It begins something like this: look down from a height, through dark air thick with raindrops, backlit by a waxing white moon, to a cobbled street, the stones alternatingly sharp silver or flint blue as the moonlight flickers in the downpour. Look down the street, past the shabby brick and timber pub, past the post office, with its red and green facia running to pastel pale with age, past the mobile phone shop, its glass front awkwardly grafted to the ground floor of an old coaching inn, coaches and guests long gone, replaced by handset upgrades. Stop at the off licence, with its dirty windows, peeling A4 signs inside promising 6 Fstrs4 a 5ver and LOOK: 4 Bottles wine £10. Above the off licence is a flat, picked out in weathered utilitarian Victorian red brick, its care worn wooden framed windows resignedly shedding flakes of thick white paint onto the cobbles below. Outside the window, hovering menacingly, although not necessarily intentionally so, is a great, soft wool-black cloud of fluttering pipistrelle bats. I’m on the other side of the window panes, in the flat’s living room, trailing a video game controller behind me, glass of bad red wine from the off licence in the hand not holding the control pad. Unknowingly, I slowly tip the glass and spill wine onto the carpet, staining the thin beige pile deep scarlet. ‘BATS’, I’m thinking. ‘Fuckloads of shit-scary BATS’.
“Steve?” I enquire, to no response. Steve – flatmate, best friend, terminal wastrel and successful purveyor of pirated movies and smuggled cigarettes (also works for the council) – is currently slumped, snow angel deep, in a giant mocha brown bean bag.
“Uh?” emanates from the depths of the bean bag as Steve stirs from an alcohol and bong hit induced stupor.
“Seriously, you should come and look at this. It’s messed up!”
Making an heroic effort, Steve raises himself, Lazarus like from his self inflicted chemical coma. He lurches over to the window and rubs his eyes.
“Er yeah. That’s really…..really weird. Weird is what it is. Are you hungry?”
“Are you hungry? I’ve got nachos in the oven. Cheesy nachos. Tempted?”
“Not really, no. I’m more bothered by that swarm – is it a swarm? Flock? That whatever-it-is of bats out there. It’s giving me the creeps.”
“S’understandable. I’m freaked out too, but I’ve also got a major munch on. I’m going to help myself to something unhealthy and Mexican – if anything really bad happens, give me a shout.”
Steve ambles lopsidedly to the kitchen and I turn my attention back to the window. Gently illuminated by the moonlight, the bats are performing a series of complicated, geometric manoeuvres in the rain. Controlled by some kind of unconscious hive mind instinct, the pipistrelles split into groups that form themselves into shapes, lines, curves, as if each group of bats is tethered to a thread, taking its shape in the sky. I watch open mouthed as the bats perform their circus trick. The controller joins the contents of my wine glass on the floor as I drop it and put my hands to the window frame.
“Steve, mate, this is getting majorly strange now.”
Steve returns from the kitchen and peers over my shoulder, wafting hot nacho breath in my ear.
“Too right it’s getting strange. They’ve spelt your name.”
“They’ve spelt my name. The bats?”
“Yeah – look.”
I take a couple of steps back. The bats are still hovering, the little groups keeping the shapes they took a moment ago. Except they’re not just shapes. Furthest on the left, six bats form what is quite clearly an L. I take another step backand get the next group of pipistrelles into focus. This time it’s a U. Further inspection of the remaining bats reveals a P, an E and an N hovering furrily among the raindrops. L-U-P-E-N. LUPEN. It is my name. Fuck. As if realising that I’ve got the point, the bats give off a collective, barely audible high pitched shriek, that I feel more than hear. One by one, they peel away from their letter formations and fly damply into the night. I’ve got serious chills, the hairs on my arms are standing on end, two tiny hairy arm-forests climbing up to my t-shirt sleeves. Even Steve, his innate inner ambivalence enhanced by weed and greasy cornchips, looks shell-shocked.
But it’s Friday night, there are beers and the fridge and this only a small provincial town, an overweight village really, run to fat, where nothing much happens, where the best you can make on your average weekend evening is some combination of drugs, food, alcohol and wasted hours in front of the computer or the telly. Not wanting to sour the remaining hours of console simulated football, duty free cigs and cheap Hungarian red, I follow my instincts and decide to deal with the inexplicable bat-based events of the last 15 minutes by pretending that they haven’t really happened. Immature I know, but this is how I deal (or don’t deal) with things. Denial is a poor strategy at the best of times; it’s probably the reason that I’m co-renting a shabby above shop flat, working in a fairly meaningless job in a library and am stubbornly, incurably single at 25, a situation that spans back some years now (I won’t tell you how many). But denial has never done me enough harm for to drop it as a strategy. I’m in a rut, I know that, my parents certainly know that, sweetly concerned as they are, but it’s a comfortable, well worn, homely rut. I’ve decorated and started a small window box herb garden in it – in short, I love my rut. So it’s going to take more than a surreal, grammatical intervention by bats to shake me out of my mid-mid-mid-life torpor. For now it’s back to the couch, back to the wine, back to beating Steve by a cricket score on the computer and back to fending off the inevitable accusations of cheating afterwards. Although when I get to bed, late, 4amish, I know the first thing I’ll be thinking about is those dark uncanny bats, spelling out my name – my name – in capital letters, in the sky.