At dusk a dark cloud exploded from the chimney. It became a maelstrom of beating black wings, each spinning off until there was none at all. I cursed, because if birds in a house were good luck, bats in a house were the worst, but I wanted to stay alone in the woods and finish that novel. This one-room shack rented cheap; it was mostly inaccessible and at least the chimney was sealed at the bottom.
My mother always said, “Meadow, you’re not afraid of a little flying mouse, are you?”
After a month and a half we had a routine. I woke in the single room to their chittering. I wrote all day against a background of their squeaks. They seemed to be fussing as they jostled for space, or maybe trilling in jubilation when they unearthed a juicy bug. At night, if I listened hard, I could almost pick out a cadence and grammar, nouns and verbs, names and places. They seemed so close, a heartbeat away.
Sometimes I stopped writing and listened harder.
Once a baby bat was born, and it clung tight to a wall while its mother dipped and dived for insects. She sang while it nursed, because to sing is to see, and the baby knew that when she grew, she would pass through darkness on silent wings and shape song into pictures.
I stopped writing my novel. At least I only wasted two and a half months before I knew it was trash. I wrote their stories instead.
A bat bragged that once she had grabbed a moth so big and fat it wouldn’t fit in her mouth. It had been slow and sluggish, a low flier, and antennae had tickled her throat as she tore its wings. They laughed her down with sneering squeaks. But I knew.
She had killed a luna moth.
I was earthbound and darkblind. They spoke of flying at night, of sound singing against leaves or rock or silent owls. From five fingers, bats created flight. My hands were clever for writing books or cooking food. But my limbs did not lift me. I could learn the bitter crunch of beetles and moths but never a bat’s true joy.
They consoled me with gentle chirps and cheeps. But they alone could rise on dark-beating wings. I stayed muddy and clumsy. If I closed my eyes I slammed into walls, walls I couldn’t climb with clever claws.
That secret was long-forgotten, the bats tweeted, but I had learned their stories. I could be worthy, if I managed it. I could become like them. Is that all it takes? I asked. Yes, they trilled, yes, yes, it’s so simple. You must see in song, because to sing is to see. My knife twisted. When I screamed, they scattered, a flurry of frantic chitters. Blood-slippery, I twisted the knife again. Wings beat a whirlwind in my new darkness.
— Elizabeth Broadbent completed an MFA in fiction, during which her novel-in-progress was a top-ten finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Awards; her novella placed as a semifinalist the same year. With publishing credits in The Washington Post, Insider, and Time, she was a six-year staff writer for Scary Mommy, where she wrote about topics as diverse as breastfeeding and the Murdaugh murders (she liked the Murdaugh murder essays best of all). Her speculative prose poetry has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt (forthcoming), and AntipodeanSF (forthcoming); she’s published short stories in Dark Horses Magazine and Wyldblood Press (forthcoming). Find her on the web at https://www.writerelizabethbroadbent.com, on Twitter @EABroadbent, and on Instagram @writerelizabethbroadbent.