A Bat Story

Bats are intriguing creatures.  Never more so than at 3:00 in the morning, when one is swooping at your head, while you are sleeping in the basement of your parents’ home, or trying to, with your new husband, and your new husband has no clothes on (ahem) because of an impulsive laundry-related decision, and so is gripping a small towel around his—um, ah, well—and wildly flailing at said intriguing creature with his free hand.

You, meanwhile, are cowering under a blanket alternately shrieking (when you peep out and discover that the bat is flying toward you at a very high speed) and laughing hysterically (this is when your head goes back under the blanket, because you aren’t the one being the hero here–you’re the coward–so you don’t want the one playing the hero, even if he is naked (and so you are justified) to see that you are, after all . . . laughing hysterically).

Oh.  Oops. Ah, that is, I promised I wouldn’t make an innocent party who would prefer to remain anonymous feel foolish, ever, but especially not in this case, so let me state emphatically that this is a fictional story.  Emphatically.  Fiction.  Got it? You know, don’t you, that that means made-up, fabricated, an invented story, an imaginary—highly imaginary—tale.  I’ve been told that I have (and I quote) “quite an imagination.”  Witness my exercising it now.

To wit.

So.  We’ll continue, as long as we’ve got that straight. But first—recently I read a magazine article about this curious fact: that the earth holds an astonishingly huge variety of bat species with extraordinary faces, when they, after all, are nearly blind and, therefore, have to be indifferent to each others’ looks.  Note the following list of names, all related to the facial feature of each particular bat species: (though, it may be noted, that the bats themselves weren’t responsible for these names, but presumably man was, or, I guess, originally, Adam) Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, ghost-faced bat, moustached bat, bulldog bat, leaf-nosed bat, slit-faced bat.  There are many more.

I don’t remember the face on this particular bat, that is, in this fictional story, but I’m sure there were so many other visual elements to observe, that the face of the bat in question, perhaps, was overlooked.

Another interesting tidbit:  did you know that there are over 1,100 species of bats in the world?  Isn’t that incredible?  That means that bats account for about 20 percent of all mammal species.

One in every five mammals in the world is a bat.  Truly!  I find this a very interesting fact, indeed, and it makes me wonder about the Creator of Bats.  During creation, God must have taken a fancy to bats, in designing and making so many different types.  I like that about God, actually.

We lived in Story City, Iowa, for several years while Bryan worked on his Ph.D.  That is one charming little town, complete with a lovely park at the edge of town with an antique (and working) carousal, and a cool swinging bridge built by the WPA in 1936.

But at sundown, Story City, Iowa becomes the Bat Capital of America.  (They don’t tell you this in their charming brochures.) Those flocks of strangely quiet black birds that always appear at dusk and zip and swoop all over town are not black birds.  They are bats.

I got little shivers up and down my spine the night I realized this.  I had wondered why those “birds” were so completely silent.  Honestly—you’d hear rustling in the bushes, and it wouldn’t be what you would expect—a neighborhood cat, a harmless bunny rabbit, a neighborhood urchin playing hide-n-seek, maybe?—No! There would be clusters of bats hanging there.  And did they get in our house!  Constantly!  That reminds me of the time—oh yeah, I did already start a story, didn’t I?  An imaginary tale, which I ought to finish before I get into any new story. (Fiction First!!)

Here’s the building that houses the Story City Carousel (obviously).  Photo credit: from http://www.storycorps.net/


Anyway, we loved to go over to the carousal–only a ten-minute walk from our house–and have a bag of popcorn and take a ride.  Have you ever been to Story City?  You really ought to go there, if you can.  It’s a sweet little town.  Except for the bats, of course.  There’s a piece of my artwork hanging in the library, by the way.  They appreciate real art in that town, I’m telling you.  I illustrated a few books for a local author there, and when the books were published, they made all kinds of fuss over us:  book-signings, presentations, etc.  We weren’t exactly awarded the keys to the city, but you get the idea.  It was pretty cool.

Ah yes, we spent many happy hours riding on this carousel.  (For my part, I mainly just hung on and fought nausea!)  As you can imagine, I always tried to ride on the chicken.  Image from http://www.storycity.net/

Where were we?

Oh yes . . . so this sweet (lovely, blushing, ebullient) young bride was cowering under the covers, while her new (stalwart, brave, naked) husband, again grasping the towel for those of you with a visual imagination, was jumping and dancing about, trying to avoid the panicked bat with the freakishly large wingspan that was flying and dipping and using  sonar to its advantage. It was the middle of the night, so the young man in question had been loathe to wake the master of the house—his new father-in-law, in fact, whom he held in the very highest esteem.  (Um, still does.  I hear.)

Dad—er, I mean this kid’s fictional new father-in-law–is one of those sorts whom, you know, actually knows something about everything, including bats.  He probably knows, for instance, that one in every five mammals is a bat.  He wakes up in the morning thinking about obscure facts regarding Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, most likely, that he read in a National Geographics magazine when he was seven years old.

This is a tiny little fella.  He is, in fact, a Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, otherwise known as a bumblebee bat, the smallest bat in the world.  As far as we know.

This hypothetical young man just knew that his fictional new dad would be able to tell him how to catch this bat, and how to get it out of the house—it was his house, after all, and so presumably his bat as well—and even his responsibility, probably.  But it was also 3:00 in the morning.  His new father-in-law struck him as being extremely creative, brilliant, blazingly witty, and a very clever person, but even Superman has to sleep occasionally.

But you can imagine how frustrated the young man might be getting, all the flailing about, the new bride apparently in the throes of despair, huddled under the blanket as she was.  He could see that the blanket was shaking gently.  Such a dear, tender, trembly little thing! And she was urging him, at last, to go ask her dad.

He wouldn’t mind being awakened, she insisted.  He’d know what should be done.  Then the young man could return to bed, such an attractive option, and return to the blissful Land of Nod.

So—fortified by his little bride’s encouraging words—the young groom crept through the dark, silent house, towards the sleeping chamber of his new in-laws.  His mind must have been racing and he was certainly wide awake by now.  How to ask—how to ask?  He would have to stay around the corner from the bedchamber, certainly, as inadequately clad as he was.  If you could call it that.  And leave the lights turned off, without a doubt.

Jim—ah, I mean, let’s call the father-in-law . . . George, shall we?  Yes.  He would ask him.  George–I’m sorry to wake you, but there’s a bat in the basement—your lovely, ebullient daughter is quivering with fright, and I’m having a bit of trouble ushering the little fellow out—have you any suggestions on how I could accomplish this worthy goal in a timely manner?  That is to say, do you have any prior experience that you could share with me?

“George” woke up, but only just a little, and uttered the words that now are forever etched—as in stone–in the family lore (of this fictional family, that is, being blessed as they are—were–with not only healthy senses of humor and a bit of intelligence, but also superb memories, all).  The super-intelligent, Mensa member, jack-of-all-trades, highly-respected Renaissance man muttered thickly in the dark:

“There’s a fly-swatter in the kitchen.”

The young man must have puzzled all the way back to the kitchen.  A fly-swatter?  A flyswatter?  The wingspan of the bat must have been all of 18 inches! But if his brilliant dad-in-law had said it, it was not to be questioned.

The man always knew.

So the young man dutifully fetched the yellow plastic fly-swatter and returned to the basement.

And there he stood, in the middle of the basement, under that unforgiving single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, holding the fly-swatter in one hand and still clutching the towel at his waist with the other.  The bat, unfortunately, hadn’t found his way out of the basement, as the chap had hoped, and was still weaving and banking, occasionally swooping down on his innocent bride.

The ebullient young lady peeped out and lost it entirely at this point and lay back on the bed and laughed so heartily and so thoroughly and so gave up all pretense that her immune system is probably still reaping the endorphin benefits of such excellent laughter, twenty-some years later.  (Doesn’t a hearty laugh just feel so good!?)

Well, Bryan—I mean, this young chap–didn’t flap that fly-swatter around for very long.  He’s no dummy, either.  He finally abandoned the ineffectual tool, extraordinary father-in-law’s suggestion or no, and picked up a very large broom, instead.  It stung a little, after all, that his exquisite little wife was nearly incapacitated by laughter and what-not.  Sometimes one must be a Man of Action and take matters—or, in this case, his mother-in-law’s broom–into one’s own hands.

By some graceful swings and stabs, he finally got the bat pinned to the wall, and subsequently captured in a thick towel.  Up the stairs he then rushed, the entrapped creature securely wrapped in the towel, and out the door he threw it!  If you are thinking that the young man may have had to drop his small towel to do such a deed, you may be right.

Did you know that a bat can actually live for twenty years, or even longer?  That same bat could still be alive, still flapping around Third Street in Milford, Nebraska, and I’ll bet he’d still be chuckling, too.

Well, that is, if this was a true story, perhaps he might still be alive, and still chuckling.  Still flying about.

Which—of course–it’s not, but one can always imagine.


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