Flukes of nature are the price one pays for living near old barns and tall weeds, so it didn't surprise me the night the bat flew into my family room. Living in the country means engaging in regular and sometimes unexpected encounters with all sorts of creatures, from snakes to opossum to deer and foxes. As a transplanted Easterner now living in the Midwest, I shoulder this coexistence with the stoic fortitude of a pioneer woman bent on survival. Still, I always keep one foot near Chicago, just in case nature and I are unable to reconcile.
When the brown bat flew into my family room, it invaded with haunting intensity, flapping its wings and screeching like a special effect gone bad. At first I wasn't even sure it was a bat, because as a native Washingtonian, the only bats I'd ever seen were members of Congress. My instinct for politically correct denial set in: Perhaps it was a directionally impaired bird or a nocturnal duck.
But my cats knew it wasn't a bird; its distinctly unappealing overbite must have been a dead giveaway. The cats also knew it wasn't a mouse, unless rodents had somehow figured out how to unlock the secrets of aerodynamics. The cats looked as if they were terrified of some great rodential retribution, as in "Don Giovanni" when the dead Commendatore returns to demand vengeance. Perhaps flying mice had come to deliver it! The cats hid under the sofa. I screamed and ran outside.
After a while, the stupidity of standing outside my house screaming at a bat inside my house dawned on me. What if there were more bats circling the yard? What if they moved in herds? I stepped back into the family room. The bat had settled in a corner, its wings folded over its chest like a preschooler sitting on folded legs waiting for story time. For a moment it looked innocent and cute, though I had no intention of relating to it on a first-name basis.
I called the Humane Society to see if they'd help me get it out, but their humanity didn't extend toward bats and their host families. So I did what any city person would do in an emergency. I called the police.
No one has more respect for the police than I do. They put their lives on the line every day, and I couldn't be more grateful for their protective vigilance. It's a scary job confronting murderers, drug addicts, and other hardened criminals. So when the officer arrived, I counted on his bravery to see me through.
"Where is it?" he asked shakily, his eyes darting around the front hallway. "I hate bats. They give me the creeps."
Like two small children sneaking up on a nightmare, we crept into the family room. There, upside down and blissfully unaware of uniform or rank, hung the little brown bat.
"Give me the broom," the officer ordered. He took a firm swing and missed. He asked for a bigger broom. I looked at him skeptically. The bat grinned.
"Let's put it outside so no one gets hurt," I suggested. This seemed like a good idea to the officer, who'd recently completed a hostage-crisis seminar. I shone a flashlight on the bat, and the officer slid a shoebox over it. Wings scratched wildly against the cardboard as we threw the box into the backyard and slammed the door.
In the moonlight, the bat's wings spread gracefully as it disappeared into the night.
And while there's no evidence to support the fact that bats enjoy storytelling as much as preschoolers do, I'm left to ponder all my surprise animal encounters, as my city feet slide a little closer to Chicago's Lakeshore Drive.