I couldn't bring myself to turn on the lamp. And no, it wasn't fear, nor was it cowardice. Something else caused the paralysis, something deep and primitive, an instinct beyond simple emotion.
My heart raced as I hunted the shadows cast through the open window by the dusk's final light, my eyes straining against the evening for the source of the ghastly noise. It was not a bird, not some lost large praying mantis or squirrel, now was it a man...
Forgetting that collection of Jorge Luis Borges stories on my lap, I stood up suddenly and let the volume – thankfully, paperback – fall to the floor with just one bounce, off my bare right foot. I couldn't find it in me to even wince. I was, after all, in the throes of something beyond emotion, driven by the pumping of a thousand unknown hormones and instinctual neurological impulses – there was no time, not conscious attention given, to things like pain or fear.
The sound disappeared momentarily. I saw the shadow of a winged creature fly off, back into the early night. Within seconds, the hideous thing was once again slamming its veined, purple wings against the screen, digging its claws into flimsy wire mesh.
* * * *
It wanted into my apartment.
For some unknown reason, this evening visitor, this infamous creature of the night, wanted to cut its way through the insect barrier, wanted to fly or crawl through the open window and into my living room.
And the sound of the animal's teeth gnawing through the wire, the shrieks of its claws and flapping of its shrouded forearms, drew me towards its intended entrance.
But it really, really seemed to want inside my apartment, for some reason.
* * * *
Bats, for the record, sometimes have problems with things like screens in windows.
The animals are damned near blind by human standards, forced by nature to rely on their acute hearing and other heightened senses to navigate through darkness, to hunt for prey against purple, sunless horizons...
Hey, you try steering clear of a window screen with only an echo to guide you...
... There's a logical, rational explanation, of course, for everything.
One summer night, back when I was a kid, I sat and watched in amazement as a lone bat attacked and feasted upon a thousand moths circling a lit lantern in a tobacco barn. I was drawn to that bat's racket, too.
The animal's movement alone, its graceful gliding and diving, is as fascinating a thing to witness as anything else the natural world has to offer. I sat there in awestruck silence while my friends chatted away about girls, sipped my moonshine and Mountain Dew cocktail and watched the Animal Kingdom's epic story unfold before my very eyes.
As we passed around a Swisher Sweets cigar, one loaded with all sorts of secret herbs and spices, I would take my alloted puff and stare up at that marvelously sinister creature as it bombed into the swarm of moths in the rafters...
... And soon, my friends were all staring up at that mysterious, sinisterly close, probably rabid bat, too.
* * * *
I remember making some comment to my companions, about wishing I had with me a Hand of Glory - according to my great-grandmother, such things as corpse candelabras were still in use in Louisiana when she was a girl in the 1910s, still harvested from the freshly executed by hoodoos to aid in mystically blocking their activities from the view of preachers and local police.
My friends were astonished, almost frightened. Sure, a Hand of Glory sounded cool, but, well, wouldn't we go to Hell for using it? And why waste something that cool on a fucking bat anyway?
Waitaminute! Dude, bats sometimes turn into...?
They'd been too stoned and drunk to notice our hovering companion earlier, the one that was probably nothing more than a normal, everyday brown bat...
...Yeah, I'm thinkin' it might be a vampire or something. Kinda cool...
* * * *
One of those stoned childhood friends stroked the few curly hairs on his chin, then carefully patted the sides of his perfect sphere of an Afro - the ritual he normally went through whilst deep in thought.
His grandmother, he said, had learned about such things from her grandmother, who'd been a slave on some plantation nearby.
Nigga please! I remember him saying, One, I'm too pretty to eat an' two, I'd make one pimp-ass Blacula.
He added something about how, if his family's stories held any truth, vampires were the spirits of murdered runaway slaves and other imported Africans, only killed white people, and, well, the wild pokeberry and chickweed surrounding the barn would be enough to keep such a creature from transforming.
What if it attacked? we asked. We'll just grab the mothafuckin' thing, nail it to the door jamb with iron nails, leave it hanging upside down until the sun burns up its ass...
He was cut off after that. No more tokes from the magic cigar, no more sips from the Mason jar, either. He didn't seem to mind. He was, in his mind at least, Afro the Blacula Slayer. And, well, if all vampires really were black undead men, he was the only Brotha in the barn who knew anything about the Afrocentric nature of the Nosferatu.
Afro was at that armchair philosopher point of intoxication, thoughtful as he kept reminding everyone that Hollywood and Bram Stoker had made up the pale-ass white dude vampire mythos to keep white people from learning the truth - white people are scared of everything dark, vampires and people and even the night, because, well, such things aren't really afraid of them...
Yeah. Some guys shouldn't drink moonshine or smoke magical Swisher Sweets cigars...
* * * *
Finally, another of our party had an idea. If it was a vampire bat, it probably would like to come down and drink something other than blood, might be willing to share in its immortal wisdom and arcane secrets.
Hell. Blood or Virginia's finest rotgut? Please. The moonshine probably had more nutritional value to the living dead, anyhow.
That friend climbed atop a stack of hay bales, began talking to the poor, bug-munching animal, offering it both a taste of his wrist and of his moonshine. Vampires, in all versions of the legend, have a way with women - we all thought, well, the damned thing could just fly off and bring back some Lunenburg County tail, those really slutty girls just up Nutbush Road, the ones with big boobs and skimpy redneck denim cut-off shorts...
Soon, we quit thinking of it as an it; the bat was a clearly a he, a cool-ass motherfucker stuck eating moths and mosquitoes because, well, there was wild pokeberry and chickweed growing around the barn.
All of us, over the course of the evening, began to think of that bat as the living - or undead - embodiment of raw, unadulterated seduction, the veritable Man's Man, the cool mythological beast that could seduce even our hottest, most unattainable high school fantasy girls.
And we were all ready and willing to make our own deals with that flying devil, too. Pfft. What's a little bloodletting when you're a fourteen-year-old? At that age, well, most teenage boys would feed their own mothers to an army of zombies if it meant getting laid...
Sure, you'd sleep away your days, live like an albino. Big fucking deal. Vampires get pussy, all the time! Just watch the movies, read the books! And so what if you were never again forced to go to fucking church because of a crucifix allergy? Fucking badass!
Our African-descended, terrestrial brother was not amused. That vampire, yes, was a black man's soul, probably that the soul of one of his ancestors, trapped in a bat's form by our slave-owning ancestors.
We shouldn't have asked him to deliver unto us the flesh of redneck women. Instead, we should've asked for those fine-ass sistas from over in Meherrin... If you're gonna sell your soul, well, at least do it for women with asses...
Four teenage boys - and one oblivious bat - stayed up till dawn, drinking and begging for nosferatuous sex advice, passing a blunt and hoping beyond all hope that the other magical herbs surrounding the barn kept our vampire pal from turning the white inhabitants of the barn into a supernatural buffet.
Ah, the creatures of the night. What sweet racket, what chattering and noise and conversation, they make.
Especially when drunk and stoned.
The only living thing in my apartment was, well, me. And I'm just, well, too big to eat. I'm not a moth or cricket or mosquito.
Sure, the North American brown bat's sonar probably can't account for such modern marvels as window screens. But after hitting the damned thing once, why try to break into the apartment beyond it? Why dive back into that undetectable, echoless barrier, tear at it with claws and teeth?
... Unless, well, it's a vampire, dude. Come to drink your blood...
I stood at the window for a few minutes as the bat continued tearing at the wire. Finally, I spoke out loud, in a whisper. No need to yell at an animal that nature built to hear better than people.
"Motherfucker, do I look like motherfucking Batman? Or a big-ass moth? Or some hot English chick from some goddamn novel?"
The flying mammal stopped dead. And I'm fairly certain the damned thing was staring at me. Staring at me, well, like a toddler stares at a meowing cat.
It hung there on the screen for a few moments, its head seemingly cocked to one side, as if it were trying to figure out why the blurry mass before it was jabbering away in that rackety chirp hairless primates use to communicate, as if its poor bat brain could comprehend such nonsense.
Then it pushed itself back, spread its veiny wings, and disappeared into the night.
I shut the window after that. As if out of nowhere, suddenly, I found myself cold and shivering.
* * * *
Obviously, it wasn't a vampire.
We all know that there are no such things as vampires, right? This is the Modern World, a world where demons are reduced to mere Wikipedia entries and vampires all look like supermodels down at the Cineplex.
Or maybe it was something more, a figment of my memory, that childhood Man's Man bat, sojourning through southwest Ohio? Maybe it realized that this here male hairless ape wouldn't be anywhere near as entertaining as the females of the species, the ones caged up in first-year dormitories, two or three hot, tanning-bed broiled female slabs of meat crammed into rooms like sardines in a can?
And some of those women probably had their windows flung open, too. After all, it was a warm night and most of the Local U's residence halls aren't air-conditioned. Maybe they'd taken out their screens, decided to let the air blow more freely through their sardine cans?
Imagine, yes, that same bat - that poor little nocturnal creature, that one so misunderstood and shrouded in mean-spirited myth - slipping unnoticed into a dorm room, transforming into some skinny-ass Romanian or some tormented ghost of a runaway African slave, sliding its cold, unholy hands up beneath the bedsheets, underneath those Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Indians tee-shirts...
Imagine those innocent mammalian teeth transforming into undead razors, that hairy snout transforming into a moist mouth inches from an unsuspecting neck, breath quivering in anticipation of an easy meal...
Maybe there are vampires after all.
And why would they prey on the older, toughened 1978 vintage? The late 1980s produced much better stock - healthier, better fed, athletic and tender and cosmetically moisturized. And much of that crop of mankind grew up sucking down enough prescription stimulants and mood-enhancers and vaccines to qualify as either a vampiric multivitamin or an energy drink.
Why feed on weathered, drug-free librarians when there are the Prozac and Adderall Kids upon which to feast? There are even ones flavored with the same sorts of magical herbs and spices those librarians were once flavored with...
* * * *
I laughed at my own silliness, turned on a light, and sat back down to finish reading the English translation of Borges' "El Inmortal" [The Immortal]...
Dude! You creeped yourself out there, with stupid childish memories. You're an ADULT! Sure... fucking vampires.
As I picked my book back up off the floor, I felt the remnants of that silly superstitious paranoia, that childish instinct beyond emotion that causes one to find supernatural explanations for the most explainable things, slip away into the night.
I stood up, walked back to the window, opened it once more. The cold chill was nothing less than refreshing, no more supernatural than the setting of the sun. Bats behave the way they behave for evolutionary reasons - not because they are secretly bloodsucking monsters.
Back on the farm? Just a bat. Here in Oxford? Yeah, just a bat. Fucking dumbass.
I sat back down once again, embarrassed at my own superstitiousness. I opened the Borges collection back up to the passage where I'd stopped before the bat's arrival, before the sun had set, back before I'd dozed off...
Of course, dude, it could've been a she-bat... like, maybe female vampires prefer eating 30ish single guys? C'mon - you'd make a perfect meal! What if you hadn't had that screen, or hadn't woken up...?
I fought the urge to get up and shut the window once more. Fucking superstitious dumbass. Should've grabbed the damned thing, nailed it to the door jamb with nails of pure iron...
Afro the Blacula Slayer had something there, way back in the 1990s.
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