Thereby Hangs a Tale

 A Texas cinema screening ‘The Batman’ this week was invaded by an actual bat (Irish Times 12/03/22)…

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On dark, dark nights in dark, dark caves, when black clouds scurry across blacker skies, bats gather and speak of The Batman.

The tale has passed from generation to generation. It tells of a bat who was bitten by a radioactive human and took on some human abilities, though since bats can already fly, rest upside down and see in the dark it is not clear what benefit these extra abilities conferred.

He is their greatest hero. The names Bruce and Wayne are common among males. The story is accepted as fact, and if this makes them sound foolish and superstitious just remember that in the bat world, vampires are a real thing.

Young Barry Bat was obsessed with The Batman. He wished he could be him. From the moment he woke every night he played at being him. He would sit alone on rooftops, staring moodily into the far distance. He would use a junction stop sign as the Bat-pole, a piece of thread as the Bat-rope and sycamore helicopter seeds as Batarangs as he played out the most famous of The Batman’s triumphs, the one in which, despite huge disparities in size and habitat location, he had met and defeated a penguin.

When word went around the colony that the local cinema would be showing a film called The Batman, Barry was determined to go. He knew that humans were good at this type of documentary, where a tiny camera and a hushed voice discreetly track some rarely seen creature. They would follow The Batman’s movements and would show him catching food, foiling predators and preening like an idiot to attract a female.

They would show where he lived. Barry could visit him and get his autograph. He might possibly become his sidekick.

On opening night he left the cave and flew into the small town. At the cinema he wriggled through an air vent, flitted along a short passage and emerged into the tiny theatre.

The room was filled with humans, chattering excitedly. Barry flew to the ceiling, settled himself upside down, and waited.

The lights slowly dimmed to total darkness. The chatter stopped. Barry flew down and picked a piece of popcorn from the carton of a teenage girl sitting below him. He tugged at it with his teeth and was disappointed to find that it had the taste and texture of styrofoam.

The screen lit up. Barry watched, wide-eyed, thrilled to his soul by the bright colours, the vibrant music, the excitement in the voice of the narrator.

The Burger King advert ended. The screen again filled with images, but these were darker, the music more sombre, the atmosphere more menacing.

The Batman had begun.

Barry watched eagerly, awaiting the first appearance of his hero. Then his mouth dropped open in shock.

The Batman was just a man in a bat suit.

Barry couldn’t believe it. He knew that humans weren’t that bright, but surely they could see that this wasn’t real, that it was just some sort of Bigfoot hoax made to scam money from gullible film producers. Barry went white. Very white.

Then he realised why. He was in the glare of the flashlight of a mobile phone.

His mouth dropping open had not just been a turn of phrase. He had dropped his popcorn onto the head of the girl he had stolen it from. She had looked up, turned on her phone light and now had him pinned in its beam.

“It’s a bat!” she screamed.

Other lights were instantly waved, since nobody had turned off their phones as requested. These sent shadows darting across the ceiling, each shadow another bat in the minds of the crowd below. Some flapped wildly at their hair. Some stood on their seats. One young man hurled his raspberry slushy. This opened in mid-air, covering the audience in what seemed to be freezing blood. They went, well, batshit crazy, and raced for the door.

Time to go, thought Barry. He swooped, picked another piece of popcorn – it was oddly addictive – out of a discarded carton and looked around for a way out.

He saw an illuminated sign saying ‘Exit’ and flew towards it. Just then, on the screen, The Bogus Batman spoke. His deep growl, like a earth tremor in a bucket of gravel, completely threw off Barry’s echolocation. This would usually have warned Barry that for some reason humans put a clearly-lit and easy visible ‘Exit’ sign not on the actual exit, but two feet above it.

Barry flew full-tilt into the sign.

He fell to the floor, and had a terrifying few minutes desperately curled in a ball among running feet. Then he reached out a wing, brushed the leg of a young man in shorts, and in the small circle cleared by the teenager’s yells he forced himself to focus. He finally saw the vent through which he had entered and – same bat channel – went out the way he had come in.

Once outside he flew gratefully home. The humans watched as he went, his silhouette dark against the brightness of a full moon, like a Bat-signal.

-o0o-

On dark, dark nights in dark, dark caves, when black clouds scurry across blacker skies, bats gather and speak of The Batman.

The tale has passed from generation to generation. It tells of a bat who was bitten by a radioactive human and took on some human abilities, such as the ability to eat their snacks. It tells of how he once defeated an imposter by scaring off hundreds of those who might have been fooled by him. He is their greatest hero.

Barry, now older, smiles as he listens. He had wished he was The Batman. Now he is.

 

 

 

 

 

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