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Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Summary: Joanna watches her neighbour's colour-eating bat for a weekend, and is tempted to take the opportunity for a prank.
Notes: Kunama asked in the open prompt call for more of the colour vampire. The previous stories are Losing Colour and Viridian Vegetation
Joanna liked Henry’s strange little bat. It had grown quite tame, particularly when well fed. She developed a habit of visiting Henry with glossy magazines she did not want to keep, to let the colour vampire suck the boldest spreads grey.
One Friday evening with nothing better to do, she sat in Henry’s living room, the bat a quiet, rust-orange ball of fluff in her lap accepting scritchies.
“Joanna?” Henry stood in the door and put on a jacket, a frown on his face. “Since you get along with the little guy so well, could you watch him until tomorrow?” He looked somewhere far off. “Maybe the day after. A bit of a family emergency.”
“Sure thing.” Considering his agitation, she did not ask for details.
Feeling not at home enough to stay with Henry gone, Joanna borrowed a nearly empty box of tissues to transport the bat. The box fit into her handbag, and would protect the creature from being squished.
The Christmas decorations she saw on the way home made Joanna sigh. November had barely started, and already someone had put a light-up Santa with sled and reindeer in their front yard. She distracted herself deliberately with speculations if the bat she carried would hibernate, followed by considering where she had room for it for the night.
For lack of a better place, Joanna left the bat in her living room. She deposited the tissue box on the couch, carefully ripping it open wider to make sure her guest could climb out. A frame with a collection of family photos was the only thing she removed to prevent damage.
In the morning, she found the bat clinging to the back of the sofa, which had already been grey when she had bought it. The rust-orange had faded a little, but still looked reasonably bright, so the bat probably wasn’t hungry. It turned its head, watching Joanna move around. “Know me well enough by now to now panic, eh?”
She also found a message from Henry on her voicemail, just telling her he’d have to stay with his mother over the weekend because of a health scare. The idea he might have stayed up late and now catching up on sleep weighted against calling to ask how he was doing.
Joanna set up at the dinner table to take care of some paperwork, while keeping her tiny guest company. She was not sure if the bat had explored the room at night to its satisfaction, or if it really was very sluggish, but it only occasionally climbed a short distance, using the rough weave of the sofa’s cover to cling to, to perch in a new spot and look around.
That occasional movement in the corner of one eye was pleasant, a low-key reminder that she was not alone. On her other side was a window. It did not exactly face the yard with the plastic Santa, but too close for Joanna’s taste. The whole monstrosity not only lit up, but also blinked, so it was a constant distraction in the periphery of Joanna’s vision, like a green-red alarm.
After taking care of only the most urgent things, she settled on the couch with a book.
She smiled when eventually the bat started climbing up her sleeve.
When she came out of immersion into the novel, it was because her guest was fretting. It launched itself into the air, and after a round through the room landed in a bookshelf. The bat’s fur had faded to a dull ochre, the wing membranes almost grey.
“Aw, I’m sorry. I’ll get you something to eat.”
What did she have that was brightly coloured and she would not miss at all? When Joanna got up, the way-too-early Santa’s light came into view again. Too bad she couldn’t take her guest over there and have it suck the red out of that monstrosity.
Joanna collected the bat before it could get its teeth into an ultramarine book spine, and petted it gently. Maybe in the middle of the night. But the little one was getting hungry now…
She took the bat to the kitchen and let it have a cheap cutting mat, of a set in rainbow colours, and for herself warmed up leftover pasta in the microwave.
But by the time the evening rolled around, and the Christmas decoration cast a good part of her living room in coloured light, she set her alarm clock to a wee hour of morning.
She felt mildly guilty about keeping the bat in a white pillowcase in a box, to stop it from snacking. Walking to the decorated yard, the bat in its box in her bag, she was just afraid of getting caught. But in their corner of a suburb, the streets were empty at this time of night.
Hoping the bat would even like the now unlit decoration, she held the opening of the tissue box close to Santa’s sleeve. After sniffing a little, the bat bit the plastic.
Not looking around nervously took an effort, and so did walking home rather than running. But Joanna did it.
She collapsed in breathless giggles as soon as she closed her door behind them again. As far as she could tell, no-one had seen them.
“Who of us is a bad influence on the other, eh?”
The bat was full, and dozing off again.
Joanna was too wired to sleep for hours yet.
The next morning - late morning, but why not, it was Sunday - when she looked out of her window, briefly, the Santa with his sled and reindeer was not blinking. Only his sleeve and shoulder were discolored; maybe his owner wanted to check for other damages rather than risk a short circuit or other electric emergency.
The fluttering feeling in Joanna’s stomach was more exhilaration than fear, and breakfast would surely help her settle. The bat was still scarlet, and not hungry.