A farmer awoke in the middle of the night to a bang followed by a high-pitched screeching sound. He got up, grabbed the shotgun by his bed, and walked down the stairs to investigate. He wondered if there’d been a car accident, but then there was hardly any traffic to speak of as far away from town as he lived—especially so late at night. But perhaps a drunk driver had gotten lost and crashed into a telephone pole down the road.
The farmer hoped not, since he would feel obliged to help, though he really didn’t want to get involved. There was a reason his life of isolation suited him. He looked out the window in the living room and didn’t see any head or taillights in the distance. All was darkness and quiet.
The farmer considered that perhaps he’d only dreamt the noise, though he didn’t remember having a dream. He recalled someone on television—a PBS program, the sort his wife used to enjoy and that he now liked to watch when he drank alone—saying once that people don’t usually remember their dreams, but then he figured if he’d dreamt a noise loud enough to wake him, he ought to have remembered something of the dream.
The farmer looked out his kitchen window and didn’t see anything in the field except corn. He filled the glass by the sink halfway up with water and drank it down, setting it back exactly where it always went. He decided to return to bed. He’d have to be up in a couple hours, and his body felt like it could do with some more sleep.
As the farmer climbed the first step of the staircase, he heard the screeching noise again. He thought the sound had come from the front porch, but when he looked through the small window inset in the door, he didn’t see anything…but he’d definitely heard something. He opened the door for a better look.
What the farmer saw was a bat stuck to the outside of his screen door, though he didn’t understand how the bat could’ve flown into the door. “Don’t they use echolocation?” the farmer asked himself—something else he’d learned from PBS. The big bat’s little claws were stuck in the screen. Its wings were outstretched, and he could see tiny veins in the bat’s thin skin. The farmer didn’t mind bats; they ate mosquitos. He didn’t want to kill it, so he took his truck keys off the little table near the door and unfolded the small blade from the pocketknife attached to the keyring. He tried to poke the claws back through the screen’s mesh to free the bat, but it let out a screech so terrible that it startled the farmer half out of his wits.
The farmer decided on a different approach. He took the broom from the closet near the kitchen and gave the screen door a good whack. The metal screen shuddered, and the bat thrashed, screeching so fervidly that it began foaming at the mouth. Now the farmer was concerned that the bat might be rabid. He returned the broom to the closet and rummaged around for something heavy. He found an old croquet mallet from an incomplete set. He couldn’t recall anyone ever having played croquet on his farm.
“It’s nothing personal,” the farmer said to the bat as he approached the screen door, “but you’ve gone and got yourself good and stuck. I can’t get you unstuck from this side, and I’m not about to open the door to try to get you unstuck from that side, since you seem like you might be in a state of mind to bite the hand that tries to free you.”
The farmer raised the mallet and readied himself to swing it. “What every animal has in common—from the smallest bug to the biggest beast—is that each of us meets the same end…we’re all connected by the loneliness of death.” He swung the mallet, hitting the bat on the chest. The bat screeched in agony, beating its wings ardently against the quivering screen.
“Sorry,” said the farmer, “my aim was a little off. I’ll try again.” He raised the mallet once more and swung. This time the mallet connected with the bat’s head. All the tension left the bat’s body; its claws detached from the screen, and it fell to the floor of the porch. The farmer looked down at the bat through the screen and felt sorrow.
Two men stood over the farmer in his bed. The one holding his shotgun and his deceased wife’s jewelry box said to the other holding the bat, “I don’t think he’s dead yet—hit him again.”
Wes Payton has a B.A. in Rhetoric/Philosophy and an M.A. in English. He has been a short-story presenter for the Illinois Philological Association. His play Way Station was selected for a Next Draft reading in 2015, and What Does a Question Weigh? was selected for a staged reading as part of the 2017 Chicago New Work Festival. He is the author of the novels Lead Tears, Darkling Spinster, Darkling Spinster No More, Standing in Doorways, and Raison Deidre. Wes and his family live in Oak Park, Illinois.