Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bart the Belfry Bat

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Like most churches, this one has a bell tower, though instead of a bell it contains speakers that broadcast a recording of bells. Recently the tower has acquired some new residents – a family of bats. And Bart is the most curious bat in this family.

Bart isn’t his real name of course. He has a bat name. But bats communicate at a pitch too high for people to hear which makes their names difficult to transcribe. So let’s just call him Bart.

When Bart awoke on the first night in his new home, he decided to check out the neighborhood. He skimmed along the eaves of the church, snapping up the occasional passing mosquito for breakfast.

He spotted a small glowing red light and headed over to investigate. It was Walter Tibble, the church’s organist, who had stepped outside to have a cigarette. Smoking was a vice Walter had picked up in college and never shaken. Not that he’d really tried all that hard. Walter was now forty-eight, tall and thin. He wandered around the lawn as he smoked, enjoying the solitude and quiet.

And then the automatic sprinklers came on.

Walter muttered, “gosh darn it” under his breath – cursing was not one of his vices – and scurried for the door, tossing his cigarette into the scraggly bushes growing along the wall. He knew it annoyed Pastor O’Donnell to find his butts there, but Walter didn’t care. He’d suggested they get one of those trashcans with an ash receptacle on top, but O’Donnell refused saying it might encourage others to smoke and, the pastor always had to add, smoking was a filthy habit. Walter decided if O’Donnell was going to be that way he could just deal with butts in his bushes.

Bart didn’t understand any of this, of course. Very few bats take up smoking. But Bart’s curiosity compelled him to follow Roger through the door and into the church.

Roger went down a hall into a room blazing with light. Being a bat, Bart didn’t much care for light so he broke off to explore on his own. But a few minutes later Bart’s sharp bat hearing picked up a lovely harmony coming from the bright room. He doubled back to check it out.

The music Bart heard was the choir at their regular Wednesday night rehearsal in the choir room. Bart flew through the door, gliding around the ceiling in gentle arcs in time to the music. After a couple of verses a plump woman spotted him and began making a noise that was louder and in a different key than the others. This was Missy Moore who was not a fan of bats.

Bart decided he wasn’t a fan of hers either. Not only was she ruining the lovely music, her screeching hurt his sensitive ears. And it seemed to Bart that the rest of the choir was just as annoyed at Missy’s harsh wail since they all stopped singing and began dashing chaotically around the room. It didn’t appear that the harmonious tunes were going to resume any time soon so Bart figured he might as well move on.

He found his way to the social hall, which was pleasantly big and shadowy. After exploring a bit he stopped for a rest in the rafters. He had seen all kinds of interesting things but he would need to focus on finding more food pretty soon. He was getting quite hungry.

Suddenly the lights came on, nearly blinding Bart. Del Winslow, a heavyset man in a choir robe, entered carrying a broom and looked around. Bart didn’t know what Del was up to and didn’t really care. He flew into the adjacent kitchen to get out of the light.

There Bart made a discovery that pleased his grumbling stomach. Someone had left a piece of cake on the counter during coffee hour the previous Sunday. Now of course bats don’t eat cake, but they do eat flies. The abandoned cake had attracted a whole swarm of those. What a nice housewarming gift, thought Bart as he enjoyed the insect buffet.

The door to the kitchen burst open and the light went on. Bart instinctively flew up to the ceiling. Del Winslow stomped in with his broom. Del spotted Bart and swung the broom at him. Bart darted away, indignant. This was hardly welcoming behavior!

Bart bobbed around the ceiling staying just out of reach of the flailing broom. Then one of Del’s swings struck the overhead light, knocking the plastic cover off and shattering the bulb. The room went dark again. Bart settled on the counter as Del made a hasty exit. That explained it, Bart thought. The big man wasn’t after Bart at all; he just hated the light too.

Bart finished off the last few flies who hadn’t beat it to safety in the commotion then decided he’d better go back outside where the hunting was better. He flew out into the social hall and saw Del seated on a couch catching his breath. Bart was careful to stay up near the ceiling where Del wouldn’t notice him. He was not quite sure what to make of the man just yet.

A couple of the windows were cracked open so Bart used one of them to make his exit. As he flew out, though, he smelled something funny. There was smoke rising from the bushes near the front door. Bart went to investigate.

It seemed Walter’s cigarette had landed on a dried leaf that was caught in the bush and ignited it. The small flame had grown hot enough to spread to some of the green leaves around it. Bart didn’t quite understand what fire was but he could feel the heat and his instincts told him it wasn’t good. Only he didn’t really know what to do about it.

Then he got an idea. Maybe the big man inside could take care of it.

Bart flew back in the window and buzzed Del’s head. It certainly got Del’s attention. Del leaped to his feet and chased after Bart who flew back out the window.

However Del didn’t follow. He simply closed the window and walked back toward the choir room. So Bart flew in through a different window and did a couple of loops around Del’s head. Del chased Bart back to the second window where Bart made his escape again. This time, though, Del paused before closing the window. He smelled something.

Del came out the front door to investigate and saw the small fire in the bush. He yelped and quickly beat the flames out with the broom. Then he cupped his hands and caught water from the sprinklers to thoroughly douse the bush. Once he was certain everything was out, he looked up into the night sky and said, “Thank you, bat. You might have just saved the church.”

Bart was perched on the roof above him and would have told Del he was quite welcome except of course Bart couldn’t speak English.

Del went back inside. A few moments later the music resumed in the choir room, drifting softly out to where Bart was gliding above the spray of the sprinklers hunting his food. He began bobbing back and forth in time to the music.

This was going to be a pretty good home, Bart thought.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baby Fever

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Recently, the primary topic of idle discussion around the church was newlywed Carrie Winslow’s pregnancy.

Carrie hadn’t intended for the news of her impending breeding to be public knowledge quite yet – she had only just discovered the fact herself – but her mother, Karen, found out during coffee hour one Sunday due to a morning sickness incident and became so excited she blurted it out to the entire congregation.

Del Winslow, Carrie’s father, was happy for his daughter, but that happiness was mixed with some frustration. Carrie and her husband Carlos had both lost their jobs when their company went bankrupt and were living with Del and Karen. The situation was supposed to be temporary, however the introduction of an infant into the equation threatened to change that.

The Friday evening after the news went public, Del walked in on Karen showing Carrie pastel colored paint samples. When he inquired what they were for, Karen said she figured they would turn Del’s den into a nursery when the baby came. When Del protested that she might have asked him about the idea first, Karen scoffed and responded, “All you ever do in there is sleep anyway.”

Yes, the temporary living arrangements were sounding a little less temporary than Del would have preferred.

Del was still sulking Sunday morning when the family arrived at church. Del was in the choir so he went to the choir room to warm up. Missy Moore greeted him as he entered with a cheery, “Good morning, Grandpa Winslow!”

Up until that moment Del’s mind had been primarily occupied by the steadily growing population of his household and the consequent loss of peace, quiet and the one room where he could nap undisturbed. Though of course he knew Carrie’s pregnancy meant he was going to be a grandparent, nobody had yet used the word “grandpa” out loud. It made him feel… what was the term…?


The fact that his own father had been younger than he was now when Carrie was born did not in any way ease the sensation of decrepitude. Of course once Del had time to adjust to the concept and certainly by the time the baby was born he would be thrilled with his new title. But that was all in the future. On this Sunday, Missy’s offhand and well-meant comment set in motion a series of events that would bring both physical and mental pain to Del.

It was perhaps this distraction that caused Del to come in at the wrong moment on one of the hymns during the service. It was an embarrassing mistake, uncharacteristic of Del. After the song ended, Celia Simmons looked back and whispered, “the mind is the first thing to go, Sweetie.”

Given Del’s current mental state he did not find the implications humorous. By the time coffee hour rolled around he was in a downright grumpy mood.

Meanwhile, Carrie was having her own issues with being the center of attention. It seemed everyone had advice on being pregnant and was anxious to convey it to her. The advice was often contradictory, sometimes slightly disgusting and once in a while completely terrifying. Not to mention that Carrie was finding it tougher to adapt to life without caffeine than to the idea she was going to be a mother. She missed the jolt of energy her daily double lattes provided.

There was no quick escape that morning for either Carrie or Del, because Del and Karen’s Bible study group was hosting coffee hour that week, which meant they had to help clean up. And since Carrie and Carlos rode with them, the younger couple had to stick around as well.

As coffee hour wound down, Del went to move the giant coffee urn to the kitchen. The enormous contraption was made of steel and dated from the 50’s.

“That’s still pretty full,” Ralph Billings said, “hang on and I’ll give you a hand.”

“I’ve got it,” Del said peevishly. He hoisted the urn up. Ralph was right; it must have weighed over forty pounds. But Del was determined to handle the chore himself. He headed toward the kitchen trying to keep his expression nonchalant.

But as he moved across the room, the urn seemed to grow heavier with every step. His shoulders moaned. His arms screamed. His fingers whined. He began to feel the urn slipping out of his grip. He moved faster, trying to reach the kitchen before he dropped the whole shebang, waddling with his knees bowed out as the urn slid down between his legs.

He reached the kitchen and summoned up a last burst of energy to hoist the urn onto the counter.

It didn’t move. Del’s back had seized up. It was all he could do to lower the urn to the floor.

Missy Moore poked her head in. “Are you okay?”

Hunched into the shape of a question mark, Del knew the jig was up. “My back…” he hissed.

Missy ran over and began massaging his lower back. Her fingers digging into his flesh was more painful than throwing it out in the first place. But after a few moments the muscles loosened and he could stand upright.

“Let’s get you out to the couch,” Missy said as she easily lifted the coffee urn onto the counter.

Missy took Del’s arm and led him back into the social hall. When Ralph spotted them he came rushing over to find out what happened.

“He threw his back out,” Missy said.

“Oh no,” Ralph said. “You just sit here and rest. We’ll finish cleaning up.”

Del slumped on the couch and watched the others working for a bit. He felt silly and embarrassed. Finally, when nobody was looking he slipped out the back door.

Del discovered Carrie sitting on the back steps with a morose expression. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?” he asked.

“I just needed to be alone for awhile,” she said. “Everybody keeps telling me all this stuff I have to do before the baby comes and what books to read and about natural child birth and drugs and how I need something called a Doula… I just don’t know if I’m ready for all this.”

“Forget them,” Del said. “You’re going to be a great parent.”

“Not as good as you and Mom.”

“Nonsense. You’ve always handled everything that’s been thrown at you with ease. Ever since you were a little girl.” Del sat down beside her.

“I remember when you were four I took you to the mall. I stopped to look at a telescope in a store window and next thing I knew you were gone. I looked everywhere for you, completely panicked. And then I found you sitting by the fountain lecturing a teenage boy who had tossed a gum wrapper on the ground about the evils of littering. That kid was terrified. I was terrified. And you weren’t scared at all.”

“That’s what you thought,” she said. “I remember that day. I figured I’d never see you again and I was going to have to live in the mall. That’s why I got so mad at that boy. He was messing up my new home.”

Del laughed. Carrie leaned her head on his shoulder. “You know, Daddy, I really wasn’t thrilled with the idea of moving back in with my parents at my age. But it will be nice to have you and mom around when the baby comes.”

Del put his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. He was surprised to discover he was starting to warm up to this whole grandpa idea.