When she was sixteen, an incredible itch started in Sadie Rowan’s head. It sat in on the left side of her brain just underneath her skull. It felt like lice were crawling on her. The constant tingling in her head was anxiety provoking to say the least. Her heart rate never seemed to slow, its beat keeping in step with the scratching of her nails. No matter how much she looked there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her scalp. Not even a flake of dandruff. Maybe it was a tumor, or a blood clot that would make her drop dead in a few days, a parasite—
After two nights of itching, Sadie finally scratched hard enough to draw blood. Her mother decided it was time to check with the doctor. Dr. Sincomb had no ideas. Save from the littering of scabs buried in her hair, he came to the same conclusion Sadie had. Nothing looked wrong. She hadn’t switched shampoos, no allergies, or strange hair product use. As soon as he came back with his findings, he found Sadie’s hand digging at her scalp again. Blood coated the pads of her fingers. He called in Sadie’s mother. “I think we should order an x-ray,” Dr. Sincomb told her. They had to wait until the next day for the hospital to take them. In the meantime, Sadie’s mother suggested a hat to keep her from scratching.
The x-ray was quick, the wait for the results more than twice the time. Finally Dr. Gowry, the new doctor, slipped into the room with a blank look on his face. Sadie had a hand cupped to her ear. “Doctor,” she said, “It feels like something’s in my head. I can’t think straight.”
“What do you hear?” Dr. Gowry asked, his eyes focused on the x-ray printout in front of him. Sadie’s mother was on her Blackberry but looked up at the doctor’s strange tone.
Sadie, too distracted by the loud noise in her ear, felt like her words were coming out in meaningless syllables. “It’s like something’s beating right insi—“ she stopped as the beating quickened. “Make it stop, I can’t do this, I’m gonna die.”
Her mother’s hand rubbed circles on Sadie’s knee while Dr. Gowry led her through a few minutes of deep breathing. It took longer than he would have liked, but eventually he was able to hand the x-ray to Sadie’s mother. “What is this?” Sadie’s mother demanded. “Is this a joke?”
“No, Mrs. Rowan, that’s what we scanned, and that’s all I can give you.”
Sadie looked at the x-ray. “Is that a bat?” she asked, fingers still fastened to her skull.
“Yes,” Dr. Gowry replied. “It looks like a small ones. I don’t expect it to grow much.”
Sadie cringed. The furry creature was sleeping upside down, its head right by her own ear. She figured it was the occasional flittering and flapping of its wings must’ve been the cause for the itching and throbbing in her head. “What do I do?” Sadie asked. She wanted to pull the bat out by its flimsy wing and hurl it as far away from her as possible.
Dr. Gowry shrugged. “We don’t know what it’ll do if we go in. I’d say it’s inoperable.” After the copay, they gave her itching cream and sent her home. The cream cost extra.
“Just don’t think about it Sadie,” her mother said as Sadie climbed the stairs to her room. Her mother was scribbling on a notepad as one of her coworkers spoke to her on the other end of the phone. “It’ll go away on its own. Yes Jeff I’m listening.”
Sadie wasn’t sure how a bat could get out of her head by itself. Maybe it would just shrink like a reverse birth until it was just a tiny clusters of cells and then poof. No more bat. The particular bat in her head, Dr. Gowry had explained after a quick Google search, was a little brown bat. They were altogether harmless and actually looked pretty cute in his opinion. Sadie had refused to look at the pictures.
The itch cream was soothing. As long as she continued to massage her head with it she would be fine. Sadie looked at her backpack lying in the corner of her room. This could only work for so long. She had to to start her junior year of high school in September. College was coming, applications, jobs—the bat’s wings scraped against her skull and Sadie let out a loud groan. Whenever the bat shifted like this, a wave of panic rose throughout her whole body. She sat in the middle of her room and massaged her temples. The bat always settled down after a few minutes, but waiting for it to pass felt like her body would simply pass out from exhaustion.
“Honey stop thinking about it,” her mother called from downstairs.
Julia wasn’t too sympathetic either. “You have a bat in your head?!” she whisper-shouted as they sat outside of Starbucks. Julia swirled the ice cubes in her drink with a straw and took a sip, never breaking eye contact. Sadie was at her wits end at home. Her mom wouldn’t be home from work until seven and all Sadie had was the television and her fish Charles. Normally hanging out with Julia was carefree. Sadie regretted mentioning the bat, even if she did feel like she would explode unless she told somebody.
“Yes I have a bat in my head. It’s not as cool as it sounds,” Sadie answered before biting the inside of her cheek.
Julia waited a moment before muttering, “You’re batty.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sadie snapped. She’d started using peppermint oil on her scalp where she itched, a recommendation from some website about holistic treatments she’d found when searching for a cure. The oil felt better than the cream, and it cooled her on these hot July days.
For the time being, Julia took pity on Sadie. She looked at her watch and then at Sadie’s face. “Since it’s not coming out anytime soon, what do you plan on doing?”
Just as she asked, the bat in Sadie’s head stretched after a long sleep. Sadie tilted her head back and forth, flexed her left hand. She’d cut her nails so she couldn’t latch onto the scabs on her head as easily. “Sorry what was that?” Julia frowned and crossed her arms.
“You’re having trouble focusing?”
Sadie answered, “Yeah. I’m constantly thinking it’ll wake up and not go back to sleep and I’ll be stuck like this forever. My mom tells me to ignore it.” Almost instinctually her hand drifted to the side of her head, ring finger pressing deep into a scab.
“I don’t think you can ignore it,” Julia admitted, eyebrows drawn together. “If waking it is the problem, maybe there’s a way for you to make it go back to sleep when it does wake up?”
It made sense to Sadie, and it was better than trying to ignore the itching and chafing going on in her head. It was definitely better than “just don’t think about it”.
With a final stretch from her temple to the top of her ear, the bat settled. “Well, it’s sleeping again right now,” Sadie said, leaning back in her chair. She closed her eyes.
“When does it wake up?” Julia asked.
Sadie thought for a moment, the sun warm on her eyelids. “When I think about college, or when I’m tired—anytime I’m stressed actually.”
Julia smiled. “Alright. Let’s start there. Next time you get stressed try to think of the bat sleeping. Pretend you’re soothing it.” Sadie could see why Julia wanted to be a zoology major.
The bat woke up again two days later. It’d been rustling around, but nothing too severe. A few of Sadie’s scabs had actually healed. It happened as soon as she and her mother were clearing the table after dinner. With a giant stretch, the bat’s wing cut a line up against her brain. She thought she could feel its heart racing against the inside of her brain.
Sadie’s mother turned around to see her daughter hyperventilating, tears leaking from her eyes. “Sadie it’s okay, it’ll go away. Push through it.” The bat’s ears flicked against her skull.
Sadie hurried up to her room. She shut the door and laid on her bed. Put the bat to sleep, put it to sleep, she thought to herself. It felt like the little creature was trying to fly. What calmed Sadie down herself? She was struck by a memory of the time her mother would comfort her after a bad nightmare back when she was in preschool. Her mother would hold Sadie to her chest and just breathe deep. She wouldn’t say a thing. Sadie would always drop right off to sleep.
Closing her eyes, Sadie took a deep breath. Imagine the bat asleep. She could see the little bat curled into a brown ball, nose and eyes peeking out from the blanket of its wings. It’s body slowly rose and fell. It looked cute like that, comfy and cozy.
Sade opened her eyes. The bat had stopped moving. When she sat up, the bat was in a frenzy again. She groaned and flopped back on her bed, anxiety rising in her throat. The bat would do this forever—no. She pictured it sleeping again, the scratching of its wings making it difficult. Though the bat was knocking between her brain and skull, the image was still there. With a bit more practice, maybe she could put it to sleep.
Sammi Curran lives in Boston and has a BFA in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. She has had work published in Blanket Sea Magazine. In her free time, she can be found practicing yoga, reading, or playing video games.