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The Opossum

By

Mike Ducak

The opossum was certain he had just died.

           

There had been a moment when he realized he had made a fatal error. Then the roaring sound, the blinding light, the impact which seemed to tear him in half; his entire world had exploded. But then he was jolted awake as if from a nightmare and found himself still lying on the smooth pathway where the shining beasts with round feet stalked their prey. He had long known about such dangers but crossing this path was unavoidable, as the opossum’s feeding and mating grounds spanned the woods on either side of it.

 

Sensation began to return to his body, pain beyond his experience. He could not move, and breathing was agony. A cold drizzle fell on him. He could smell the nearby woods, vividly. Another approaching roar; one of the gleaming beasts come to finish him off, the lights of its eyes reflecting off the wet path, blinding. It swept past him in an acrid gust of warm air and a cold spray of rain.

 

The opossum lay for an endless stretch of time. He had never before been troubled by his solitary existence but now he felt truly alone, and beyond the tremendous fear lay an unfamiliar forlornness like a snowy field, cold and desolate. The gritty taste of the road coated his mouth, sucked the moisture from it. His thirst was a torment, worsened by the meagre amount of rainwater accessible to his flicking tongue.

 

The shiny beasts continued to pass at intervals. He hardly paid them any mind now since they seemed to have lost interest in him. He waited for the end. Another of the monsters approached, and he sensed a difference. It slowed. Fear seized his heart, pumped blood faster from his wounds. Its terrible yellow eyes shone into his face. He directed all of his concentration to movement. One hind leg scrambling for purchase on the slick surface. It was a feeble display, and he knew it. But still he tried. Two humans appeared. The opossum froze, his lips curling back. It seemed natural to him that the humans should be allied with the shiny terror beasts. His breath came in the barest gasps. The merciless humans drew near, crouching over him. The opossum wanted to hiss and growl to warn them away but he was paralyzed in his fear. The humans, a male and a female, began to converse in their strange tongue.

 

“What should we do?” the female said.

 

“I’ll go find a rock.”

 

“What are you going to do with a rock?”

 

“I don’t know, bash its head in. Put it out of its misery.”

 

“Gary, don’t even say that! I’ll break up with you right now, I swear.”

 

“Are you sure it’s not dead? Looks pretty dead to me. Smells dead, too.”

 

“Don’t be stupid, its leg is moving. Poor little guy.”

 

"I can’t believe you’re crying over such an ugly thing.”

 

“He is not ugly.”

 

“You’re right, ‘hideous’ would be a better description.”

 

“Why do you have to be so mean?”

 

“Geez, I’m sorry for joking around over a stupid…whatever that thing is.”

 

“It’s a possum, Gary.”

 

The humans fell silent. The opossum considered its chances. Just beyond the strip of gravel lay a shallow ditch, and a few feet beyond that, the woods. If only he could make it that far. There was nothing to say the humans wouldn’t follow him but the woods still seemed like his only hope, or at least a chance to die in familiar surroundings. With every ounce of his energy, with the entirety of his desperate will, he could not even manage to turn onto his stomach.

 

“Gary?”

 

“I’m thinking.”

 

“There’s no time.”

 

“Okay, take it easy. I just remembered I’ve got a shoebox in the trunk.”

 

“He won’t fit in a shoebox.”

 

“Maybe he will if I flatten it.”

 

Miraculously the humans withdrew, and this turn of fortune broke the paralysis and inspired the opossum to redouble his efforts, shifting his weight until he finally righted himself. But the thrill of this achievement was short-lived: the humans had returned.

 

“It’s okay, little guy. We’re going to take care of you. See, I told you he’s not dead.”

 

“Great, now he’s growling at us. If this thing bites me, I’ll never forgive you.”

 

“Shh, you’re scaring him.”

 

“Why do I have to pick him up? This was your idea. How do we know he doesn’t have rabies?”

 

“For God’s sake, Gary. Does he look like he’s in any shape to bite you?”

 

The humans had him now, and the opossum prepared to feel his flesh being torn from his bones, but instead he was borne gently aloft, a shocking feeling of weightlessness like flying, terrifying yet not unpleasant. Then he saw they were going to offer him to the beast and he tried hissing for all he was worth, but hardly any sound issued from his throat.

 

“Ow! The little bastard just scratched me! Look, I’m bleeding.”

 

“He didn’t mean to. He’s just scared.”

 

The beast opened its enormous jaws and the opossum froze again as he waited to be devoured. He could not even shut his eyes. And all at once he was out of the rain and wind, laid upon some unfamiliar surface much softer than the road, a place filled with foreign smells which would ordinarily have set off many alarms. His pain had lessened somewhat and as his body slowly came off its guard weariness overcame him.

 

He began to move, yet without moving. It was the strangest sense of motion, carrying him along like a fish in a rushing stream. The opossum wondered at this bizarre development while the gentle motion pulled him down, down into a deep, dark well. The human voices were oddly comforting now. He was glad not to be alone.

 

“Gary?”

 

“What?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Stop crying for five minutes and we’ll call it even. Hey, I’m kidding. I’m just kidding.”

The opossum slept.

Michael works in commercial distribution while writing short stories in his free time. His work has appeared in From the Depths,Cargo, and Sulphur literary journals.  He lives with his wife and pets in Guelph, Ontario.

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