by Sarah Ann Watts
The bat flew down from the castle and lighted on the post, clipping a wing. Damn this night blindness. Just as well he had another five senses to rely on. He wondered if the post had heard but then smothered his annoyance. The post was an old friend; he said little but was a good listener.
The post marked the track that led down to the village. It had stood time out of mind watching the travellers that came with the changing seasons. It was scored with the claws of some great beast and dark streaks that, in the fading light, could easily be mistaken for blood.
The post felt the bat landing on its timbers and shivered. He’s back again, it thought. Early this month. He must be impatient or hungry. The coach isn’t due until tomorrow — unless he knows something I don’t, which is always possible. After all, he gets out more than I do. Has what you might call freedom of movement. I could fancy a change. They say it’s as good as a rest.
The bat listened to the night. He could hear voices like those of children. The wolves howled in the valley and the moon sailed out from behind a cloud. The sudden light on the snow blinded him again. This time he did curse. Once in a blue moon, this had to happen. He didn’t care if the post was listening.
The post had troubles of its own. Werewolves and vampires, it thought, never a good mix. Someone was going to get hurt. Still, look on the bright side, it might have been pulled up and sharpened long ago.
The bat felt hoof beats and listened to the crack of a whip as a driver forced the horses up the track. He could taste their fear on the air. Dumb animals, he thought. Get one whiff of the wolves and they’ll be off and it will be all to do again. Why can’t the bloody coaches keep to the schedule?
The man in the coach was tired and cold. His hand went to the crucifix chafing his skin. The woman selling souvenirs at the last inn had insisted he take it. He tried to tell her he could do without it, but she refused to take no for an answer.
Experience had taught him it was better to stay on the right side of the locals in these small communities. He thought he recognised one or two of the ‘hunting trophies’ mounted on the wall and flinched as the souvenir lady fastened the crucifix around his neck, catching his long hair in the clasp. Lucky it was tin, not silver as she supposed, and therefore only a temporary inconvenience.
He wound down the window and bathed his hand in the moonlight, watching nails elongate into claws. That felt better. The chain snapped easily; whimpering a little he threw the crucifix out of the carriage so it fell in the mud beneath the wheels. He stretched out his legs and then the rest of him, as well.
The coach came to a halt by the post. The coachman got down and opened the door for the gentleman to alight. ‘What big...’ he began but whatever else he might have said died in his throat. Then there was a sticky puddle in the road. The horses took fright and bolted, and the wolf disappeared into the night.
Drawn by the scent of blood, the bat left his post. For a moment a smoke-like figure raised a translucent hand to pale lips, cupping the warm liquid like a ruby before he faded away.
Leftovers! That I should come to this!
The post ignored him and stared stolidly into space. It was ruminating about writing its memoirs, a book based on its first-hand experiences of local folklore. Transylvanian Tales?
Maybe the idea had legs and would appeal to a wider audience in the great cities of Europe and beyond. A post stuck out in such a remote location had no way of telling. Still, you never knew. Stranger things had happened in this neck of the woods.
The bat stretched weary wings and made its way home in the chill before the dawn.
Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Ann Watts