The Habits of Great Predators

[fiction]

A bat expert visited the elementary classroom and said he’d like to give a demonstration of how the Diphylla Ecaudata, the hairy-legged vampire bat, fed on its prey. He selected Megan Kinney to portray a sleeping chicken while he, the expert, played the bat. He spent long minutes circling the girl, describing the fever pitch of his thermoception guiding him towards a warm place to bite.

He lightly pushed Megan over so she sat on her butt and then he lifted her shoed right foot for the class to see.

“Then I would sink my razor teeth into this tender little chicken foot, where all the blood has pooled,” he said. And as he said this, he curved his left-hand fingers into little claws and caressed the girl’s sneaker sole.

*     *     *

Two EMTs in red polo shirts filed into a middle school classroom to demonstrate pro tips on cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The female EMT circled the xiphoid process with her index finger and said, “You want to be here.”

The male EMT was older and covered in curly gray hair. He had a cancerous Floridian tan and a gold-banded digital watch. “All emergencies are catch-as-catch-can,” he said. “This is no time to ask for permission.”

He dropped to a straddle over a silicon torso with a head, but no arms, hair, or breasts.
“This?” he said, jabbing a finger into the breast-less pectorals. “This is your mom. This is your daddy. This is someone you really don’t want to die. This is serious.”

He started pumping the heel of his hand into the xiphoid process. He said, “Come on, stay with me,” a few times as he pumped. When he finished, he was out of breath and sweating from his forehead.

“Now you guys need to try,” he panted.

And he rolled off the torso onto his back. He became the torso. The suggestion was that the students straddle him and pump his xiphoid process. No one was quite sure about it, including the female EMT, who seemed to be studying her watch. The teacher instructed Megan Kinney to go do what the man said.

She straddled his big belly, so large her knees barely touched the carpet on either side of him. He told her to press and she did, but he wanted it harder. He told her she was not pressing his xiphoid process. Up more. With more force.

“I’m dying!” he reminded her. “I’m leaving you forever. Act!”

She couldn’t find the process. He told her to look harder.

“This isn’t time for delicacy!” he said, pulling up his own shirt, exposing more hair, more sweat.

He took her hand in his own and made her push his shirt the rest of the way up.

Then commanded she keep pressing.

“Come on!” he panted.

*     *     *

Her college boyfriend staggers into the bedroom, crimson-eyed, having watched a Discovery Channel special on the deadly physics of the boa constrictor.

“Let me show you how they capture their prey,” he says.

And he pleads with her to just turn around for a second, just lift her arms up so he can cinch his arms around her rib cage, thumb knuckles tucked beneath the old xiphoid. But she is already saying no and stepping away.

“I’ve heard about creatures just like that,” she says. “Seen the same move.”

She asks him who would win, a vampire bat or a boa constrictor. And as the college boyfriend begins to hold forth, she is hopping on one foot, hooked finger slipping on a sneaker.

Michael Schoch received his MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Bridge Eight Literary Magazine, and Jersey Devil Press. He teaches and works in writing centers in New York and New Jersey.