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The Essay
Show #382
Microchiroptera annoyinglata
David Gunn

Warbler Hadley Blackmoor, Professor Emesis of Calamitology at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire, sits in his laboratory in Halothane Hall, preparing to run the experiment for the 40th time. He is having difficulty concentrating, due to the incessant noise from the room directly above him, where over 2,000 bats--suborders Megachiroptera, or megabats, and Microchiroptera, or tiny chiropractors--are especially active at this time of day. The room began life as a prototype for a theme park called BatLand, in which visitors would learn how to echolocate and willingly eat their weight in insects. But corporate funding dried up at the same time the automatic guano disposal system broke down. And where once the bats lived among one other in contented harmony, now they constantly bickered and squabbled, creating, in the process, more guano than could comfortably fit in a 50-foot high fertilizer silo--though "guano" and "comfortably" are by any account mutually exclusive words.

Blackmoor has begrudgingly adapted to the effluvium that readily flows into his ventilation system, but the noise, especially at this time of day, is harder. It is the chalk on a blackboard sound of hundreds, thousands, of tiny claws scraping against and rending leathern wings--it is feeding time. And ever since the program ran out of funding for bat chow, the bats have been feeding on one another.

Blackmoor turns back to his experiment, which is ever so elegant in its simplicity: if a container with a known capacity is filled to precisely 50% of that capacity, is the container half full or is it half empty? The professor had employed a wide range of precisely measurable materials--nylon, aspartame, sodium pentothal, dry ice, cork, a tuna salad sandwich--as well as receptacles of numerous configurations. And in 39 out of 39 instances, the container has registered half empty. For the 40th experiment--the acceptable mark required by the Association of Professional Empirical Data Processors to establish "proof beyond reasonable doubt"--he is measuring Microchiroptera annoyinglata, a bat.

The bat had somehow worked its way from the upstairs batatorium through the convolutions of the air conditioning ductwork to his laboratory, where, with remarkable agility, it had prized off the HEPA filter screen. It flitted up to the ceiling light to polish off an extended family of earwigs that had been overwintering there. Apparently still peckish, it had then gazed down at him with machinating, suppurating eyes. But Blackmoor fancied the bat more of a good will offering from a higher authority. With a generous helping of kibble, he eventually coaxed it into the test beaker.

He checks his gauges: ambient air temperature, 50° Celsius; specific gravity, 0.86¹³ linear diffraction, not applicable; trace elements, aseltine, zandar, valium, moratorium; height, 11; pellucidity of product, 0.001. He is ready.

That is to say, he is ready to record the results of the experiment. But he is decidedly not ready for the cacophonous screeching that issues from the bat when he applies 10 microns of zandar to its epidermis (abruptly increasing the pellucidity of product to 0.010). Neither is he ready for the swarm of both mega and microbats that erupts from the ductwork in answer to the trapped bat's call for help. The phrase "by the skin of his teeth" is apt here, for Blackmoor escapes his laboratory with several dozen sets of batty fangs grazing his skin, with a distinct craving for much more. Even more disturbing to this research scientist is the fact that, just before he dashes for the door, he glances over to his experiment and notices that the beaker full of bat is, beyond a reasonable doubt, half full.

If the bat had not been the official nocturnal flying mammal of Lincolnshire, those in Halothane Hall might have been discreetly extirpated. But vocal members of Southwesternmost Friends of Bats have been keeping close tabs on their fuzzy familiars, and may have even abetted in their second-to-first floor migration. Flapping their black nylon ponchos like great bat wings, they are at the front door to jeer Blackmoor as he flees the building. Several of them then venture inside, however a chorus of bloodcurdling (and, as it later turns out, bloodletting) screams from the approximate area of Blackmoor's laboratory stop others from following.

No such screaming or ductwork accompanies this 382nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, though experimentation is a given, especially given the uncertainty of this radio station's future, a topic for future discussion, and one that will presumably be prudently eschewed by Kalvos.