by Tim Price

"D'ya ever go bat hunting?" said Malton, the voice of action. It was a hotter than usual Friday evening in Catratch. They were sitting behind the Catratch Liquor Store, where Malton's sister, Beth, worked and drank beers one after another. Malton was sitting on the running board of his opened pick-up truck. Rita was leaning on him, snuggled between his legs with the back of her head resting against his stomach. And she was doing a damned good job ignoring his hand as he burrowed it deeper beneath her low cut blouse.

Lori almost fell off of Stanly's lap laughing, but had to abruptly stop to re-right herself and get a better grip on her bottle. "Shit, Pete, why you gotta go bat hunting when you got Rita?"

Rita made a nasty exclamatory about Lori's family and made a lunge nearly pulling Malton from his seat.

"How do you hunt bats?" Allen asked, after the men had quieted their women.

"Throw baseballs in the air," Malton said flashing a smile of yellow teeth.

Funny. Everybody laughed. They had all been drinking long before Allen got there. He laughed politely and kept his annoyance to himself.

Malton was the part-time fry cook, full time brawler of the group. He was wiry and lanky and always seemed to clink and smell of leather. He always wore dirty brown low-cut boots, tight faded blue jeans and a black leather jacket with steel chain fasteners and all times... even on hot summer nights like this one. Its sole purpose was to hide the eight inch knife he carried just in case a fight started turning against him.

Allen had fought him once in grade school. It came out a draw, meaning the principal came out and told them to solve their differences or they wouldn't sit down for a week. Allen offered Malton half of his Twix bar and they stayed friends ever since.

In high school they both landed in the upper crust of high school achievers bonding them even closer. Allen was a whiz at English and writing. He was on the newspaper, and the high school literary publication staff. Malton was a genius at physics and mathematics. Allen went on to a part-time job to pay for tuition to Cliffton Community College down-state. Malton graduated high-school with invitations to major universities and a handful of scholarships. He also got an invitation from his brother-in-law to do some delivering for his profitable and highly illegal agricultural business. This seemed to stop his inertia as far as college went.

Eventually he landed a job at the local fast food restaurant. He told Allen in a year he could be an assistant manager. Allen told him he was thrilled for him.

"So how about it, guys?" Malton said after the laughter died down. He had that maniacal gleam in his eyes.

"How about what," said Stanly overly loud.

"Let's go bat hunting," Malton said.

"Come on, Pete, are you serious?" said Lori.

"Shit yeah, I'm serious," Malton said, "it'll be fun, I used to do it all the time when I was a kid."

Stanly paused briefly to concentrate on the thought pushing its way through his intoxicated brain. "You know, there's always a lot of 'em down by Catratch Lake," he said when it had succeeded.

Rita stretched deliciously. "I could really use a swim right about now." Rita was dressed in a black and silver two-piece mini with back hose and plenty of silver-plated bracelets. This was her best night-clubbing outfit. Allen remembered Malton had been talking earlier about hitting a dance club in the nearby city of Waterford. Rita had obviously based her choice of attire on that possibility. The outfit revealed quite a bit of her long arms and legs. Its bare-midriff design also revealed a generous portion of her taunt, lean stomach. Allen was intently admiring this feature when Rita looked directly at him. "Wouldn't you, Allen?" she asked with a smile that telegraphed to him she had registered his gaze.

"Yeah, Allen. Wanna go skinny-dipping?" Malton said, as if by inspiration, "Allen will back me up on this."

Allen was glad it was dark in the alley because his cheeks felt as hot as the sun cracked pavement had felt a few hours ago. "Well," he said, "anything beats sitting back here doing nothing at all."

"Hot damn! A plan!" Malton shouted as he swung a long leg over Rita's head placing the heel of his boot on a direct path to Rita's temple. Rita instinctively ducked the sever clocking and gave Malton a warning look that only a woman can give her lover. The look, as well as the near disaster, went unnoticed by Malton who was busy scrambling for the booze in the bed of his truck.

* * * * *

"Okay," Malton said as he climbed out of the back of the truck down to the soft grass of the bank of the truck down to the soft grass of the bank of the lake, "first of all we need a net..."

"A net!" Lori looked as though she wanted to kill him, "this is not the time to tell us this, Malton!"

The group was piling out of Malton's pick-up on the north side of Catratch Lake. This point was roughly 15 minutes away from the alley behind the Catratch Liquor Store and the center of town. Allen had drove. He had insisted, refusing to go along unless he was allowed to drive. This cry was soon picked up by the others after Malton got his house key stuck in the ignition. Faced by incredible opposing pressure Malton concurred and surrendered the keys to his friend.

"Well, we need a weighted net. You gotta throw it up in the air..."

"We don't have a net, Malton," Allen said.

"And if we go back into Catratch I'm staying there," Lori snarled.

Malton muttered something under his breath but all Allen could hear were the words "rag" and "heavy flow".

Rita and Stanly were already picking up sticks and setting up to build a small fire. Malton called to the former.

"You want to what?" Rita asked when she heard his request.

Malton smiled. "I want to borrow your panty hose."

"Shit, Hon," said Rita grinning wickedly, "you're drunker than I thought."

"Drunk, hell. He's just a pervert," Stanly said. This statement struck Stanly as incredibly funny and he belly laughed for the next two minutes.

Stanly was always the first one of them to get sloshed senseless. This was due to his inexperience at the fine art of imbiding. His father and mother were exclusive teetotalers and until the second semester of his senior year of high school he had never touched the stuff. This provided an irresistible temptation for Rita and Malton. One week before high school graduation, at Rita's father's house, under the guise of a friendly graduation party/poker game, Rita offered Stanly a simple harmless drink. It was an initiation to a party lifestyle in the form of a kamikaze specially mixed by Malton himself. It was composed of double shots of everything but so carefully balanced by soda that the alcohol was very craftily masked. Malton insisted he did no wrong for a while after that because Stanly DID know it was alcoholic. He had claimed no deception was involved about the nature of the mix. Stanly had just finished his third drink when Lori, there on Rita's invitation and ignorant of the twos intentions, remarked on Stanly's incredible tolerance after she had seen Malton pour the things.

Coincidentally, the full force of the alcohol hit Stanly at that very second and he was only able to answer Lori's comment by pitching sideways off his chair and landing heavily on the floor.

An hour after Rita had placed Stanly in a side bedroom he re-animated and attempted to take a shower. He only succeeded in crawling stark naked pass the shower and into the living room. When Malton attempted to remove him again Stanly retaliated by vomiting all over Rita's father's extensive collection of X-rated movies. This effectively ended the party.

Rita and Malton eventually repented the evening and vowed never to meddle with their friends lifestyles ever again. Stanly received lifetime banishment from Rita's father's house, at least when he wasn't sober. Stanly also received something else from his ill fated shower attempt... Lori started dating him two days later. He also developed a taste for alcohol.

"Just take them off, please," Malton said over the din, "we can use them for a net."

Malton turned to Lori and Allen. "This is a legitimate technique," he said as if defending himself, "you put a rock or a baseball or something in each foot and throw it up in the air The bats 'see' it with their radar and try to grab it. Their claws get caught in the hose and the rock takes them to the ground."

"You will be buying me a new pair." Rita said at his side as she placed the warm garment in his hand.

* * * * *

Allen sat cross-legged feeding and poking the fire with the spare sticks while the others cuddled in pairs forming a triangle around the fire.

The hunting expedition had gone badly but no one present seemed to care... not even Lori. Although dark shapes were visible just beyond the perimeter of the firelight, none of the swooping forms tried for the rocks. Finally the beer was pulled from the back of Malton's truck and the weary hunters relaxed.

"You know," Stanly said suddenly breaking the silence, "if a frog had wings his butt would never touch the ground,"

This drunken revelation earned an explosion of laughter from everyone. Malton pulled a beat-up guitar from behind his seat and attempted to write a song on the subject. First as a Bob Dylany folk song and finally setting it to a gritty heavy metal beat.

Unfortunately by the time he had nearly gotten it right, the joke became milked of all its substance and the general consensus was to move to another topic.

Especially Rita. "I want to go swimming," she said stripping off her blouse, "who's with me?"

Allen's and Stanly's eyes popped. Lori's mouth dropped. Rita was wearing no brassiere. Malton only regarded her sadly but added an extra lilt to his voice when he said, "Great idea, Rit, I'm in." He stood up and started stripping as well. "Come on Stanly, Allen. Guys, let's go."

Stanly pulled his shirt over his head immediately. He was a farmer's boy and showed it. His body was no stranger to work. It was well muscled and well liked by any woman who could view it without talking to him first.

Allen waved Malton on. "Forget it, Pete. These ladies don't want to see my gut hanging out."

"You aren't fat," Malton said, "its just a little poodge from college. Geeze, what's a little beer belly among friends?"

Rita removed her skirt and panties and grinned at Lori. "Come on, Lori, let's make these guys hurt!"

Lori regarded Rita coldly but didn't make a move to disrobe. Soon Allen and Lori were surrounded by three naked people. Stanly held his big white T-shirt over his man-hood and tried to look nonchalant about it. This wasn't modesty but an attempt to hide the effect that looking at Rita was having on him. An effect clear to all but only holding significance to one. Lori burned Stanly with a smoldering glare that Stanly never saw. His concentration was split between Rita and his own growing problem and how to get it beneath the water as quickly as possible.

With a yell Malton led the bare threesome forward into the lake. As they went Lori quietly rose from her sitting placed and walked somewhere beyond the firelight.

Allen didn't know Lori very well. She had always been Rita's friend. When she wasn't with Rita she pretty much kept to herself. Allen had occasionally tried to engage her in conversation but he usually ended up carrying the whole discussion and running out of words within a few minutes. There would be an uncomfortable silence and then she would excuse herself and leave to find Rita. Allen figured that she and Stanly were a perfect match.

Allen couldn't remember her dating anyone before Stanly, which puzzled him a bit. Lori had very nice features. She was blonde with full short hair, and she had a fine curvy figure. Her arms and legs were well proportioned and very supple. She was, in essence, and very soft, feminine, and lovely woman. But lovely in a different way than Rita. In fact there was no comparing the two. While her arms were lithesome and fragile, Rita's had ripe, firm biceps that she had primed in the high school gym after class. Lori's legs were short and sweet, with out a hint of muscle and looked about the same texture as the flowers depicted on her mini-skirt. This was unlike Rita's legs that would jog around Catratch and surrounding areas beneath form-fitting spandex and Rita's determined, unapproachable-at-that-time countenance.

Allen watched her go and made no attempt to follow her.

Sounds of laughter and fun echoed from the lake behind him. Normally he would have been down there naked, pushing, splashing, laughing... giving Rita rides on his shoulders as he had done countless times when he and Rita and Malton had come here with suits. He looked back and saw the huge form of Stanly lumbering after the other distinct male form of Malton. A naked girl was perched on Stanly's shoulders.

Allen got up and walked away from the fire as well. He walked towards the road and leaned against a tree in the bush just beyond Malton's truck. He stood there in silence and listened to the night.

Allen didn't move when the other car drove up and two people got out. He could tell one was male and the other female. He watched them as they walked towards the lake. The female yelled something obscure but addressed to Malton. Malton's reply was certainly clear. In fact it rang throughout the lake: "Shit fire, Stanly! You told my sister where we were going??? Dammit, someone get me my f*****g clothes!!!"

* * * * *

Allen didn't move when he heard soft footsteps coming up next to him. He did look up when she spoke.

"You're going somewhere aren't you?"

Rita stood behind him in the shadowy moonlight still naked. Her hair was wet and the skin exposed by the sparse moonlight was goose pimpled.

"No, I was just standing here."

"I mean that you're getting away from Catratch aren't you?"

Allen didn't answer. Rita came closer

"I want out too, you now," she said right next to his ear, "wouldn't you like me to come with you?"

To Allen this question did not seem to be coming from a 21 year old woman. Instead he heard the voice of a girl of 15, insecure, desperate for a compliment, a flatter, anything that would give her some form of self-confidence.

Allen looked at her. The moon played amongst the droplets of water on the parts of her skin not in shadows: her shoulders, her legs, half of her face, one breast.

He turned away. "Where is everyone else?" he asked.

"Irwin brought some grass. The guys and Beth are getting stoned out of their brains."

"Irwin's good for that," he said.

After a pause Rita said, "You've always wanted me."

"Everyone's wanted you."

"I've seen you look at me."

Allen felt a knot growing inside his stomach. "The last time I checked you were Malton's girlfriend, Rita," Allen said.

"I know," she said looking down at the ground, "this was kind of... Malton's idea"

Allen laughed and looked at Rita. Her expression was full of determination. His seriousness came back.

"Wouldn't you like to make love to me?" she asked quietly.

It was a line that was the foundation of many high school fantasies for Allen. Even before she started dating his friend, Allen had watched Rita jogging or working out in the school weight room after classes. She would get there a half an hour before the football team and work the weights. When the team showed up she would finish her routine by working the players.

"Maybe..." Allen said slowly, "a long time ago. But I think when I leave... I'd better do it alone."

Rita laughed and leaned against the bark of the tree next to Allen. Her smooth tanned shoulders appeared pale and washed out in the nocturnal spotlight. "I guess I bought the ticket for the wrong bus, huh?" she said, "I do that a lot it seems."

"What do you mean?"

"All those jocks I dated in high school never went anywhere," she started picking at a leaf, "they're probably all in a bar in Waterford right now. Probably the same one."

"You've still got Malton," Allen said.

"Yeah," Rita said looking at a low hanging branch and plucking another leaf from it, "I've still got Malton."

She looked up at Allen again and determination steeled her face over. "Okay, if we don't do that, we can at least kiss."

Allen didn't object and Rita moved closer to him. He felt the warmth of her naked body and saw her beautiful lips, full and red even in the sparse lighting. She closed her eyes Allen could feel instincts kicking in... muscles in his face closing his eyes, parting his lips. He waited for the gentle caress of her warm breath against his mouth and the feel of soft lips against his. He waited to catch a scent of her subtle, sweet perfume. Instead what hit his nose was the pungent, gamy reek of the Catratch Lake. The thick knot in his stomach lurched and irped a load of bile up his esophagus. He swallowed hard when it reached the top of his throat and forced it down again with all of his might. The force of the convulsion carried him sideways, out of the path of Rita's kiss.

Rita's eyes widened as if Allen had just struck her with his closed fist. No one said anything while Allen recovered. Finally Allen was able to croak, "Please, Rita. I just want to be alone right now."

Rita shook her head and took a step back. She unconsciously covered her breasts with one arm. Suddenly she looked exposed, vulnerable, and modest.

A shrill, female voice sounded, "We got one! We got one! We did it!!!"

Excitement exploded from the clearing near the bonfire. Allen and Rita exchanged glances and ran up to the others.

Stanly had thrown the winning pitch. Actually, it looked more like the bat had accidentally flown into the pantyhose because its wings and head were entangled while its talons were free.

When Rita and Allen got there Stanly was towering over the bat like a hunter would stand for a picture over a huge deer. Beth and Lori were on their knees giggling, fascinated by it but not getting too close Irwin, Malton's brother-in-law was standing behind the girls not really comprehending what was going on. Malton stood off to the side in his leather jacket looking on unenthusiastically.

Rita landed on her knees with the other two women and joined them in their observations of their preys ugliness. Everyone but Rita had regained their clothes.

Allen walked up to the crowd and looked at the struggling creature at the center. It was small and hopelessly snarled in Rita's pantyhose. Allen made a move towards the bat to start removing the fabric. Before he could Malton pushed by him. Without saying a word Malton fell on knees right over the bat in front of the girls and seemed to fall halfway forward. An ear piercing squeal ricocheted off the lake and the surrounding trees. The giggling stopped quite suddenly.

When Malton stood back up the group saw the 8 inch knife plunged halfway to the hilt in the now feebly twitching animal. All eyes climbed in horror towards Malton's face.

The silence was thick as Malton pulled his knife out of the bat and wiped it on the ground. He then slipped it back beneath his leather jacket and looked at the others mildly. "What?" he said, "did you think you were going to pull the thing out of the hose and send it merrily flapping on its way like some kind of trout?" He turned and looked at the ground "I knew a kid once who caught a bat like that and tried to let it go... the thing flew up and latched on his head. Bit him and mangled his eye. He finally died of rabies." He shook his head, "you know, once they're trapped like that... all you can do is kill them."

"That's bullshit, Malton," Lori said, "you know that's all bullshit! You're heartless and barbaric!"

"Okay Lori, The next bat we catch you can get right down there and let the thing out. Just don't say a word to me if it doesn't kiss your feet for granting its freedom!"

Lori's face was bright red and hot angry tears streaked down its side, "This was all your idea you son of a bitch!"

The crowd had fairly well parted away from the combatants.

"What was the purpose of this, Malton?" Lori said , "why did you make us come here?"

"What in Catratch has purpose, Lori?" Malton said glaring at her coldly, "we came here to catch a bat."

Malton turned and walked to his truck. Fortunately the complex actions involved in the dramatic exit he had planned were a little too much for his stoned, drunk mind to handle with any speed. This gave Allen ample time to walk up and over take him before he got in the vehicle.

Malton had the right key for the door this time. The only reason it was stuck this time was a result of him inserting it up-side-down.

Allen took the keys from him and opened the truck door. Malton stared at him glassy eyed and defiant.

"Where do you think you're going, anyway?" Malton growled.

Allen climbed into the truck and yelled for Lori and Stanly.

"Just climb in the back, Malton," Allen said with a sigh.

Lori climbed into the front seat with Allen and flashed a white hot glare at Malton.

"It's all right, Allen," Malton said regarding Lori with apprehension, "Rita and I will ride in with Beth."

"I'm going to ride in with Allen, Malton," Rita said, climbing in the back with Stanly, "I'll see you back in Catratch."

"Suit yourself, Rita!" Malton said angrily not looking back at her.

Allen started the engine and rolled the truck towards town leaving Malton staring at the ground while the cloud of bats just beyond the firelight fluttered back and forth going about their daily routine in Catratch.

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Hunting Bats, 5 October 1996