Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Night of the Bats (Bill Cameron)

Writer Bill was born when I was about seven years old. My aunt and uncle gave me an old, but well-maintained, manual typewriter, and I used it to create newspaper “Extras” recounting the depradations of one Herman the Ant, a giant arthropod with a thirst for blood and masonry. I carefully typed each issue in a three-column layout under a newspaper masthead, with hand-drawn “photos” of the monstrous Herman eating buildings and people. Those were grim times in the world inhabited by Herman.

That was Writer Bill in larval form though. Herman’s stories, while gruesome and dramatic, lacked narrative structure. They also lacked spelling and grammar, but what can I say? I was seven. A couple of years later, I would grow into an actual storyteller when I wrote “The Night of the Bats” for English class. The assignment was to write a three-paragraph essay on what we liked best about Halloween. I turned in a six-page — front-and-back — tale of Halloween horror.

The story opens on Halloween afternoon with a boy arriving home from school to put on his costume: a custom-made bat outfit with realistic wings, head, and a fur body. He can’t wait for his best friend to arrive to go trick-or-treating, but is he ever in for a surprise. His friend, it turns out, is wearing a bat costume as well, complete with similar fur, ears, and flappy wings. Outside, they quickly realize they aren’t the only bats out that Halloween. Everyone, it seems, chose to be bats. Even people who answer the doors and pass out treats are dressed as bats. Frustrated and sad, our hero takes off his bat head and decides to go home. But with his human head exposed, the others in the neighborhood suddenly turn on him — and that’s when he realizes they are all actual bats! He flees as hordes of swarming, human-sized bats pursue him, screaming for blood. Even his friend is in on the chase. Fortunately, he’s able to evade capture by sneaking into an old shed. There, he puts his bat head back on. When he comes out again, none of the other bats pay any attention to him, so he runs home. Unsure what else to do, he climbs into bed falls into a troubled sleep. He awakens the next morning, sure it was all a dream — until mom and dad come into his bedroom and he realizes they’re both giant bats. The end.

The main thing I remember my teacher saying was that the story was too long and didn’t follow the assignment, but since it was creative I got full credit.

That story has stuck with me over the years. In high school, I rewrote it for a creative writing class — doubled the length and added lots of gore. Gore is always good, right? Later I did another version that actually submitted to a few magazines. No luck there, I’m afraid. The editors were probably all giant bats who didn’t want their secret to get out.

Sadly, those early versions are lost. Too many moves, including a cross-country jump in 1990. But the story stuck with me. From time to time, I’ll have a nightmare that rather closely follows the plot of the original story. It’s not always bats, but people turning into other things which then try to eat me is pretty common. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “fear” of mine, but there is a consistent theme at work.

As for “The Night of the Bats,” it did inspire a story that actually has found its way into print. Originally published in Anne Frasier’s Deadly Treats anthology, “Sunlight Nocturne” will be available at KingsRiverLife.com on October 15th if you want to see what I did with the original idea forty some odd years later.

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