Tango was grinning and flexing his muscles. Al still hadn’t decided how to react to his transformation when Tango suddenly pointed at the ceiling. “Look!” he whispered.
At first Al didn’t see anything up there, but then he realized that what looked like lumps on the ceiling were actually hundreds of thousands of bats.
“I love bats!” Tango exclaimed. “I wish I could be a bat.”
“Shh,” Al told him, but he was too late. The bats stirred in a wave, and soon the cave was echoing with their squeals of sonar.
Al dropped back to the ground and covered his head. When he realized that Tango was still standing and staring at the bats, flapping his arms, he grabbed him by the waist and pulled him down next to him. Whatever Tango was, he obviously still needed protected.
Bats brushed against Al’s fingers and sweater as they swooped past. Tango started giggling. Finally the squeaking subsided, and Al cautiously sat up. Tango was already on his feet. One bat was lying on its stomach, clinging to his red hair, and another was dangling off his finger. “You’re tickling me,” Tango told them.
To Al’s surprise, one of the bats spoke. “You woke us up,” it said.
“Sorry,” Tango said.
Al wasn’t going to waste his opportunity. “How do we get out of this cave?” he asked them.
The bat that had been on Tango’s finger fluttered into Al’s chest and latched on to the front of his sweater. “Follow the river,” it told him.
“I was right,” Al said, smiling at Tango.
“Don’t go out there,” the bat in Tango’s hair squeaked.
“Why?” Tango asked.
“It’s dark out there.”
“It’s dark in here, too,” Al said. “Come on, Tango.”
As Tango started following Al, both bats flapped away from them. The river that fed the waterfall quickly narrowed into a stream no more than ankle deep. Tango took his shoes off and splashed in it as they went along.
“So you don’t come from anywhere?” Al asked him.
Tango shook his head. “I don’t remember coming from anywhere.”
“Oh.” Al thought back to what felt like ages before when something had been trying to separate him from his memories of his wife and daughter. “I’m sorry,” Al told him.
“It’s okay,” Tango said softly.
Tango was a strange boy—maybe he wasn’t even a boy—but Al identified with him and wished he could help him.