Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – 6

‘Much Dithering in Little Botheringham’ is an everyday tale of village life and vampires, from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

When the bat man finally turned up Em wasn’t impressed. He was skinny, largely bearded and unpleasantly sweaty, he also wore sandals with socks and baggy khaki shorts. He shook hands rather too vigorously and introduced himself in a surprisingly bass voice, although he appeared to communicate with the world via the use of a few words as possible.
He was hung about with boxes and bags, and as Em followed his red gooseberry-like calves through the lich gate she sincerely hoped he was more useful than he looked. The church door stood open and he strode in with his sandals slapping on the ancient stone.
“Where bats?”
“Belfry.”
He turned to smile at her, revealing a set of long, yellow teeth that made Em think of the donkey sanctuary.
“Pipistrelle?”
“Nah. Bigger.”
He spared her a disbelieving sneer before heading towards the vestry door.
Em enjoyed a silent moment of glee and waited for him to admit his error. It took a while but he eventually reemerged.
“Where staircase.”
Em pointed to the door that was almost hidden in the linenfold panelling that covered the white stone walls up to a height of about seven feet. Batman disappeared again and Em composed herself to wait. There came a disturbance in the air and Erasmus appeared on her shoulder. He was giggling. 
“I’m glad I stayed awake to watch the fun,” his voice in her mind was full of unholy glee. “The guy with the beard is getting on Enoch’s nerves.”
“Enoch?”
“Head of the family of small bats. He is so gonna shit on the human’s head. Just waiting for him to take his hat off.”
A faint scream attested to the validity of Erasmus’ instincts before the sound of careful footfalls had him fading abruptly into the background. Arnold came down the aisle walking softly and carrying a large broom. Em grinned and cocked her chin towards the open belfry door. Arnold sat beside her putting something small and black in her hands as he sat. It was a knitted bat, perfect in every detail and Em could feel her face creasing into a doting smile. Erasmus’ voice in her head was awestruck. 
“How’d he make a woolly me?”
“I dunno, boy, it’s beyond my skills.”
Arnold just grinned.
The sound of sandals slapping on the difficult spiral of the old stone stairs alerted them to the arrival of a hyperventilating bat man. He just about fell into the nave, with his beard full of bat shit and his eyes ablaze with missionary zeal.
“Rhinolophus hipposideros. The biggest colony I have ever seen. I will be writing this up immediately.”
He bobbed his head to Em, in a sort of a gesture of respect, before almost running out of the building. 
“Rudolph’s hippopotamus?”
Arnold’s grin grew wider. “Lesser Horseshoe Bat. Rare.
Em nodded and she and Arnold sat in companionable silence for a while, with neither being quite sure what to make of the odd little man’s shenanigans.
Em was thinking about going home when she felt an inimical presence coming close. Being who she was she wasn’t about to run away, but neither was she up for a confrontation with something she had yet to suss out. So she took the third way. She drew in a deep breath and held it, gently willing herself to be unremarkable and at one with the old building. Years of practice ensured that she succeeded to the extent that the light passed through her instead of around her and she became effectively invisible.  Arnold picked up his broom and began methodically sweeping the worn flagstones of the church floor. He had just progressed to the corner by the belfry and quietly closed the door when the vicar swept into the building like an avenging vicar.
“Arnold. Who was that strange little man I just passed?”
“Which strange little man, vicar?” Arnold was the picture of bucolic stupidity as he blinked down at the smaller man.
“The one with the unkempt ginger beard and all the bags.”
“Oh that one. I don’t rightly know. He was messing about in the churchyard. Then he run off. Why?”
The vicar waved a distracted hand. “Never mind. Just so long as he wasn’t… I mean… Well… See there’s a strange car parked outside that nosey bitch Vanderbilt’s house. So I wondered if he was anything to do with her.”
Arnold grunted. “Mrs Vanderbilt don’t usually have no truck with men. Strange or not.”
“Maybe you are right. But doesn’t the old bat seem a bit strange to you.”
“Her’s a woman. They’m all strange.” Arnold shrugged about a yard and a half of shoulder and carried on with his slow methodical sweeping.
The vicar stared at him for quite some time before seeming to come to the conclusion that his employee was just as slow on the uptake as he appeared. He turned on his heel, as if about to leave the building, when he must have caught on to something not quite right. His eyes rounded and his nose became damp and pink and twitchy as he stood very still – scenting the air and finding something not to his taste.
“Arnold,” he said sharply, “can you not smell something?”
“All’s I can smell is bat shit.”
The vicar shook his head and his features rearranged themselves back to handsome human mode. “Oh yes. Maybe it’s the inimical winged rats I can feel. Carry on with your work.”
And he was gone.
Em would normally have dropped the concealment immediately, but some seventh sense had her remain hidden. Which was just as well, as only five or so minutes had passed before the vestry door sprang open to reveal the vicar’s suspicious face.His eyes raked the building before he pulled his head back and closed the door with bang.
Walking home a while later Em was troubled.
“What are you?” she asked herself. “What the heck are you?”

Part 7 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

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