Late May, 1634
Pam Miller walked briskly down Grantville's main street, hoping to avoid the friendly looking fellow heading her way from the Freedom Arches. It looked like he may be trying to get her attention; she had no idea why and was in one of those moods where she didn't want to find out. She was about to cross the street to put some distance between them but a team of horses hauling a very heavy looking metal tank on a flatbed truck trailer had blocked her path. With a furtive glance back toward the smiling man she started to move around the back of the slowly moving procession—too late!
"Pam! Pam Miller! I've been looking all over for you!"
Pam instinctively paused slightly, losing her chance to make a break for it under the rather flimsy excuse that she hadn't heard him call out. She turned slowly toward the man walking swiftly toward her, hand raised in a cheerful wave. She made herself smile, realizing that it was Grantville's Baptist minister. What could he possibly want with me? I'm a Methodist, and I can barely call myself that anymore! "Oh, hi, Reverend Green."
"Call me Al, please, I'm out of uniform—but never off duty!" The spiritual leader of Grantville's Baptists stuck out his hand to shake Pam's; his grip was warm and gently firm, a well practiced social grace that succeeded in conveying a sincere sense of welcome.
"So, are you excited about the wedding?"
The wedding? What wedding? Pam felt her stomach lurch with anxiety. She had a sudden suspicion, but there was no point in pretending she had been informed, men of the cloth could typically spot a fib a mile away. "What wedding, Al?" This produced a nonplussed expression on the reverend's face.
"Oh! Oh my, I'm sorry, Pam. I thought you would know by now . . . Well, I suppose Walt and his fiancée would rather tell you themselves, but it is only three weeks away . . . " Reverend Green was in the very rare position for a man of his calling of not knowing what to say.
"It's okay, Reverend . . . . I heard he'd found a girl after the Ring of Fire hit. I'm very happy for them." In actuality that was a fib and she didn't care; she hadn't heard, and it hurt her feelings very much. She had no idea who her son had chosen, was she American or a down-time German girl? She could be the Queen of Sheba for all Pam knew and she tried to keep the resentment from her face.
"Well, that's good." Al's face turned to worry. "Look Pam, I know you're technically one of Simon's flock over at First Methodist but since he's out of town . . . I want you to know that if you ever needed someone to talk to, I'm always available. I'm aware you went through a divorce and that must have been hard on you, and it's certainly never easy for kids, even teenagers like Walt. Let me help, if I can."
Pam wanted to simply walk away from the man but he was so earnest that she couldn't. She nodded, biting her lip. Later, Pam, deal with this later . . . With a stern effort she pushed her emotions aside. "Thank you, Al. I do appreciate it. The truth is my relationship with my son isn't very good, in fact I really can't say we have one right now. I hope that will change some day. Meanwhile I have a lot of work to do, the research institute is keeping me very busy and I'm helping set up a summer nature studies program with the middle school."
Al smiled, welcoming the change of subject. "Ah, yes, I've heard about that. Grantville is very lucky to have someone so knowledgeable about the natural world!"
"Well, I'm not really. I'm an amateur birdwatcher and I've read a lot of natural history and ecology books. Apparently these days I'm the only person interested in those subjects. I thought it would be a good idea to foster a love of nature with our kids in this new reality of ours, maybe we can raise them to avoid some of the environmental catastrophes we created up-time."
"Good for you, Pam! That's a very noble cause. Truth is, that was the main reason that I stopped you just now. I'd like to ask your help on a certain problem I have, or rather our church has, regarding some wildlife."
Pam raised an eyebrow in surprise. "A problem with wildlife?"
"Yes, it seems a certain group of animals has made the church its home. I would very much like to see them removed safely without coming to any harm. Some of the younger fellows offered to go up there and kill them or smoke them out, but they're God's creatures, too, and a massacre certainly didn't seem appropriate in a church building . . . "
"Al, what are you talking about?" Impatience was creeping into Pam's tone.
The reverend gave her a furtive look. "Bats, Pam. In the belfry." The reverend couldn't help but give her a silly grin.
Pam couldn't help but let out a laugh. "Bats in the belfry? I thought I was the only one with that problem."
"I assure you, it is more widespread than one might think. However, in this case it's quite literal. About a year before the Ring of Fire we noticed them flying around the steeple in the evenings. Lately we began noticing the smell . . . "
"Yes, it's beginning to be a problem. It seems their guano is rather potent. It makes good fertilizer so I've heard but so far no one seems very interested in collecting it. In any event we need to somehow move the little creatures out and prevent them from coming back in. That's when I thought of you, with your knowledge of birds, perhaps—"
"Reverend, bats are not birds!"
"Yes, of course, but they do fly, and it appears you are the only expert in these matters that we have. Honestly, Pam, I don't know who else to turn to, I can't bear to have the little things killed and the smell is beginning to drive away the faithful. It's wafting right down from the belfry into the hall! Something must be done, particularly with—" He hesitated slightly, trying to gauge if this would help his case or not. "—the wedding coming. Could you please at least look into it for me?"
The wedding. Pam's mind fell into a whirl of conflicting thoughts as she took a moment to study the curb and bring things to order. The Baptist Church with Walt and his unknown bride-to-be hanging around, not to mention the possibility of her ex-husband Trent was about the last place she wanted to be. No, she hadn't been told about the wedding and it upset her a lot more than she would like anyone to know. Still, she couldn't help but want his wedding to go well, she loved her son very much even if that had become strangely difficult to show in these last years. And, the reverend was probably right; there wasn't anyone else in town who could be bothered with removing the bats without resorting to violence. Besides, since they were up-time bats they counted on her list of transplanted species she felt needed protecting . . . didn't they? Birds were lovely but not many folks had much love for bats. Still, if they were from West Virginia they should be saved according to her philosophy. She looked back up at the reverend's hopeful face.
"Sure Al, I'll try. I'll need to do some research; I hope the library has something on bats. And if they don't, I'll just do what I always do when I face weird situations our crazy new time throws at me." Reverend Green presented a questioning look.
"Fake it until I get it right." She managed to give him a sardonic grin as she continued on her way across the street.
"Bats. What have I done to deserve bats?" she whispered under her breath in the silence of the library. The issue of her son's wedding kept intruding into her thoughts and she was having a hard time concentrating on her research, which her heart was not really in anyway. Despite her distraction she had managed to learn that there were two main species of bat found in West Virginia; the poetically named 'big brown bat' and 'little brown bat.' They were both insect eaters and useful in keeping crop pests under control. Well, looks like you'd be earning your keep. I guess we better save you. Although they were known as carriers of rabies, the disease usually killed them quickly and when they did rarely pass it to humans it was because the person had foolishly touched a sickly bat with their bare hands. Important safety tip: Don't touch sickly bats with your bare hands. Pam briefly stuck her tongue out in disgust at the thought. Like, who would?
The one slim bit of wisdom she could find on getting rid of bats that had taken up residence in a building was to do it in the spring or early summer so they would be able to find a new home before winter hibernation—fair enough and good timing. Pam doodled a small cartoon bat in her notebook as she tried to form a plan. It became harder to concentrate as her personal issues pushed their way in. I haven't spoken more than three sentences with Walt this last year. I know he's avoiding me, some mother I am . . .
The page swam before her. Walt had always been his father's child. It was pretty hard to compete with "Super-Dad" Trent Dorrman who always made time to play a game of catch or help Walt with his tree houses and plastic models. She tried to stay involved but as Walt got older it became harder—she couldn't throw a ball to save herself. She had tried to get Walt interested in nature but he found the walks through the countryside like she had taken with her grandmother boring and couldn't wait to get back to his model cars or batting practice. Naturally, the duty of helping Walt with his math and sciences homework fell on her, 'the expert,' but it only served to cast her as the stern taskmistress in Walt's mind. He just didn't share her love of those subjects and her efforts to coach him through to a passing grade were looked upon with resentment. "Walt honey, I know you don't like this but it's something you just have to do!" At the end of each painful session there was her ex-husband waiting with the ball and glove—it wasn't fair, really it wasn't fair.
On the other hand, she knew it wasn't fair to blame her ex-husband. He was what he was and if he had helped drive the wedge between her and Walt, it wasn't intentional. Trent had a way with people and Pam didn't; the end. Old familiar guilt began to take hold of her; she could have made more of an effort to go to Walt's baseball games, she always made it to a few every year but she felt like a stranger there. When his dad cheered him on Walt would grin at wave at him in the stands, when she tried it just made him look embarrassed. In the last few years she had only gone to the biggest game of the year and sat quietly on the bleacher, feeling helpless and unwanted. When the divorce inevitably came, no custody questions were ever asked, it was obvious that teenage Walt would stay with his dad and that she would find another place to dwell.
Pam deeply loved her son despite the growing gap between them and the thought that she couldn't inspire that kind of love in return felt like a black wave swelling over her. The doodled bat was completely submerged now, blurred beneath warm salty water. God, Pam, pull it together. Someone's going to see you. Quietly she pulled a handkerchief from her rucksack, dabbing at her hot, moist face with rapid movements. Several high school students passed by on their way to the tables near the window so she hunkered down feigning intense interest in her notes, wiping the tears away from the misshapen drowned doodle. Bats. What the hell am I going to do about that? It certainly wasn't a task she'd wanted to take on but she knew that in some ways it was satisfying to her. That's fine, son of mine, don't invite me to your wedding. Mom will make sure it doesn't stink like bat shit for you, thank me later.
She forced herself back to her planning, the sense of spite a small, cold comfort. Despite her efforts to concentrate, nothing useful presented itself after half an hour. She suddenly felt stifled in the stillness of the room and knew she needed to just move. She might as well start by doing something she was good at: Observation. Time to get Gerbald and check things out. Walking briskly back to her little house on the edge of town, Pam did her best to shove unpleasant thoughts of her estranged family out of her mind. There was work to do and she was glad for that.
Pam's hired man and trusted body guard Gerbald was waiting for her on the narrow slab of concrete that served as her front porch, snoozing comfortably in a folding lawn chair with the misshapen brim of his ridiculous floppy felt hat pulled over his eyes.
"Wake up, Gerbald. We have a project."
"Wake up? How could you think I was actually sleeping? I, your ever watchful guardian, made only a show of sleep to hide my vigilance."
Pam raised her eyebrows at Gerbald's increasingly adept English turns of phrase. Where is he getting that stuff? It must be from all those up-time movies he's become addicted to.
"That was a very convincing snore then, bravo! Come along 'watchful guardian', no birdwatching today, we have some work to do. The Lord's work." She chuckled at the thought.
"Ah, a tedious task at best. What might the Lord need from us?"
"A flock of bats is living under the roof of the Baptist Church. Reverend Green has chosen me to get rid of them and you are going to help."
"Bats . . . what are bats?"
"They're a small brown animal that can fly."
"Oh! Bats are a kind of bird!"
"No, they're mammals, not birds—oh, you'll see."
"I have come to like birds very much, Pam. Surely this won't be so bad."
"You'll see . . . "
They arrived at Grantville's Baptist Church around three thirty in the afternoon. It was one of an imposing collection of stately brick churches towering above the main street, an impressive testament to the beauty of "late Victorian neo-Romanesque" architecture. When she was a young girl Pam had, now rather ironically, thought that this might be what Europe looked like. The presence of so many of God's houses on the street had certainly helped convince the seventeenth century natives that the up-timers were not a village of the damned risen from the fiery pit populated with devil worshipping witches and warlocks.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff