The Opossum’s Tale

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story

There are 68.5 million displaced persons and 25.4 million refugees worldwide. To overcome losing everything takes courage...and a helping hand
He hung on tightly to Mother's thick fur. He could feel her muscles as she ambled along. His sisters and brothers were also clinging to her and they rode along in silence.

The sun was warm and he thought it unusual that they were traveling in daylight. Mother had decided to risk crossing the hard black surface where the humans, in their fast moving metal things traveled. She desperately needed water because her nursing babies had left her very dry. Her usual drinking pond was on the other side of the hard black surface. She warned them to hold on and began her race to the other side.

They were nearing the opposite edge when suddenly one of the large metal things appeared. Mother froze and there was a hard bump. The impact forced him to release his grip on Mother and sent the small animal into the brush at the edge of the hard black surface. He lay there stunned.

Instinct told him that he must get back on board Mother for safety. He could smell her and ran for the smell. She appeared to have fallen asleep. He nudged her but she did not respond.

None of his siblings returned his touch or call. They all lay very still in the sun, on the hard black surface and in the grass along its edge.

Panic overtook him. Something was terribly wrong. He had seen mother lie still once and pretend to be asleep when a large dog had come too near, but never had she done so in the open or in bright sunlight.

"Mother, he called, "Mother", "Mother" as the tears flooded from his small, nearsighted eyes and down his pointed nose. He crawled over her pulling at her heavy fur, trying to wake her. She would not move. Along her side was a deep opening and things he had never seen before were oozing from her.
He had never before felt fear because Mother had always let him know that everything was ok. He wanted her to tell him now that things were ok, but she would not wake up.

Finally, in total terror he burrowed into her fur and closed his eyes.
Suddenly, he felt himself being lifted away from Mother. The grasp that held him was at once firm and gentle and wriggle as he might he could not escape. The grasp released him into a strange container and he ran around trying to find cover. A smell—so different from anything he had experienced before was on him. Suddenly, a rough fabric drifted over him and he felt safer as he huddled under its strange smell.

The container rocked softly and he knew he was moving. The motion was much as he felt when riding as Mother ran along and was so familiar he burrowed into the rough fabric and let the exhaustion overtake him.

Still thinking that he wished he could go back and wake up Mother, his tear-filled eyes closed and he whispered "Mother", but somehow he knew she could not come to him.

When he woke, the strange smell was very strong and he felt himself once again in the firm and gentle grasp. He wriggled to free himself, but suddenly a nipple was in his mouth. It was not Mother but the warm sweet taste from it was almost as good as Mother. He was so hungry and weak that he nursed heartily, quickly filling his empty stomach. The grasp released him and he snuggled deep into the rough fabric, which now smelled more like him.

Many times he was lifted from his hiding place and offered the nipple, which was not Mother. Each time he filled his stomach and began to feel strong. As Mother had always made him feel everything was ok this strange thing that grasped him and fed him also made him feel that things were ok.

His eyesight was not his best sense and try as he could to focus, the object, which came, and held him was just a fuzzy shape.

He could tell, however, that it had a face, much as Mother had had. It had eyes, a mouth, and a nose. It made strange sounds from its mouth; soothing, cooing sounds but did not say anything he could understand. He began to look forward to the feedings and noticed that the smell he had found so strange, was now familiar and soothing.

As time passed, he began to notice that the container he lived in was getting smaller. He soon found he could place his front paws on the side and peer over the top. He could not recognize anything that his poor eyesight allowed him to see. There were no trees or grass or rocks, only things he had never seen before.

One day after his feeding from the nipple he was offered something crisp and chewy. He licked it curiously, then chewed and swallowed it. It was definitely not milk but made his stomach feel good. From then on he had different crispy things and he learned to eat them all. A new nipple was offered him, which did not dispense warm sweet milk but something cool and clear.

His life continued in this manner for some months though he did not count time as it had no meaning to him.

Soon after the nipple with the cool, clear, substance started he found himself being taken from the container and carried to a place which did have trees and grass and rocks. The crispy things were now placed around the trees and rocks and in the grass and he searched for them in order to eat. The cool clear liquid which was not milk he now found in shallow pools in the grass.

He began to spend more and more time out of the container and less and less time with the face with the soothing sounds coming from its mouth.
Soon he was finding many things to eat and sometimes he forgot to return to the container to sleep. He found spaces under rocks, which were quite comfortable and secure. He sometimes missed the face and grasp he had learned to trust, but he was so busy searching for food and learning new things that it became less important. He had figured out that it had been a human creature that had been travelling in one of those terrifying metal things which had changed his life -- but he somehow also knew that the human who fed him and kept him safe was one he could trust. His instinct also told him he would be better off to stay away from most humans if possible.

One night on a search for food, he saw two bright shiny things gleaming at him from under a heavy blackberry bush. He raised his head and sniffed. The smell was one he had nearly forgotten. The smell flooded memories back into his mind. "Mother", he thought. "That is the smell of Mother." The shiny eyes came out from under the bush and moved toward him. When the moonlight shone on the body which carried the shiny eyes he realized it was not Mother but very like Mother.

A feeling of happiness he hadn't felt since that last time before Mother had refused to wake up on the edge of the hard black surface filled him. The shiny eyes came near and the pointy nose nuzzled him. The sounds that came from the mouth were things he understood. She was like him and she liked him. Together they continued the search for food in the moonlight.

From that time on they snuggled together in sleep and played together and searched for food in the moonlight. Before long she too had babies clinging to her fur.
Once he took his precious family back to the place where the human who had saved him lived, as a thank you.

He only brought them close enough for the human eyes to see how well he was doing. He only brought them close enough for his babies to smell the human smell so they could recognize it as a danger.

For as thankful as he was to the human who fed and cared for him he could never forget that it had been a human in the fast moving metal thing on the hard black surface that had taken his mother, brothers and sisters.

His instincts told him maintaining a safe distance from humans and human things would keep his sweet, healthy family safe

As they all snuggled together in quiet sleep he thought once more of the firm gentle grasp and the sweet milk, which had kept him alive. He was truly thankful for the kindness that had allowed him to continue his species through his beautiful fat babies.