“In the Avu Observatory” is a short story by H. G. Wells, first published in the Pall Mall Budget on 9 August 1894, and subsequently included in The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents (1895) and The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911). It describes an attack by a large bat-like creature on an assistant at a remote observatory in Borneo.
The story, as told by an unidentified third-person narrator, begins as Woodhouse – the assistant to the chief observer – is approaching a temporary observatory set up on a mountain top at Avu, in Borneo. He is to spend the next four hours alone in the dark, observing a small group of stars in the Milky Way. The observatory is constructed in the classical style: a rotating dome with a vertical slit to allow the telescope to view the sky. Woodhouse positions the telescope towards its target, and settles down in his seat underneath the instrument.
Suddenly Woodhouse sees the stars blotted out as a dark shape passes over the observatory. Then he hears the sound of a series of “thundering blows” on the dome, and becomes aware that some kind of flying creature has forced its way into the observatory through the observing slit, although as he is sitting in complete darkness he is unable to see it. As soon as he strikes a match the creature attacks Woodhouse, and the two struggle until he succeeds in wounding it with the broken glass of his water bottle, after which it makes its escape from the observatory and Woodhouse falls unconscious.
Woodhouse recovers the following morning amid the chaos of his struggle the night before, surrounded by the chief observer and their Dyak servants.[a] He describes the creature that attacked him as “more like a big bat than anything else in the world. It had sharp, short ears, and soft fur, and its wings were leathery”. The chief observer tells him that the Dayaks talk of a creature they call a Big Colugo,[b] which does not usually attack humans, but that he may have provoked it by making it nervous.
- Dyaks are the indigenous inhabitants of Borneo.
- Colugos, also knowing as flying lemurs, are gliding mammals about the size of a large squirrel.