Disney owns the characters; I'm just taking them for a test drive. You'd think they would've kicked me off the lot by now...
"I've got my eyes on you, Stoppable," Steve Barkin said with more than a little edge in his voice. He peered deeply into the unwavering pair of brown eyes before him, eyes that did not flinch or show any fear whatsoever. "So don't try anything funny." He looked up at the youth's companion. "That goes for both of you!"
Ron and Hana Stoppable, in perfect unison, gave Barkin a military salute and declared, "Sir yes sir, Mr. B, sir!"
Barkin let out an exasperated sigh. "Anyone wanting to do a study on nature versus nurture should just follow you two around for a day." Barkin scrutinized his twenty four year old former student and the man's six year old adopted sister. "Although you always showed the proper amount of fear when called for. She doesn't!"
"It's really no big, Mr. B," Hana smugly replied. "You try taking down a genetically modified super villain when you're still in diapers and see how much fear you show."
"Whatever." Barkin turned his attention to the other little girls and their parents. "All right, Pixie Scouts, LISTEN UP!" He started pacing like a general addressing his troops. "As you all know this is our first annual Halloween Haunted Hike! We will be setting out just before sunset to the campgrounds to study the so-called creatures of the night up close and personal." He waited for the complaints to fly. Most of the girls here would much rather be out trick or treating than doing a nature hike after dark. "Please remember that this was set up to keep any of the Halloween shenanigans down to a minimum this year. We don't want any repeat performances of the Toilet Paper Man incident from last year."
"Didn't teenagers do that?" one girl asked.
"Yeah!" another chimed in. "If the big kids are messing up, why do we get punished." That opened the floodgates of displeasure from not only the assembled Pixie Scouts, but their chaperones as well.
"It's really not fair, Mr. Barkin," one mother said.
"Life's not fair!" the former soldier bellowed. "Now everyone form up and get in line. The sooner we get going the sooner we can get this over with."
As soon as the travel arrangements were made, Ron and Hana, along with two other girls and their mothers, were heading towards the new Stoppable mini-van. "Y'know, I still don't get why I have to do this," Ron whined.
"Because Mom and Dad weaseled their way out of it to go to a last minute," Hana punctuated the words "last minute" with air quotes, "actuarial dinner, and their way of telling you that you were filling in was showing up on your doorstep and leaving me there." Han gave Ron a five alarm smile. "Besides, Bro, there was no way you were gonna let Sis come out and do this, what with her being about ready to pop, and all."
"Being seven months pregnant does not mean Kim's about ready to pop, Han," Ron said. That was another reason Ron wasn't too happy with this. Even though his mother-in-law was over to keep Kim company, Ron wanted to be there in case his pregnant wife needed him. On the other hand, Kim's weird cravings were starting to freak even him out. Cottage cheese on garlic fries? he thought, remembering the strange lunch his wife had requested. It made him shudder.
The drive went without incident, and soon the assembled Pixie Scouts were at the Middleton campgrounds. Mr. Barkin gave the standard "don't get lost and look out for poison oak speech," handed out maps, lanterns, and booklets of what to look for, and sent the scouts off to explore. Barkin decided that, since he really didn't trust the Stoppables, they would go with his group. "All right, troops, we're going to be looking for different classes of animals; insects, rodents, and chiroptera."
"What's a chiroptera?" one of the parents asked.
"Bats," Hana replied. "Ooooh! You think there are any vampire bats, Bro?"
"Vampire bats?" Rufus squeaked from his person's pocket. "No bats."
"Wrong latitude, buddy," Ron said. "Vampire bats are from more tropical climates."
"You've been watching the Critter Channel, haven't you, Stoppable?" Barkin wasn't buying that this young man, who had made a career out of slacking during high school, would know where vampire bats were native to.
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
Barkin didn't dignify that with an answer.
"Hey," one of the girls in the group said. "Does Mr. Stoppable's pet count towards the rodents we're looking for?"
"Absolutely not!" Barkin bellowed. "Naked mole rats are not even native to North America! Why would they count on our nature hike? Besides, they're gross." Rufus blew the troop leader a raspberry.
The hike continued in relative silence. Outside of a few squirrels and the occasional cricket, the Pixie Scouts had seen very little. Natalie, one of the scouts and a good friend of Hana's, was a little nervous. Hana noticed her friend's unease.
"As my big sis likes to say, what's the sitch, Nat?"
"No one else is afraid of the vampire chipmunk?" Her earnest fear stopped anyone from laughing at her.
"If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, Gomez, there's no such thing as a vampire chipmunk!"
"Says the man who was once gene spliced with Rufus." Ron's lopsided grin didn't fade under Barkin's harsh glare. Ron's fear of his former teacher had pretty much faded away in the years since he graduated. Of course, the fact that Ron stepped up during the Lorwardian invasion and Barkin had been reduced to a sobbing wreck, who was then chastised by Kim's grandmother and sent to hide in the nurse's office, gave Ron a huge boost of confidence around the man who had once been the bane of his academic existence.
"The point is, there are no blood sucking chipmunks in this forest. Period."
"That's not what I heard," another girl, Emma Daniels, said. "I heard that it comes out after dark and attacks those foolish enough to walk under its tree." The little brown haired girl was clutching her father's hand and looking around nervously.
"It's all good, Em," Hana said. "My big brother can kick any vampire chipmunk's biscuit to the next county!" She gave her brother a big hug when she said that.
Just then, there was a rustling in the bushes. Barkin unsuccessfully tried to stifle a scream. "Stoppable go check that out!" the big man yelled when he finally composed himself.
"Why me? You're the scout leader. I'm just the chauffeur!"
"Chaperone!" Barkin corrected.
"Hey, I drove! That makes me the chauffeur! I used the word right."
"Just do it, Stoppable!"
Before Ron could reach the offending bush, several Pixie Scouts and parents came rushing through. "We heard a weird noise!" one of the mothers said. "It was really high pitched; it almost sounded like a scream."
"That was just Troop Leader Barkin," Emma said. "He's afraid of the vampire chipmunk."
"That's enough, Daniels!" I wish I could give these kids detention.
"No, it was coming from about a hundred feet that way." The mother was pointing to the direction they came from.
A large grin was plastered on Hana's face as she grabbed her brother's hand. "Let's go, Bro! If we get a picture of it, we can sell it to the Weekly Wonder!" Before Ron could protest he was dragged off by the inhumanly strong six year old.
"Whoah, Han! What's the hurry?"
"Come on, Bro, don't you want to see the vampire chipmunk?"
"As much as I hate to agree with Barkin, Hana, I don't think there is one."
"Hope not," Rufus muttered.
"The only way to get a vampire chipmunk would be if DNAmy was around, and she's been in the looney bin for the last two years." Apparently someone decided that a plush fixation to the point of genetically engineering real Cuddle Buddies qualified as a mental illness. Amy carrying around that Monkey Fist statue and talking to it like it was still alive only helped seal the deal.
"Come on, Bro! Rufus talks! How can you be so sure that there isn't a vampire chipmunk if you have a talking mole rat and can speak roach fluently?"
Ron gave his sister a dirty look. "You need to stop hanging out with Wade. I really hate it when you go all Vulcan on me and use logic."
The Stoppable siblings continued their march through the dark vegetation; their ears and eyes on constant alert for anything out of the ordinary. "Hey, Bro," Han whispered. "How much do you think we can sell the pic for when we get it?"
"If we get it," Ron reminded her. He still wasn't so sure there was a vampire chipmunk. Shows you how much I've grown up, he thought. Six years ago I'd have been as big on finding this thing as Han is. Or scared to death and running for my life. I guess Kim's rubbed off on me. Of course, I still have to be true to my essential Ronness.
"Well, this is where they said they heard the noise," Hana said. "And no chipmunk. Man that tanks. I wanted to see a real monster."
"We'll watch a good scary movie when we get back to my place, okay?"
"It's not the same," Hana whined.
Suddenly, something leapt from the shadows and landed on Ron's shoulder. "Aaaaahhhhhhhh!" he screamed. "Get it off get it off get it off! Vampire chipmunk!"
Hana jumped up and snatched the offending critter from her panicked brother's shoulder. "Aw man," she groused. "It's just a squirrel."
"Heh heh. Squirrel. Yeah I knew that."
"Oh boy," Rufus muttered under his breath.
Han set the little grey rodent down on the forest floor when they heard a loud, high pitched squeal. "We got it!" Hana exclaimed, and she grabbed Ron's hand, dragging him deeper into the dense foliage.
"Okay, Han, I think that's enough," Ron said, finally extracting himself from his little sister's grasp. "We're like, really far away from the rest of the Scouts. We don't want to get lost now."
"I have one of Wade's GPS watches," Hana said, showing off her stylish timepiece. "We could get back to the others with our eyes closed."
"Yeah, let's not try that, 'kay?" Ron looked around at his surroundings, barely illuminated by his electric lantern. "This place would probably be creepy in broad daylight," he shivered.
The siblings heard another high pitched squeal and stopped dead in there tracks. It sounded like it came from right behind them. "Ron," Hana said. She hardly ever used her brother's given name.
"Was that Rufus's stomach growling?"
"No, that's a lot louder and a lot deeper."
"That's what I was afraid of."
Slowly the two Stoppables turned around, almost terrified of what they might see. When they opened their eyes they saw nothing. And a whole lot of it.
"What is the deal?" Hana asked no one in particular. "We can hear it, so why can't we see it?"
"Dark forest at night, kiddo," Ron said. "Kinda hard to see my own hand in front of my face, you know?"
Hana dejectedly sat on the forest floor. "If it's not a vampire chipmunk, what is it?"
"One of those mysteries we'll never solve," her brother sagely replied. "Like, why does the light in the fridge shut off when you close the door, or why does Kim insist on putting marshmallows on her hot dogs."
The last one made Hana cringe. "That's gross, Bro."
"Try living it." He gave his sister a smile. "Look, Han, the world is strange enough as it is. Your big sis and I take on super villains, you and I have monkey powers, and as you pointed out earlier, I have a talking mole rat. I don't think we need even more weirdness. I think the patented Stoppable Dare to be Different Lifestyle is weird enough on its own."
Hana mirrored Ron's grin. "You're right, Bro. Let's get back before Barkin goes ape snot."
The two walked off, unaware that they were being watched. From a nearly hidden branch of a tree just two feet away from them sat a snow white chipmunk with a long black stripe going down its back, blood red eyes, and long fangs on either side of its buck teeth. The vampire chipmunk had been laying in wait for its next victims, but they didn't take the bait. It would have to settle for the next small rodent that blindly stumbled into the chipmunk's domain. A pity, too; human blood was a rare delicacy for the nocturnal predator. Maybe next time.
Author's Note: The title was taken from the song "Nature Trail to Hell" by Weird Al Yankovic. If you haven't heard the song, shame on you. Happy Halloween!