The old folks used to say that if crows lined up on a rooftop, someone underneath those eaves wasn’t long for this world.
Grandpa Tompkins had a different take on the harbingers of death.
“Teddy,” he’d say, “if you ever see a camp of bats just standin’ on the ground in a circle, you can be sure one of us Tompkins men is gonna die.”
Grandma would roll her eyes. “Don’t listen to that old coot, Teddy. Bats ain’t nothin’ to worry about.”
But Teddy was worried. And when Grandpa fell ill one spring, the boy started sneaking into the woods after the sun went down to watch the bats leaving Dog Yawn Cave. Most times, they’d fly out in a frenzy, chilling Teddy with their shrieks.
One night, though, the mouth of the cave was silent an hour after sunset, and the forest itself seemed to feed on the bats’ absence. It was still and dark, the humid air a velvety shroud wrapping around Teddy.
But then he heard a twig snap, then a leaf ruffle. Slowly, the ground around him came alive, and one eye became ten, a hundred. A ring of bats was closing in on him, one step at a time.
Teddy bolted through the gruesome line of beasts and ran straight home, not stopping until his father caught him in his arms.
“Grandpa’s gone,” Daddy said.
In the years that followed, Teddy never again witnessed even one walking bat, and that terrifying night was a faded memory by the time he awoke to stark silence on a canyon floor next to his son, Freddie.
They were celebrating the boy’s tenth birthday with a big-game hunt.
And yet, Teddy knew in an instant their muskets would be useless against the circle of bats converging upon them.