I had an encounter with an animal once that I’ve been turning around in my head for years. I still don’t understand it completely but it haunts me. Probably because the ending is disturbing and of little comfort.
During college I lived in an old apartment building on the edge of downtown. Early records that I dug up indicated it was a hotel or boarding house for women who worked downtown. It was built in the 20’s and had a lot of nice brownstone features, but it was slowly creeping towards a state of disrepair.
It started when I came home one evening to a bat flying wildly in the hallway, flapping desperately as he tried to fight his way out of the building. Another passerby and I joined forces to herd him outside, but it wasn’t working. He flew too high and kept missing the doorway. Eventually we trapped him with a blanket and let him out.
The next week I came home to find distinct markings around my living room ceiling. It looked like smatterings of blood had painted the corners of the main room. It seemed that a wounded bird or bat had made it’s way into my apartment, but the possibility of this seemed absurd. There was no way to get into my apartment, via the front door or anywhere else that I could see. And there were no trails of blood elsewhere to draw clues from. The maintenance guy came by and painted over the blood. He admitted that the whole thing was confounding and he had never seen anything like it.
Days passed and I was somewhat haunted by the wounded animal. Was it still here? How did it get out? How did it get in? Is it okay? A friend of mine came over and we decided to investigate. It wasn’t difficult, we opened my front door and looked up – there along the crack where the wall meets the ceiling was a trail of blood along the hallway. Bewildered, we followed the trail down the hallway, into the stairwell until we came to a broken window. There was a large hole in the window, as if the animal had come crashing through with a sense of purpose, and then limped towards my apartment. This was pretty eerie, and didn’t really provide me with any answers.
More days passed and I let it go. I distinctly remember a lot of strange things were happening to me at that time. At home, objects jumped off my counters without explanation. In the streets, mentally ill vagabonds regaled me with their quixotic visions.
Then one afternoon I came home to find it – a small black bat folded up peacefully and hanging upside down in the corner of my living room. I was shocked, and slightly unnerved but I also felt it was a peaceful presence. I have a big aversion to most rodents, but bats don’t bother me. I felt it was a beautiful and strange wonder that the bat was resting there in my apartment and felt honored in a way.
I let it hang out for about an hour, but knew I had to get it out. I was not curious to know the bat in his waking state. I called the maintenance man, thinking he would help me trap it. He didn’t. He killed it right in front of me. I heard the bat squeal in pain as he crunched it as though it were the lowest form of life. Horrified, I was completely speechless. To this day I am ashamed I never insisted on trapping the bat, or at least had the courage to express my disgust when he murdered it. He saw the look on my face though – “I had to do it” he told me “he just would have come back again”. That wouldn’t have been so bad. I mourned the bat for days.
1 year later I was in an old warehouse after following some signs for an antique sale. It was a small room, stuffed with oddities. I only found one thing that pleased me. It was an old silver button, very elaborate and gothic looking. It was dirty though, so I couldn’t really see it until I got home and cleaned it. It was the carved image of a silver bat with his wings outstretched to curve with the perimeter of the circle. There was even a pearl background that gave the impression of the moon. It is a beautiful button, and I imagine it belonged to some Victorian era Vampire who died of consumption. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I sewed it onto the backpack that I use everyday, which is what jogged my memory to write this story. I feel a sense of compunction for what happened, and I know some say “oh that’s life, everything dies. He was going to die anyway blah blah”. But that’s missing the point. Something strange and beautiful was happening in my home, something that mirrored the mystery of life and the will to survive…and I let it slip away. Of course, thanks in part to the button, I won’t ever forget it now.