Thursday, October 29, 2009
B-B-B-Bats in the Belfry!
My family is having meetings about my "mental state".
Word has it, Dad has called my siblings expressing deep concern for my well-being, and my sister has not-so-subtly suggested anti-anxiety medication and legally removed me from the list of people who would care for her children in the event of her demise.
My mother now calls to check on me daily: "Everything okay, sweetheart? Are you having a good day?" Even worse, my seven-year-old son is illustrating his feelings about me in drawings that would make a therapist cringe, and my 12-year-old daughter is telling her friends they can't come over because "Mom needs quiet and rest."
Psssssshhhhh. They're overreacting.
Just because I had one panicked phone exchange with my sister, locked my children in a bedroom with stern instructions for them to stay in it "no matter what you may hear" and startled my parents by opening the front door to greet them on an unseasonably warm afternoon wearing a toboggan and snow suit while brandishing a broom and whimpering that I was going to die... well, that's no reason to be overly alarmed.
What happened to me could happen to anyone (excluding rational, calm and psychologically healthy populations).
Folks, I was attacked by a horrifying chimney critter!
My ordeal began one late summer evening, as I was relaxing on the back porch. My quiet time was interrupted when my children ran out the door, panic-stricken, yammering about "noises" in the living room.
"Mom!" they cried. "There's... s-s-something in the fireplace!"
"It's probably nothing," I assured them, but the fear in their eyes urged me to go inside and inspect.
I quietly approached the living room fireplace, which has a partially open damper near the bottom and a flue at the top. The flue had broken during an ice storm last winter, so I realized it was entirely possible something had indeed found its way into our chimney, which was not capped.
As the children stood anxiously beside me, I put my ear to the fireplace and listened intently, but I didn't hear anything. I tapped on the hearth and listened again. Nothing.
"We heard it. There was scratching and weird chirping in there," my son said.
"There really was, Mom," my daughter echoed. "I heard scratching, too."
I reassured them that the noise most likely was birds on top of the chimney -- not in it -- but I did ask my spouse to retrieve some cardboard from the recycling bins in the basement to seal off the damper at the chimney's bottom, just to be safe. If something had made a home in our chimney, I didn't want it to find its way into the house through our open fireplace. He laughed and said he didn't think any critters would come into the house, but I stuffed the large piece of cardboard up into the bottom of the chimney anyway. Convinced it was secure, I told the children that nothing was coming in through the fireplace and they could rest easy.
Rest easy we did … for a while.
But then the bite marks appeared.
About a week after the children had heard the mysterious fireplace noises, I woke up one morning and threw back the sheets to discover two tiny red holes about three centimeters apart on the inside of my thigh. I hadn't noticed them when I went to bed the night before. Concerned, I roused my husband and said, "What do you think this is?"
He looked for a minute and jokingly said, "A vampire bite?"
At this point, I should tell you that I am a huge fan of the new wave of vampire stories. I relished the Twilight books and had recently discovered and thoroughly enjoyed the campy HBO vampire series, "Trueblood". I often joked that I was leaving my bedroom window open at night with the hope that Edward Cullen would find his way inside and give me a nibble or two.
So I laughed at my spouse's remark for a second, but then I remembered the odd chirping and scratching my children had heard in the fireplace the week before. My giggle caught in my throat. My heart began to pound. I jumped out of bed, raced into the living room and looked up into the chimney. Sure enough, the cardboard I had shoved into the damper was loose and displaced. It also was covered with debris that had fallen from the chimney when -- gulp -- some critter had inspected the fireplace.
My hands began to shake. Only then did I notice that my daughter had traipsed downstairs during the night and was asleep on the living room couch, completely uncovered.
"Oh, no!" I moaned.
I rushed over to her, jerked her off the couch and immediately began to inspect every square inch of her body for potential bat bites or scratches.
"What?" she said, now fully awake and obviously alarmed by her mother, who was standing in the living room without pants and a serious case of bed head, and pulling her off the couch. "What in the world are you doing, Mom? What's going on?"
My concerned spouse also came in at this point and asked why I was tormenting our daughter.
With shaky hands, I pointed to the fireplace.
"The cardboard… it was displaced. It looks like something came in from the chimney," I said. "You were only joking about the bite marks, but what if it was a…b-b-b-bat? What if a bat bit me last night?!"
My daughter and husband both looked at me for a second then burst into giggles. "A bat?" Kelsey said. "Mom? Have you lost it?"
My husband couldn't stop laughing. "Jen,it wasn't a bat!" he said. "You probably have a spider bite."
But all I could think about were the news articles I had read about people who had died from the bites of rabid bats. I remembered one story in particular about a bat that had flown in through an open bedroom window and bitten a young man while he slept. He sadly died a few weeks later from rabies.
Therefore, I insisted my husband call a chimney sweep that very morning to inspect our chimney and repair our broken flue. I also carefully screened both children for any critter marks and launched a thorough search of our big, old home that unfortunately, has plenty of nooks and crannies that could house a wayward bat...
Thank goodness, the children were mark-free, and we didn't find any evidence of a bat in the house; however, I was still concerned enough to tell my sister, who is a nurse, about the marks on my thigh at a family gathering later that day. I also told her about the strange noises in the fireplace and the displaced cardboard seal.
My sister is a rational person and a great nurse. On hearing my plight, she said, "Do you really think a crazed, rabid bat came into your home, flew into your bedroom, found its way under the blanket and sheets and bit your thigh, without waking you up?!"
"It's possible, isn't it?" I said.
She couldn't resist sharing my fear with the rest of my family, who immediately began to laugh and give me grief about my obsession with Edward Cullen and vampires. My brother ribbed me by saying, "Jen, you said the marks are on your inner thigh? Face it, sister. No bat is THAT freakin' desperate."
But when my sister inspected the odd marks at my mother's house that afternoon, she couldn't explain them and asked my mom for a magnifying glass. Soon several family members were looking at the tiny puncture marks on my thigh through the glass and shaking their heads. My sister finally said, "I honestly don't know WHAT that is. I agree that it is very strange, but it could be spider bites. Put hydrocortisone and antibiotic ointment on it, and let's watch it for a few days and see what happens. "
Great. Let's allow the rabies to fester. My siblings never liked me that much, anyway.
See, if you are bitten by a rabid creature, you only have a very brief window to begin the rabies shot series before the disease takes hold of your body. I learned this the previous summer, when my nephew was attacked by a stray dog authorities were unable to locate. As a result, he had to endure rabies shots. I shared this concern with my sister, who informed me that no doctor would put me through the somewhat risky rabies series without proof that a bat had indeed been in my house.
I tried to rest easy, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to me if they were wrong.
In the meantime, my husband called in a chimney sweep, who supposedly inspected our chimney and repaired our broken flue; however, he instructed us to leave the flue open for two days,so the mortar seal holding it in place could dry. Because the chimney was still open, I replaced the cardboard at the bottom of the damper.
Still nervous about the open flue, I inspected the cardboard every day to make sure it had not been disturbed. It appeared fine. And before my husband went out of town on a work-related trip, I asked him if he closed the flue, as instructed. "Oh yeah," he said, as he walked out the door. "I closed it."
"Did you make sure there wasn't anything in the chimney before you closed it?" I asked.
"Ummm, yeah. Sure, I did that," he said, and off he went, dropping my makeshift cardboard damper in the trash before he took off.
Whew! I finally felt I could relax. The mysterious marks on my thigh appeared to be healing fine; I wasn't foaming at the mouth; and our chimney was repaired and closed. Ahhhhhh. It felt good to unwind. In fact, later that afternoon, when the kids were engrossed in a game and miraculously not fighting, I grabbed a good book and curled up in bed. Our cat, Cleo, always looking for an excuse to nap, soon joined me.
I was just about to put my book down and drift into a nice siesta when Cleo suddenly jumped up from her nap and began to growl, low and deep in her throat. Then I heard what sounded like scratching in the living room. I thought I had imagined it, until our dog, Freddie, began barking like mad. Cleo's ears perked up, and every muscle in her feline body tensed. She sprang off the bed and took off through the house like a bullet.
Oh, no, I thought, as I sat up in bed. Something is wrong here -- terribly, horribly wrong. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I watched goose bumps pop out on my arms. Over the barks from the dog and the growls from the cat, I heard … unmistakable flapping.
I wanted to throw the blankets over my head and hide in bed, but I remembered that my children also were in the rear of the home and my husband was out of town. Whatever was in my house, I would have to be the one to deal with it.
My mothering instincts urged me from the bed, and I ran down the hall to see what had my pets in such a twitter. Freddie was standing at the opening to the laundry room barking like crazy, while Cleo fought something behind the dryer. Much to my horror, a black, pointy wing suddenly appeared from underneath the appliance.
No! No! No! No! No! It couldn't be! I was right all along. There was a bat IN MY HOUSE. And my cat had it trapped under the dryer. And, oh yeah, I was going to die from rabies. But I wouldn’t let the rabid bat get my children. They would live, dammit!
I immediately ran into the family room, grabbed my kids and screamed for them to run into Kyle's bedroom and shut the door. Alarmed by the look on my face, they didn't hesitate. "It's okay," I tried to assure them, but the tears streaming down my face said otherwise. "There is a bat in the laundry room, and…"
My daughter screamed bloody murder, which made my son scream, too. "I'm going to get the bat," I said. "I have to trap it. Stay in here, and do not come out -- no matter what you hear. Do NOT open this door until I tell you it's okay."
"Call 911," my daughter urged. "Mom, please, don't do this!"
"Call the fire department!" my son yelled, as I shut the door, just in time to see my cat, with the awful black beast in her mouth, run into my bedroom. I rushed down the hall and closed my bedroom door, trapping the cat and her prey inside.
I was shaking like a Kentucky meth addict who had run out of Sudafed.
Think! I told myself. Calm down and think!
I knew I had to trap the creature somehow and preserve it. Since I had a bite, the bat would have to be inspected for rabies.
Extremely unnerved, I ran into the laundry room, where the dog was sniffing behind the dryer.
"Some help you were!" I muttered to Freddie, as he wagged his tail at me and grinned, apparently unconcerned. "You let the cat do all the dirty work!"
I suddenly realized I was dressed in only a t-shirt and shorts. If I was going to trap the bat, I needed to cover my body and protect myself from additional bites or scratches. I couldn't get into my bedroom for my clothes, so I had to find coverings in other parts of the house. That left the clothes in the dryer and the coat closet.
I opened the dryer and found a pair of pajamas, which I immediately whipped on over my clothes. I also found some long socks and pulled those over my bare feet. I saw the broom leaning against the laundry room wall and grabbed it. It was my weapon.
I was covered, but not enough. Bat fangs and claws could probably penetrate thin, summer-weight pajamas. I ripped open the coat closet door and started pulling out everything I could find. I grabbed a fleece sock cap and put that on and wrestled myself into ski bibs. And I needed that coat, too. And gloves! I needed gloves! I tore through the closet, emptying its contents into the hall until I found two gloves that would suffice (non-matching, of course, as gloves apparently run off with odd socks).
By the time I was finished in the coat closet, I resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
Body armor? Check. Broom weapon? Check.
But I also needed something to put the bat in once I had it. I shuffled to the kitchen as fast as my clothes, pajamas, ski bibs and coat allowed and opened the Tupperware cabinet. I immediately began pulling out all of my Tupperware, as I searched frantically for matching lids. Containers and lids were flying out of the cabinet and clamoring all over the kitchen floor, prompting my kids to scream and cry, "What's happening, Mom? Are you alright?"
Not sure I was okay at all, I cried back, "Mommy's fine! Mommy's fine! Stay where you are, guys! Don't open the door until Mommy has the bat! Mommy's fine! Mommy's fine!" (I hoped that if I said I was "fine" often enough, I might eventually begin to believe it. But in reality, I was already picturing my slow, painful, tragic demise from rabies).
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found a piece of Tupperware and a matching lid that I hoped would hold the bat. Armed with the broom , I slowly, cautiously made my way down the hall toward my closed bedroom door. I stopped and put my gloved hand on the doorknob, but before I opened the door, I pressed my ear to it to listen…
The phone rang and I'm pretty sure I peed my pants a little, not that I could tell through the many layers of clothing.
I hopped back down the hall and picked the phone up from the desk. It was my sister. Upon hearing her say "Jenny?" I immediately burst into hysterics.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" I cried, my words running together in my panic. "ItWASabat!It was a rabid bat! It's in my bedroom and Cleo has it and I'm going to die! I'm going to die from rabies. I TOLD you it was a bat. I told you. No one believed me, and now it's too late for the shots and I'm going to die!"
My sister tried to calm me down. She would have had better luck convincing Elisabeth Hasselbeck to French kiss Rosie O'Donnell on national T.V.
"Jenny, did you actually see the bat?"
"Yes," I whimpered. "It was in the laundry room and now Cleo has carried it into the bedroom. I shut the door."
"Okay," she said. "Let's think this through. You can't smush the bat. The lab will need its head intact for rabies testing."
I wailed, prompting the kids to begin screaming again.
"It's okay, babies," I sobbed. "Mommy is fine. Just fi-i-i-iiinnnnne!"
About that time, the doorbell rang. I figured the neighbors had heard our screams and headed over to make sure we were alive. I set the phone down on the table and swung open the front door to find my parents smiling. Their smile quickly disappeared when they saw my tear-streaked, pale face. They took in my appearance on a hot afternoon: fleece hat, jacket, ski bibs, broom and Tupperware container.
"What the hell?!" Dad said. He and Mom had been in town having lunch and had decided to drop by to say hello. That'll teach 'em to do pop-ins. My appearance nearly gave them heart attacks. They later told me they first thought someone had died, but they couldn’t figure out why that would make me dress up in a snowsuit and grab a broom.
I burst into a new round of tears and got the folks up to speed: I told them about the bat in my bedroom and how I was going to die from rabies. My dad assured me he was going to trap the bat and asked for a towel. He then grabbed my broom and headed for the bedroom.
"WAIT!" I cried, just as he was about to open the door, "You need to cover your exposed skin!" I ran back to the coat closet and grabbed a fleece jacket, a hat and another pair of mismatched gloves.
My mom heard the frightened kids crying in my son's bedroom and said she was going in to comfort them, but really, I think she was just trying to protect herself from the rabid bat.
Once my dad was covered from head to toe, I repeated my sister's instructions about preserving the bat's head. Then we opened my bedroom door. Brave soul that I am, I cowered behind my 71-year-old father. We didn't see anything, but we heard the cat growling under the bed.
"Careful," I whispered to my father. "Pleeease be careful!"
Dad crossed the room and kneeled down beside the bed and peaked under it, prompting my startled cat to take off down the hall. Dad looked up over the bed at me. "I see it," he said somberly. "I see the bat. I think it's dead. Hand me the broom."
Shaking, I gave my father the broom, and he proceeded to sweep the creature out from under the bed. He asked for the Tupperware.
"Dad, it might not be dead!" I warned, as I handed the container to him over the bed, unable to see the creature on the other side. "Don't take any chances!"
He assured me the bat was dead, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I heard him snap the Tupperware lid closed.
"I've got the bat," he said. "I have it. It's dead."
I ran from the room and tore open the door to my son's bedroom. "Granddad got the bat!" I yelled triumphantly. "You're safe!" I embraced them, as my dad came down the hall with the beast safely enclosed in Tupperware.
Then reality hit me.
I had a bat, and I had a bite.
I told my parents we needed to find out where to send the bat for testing. I said I should call the health department, and I wondered if a doctor would now begin the rabies series on me … or if it was too late.
My mom looked stricken by my words. And then my Dad shook the Tupperware container and proceeded to open the lid.
"What are you doing ?" I said, thinking of the ending of every horror flick I'd ever seen. "Don't do that! What if the bat isn't really dead? What if it was only stunned or playing dead, and it gets out?"
My dad ignored me, lifted the lid and peered into the container. He looked up at me and smiled.
"Jenny," he said. "This is not a bat. It's a … bird!"
"It's a little chimney swift, from the looks of it. They're black with pointy wings, so it looked like a bat, but it's just a bird!"
About that time, we heard laughter -- hysterical, maniacal laughter. It was coming from the phone. In my haste to answer the door, I had set the phone down without hanging up on my sister first. She had been listening to the entire event unfold over her cell phone. In fact, she was on her way over to the house, afraid my dad would have a heart attack induced by his younger daughter's panic and she would have to perform CPR.
I picked up the phone.
"Don't laugh," I said. "There's a poor dead bird sitting in Tupperware on my buffet. It's not funny," but even as I said the words, I, too, erupted into peals of relieved laughter. Mom and Dad were doubled up laughing, and at last convinced that their mother wasn't going to die, the kids began to giggle, too. We laughed until tears streamed down our faces and our sides ached.
"I guess I don’t have bats after all," I said to my sister, when we finally caught our breath.
"Oh, you have bats alright!" my sister declared, from her end of the phone. "Bats in your damn belfry!"
That might be true, but until my husband returned from his trip, I wasn't taking any chances. As soon as my parents left, I shoved several layers of cardboard into the damper, covered the opening of the fireplace with another layer of cardboard, topped that with a vinyl shower curtain, and secured the entire thing with a roll of painter's tape until a wildlife specialist could humanely remove any other chimney critters and cap our chimney once and for all.
I might have bats in my belfry. But by gosh, I wasn't going to have any in my house!