My first apartment was a dump. It was a grimy basement-level unit in an old house that had been renovated into three apartments. The whole place smelled mildewy, made worse by the mid-August humidity. The carpet was thin, dirty, and scratchy, seeming more suited to a used car than a home. The asshole who had my bedroom before me had apparently superglued a poster of Eminem to the closet door and only succeeded in scraping off part of it before moving out, leaving chunks of the rapper’s face stuck to the wood. It was disgusting.
But, my friend Amanda and I agreed when we’d signed the lease, it was a step up from dorm life. We figured it would be nice to have to share a bathroom with only one girl instead of twenty, not deal with malfunctioning fire alarms at 2 A.M., and stop having to sneak our way around the whole “dry campus” rule by hiding vodka in plastic water bottles in mini-fridges. Besides, the place was only two blocks away from campus, had free on-site laundry, and most importantly (especially for two college seniors racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans), the rent was cheap. We were willing to overlook the negative aspects.
I had a couple multi-legged pest scares within a few days of moving in; I nearly destroyed the bathroom trying to drown a massive spider that crawled out of the shower drain, and I had a terrifying showdown in the living room with a centipede as long and thick as my middle finger, finally defeating it with my thousand-pound Shakespeare anthology (and people say English Lit is a useless major!). Amanda bought a can of insect repellent to spray around the perimeter of the apartment, which seemed to keep out any other creepy-crawlies, leading me to believe we were now safe from any vermin invaders. I never considered the possibility of an aerial attack.
I went to bed late my first Saturday in the new place, but I was having trouble falling asleep thanks to a mysterious scratching noise. At first I dismissed it as a fan blowing a loose corner of one of my posters against the wall, but the sound wasn’t consistent enough for that to be the explanation. I was a little nervous to turn on the light and investigate- I had watched a horror movie earlier in the evening and was half-convinced that if I turned the light on I would see some deranged, homicidal redneck tearing through my window screen- but curiosity won over my wild imagination. I clicked on my lamp, put on my glasses, and looked around.
At first I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Nothing was being blown around by my fan. There was no knife-wielding maniac at my window. Then I realized the noise was coming from the little circular heating vent in the middle of the ceiling. I stared up at it, perplexed, as a small, furry, grey-brown head poked out of it.
A mouse, I thought. I was startled, but not afraid- until the “mouse” unfolded a pair of dark, leathery wings.
For about a second, I stared in horror as the bat flapped around the low ceiling of my bedroom. Then I started screaming. I have no idea what I hoped to accomplish-I guess I thought Amanda would hear me and come to my rescue (or at least I’d have someone to panic with)-but apparently she couldn’t hear me on the other side of the apartment. So I did what any rational adult would do: I called my parents. At 2 A.M. Even though they lived about a hundred miles away.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I don’t know what we can do,” my mom said, sounding half exasperated and half sympathetic after I had tearfully explained what was going on. “Grab a broom or something and try to chase it out.” I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that my bedroom belonged to the bat now and I would just have to sleep in the living room for the rest of the year, but I knew my mom was right. I wrapped myself up in my comforter for protection, took a deep, shaky breath, and ran to the door.
As soon as I threw it open, the bat fluttered out and started flapping around the kitchen and I hurried to the apartment entrance. We actually had two front doors: one that led to a little entrance area where the laundry was, and another that led outside. I propped open the first door with a card table, but I couldn’t find anything to hold open the second door. I knew I was going to need backup, so I finally tiptoed into Amanda’s room. “Amanda!” I whispered (although I’m not sure why I felt the need to be quiet; I guess I was worried the bat would hear us plotting against him). “There’s a bat in the apartment!”
Amanda sat up. “What?” she asked blearily.
“There’s a BAT in the apartment! Can you help me get him out?”
“Oh. Oh, no. I’m terrified of bats,” Amanda informed me. I struggled to maintain my composure and not snap that I didn’t exactly want to keep one as a pet either, but I couldn’t get rid of it on my own, when Amanda offered to call her frat boy friend Matt to come over and help. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea that we needed rescuing from a small, furry animal, but I was tired and frustrated and wasn’t having any success on my own, so fifteen minutes later I was holding the front door open while Matt chased the bat around our living room, wildly brandishing a broom at it. I lost sight of it for a moment but Matt insisted that he thought he saw it fly out. We carefully inspected the apartment and didn’t find him. I banged on the heating vent in my room to make sure it hadn’t retreated to his original hiding place but nothing flew out. We seemed safe, but I still spent the rest of the night on the lumpy futon in the living room anyway, watching reruns of Three’s Company and googling facts about bat bites, like how bats’ teeth are so tiny and sharp you might not feel it or find a mark if they bite you, and how rabies symptoms can show up years after you become infected. The landlord is going to get a very angry call in a few hours, I thought grumpily, tossing and turning on the thin mattress and cheap metal frame.
The next day a maintenance guy from my housing office came out to see if the bat was still there and find where it got in. He said the bat was most likely gone, because it would still be flying around if it was still in the apartment (which seemed like strange logic considering bats are nocturnal, but I didn’t question it). He found a gap in the wall of the furnace room that led to the chimney and we assumed that was how it had gotten in. He sealed it up, said he’d come back the next day to put a rubber stopper on the bottom of the furnace room door just to be safe, and left. I thought that was the end of it. Silly me.
I heard flapping around around two the next morning. I reluctantly turned on my light, not wanting to see what I knew would be there. Sure enough, the nasty thing was hanging on the wall next to my door; or more accurately, he was hanging on a block of wood on the wall by my door. The wood was there when I moved in, and I assumed it was covering a hole, but apparently it didn’t cover all of it. I tried to scare the bat out of my room with a broom and he squeezed into a quarter inch gap above the block of wood. I hit the block of wood, trying to scare it out so I could get it out the front door, but it wouldn’t fly out.
The rest of the morning was spent sleeping in the back seat of Amanda’s car.
The same maintenance guy came back the next day, and he managed to scare the bat out for good and properly seal up the hole in my wall, but I never slept well the rest of the year; even months later, my eyes would snap open at the slightest noise in the middle of the night, and I would lie awake worrying that I had been bitten in my sleep or when the bat was dive-bombing around my room and I would one day start hallucinating or foaming at the mouth or experience any of the other rabies symptoms I’d read about on Web MD.
I used to love bats. I thought they were so cute. They were my favorite part of the nocturnal exhibit at the zoo. My sister and I even used to pretend we were bats when we were little and used our bunk bed as a bat cave (yeah, I was a weird kid, don’t judge). That image has been shattered, all thanks to Bluff City Property’s inability to patch up a hole in a wall.