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Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats

Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats

Urban Ecology, Community Science, and How We Share Our Cities
by Cylita Guy
illustrated by Cornelia Li
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Harvey and the Extraordinary
Excerpt

[Uncorrected text not for reproduction or distribution] 

Preshow

A hush falls over the crowd as the spotlight swings around to find him. He’s standing at the bottom of a ladder. He breathes in and sets his foot on the first rung. 

“Ladies and gentlemen! Children of all ages! Feast your eyes upon our next act!” 

Step after step, the ladder takes him higher and higher up into the tent—until he can’t smell the popcorn anymore and the faces below turn into far-off blurs. 

“Heeeeee’s fearless!”

He stops for a moment and squints, looking down at the sea of people below—in spinning technicolor. He keeps a steady rhythm. One foot, the next. One foot, the next. 

“He’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before!” 

The tent falls silent as he reaches the top. He hears nothing but his own heartbeat. Shakily, he steps out onto the platform, his knees quivering. A murmur ripples through the crowd, and camera lights flash like tiny explosions through the big top. He moves slowly, arms outstretched, keeping himself balanced as he carefully steps up to the edge. He looks down and sees it, a tiny blue speck just under his toes—the pool of water he’s about to dive into. The crowd oohs and aahs. Their laughter swirls, and he hears Grimaldi the Lion roar from his cage backstage.

He takes a deep breath.

“The one!”

He stops. 

A memory hits him so hard that he doubles over with the heartache—the pain in his chest. The crowd gasps, and somewhere a woman screams. Quickly he lurches back upright. The show must go on! 

“The only!” 

For a second, he stands still and shuts his eyes. Willing the memories to leave. The laughter, the little hand in his. Big green eyes and freckles. He lifts his foot to step again but—not without her. Standing tall, worlds above the crowd, he thinks of the worn school picture. And there she is. His little girl—

A drumroll splits through the air.

“THE EXTRAORDINARY!”

He jumps.

Chapter One

There are very few truly extraordinary things in the world. You see, extraordinary is extremely rare. Extraordinary only comes around on a snow day, a cheap-movie Tuesday, or in a carton of cold chocolate milk. Extraordinary is the golden star on your book report, brightly painted toenails, and stained-glass windows in unexpected places. It can only be found in orange the fruit, not the color. It’s as special as a blue-raspberry sour candy or the perfect horizontal striped T-shirt, lovingly worn in and still warm from the dryer. The word extraordinary is extraordinary in itself because it ends in a Y, which is the only letter that has a tail. And only the most extraordinary animals have tails, so that’s why it’s a very extraordinary letter.   

The way I woke up this morning, though? Completely extra-ordinary. The door sounded like it was going to split in half from the force of Dominic’s knocking. 

“WAAAKE UUUP!” he yelled.

I pulled the pillow over my face, breathing in floral-patterned flannel. 

Extra-ordinary is a whole other word. Extra-ordinary isn’t extraordinary at all—it’s much, much worse. I mean, ordinary is okay, but extra-ordinary is extra okay. If you think about it, it’s really, really bad. Extra-ordinary is your older brother pounding on your bedroom door like a woodpecker practicing Morse code at exactly seven thirty in the morning on your eleventh birthday.

“MIMIIIIII!”   

Mimi, short for Miriam, is an extremely extra-ordinary named given to me by my great-aunt Miriam. Nothing extraordinary has ever been given by a great-aunt. Aside from dusty old names, great-aunts only give doilies, raisin oatmeal cookies you thought were chocolate chip, and fleece pajamas with itchy tags. Very extra-ordinary things indeed. At least, that’s what I’ve decided. Oh, and did I mention that I’m the chief authority on all things extraordinary because, you see, I invented Extraordinaryism? I’m an expert!

The truth is, I’m an expert because, from the moment I was born, I was extraordinary. Everyone knew. At least, that’s what my dad said. And here I was, eleven years later—still extraordinary but much taller, far more freckled, and with a neon-green cast on my right arm. My dad would know a thing or two about being extraordinary because, though I did invent the word Extraordinaryism, it was my dad who inspired it. Extraordinaryism doesn’t have a lot of research behind it yet, but it must be at least partially genetic because I take after him. I’m sure he would do a better job of explaining it, too, but he’s off being way too famous and extraordinary. By far the most extraordinary thing about me is that my dad is a renowned circus performer. 

Having a famous dad changes a lot of things. Sometimes it means he won’t be there for your birthday—at least not this year. But as a fellow extraordinary person, he knew I would understand. 

Extraordinary people are made for something more. That’s why they can never stay. That’s the first rule of Extraordinaryism.

Maybe on a less extraordinary day the rude knocking would have dampened my spirits, but today was my special day, and nothing would stop me from enjoying it. I leapt out of bed. After a careful peek into the hall to ensure Dominic had already gone, I threw open my bedroom door. As I reached the top of the stairs, I noticed a small, red paper arrow pointing down to the main floor. I smiled with delight. The best surprises are birthday surprises! 

I raced down the stairs, collecting the arrows as I went, my bare feet making the old wooden steps creak. The arrows led me all the way into the bright yellow kitchen, which was streaming with sunlight and looking, if possible, even more yellow than it normally did. Dominic was already seated at the table, frowning and eating his cereal. Next to him, directly in front of the last paper arrow on the counter, was a small cage. Dominic was shoveling spoonfuls of cereal into his mouth with one hand while the other was crammed into the side of the cage, fingers waggling. I skidded to a stop on a black-and-white tile as my mom turned around from where she was standing at the sink. 

“Is that . . . is that the surprise?” I asked.

Mom smiled and pointed to the table.

“Why don’t you go check?”

I ran over and Dominic glumly pushed the cage toward me. 

“What is it?” I asked him.

“Dunno. It’s, like, a gerbil or something,” he said, shrugging.

“It’s a hamster, Mimi!”

    I pushed my face against the white bars of the cage. In the corner of the wood-chip-filled cage was a caramel-colored hamster with dark brown patches. His little black eyes darted around before settling on me. My breath caught in my throat—he couldn’t be real! I leaned in closer, squinting, just to check if it was a prank. Only when I saw his tiny sides pulsing with nervous breaths could I finally exhale.

“For me? I really get to keep him?” 

Mom smiled at me.

“Yes, you do! Happy Birthday, hon! You’ll have to think of a name for him today while you’re at Grandma’s. We can put his cage over there in the window so he can look out while you’re gone.”

Dominic stood and loudly shoved his chair back in place. “Mimi gets everything,” he grumbled. 

“You got to wake me up this morning!” I cheerily reminded him, wiggling my eyebrows just long enough that he rolled his eyes in return. 

Dominic had been in charge of waking me up every morning since he used my red alarm clock as the timer on the rocket he and his best friend Nigel built in the backyard. Mom decided this was the best way to punish Dominic until he saved enough allowance to buy me a new alarm clock, which I’d decided would be purple. I don’t know if you know any thirteen-year-old boys, but take my word for it—they make terrible personal alarm clocks.

Mom, ignoring my furious eyebrow wiggling, stepped in. “Dominic, you get to see your friends at school, and Mimi doesn’t get to—”

    “Whatever,” Dominic said, before stomping out of the room. Mom sighed and looked down at the tiles for a moment then looked up again with a smile on. 

“Grab your coat. We don’t want to keep Grandma waiting.”

[Uncorrected text not for reproduction or distribution] 

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