Ever have one of those wildlife encounters that is so unusual and so bizarre you tell all your friends and family about it? This is one of those stories. (Names have been omitted to make this more like fiction and less like autobiography–which it is. First published at Fictionpress.com on July 8, 2004.)
We own and live in an old mill house in South Carolina. The house was built in the 1930’s and has high ceilings and lovely hardwood floors. It was also a rental property with a landlord whose ideas of renovations and repairs are, shall we say, quick and inexpensive. Behind the kitchen cabinets where the sink is located are several openings that lead to the crawl space beneath the house. One of our cats used to pass through the largest openings to hunt for vermin. We think it was through this same opening that an unwanted visitor got into our home.
Now, I spend a lot of time on the computer, writing stories and chatting with friends from around the world online. As a result, I’m usually the last one in bed at night. This night was no exception.
I’d said goodnight to my friends in other time zones when I heard a rustling nearby. It sounded like it was coming from under the end table we’d squeezed between the sofa and wall. I thought nothing of it; our cats aren’t all silent as they walk around our home. So I shut down my computer and turned out the overhead light, plunging the room into darkness.
Or near darkness, anyway, as the dining room light illuminated my way across the living room floor. As I came around the couch, heading for the open doorway, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was so quick and quiet that I wasn’t sure I’d really seen anything at all. With a mental shrug, I entered the dining room.
Once inside, I heard another rustling. It came from behind a wicker chair we’d put there while we rearranged the living room furniture. But this time I saw a definite something ease out from behind the microwave cart and cross the open doorway into the kitchen. It was clear from its profile that this was not a cat.
“Where’s a cat when you need one?” I muttered as I followed it. To me, the creature in question looked like an extra-large rat. I knew our best mouser was outside; I wished fervently she was inside the house on one of her favorite perches instead. Pausing in the doorway between dining room and kitchen, I saw the rodent-like animal stop near the entrance to the laundry room. My scream–really just a short squeal of surprise–motivated the creature to scuttle to the back door. My curiosity got the better of me so, against common sense, I gave chase.
The animal fetched up in the corner made by the back door its adjoining wall. I approached carefully, coming to within a yard of the critter. At that distance, I could finally see that it was an opossum! It didn’t look as big as some I’d seen as road kill and it was far more frightened of me than I was of it! It turned as if to flee back into the house.
Oh no, I thought. We’re not going through that again! I reached out a cautious hand and turned the knob, swinging the back door open to the night. Without a moment’s hesitation, the possum turned around and scurried out, running for dear life across the stoop and eventually under the carport. I watched it for a moment before closing the door behind me. Shaking my head, I turned and went on to bed, waking my husband to tell him of my experience.
The next evening, both my husband and I were on computers: me in the far corner of the living room and him in the dining room, just yards from the kitchen doorway. I was chatting with a friend when I heard him call.
“Uh, Hon? Your critter is back.”
My eyes widened. Without a word, I abandoned my conversation to join him in the dining room.
“Where? Where is it?”
“On the trash can.”
The kitchen trash can sat half in, half out of its niche under the counter. I looked without coming too close.
“It’s not there…”
My husband got up and pulled the receptacle fully from its spot.
“It’s … no, it’s not there either. Wait, it’s behind the box.” He indicated a box of groceries that lay on the floor. Moving up beside him, I could see the possum’s tail end. I couldn’t help thinking how much it resembled a light-furred rat.
My husband put the trash can back where it belonged. The movement startled the possum and it scurried from its hiding place further out into the kitchen. I screamed my little scream again, which further startled the beast. However, instead of heading to the laundry room as it did before, it turned and came my way, entering the dining room and hugging the walls behind the table. Another startled shriek and it hurried out of the dining room, across our tiny hallway and into our bedroom!
I reached the room just in time to see the possum’s tail disappear between piled-up baskets of clean laundry. My husband groaned.
“You realize that we’ll have to move everything to get it out from behind there?”
I nodded. Several full baskets were piled there as well as a down mattress topper we were temporarily storing in our room. With a sigh, he began hauling things out, piling them on the living room sofa. I tried to keep an eye on where the possum was hidden. We were often in each other’s way, frustrating my husband further. After a few minutes of toting and lifting, the possum, realizing that it was about to be discovered, left its hiding place for what it thought was a better one. I shrieked again as it scampered under our bed!
My husband came back in a hurry and I told him where the creature had gone. The first thing he did was fetch our best mouser, Cotton. He put her down at the end of the bed and tried to shove her under. Now, Cotton was a good mouser and she’d taken on squirrels from time to time, but she knew not to tangle with a possum. She scampered from the room as quickly as she could.
With a sigh of resignation, my husband laid down by the side of the bed farthest from the door. He pulled up the bed skirt to look under the box spring and mattress.
“I can’t see anything. There’s too much junk under here.” He began to pull old shoes and papers out from under the bed, muttering as he did so. I, on the other hand, went out to the hallway to close doors; first to the bathroom and then to our daughter’s room, across the hall from our own. Her door did not shut well, so I woke her and explained the situation. Sleepy, she barricaded her door. As I turned back to my room. I noticed an old shower curtain rod in a corner of the hallway. I handed it to my husband.
“What’s this for?”
“To drive it out. So you don’t get bitten.”
“I don’t think it’s under here anymore. I think it got out behind my nightstand.” Nonetheless, he used the curtain rod to push debris toward the door in hopes of driving it out. I kept watch on the other side to spot the critter when it made its escape.
It took some time, but my husband was eventually convinced that the possum left the room when neither of us was looking. I wasn’t as easily swayed. I needed to see for myself that the thing was no longer under my bed. He sighed.
“I could pull the box spring and mattress up so you can look.”
“Would you, please?” I knew very well he really didn’t want to do it, but I also knew I’d never sleep with the thought of a wild animal under my bed doing who-knows-what.
“Okay.” He sighed. With an effort, he pulled the queen-sized mattress and then the matching box spring onto their sides so I could see what lay beneath the bed.
There was a lot of junk under there; I made a brief mental note to clear it all out the next day. I peered down, looking carefully for the possum and wishing I had worn my glasses. Finally, I was satisfied it was no longer there, and indicated he could return the bedding to its rightful place.
“I just hope the thing got out of the house,” I muttered as I backtracked along the route it had taken. It wasn’t in the dining room that I could see, nor did I find it in the kitchen. I scanned the laundry room for it. There was no sign of it, but I noticed my sons’ bedroom door was closed. I was relieved; a possum in there would have been a major headache. I returned to my room and my husband.
“It must have gotten out again,” I told him. “How do you suppose it’s getting inside?”
“Honey, you know that there are places behind the sink where the cats go in and out.” He sounded exasperated. “There’s an access spot in the back corner of the house, too. I couldn’t tell you exactly where the thing is coming in if I wanted to. We just have to get in there and close those holes up.”
I agreed. Some of the spots my husband mentioned were hard to reach, but it had to be done.
The next night or two produced no visible sign of the possum, though both of us heard dishes rattle, signaling something in the sink or the dishwasher. Hubby suspected the cats but when I heard the rattling from the open dishwasher, I slipped into the kitchen and found … nothing. None of our cats were known to disturb the dishwasher, so I suspected our unwanted nocturnal visitor.
Three nights after our second encounter with the possum, I shut down my computer and headed to turn out lights in other parts of the house. I entered the dining room and what did I see? Perched precariously on my vacuum cleaner, which stood in a corner, was … yes, you guessed it! The possum. I shrieked again.
He did a sort of possum-dive into the nearest hiding place, one of those tiny trash cans that only holds about a gallon of water. I yelled for my husband while keeping an eye on the possum’s refuge. Hubby came out, all bleary-eyed and confused because I had woken him up. Eventually I got through to him what was going on and he went over to peer into the can.
“That thing’s big!” he said, having gotten his first good look at the critter. “That could cause all kinds of mayhem.” He looked over at me. “What do you want me to do? Just let him go? Or take him for a ride somewhere?”
“I don’t know. What do you think we should do? If you take it for a ride, what will you carry it in?”
“I thought I might use one of those animal carriers.”
“A cat carrier? How will you get it in there?”
He had no answer for that.
“Where would you take it?”
“I don’t know. Any suggestions?”
“The church? There’s lots of woods around there.” Our church is about two miles away from our house and any possum coming back to us would have to successfully cross at least one five-lane highway.
He fetched a slightly larger trash can and slid it down over the small one, showing his intelligence because that was the same idea that I’d had. Tipping the bucket up, he left the smaller one, plus passenger, inside the larger. He got his shoes on and headed for the door.
“This thing is wiggling in here,” he said as he opened the front door and prepared to step out into the night.
“Just make sure it doesn’t get out of the trash can,” I cautioned. He said he would, and left the house.
I got ready for bed and waited for him, visions of bitten hands and a trip to the emergency room for rabies shots running through my thoughts. He was back sooner than I expected.
“So, where did you take it?”
I could see that he wasn’t going to tell me. So I plunged on.
“Did it get out in the van?”
“No. I kept banging on the trash can and yelling so it wouldn’t try anything.” He paused. “It was pretty disoriented when I let it out, but it didn’t attack or anything. Finally, it just ran off. That thing was fast! I’m a little concerned, though.”
“It ran off in this direction.”