Vespers: Say Your Prayers...by Jeff Rovin
A new name in terror flies circles around the competition.
Vicious bat attacks moving southward along the Hudson River prompt Nancy Joyce, a bat scientist who works for the Bronx Zoo, to investigate. When the attacks move into the New York subway system, Manhattan police detective Robert Gentry becomes involved. Joyce and Gentry team up to determine what
A new name in terror flies circles around the competition.
Vicious bat attacks moving southward along the Hudson River prompt Nancy Joyce, a bat scientist who works for the Bronx Zoo, to investigate. When the attacks move into the New York subway system, Manhattan police detective Robert Gentry becomes involved. Joyce and Gentry team up to determine what is causing this unusual behavior. What they discover will keep listeners pinned to their seats and clawing for more.|
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.07(w) x 6.55(h) x 0.63(d)
Read an Excerpt
The bat sliced through the warm night air. Wood met hardball with a sweet, loud crack that sent it arcing through the twilight.
Thirteen-year-old Tommy Fitzpatrick dropped the bat and ran. The gangly boy couldn't watch. He lowered his head, exploded toward first base, and prayed. He saw his white Nikes flash against the baseline. He felt the cotton uniform rub his thighs and forearms. Through his batting helmet he heard muffled cheers from the Thurston Thrashers grandstand. There was a runner at second. If the hit was a double, it could tie the semifinal game. A home run and they'd win. An out--
As he neared the bag he heard the drowning-out cheer from the Fortelni Fighters grandstand. He looked up just as big first baseman Rick Boots raised his arms in triumph and ran toward home with the rest of the infield. Boots didn't even look at him.
Tommy slowed and stopped at the bag. He stood there breathing hard, his shoulders rounded, his back to home. He looked out at the picnic area and the street beyond. His dad was probably dying behind the cage.
So much for staying alive. So much for playing in the championship, for taking home a trophy, for being the talk of the lunchroom tomorrow.
One of the Fortelni coaches patted Tommy on the shoulder as he ran past.
"That was a good shot, son."
"Thanks," Tommy muttered. But the man probably didn't hear. Tommy barely heard it himself. His mouth didn't want to move. It just wanted to hang there.
Tommy pulled off his batting helmet and shook out his long, black hair. He wanted to cry but didn't. It would be bad enough facing the school tomorrow as a loser. He didn't want to face it as a water baby.
The boy took a short, deep breath. Somewhere inside he found the energy to crank up his arms, turn toward home, and join the rest of the Thrashers as they congratulated the winners.
The bat swept through the deepening twilight. Small, hairless wings carried it on a zigzag course through the woods. Crossing in the open field beyond, the vespertilionid quick-coughed an ultrasonic trilling from deep in its throat. The sound saturated the air for several yards, ten pulses a second alternating with the beats of its wings. The bat's large ears were turned forward, listening for any change in the returning signal. Whenever the echoing pings came back as a low drumbeat, it meant another bat. When they returned as a long, high rasp, it meant that the fluttering wings of an insect were somewhere ahead. Finding a bug, the bat would pinpoint it more precisely by increasing its bleating twentyfold, processing up to two hundred beats per second. The amplitude, direction, and sharpness of the returning signal indicated exactly where the prey was as well as its size and texture. The bat would then change course, fix on the insect visually in a sharp, bright, black-and-white image, and snap it cleanly in its small jaws. During the moment it took to swallow, the vespertilionid rerouted the pulses through his nose. On an ordinary night the bat repeated this process an average of six hundred times an hour for five hours.
But tonight was not ordinary. The colony would begin to migrate at dawn, and the bat was a field picket, one of nearly three hundred rear-guard bats spread across the woods and flying up to two miles high. In addition to feeding, its job was to watch for any movement toward the forest. If it detected any, or if the echo of any bat within its range began to fade, it was to follow, reconnect, and defend the perimeter.
After gulping down two mosquitoes in swift, left-right bites, the bat detected something moving below. It was large and headed toward the woods. He nosed down, snaring a moth as he did. Speeding up to compensate for the loss of tailwind, the bat dove straight toward the object.
Tommy crossed the parking area adjacent to the woods. He stopped in front of his father's forest green Blazer and thumped backside-first against the hood. He looked back at the diamond. Scott Fitzpatrick was talking with coach Don Breen and assistant coach Bob Kidd and several other fathers behind the cage. Some of the mothers were sitting and talking in the grandstand while little brothers and sisters ran around the picnic area near the pond. The rest of the Thrashers were sitting on the bench, eating chips and drinking soda and grumbling. The Fighters were in the field, exuberantly throwing the ball around.
The boy didn't feel like talking to anyone. Why should he? He blew it. Even if no one said so, they'd be thinking it.
Tommy looked down at the glove on his left hand. At least he still had next year. And he had his glove. He loved the way it felt, the way it smelled, the heft when there was a hardball in the pocket. Win or lose, it always sucked putting this part of him up in the closet. But the Little League season was over and fall was starting to show in the trees. Soon it would be too cold to play catch. There was football, but it wasn't the same as being out in the warm sunshine with school far off and--
The boy heard the fluttering. He raised his head an instant before it struck. The bat dug its ten strong claws deep into Tommy's forehead. It held on, its wings beating against the boy's temples while its wide mouth pushed through his hair. The pin-narrow teeth found the boy's scalp and bit through the flesh.
Tommy screamed. He pushed at the bat with his right hand and screamed again when he felt the creature's furry body. He screamed even louder when a piece of skin came away with the bat's mouth. Panicking, Tommy hammered it with his glove.
The men looked over.
The bat held on as two more bats arrived from the left and right. The first bat snagged another piece of scalp just above the hairline while the other bats landed on the tops of Tommy's ears. Their claws easily pierced his skin. The boy fell to his knees. He shook his head violently, but the feathery slap of their wings stayed with him.
Scott Fitzpatrick started running toward the parking area. "Tommy?"
Portly coach Breen slowly jogged after him. "Scott, what is it?"
"I don't know, Don. I can't see."
Behind them, members of the Thrasher bench stood. Several of the Fighters stopped playing and watched.
"Tommy!" Scott shouted as he craned to look around the cars.
A fourth bat charged across the field and latched onto Tommy's upper lip. The boy wailed as it bit the underside of his nose. He tasted blood. A fifth bat snagged the flesh between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. The bat bit the back of Tommy's wrist.
"Dad, help me!"
Scott scrambled around the haphazardly parked cars. "Hold on, I'm coming!"
Tommy tried to shake the creature off his hand as a sixth bat grabbed the inside of his elbow. It chewed through his jersey in three quick bites and scissored through the flesh. Its upper and lower fangs perforated the pulmonary artery. Blood pumped through the tear in the uniform.
The boy's screams became yelps. He tried to raise his glove as two bats dive-bombed his left arm. He flopped to his side by the front fender and kicked along the ground, frantically trying to wipe the bats off. The flailing wasn't his own; pain told him where to swipe and push and swat. Blood from his ears, hand, and arm dribbled onto the dying grass.
The boy's wild motions attracted a second wave of bats. They descended steep and sharp like a monstrous arrowhead, breaking up as they came out of their dive. Most of them slipped around the buttons of the boy's jersey. They crept up his chest and along his arms, gnawing relentlessly. Tommy shuddered; his movements suddenly slowed and then stopped. He felt nothing more, as pain, exhaustion, and the loss of blood triggered neurogenic shock.
A new swarm of bats sailed low over the boy. They didn't stop but headed toward their next target. Scott Fitzpatrick swore as they knifed toward him. He wrapped his arms around his head, dipped it like a charging bull, and kept weaving through the parked cars. The bats slowed and covered him like a giant hand. They picked at his windbreaker, tore away pieces of nylon, burrowed into the rips. The man uncrossed his arms and slapped at the lumps beneath his jacket.
Another swarm arrived, attacking his now-exposed face.
They raked his eyelids, his forehead, the back of his neck. Blinded by wings and blood, Scott slammed into the back of a car. He shouted with pain and rage and dropped backward onto the trunk, trying to crush the bats that were under his clothing. He reached up to his face, squeezed two mouse-sized bodies with each hand, and threw them aside. They darted back.
More bats swooped down and piled onto Scott's face and hands. He slid from the trunk, wriggling and yelling as the tiny, slashing teeth and long hooked claws opened dozens of wounds.
Don Breen was a car length away when he saw Scott Fitzpatrick writhing on the ground. Breen stopped.
Scott was bucking violently beneath a layer of small bats. They crawled over him like an oil slick until he was covered from foot to forehead.
"Jesus!" Breen said.
One of the parents shouted, "Don, what's wrong?"
"Stay away!" Breen yelled.
"Just do it!" he screamed.
None of the men moved. Slowly, Breen removed his team jacket. He held it like a matador and leaned forward. He crept ahead, measuring the distance with his eyes, intending to throw the jacket on top of the bats.
Suddenly, Scott stopped moving. A moment later, so did the bats.
Breen stood watching as a gentle wind slipped through the cars. It blew across the fist-sized animals, stirring their fur and lifting the thin skin of their wings, but their spindly feet and five-wing digits held them fast. Then, using those claws, the animals turned themselves around. They moved like little dials, rotating clockwise, nearly in unison, and looked at Breen. Small, dark eyes gleamed from blood-smeared faces, and their wide, dangerous jaws hung open.
One of the kids yelled from the field. "Yo! Coach! You sure you don't need help?"
Breen didn't tell whoever it was to shut the hell up. A parent did that. Breen waited for the bats to attack. When they didn't, he wondered if it had anything to do with not moving. Or maybe not moving forward. Tommy and Scott had both gone toward the woods.
There was only one way to find out. Slowly, very slowly, he lowered his jacket away from the bats. When the animals didn't react, he took a cautious step back with his right foot.
Almost as one the tiny heads clicked to the right. He moved toward the woods.
Breen wanted to swear and run. He did neither. If the bats had wanted to attack, they would have. He waited several seconds. When nothing happened, he took a second step back, this time to the left. The twenty-odd small heads didn't move.
"Okay," he said softly. "Okay. If you'll let me go that way, I'm leaving."
Breen stepped again. Then again. The bats still didn't move. When he reached the edge of the parking lot, Breen finally turned toward the diamond. The players and all of the parents were standing and watching. He walked swiftly toward the cage.
"What happened out there?" Bob Kidd asked. "Is Tommy--"
"I don't know," Breen snapped. Cold perspiration dripped from the band of his cap. He picked up the pace as he approached the grandstand. He looked up at the parents and children. "All right," he said. "I need everybody to go that way slowly." He pointed toward the picnic area. "If you've got jackets, use them to cover your heads. Does anybody have a phone?"
"I do," one of the mothers said.
She punched in the number.
"Tell them we've got bats--maybe thirty of them. Two people are seriously injured. Tell them not to come along Forest Road. Tell them they should pull in by the pond."
The woman said all right. Coach Breen walked with her as she placed the call.
In less than a minute, the diamond and grandstands were empty.
When there was no longer a threat, the bats returned to the skies. They continued scooping down insects, watching one another, and making certain that nothing but wind and moonlight approached the forest.
Vespers. Copyright (c) 1998 by Jeff Rovin. Published by St. Martin's Press, Inc. New York, NY
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