Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chiroptera (Part One)

The township was officially named the 56th charter of the Order of the Chiroptera. Every night at sundown, the monks would set up the altar at the edge of the cave, a swallowing mouth of darkness and stale air. They would light the red candles and hum softly, as the fading light of the sun kissed the temples of the townsfolk. Merchants would wind their carts slowly through the crowd, offering refreshments and trinkets, talismans to facilitate the worshiping process and jewels to attract good luck. Children would run circles around each other and laugh with sugar stained lips, until the moon began to show and the night crept in—then there would be a hushed silence and the children would huddle close to their mothers and husbands would wrap their arms around their family and they would wait for the Exodus.

On the night in question, there was a split second of silence as the sun disappeared.

And then the squeaking broke through the air and the sky was suddenly filled with black specks of bats as they washed over the countryside. Awoken from their sleep, they dipped and swirled, forming an almost impenetrable mass of darkness against the cloudy night sky.

Aldric adjusted his goggles and noted the distinctive flight patterns of the colony. It was an average size colony and he did not feel that it warranted the awe and reverence it elicited every summer evening. All along the countryside, there were similar occurrences: small towns finding healing miracles in a colony of bats, leading to an intense spiritual revival of the older religions. These colonies were each entirely unremarkable, owing not to some miracle but to the inevitable biological need of the species.

Aldric was there as an observer, ordered by the Council to ensure that the renewed faith was was the result of unfounded peasant superstitions. He certainly agreed with this view, as a proper Council member should, and made sure to write to his superiors that the colonies would flee once winter arrived—and surely the outbreak of shrines and worship would fade away like the frozen blades of grass buried under a mound of snow.

As Aldric continued to observe the colony of bats, he began to admire the clear, scientific perfection of their movements, the subtle flapping of wings, and the concise mechanism of their biological functions. They were truly an exquisite creature, built by Nature and not an almighty god as some would presume. The crowd had trickled away in the short amount of time it took the bats to leave the safety of their cave and soon it was only the monks, Aldric, and handful of the most devout believers who watched the Exodus.

And yet, something seemed odd to Aldric. He paused, blinked, and suddenly realized that a third of the colony hadn't gone out into the countryside to hunt for the night, but had remained circling around the opening of the cave. The monks seemed unperturbed by this, as did the few remaining townsfolk.

Aldric moved in closer, but stopped suddenly when he realized why the bats were circling: a young girl, no older than twelve stood in the middle of them, her arms outstretched, while the bats appeared to be frantically vying for her touch. He looked around, alarmed, but found no worried parents.

His concern was suddenly distracted by a shriek that did not echo against the air, but within his own head and he crashed down to his knees, dropping his notebooks and instruments, to clutch his head. A roiling nausea filled his stomach and the contents of his lunch were wrenched from his body and spewed onto the ground. As his vision went dark, all he could feel was the damp night air against the back of his neck and the grass under his knees.

But soon the ground slid out from underneath him and there was only darkness and the far-off sound of water trickling slowly down a hill...

When he came to, Aldric was only aware of his heartbeat and how his skin blossomed with frost. As his faculties were awoken one by one, he swallowed against the bile in his throat and attempted to sit up, though his muscles were stiff and unforgiving. He could still feel the grass of the hillside underneath him but the air was different: still, quiet, and thick, like he was swimming. The sound of a burbling creek could be heard in the distance—a creek that did not exist on any maps that Aldric knew—and the sky was a swallowing mass of black, devoid of any familiar constellations. He took a few deep breaths and looked around, wondering if any had come to his aid while the strange sickness overtook him. There was no trace of the monks, but their alter was still set up, the red candles almost burned out. At the alter, stood a short figure wearing a dark cloak. The figure turned as Aldric stood up and he was confronted with the soft features of the young girl he had seen before his fit.

He stopped, startled by her presence and her calmness.

She had been waiting for him.

He opened his mouth but no sound came out of it. The eeriness weighed on him and he was struck with the thought that this might all be a dream, despite its realness; perhaps he had contracted some sort of disease during his travels and he was laying in a hospital bed at this very moment.

The young girl looked at him and he could feel her sight piercing his heart, though he did not understand how such a thing was possible. His hand clutched his chest as his skin burned like a low blue flame. He began to feel sick again and dizziness washed over him.

He fell to his knees.

“Do not be scared,” said the young girl.

The words slipped through the air, thin wisps of gray that landed on his face. How can I not be scared, he asked himself, breathing in the girl's words that smelled like rosemary. He felt his eyesight going dark again and he scrambled to clutch onto something, terrified of losing himself in the void of unconsciousness that brought him there.

I must wake up from this dream, he thought. I must....

The pain increased, louder than his heartbeat or ragged breathing, and rolled itself into a metallic spear lodged in his chest—a battering ram of sensations that knocked his knees out from underneath him and sent into the darkness he was trying to avoid.

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