Ichor Falls

Playing Possum

by on Nov.04, 2008, under Submitted

Ichor Falls Police Department archives, exact date unknown
Preceding documents indicate report was taken around December 1944

We lost Billy just over five months ago, now, and -

No, no, that was the name of our dog. Our children are long since grown and moved away. One to the Coast, then two to the War, you know how that goes. Good boys all.

As I was saying, it’s usually so quiet out here at the edge of town, is why Wallace and I bought this property when we wanted to start a family, and that was just fine. Just fine. He worked at the mill until they got bought and after that it was every day at the factory, steady income. Oh, some times were difficult, especially around winter, but we had lived through the Dark Years so you have to keep it all in perspective.

Now we got Billy, oh, around when the Pope passed away, and that Indian man stopped eating, bless him. So not that long ago. Very important to have a dog this close to the woods, Wallace would say, and I think it helped to have someone around the house to take care of besides us, with the boys grown up.

Billy liked to guard the house after dark, I suppose you would call it, but he was very excitable, always barking and whining at the door even though nobody lives near. Wallace would humor him and let him run outside and back in, but it never did any harm. Well, until one night when Billy didn’t come back. I was worried but Wallace said, “no, it’s fine, he’s just got to run around a bit,” so we set out his food by the door and went to bed.

Now before you tell me, “I guess that wasn’t such a great idea, some wild animals might have pushed in through the screen,” we did had some trouble with squirrels like that once, but we didn’t think of that at the time and anyway that wasn’t the problem.

Must have been four or five hours later, there’s this odd bumping noise, thud thud, same as a bass drum, coming from outside the back wall of the bedroom. So Wallace jumps up and get a lantern and goes to see if maybe it’s Billy. It was warm outside, but that dog never could stand even a little cold. I didn’t pay it much heed.

Next thing I know, Wallace is shouting at me to get up and call the sheriff, and he grabs his old Browning and runs out the back door. You have to be ready for that kind of thing out here, could be wolves or the Forest King come calling.

Well, now my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be, but Wallace had some real trouble with the shakes, so I got to dial the emergency switchboard from the kitchen and tell them we heard a strange noise and to send a patrol car. No sooner do I hang up the phone when I hear a scream and a bang and a crunching noise from outside the house, and a real high-pitch keening. If you ever hear a beagle that put a cat up a tree, you know what I mean.

Can I get you some more tea, dear? You look a little tired of writing. No? Well, then.

When I stumbled in the dark around to behind the house, the first thing I saw were two dark shapes in the grass. There was enough light from the lantern Wallace had dropped on the grass to tell he was in a bad way, but I found the length of the shotgun and gave what for at the other thing there, and it skittered away from him.

I couldn’t be sure, but it was a little bigger than a possum and about the same big full mouth of teeth so I shot it until it stopped moving and then once more to be sure. Can’t be sure with those animals. Why they say “play possum,” you know?

I didn’t get too close, neither, but by then I realized poor Wallace wasn’t breathing so I just sat beside to him and waited for the Sheriff to arrive. And boy, who did he have but three men from animal control and half the town office with him. They took the Browning from me and looked at Wallace and what was left of the possum.

Now I’ve known Sheriff Hadwick for his whole life, babysat when his mama got sick back in aught-eight, and he knew I hadn’t shot Wallace. But the coroner had to, come to think of it, not sure why they knew to send him since all I said on the phone was there was a noise out back, but the coroner sniffed everything over and got terrible upset.

He and Hadwick talked a little just out of earshot while one of the others made sure I wasn’t injured, and I was just fine, at least in body.

Eventually Hadwick apologizes to me for all the fuss, and his condolences and all, and says that they’ll take care of the wild animal remains and again that he’s very sorry but perhaps I should think about moving closer to town.

Now while he’s saying all this and they’re carrying off Wallace, the coroner and some other of the officers got a bit of coal tar from my kitchen and started pouring it on the little thing.

“Isn’t that evidence?” I asked, and they said, “No, ma’am, health hazard.”

So they burned it in a little metal rubbish can and then took the can away. A few of the men stayed behind to pair off and give the woods a once-over from a distance, right hands on their belts. I guess you can’t be too careful with a rabid whatever that vermin was.

Then they put me inside the house and left me alone, nothing but the moon and quiet and the smoke from that thing they burned in the air.

I suppose you’re too young to remember when the orphanage caught fire?

Smelled just like that.

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8 comments for this entry:
  1. Gauntlet

    That… isn’t right.

  2. Dublin Jack

    Why, why, why does the best part always come at the very end?
    An excellent twist, sir, though I must admit I found the story a bit too detail-rich for this mode of fiction. Still, I don’t suppose it could be helped. Old ladies don’t tend to get right to the point, do they?

  3. Xavier Brentwood

    (Hat tip to Kris for some great editing to make it scarier, actually.)

    @Dublin Jack:
    I’m glad the “voice” of the story was understandable, even if she does talk a lot about odd details. That is the way I remember my grandmother speaking. In regard to the end twist, I started with those last two lines and worked backwards. Was worried that it’s too much at the end.

    Feedback is very helpful and appreciated, as I’m new to this format of writing. Having to present and conclude a story in a short time makes me favor situations that let the reader draw their own conclusions as to what happened.

    That’s a very acceptable reaction!

    Maybe I should be using the forum for this?

  4. Meadhands

    I think my imagination is a bit overactive, because I cannot decide which of these conclusions to jump to:
    1.) The little thing was a child rather than a possum, which is why it smelled like a burning orphanage.
    2.) The smell was actually coal gas burning flesh, meaning that the orphanage burned down due to arson.
    3.) The thing was some kind of experiment or other such thing (probably a child at it’s core, see #1), which is why all those people gathered there even though she called about ‘only hearing a noise’ and they burned it to conceal the truth.

    They all work! Mr. Brentwood, why must you tease me so?

  5. Kris Straub

    My interpretation is that these possum-like things come out of parts unknown and cause awful mischief, and that just because one is shot “dead” doesn’t mean it’s actually dead — in fact, the one they burned here may have even been the same one to have started the orphanage fire. It “died” in that fire, only to resurface here.

  6. Athosismyhero

    I love how you wrote the narrator. She seems naive until that last couple of lines. Great wording and timing on the whole.

  7. Annabel

    Mm… I would have liked a little more description of the possum creature. Not much at all- just her mentioning in passing something she noticed about them. Up until the last two lines (which are a great twist, by the way) it kind of feels like a standard wild animal attack. Do possums attack humans? I don’t live in America, I’m not familiar with them.
    Really loved the conversational tone the old woman takes; it felt very realistic.

  8. Catriona

    Really enjoyed this story. I felt that the dialogue was very natural, as if I was listening to someone real speaking to me.

    Annabel, possums (or.. I guess technically opossums, here in America) do not attack humans. They are about the size of a house cat, and look like over-sized rats. As mentioned before, they “play dead” to deter potential threats.

    And their faces are just…creepy as hell when you see them in the dark.

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