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The Bat And Her Two Eggs
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It was a perfect evening for the boy to bask in the warmth of reverie. Outside a chilly autumn breeze blew plumes of dry leaves, stolen from fresh piles painstakingly raked together earlier in the day, over the drab patch of asphalt in the cul-de-sac where he lives. Inside the belly of these icy gusts lurked the familiar bite that foretold of another winter filled with numb fingertips, runny noses, and chattering teeth soon to come.
There were plenty of ways to counter the frostbite and sickness which were also pending inevitabilities; hot chocolate and log fires to name a couple. As much as the boy loves sledding and snowmen it was the promise of those fires that excites him the most. The reality of another impending winter wrought with bare branches and vast fields of white nothingness was always tempered by the fire his family would light each night in their living room hearth. Tonight was the first night Father deemed it cold enough to christen the fireplace for the season and this inaugural lighting gave the boy an exhilaration he found difficult to suppress. He loved watching the flickering garden of flames jab and scratch their way up with an unrestrained frenzy only to shrink back just as quickly into the inferno from which it was borne.
There was more to it than just watching the fire jump and dance to an unheard rhythm. The boy was especially fond of those golden moments when a flame would reach its apex and exert itself so much that the tip breaks off. Unattached to its home this petal of fire would float as a hot, intense entity still capable of turning matter to ash before vanishing in the blink of an eye. When there once was something undeniably powerful in plain sight just as quickly there'd be nothing but a stark hollowness left in its place. A burst of dazzling energy swallowed by an invisible void.
The boy's evening meditation that night must have been especially intense for he noticed neither the sky turning from the beautiful wash of reddish-purple hues typical of a somber autumnal dusk to a backdrop of jet black nor that his grandfather had shuffled into the room and was sitting in his favorite rocking chair watching him. Watching the boy watching the fire. Watching him wonder over and over about where the flame tips went. A shabby quilt knit by the boy's late grandmother was draped over his lap. His face was graced with a sweet smile as he gazed at the boy from across the room. No one else was around. The boy could hear Mother shuffling around upstairs, most likely putting Brother and Sister into bed for the night. A violent chunk sound coming from the behind the house every few seconds let him know that Father was outside chopping firewood. Chopping what would feed his fascination. Grandfather kept looking at him with that tranquil smile, tilting his head as if figuring out a simple riddle. The boy didn't mind. It actually felt nice, the fire warming his front, the loving eyes of his grandfather warming the rest. Finally Grandfather spoke.
"You like the fireplace, don't you, boy?" he said.
"Me too. Keeps these bones warm. Good for an old man. Why do you like it?"
"I like watching the flames. They rise up like whooooosh then go away like that," the boy said snapping his fingers. "I think about what happens to them and where they go. At first there's something really, really hot then all of a sudden nothing is there."
His grandfather nodded. "Yes, child. Sometimes the flames are very, very hot. But does that mean they cannot go someplace else? The heat is still there even though the flame is not, eh?"
"I also like that they keep the bats away. Father hates the bats." This was true. Father cursed wickedly whenever bats would come down the chimney and fly through the house. What was worst about them was that they were so hard to catch. Flying here and there with no rhyme or reason Father has spent countless evenings chasing bats around with a pillowcase. It causes a great deal of stress for everyone. This the boy told his grandfather.
"Bats don't mean to be so unpredictable. It's just in their nature to fly like that." Grandfather's lips parted as if he had more to say but he chose to let a silence expand between them instead. After a little while and with a hint of extra effort he cleared his throat and began speaking again.
"Do you know where bats come from?" he asked in a voice so soft the boy wasn't sure if the question was meant to reach his ears. He shook his head. Grandfather adjusted himself in his old creaky chair and continued. "Well, not long ago the world didn't have bats flittering this way and that causing a ruckus for little boys like you and their nice parents in their warm homes. In fact, the world didn't have bats at all."
"You see, not long ago before any bats were around viciously cutting through the air there lived a beautiful eagle. From sun up to sun down she could be seen soaring high in the air, higher than any of the other birds, basking in the warmth of the sun's freshest rays. The eagle was whiter than the whitest cotton and smoother than a porcelain statue. When she flew all the other animals of the land would look up from their watering holes and burrows to stare at her magnificence.
Because she was so beautiful many thought she was an angel sent down from heaven to protect them the way a guardian angel might. This was just a rumor the cubs and ducklings would amuse themselves with and not in the faintest bit true at all. All the animals knew that the eagle was from the earth but could rarely come down to visit them. She lived in a nest at the top of the tallest tree around. That's where she was born and had to stay. Years before she tried living with the other birds on shorter trees but found she got much too cold on those branches. She needed to be up high, as close to the sun as possible, so she could stay warm enough.
Despite all of her majesty the eagle was very lonely at the top of her tree. It was no secret why. For as long as anyone could remember she was unable to lay a single egg. Other birds would visit every day, roosting on the highest branches of her tree and the squirrels would scurry all the way up and curl in her nest to keep her company but all of this was very hard for them. It was simply too hot. They would stay as long as they could but eventually each would have to go before their feathers and fur started singeing. And at night they all had their own families to care for. Even though the eagle was the most beautiful animal in the kingdom and was a blessing to everyone she met no one could figure out why she could not lay an egg. Many evenings, after the last of her friends would leave with promises to come back the next day for idle conversation she would cry herself to sleep in hopes of having something of her own to love some day.
Then, one morning, she woke to find in her nest not one but two eggs nestled under her. The eagle was so happy tears more pure than the freshest spring water on earth streamed down her face. How is it I can be so lucky to have two eggs at once? she thought. Indeed there was a large celebration in her honor when all the other animals found out of her good fortune. There was only one, small problem. One of the eggs lacked a certain beauty that the other did. While one was a perfect oval without a single noticeable blemish the other was a bit tarnished. Not that it didn't look well enough on its own, but there was certainly something off about it. It was a little lumpy and had a few muddy smudges on it. At first no one said anything of course, but word quickly spread that one of the eagle's eggs was sick. Still, the eagle showered both with affection promising them all the love her heart could muster in equal measure.
One day, when the sun was setting and it wasn't so devilishly hot at the top of her tree one of the eagle's smartest friends, the wise cormorant, paid her a visit."
"You know, we don't want to bring about bad tidings, but what if that one egg right there has a disease?" The eagle scoffed. She would hear none of that. But the cormorant persisted. "You don't want your healthy egg to get sick too, do you? Maybe it would be best for you to separate the two, dear, just until they hatch. It would be the safe decision."
The cormorant did have a point. It would be the safe decision. The eagle relented. If they had to be separated and she would have to fly to and from each they both needed the heat of the sun to keep them warm while she was away looking after the other. To solve for this she built another nest at the top of the second highest tree in the land- only shorter than the first highest tree by one leaf- and rested her tarnished egg there.
For months the eagle ran herself ragged flying back and forth between the two trees all day and all night long. She didn't want to show that she had a favorite, but the more she thought about it the more it scared her that maybe her slightly flawed egg was sickly. And what if it was? What if she would never be able to bring them together? What would she do? Surely, she thought, I can keep looking after both of them equally until they hatch then decide what's next.
That summer was hotter than any of the animals could remember. Even the giant tortoises who had been around for what seemed like centuries said they couldn't remember such heat. The plains simmered and steam rose from the lakes. The lions and gazelles put aside their differences and shared any shade they could find (it was too hot to hunt and run anyway). The rodents and snakes stayed underground in the cool earth to wait it out but the temperature kept rising. Grasses turned brown and the soil split into huge puzzle pieces yet the eagle stayed at the top of her trees flying back and forth between her nests.
Once again at sundown, the lowest temperature of the day, yet still tremendously hot, the cormorant flew up to the eagle's nest that held the perfect egg. There she was gently nuzzling its side. Even in the waning light from the day's last sun rays the cormorant saw that the eagle looked different. She had grown darker. She was no longer a shining alabaster white, but rather slightly golden all around. The edges of her wings and top of her head were even ever-so-slightly blackened.
"My God, dear! You're baking!" the cormorant cried. "The sun is baking you and your eggs. You must get down this instant. I insist!"
The eagle resisted. Her eggs could not go without the heat. They were soon to hatch and needed all the warmth they could get. As she said this the cormorant saw that her eyes were red and puffy. The eagle was exhausted from all the flying and now with the heat her health was getting dangerously worse. Before there was an argument she flew off to check on her nest at the other side of the valley.
As the summer wore on the days kept getting hotter still. The wildflowers had all wilted to drooping pieces of brown string. All that was left of the once inexhaustible lakes were tepid puddles of mud. Desperate for some sort of hope to latch onto the animals held a meeting and sent out four brave wildebeest scouts in each direction to search for rain clouds. On a miserably hot day to end all miserably hot days one of the wildebeests returned bringing news that he had found rain clouds heading their way. They would arrive in a few days time. All the animals rejoiced. Now all that remained was having the fortitude to hold out just a little bit longer.
It was too much for the land. Small fires started to spring up in the grasses. The small fires got larger and larger quickly consuming everything and sending all the animals on a mad search for safety. The big bear who normally kept to his grumpy self at the base of the nearby mountain said they could all huddle in his cave to escape the flames. Scampering as quickly as they could muster everyone ran to the cave dodging fires that were erupting from the earth. When they were all inside the wise cormorant noticed there one was still missing...the gorgeous eagle. Leaving the protection of the cave the cormorant flew out to save her friend. Flying over the sea of flames that spread as far as the eye could see the cormorant also fought against the harsh sun from above and made it to the top of the tree with the perfect egg where the eagle sat.
"Hurry, dear! You must come to the cave! The sun is too hot and flames are burning everything up. The world is becoming engulfed."
The eagle said she could not leave her eggs. They were going to hatch soon. She didn't want to put them in danger by moving them at such a delicate time. The cormorant saw that this was true. At least it was for the perfect egg. It was wiggling around from movement inside. Because the eggs were so big the eagle could not hold both in her talons at one time. She said she would wait for this one to hatch, scoop it in her mouth, then go get the other one. Then they'd make their way to the cave. But the cormorant could see that there was no time to wait.
"Look below. The fire is climbing up this very tree and will soon send it crashing down. Please just take this one egg. Don't put both in danger and instead make sure one is safe. Two was twice what you were expecting at once anyways, wasn't it?"
Again the cormorant spoke the truth, but the eagle- now a dark sienna from beak to claw- had a plan. Together she and the cormorant soared back to the cave. At once she rested down the perfect egg, burnt and smoking, and bolted back out into the inferno. All the animals in the cave waited for her to return. While they were waiting the charred egg began rocking. Then, a small crack appeared. It was soon to hatch!
The eagle zoomed back in with a trail of fire on her tail. She checked her egg, gave it a soft kiss and before anyone could say a word she flew back out again. Again and again for the next hour she would fly in, kiss her perfect egg, and rush right back out. At one point the cormorant blocked her path and asked why she kept leaving. The eagle lost her other egg! The fire outside had destroyed all the landmarks. She could not find where the tree stood that held her second nest.
The firestorm raged on. The eagle kept returning empty handed only to look in on her perfect egg, and leaving again in search of her sick one. Each time she returned she was darker and darker than before. On her last visit to the cave she was completely black. The feathers on her wings had been scorched away to nothing but leathery flaps and her ears were raw nubs of flesh. Even her eyes had turned into pebbles of coal.
On that final return to the cave her perfect egg hatched. The scorched shell fell away in a cloud of ash. All the animals gathered around. When the dust cleared they saw a chick that looked just like the eagle did now, black and shriveled. The egg was like a little oven and the chick had been cooked inside.
The next day the rains came and replenished the land to its natural beauty. The lions and gazelles went back to their game of hunter and prey. The prairie dogs rolled around playing and wrestling just like before. Everything was restored but the eagle, who was no longer known as an eagle. Miraculously, even without the glowing feathers or shining white brilliance, her chick grew to be a healthy boy. She was so very happy to have something of her own to cherish but her happiness was always shadowed by a profound sadness. She never found the egg she lost during that day of the great fire. The tree that housed her other egg had been destroyed and there was no trace of a nest to be found. Day in and day out when the animals looked up they could see her and her child, a pair of black creatures, flying every which way, always looking for that lost egg. That is how her child learned to fly and taught his kids who taught their kids who taught their kids and so on. Searching this way and that never succeeding, the eagle had been transformed by the fire to be what we now call a bat.
"You see, my boy. The fire changed how the eagle looked, but the heat changed how it acted forever. That's why it flies the way it does." With a small nod he ended by saying, "Fire causes change, boy, but the heat makes it stay."
And this was the end of Grandfather's story of the first bat. His cheeks glistened from the many tears that had run down his face during the telling. He slowly eased back into the rocking chair letting out a sigh so heavy it seemed to shake the room. Rather than ask him why he cried the boy decided to let the question go and tentatively turned back to the fire. It was getting low and weak. He threw in a few fresh logs and jabbed at the bed of glowing embers with a wrought iron poker a few times to rile it into something meaner. Tiny specks of orange snow spiraled around the burning wood like a swarm of electric bugs. As the fire grew the boy inevitably began thinking about the flame tips again. Yes, they would disappear, but just because they would go away didn't mean that nothing remained. In the aftermath, when all but the memories of what existed before the kiss of fire had burned everything away, the heat still lingered. The fire caused the change and the heat would keep the bat searching high and low but without the flame itself to see and touch the boy wasn't sure how much having the heat mattered.
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