Hello friends, it’s been a while. Why has it been so long? I can sum it up in one word: Nature. That’s right, there has been all sorts of miscellaneous ‘Nature’ preventing me from placing fingers on keyboard and clacking words onto the screen.
It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to write in the last year-and-however-many-months; only that every time I make an attempt, the environment conspires to twist in weird and distracting directions. Seriously, have you ever tried to work on character development, only to be waylaid by a large spider that is convinced your towel is now part of its habitat? A habitat, moreover, that it is prepared to defend by jumping at you, missing, then scurrying back up the wall to get a height advantage for a second charge. Or, have you ever been dressing after a shower – while also thinking about some juicy plot twist – and discovered that there is a large (but different) spider playing dead in your underwear? Have you then screamed like frightened child, dropped the garment, only to discover that the offending arachnid is now nowhere to be found? I have. It’s terrifying. Why bother finishing that story where the main characters are ghosts if you are already living in a horror movie?
You might think I’m overreacting. Perhaps, you are thinking, Arthur just scares easily. Possibly. I will concede that as a valid interpretation. But, I still haven’t told you about the Bats.
Let me set the scene.
I live in the Southern Tropics. That’s the part of the world below the the Equator, and above the Tropic of Capricorn. There’s still rainforest here, although there is less of it everyday (a situation that doesn’t please me, but I can’t help that most human beings seem to hate trees. Not me, I love trees). One of the benefits of living here, is that it is warm all year round; I can’t remember the last time I experienced winter. Another benefit of living here is that there is a great abundance and variety of animal life: birds; strange and sundry insects; small, cheeky mammals; large, beautiful lizards, et cetera. For me – a man that came from a cold country much farther south, and that grew up in an urban and largely sterile environment – my tropical home seemed, and please forgive the cliché, like a paradise. Besides, I found that if I left the animals alone, they tended to go on about their business unconcerned with my presence. Even the bats were a joy to behold; a novelty that remained that way until it turned a little dark and unpleasant.
I can’t be exactly sure when it started. Maybe it was when an occasional bat would fly into my living room while I was watching TV, only to leave again as quickly as it had come. Maybe it started earlier, out in the shadows of some warm tropical night; perhaps it started under a tree. As I said, I’m not sure when it began, but I remember when I started to notice something felt a little off. I remember, because it woke me up.
It must have been some time early in the morning, no longer the witching hour, but still a couple of hours before the sun traditionally decides to let everyone know that their worst fears have come, and they are going to have to go to work today after all. I imagine the night was filled with the rhythmic sound of all the tropical night creatures singing away to each other. I have to imagine that, as I was asleep at the time, and I’m a pretty heavy sleeper. (While I’m at all this imagining, I might as well go ahead and imagine that I was having a pleasant and prophetic dream about how the world had suddenly recognized my inherent genius, and was honoring me with the award of all the Nobel prizes for that year. I wasn’t, but hey, it’s not impossible that I might win all those prizes; that’s a thing that happens all the time, right?). Then: BANG, BANG, BANG.
Those ‘bangs’, I realized in my now fully conscious state, were the sound of ‘things’ dropping onto the floor of the room above my sleeping chamber (I know, traditionally we call it a bedroom, but ‘sleeping chamber’ has a more gothic ring to it). “Hello,” I called out, not sounding at all small and frightened, but manly and dangerous, “who’s there.” Silence. Odd, I thought, must have been my mind playing tricks on me, so I started to fall back to sleep. Then I remembered: my house doesn’t have a second floor.
Okay, that’s not actually true. My house does technically have a second floor, only I can’t get to it, being as there are no stairs available for me to get there. Worse, while there is a room above my own bedroom, it has no door. I don’t mean ‘no door’ in the sense that there is a rectangular opening where one could be fitted, I mean ‘no door’ in the sense that where one should be, there is only a solid wall. (Which, now I write it down, seems kind of creepy. I wonder why it didn’t bother me more when I moved in?) It is almost like my second floor exists in an alternate dimension; a dimension adjacent to a another dimension that contains a doorless room. But, I wondered, now completely spooked, If I can’t get upstairs, or into the room that exists parallel to it, what could? An answer came back as a quiet whispering murmur. A murmur of many voices; voices that were unlike anything I had heard before. I felt the sudden and urgent need to visit the the toilet.
I lay there, trying to will the whispers out of my awareness; hoping that my over-active and fatigued mind was producing some low level – yet easily treatable – hallucination. It wasn’t. Pulling the blankets over my head in fear would not help me this time. (I still did that; It just didn’t help.) But then I noticed something about the whispers, they weren’t really whispers at all: they were squeaks. Not mouse squeaks, nor the squeak of rats. (I don’t know if either of those animals squeak; I just heard that they do. I’ve never actually heard them make much noise at all. I do know from experience, that both creatures make scratching sounds as they crawl around inside your walls, though.) So if not mice or rats, then what? Ghosts? Goblins? Magical springs that come to life at night to have tea parties? No. Bats. The sound was a colony of bats in conclave in the extra-dimensional room above my head. Cool, I thought, I like bats. I relaxed. I even managed to get back to sleep.
Needless to say, I felt very foolish in the morning. A fully grown – albeit, slightly odd – man being afraid of a few squeaky whispers in the dark was not how I wanted to see myself. Still, one can’t help bad luck, and anyway, I had mastered my fear in the end. Feeling comforted by the fact that I had only been a little silly, I made some coffee, and prepared myself for the tricky task of writing a new chapter on the impossibly long story I had been working on for most of the year. A story I call ‘They Made No Bones‘, which is a sort of … well, I don’t really know how to define it. It’s pretty weird and deliciously absurd, though. Alas, I still haven’t finished that story, and my problems with it started that morning. You see, as I sat down to write what should have been ‘Part Twenty-One’, I realized there was something I hadn’t accounted for in the previous night’s noise-scape: the “bangs.” Bats probably make a great variety of sounds, but I am fairly certain that ‘bang’ is not supposed to be one of them. It wasn’t just a single bang, either, but three in a row, followed by whisperish squeaks. It was almost as though they were having a … meeting.
I felt cold. Were they having a meeting? What could they possibly have to talk about? Were they talking about me? And that was it, no writing for that day. I was scared again, a fear driven by my lack of facility with Batuguese. I was determined to learn their language, even if only to put paid to my anxiety.
Learning the language took a long time; time I could no longer devote to writing. But I had to know what was being said about me, I just had to. Fortunately, the bats helped out a lot by continuing to have nightly meetings for the rest of the year. Eventually, I understood it all, and was not pleased. What follows is taken from my notes of the last meeting I heard before things got really weird:
♠ ♠ ♠
[Squeaking of many bats.]
[Bang, Bang, Bang.]
Bat 1: I now bring this final meeting of the conclave to order.
[Squeaking of many bats continues.]
I said, [BANG, BANG, BANG] I bring this meeting to order!
[It doesn’t seem like the squeaking is going to stop. I mean, they just keep going. A bit rude, really.]
HEY, YOU NOISEY [can’t translate], WILL YOU ALL SHUT THE [can’t translate] UP.
Good. That’s better. Now, we don’t have that much to do tonight, but in the interest of time I would like to suggest that–
Bat 2: Excuse me.
Bat 1: Yes, what is it?
Bat 2: Well, I just feel like we’ve all been saying the same thing for weeks–
Bat 3: I second that. We’ve all been saying the same thing for weeks. All those in favor say ‘aye’.
[A chorus of ‘ayes’.]
Motion carries. Meeting adjourned, let’s all get out of here, shall we?
Bat 1: EVERYBODY NEEDS TO GET BACK ON THEIR RAFTERS RIGHT NOW. THE MEETING IS NOT ADJOURNED, ONLY I CAN ADJOURN MEETINGS. MOREOVER, THAT WAS NOT EVEN A PROPER MOTION. I THINK CERTAIN BATS NEED TO BRUSH UP ON THEIR PROTOCOL.
Bat 4: Crikey, Somebody needs to eat some fruit pretty quickly. Wait … are we fruit bats or the other kind? You know, the ones that eat insects?
Bat 5: Could be we drink blood. I’ve heard that’s a thing.
Bat 4: Really?
Bat 5: Sure.
Bat 4: That seems kind of uncivilized.
Bat 6: Perhaps we are omnivorous? You know, the sort of creature that eats everything?
Bat 4: I could get onboard with that.
Bat 5: Me too. Sounds really cool.
Bat 6: And convenient. I mean, you’d never go hungry, right?
Bat 3: I second that. All those in favor of being omnivorous insect-chewing-fruit-eating-blood-drinkers?
[A chorus of ‘ayes’.]
Bat 1: [BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG … BANG.] … You know what? [Can’t translate] it. You all know what we need to do, best we just get on with it. Meeting adjourned.
Bat 2: But I didn’t get to ask my question.
♠ ♠ ♠
You might wonder: what kind of bats are confused about the sort of food they eat? How would they even be able to stay alive if they weren’t sure what they needed as sustenance? How was Bat 1 even making those bangs? All good questions, and I admit that the whole thing confused me too. Yet, I didn’t have time to be concerned with answers to very minor holes in the narrative. (Although, if I had to hazard a guess, I suspect it has something to do with the strange extra-dimensional properties of my house’s second floor.) The reason I didn’t have time to be concerned with those answers, was because I was worried about what was going to happen next. You see, I knew exactly what the bats were up to – having listened to them for many sleepless months as I learned their language. Also, I was somewhat distracted by the fact that I was now going to have to deal with nocturnal creatures capable of eating anything they wanted.
The bats’ plan turned out to be simple: Get rid of the human that lived on the ground floor. (Go on, admit it, when I told you about my need to find out what the bats were saying, you thought I was being paranoid.) It wasn’t that the bats had anything against me personally, just that – as a human being – I was representative of a species that had become highly inconvenient. I gathered, from countless nights spent listening to the ceiling, many such meetings were taking place all over the used-to-be-more-rainforest. However, my house, and the group of bats that lived there, had been tasked with testing strategies for ridding the area of all humans. In short, I was to be a pilot study. If the colony responsible for me proved successful, the whole program would be rolled out internationally.
Now that I was aware of what the bats had planned – a plan already in motion – I realized that there were going to be two immediate consequences for me:
- I was going to have to sleep during daylight hours, when the risk of random bat-strike would be at its lowest.
- I had to do my absolute best to resist defeat-by-bat. I had to resist, not for myself, but for all of my kind. That’s right, I was now humanity’s last and only hope.
The knowledge of my new, un-asked for responsibility weighed heavy on me. Yet, what choice did I have? None. No choice at all. I would just have to suck it up, wait, and do my best when the bat-hit-the-fan. I didn’t have to wait very long. Only, when it did come, the bat hit exactly no fans. It did, however, hit my cheese grater.
At around nine the following night, feeling refreshed from a good day’s sleep, I heard a clanging noise emerge from my kitchen. At first, I figured it was just my dishes settling as they air-dried on the bench. (All my dishes are like an old house after they have been washed. Which is to say, they make noises as they cool during the night.) So, I continued to watch TV, safe in the knowledge that the noise would eventually cease. But it didn’t stop. There was exactly no ceasing whatsoever. I girded my soft parts and went to investigate.
Upon reaching the kitchen, I peered cautiously over the breakfast counter (I had entered the room in my best approximation of a Commando on a dangerous mission. That is, I had crawled in there on my stomach). And there it was, the source of the clanging. You guessed it: there, brazen as a corrupt politician, rested a bat on my cheese grater. All at once I knew three things:
- This was the bats’ first-strike.
- I was going to need a new cheesegrater.
- I should really start acting like a grown-up, and dry my dishes by hand after I wash them.
I was not entirely sure how to deal with the situation. Turning on the light was going to be of little use; being as I had already left all the lights in the house on. It had always been my understanding that bats hate light, so it had seemed a reasonable defense against them. Clearly, this bat had no fear of brightly illuminated spaces. Still, I had to do something. I decided my best course of action was going to involve a bucket, rubber gloves, and as many old magazines as I could lay my hands on. With great stealth, I crawled away to retrieve the materials I would need for my counter-attack.
My equipment assembled I returned to my original position behind the breakfast counter and waited for an opportunity to strike back. That opportunity was not long in coming. In its haste to take control of my kitchen equipment, the bat had landed with its head pointed upwards towards the ceiling. At some point, probably while I was foraging for weapons, the bat had decided that it would much prefer to rest in an upside-down position. But cheese graters are notoriously hard to get purchase on (at least, if one prefers not to lose body parts), and so the bat was having trouble changing its orientation. In other words: the bat was distracted.
Seizing the opportunity, I jumped out from behind my barricade and rushed towards my foe. But I was slow, and the bat noticed. “What does the human think it’s doing?” The Bat asked of itself. “Does it not know this is now my kitchen implement?”
“Ha ha, bat,” I yelled, swiftly bringing the bucket down, and deftly trapping the animal inside with crafty use of several magazines. “That will teach your kind to mess with me and mine.”
“You and your what, human?”
“Me and my kind, obviously.”
“I knew it! I knew you could understand what we were saying. I said as much to the colony several times.”
Bugger. The bat had tricked me into giving away my only strategic advantage: my secret knowledge of Batuguese. However, I could not let the creature know it had won an intelligence victory. “Is that right? And perhaps you thought I didn’t know that you knew?” I was bluffing, of course.
“Firstly,” the bat replied, “I did know. Only the others wouldn’t believe me. Second, I am equally convinced you had no idea that I was aware of your linguistic capabilities.”
“Well, good for you. Of course, this changes everything. Perhaps you should let me out of this bucket, so we can have a civilized conversation. You know? Like two perfectly rational mammals from different species?”
“Oh yes. I’m sure we can come to some mutually beneficial arrangement. The power of diplomacy, and all that.”
Tempting, I thought. I would welcome the chance to end all of this horror before it really got going. “What assurances do I have that you won’t just fly away without coming to an agreement?”
“What, me?” The bat sounded offended. “I’ll have you know that all bats are honorable creatures. Not only that, I am considered an ethical and moral exemplar by my peers.”
Seemed true enough to me. I mean, the bat sounded sincere. I started to remove the magazines. The bat started to giggle in a very untrustworthy manner. “Another trick?”
“Naturally. You don’t think we would really agree to let you keep living in your own house, do you?”
“I suppose not.”
“Still, you are going to have to let me out of here eventually. Might as well do it now, as opposed to later.”
“I think not. I think later is a much better idea.” Actually I thought letting the bat out was a terrible idea altogether. Yet, I am a man of peace and was unprepared to kill prisoners. I took my makeshift bat-trap outside. I would deal with it later; I just needed time to think.
Alas, there was no later to be had. When I returned, the bat had escaped. It had taken my cheese grater with it.
After the cheese grater incident, the bats picked up the pace on their nightly attacks. Many a bucket and rubber glove was sacrificed in my attempts to defend humanity against what I now understood to be a large, and potentially international, ‘batspiricy’. What is more, because they knew I could understand what they were saying, they fortified there efforts with that most vulgar of psychological warfare techniques: sledging. (For those of you unfamiliar with this technique, it is one practiced by all the worst sports-people in the world. Basically, it involves being as abusive and unpleasant as you can through the hurling of verbal insults.) They were not above making threats of physical violence, either. Nor, were they adverse to commiting actual violence against me. Don’t believe me? Let me provide an example for each of these forms of attack. (I will not provide an example of the sledging, since only the worst kinds of people do it, and I believe it to be truly barbaric. Also, the bats hurt my feelings quite often, and I just don’t want to think about it anymore.)
I shall start with an example of a violent threat.
One evening, as I was sitting on my back porch mentally preparing for whatever fresh horrors were in store for me, a bat appeared through the thick canopy of my neighbor’s trees and hovered just in my eyeline. I could tell right away that this was no ordinary bat. Indeed, this was the fattest bat I had ever seen; certainly too fat to be hovering in such an unnatural way. It squinted at me with supernatural menace, then said: “You see this?”
“Oh, you don’t see it? How unfortunate for you.” Then, opening whatever it is that bats have as feet, it released its payload: BANG.
“Was that a fruit?”
“Yes. This time. Next time, it could be a stone, or a rock, or … something even more deadly. Next time, it shall fall on your head. It’ll probably kill you too.”
As you can imagine, I was not pleased by the threat of random-fat-bats raining death down on me. Consequently, I modified my habits, and began to carry an open umbrella at all times. (Of course, this made taking a shower very difficult, but I did manage.) Still, the bats were undeterred and, in a twist I could not have predicted, they began committing acts of physical violence against me. I offer the following as but one example:
I was, again – and quite foolishly – out on my back porch, when the sound of maniacal laughter came at me through the back door. Umbrella in hand, I went to the doorway, looked in the general direction of the laughter to find the source. The source was this: a bat flying in circles around a lightbulb. “Muahhahahahhehehaha,” the animal cried in what I supposed was the rapture of some insane pleasure, “the human thinks this light protects it.”
I knew right away the usual bucket trick was not going to work this time; ostensibly because I had run out of buckets to use. Thinking as quickly as I could, I lowered my umbrella, reached inside the doorway, and switched off the light. I reasoned, that if the bats were going to act like moths, maybe it would be attracted to the outside light. Thus, I could secure the interior of my house without the use of a bucket. I was right. Unfortunately, in my haste, I forgot to re-engage the umbrella. I was vulnerable, and the bat knew it.
It rushed the doorway, and slapped me full in the face on its way out into the night. “I can’t believe you fell for that,” it screamed back at me, “next time I’ll knock out some teeth too.” I had been outsmarted once more.
The rest is all endless nights of bat-filled haziness; a haziness composed of variations on all of the things I have described above. I was almost killed many times, and have lost many a good piece of kitchen equipment during the course of the conflict. Once they started leaving their dead on my back porch, I knew I was done for.
What’s that? I didn’t tell you about how they started leaving their dead on my back porch? Odd. I was sure I had said something about that. Would you like me to say something about it? I’m going to take your silence as a ‘yes’.
In reality, there isn’t that much to say on the matter of the increasing amount of bat-bodies left at my back door. As far as I can tell, depositing the dead appears to be an extension of the bats’ psychological warfare technique. My guess, is that the ‘sledging’ was not furnishing the results they wanted, so the bats felt they had to ‘up their game’ by playing on their understanding of my cultural sensitivities. How do I know this? Why am I so sure that the litter of corpses across my porch was being done on purpose? Easy: they left a note pinned to the first body:
Dear Human Inconvenience,
Our research suggests that your kind are extremely uncomfortable with death, and that you will do all you can to avoid any contact with it. It is also our understanding that the young of your species seem to think – and we quote from our research report: “That they will probably live forever in a state of perpetual youth, unlike all those unfortunate old people that wither, grow ugly, and die on account of their being old and stupid.” Naturally, as bats, we find this hilarious; we have no fear of death, nor are we troubled by our eventual demise as part of the ‘Great Cycle’.
All this causes us to believe that you will go to great lengths to avoid thinking about mortality at all; up to, and including, moving away from its presence. Congratulations: You are now living in a cemetery.
Your adversaries: The Bats From Upstairs.
If I’m honest, I was impressed by this note; the bats had obviously done some pretty thorough research. Not only that, once the amount of bodies had reached a critical mass, I had to concede that they had me defeated. That is, until an unexpected opportunity presented itself.
At the time of this opportunity, I was planning my escape. As is my habit whenever I need to make plans in the wake of severe disappointment, I was doing this while drinking beer and crying. Then – barely visible through a boozy haze of tears and moonshadows – I noticed that my cats were hunting something out in the garden. I’d had about enough of death by this point, so I went out to see if I could save whatever it was that the cats were trying to kill. Of course, it turned out to be a bat.
I confess to experiencing mixed feelings about what to do next. After all, the bats had ruined my life, it would serve them right to have at least one of their number suffer death-by-cat. Still, they had already won, and I didn’t want to be a sore loser, either. “Fuck it,” I said, because that’s the kind of thing one says in such circumstances. “I might as well try to save this little bastard.”
With no small amount of difficulty, I managed to wrangle the cats away from the earthbound bat, creating just enough space for it to make a run towards the garden wall; which it did. (As an aside, I had no idea that bats were so nimble when they are on the ground; freakishly quick, too.) Once it got to the wall, it climbed all the way to the top, took flight, and called out: “This changes nothing human … but thanks, I guess.”
I didn’t say anything in return. I mean, what’s to say? I just went back to what I had been doing, secure in the knowledge that I was still completely screwed. I was wrong to be so secure about what I knew. Normally I hate it when that happens, but not this time.
Later, as I ventured cautiously into my kitchen to retrieve another beverage to both dull and enhance my sorrow, I saw that there was a bat resting on the wall behind my kitchen hatstand (it’s probably weird to have a kitchen hatstand, right?).
“Hello,” said the bat.
“Hi there,” I responded, because it’s just polite to do that.
“I suppose you remember me from earlier this evening?”
I did, it was the bat I had saved from cat-death.
“Look, and this is a bit embarrassing, but it turns out I might have been wrong when I told you that nothing had changed.”
“Yes. You see, I told my colleagues about what you did for me, and it seems that it does put a slightly different spin on this whole ‘trying to-get-rid-of-you’ thing.”
“Is that right? How does it do that exactly?”
“It seems, and I had completely forgotten this, that according my kind’s code of honor, we are no longer allowed to harm or inconvenience you in any way, shape or form.”
“That’s great news. I confess, I’m very pleased to hear that.”
“We thought you might be. We are less pleased about it, though.”
“Why is that? I don’t understand.”
“It’s only that a lot of effort went into making our plans, and then rolling them out. It’s not that we want to stop, only that our code prevents us from continuing. The colony’s pretty cross with me about it, actually. More than a few think I should have sacrificed myself for the sake of the cause.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. So, anyway, I’m here to tell you that we are formally ceasing all hostilities against you and your species for the time being.”
“For the time being? What does that mean?”
“Our lawyers are looking at the legislation to see if there might be some sort of time limit on how long we have to be honorable. Some are hoping that there may even be a loophole that will allow us to fire it all up again.”
“But I’m safe for now? You’ll stop; at least for the moment?”
“That’s right. For the moment, you are safe.”
“I’ll take it.”
♠ ♠ ♠
So, there you have it, an example of some of the miscellaneous nature that has prevented me from writing anything for so long. I think we can all agree that the experience was intense and time consuming enough for me to be unable to do much else. I mean, I had to deal with it; for the sake of humanity. Sure, it seems improbable, but I can’t help how stuff seems.
What’s that? You don’t think that it could possibly have taken all of the time I would normally devote to writing. Well, that’s a reasonable objection. Yet, I would counter by saying that you can only think that because I still haven’t told you about the frogs …