It was a cool evening. I remember it wasn’t too late; people were still walking their dogs, pausing briefly when they met another dog-walker, and some were headed to or from bars up the street.
The clouds, heavily blanketing the sky during the previous few evenings, were finally clearing and the pinpricks of stars shone here and there. A waning sliver of moon hung over in the west, above the rooftops, appearing larger than usual in the late summer sky.
Old Mr. Smithson was sitting out on his porch, reading and enjoying a glass of whiskey. He lived in a large, three-storey red brick house. It had once, apparently, been a mayor’s house and continued to have the appearance of grandeur befitting a late nineteenth century mayor’s home. A wrought iron railing and gate set the property apart from the rest of the neighbourhood and original black cobblestones led from the gate up to the house. The gardens on either side of the cobblestone walkway were kept well-manicured by Mr. Smithson’s daughter, Emma, who drove in almost every evening from the suburbs to check on her father. A grand front staircase led up to a cream-coloured porch that wrapped around one side of the house. Two bright coach lights hung in the ceiling of the porch, casting their daylight glare across the small table and the collection of chairs gathered in front of the two imposing downstairs windows and the heavy oaken front door.
Mr. Smithson sat on his usual rickety wooden rocking chair, his white beard illuminated by the overhead lighting, his eyes shadowed somewhat amusingly by a straw fedora. The neighbours often wondered why he would choose to have such bright lights, so bright that he was then forced to shade his eyes. But Mr. Smithson didn’t speak to the neighbours. He didn’t appear to speak to anyone, in fact, with the exception of his daughter. Those who had been living in the area for long enough recalled that he had been this way for at least fifteen years, since the death of Mrs. Smithson. Even prior to that, it was Mrs. Smithson who would socialize, while her husband remained quietly reclusive on their property. And so, no one thought to ask him about the logic of his lighting choices.
On this evening, he was reading a book, looking up from time to time to peer out from under the glare at the darkened street. Every now and then, a grunting sound would escape from him, generally when someone on the street was unnecessarily loud.
At the same time that Mr. Smithson was sitting on his porch, a woman on the top floor of one of the houses across the street was getting ready for bed. Her husband had turned off his reading light and she was turning off hers. The window near the bed did not have a screen on it and she crossed the room to close it so that the bugs wouldn’t come in during the night.
It was such a lovely, cool night and she thought what a shame it was to close the window. She recalled that the apparently spectacular meteor shower was almost over – it had stretched for several days but because of the cloud cover, there had been no chance of seeing its most dramatic shows. And so, she paused, bent down, and leaned out of the window to look up at the sky. She leaned sideways against the window frame, her upper body outside, and waited.
She was in the midst of contemplating the brilliance of a particular star when the sudden fluttering of a small, dark creature outside, just beside her shoulder, scared her half to death. She screamed, almost toppling out of the window, and jumped back.
“Bat!” she gasped, as she carefully closed the window, hoping to neither hurt the creature, nor so disorient it that it would fly into the room. She liked bats, and this one had been small and cute in a fluttery sort of way, but it was the last thing she had expected in the midst of her reverie.
As she calmed down, she locked the window, pulled down the blind, and climbed into bed. Eventually, she fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Mr. Smithson, startled by the scream across the street, had jumped up and was peering through the darkness beyond the reach of his lights. At the same time, the terrified bat had swooped down and, somehow managing to fly along the porch at just the right time, knocked the straw hat off of Mr. Smithson’s head in passing.
“Bat!” gasped Mr. Smithson, spilling the glass of whiskey that had been sitting on the table beside him.
“Whiskey!” He sputtered, turning this way and that, at a loss for what to do next.
Finally, he managed one last exclamation – “Foxhole!” – before flinging open his front door and diving through it into the safety beyond.
Mr. Smithson has not ventured out since then, though his porch lights continue to glare brightly each evening and all throughout the night. I’m not sure how many around here know what happened, why the old man never leaves his home, or even, indeed, that his name is Mr. Smithson.
But I was sitting on my darkened stoop that evening and I saw the whole thing.
This post was written in response to today’s Daily Prompt from WordPress to “Scribble down the first ten words that come to mind. Pick three of them. There’s your post title. Now write!” My ten words were: tent, caterpillar, bat, whiskey, alarm, running, rollerblade, tree, toast, foxhole, hunger.