Hi-hos and Ho-hos

Published in Mental Contagion, online arts and literature magazine

Platypi: Warm-blooded, Egg-laying Stories
Column 4, Holidays 2003
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TIME HAS LOST TRACK of me here in my office. This is my hour of peak efficiency, or so I tell myself every time I prairie-dog up to look across the other empty cubicles toward the window gone dark. I’m systematically checking things off today’s to-do list which somehow never stops scrolling off the bottom of my screen. Any loneliness that might curl in my door on an air-conditioned current on this Friday night is instantly zapped by the glow of my monitor, by the intensity of my concentration. The atmosphere in here is warm and productive. And I am alone—

—until one of those air-conditioned currents curling in my door brings me something very different than loneliness.

“… fueled a boyish thirst for danger and discovery that drove me down the tomb’s corridor, hunched in my swiftest shuffle, flashing my light haphazardly across the ceiling …”

I am so intently typing sensitive emails (I will file them to send Monday morning at a more godly hour—wouldn’t want anyone to know I work this late) that I finish several more sentences before looking up at the two guests perched upon my monitor. In my peripheral vision I can see something unexpected about them—even more unexpected than the intrusion of two bats into my workplace. There’s something funny up there. But my concentration and resolve is so strong that I avoid looking up until the paragraph is complete.

Now that I’ve made them wait this long, I stall a moment more, close my eyes, lift my head, and before opening my eyes again say: “Hello you two.”

Opening my eyes now, I see two grinning bats, Hikoki Nezumi and Esmerelda, perched atop my monitor, on either side of the photo of Beth and me. Their eyes are amused and each one wears a little red Santa hat—the funny part I’d sensed. We all grin together. My calm amuses me—if they had meant to surprise me I’m slyly foiling their attempt. This is my hour of efficiency, of authority, of ego. There are no surprises at this hour. But Hikoki and Esmerelda are a welcome break and my self-amused grin melts into a mouth of contentment before I speak again.

“What are you two up to? You look like trouble tonight.”

Esmerelda answers: “I was worried I turned you off of bats with my last lecture about facts and fiction; I gave you grief for not studying up on—what was it?—our kinship?”

“Hardly. I’ve actually been feeling very creative lately. I think you helped kick my brain out of hard-fact mode and into the more exciting realm of imagination. Although I must admit I did break out a couple books I bought recently to bone up on kinship and other behaviors of bats.”

“What did you learn?”

“I skipped to the section on sexual intercourse.” And this directed to Hikoki: “Do you really bite the scruff of her neck to hang on?”

Hikoki shifts a little, uncomfortably. “Well, not her specifically—” he glances sheepishly over at Esmerelda who actually laughs out loud. It is a sexy feminine laugh. It is a jubilant and inviting laugh. I think she has just given Hikoki a telepathic message: “You can bite the scruff of my neck anytime.” This emboldens Hikoki and he conjures a little sauciness back at me: “How do you hang on?”

“Touché. I gotta admit: the book did nothing for me. It was full of scientific names, charts, maps, practical advice, concise histories of the bat in literature and fable, and even examples of the bat as a logo and icon. There were bibliographies, references to scholarly works, and lots of black and white figures—not pictures or drawings, but figures, like: ‘Figure 1. Early drawing of Vampyrum spectrum (Giant Spear-nosed Bat).‘ I had to put the book down. It just wasn’t what bats are to me.”

With an air of indignation Esmerelda snorts: “well we certainly aren’t vampire bats.”

Hikoki is back to me quickly with: “What are we to you?”

“You are those swaying creatures on the roof of the corridor in Humayun’s tomb in India—those little maligned creatures that inspired in me a mystical skittishness and at the same time fueled a boyish thirst for danger and discovery that drove me down the tomb’s corridor, hunched in my swiftest shuffle, flashing my light haphazardly across the ceiling—like a bad horror movie—terrified to look (looking anyway); warmed at the thought of you little furry fliers all around me; and humbled by this mysterious and ancient place you called home. We must have both shocked each other: my flashlight no doubt burning the nocturnal eyes of your Indian counterparts; your teeming, swaying multitudes filling me with intimidation and awe, all the while far more intrigued with the life all around me than with the last resting place of Humayun under that marble slab at the end of the corridor.”

Hikoki takes a slight breath in through his nose and says: “Oh. Is that all?”

Esmerelda’s at a loss for words and merely looks sideways at Hikoki with an expression of mild disapproval.

There’s a moment’s pause during which Hikoki adjusts his little Santa hat to scratch his head. I ask: “Where’d you get the hats?”

Hikoki’s quick with: “Sometimes we commission silkworms into slave labor before we eat them.”

“Very nice work. They’re cute.”

“Umm—” Our banter seems to be snapping Esmerelda out of it. “Where is everyone else?”

I look around, as if realizing for the first time I’m still in the office. “Oh, it’s Friday night. They’ve all gone home to families or out to party.”

“Why are you here?”

I’m about to give Esmerelda a very practical answer about the projects I’m working on and their importance in the bigger scheme of things (as I might give an acquaintance) but there is something in the buzz of telepathic energy between me and these bats that tells me I need to go deeper. These are my friends. I can be frank. “My work is a mixture of things I have to do, things I want to do, and things I won’t quite get around to. I’m pretty tough on myself, so I do really well the things I have to do, even if I don’t want to do them. I’m not cocky enough to think that I’m above working for someone else. But if that was all I did—the things I have to do—then I would be nothing more than your doomed little slaves—your silkworm lunches.”

“—Breakfasts,” Hikoki chimes in, licking his lips. “Our silkworms weave at night. We eat them in the morning when they’re done.”

“Nice. Anyway. That’s why I also make sure my job includes things I want to do; things I’m passionate about. Things where I can finish the day with a sense of progress and accomplishment. It’s sometimes challenging to see progress in this kind of work,” I say, gesturing at my computer monitor as if it was a pile of potatoes to be peeled. “In construction, the progress was easy: every day we made a bigger pile of lumber; or a deeper hole in the ground; or finished another section of bridge—and as days and weeks went by, we could see a permanent piece of the infrastructure—of the landscape—taking shape. That was easy satisfaction.”

Esmerelda: “So this line of work isn’t satisfying?”

“It’s not quite that simple. Once when I was working construction, I wrote about how the scrapes and bruises and calluses of manual labor seemed like medals or trophies—symbols of my efforts and accomplishments. I wondered if I would miss the aches and pains when I settled into a less physically demanding job—” I pause for a moment to pull up on-screen my old journal entry and the bats hop down to my desk to read it. There is something absolutely ridiculous about their two little heads turning in synch as they read:

All the little sore parts

When they’ve turned back to me I continue: “I knew I would settle into a job that used my mind more than my body. This is a better place for me here.” I flick my eyes up to the pile of potatoes on my desk. “And I still abuse my body on a regular basis—whether I’m skiing, dancing like a freak, or clumsily opening a beer bottle with a staple-remover and peeling off part of my fingernail.” I show them a mangled fingernail to illustrate.

Esmerelda: “But is opening a beer bottle as noble as building a bridge?”

“I think obsessing about nobility in everything we do is absurd. And cocky. Who are we to think we are noble and above certain things?…”

Hikoki seems to have bored of this line of thought. He’s hopping around the office fiddling with my stuff. He finds a wrapped gift from one of my clients and puts his ear to it, jostling it slightly with his wing. He doesn’t realize Esmerelda and I are watching him until she clears her throat with a matronly “ahem.” Seeing he has successfully diverted our conversation, he addresses me with a new question: “It’s almost Christmas. What kind of gifts are you giving this year?”

“Something sharp. To break through the wrapping of gifts that people already have inside. Some people need to unwrap their courage—to stand up to a boss or open up to a lover. Some people need humility—to strap in and do things they don’t want to; things that need to be done. Some people need confidence—to believe in themselves. Some people need trust—to believe in things larger than themselves—”

Hikoki: “Nice speech, Miss America.”

“Aw, fuck off. I’m trying to be serious here.”

Esmerelda is flashing Hikoki a look of disdain. He’s unfazed: “That’s exactly your problem: you’re too serious. Lighten up. It’s the holidays! What would you really like to give as a gift?”

“A box of Ho-Hos. For everyone.”

“Not everyone likes Ho-Hos. Some people like Ding Dongs, and some are allergic to chocolate and go for Twinkies. Some prefer chocolate-coated silkworms.”

“Ho-Hos are better than Ding Dongs. Every bite has an optimal balance of chocolate coating, cake, and filling. With Ding Dongs you gotta take too big a first bite to get into the filling—it’s almost impossible to make every bite good. It’s Ho-Hos for everyone. If they don’t want ’em, more for me.”

With that Esmerelda offers Hikoki a look no doubt backed by a packet of telepathy that says they should leave me to my work. I bid them farewell and “happy holidays” (wondering which holidays bats celebrate, anyway) and return to some piece of correspondence. Down the hallway I can hear those two smartasses singing: “Ho-ho, Ho-ho, it’s off to work we go …”

  • Reference to: Vampiro: The Vampire Bat in Fact and Fantasy by David E Brown
  • All references to snack cakes contained herein are purely fictional and any similarity to real snack cakes is purely coincidental. The bats, however, are real.

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