Chiroptophobia (Fear of Bats)


The stars shined brightly through the canopy of the jungle. The occasional growl of a jaguar sounded along the breeze which came up after the late afternoon rain shower. One Flower’s father and the other men of the small tribe had returned from their long day of hunting, bringing with them a deer and a wild pig. There was enough meat to feed the village for at least a full day, and the bones and hides would be welcome additions to the villagers small trading wealth. The village lies about a full day’s journey south of the Great Capital of Tikal. Once a month, some of the men and women from the tribe would go to the market place of Tikal and trade their hides for things that had been brought from all of the other tribes of the Empire. A special treat for these villagers was the variety of fish brought in by the coastal tribes. The last time that One Flower’s father had returned from Tikal, he had brought her a special present, a beautiful piece of jade which the village craftsman had carved into the face of an owl for her to wear as a necklace and which had been strung on a thin strip of deer hide.

The people of the village had eaten well that night, and with their bellies full, the children as well as some of the adults, gathered around the large communal fire eagerly awaiting for the old storyteller, Stone Dog, to begin his tale. The old man shuffled around to his seat on the ground in order to get comfortable, cleared his throat and began.

“Tonight, I will tell you the story of the Hero Twins, Xbalanque and Hunahpu, and their journey to the land of the dead, Xibalba.” Those who sat around the fire were entranced by the tale of the Hero Twins and their battle with the Lords of Xibalba. When Stone Dog got to the part where the boys were led into the various houses, even the animals in the jungle grew quiet, as if they were also fascinated by the story.

“The first house that they were put into was called Dark House. The messenger of the Lords of Xibalba brought them a burning torch and two cigars. The Lord One Death said to them that in the morning, they must return the torch and the cigars intact. They agreed and when they were alone in the house, they used the tail of a macaw to resemble the torch’s fire and they put fireflies on the tips of the cigars to make it seem as though they were smoking them. This they did to fool the sentries should they look in on them during the night. When the Lords of Xibalba saw that the boys had defeated them in their plans to kill them, they were astounded. ‘Where could these boys have come from? Who could have begot them and bore them? Our hearts ache because what they are doing to us is no good.’ When all of the Lords were assembled, they conferred together to come up with a new plan for the Twin’s death. They went to them and said, ‘Come boys, let us play ball together.’ And when the boys agreed, the Lords said, ‘This is the one that we should put in play, here’s our rubber ball.’ But the Twins were not fooled. ‘It is not made of rubber, it is a skull.’ They played anyway, but suddenly a White Dagger came from the inside of the ball and flew around the court trying to kill the Twins. They said to the Lords, ‘It was you who summoned us, but if all that you want from us is our deaths, then let us go free.’ This is how the Twins first defeated the Lords of Xibalba.

The second house that the Twins were put into was called Razor House. This is where it was ordained that they be cut clear through with knives. But the Twins said and instructed them:’This is yours: the flesh of all the animals’ and so the knives stopped moving and dropped their points. The third house that they were put in was called Cold House. This was filled with constantly shifting winds and thick-falling hail. The Twins overcame this simply by shutting the elements out of the house. The fourth house was called Jaguar House. When the Twins saw all of the jaguars, they said:’Don’t eat us. There is something that should be yours.’ Having said this, the boys threw bones before the animals and the animals ignored them and fought over the bones. The fifth house was called Fire House, which did no real harm to the boys; it only slightly toasted them. The last house that they were put in was called Bat House. It was full of bats which had snouts like knives, which were meant to kill the boys. When the bats quieted down, the boys decided that they would spend the night in their blowgun. After some time in there, Xbalanque asked Hunahpu if he could see if dawn was coming soon. Hunahpu told Xbalanque that he would try, but as soon as he stuck his head out of the blowgun, a bat swooped down and cut off his head. Xbalanque called out to Hunahpu if he could see the dawn, but he received no reply. Realizing that his brother was dead, Xbalanque cried out in despair. In the meantime, Hunahpu’s head rolled into the ball court, in accordance with the word of One and Seven Death, and all of the Xibalbans were happy.” With this final sentence, Stone Dog stopped his story, rose from his seat by the dying fire and said that he would continue the story the next evening.

All through the telling of the adventures of the Hero Twins, One Flower remained stoic, however, there was one part which her stoicism left her and fear took over. This part was when Stone Dog spoke about Bat House. One Flower, for a reason that she could not figure out, hated bats. Whenever she went out in the jungle to play with her friends and they came upon a cave, One Flower would stop playing and stand rigidly in place. In her eleven year-old mind, One Flower knew that bats were just another creature created by the gods, but, for some reason, to her, they were the incarnation of evil. One time, one of the village boys went into a cave and, trying to impress everyone, threw a stone at the flock of bats sleeping on the roof of the cave. Hundreds of the startled creatures flew squeaking out of the cave and One Flower froze with her ears covered. She ended up running back to the village screaming when one of the bats dived low and flew into her hair. It took her mother a long time to calm her down enough to find out what had happened. When One Flower told her mother which boy had thrown the rock, she went to the boy’s mother and demanded that the boy be whipped. This was the angriest that One Flower had ever seen her mother and she smiled to herself when she saw the boy’s mother take up a switch and start beating her mischievous son.

That night, One Flower rolled around on her reed mat dreaming of the Hero Twins being trapped in their blowgun surrounding by the squeaking little monsters. However, in her dream, it was not Hunahpu who was sticking his head out to see if dawn was coming, but One Flower. In her dream, One Flower bundled herself into a ball and almost refusing to stick her head out when Xbalanque told her to check. From her fetal position, she could feel the Hero Twin pushing her feet trying to get her to look out of the blowgun. She fought and fought, but eventually lost. She only allowed that part of her head which went down to her eyes to emerge from the blowgun. She did not hear any noise coming from the bats, and so like Hunahpu, she allowed more of her head to emerge. At the same exact moment that her head emerged from the blowgun, she felt a sharp tugging on her hair and a pair of flapping wings. She violently shook her head and screamed and then she awoke finding her parents looking at her with concern.

“What is it, daughter, that troubles your sleep?” her father asked as her mother knelt down to hold One Flower in her arms.

“I dreamed that a giant bat was trying to rip off my head. It was horrible.”

“Hush now, daughter, it was only a dream. See, your head still remains where it should be.”

Despite her parents attempts to comfort her, One Flower laid back down on her mat but refused to close her eyes. She was afraid that if she did, the bat would succeed in his attempt to decapitate her. One Flower’s determination to stay awake, however, did not last long and before she knew it, the morning sun had risen. When she was fully awake, she went to help her mother prepare the morning meal. The figures from her nightmare disappeared and she continued to do her morning chores before going to the cenote to play with her friends. She did, however, sit further away from the fire when Stone Dog started to finish the story of the Hero Twins. Although the rest of the story was scary, at least, she thought, there were no bats in it.

A month after One Flower had had her nightmare about the giant bat, her father and the other traders from the village returned from their “expedition” to Tikal. One Flower always thought of her father’s trips to the Great Capital as “expeditions” instead of business trips because it sounded more heroic to her. Her father and his “fellow warriors” were off to conquer the Capital and bring back precious treasures to the village. One Flower had always thought of her father as a brave warrior even though there had been no battles between her tribe and any other tribe in at least a katun. When the men returned to the village bearing their “prizes”, One Flower always stood by her mother and the other women and children of the village greeting their menfolk with cheers. When she saw her father, however, it seemed that he had a stern, defeated expression on his face. This disconcerted One Flower until she saw her father suddenly break into a large, sunny grin. He had been playing with her! She laughed and ran up to her father and also leaped into his arms until she realized that it would be undignified for a girl her age. Instead, she walked up to him, took his hand in hers, and said,

“What did you bring back, father? Did you bring me anything?”

“Yes, yes I did my daughter. I went to a shaman and told him of your fear and he gave me something for you.”

One Flower’s face turned red when her father mentioned her fear and, lowering her head, said,

“What? What did he give you?”

One Flower’s father set down the deer leather sack that he had been carrying and withdrew something. He said to her, “Open your hand.” and she did. When her father dropped the object in her hand and she recognized what it was, she almost dropped on the ground. It was a carved piece of jade in the form of a bat!

“Before you run away in fear, daughter, listen to me. The shaman told me that this is a carving of the god Camazotz and that as long as you wear it around your neck, no bat will ever harm you. Are you willing to wear it?”

One Flower appreciated what her father had given her and thought about what he must have paid the shaman to get it, so she looked bravely at her father and said,

“I will do as you ask.”

After this, One Flower never went anywhere without wearing her amulet of Camazotz and, surprisingly to her, she never feared bats or had nightmares about them again.

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