Flightless Rats

by James Dorr

“They used to be bats, you know. That was before they lost their wings.”

“I beg your pardon?”

It was going to be one of those kinds of conversations.

“The story goes,” the man persisted, “that when Noah built the ark, he sent invitations to the bats, but that they refused. ‘Why should we ride on your smelly old boat?’ they said. ‘Even if there is a flood, we can just fly over it.'”

Aimée had already decided she didn’t care for this story. She gritted her teeth, although discreetly, keeping her lips closed. That was the problem with chance assignations, even as late as the Nineteenth Century, basically just meeting up with someone in Jackson Square listening to the music on a hot summer’s night, then crossing Decatur Street to the levee to walk by the river. But other than him having told you his name, you never really knew who you were with.

She tried to smile at him, again discreetly. To get him to gaze at her face, her eyes, in the flickering white light that spilled onto the river, but to no avail.

“After the rains stopped—it stormed for forty whole days and nights—the bats, thoroughly exhausted from fighting the wind, landed on the ark anyway. But Noah confronted them. ‘You’ll have to get off,’ he said. ‘I gave your space to a different couple, one that was more grateful. There’s no room left for you. After all, you had your chance, but you didn’t want it.'”

Aimée’s first thought when she had picked him out from the crowd had been that he was formally dressed, as well as good looking. As was she, in a low-backed, deep blue gown that, with her black hair, blended into the darkness, contrasting with the whiteness of her shoulders and face. Such a man, she had thought, must surely have led an interesting life, one she could find herself interested in too. But instead he insisted on telling this story.

“The bats begged Noah. ‘We’ve changed our minds,’ they said, dropping to their knees and kissing the man’s feet. ‘Please, Noah,’ they cried, ‘we’ll do anything you ask of us in return.’

“So Noah took pity. ‘There’s still no place for you, but here’s what you must do. First remove your wings and cast them overboard into the water. The ark is overloaded already and can’t take on even that much extra weight. Then when you’ve done that, you must go in the hold and find some out of the way place to sleep in the bilge, some crack or cranny beneath the floor where the baggage is stored. As for food, you must forage that for yourselves from whatever the other animals discard.’

“The bats agreed, removing their wings as Noah had said, and slinking below decks.”

By now Aimée had risen from the bench she had selected, taking the man with her. She knew herself that patience was not one of her best virtues. They wandered slowly, together, downriver.

“And that,” the man said, “is why the rats are as they are today. Wingless, of course, but skulking in shadows. Seeking dark places. Sly thieves of whatsoever opportunity brings them. Feared, hated by honest men. Killed when they can be caught.”

Aimée shuddered at that. Perhaps due to a sudden breeze from the Mississippi? She recalled a time when she was on a boat, as big as an ark, pressed in its hold with dozens of young women, just like her, or at least so eventually. She had, in fact, had to kill another in France to steal her passport, to come to New Orleans. But that had been a long time ago.

While as for this man—who now seemed so shallow….

“But aren’t there still bats?” she asked. “I mean you see them sometimes in the night, flying against the moon—just as we spotted that rat before. Or did Noah relent and give some their wings back?”

“No,” the man replied. By now they had progressed past the French Market, away from the newly installed gas streetlights, following the river’s bend. “These aren’t real bats, just bat-like creatures. To help keep what really happened a secret. And then, of course, there are such other things as flying foxes.”

Aimée persisted, though. “But I have heard there are all kinds of bats. Some from places like South America where, perhaps, the Flood didn’t reach. Even some bats, they say, that feed on people’s blood. What of these kinds of bats?”

The man laughed at that. They had entered by now a place of darkness, past the main docks, a place of quiet lighted only by the moon. “Legends,” he told her. “These are just stories to frighten schoolchildren. These aren’t about real happenings, like in the Bible.”

“I see,” Aimée said, turning slowly from him, “but aren’t there some things that aren’t told in the Bible, or even hinted of? Some things not even in Bible stories?” Momentarily she let her wings unfurl, giving him one glance, then had them fold back into her bare shoulders. Whirling back, she sank her teeth in his throat.

She took his purse too, when she had finished, rolling his drained corpse into the river. He had been wealthy, as she had surmised, and she, not so long ago having been widowed, her husband—as had the ones before—having succumbed to age, had really been looking for a new companion.

But not one who bored her.

Notes …

James Dorr’s THE TEARS OF ISIS was a 2013 Bram Stoker Award® nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. Other books include STRANGE MISTRESSES: TALES OF WONDER AND ROMANCE, DARKER LOVES: TALES OF MYSTERY AND REGRET, and his all-poetry VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE). For more, visit Dorr’s blog at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.


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