When people ask me about how it is to live in my neck of the woods, the Carolina Piedmont, I’d like to tell them of the rolling hills that lead up to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d like to tell them of the somewhat eerie and rather endearing orchards that blanket each horizon of the countryside. I’d like to tell them of the old-timey aesthetic reminiscent of yonder years and the honest, hard-working people therein. But, what I really tell them is about those black and white fuzz muppets with worm tails that have taken over the area. You know, Possums.
Possums are and continue to be the bain of my existence. They are, without doubt, the worst part of where I live. Because they are everywhere! In fact, they’re such a problem that my hometown is often referred to as “Possum Country”. I swear you can’t go anywhere at night without seeing at least four or five. — Yeah! They’re that bad here!
And, when you do see them, good luck! ‘Cause, they’re gonna do what they always do, which I’ve experienced so many times that I can walk you through each step of having come across them whilst on the road.
Step one: Freeze! This one’s a bit obvious, but when spotted, a possum’s first instinct is to become as stiff as a statue. Almost like your car’s headlights have some sort of Medusa effect on them from anywhere between 10 to 20 seconds if you’re lucky.
I think it’s because they’re prey and need to assess if their life is really under threat. Which most of the time, it isn’t. Plus, I’ve had the unfortunate luck of coming across a few who’ve decided to stand still for three painstakingly long minutes.
Also, it’s important to note that when they freeze! It’s not like you’d typically imagine. It’s not like your average cat or dog. No, their freeze! is different. See, when possums stiffen up, it’s like watching a shoddily built animatronic from some children’s pizzeria jostle and jolt into place for their first song of the evening. They just stare at you with those dead black doll’s eyes of theirs with barred teeth, waiting those few unnerving seconds before their song begins to play.
And, that fur of theirs, thick as a wolfs and about as bristly, I bet, almost like poisonous roots strangling an old birch tree. And I’m told that that fur of theirs is white, black, and grey, but in all honesty, the majority of the possums I see are so covered in gunk and grit that you’d think they’re some type of gigantic hedgehogs that have escaped from some secret lab testing a new kind of growth hormone.
I jest, of course, but that’s because we’re about to get into the most irksome part of a nightly run-in with an opossum crossing. White eyes in bright lights.
It’s undoubtedly the worst part of a possum encounter—seeing their eyes. Like two big dull black beads, accentuated by a thin, white squinch at their eye’s edge. If eyes are supposed to be windows to the soul, theirs is null in void. And worse still is what happens just a second or two before your car’s headlights reveal them in full. There seems to be something more to them, though, but only just.
See, whatever else it is that lies beneath their surface is reflected back in the light of your car’s high beams when they hit them. Resulting in them turning a milky white and hovering a near half-foot off the ground. Two mystical orbs enshrouded by the darkness of night. It sets my teeth on edge just thinking about it. And believe me, you’ll remember it when you see it. You’ll know, “white eyes in bright lights” means possum.
But we’ve got more steps to cover like… Step 2: Pretend that we’re dead. It’s much like that song by the group L7. Well, actually, there’s not much likeness about them in the slightest.
And for those who aren’t privy, Possums like to do this thing where they just flop to the ground and stay like that from anywhere between five minutes to half an hour. Though, good luck trying to guess for how long. They also then begin frothing from the mouth like somehow their “death” has also activated a dormant form of rabies that decided to take hold of them posthumously. And then, of course, there’s the smell.
God, that smell! The smell can only be described as every nose-crinkling scent on planet earth. Worse than death and twice as pungent. It wreaks havoc on the nostrils, burning in and not letting go till they either decide to be merciful or you do and dunk your nose in some vinegar. And remember, you’ll have to put up with this till they’ve determined you and your car aren’t a threat. Which could take who knows how long?
Now you might be thinking to yourself, why not just go around them? It’s just one. You’re in a car. Why not just go around them?
Well, unfortunately, this is “Possum Country”. And while yes, it’s true, they wander the wildernesses of night alone. They seem to love company when crossing the street. In fact, the more, the merrier, and we don’t even need to mention a family crossing. I’m sure you can imagine what type of fresh hell awaits there.
Now, there is a solution to all this, of course. Run them over. Which in some ways can be worse than actually encountering them in the first place. And given their propensity for crossing the street at the most blindest of corners of the road. It may be a solution whether you’d like it to be or not.
I admit I’ve hit a few. Unintentionally, of course. Well, at least all but one of them, which we’ll come back around to.
Oh! I just realized that I’ve gone through this entire rant without introducing myself. So, um, hi! I guess. Um, I’m not keen on talking about myself because, to be honest, there’s not really much to say. I’m a 20 something loner who, up until recently, was living out of their parent’s basement. Or at least I would’ve been if we’d been rich enough to have a basement. I guess that’s my only real differing trait, really. Is that I was fortunate enough to leave them before I was thrown out.
My parents were the very definition of hypocrites, the type who’d nitpick the slightest thing you did wrong and then do whatever it was they said you did was the “wrong” way the same way you just did it. And I guess I’d just finally reached my breaking point of them breathing down my neck constantly.
You know what I mean the “Yes, I was in a rush to not be late for work this morning and didn’t do the dishes.”, “Yes, I was half-asleep while using the bathroom in the middle of the night last night and left the toilet seat up.”, “Yes, I’m a human being and can’t be perfect 24/7 like you.” Same shit, new shoes with toxicity to spare. You get the idea.
The only saving grace I had was my job. Where I wasn’t bothered by them for eight straight hours. Not exactly bliss, though, because I was a cashier and had run-ins with customers that’d make you want to hang yourself with their own entrails. But, after a few months of enduring the maladies of both, I saved up enough to move out on my own. And then when I left them. Nothing. I got nothing. Not a “Good Luck, son.” or a “We’ll miss you”— or even just a “Good”.
Eh, who needs them? I mean, once, when I was seven, they decided it would be a good idea to leave me at the park. I mean, granted, I didn’t want to go yet, but still. It’s not an ok thing to do…
Though I can’t say, I blame them here either. With my aspirations of wanting to be a writer and nothing happens for four years. It’d tend to wear on ya. But they just don’t understand. These things take time and a bit of luck. Sorry, I got off track here. Uh… right!
So, I was settling into a semi-change in my life. The only new thing was that I now had a new apartment and had to figure out how to pay rent. Not much was that different, to be honest.
I was still going to work as a cashier at a local supermarket; still getting chewed out by customers who are just now being told no for the first time in a long, long time; still getting shitty meager paychecks that just barely gave me enough to make ends meet; still driving home in that crap car of mine.
Sorry, I don’t mean to sound bitter about it. In all honesty, the car’s not that bad. It’s a hand-me-down and… it’s fine, I guess. It works. Just you can’t park it on a hill because the brakes like to give out. And if they do, you better hope you can catch it in time to stop it from crashing into anything. Yeah.
What I’m actually bitter about is that after three and half years of working at my thankless job, I was given the fat end of a short stick when downsizing reared its ugly head.
I don’t know why, though. They wouldn’t tell me, but, needless to say, it ate away at me like a maggot gnawing its way through skin to get at the finer meat. I was furious when they told me. I clenched my fists and cursed the sky’s many names. All done internally, of course, because at that point, being that far into a job that requires customer service, you’re half-dead already.
And, while I was walking back to my car, I remember feeling the first twinge of sheer terror. Terror at the thought that had finally crossed my mind. The idea of not knowing how long it’d be till I got another paycheck. How was I going to pay my bills? How was I to pay for my rent? For my food?
I remember feeling both tension and weakness in my legs at the same time next, so much so that any of my next steps could’ve been the one where they could’ve given out on me, and I would flop over like how those… things! like to react when they see binocular lights in the distance and coming closer. Struck with sudden “death” syndrome.
I didn’t, though. I made it to my car and got in. Mind swirling with what- ifs? and what-nexts? And, as I turned my car key in the ignition and my clunker of a vehicle roared to life, I couldn’t help but feel like I was driving my own hearse to my own funeral as I left the parking lot. Which was not too long before—it happened.
I swear! I swear! I didn’t…know! I didn’t…! Fuck! What did I do?!
I, uh, I was distracted, to say the least, mind amidst a maelstrom, with howling winds and a raging, colossal whirlpool whose base led ever deeper into the pitch-black waters of fear and anger and anguish. I tried to distract myself from my thoughts by listening to loud, hard, and fast music and was also, admittedly, speeding.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what my actions would accomplish, but whatever they were, they weren’t healthy or helping. And that’s when I saw it.
That’s when I saw them—bright eyes in white lights. This is Possum Country. I knew what they meant, and by now, you should too. They appeared at the exit of a blind curve that led up to a steep hill. There was only one pair of them, though, and no one around. No one who’d care about them anyway. So, I thought…
So, I did what I’d never done before. I closed my eyes and put my foot to the floor… and I…! FUCK! I’M SO SORRY! GOD, I SWEAR I…!
Um… as I said before, I have hit a few. Possums. Unintentionally, and also, as I said, Possums have this weird affinity towards crossing roads at the blindest of curves. Curves where you’d have to be nothing short of a street racer to be able to avoid them. And, because I had hit a couple, I knew what to expect as my eyes shut tight and waited for the wheels to hit and go over the unfortunate speedbump.
See, whenever you hit a possum or anything for that matter, you’re going to first experience the impact, and since it’s possums for me, it’s usually aggravation follows. Then, experience the shock of impact, which, let’s be honest, I’m more than numb to at this point. This may be strange and, in its own way, a touch disturbing, but I digress.
However, I will say that as my eyelids clamped shut, I also noticed something off about this one possum. It had been so covered in muck that the thing’s white fur looked off, almost a beige color. And then felt and heard the telltale “FUMP-FUMP”!
I, then, waited for the smell. You remember the smell, right? More malodor than death. Yeah, when you hit a possum, it tends to stain your car, and it takes weeks to scrub and air out. But this time, it would’ve been worth it. But this time, there wasn’t one. There was no smell. Nothing…
It was indeed offputting and bittersweet, to say the least, but I decided to not worry about it and continued to drive home.
Once there, I pulled in the driveway, turned the car off, and got out like what had just happened didn’t. And as I walked up to my door, I hesitated. I don’t know why or what caused me to be so curious, but I wanted to see the damage done. I wanted to see if I’d actually hit it or not.
I turned back around, walked up the front of the car, and crouched down. I looked at the grill to see if it had anything wrong with or on it. Which it didn’t. Then, I got down, laying on my side to see the wheel and if there was anything underneath. There wasn’t. Huh. I took my phone out, unlocked it, and turned on my phone’s flashlight, and that’s when I saw it.
It was an eye. Dangling down like one of those tennis balls you’re parents would put in their garage to help them park. But weirder still is it wasn’t black. It had the white outer coating like an olive, but the eye was… blue.
Strange. I don’t remember opossums ever having blue eyes, but I do remember a few cats and dogs do, but that doesn’t make sense. The creature I hit was too big for a cat and too small for a dog. What did I hit? Shit!
That next moment, I dropped and picked it up just as quick, afraid I’d damaged it, but when I did, I also saw something else lodge in my tire tread. The best I could describe is “it” was a white rock or pebble or something.
I don’t know why, but curiosity had taken over again, and I plucked it out and held it up to the light for a better look to see it was a… tooth. A molar, I think. Which is also weird, right? I don’t remember possums having molars, at least not like these. In all honesty, it actually reminds me of when I was seven and bit a rock candy stick and my own–
No! …nonononono! No! That’s stupid! Why would there be a–? And in the middle of the–? What kind of parent would–?
My eyes grew wider as the thought grew. It would be impossible, wouldn’t it? And a moment passed, increasingly unbearable. The very idea was insane! And impossible, isn’t it? I couldn’t control myself any longer; I had to know.
I hopped up and scuttled over to the driver’s side of my car and got in. I turned the key in the ignition once more and threw the car in reverse. My car zoomed backward and out of the driveway. I cranked the wheel hard so I would be going the way I came from, my usual route to work, and threw the transmission in drive.
I couldn’t stop myself from leadfoot-ing the gas pedal. My tires squealed for traction, and once they found it. I and the car were shot forward like we were trying to get back to 1985 only; instead of it being ridiculous in the comedic sense, it was in the horrific sense. It was impossible! It was impossible! It was impossible!
I sped along the road, and it wasn’t that long till I came across two of them. White eyes in bright lights. I tried to swerve out of the way, but I going too fast. FU-DUMP-FUMP! My shoulders and face scrunched at the sound. Knowing I’d hit them on purpose, no less, and it reminded me of what I… might have hit as well.
And then I came across another pair of white-brights. This time though, they’d barely set foot on the road, and I was able to maneuver around them with ease. But, I couldn’t help feel their eyes burning in through the car’s doors and chassis.
And then another, and then another and then another. A whole family of them. And there was no way to dodge around any of them, so I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and floored it again. FUM-FUM-FUM-FUM-FUM-FUM-FUMP! It sounded like the world’s most disgruntling machine gun. But I had no time to process it fully! I was almost there!
My car went up the same hill and slammed my foot on the brake at the top of it. Seeing it. Not well. But I couldn’t stand driving anymore! I pulled the parking brake and got out. I anxiously jog-hopped over to the thing for a closer look. And… No! NO! It…! IT CAN’T–! IT WOULDN’T–!
But it was… all the strength gave out in my legs, and I fell to my knees before it. A baby, maybe a year? In purple and yellow rocket ship pajamas… head crushed under the weight of my car.
I wanted the yell! I wanted to scream! But… I just… I couldn’t! I just sat there, speechless and staring. THE FUCK WAS IT DOING IN THE ROAD?! THE HELL DID IT–?!
My thoughts were cut short upon hearing my car make a SKRT-ing noise from up the hill. The sound of the parking brake coming loose. I looked back to see its headlights barreling towards me. I froze a moment, then flopped over on the road. It continued rushing towards me, picking up speed now. The headlights finally struck my eyes, hurting them something fierce, and whatever I was in that moment was scared. Terrified. I shut my eyes tight and waited for the tell-tale FUMP-FUMP!
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