By Gaby Roughneen
In 1897, Bram Stoker from Clontarf, wrote ‘Dracula’. It has since gripped the world. I was gripped by the novel mainly because Count Dracula could change into a bat. I could never read the book again because of my primitive, irrational fear of bats, with their mouse-like faces, their claws, teeth and creepy wings.
My first encounter with one was on a ruin in Co. Waterford, and that was enough. There was something awful about the way it clung to the old stone wall, like a lump of horrible fungus. I backed away shuddering and thought, ‘Never again!’ But Fate had other plans.
My favourite uncle was a parish priest in Co. Kilkenny. Shortly after he was assigned to a new parish, he asked me to come and help the housekeeper to sort things out and settle in. I was on vacation from college and was happy to do it.
The presbytery was in a lovely location overlooking the river. The house had a lot of charm, and my room had a slanted roof with windows that went to the floor. However, I found out that there were bats beside and above me in the attic. The noise they made at night gave me the creeps.
One day, something went wrong with the water pump out in the shed, and the flow of water from the taps went to a trickle. My uncle said that the water level in the tank in the attic needed to be checked. The housekeeper and himself looked at one another and then looked at me.
“You’re young and strong,” he said. You could easily go up there.”
Apart from being horrified at going into bat territory, the only way into the attic was through a trapdoor in the bathroom ceiling. There was no ladder so a table and a kitchen chair were hauled upstairs.
With a torch in my pocket, I climbed on the table and then up on the chair, so that my head and shoulders were inside the edge of the trapdoor opening.
“Go in now and over to the tank and tell me how high the water is,” he said.
I took a deep breath, swung myself up and in, just knowing the bat community was watching from the sidelines. I crept across the joists, and shone the light in the tank. The water level was alright, but a dead bat, horrible wings outspread, floated on the surface.
I screeched, ‘There’s a dead bat in it!’
“Well, take it out!” my uncle said.
“Then get me something to take it out with!” I yelled back.
Then I had to wait there for a week, it seemed, looking at a dead bat and surrounded by living ones. As soon as a wooden spoon appeared through the trapdoor opening, I grabbed it, scooped up the bat and flung it, with the spoon, down into the bathroom, half-hoping it would land on an ordained head!
My uncle and the housekeeper had no idea of how traumatised I was by all this and calmly went about their respective work. I prayed that I would never see a bat again.
It was not to be. A few years later, I took my young daughter to a Girl Guide meeting which, unusually, was being held in the parish hall. As we walked in, we could see the girls and their leaders all scrunched against the wall at one end of the hall, and suddenly they all screamed and ducked.
“It’s a bat!’ a leader said, pointing to the stage at the far end of the hall, ‘and it keeps flying towards us from the curtains!” And with that, they all screamed and ducked again, and again. I noticed that the bat flew on a lower trajectory each time.
Right, I thought. This is not good for the children and the adults here are supposed to be in charge. Someone has to do something or the evening will end in chaos.
I squashed memories of Kilkenny attics, took off my blue cardigan and stood in the middle of the hall. Right on cue, the bat swooped from the stage curtain. I stepped quickly into its flight path and held my cardigan out like a matador’s cape. It flew right into it. I bundled it up fast, and feeling queasy, ran from the hall and shook it out.
It was gone. Inside, they told me that they could see the bat’s little face looking out from the folds of my cardigan as I ran past them. That nearly undid me and I sank weakly on to a chair.
There’s an old saying that significant things happen in threes: well, this was the third bat moment for me and I figured I was now safe from bat encounters for evermore.
I wonder if I can count on Fate to pay attention to these old sayings?