I could barely keep my eyes open during our math lesson in our 5th grade class last week Thursday. And it was all over for me during history when Miss Carlyle knocked on my head, which was firmly planted on my crossed forearms which were sprawled across my desk. When I came out of the dream I was having she told me I’d been snoring, which made the class laugh. She told me to go home and get sleep in a proper bed. I didn’t have to be told twice, or wonder if she was just being sarcastic; I grabbed my bag and headed for the door.

The reason I was so doggone tired is that I got no sleep the night before. There’d been major pandemonium at the Riley home that deprived us all of rest. And the fallout was five walking zombies, an opossum in rehab and a puppy in detox.

It was a Wednesday evening like any other. We finished up the casserole dinner Mom’d reheated. Sean, being the eldest, washed the dishes. I, the next in the Riley line-up, dried them and put them away. And Sarah, although in second grade and quite capable of household chores, was coloring her Barbie paper doll clothes at the kitchen table. After a homework check, a hot bath and pajamas, we were allowed to watch “The Goldbergs.” Dad actually likes the program more than we do, laughing so loud he scares Binky, our little Cocker Spaniel pup. (Sarah gave him that name. I still call him Roscoe when no one else is around.) We all laugh with Dad, although I don’t think it’s that funny. When the show was over Sarah gave Mom and Dad a goodnight kiss (Sean and I are too old for that anymore, so we just say our goodnight) and we headed upstairs for bed.

We hadn’t been under the covers for more than 30 minutes when all hell broke loose. I’d just drifted off into that sweet place somewhere between awake and asleep when the chickens started to raise a fuss. The chicken run is in the backyard just below Sean’s and my bedroom window. Dad can’t hear the fowl when he is sitting in the living room, especially with the T.V. blaring. So it is our job to alert him whenever the hens get agitated.

Sean rolled over and grunted at me, “David, go tell Dad about the chickens.”

“You go tell him,” I tersely answered.

That’s when he hit me with his pillow. “David! Go. Tell. Dad. Now!” Each word was delivered with a smack to the head.

“Alright!” I yelled, sitting up. “Cut it out!” I stumbled up and searched for my slippers. The noise from the run was louder and more urgent. Sean clicked on the bedside lamp. I slid my feel into the wooly feet warmers and then made for the door. I quickly pulled it open and headed for the stairs.

“Dad!” I yelled before I was even half-way down. “Chickens are yellin’.”

Dad jumped up, went to the hall closet and grabbed his rifle. He strode with purpose toward the back door. Mom was drying her hands on a kitchen towel looking worried. We’d lost at least three chickens and half a dozen eggs already that week. That was hard going as we counted on the eggs and the hatchlings for part of our “livelihood,” as Mom called it. Mom followed Dad to the porch. Without thinking I followed him across the yard in my slippers.

Dad had told me at breakfast that he was sure it was a racoon. “Them ‘coons get a taste of chicken and they can’t stop. He’ll keep comin’ back till he’s wiped out every last bird. We gotta put a stop to that.”

As we stealthily crept across the yard I felt something behind me. I turned my head and saw Sean out of the corner of my eye. He was following a good few paces back. He was carrying a flashlight. Mom was standing on the porch, hugging herself with her arms crossed over her chest.

“Quiet. boys.” Dad was barely audible, moving much slower now. I doubt anybody could hear us coming, what with all the noise those chickens were making, but Dad’s word was law and the two of us were careful not to snap a twig or breathe too heavily.

When Dad reached the door of the coop he threw it open by pushing it hard with the barrel of his gun. The chickens squawked even louder and seemed to fill the coop with a flurry of white wings. “Sean! Light.” Sean pushed ahead of me and shone the flashlight into the chicken house. I moved closer to get a look. Slowly and meticulously he swept the coop with the beam.

Then we saw it. In the corner of the room was a beady-eyed, white-faced interloper. Dad, who’d been prepared to blast the ‘coon to kingdom-come, lowered his rifle and blew out the breath he’d been holding.

“It’s an opossum!” Sean exclaimed.

“It is indeed,” answered Dad.  “What’s it doing in the chicken run?”

“But . . .” I stammered, staring at the animal. “It’s dead.” The animal was lying on its side, stiff as could be, tongue lolling out between short, sharp white teeth.

Dad’s reply hinted at his amusement. “Don’t let that varmint fool you, David. He’s just playing dead. That’s what they do when they’re threatened.”

“Look, Dad. It’s got somethin’ in its paws.” Sean focused the light on the small object close to the opossum’s chest.

Dad slowly brought his rifle back up to his eye. “One of my chickens, no doubt. Or an egg or two.” Dad was preparing to fire.

“Wait, Dad!” I yelled. It’s not a chicken. It’s a rat! Look at the tail. That opossum was eating a rat!”

Dad lowered his weapon again. He looked carefully where Sean was shining the light. “Well, I’ll be jiggered! It is indeed.”

Rats had been coming into the coop at night to eat the seed we left for the chickens. Now the opossum was eating the rat. A regular food chain, right here in our backyard!

“Mildred,” Dad called to Mom. “Mildred, get on the phone and call Hammond. Tell ‘em we got an opossum that needs collecting.”

Mom disappeared inside the house. “Can we keep him, Dad? We’ve got that big cage that used to hold Gwyn.” Gwyn had been a Barn Own that lived with us for three years. Sean had found Gwen lying lifeless in the south pasture. She’d eaten a poisoned rat that nearly killed her. Sean’d brought her home and the wildlife rehab people at Walden’s Puddle, after nursing her back to health, said she couldn’t be released into the wild, because she had significant brain damage. Sean asked to keep her and Jeremy, the vet at Walden’s Puddle, organised a permit. Jeremy taught Sean how to care for Gwen and would pop in every month or so to see how she was doing. I was always a bit envious of Sean. I wanted something wild to look after.

Dad snorted. “David, Gwyn was a special case. There’s nothing wrong with this little guy that a few hours won’t cure. Opossums sort of faint when threatened and go into a stupor. He’ll come out of it soon. Wild animals are wild. You can’t cage a wild thing. We’ll get Dr Hammond to take him to the animal sanctuary.”

Dad made us wait by the coop and watch the opossum until the vet arrived. It was pretty boring work, seeing as how the opossum never moved. Sean and I talked a bit. I think I may have dozed a time or two. It seemed to take forever for Dr Hammond to arrive. Finally he drove up. He went into the coop, setting the birds off again, and wrapped the opossum in a blanket. He carried the lifeless animal to his pick-up and put him gently in a cage.

“Looks like you’ve had a night of adventure, Bob.” he said to my dad.

“Something’s been at the chickens, “ Dad replied.

“Well, you’ll have to keep looking. I don’t think this fellow is big enough to take out your fowl. Opossums get a bad rap, I think. In all my years at Walden I never found one that killed chickens, even though people swear they do.”

“He’s kinda cute,” I said. Part of me was still hoping I could keep him.

“Yeah,” Dr Hammond answered, “I like them, too. Funny animals. Only marsupial in North America. Cousin to the kangaroo!”

“Kangaroo?” I exclaimed. “Really?”

“Yep. Got little pockets they carry their babies around in. The young ones are called ‘joeys.’ And the adults are called ‘jacks’ and ‘jills.’”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Dad said. “Learn something new every day.”

“Is he gonna be okay?” I asked. “He doesn’t look so good.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. Just ‘playing possum.’ But we’ll keep him in rehab for a day or two just to make sure he’s alright. And then, if it’s all good, we’ll release him in the sanctuary.” Dr Hammon looked at me. “If I need any special help, I’ll give you a call!” I smiled.

We said thanks and goodbye to Dr Hammond and then Dad and Mom shooed us back off to bed. I was just drifting off to sleep when the dogs started barking. It was a strange bark, not the usual “intruder alert.” I heard Dad mutter and stomp to the back door. A few minutes later his urgent voice rang out, “Mildred, call the dog vet. Looks like the pup’s got into the rat poison.”

The next four hours were spent trying to comfort Sarah and waiting to hear if Binky would survive. He did, and after a stint in the veterinary hospital for a complete detox, he appeared to be none the worse for wear. It was a night that went down in Riley history. The night of an opossum in rehab. a puppy in detox and five exhausted people.

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This story was written as a sort of challenge.  An amazing author friend teased us in her blog about the night of the opossum in rehab and puppy in detox.  But she was too tired to tell us the story right there and then.  My imagination started running and she said, “Want to write your guess?”  And this story came out.  NOW I want to head over to her place and read the REAL story.  While mine is the fictitious one, I have a feeling it would be easier to believe than the truth.  🙂  THANKS, CASEY!

 

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