Forty winters ago, the two-legs rode to Possum Island in the pouches of their metal mothers. They dug a hole in the earth with a big hard claw, brought offerings of fresh trash daily, and served their bounty to the possums. Every day was a feast day.
The two-legs stopped bringing their trash offerings when the hole filled up. They clawed the earth back over it, and once the stink dissipated and the flies moved on, it was as if the trash altar had never existed at all.
No living possum remembers the feast days, and the possums don’t have a rich oral tradition. Still, some of them feel instinctively that things could be better — that at some time, many short generations ago, things actually were better. The imagination can never be fully tamed.
The two-legs returned this winter with claws and metal mothers and muscular tails that reached for the sky. The earth shook beneath them, shifting a subterranean mountain of garbage atop a long-forgotten swamp by the mouth of the river and the sea. The possums felt the ground move beneath their bellies and pondered the mystery for a moment before getting back to eating ticks.
One day, the two-legs gathered on Possum Island and made marks in the earth with little golden claws. They clapped their paws and stamped around and woke up the possums who were sleeping in huddles behind the treeline. The possums squinted their eyes against the cloudless sunlight, trying to make sense of what they saw.
There was an older possum father in those days who had seen two summers, and his eyes were fading. Already awake during the daylight hours thanks to a bout of insomnia, he was the first to wander into the clearing with the two-legs. He sniffed the air with a pink wet nose, whipped his tail around grabbing nothing in particular, and meandered in the general direction of the noise.
The tumult grew and the crowd withdrew.
“Ray-bees!” a voice cried out. One of the two-legs had advanced toward him, holding a golden claw over his head. The claw glittered in the sun, and the possum father craned his spine to behold it.
“Noe, thay cant—” came another voice, but it was the last sound the possum father heard. The claw came down, straight through the nape of his neck, and cleaved it in two before piercing the earth.
Back behind the treeline, many of the possums saw the approach of danger and fell asleep at once. The young ones, not yet wise to the ways of the world, stayed awake and gawked. The grown-ups were passed out in beds of pine straw, and the old father lay just as still, his patchy body separated from his head. What to do?
The younger ones scampered out from the forest into the sunlight. They felt the sun warm their backs like a mother’s pouch, and they grew bold, if still aimless. The two-legs were fleeing at full speed now, leaving their claws behind.
One of the two-legs stayed on the island. This one was sleeping on the other side of the clearing, perched inside a metal mother with a tremendous claw attached to the front. With no particular plan, the young possums advanced on the sleeping two-leg.
By the time the two-leg woke, there were dozens of young possums staring at him inside the pouch of the metal mother. They tore at the food and trash on the perch beside him, and they scrambled clumsily into his lap. The two-leg hurled one of the possums out into the field, and the others arched their backs and began to scream in his face.
“KKKKEEEECCCCCHHHH!” one shouted, her mouth gaping to reveal jagged teeth.
“SSSKKKKEEEHHHHH!” another hissed, and the rest joined in.
Clawing for his life, the two-leg pressed a piece in the metal mother’s pouch, and the whole thing lurched forward at incredible speed.
Some of the adult possums had woken back up now, and the first thing they saw was a metal mother tearing across the clearing, straight toward the mouth of the river and the sea. Some of the young ones leapt from the pouch of the thing, while others stayed inside scratching and feasting and holding on to what they could with their meaty little tails.
When the metal mother reached the
water, it burrowed through the mud and kept going. It groaned as it ran deeper, claw-first, into the cold forbidden water at the edge of Possum Island.
About the writer …
Paul Bowers is a writer from North Charleston who previously worked as a reporter at the Charleston City Paper and The Post and Courier. Find his work at brutalsouth.substack.com