One moment, the air between the walls and the furniture and the people was filled with nothing besides dust, water droplets, thoughts of things people wanted to do to other people but would never dare, thoughts of things people did not want to buy but wanted to think about more than they did the things they did not really believe they had ever done to other people, and other things so small that they looked like nothing; the next, it was filled with furry headless bats.
The bats were the size of an overfed domestic cat. They flapped their wings with a frenzy that was at once terrifying, pitiful and hilarious. At first, everybody thought they were a dream that was probably also a nightmare. Nobody knew that this same thought was in the body of every other body in the country, almost like a virus.
Of course, the air quickly filled with words that attempted to untangle the truth of the bats. The words flapped and flailed between bodies in much the same way that the bats were still flapping and flailing between walls and objects, and even after approximately 29183957172948 of them had been shared online (although 29184 of them were repetitions of the same seven memes), everybody still believed, in the place that would never make it out of their bodies or into the internet, that they were in a dream; yes, this was really happening; yet it was also impossible.
Some people clubbed the bats with the other sort of bat. Other people sprayed them with poison. Richer people paid poorer people to club or poison their indoor bats; outdoor bats, they shot for fun. The clubbing and the spraying filed time to an arrow that pointed, ever so elegantly, towards a batless future in which nobody would ever complain about anything else ever again. This future lasted no more than five hours, during which everyone lay about in a stunned silence, not daring to see what lurked in each other’s eyes, nor even in those of memes and gifs, which of course did not really have eyes, only to resume, by the sixth or seventh hour, their complaints re those aspects of their lives that were unrelated to the absence or presence of bats, such as their sofa, and how it was too wide in a way that felt very narrow. By the twelfth hour, the air between the walls and the furniture and the people between the walls and the furniture was so thick with complaining, that when the bats reappeared, everyone was relieved. They immediately uploaded photos of the new bats to the internet, accompanied by all manner of complain-adjacent emojis. Can’t believe the little fuckers are back again. This time we’ll beat them once and for all. Oh, yeah!
But there was a significant minority of people who did not club or spray their bats. However, because not clubbing or spraying the bats was now a criminal offence — those who’d been caught were blamed for the bats’ continued existence, even though the ones who did the blaming knew, also, that the clubbing and the spraying only discontinued them temporarily — so these people did not tell any other people that they were this sort of person, not inside, not outside, not even on the internet. These people just lived with the bats. Some did this by flapping at any bat that was in their way; the more accurately they mimicked the bats’ movement, the more space they cleared between their bodies and the bats’ bodies. Others constructed special wafters; these they propped by the door of every room in their house. Others did nothing to postpone the moment when their bodies and the bats’ bodies collided; the bats flew into their foreheads, and they did not die, they did not contract any of the 291835 diseases that the internet claimed that physical contact with the bats would cause: the bats’ fur tickled their noses; many sneezed.
A few began to look forward to such collisions, or even to move in ways that they hoped would make the collisions happen. The bats, however, despite their headlessness — which still no one had explained — sensed when a person was trying to force a collision, and if, as occasionally happened, a human, in an effort to stretch out the collision into something like a relationship, attempted to clasp the bats’ delightfully soft and furry bodies to their chests, the bats scream a scream so horrendous, the offending person would let go immediately. The bats did what the bats did and no human could stop them from doing it; this was a truth the non-clubbing non-spraying people learned over the course of many screams. If they were lucky enough to touch those bodies that were so like yet unlike human bodies, they did their best to not-hear the place in their chest that wanted more moremore, amplifying, instead, the part that understood enough. When these people came into contact with other people who were in this significant minority, they did not think: we are the same sorts of people. They thought: these other people are unbearably smug.
Clare Fisher is the author of the novel, All the Good Things (Viking/Europa) and the short story collection, How the Light Gets In (Influx Press). Her work has been translated into six languages, has won a Betty Trask Award and been longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Edgehill Short Story Prize. She is now studying for a practice-led PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds, where she teaches Creative Writing and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Her short fiction has recently been published in A Queer Anthology of Wilderness (2019), The London Magazine, 3am Magazine, and elsewhere. Twitter: @claresitafisher website: www.clarefisherwriter.com