A bat biologist discovers something new.
|Hazel sat crouched, vigorously taking notes in a weathered leather notebook while occasionally peering up, squinting into a darkening sky. Her work boots were caked in mud, but she did not care; what mattered is that after years of research, she had tracked down the single geographic location in all of the Pacific Northwest with the highest population of the Western Small Footed Myotis, also commonly known as the smallest bat species in Washington State. |
She would blow away the council members at the Pacific Northwest Bat Council with this discovery. Hazel was a strong but short woman, often not taken seriously in her male-dominated profession, but could feel she was treading close to something big, she just didn’t quite know what it was yet
“Something big”, Hazel chuckled to herself. She found it amusing to be onto something so large in a world of creatures who only weighed roughly 5.8 grams.
Tiny black dots flitted above of the tree-line, swooping to catch insects, their figures shadows against the stars. Hazel had never seen this many before. She pressed the stop button on her watch timer and noted a total of 126 bats spotted in a 5 minute period in her notebook. Her question now was why this place? What attracted the bats to choose this habitat over others.
Hazel scanned the area looking for anything out of the ordinary. She herself sat in a small field between a stand of deciduous trees and an abandoned home. So focused on the sky, she hadn’t noticed she had stumbled up next to the Wellis house.
It had been abandoned for years, although most people in avoided it. Hazel had heard the rumors, but both didn’t believe them and didn’t care. Collecting data on these bats was more important than hearsay of the potential creepiness of her research location. The house stood two stories high, looming over the trees. It was dark inside, but Hazel thought it looked well-kept for an abandoned home. The windows were still intact and the front porch looked as if it had been freshly groomed of fall leaves.
“Could it be the house?” Hazel whispered, not realizing she was thinking outloud. She had no other explanation for the bats to choose this area over others. The insect population was the same in other locations. The entire habitat was completely normal when she looked at the data. The only difference was this house. Hazel closed her notebook, pondering over the rumors that surrounded the Wellis house.
She had heard it all. The house was supposedly haunted, stories floated around town of when the Welliss family had lived there in the 1960’s. Some said Mrs. Wellis went mad after years of abuse by her husband and murdered her entire family. Others argued they all simply died of an accident caused by botulism in a can of peaches. Some more outlandish ideas suggested that the house was full of vampires, monitored by aliens, or even that it was a portal to another dimension. Hazel thought it was all silly.
There was no evidence for any of these stories. No one had even been able to find any record of a Wellis family that ever lived in that house. Hazel had always just assumed that these stories were tales kids made up to scare each other. But, even adults seemed to shake in their shoes when the house was mentioned. Mr. Cay, an old man who owned the corner store, would often tell anyone who would listen about the time he saw the devil in that house during a childhood dare. Hazel was subjected to this story nearly every time she went in to replenish her granola bar stash.
Hazel’s thoughts were interrupted by a massive fluttering sound. She peered upwards to see hundreds of bats flying straight towards the roof of the house, squeezing into a hole by the chimney. The starry sky darkened into thick clouds and Hazel could swear the air felt like static against her skin. She almost lost herself in awe of the of the bats, but realized that this sudden change probably meant a storm was coming. Clutching her notebook close to her chest, she rushed to the safety of the home’s front porch.
As the short woman climbed the mossy stone steps, everything became queit. No more fluttering, only the sounds of her excited breath and a slight almost groaning noise coming from inside the house. Hazel knew she needed to go inside to find those bats.
“There is just a storm coming and they are probably just using the chimney as a safe roost” she rationalized. But an uneasy feeling gnawed in her stomach. The behavior wasn’t normal.
She was happy the house was abandoned at least, because she didn’t like having to interact with people more than necessary. Hazel approached the tall wooden front door and grasped the cold metal knob. For such a clean swept porch, there was quite an overabundance of spider webs.
She stopped for a moment. Her hand glued to the doorknob. She could hear some sort of loud buzzing noise coming from inside the house. Seconds later Hazel was blinded. The once dark house was screaming with colorful light from each window. Bright hues of blues and pinks streamed out the front of the house, but Hazel did not look away. She was amazed, but worry crept up on her about the safety of her precious research subjects.
Hazel pushed through the bright light and opened the door. She had expected it to be locked, so was taken by surprise and she stumbled into the homes entryway. As soon as she made contact past the doors threshold, the bright lights disappeared. Instead, she found herself peering into a dimly lit hallway with a tall set of stairs directly next to it. She could tell there were rooms on either side of her, but it was too dark to see.
Grabbing onto the banister, Hazel eased her way up the dark stairs. She thought about using her headlamp, but realized she left it in her research bag outside. It was just her, her notebook, and the potential hundreds of bats waiting for her at the top of the stairs.
When Hazel got to the top of the stairs, she could see a light protruding from a room down the hallway and could hear movement. It must be the bats. Careful of her step, she traced her fingers along cracked wallpaper to guide herself through the dark. When she reached the room, she began to slowly peer in as to not disturb the bats.
As she expected, hundreds of bats sat perched against a high vaulted ceiling, enveloped by the dim light of candles. But that wasn’t all that was there. In the center of the room was a large black cauldron, a green mist pouring over the sides and spilling across the floor. And next to the cauldron, appeared to be a tall figure, crouched next to something.
Hazel didn’t move. She observed the figure stand up, revealing a woman in a red bathrobe with short brown hair rolled over ears. The something she had been crouched next to appeared to be just a long- haired black cat.
“What did I tell you!,” she exclaimed in a deep, croaked voice. “ Miss Alice, you cannot be in here when I’m brewing potions”.
Hazel’s ears perked up. Potions? Did she just stumble upon a crazy lady who happened to be squatting here? Then why are all the bats so calm hanging out in this room. Small Footed Myotis’s were known to be sensitive to disturbances. Hazel instinctively opened her notebook and clicked her pen to start taking notes.
The tall woman whipped around to the sound and stared at Hazel. The black cat took the opportunity to sassily walk away, clearly unrepentant of it’s actions.
“Who are you?” The woman asked.
“ I…um…the bats. I study bats”, Hazel lurched out, sheepishly pointing to the bats that lined the ceiling.
“Oh dear”, the woman responded, “ haven’t you heard the rumors of this place?”
“Those aren’t real”, Hazel said. Although she was not so sure of herself now.
The woman smiled. “ Well that’s true, they aren’t real. I made them up myself. To keep trespassers from bothering me in my home”.
The woman approached and Hazel and reached out her hand, her fingers worn and adorned with rings.
“My name is Fennel. Welcome to my sanctuary.”
Hazel clutched her notebook in one hand and reached out to shake Fennels hand with her other. She felt safe and was flooded with a strong sense that this person was a friend.
“Sanctuary?” Hazel looked at Fennel inquisitively.
Fennel snapped her fingers and the candles brightened.
“Yes, I have lived in this house well over a hundred years, making my home a safe sanctuary for bats. The stories keep most away..."
Hazel wanted to know more. As a scientist, she had rejected any idea of supernatural existence. But now, with this direct evidence, there was no doubt in her mind that witches must exist. Hazel felt something brush up against her leg. Peering down, the black cat had twisted her way in-between Hazel’s legs, purring.
“I apologize dearly for the bright lights,” Fennel continued. She pointed down at the cat. “ I was brewing a protection potion for the bats , and Miss Alice thought it was a good idea to drop catnip, of all things, into my potion, ruining the entire thing.”
This was much bigger than Hazel had imagined. She took a deep breath.
“I have been researching these bats for years, but I have never seen anything like this”
“Oh I know, the bats told me you have been following them, but that you are a friend”, Fennel interrupted.
Hazels eyes widened, this woman could communicate with bats!
“Can you teach me everything you know?”, she implored.
Fennel smiled and motioned for Hazel to sit down in a small wooden chair, offering her some tea.