Bats in my Belfry

The other day, my daughter asked me for Halloween symbols she could use for a poster she was making. I gave her the usual — ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, witches, tooth decay . . . It didn’t dawn on me until later that I’d left out maybe the most common one.

Bats.

Square-townsend-fledermaus

I have a hate/hate relationship with bats. On a rational level, I know they are harmless. They play an important role in preventing the mosquito apocalypse. I’m fine with them as long as they’re flying at least a mile above my head. It’s when those flying mice decide to come inside — that’s when we’ve got a problem, Houston.

It all started when I was a wee lass on the ranch in Montana. My mom and I were out for a walk in broad daylight, when a sick bat started following us. I have no memory of this, but Mom says it circled around us, frothing at the mouth and saying, “I vant to suck your blood.” We ran and hid in the coal shed — a pitch dark, dilapidated shack where small, wild animals went to die. Basically, the perfect place for an impressionable girl and her mother to spend some quality time together. I don’t know how long we waited for the rabid bat to give up, but during those long minutes or possibly hours, my tiny mind began to warp.

We shared our old house with a bat colony that lived in the crawl space. Above my room, by the way. Sometimes I could hear them squeaking and scritching around up there. Every night at dusk, they’d spill out into the sky from the seams in the roof. Even though it made my skin crawl, I knew they didn’t want to eat me, since I didn’t rhyme with bosquito. We shared a peaceful co-existence, the bats and I, until I was in junior high and my parents decided to do a remodeling project. One that involved tinkering with the roof of our house.

One night we were watching TV. Don’t remember what was on, but it must’ve been serious because we were all dead quiet. That’s when I saw it. A grayish, furry piece of intestine clinging to the drapes. I let out a blood-curdling scream that pretty near polished off my heart-attack proned grandfather. With no explanation for my outburst, I ran into the spare bedroom and slammed the door.

Later that summer, there were more encounters. Every time, I’d flee for my life, screaming like my hair was on fire. One night, multiple bats swooped through the house. I locked myself in my room and didn’t surface until morning. My mother informed me she’d discovered a soaking wet bat in the sink, trying to crawl out of a wine glass. I didn’t go near the sink for months.

My adult years passed without one indoor bat encounter, and I chalked up my phobia to immaturity. I’d outgrown all that nonsense. I had children, now! They were way more frightening than a teensy, harmless, woodland creature.

It figures I’d marry someone whose childhood home had bats in its belfry, like mine. My mother-in-love told stories of her husband stalking rogue bats in the middle of the night with a badminton racket, dressed only in his skivvies and a hunting cap with mosquito netting.

My worst fears brought to life.

My worst fears brought to life.

It was an abnormally hot summer during our annual visit to Darrick’s parents. The boards of the old house had shifted in the humidity, and guess what that means? Those furry flying varmints can slip through the veil. I was folding laundry one afternoon, and saw one swooping around the living room. As tradition called for, I ran screaming from the room. Darrick and his father Gene went bat hunting while I cowered in the bathroom. After awhile, they returned with no report whatsoever. Where was their sense of urgency? Both men acted totally chill, like this happened all the time.

Now, Darrick knows about my bat issues. I was a little offended I had to ask if he found the bat. Big house, little bat, and all. Darrick deftly dodged the question and refused to make eye contact.

Geno, however, oozed confidence. “We opened the windows. He’ll fly out. Don’t worry about it.”

Right. Because bats love nothing more than a sunny day. Part of me wanted to pack my bags and head back to Colorado where the bats have the good sense to stay out of my house. Then I reminded myself that I was an adult now, and I was in charge of my emotions. Even if there was a bat in the house, it wasn’t going to attack me, for Pete’s sake. Like any rational, sane person, which I totally am, I carried on about my day.

Fast forward to three a.m. As usual, I had to go to the bathroom. Our bedroom was upstairs, and luckily, so was the bathroom. I’d just have to pass through the sewing room to get there. You should know that the sewing room had such an abnormally low ceiling that my husband couldn’t even stand up straight in it. Anyway, a nightlight illuminated the way, and as I stumbled, half asleep, something darted just above my head. My flesh crawled and suddenly, I was wide awake and hoofing it to the bathroom, where I slammed the door and flipped on the lights. It couldn’t be a bat. My eyes were playing tricks on me.

Once again, I reminded myself that I wasn’t seven years old. I had children sleeping in the rooms next to me. I grew a spine and forced myself to peer around the bathroom door. Nothing. Growing bolder, I flipped on the light of the sewing room.  There was the bat, going completely berserk. Have you ever seen how fast those little suckers can fly in an enclosed space? It took everything I had not to give in to the urge to scream. I wanted to, badly. Instead, I locked myself in the bathroom and considered my options.

  1. Go back to bed. This was clearly NOT going to happen, because I’d have to pass through the room with the bat. And pygmy marmoset-sized ceilings.
  2. Yell for Darrick, who wouldn’t hear me because we sleep with a white noise machine.
  3. Yell for my in-laws. They, on the other hand, would hear me, but how embarrassing.
  4. Spend the rest of the night in the bathroom. This was the best, most logical option. There were only a few more hours until morning. I could make a little bed in the bathtub with the rug, and cover up with the shower curtain. No one would have to know.

Then I realized my daughter’s room was right next to the bathroom. Her door was closed, so that bat didn’t have the chance to zip in while I was in hiding. I took a deep breath, and a death grip on my last shred of sanity as I ran for it, crouching so the bat wouldn’t fly in my hair. I slammed Sophie’s door and crawled in her cozy bed.

The next morning I reported the bat sighting with journalistic integrity, trying not to let the absolute horror of the situation bleed through in my voice. I expected everyone to jump up at once and hunt down the little beastie, but everyone just sat there, drinking their coffee like it was no big whoop. Even the kids weren’t alarmed. In fact, they thought it was cool that a bat was hiding somewhere.

Eventually, Gene armed himself with his “bat”minton racket and he and Darrick searched every room in the house, beating the drapes and peering in corners, but once again, no luck. “He probably crawled back into the attic,” Gene said, trying to assure me. “I’m sure he’s gone.”

I tried to adopt their nonchalant attitude, and went about my business, which is pretty much doing laundry. The basket needed to be unloaded, and our rooms were upstairs, which is of course, the last place I’d seen the bat.  I reminded myself that Darrick and Geno had scoured the place and hadn’t seen the creature, so up the stairs I went, making my children come with me so I could keep an eye on them.

I sat the basket down and lo and behold, there was that FREAKING bat again, swooping and bombing around the sewing room. I finally gave in. I’d held in that primal scream long enough, and I just let it rip. My reptilian brain now in control, I ran like a wild woman through the sewing room into the safety of my bedroom. I slammed the door and shrieked for Darrick.

Then I heard a tiny voice on the other side of the door. “Mommy?”

My beloved children were out there. With the bat.

Ye olde mother instinct informed me that I should protect them. That was the right thing to do. But that would mean I’d have to open the door. And then the bat could get me.

“Go get Daddy!” I screamed.

Sam and Sophie both started yelling for their father. I had all sorts of nasty visuals of a rabid bat attacking my children and me going to jail for letting it happen, but I COULD NOT OPEN the door. No matter what.

“You have to go downstairs!” I yelled. “Run! Daddy can’t hear you up here!”

I heard them thunder down the steps and relaxed somewhat, knowing they were safe.

Later, when they peeled me off the ceiling, Darrick said they’d caught the perp. They even showed me the, um, evidence, and I felt like a schmuck for letting something the size of an apricot cause me to completely take leave of my senses.

Darrick said, “I can’t believe you left Sam and Sophie alone with the bat,” about eighty-seven times.

In my defense, they were six and eight years old. Plenty old enough to deal with bats. I hear you judging me, because I’m waaay older than that, but like I said earlier, I have warps. And in my defense again, I was allowing them to “build character.” They handled the situation and everything turned out just fine. To this day, they’re not afraid of bats at all.

And neither am I, I’ve decided. That little episode is in my past and I firmly commit and solemnly swear to keep my head on from this point forward. Amen.

At least until the next time I’m locked in with one. * shivers* 

Am I the only one with a phobia? What freaks you out beyond all rationalization?

Lessons from the Mac Daddy of the Macabre

Give me a twisty psychological thriller to read any day, but horror? I don’t have the liver for it. I am the world’s biggest chicken. Kind of goes without saying that I don’t write horror either. But, there are a couple of scenes in my WIP that should be unnerving and spooky, and they weren’t coming off the page like I wanted them to. So I decided to study from the master himself, Mr. Stephen King.

A few years ago, I read On Writing, Stephen King’s book about urban hedgehogs. Just kidding. His advice on writing was so inspiring, it made me want to give his novels a shot. I felt like I’d been missing out, but yet, I didn’t want to read anything that would cause me to soil my britches. So I read The Green Mile, about a man on death row who has a supernatural ability to heal. Not supposed to be scary, but that electric chair scene . . . are you kidding me?

Fast forward to now. Guess which Stephen King novel I chose to study the craft of writing horror? The Shining, of course.

I am not very smart.

The Shining is so bone-numbingly terrifying, it will take me a year to finish it. I’m serious. I can only manage a chapter a week. And I only read it in the morning, so I have at least eight hours of daylight to let the creeptastic images burn off. Even then, my warped imagination kicks in as I try to sleep, and I picture poor little Danny mumbling “Redrum,” or being attacked by giant hedge animals. Shoot. I’m FREAKING MYSELF OUT RIGHT NOW!

*Deep breath*

I’m a little over halfway through. Here’s my take on why Stephen King’s novels are so blasted scary. It’s not because he surprises you with things that go bump in the night. It’s the opposite. King tells you up front what to be afraid of. He sets it up in the very first chapters. Then you get creeped out waiting for the bad thing to happen. But for pages and pages and pages, it doesn’t. He’s a wolf who toys with you like the mouse you are. He milks your sense of dread. And when the scary thing finally happens, things go down differently than how you’ve built them up in your mind. THEN he capitalizes on the element of surprise.

For example. In The Shining, young Danny Torrance (who is psychic) and his parents move into an isolated hotel to serve as caretakers for the winter. In the beginning of the novel, the hotel’s cook (also psychic) pulls Danny aside and warns him about spirits in the hotel. He tells Danny specifically to stay out of room 217. That’s the set-up.

As the novel progresses, Danny wanders past room 217 several times, but heeds the cook’s advice. Nearly halfway into the book, Danny goes into room 217 and sees a bloated nasty corpse of a woman in the bathtub. A disturbing visual of this scene is forever seared in my psyche from watching the movie on TV when I was a kid. Thankfully, the censors blocked out the corpse’s withered girlie bits, or my psychological problems would be much worse than they already are.

Now Danny is terrified, and the normal reader is mildly disturbed. I’m not the normal reader, as by this point, I’m prying my fingernails out of the ceiling. It gets downright unbearable when the corpse opens her eyes and comes out of the bathtub to attack Danny. Thank you, Stephen King, for a solid week of nightmares.

King switches scenes just as Danny struggles with the locked door and the corpse is stumbling toward him. We’re spared the gory details of that attack, but leaving it to the imagination is much worse. What happens next is where King really turns the screw. Danny’s parents haven’t wanted to believe that he’s psychic, but when the boy shows up with strangulation marks on his neck, they’re forced to listen. He spills it about the corpse in room 217. Jack, his father, who hasn’t gone all “Heere’s Johnny” yet, goes to check it out. You’re all kinds of scared when Jack enters room 217 and shuts the door behind him. When he walks into the bathroom, you’re totally bracing yourself to wet your pants. But it’s a normal hotel bathroom. The towels are neatly folded, no wet footprints on the rug, and wait for it . . . the shower curtain is closed. He stares at the white see-through shower curtain, fear building up in his spine, and then rips it open.

Nothing but an empty bathtub. Relief washes over him as he closes the curtain, realizing his son has a very overactive imagination. He even chuckles to himself. You breathe again, too. Jack leaves the bathroom, walks into the bedroom, and inspects the room to be sure no one is hiding there. And then it happens, just when you and Jack have let your guards down. The sound of metal scraping against metal . . . the shower curtain slowly opens. Wet, thudding footsteps coming toward you, I mean Jack, from the bathroom. Every hair on your arm is standing at attention as you scan the page to see how Jack will get away, his worst fears about his son and the hotel coming true.

THIS is why I have to read The Shining in broad daylight, served up with a chaser of cute baby animals to numb the nerves. Look at the wittle puppies. Don’t you feel better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For fans of the book, guess what? 35 years after The Shining was published, Stephen King has written the sequel, called Doctor Sleep. It follows the story of Danny Torrance as a young man, and comes out next September. Now I know what I’m reading next Halloween. Surrounded by lots of pictures like this.

 

 

Do you dig scary books? What’s your favorite?