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The Bat – Part One

July 27, 2009

Part One

Little known fact: rabies kills just one to two people in this country every year. To my mind, that sets a new “low bar” for statistical improbability.  Lottery wins, shark attacks, lightning strikes, alien abductions, these are all sure bets when compared to the unlikelihood of death by rabies.

It’s the Monday morning after our vacation, very early, the “wee hours” long before sunrise. We’re awakened by my ten year old daughter, shrieking from her bed “Mom!! Dad!! There’s something flying around my room!!!”

Jen and I spring out of bed simultaneously, stumbling over one another in the dark, confused, disoriented. We throw open our daughter’s door. Though neither one of us can see the thing– the room is pitch dark – we can both hear it; a creature flapping its wings, frantically, futilely throwing itself against the far wall, desperate to escape.

“Is it a bird?!” my daughter cries?

“Maybe it’s a moth,” I volunteer unhelpfully. In my bleary, befuddled condition, this actually seems to me like a plausible explanation for what’s happening.

Jen takes charge. “Honey, go to our bedroom. Now!”

We all duck our heads and shuffle quickly out the door, closing it tightly behind us.

With Lu tucked safely in our bed, we return to the hall and open her door a crack. Our eyes have adjusted to the lack of light. We can see more clearly now the silhouette of the thing that’s causing all this unwelcome commotion. “It’s a bat,” Jen confirms.

We lock it up in our daughter’s room and return to bed, but no one is able to sleep.  When I close my eyes, I have visions of vampires. They look like Robert Pattinson. They look like Bill and Eric from the HBO television series True Blood. Oh, how my imagination is colored and corrupted by trashy popular culture.

The next morning Jen calls the family doctor’s office for advice regarding rabies. Given that no one was bitten, and no one had direct, skin-to-skin contact with the bat, they aren’t concerned.

Next,  Jen calls an animal control service. A guy comes out to the house and turns Lucy’s room upside down searching for the bat but cannot locate it. We learn that bats can pass through a gap in the exterior eaves or siding no larger than the size of a quarter. They can hide themselves in a similarly small space, which makes them very difficult to find in daylight. Animal control guy is pretty sure that our bat is still somewhere in Lucy’s room, since the seals beneath her bedroom and closet doors are tight, too tight for the bat to slip beneath and escape.

“So what do we do now?” Jen asks.

“You can catch it yourself. It’s easy. All you need are a tennis racket and a trash bag. Give it a good whack; that’ll stun it. You got fireplace gloves? Put those on, pick it up, stick it in the trash bag. The bat will suffocate. Then you want to put it in the freezer, keep it fresh until you drive it up to the CDC in Augusta. The CDC is going to want to test it.”

“The CDC?” Jen asks. “We called our doctors, and they said there was nothing to worry about.”

“No, no. You’ve got to call the CDC.”At this point, animal control guy starts sharing his theories about random rabies transmission. “It might have drooled into your daughter’s eye or mouth while it was flying around the room. That saliva can get all over the place. Ain’t no cure for rabies. You get that, you’re dead. D-E-A-D, dead.”

By now sufficiently terrified, and confused by the inconsistent information she’s hearing, Jen calls the CDC.  A gentleman with a very thick foreign accent tells her the standard protocol (catch, kill, bring for testing), but also allows that, if no one had direct contact, it’s probably fine to capture the bat and release it back into the wild. In situations where a very young child is involved, or an extremely intoxicated person, someone who might have had direct contact or been bit without being aware, then testing is a necessity. Jen goes so far as to clarify that we have a seven year-old son. “Would that be considered ‘very young?”

“No. ‘Very young’ is like a baby. A baby who can’t communicate.”

Neither of those situations applies to us; no babies, and no fall-down drunks either. We’re feeling pretty safe at this point.

At dusk the next evening we head upstairs, ready to kick some bat ass. Jen has tennis in her blood – her family are avid players, her father a tennis pro – so she naturally volunteers to wield the racket. I have duct-taped a big, transparent plastic bowl to the end of a broom handle, and torn a sizeable chunk of cardboard from an old empty moving box down in the basement. We are armed and dangerous.

Jen cracks the door to Lu’s bedroom and reaches in her hand to flip on the light. And there it is. The bat has come out from wherever it was hiding. It’s now flying around the room in these big, sweeping circles, stopping only briefly to flutter in a corner or beat its head against a drawn shade. The bat is obviously panicked. I never really got a good look at it the previous night, just its silhouette against the shades, barely illuminated by the streetlamps outside. Now that I can see it clearly, awash in the bright light from an overhead bulb, I’m shocked by how large it appears. This bat has the wingspan of a bald eagle. Its flying has this sort of jumpy, fluttery quality too, like a toy bat would in a kid’s puppet show.

Jen advances a few steps into the room, swinging the tennis racket. I’m behind her, feebly waving my cardboard in the air, chanting “get him! Get him!”  Jen is doing a pretty good impression of Serena Williams at the baseline, displaying fine form with her forehand and backhand. The bat is a worthy opponent however, dodging and weaving, eluding Jen’s attack. Suddenly Jen makes her move, charging the net, clobbering him with a deftly executed overhead smash. While he’s lying dazed on the floor I rush in and trap him beneath the plastic bowl. We slide the cardboard between the bat and the floor to trap him and carefully flip him over to get a better look. He’s smaller than he appeared in the air; his leathery brown skin hangs loosely on his body, like an oversized glove. He’s already shaken off the beat down, chattering and screeching like a bat extra auditioning for a horror movie, desperate for a call back.

What a team! We would exchange high-fives, but there’s still work to be done, namely figuring out what comes next. This is a critical moment. Had we decided to dump the bat in a plastic bag and suffocate him, the story would basically be over. We invite the kids to take a peek through the clear plastic bowl, but they’re not terribly interested.  It’s hard to impress kids these days; compared to the Internet and video games and 3-D CGI spectacles on IMAX-sized screens, this tiny brown bat looks like little more than a cheap special effect.

“Should we kill him?” I ask. This gets the kids attention. Lucy begins to cry. And when Lucy cries, Isaac cries reflexively. “Nnnooooo,” they wail in unison, my two little PETA-inspired pacifists.

“The CDC guy said its fine. It didn’t touch us, and no one was bit,” Jen reasoned.

“And the doctor’s office didn’t seem too worried,” I said.

“I really don’t have time to drive an hour up to Augusta.”

So we took the bat outside, out to the middle of the street, and let him go. Big mistake.

To be continued….

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kris permalink
    July 27, 2009 8:23 pm

    Ok, I’m hooked. You’d better follow through with part 2. And now I’m wondering again about the bat in our house that disappeared in our bedroom. uh oh…

  2. Vicky permalink
    August 3, 2009 6:16 pm

    Love the stories-you will keep me entertained in the following 2yrs while my hubbie is gone in Japan! Sorry about the MS thing- we worry about Randy getting it- the chemicals he has been expsed to in the service- they say there is a link and he has some weird symptons like you-but he can not really go to the doctor yet-not until he is ready to retire-

  3. Paul permalink
    August 3, 2009 7:11 pm

    Brilliant…can’t wait for part 2

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