.
“Hahaha, ‘Cete! Hey, ‘Cete, sing that song you know!” they’d call to him.
Or they’d say, “Come here, ‘Cete. ‘Cete, come over here.” When he’d start to get closer they’d shout, “Ready, ‘Cete, go!” And all take off, laughing and flying into his face making him tumble through the air.
He hated that they called him ‘Cete instead of Albacete. Sometimes he wished he had a more normal bat name, like Asra or Nyx or Rob. Even the older bats didn’t call him by his name very much, but Albacete was his name. He didn’t think it was really that much longer than normal.
He especially hated how alone they made him feel. They always picked on him, and when the colony was hunting, they always flew faster, because they knew he couldn’t keep up. The only time they didn’t leave him out was Halloween.
Halloween is a big bat holiday when all the bats get together to sing and play games and hunt together. No one was left out on Halloween.
“Hey, ‘Cete, come on, the Moonlight Dance is will start soon!”
This was a first. The other bats never actually invited Albacete to fly with them. And now they had. It was a Halloween miracle! Quickly, he cleaned his face and stretched his wings and went to join them.
The others were laughing and singing and as he got closer, one nudged another who nudged the next and the next. They watched him land, dangling by his toes from a branch, and said, “We were thinking, ‘Cete, that we should race there.” Some of the bats snickered.
Albacete got a sinking feeling. The Moonlight Dance was a big deal. It was the biggest Halloween event. There would be other colonies there, even. He usually flew with the older bats while the other younger bats went on ahead. But this year they changed locations, so the older bats had left early to make sure it was ready. He didn’t know where the Moonlight Dance was being held if he got lost. If they were racing, there’s no way he wouldn’t get lost. And it wasn’t safe to fly alone, anyway. All the bats knew that.
He said, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” He nervously shuffled his feet where he was hanging. The others nudged each other, giggling behind their wings.
“Well,” said one.
“We think–,” said another.
“It’ll be a lot of fun!” said one more. And with that, they burst into flight, everyone going in a different direction and disappearing before Albacete even had a chance to object.
That was it. They’d done it. They’d finally abandoned him. And on the one night that no one was supposed to be left behind. Albacete didn’t know what to do. He wanted to cry.
Then, from a long way away, he heard the dry flapping of many bat wings. He didn’t recognize any of the voices, but that didn’t matter. He could surely follow this other group to the Dance. Where else could they be going? Albacete launched himself into the air and called out.
“Hello! Hello! Can I fly with you? I’m lost!”
The strange colony was small and flew weaving in and out of each other’s space rather than together. Albacete didn’t know what to make of this.
“Hello!” He tried again. Finally they heard him and some of them slowed down to land nearby. Albacete hurried to join them.
When he caught himself on a branch, so excited that these unfamiliar faces all stopped for him, he had to look around twice. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Many of the bats were hanging normally, upside down and by their toes, but some of them were doing bizarre things like sitting upright against the tree or laying on their bellies and crawling along the tops of tree limbs to find a place to settle. Some of them had strange colored fur, reds or patches of bright blue or green or white. These were the strangest bats he’d ever met.
But he was a little strange, too, so he said, “Hello!”
“Hello! Hi, there! Nice night for flying, isn’t it?” Said some of the closer bats. One gave him a big, open-mouthed grin and another waved a wing at him in a gesture Albacete could only assume was meant as a greeting. These really were the strangest bats. Maybe they came from really far away.
Albacete cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, it’s great for Halloween, too,” he said, “Are you going to the Moonlight Dance? Can I fly with you?”
The strange bats all looked at each other and one of them shrugged. “We don’t know where this Moonlight Dance is,” replied one of the bigger bats with a yellow tuft on his head.
Albacet’s heart fell. These bats must be from really, really far away. They couldn’t help him. He wouldn’t get to celebrate Halloween this year. He started to sniffle.
“But,” said a bat with a big voice leaning upright against the tree, “we’re planning to do a lot of dancing tonight if you want to come with us.”
“Here, here!” Cried several bats
“Yes, come with us!” Cheered several more.
“It’ll be great!” Said a very small bat who appeared to have pink on her claws.
Albacete didn’t know what to say. They seemed to actually want him to come with them. He was still a little heart broken about what happened before, but here were these funny bats who didn’t know him at all, who didn’t know about the biggest bat event all year, who wanted to have fun with him.
He was thrilled! “That sounds wonderful! Thank you!”
There was a chorus of excited songs that Albacete had never heard in so many different voices, more than he’d ever thought could exist. As everyone launched into the air, one right after the other, Albacete realized that no one had said a word about his voice or his ears or even asked his name! They didn’t seem to mind at all that he wasn’t part of their colony. He even tried to sing a little and no one laughed at him! And best of all, because they were so busy joking and dancing as they flew, he kept up just fine.
They played all night. It was nothing like the Halloween celebrations Albacete had been to before. He wasn’t even sure he knew where he was when they finally stopped to rest. It was the best Halloween he’d ever had. He wondered, shyly, if he could join this colony. He was old enough to leave the other colony if he wanted. He wondered if these strangers would mind.
“It’s almost time for dawn,” said a bat with purple stripes in his fur. The others suddenly started looking nervously at the sky. Albacete looked at the sky, too. He hadn’t realized it was so late. He was getting hungry, too. He’d been having so much fun, he didn’t even notice that no one had mentioned a hunt for the night.
Wanting to be helpful he said, “I guess we should find somewhere to sleep for the day. We could look while we hunt if you don’t have anywhere to stay nearby…” The other bats were looking at him in a strange way for the first time that night. He shuffled nervously along his branch. He started to feel a little foolish. He really didn’t know these bats, after all.
The bat with the yellow tuft on his head shuffled up next to Albacete. “Hey, what’s your name, anyway?”
Albacete hesitated and considered telling them it was something normal, like Geri. “It’s Albacete.”
“My names is Umfredo,” said the bat with the yellow tuft.
A few of the other bats came closer, too. The one with the pink claws said, “My name is Polona.”
The rest of the bats took turns introducing themselves. They all had long, grand names like Albacete. He was elated again, but confused. Everyone was getting so serious all of a sudden.
The bat with the big voice, Gualtiero, said, “Albacete, I think we neglected to mention something.” And then Albacete watched in horror as Gualtiero simply let go of the branch and dropped straight down. He cried out and covered his face with his wings, not wanting to watch one of his new friends crash into the ground. He felt the vibrations of movement along the tree limb and peeked out of his as more of the strange bats let go. What was happening? What were they doing? What had he gotten himself into?
And then from down below he heard one of his new friends, “Albacete. Albacete, look. Will you look down, please?” Albacete tilted his head to look at the ground. He almost let go himself out of surprise.
There on the ground were a cluster of humans all looking up at him. He looked around for the other bats. Humans could be dangerous! He had to find his friends, especially if they were hurt!
“Albacete,” one of the humans laughed and Albacete froze. He looked closer at the group on the ground. They were all decked out in so many colors and the closer he listened, he could hear his friends now familiar voices murmuring amongst themselves, but coming from– the people.
“Umfredo?” Albacete asked. One of the group with a bright yellow hat nodded and waved at him. Another gave him a big, open-mouthed grin– with big, sharp teeth now. Albacete didn’t know humans had big, sharp teeth. “Corentine…?” Albacete asked, weakly. He thought he might faint.
“Albacete, come down, won’t you?” Polona asked. She held her hands up as if she expected him to drop down like they had and she would catch him. Was she crazy? Albacete shook his head and hid in his wings again. He thought he’d finally found friends. They’d been so nice to him. And now he had no idea what was happening.
There was a series of poofs and a flutter of wings all around him. “Albacete, why are you hiding?” He felt a warm nudge.
“Albacete, you’re not afraid of us, are you?” Of course he was afraid!
“Didn’t we have fun?” He’d had the most fun he’d ever had in his life!
“Albacete, are you bothered that we’re vampires?” What the heck was a vampire?
“Aren’t we friends now?” He’d wanted to be friends.
“We’re sorry we didn’t tell you.”
“Albacete, please come out.”
“Umfredo, it will be daylight soon, we need to go home.”
Albacete put his wings down. He would feel alone again when they went home. He looked at the face around him. They were all so weird. They apparently weren’t even really bats. They were all so worried.
He asked, “What happens when the sun comes up?” The bat vampires looked uncomfortable.
“Well, it makes us sick. It could kill us.” That was awful. Albacete nodded, thinking. He didn’t know what vampires were, but he’d made a decision.
They were his friends. They were weird, but so was he. And he definitely didn’t want them to die, so he gave them a big, batty smile and said, “I’m okay. I’m sorry for being scared. Can I see you all tomorrow?”
All the bat vampires cheered and they flew him home where all the older bats were shocked to see him and his new, strange friends, and all the young bats scowled that Albacete wasn’t lost on his own somewhere.
The vampires promised to come see him again, and they did.