The Bat House

📅 Published on August 18, 2021

“The Bat House”

Written by Tom Farr
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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He turned away from the group and went quickly down the road and on into the woods. A voice called Bradley behind him, but he paid it no heed. He began to move faster and faster until he was almost running full-tilt through the trees, the dark boles clocking by on either side, malign and injurious shapes among which he floundered in full flight. Gradually he began to slow. He could feel something cold seeping through him like water through a rockery and was suddenly aware that what he could see of his surroundings he did not recognise. The trees loomed enormously and closed him in, the spaces between them grown thick with tangled shrubs and thorn bushes, muricate coils of bramble against which dead leaves and other refuse had been blown by the winds and there impaled.

He slowed to a walk and then sat down on the trunk of a rather deformed tree that had fallen like some colossal android whose circuitry has shorted. His hands trembled and every breath raked white-hot coals through his lungs. He sat there for a minute or three, alert for any sound of voices on the cold autumn air, footsteps, laughter, old dry sticks crunching underfoot. . . . Nothing. No noise at all save his own breath and his pounding blood and a bird calling from some dim and bowered solitude; thin and fading, forever lost.

At length, and with his breath still roaring like a furnace in his chest, he stood and looked around, cradled as he was in a grail of quietude and gathering dusk. Bare branches. Bitter trees. Damp and spongy earth lacquered with mulchy leaves and snaked with knobby, slug-white roots reared out of the miry black ground like alien tendrils testing for life. To the west lay a slope where his own harried passage had crashed through brush and bracken and beyond this he could see sourceless and spectral the faint tow-coloured light of the sun. And here. . . .

He blinked. Squinted hard into the wan unravelling of light with a feeling nigh to unease. Through the tangled latticework of tree branches engraved upon the sky he could make out the dark angle of a steep roofline intersecting the horizon. As he looked, some small bird that was to his eye somehow ill-shapen tumbled over the roof, fluttered, returned. Then another. Then more. Hundreds of them, darting and checking across the watered sky. The rising apprehension in the pit of his stomach tightened like someone doing a knot. Without really knowing why, he set off towards the building; it just seemed to draw him, the way a magnet draws iron.

He began a careful ascent of the gently rising slope, picking his way among hornbeam and yew with the straw-coloured light of sunset burning its way towards him. As he drew nearer to the building his brain finally caught up with a noise he’d been hearing but had not entirely registered: a constant, reedy squeaking; incessant, pervasive, as of the numberless cries of some tremendous nest of mice. He paused uncertainly against the vine-encrusted trunk of a black and mournful cedar and glanced once over his shoulder. As if perhaps he might turn back. The clearing from which he’d climbed lay silent and still, a barren gallery told in blue-black shades of lengthening shadow that he couldn’t help but feel had been just quit by another. Some medieval ghost with eyes to the ground, hobbling with hymnal and cowl. He pushed the thought aside and turned and walked on.

When he came over the crest of the slope he understood. Not birds, after all. A few metres in front of him stood a new-looking metal sign that read BAT HOUSE in black letters on a yellow field. Below this, in slightly smaller letters:


Bradley lifted his eyes from the words on the sign to the house where it stood before him. It was laurel-coloured weatherboard with a sharply gabled bitumen roof fitted tightly to the fascia boards, a dark monolith elevated by a quartet of stilts so that it resembled some strange angular bug raised up on tiptoe. A constant stream of bats darted to and fro from the bottom of the building and out of the tops of the trees like rough shapes of ash scattered by the luminous wind of sunset.

He walked slowly towards the bat house as if all the years of his young life had been honed down to this single moment, to the cries of bats washing over him from out of the darkling trees, primal and myth-laden, urging him on into the deepening shadows taking hold of the land. These red-eyed basilisks cast in miniature. Scions of Camazotz or the doomed Princess Leutogi. Their shrill chorale seeping through the cracks of a darker world where light itself is at a premium and those who dwell there have neither love nor affinity for it.

There was a ladder beneath the building, rising dizzily to where a small hatch was set into the floor for access. He drifted to a halt just at the edge of the cool blue penumbra of the building’s shadow proper. He stood watching up at the ladder, at the dark leathery shapes of bats dropping plumb and sheer from a sunless slatted under-region of seething wings and blackness. A blackness studded with brightly pupiled rubies, myriad bloodred eyes that glowed like coals in a grate—a panoply of otherworldly creatures to this sad corporeal medium forever bound. Beasts with no other origin save for the dark itself. To which they are clan and kin.

* * * * * *

He woke that night from a dream of wings to a memory of the day that had gone before. Of Lucas and the other boys, hey four-eyes, where you going? Then George grabbing him by the shoulder and pushing him down the crowded corridor towards the toilets while the rest of the boys slouched along behind. The other kids glancing away, studying their bags and their hands as intently as if they’d never seen them before, and those few who dared meet his eyes looking at him like a piece of unexploded ordinance, a bomb that is about to go off.

He pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed. Groped for his glasses and put them on and went barefoot across the carpet to the window, pulling back the curtains to decode the star-stitched tapestry of night through fogged and bleary glass. His bedroom window faced the back of the house and looked out upon the neighbouring gardens. He wiped a swathe of condensation clear with his palm and caught a glimpse of a deep orange moon with baring branches clawing at its face like sorcerers casting spells to drag it closer to earth; an infernal candle flaring above a black-and-silver nightscape of television aerials and chimneypots—a thing so huge he felt as though he could reach up and touch it. Far to the east a pale band of stars shone and flared like spiracles through which the night itself had drawn a covert breath. The gardens with their lawns and sheds were all shadow and moonlight, and where ponds and birdbaths stood they quaked in the moon’s ochreous crucible like softly shirring vats of quicksilver.

He turned away. The light through the window was just enough to lighten the walls and summon a few familiar shapes from the otherwise murk of the bedroom: wardrobe, television, the long white boxes stacked against the far wall—boxes full of comic books and paperbacks and old handed-down penny dreadfuls with yellowed pages that were as cracked and brittle as the memories of those who’d handed them. An assemblage of fiction from which he could conjure up a world of the weird and fantastical to his order. He crossed to the boxes and retrieved a dogeared paperback, the cover of which was embellished with some ghoul or gremlin scaling a crumbling stone wall, and opened it to a page at random: the pale watching moon, the horrible shadows, the grotesque trees, the titanic bats, the antique church. . . .

After a while he returned to bed but he could not sleep. He lay in the darkness staring up at the ceiling with a ringing emptiness loud in his ears and the moon’s timorous radiance tiptoeing first across the carpet and then the bedclothes, winking off his upturned glasses where they lay on the bedside table. Pale and skeletal shapes slunk along the fringes of his consciousness. Nightmare hounds trotting to and back just beyond his vision, their white, white teeth shining in the cold blue light of an unknown astronomy. Eventually he began to drift. Then he awoke. He heard a bang on the window and came to. A heavy wingbeat as of some great bird trapped in the room. Heart thudding at the base of his throat, he raised himself up on his elbows just in time to catch a glimpse of some dark and bat-shaped creature veer and flutter away across a duly furbished disc of moon like the shadow of a mote in a vacuous eye, or a lone animalcule seen on a slide.

* * * * * *

The next day Bradley left school early by way of a spurious sicknote scribed by a credulous nurse, grateful to whatever god or deity dealt his hand that, for once, his cards hadn’t come straight from the bottom of the deck. As he passed along the back of the English block he glanced into a classroom window and saw Lucas gazing abstractedly out, his eyes unused and vacant like holes in a mask. Then the eyes cut to Bradley in an instant of recognition and he could see the pasty hatred rising up in their depths. A familiar of the coarse laughter, the blocked doors, the beatings he couldn’t escape. Features encoded with no expression save for that of promised threat. Lucas mouthed some unheard imprecation and made to rise from his desk. Bradley hurried on.

He arrived at the woods well before sunset and with time enough to retrace yesterday’s steps in the fuller light of that breezy autumn day. He left the road in the same spot, making his way slowly through the disrobed trees; a dank, serried gloom smelling of wet leaves, animal dens, the season’s many rains. The sun was faint and foreign through the bowering canopy of branches. The way was at once unknown and vaguely familiar, like a landscape glimpsed in a dream. There were trees he recognised and trees he did not—a sunlit bank of coppery bracken, a grey squirrel vanishing up the trunk of a sycamore tree. He went on. Soon the carpet of damp leaves thinned to a loamy mulch, and then he was ascending a slope grown thickly with brittle vegetation that broke at his passing and it was hard going until he emerged at the summit to pick his way through a spinney of saplings and brush where a brace of pigeons exploded out and faired away with harried wingbeat.

Before thirty minutes passed he came upon the bat house again, a dark and depthless woodcut jigsawed from the neutral grey of the sky. It looked somehow out of place among the naked trees, as if somewhere there had been some random graphical glitch, some curious aberrance in the source code of that place. He studied the building. An asylum for the damned or otherwise undone, wherein they might seek shelter from the earth and all its weathers, its ever-present fireball of a sun. House of Mother Church and her dark matrons. Disciples to the coming dusk. But where in this occult and aberrant tableau does dwell the Christ, the Father God? And at what black hour of the night does the liturgy of the Eucharist begin?

This time there was nothing to hold him back, no seed of doubt to fester and flourish and drop its bitter fruits. He was about three-quarters of the way up the ladder when he heard the voice. Soft and sibilant to set his very bones on edge. To seize his heart with claws of clammy fear. Hurry up, boy. Liquid syllables hissing out, uncoiling down the back of his brain like Indian ink dispersing in limpid water; a stain extinguished in encephalic depths or perhaps to colour them indelibly with some dark clarity. Numberless voices intoning his name as one.

He froze, the smooth metal rungs of the ladder suddenly slippery beneath his sweating palms. He glanced down at the much diminished ground below and when his head began to violently reel at this sudden unspooling of distance he forced himself to look up again at the hatch ahead. From which he thought the voice had issued, although it had sounded as if it had been speaking in his head. He could hear a faint murmuring of squeaks. Rustlings. A slow creak in the wooden boards directly above him, as of someone unseen adjusting their weight.

Suddenly he became very conscious of the ladder through his shoes and the nothingness that yawned to engulf him should he but misplace a single step. To see the bat house yanked upwards, sucked away to where the light merged seamlessly with the vaulted heavens as he himself plummeted towards the surface of the earth. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and opened them again and began to essay a slow descent. He was just over halfway down when he glanced up and saw that the hatch was now open, a dark atavistic portal but dimly defined against a darker plane of shadows. A wind with teeth in it swept down and tugged at his clothing with a long hissing sound like rainfall, like someone whispering his name.

Bradley. Bradley, Bradley, Bradley. . . .

By the time he’d reached the ground the bats were beginning to defile down through the slats beneath the house, a fluttering black ribbon rapidly thickening to a stream. Thousands of squeaking fiends, pug-nosed and prick-eared with hot red eyes like shards chipped off rubies; calling first each to the other, and then calling to him, brother to brother. Their voices much like those innumerable cries old King Popiel must have heard prior to being eaten alive by mice.

He stood for a while and watched the dusk unlock the truer form of night in fiery increments of burnt orange and cadmium yellow and then, finally, with his breath pluming whitely in the cold air, he climbed back up the ladder and entered into the bat house, and when at length he came back down the moon in her gauzy silver clothes was nigh to rise and the bats were frenzied and seemed to feed on the light itself and he knew what it was that he must do.

* * * * * *

Bradley pushed himself to his knees. Head clouded by the force of the punch. Bright taste of blood in the back of his mouth like an old penny lodged beneath his tongue. It had begun to rain, the puddles on the ground were full of rings and leaden with the sky’s splenetic reflection. His face felt strangely naked for the interminable moment in which he groped about in the mud for his glasses. An old pair, he’d worn them because the left lens of his other pair was cracked. By a similar punch, a similar hand.

He waited, breathing heavily with his glasses cupped protectively in one hand. Someone said fucking loser and someone else laughed raucously. He heard the faint wet sucking sound of shoes in mud, footsteps crossing the field and gone.

When he fumbled the glasses back onto his face the grey and rain-bleared world swam back into focus. The empty football pitch with its dirty white goalposts forlorn and netless.  To the east a windswept tennis court, where rain fell slantwise in the wind like rain falling through the pale yellow cone of a streetlamp at night. There was no other soul about and neither bird nor beast in sight.

At length he rose and started off towards the science block then stopped. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sky, letting the rain course down his cheeks. It felt cold. Calming. A palliative to ease if only briefly the seething turmoil of his mind. He saw then in the vast estate of darkness that unfolded behind his eyes the vaster, more antique darkness of the bat house. An alien dark and now a familiar one that encompassed the whole of his consciousness . . . a pale and lithesome thing crabbing sideways on loose-joined hands and knees, swinging its head this way and that and tasting the air with slitted nostrils. Injured. Burned. Hidden from the hateful sun. Emerging from the utter blackness like some surreal translucent fish rising from pelagic depths. Its blind sockets hovered mere inches from where he crouched in a protective buttress of greyish-purple dusklight falling through the lone window high in the western wall. In the glass cage of its chest he could see the strange flat book of its lungs, its darkly pulsing heart. . . .

Bradley, Bradley . . . ‘Bradley!’

He opened his eyes. Mr James, his science teacher, beckoned from a nearby doorway, expression bewildered behind black Woody Allen glasses. ‘What’re you playing at?’ he asked as Bradley trudged soddenly along beside him, bedraggled and mud-slathered and absolutely soaked, as if he were the sole grim survivor of some latter-day biblical flood engendered by God himself to cleanse this world that he had created but that would no longer oblige his bidding.

‘Look at the state of you,’ Mr James continued, shaking his head. ‘You’re like a drowned rat. And what’s happened to your glasses?’

Bradley grinned, and shook as his head, and said nothing. No, not a rat. He scarce could tell where his being ended and that of the thing in the bat house began nor did he any longer care—he guessed that the truth of the matter was darker yet, as such truths are wont to be. Neither did he know the name for this sudden encapture of darkness within his beating heart, but he nursed it nonetheless, kept its tenebrous flame like some tonsured friar of yore attendant to the frail light of his votive lamp, making holy inquiry of whatever God or deity was willing to be inquired of. Morphons boundless in form and meant for other mediums than this. Things that watch. That wait. That prowl the nether dark where each and all must wander soon or late.

He sat down at the back of the classroom and took off his coat and hung it on the back of his chair. Mr James vanished into the corridor then reappeared wheeling an old overhead projector on a plastic trolley. Set it up, dim the lights—you there, pull down the blinds at the back. See a time-lapse film of rusted walls ribbed with fast-spreading moulds. Annular shapes vibrant in colour and aspect both, blacker spores gnawing outwards like cigarette burns in a tawdry reel of film. A car-struck badger rotting by the roadside. Stiff grey fur scalloped with serrate growths and pulpy white clusters of fungi sprouting incessantly among the lifeless folds of its flesh. Their industrious mutations. Festering in the lightless interstices, the thin and fluted regions that do exist between marrow and dust.

Bradley stared at the furry growths spreading across the screen. The titanic bats. The antique church. Soon, he thought. Soon.

* * * * * *

It was twenty till four that afternoon when George and Lucas finally emerged onto the footpath ahead of him. Laughing, smoking, stopping to spit at a big ginger tomcat that hissed loudly before promptly vanishing over a fence. The first rock with its freight of pent-up anger struck Lucas with such force that it spun him sideways and against a low brick wall. The second rock hit George dead-centre in the stomach as he turned to see, folding him up like something with hinges. Bradley let fall his armful of rocks and stood and waited for the pair to partially recover themselves; then, just as Lucas’ enraged eyes locked with his, he turned and set off at a dead run down the road and past the garage, half stumbling around a corner and through the gridlocked crawl of after-school traffic and on towards the woods. He could hear car horns blaring behind him and by the time he reached the first of the trees and ran on into them he could hear enraged voices shouting threats and insults and elaborate invectives. What punishment lay ahead was going to be long-winded and extremely painful, the voices informed him. His facial features would be rearranged to the point of anonymity. His bloody testes severed with who knew what cruel implement. No sanctuary nor hiding place in this world or any other for such doomed souls as he.

He moved quickly through the trees while the day waned. Down leaf-paved paths he’d come to know as well as the veins in his hand. The sky beyond the bare branches flushed red then gold and he could more sense than see the last of the light gathering in the west, the sun by some sorcery or by some darker intercession wrenched from its right course and so condemned to premature endarkenment. The woods were at once sepulchral and sacred, imbued with a grain and quality of light reminiscent of that which shines through stained glass saints on bright midwinter days. Now and then he paused to listen and to compass his pursuers. To hear their voices. To urge them on.

After a few more minutes he came out of the woods looking covertly all about and darted across the clearing to the bat house. Bats were tolling out of the dusk and the dying sun was bleeding out all over a jagged treeline that looked as stark and dimensionless as something burned into wood. By now Bradley was panting and lightheaded, his breath coming hard and fugitive like some small evasive animal he could barely grasp, but when he reached the base of the ladder he did not pause nor did he hesitate but simply began to climb.

* * * * * *

Lucas stumbled out of the trees with George floundering on the slope behind him. His shoulder throbbed fiercely, his legs ached from running. But his anger was like metal heated blue-white by whatever internal forge shaped his passions and he would not allow it any chance to cool.

‘Come on,’ he called, glancing back at George where he staggered upright over the crest of the slope like some rough prototype of Adam rising from the primordial slime. ‘We’ve gotta get that motherfu—’

Lucas had halted, there was a stunned and vaguely disoriented expression on his face. A building loomed above him like the very negation of light itself, a dark shape whose features he could not discern save for four slender legs rising into the air and the bulk of a house set atop them at what he thought must be sixty or seventy feet high. He didn’t know what it was. Some sort of lookout post perhaps, or maybe a house for birds or wildlife preservation. It seemed to him to have been constructed from obsidian or some other smooth black stone that gleamed not in the last of the light but drank it. As if all the world’s disparate darks had here been given home and concrete form. All the preterite darks of epochs gone, of mankind’s storied past. The ancient dark of Mesopotamia and the dark of rock-cut Ptolemaic tombs; the dark of henge and ziggurat, of barrow, cairn and tumulus—

‘What’s that?’

At the sound of George’s voice the fugue released him, and he shook his head, confused, brain fogged with names and images he neither knew nor recognised. The lizard in him hissed a warning. Then the ape resumed operation.

‘Don’t know,’ he said. ‘But look.’

A ragged trail trodden through the damp carpet of leaves. They followed it to the base of the ladder, then stopped and looked at each other and craned their necks to peer up at the underside of the building. There was silence and then the silence was broken by a long drawn-out creak. Something pale flashed briefly then subsided into the shadows like the back of a fish surfacing in a murky pond, or a bloodless visage composed behind darkened glass.

‘Was that. . . .’

‘Yeah. Had to be.’


‘We’ve gotta get that fucker.’

‘I know.’

‘Right. Let’s go.’

George nodded, then glanced at the ladder with caged nervousness. By now the ape was banging its drums in brute anticipation. ‘Fuck sake,’ said Lucas, pushing George aside. ‘Get out of the way.’

The further he climbed the smaller the trees below became, like plastic trees disposed upon a train table, a model landscape beheld from above. His hands ached and his shoulder did, too, but he was more worried about his feet for his shoe soles were very wet and worn so smooth as to have little grip. He decided he’d grab onto George if he did fall. At least that way he wouldn’t go alone. He glanced down to check on the other boy’s progress and was seized with a sudden loathing, a maniacal urge to lash out with his foot and send him plummeting to the distant world below. He’d hide the body in some slimy bed of leaves or in a wild copse where the branches bowered blackly even in the blazing days of summer. Hidden glades known only to Cernunnos and Pan, to the most ancillary disciples of those sprawling woods.

When Lucas neared the top of the ladder he paused. There was a narrow hatch and the hatch hung open, and something emerged from within.

‘Fuck!’ He almost raised a hand to slap the bat away, but fought back the urge and turned his head to one side with the ladder-rung locked in his fingers, watching the dark furry shape fold its wings and dive and veer away on some esoteric isobar of its own devising.

‘Was that a bat?’ George called from beneath him, a subtle edge of panic to his voice. Lucas ignored him, he was almost at the hatch now, was hauling himself up into its Stygian depths.

‘Where the fuck are you?’ he screamed, shattering a hoard of silence as dense as water and so violating the careful ceremonies of stillness and shadow, the solemn rites enacted in that cloistral dark. And what malevolent intelligences left aghast and speechless at this wilful desecration? What blighted gods and demiurges? Things of which the histories of man have heard but whispered rumour. Things unknowable and rarely beheld, for what witness could survive such a witnessing without being himself sublimated to the abyss therein?

He waited. The darkness breathed and fluttered. A darkness inlaid with fang and wing. His eyes couldn’t see anything but the ruby-fire glint of myriad eyes.

‘Get out here!’ he said shrilly, his voice tending away into the utter blackness like an echo relayed down spelaean depths. There was a flash of movement in his periphery. A shape reared briefly out of the dark then vanished back into the deeper gloom. It was pale and naked and its achromatic skin oddly luminous like something cellophane-wrapped, or the gossamer flesh of a jellyfish inexplicably fashioned into a vaguely human likeness by some demented cosmetic surgeon.

‘There he is,’ said George, striding past him. ‘Over there.’

‘No, wait—’ But George was gone. Lucas stood for a moment deciding whether or not to follow him, whether to stay or to flee. Then someone screamed—a harsh, terror-stricken sound that bristled every hair on his body and was snatched away to silence as suddenly as it had begun. This was followed by other noises: a sharp crack and a thick fleshy ripping like someone tearing a leg off a chicken. The air flushed with the harsh red tang of iron. Something hit the floor with a loud meaty thud and came bumping through the dark towards him.

‘Oh shit oh shit oh shit.’ He stumbled backwards and nearly stepped straight through the open hatch. He felt sick, a chasm of unreckonable depth had opened up inside of him. He looked first at the hatch and the yawning void below and then at the wall of darkness coagulating about him and the head severed at the neck which had come rolling out of it. His gorge rose warm and acidic in the back of his throat, and in that long elastic interval of dread he thought he might’ve seen death come up in George’s eyes like a face at a window at night or perhaps his soul sucked out of them in ectoplasmic volution but what he saw was nothing at all—nothing save the bottomless black maw of nothingness itself. As he stared with equal portions horror and fascination, the pale shape crept forward on all fours to the very edge of the light, dark blood slathering its foul translucent flesh. It lifted its head and pressed its face into his, and then the light vanished and the bats went berserk.

Beyond the walls of the bat house, the sun burned cool and red.

* * * * * *

Bradley climbed down the ladder and walked across the clearing towards the black autumn trees where they stood in an ossified frieze against the moon-silvered depths of night. A huge bone-coloured disc of moon was just clearing the horizon above the treeline and it looked for all the world like a bunghole to some midnight realm beyond, and when he paused at the edge of the trees with the light shining on him—and through him—he turned to look back and saw the bat house stamped in dimensionless silhouette against the starblown heavens—secret, heraldic, dark as anything that ever was, its baleful incumbents frenzied and riotous in the wake of the night-killed sun.

Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Tom Farr
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Tom Farr

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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