Can there be anything as unnerving as a bat in the house?
One registers only passing annoyance when an insect buzzes about the kitchen, and even a wayward sparrow provides nothing but interest should it swoop in through an open door or window. But a bat? Well, is "spooky" the right word?
Our adventure began on a perfectly ordinary day. When I came into the house, I caught a fleeting patch of black from the corner of my eye.
And then, nothing.
When I got upstairs, though, and entered my son's room, there it was, swooping and lofting like a puppet on a string. The thing was coal black, with expansive wings spread out by those long, bony fingers. The whole scene shivered my timbers.
I immediately slammed the door shut and began to consider a plan of action. I think the problem with a bat in the house is twofold. One, bats are the subject of all sorts of unsettling myths. ("They get in your hair!") And two, they are creatures of the night, so seeing them up close and flitting in broad daylight within the confines of four walls is just too close for comfort.
The question still remained: Just how did it get in? (The doors and windows had been shut.) I finally solved the riddle when I went downstairs and noticed that after cleaning out the wood stove, I had left the door open. Our bat must have come down the chimney.
I knew of other people who had had bats in their homes, and I had always found their stories fascinating. A neighbor couple with four children told me of a visiting bat that created quite a row.
The parents immediately gathered children and pets and sequestered themselves in their mudroom. Silence reigned for a few moments until one of the siblings cried, "We've forgotten Luke!"
The brave mother ran back into the house to "rescue" the baby they had overlooked in their panicked flight. Neither the little one nor the bat was the worse for the experience.
As I stood with my back braced against the door, I found myself on edge by the very idea of a bat on the other side of the barrier, as if the diminutive mammal might somehow break through.
I opened the door a crack and peeped in. There it was, still pulsing in erratic circles, its sonar feeding the same monotonous message to it over and over again: wall! wall! wall!
It was time to devise a course of action. I thought of rushing in and opening a window, but the idea of the bat bumping into me from behind gave me the creeps.
Then it occurred to me to enter the room holding up a bedsheet so I could corner the bat and bundle it up. But actually holding a bat, even if swaddled, gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I finally settled on using the fishing net I kept in the backyard shed. By this time, my son had arrived on the scene with a phalanx of his friends.
They were all jabbering away, reciting false information about bats ("They bite you in the neck!"), making wisecracks only a preadolescent could appreciate ("Hey, what if it turns into Dracula!"), and generally providing no assistance whatever as they gathered at my heels and tracked me. I could feel their mixture of curiosity and apprehension.
As I approached the room with net in hand, my son suggested that we name the bat. "Let's call him Hank," he said.
I looked at him incredulously. "I don't want to name it," I said, near exasperation. "I just want it out of the house."
"But what if you can't catch Hank with the net?" asked one of his friends.
I told the group of gawkers to stand back as I began to open the door. I didn't want Hank ... er, the bat ... to escape among the masses, inciting a riot.
When I opened the door the bat was still flying in fruitless circles. I was filled with pity for the creature. No place to perch, no food or water.
I bided my time, watching it swoop about. My moment arrived, and I swept the net across its path. To my amazement, I caught it. The creature grasped the net and folded its wings against its body. In its compact form it was a tiny thing, no bigger than a mouse.
I carried the net and its passenger downstairs, followed closely by my chattering entourage of munchkins. There followed the usual silly questions: "What are you going to do with it?" "Will it bite you?" "How come it's not making any sound?"
But when one is carrying a bat, one is nothing if not focused, and I declined comment.
Once outside, I told everyone to stand back as I laid the net open on the ground. The bat immediately spread its wings and rose up into the sunlight – a jet-black spot against the blue – before heading for the trees. The show was over, and the boys turned their attention to other pursuits.
For the rest of that summer I was known as the man who had the bat in his house. When one lives in a small town, any claim to fame must be accepted with grace and gratitude.