1.3.6 "The Bat"

A coming of age story involving a search after truth, doubt and a bat!

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible” St Thomas Aquinas.

What is true, what is Truth?

 

In this coming of age story a sceptical Thomas recounts the events of a term at school when his class returned to a new beautiful class teacher, a donation of stuffed animals and birds by an eccentric benefactor which he and his friends subsequently discovered weren't quite as dead as they looked, an exorcism in which a bell-jar which had been containing a bat shattered, and then things, which up to then had been strange, turned to being sinister and frightening.

 

In an attempt to understand what was going on, Thomas found himself reading up on Black Magic, Satanism, the early Christian Church, and the worship of evil, but instead of assisting his understanding this made him more confused than ever. Even a conversation with his local priest failed to resolve the problems he found himself wrestling with. What was true? And of course, where was the bat?

 

An adult fantasy story for those who like to think about what they are reading. (A warning for more sensitive readers - the story does contain sex references).

 

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Background Information.

With “fake news” hitting the headlines and misguided religiously motivated terrorism still in them, I thought it would be nice to look at “truth” and muse on questions such as “what actually is true?” and “what is Truth?” using a fantasy story as a foil for same.

 

Is truth what we believe to be the case, or is it what we know to be the case? Why is one religion deemed to be true, whereas others are deemed not to be so? And why are religions deemed to be a “good thing” when they appear to be the justification for much of the conflict and appalling atrocities that have been and still are being perpetrated around the world?

 

St Thomas Aquinas' famous quotation “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible,” doesn't provide an answer to these questions but I think, does rather nicely state things as they are - the lunatic who believes a god is on his side doesn't require an explanation, and of course those who don't share that same mad belief will never understand!

 

For my story I needed my narrator to be at that age where his opinions hadn't been formed, so that he would question and ask “those embarrassing questions” of others. He also had to be a bit naïve and not be fully aware of what was going on. So I thought a sceptical "doubting Thomas" would make a good narrator. Somehow the story cried out to have both the Reverend Money and Felicity (both from “The Little Dog”) in it, so “The Bat” became a prequel to “The Little Dog”.

 

A coming of age story of course involves the "gaining of knowledge", and so required that apples, whether metaphorical ones, ones in gardens or buckets of water had to be included, as did the Garden of Eden allegory including the having to leave it. I hope my choices of other characters do not require further explanation. And of course sex had to feature in the story, because the "gaining of knowledge" is just another way of saying "sexual awakening". So for more sensitive readers; be aware that sex does get a mention.

 

And finally, I hope I have been even-handed in exploring this subject, with a sceptical Thomas and logical, brain-box of a Bobby Thompson on one side of the argument and genuinely nice, Felicity and thoughtful, steady Reverend Money on the other side. I am not sure there is a conclusive answer to the central question of "truth", hence the St Thomas Aquinas quotation, but none-the-less I hope the end result is both an interesting exploration and an entertaining read!

 

 

Sample Chapter.

2.
The first week of the autumn term

“Normally none of us had any enthusiasm for going back to school in the autumn. However that year was different; Mrs Simpson, “The Witch”, had retired at the end of the previous school year, and we were to get a new teacher. So we went back to the new term and new year with eager anticipation of this new teacher. Though before I tell you about her I had better tell you about the old school building.

The school we attended was not the one in the really old church school building which is now the tearoom, but one which was in the form of a collection of prefabricated huts that you wouldn’t wish to house a dog in! It was not a single building, but a number of huts seated on brick plinths and placed close together so as to give the impression of being, if not one building, at least one unit, though the little flights of steps leading up to each hut, or classroom, rather gave the game away that the whole thing was in fact cobbled together from seperate parts. Each hut had arrived on the back of a wagon and was rather like a large wooden container complete with a floor - obviously! - coloured infill panels to the lower sections of the walls - a rather yucky olive green as I remember - glass windows to their upper sections and a flat roof. These huts were cheap, in all senses of the word. The roofs invariably leaked somewhere and they were freezing cold in the winter! There were six of them; two rows of two with a further two out the back and set at right angles to the other four. To us kids they were all a bit reminiscent of the huts you can see in prison camp war movies!

Although the whole lot has gone now, you can still see the field in which the school was sited - it’s where Dan was talking about, on the left hand side of the road just as you go into the village - and you can still see roughly where the huts were. Of course the old stone masonry entrance gateway from the road is still there and now forms the entrance to the field. Back in those days this entrance led to a tarmacked area in front of the first two classrooms. Our playground area was off to the south side of the huts, remote from the village, no doubt so that the noise of our “playing” didn't upset the residents! Like most school kids I suppose, none of us loved the place at the time and it was referred to variously as Colditz, which of course was a totally inappropriate name, or Stalag Luft 111, which was perhaps a little more appropriate given that the later did at least comprise huts!

So on the first day of the autumn term, at nine o’clock on a Monday morning, we were all sitting at our desks and in came the headmaster, Old Badger, with our new teacher.

Old Badger was the headmaster. He was also relatively new at the school, having only taken up his post twelve months previously. And why “Old Badger”? Well, he had a white stripe of hair on the top of his head, whereas the hair on either side of this still had its colour and we thought it made him look like ....... Oh, come on, we were school kids!

It was only his hair which resulted in this nickname, because his face was most unbadger-like, being round and weather beaten. He was one of those “chaps” who loved competitive sports, feeling that they were good for developing a schoolboy’s, and presumably a schoolgirl’s character, though he was very much a man’s man and actually had little clue about how to deal with the girls, relying entirely on the female members of staff to attend to that. “Children need plenty of exercise and fresh air,” was his motto and so probably was, “and need to be freezing cold in the winter!” as I am sure Old Badger thoroughly approved of the school buildings’ lack of both proper heating and insulation. “We don’t want pupils of this school growing up as soft good-for-nothings!”

His choice of clothing admirably illustrated his lack of imagination, as he always seemed to be dressed in the same tweedy looking jacket, trousers and waistcoat - an almost mustard coloured affair, though a bit greener than mustard - with “school-master brown leather cuffs and elbow patches” to the jacket. Beneath this he sported - though Badger wasn’t really the type of man who “sported” clothing! - a white shirt and military looking tie.

Looking back, I suppose he was a reasonable headmaster. We could have had worse. But as said, he didn’t have much imagination which is probably why he had been put in charge of us lot! He always assumed that what seemed obvious at first glance was in fact the case, without ever mentally stepping back and analysing the situation more carefully before pronouncing on it. It goes without saying of course, that as often as not he got hold of the wrong end of the stick and ended up blaming the wrong kids for something they hadn’t done, and then, by the time he’d realised that he’d got the wrong culprits, had forgotten the original evidence and so was unable to backtrack and locate the real perpetrators of whatever dastardly deed had been done.

However, he was a good front man, always standing up straight, his chest out, his military looking tie to the fore, in front of us, or the school, or our parents, as the occasion demanded, like a archetypal sergeant major facing his troops, barracks, or visiting dignitaries.

And now to our new teacher.

Wow! She was gorgeous! After what we had been used to, any woman without a black cat and a broomstick would have been wonderful, but Louise Loveless, as we subsequently learned was her name, was a real beauty. She must have been in her early thirties, but I am guessing that now, because back then we were at the age when all adults looked old and to be honest we, by which I mean we boys, were not really interested in irrelevant details like her age!

Surprisingly, I can still remember that on that day she wore a figure hugging, rather formal black skirt which showed off her hips wonderfully, accompanied with a matching black jacket which was unbuttoned to reveal a virgin white blouse done up to the neck and stretched across a pair of the most wonderful tits that I had ever seen!

Her face was rather on the pale side which enhanced her full cupid’s-bow red lips set beneath a rather long nose, and blue-green, slightly sultry and hollow looking eyes, and, most importantly, she had not the least sign of a wart or beard! Her face was surrounded by the most magnificent red hair which tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. If I said she looked as if she had stepped straight out of a pre-Raphaelite painting, I am sure you will have a pretty good idea of what she looked like; absolutely stunning! The girls in the class thought she looked “really beautiful” and the boys thought ....... well I am sure you can guess what the boys thought! From “The Witch” to Louise; talk of from one extreme to the other!

As you can probably guess, poor Old Badger didn’t manage the introductions too well, as a result of probably being more captivated by and put out by her than we were! And it wasn’t just ourselves and Old Badger who were put out by her arrival; our parents were as well. The mums found her “a lovely woman, oh so much better than that Mrs Simpson” and the dads found themselves concurring with their wives without any difficulty whatsoever, “oh yes, definitely, a lovely woman!” - though perhaps not for quite the same reasons as their wives and for very much the same reasons that caused Old Badger to be so put out - and it was noticeable how the number of dads who found that they did just have time to both bring their kids to school and collect them later increased quite dramatically!

Yes, eventually we did get down to our lessons, though there was no doubting that it was difficult for us boys to concentrate on Pythagoras’ rule for right angled triangles, or adjectival clauses of something-or-other when faced with either those wonderful breasts bursting to get out of that tightly stretched white blouse as she addressed the class, or that lovey rounded bottom in that tight black skirt while she wrote at full stretch on the blackboard!

 

To purchase this story click here.

 

 

Reviews.

 

*****

   "One of the many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Mr. Garland’s work is that it requires some effort from the reader in order to be understood. He’s the sort of writer who will give his audience a few important clues and then expect them to come to their own conclusions about what happened based on how they chose to interpret those clues. This was the perfect kind of storyline for this writing style because of how slippery people’s memories can be. Two people can remember the same moment in time in completely different ways depending on what their minds were paying attention to back then.

The character development was handled beautifully, too. There was nothing gory about the horror in this tale, but that didn’t make any less frightening. I appreciated the way the fear sneaked up on me as I was reading.  There is definitely something to be said for being scared by the threat of something terrible happening almost as much as I was by what actually occurred. Anticipation was one of the narrator’s biggest weapons, and he used it well. 

The final reason why I gave this book a perfect score is that it wrestled with so many intriguing questions about faith, morality, grief, and what it means to be a good person without spoon-feeding any answers to the audience. I deeply enjoy philosophical discussions about these kinds of topics, and Mr. Garland gave me a lot of food for thought. I will be thinking about the various points his characters made for a long time.  It’s a must-read for anyone who loves though-provoking and intelligent stories.

(See full review by LAS Reviews on Long and Short Reviews and Amazon)

 

*****

Another excellent tale taken from the excellent Red Grouse collection: stories purportedly told to the author in a pub of the same name. The Bat takes place before the action of some of the other tales and if you have read others, you might recognise some characters. The protagonist Tom tells a story of strange events that occurred whilst he was at school. There is some great scene setting and descriptions of the various teachers and some of his friends. One day the school receives a strange donation of a large number of stuffed animals from a mysterious benefactor. They are all a bit creepy, as stuffed animals are, but is there more to it? Strange things start to happen, which will make you question what is truth and what is imagination. At the same time, there's some interesting theological discussion by the characters on the nature of faith - can events being conclusively proved lead to faith, or is there a point where you just need to believe? I really enjoyed this story: great characters, an intriguing premise and themes which tie in with the other Red Grouse tales. Highly recommended.

(See review by Hector's Girl on Amazon and Caroline on Goodreads.)

 

To purchase this story click here.