When I heard our cat making a racket last night at around 10:30, I assumed she’d seen the opossum that sometimes comes into our back yard after dark. The cat always yowls at it through the bedroom window, hissing and scratching at the glass in an attempt to get out there and show the opossum just whose yard it is. Opossums really creep me out, with their mouthfuls of pointed teeth, their almost-human blue eyes and their long naked rat tails. They hiss like snakes and are just as likely to bite you as they are to roll over and play dead when cornered. The opossum is a horrible little animal and just a bad idea, if you ask me.
“Leave the nasty big rat alone,” I called out from my writing desk. A moment later I felt more than heard something hitting the side of the house, and then I heard the cat again, this time howling in the basement. The weather has turned cold and I thought that the opossum was trying to get into our house through the window well by the washer and dryer, or maybe trying to crawl through the gap below the ancient wooden garage doors.
This was annoying, because I was in the middle of a scene I’d been trying to write all evening and wanted nothing more than another hour of quiet in the house. Intruding animals being in my half of the division of domestic labor, I had however no choice but to get up from my desk and go down the basement stairs to see what was going on. There was nothing at the window above the wash sink. The cat was scratching at the heavy fire door that opened into the garage. She was growling low in her throat like a dog. She’s a strange cat.
“Something in the garage?” I asked her. She looked up briefly and then returned to scratching at the door. I undid the lock and just as I put my fingers on the door handle, I heard something falling or being knocked over within the garage. There was definitely something in there.
“Emma?” I called up the stairs, using Mighty Reader’s pseudonym because she’s diffident and this is a public blog post. “There’s something in the garage. I think it’s that damned ‘possum.”
A moment later Emma joined me at the garage door. The cat had fled upstairs, coward that she is.
“How’s the writing going?” Emma asked.
“Fine until now,” I said. We decided that Emma would open the door and stand behind it while I would go into the garage. I had armed myself with a shovel in case the opossum was not in a mood to play dead. We have an old house and there remain a great many repairs to be made to it, one of which is to rewire the lights in the garage. It was going to be dark in there, even with all the basement lights on. The stairwell between basement and main floor blocked most of the light from the fixture closest by the door to the garage. Like most Americans, we own a flashlight but it's loaded with dead batteries. I gripped my shovel and nodded to Emma, who gave the heavy door a yank and pulled it open.
Like I say, the garage was dark. From behind me, a rectangle of light fell just inside the doorway, illuminating the floor at my feet but beyond that, it was black as pitch.
“See anything?” Emma asked.
From ahead and to the right I heard a noise, the sound of something being dragged across the rough concrete. At the same time I heard what sounded like gnawing. I thought of the opossum’s mouth full of sharp teeth, like a shark’s mouth, and I shivered and held the shovel like a baseball bat or an axe. I could feel a cold breeze. That meant either Emma or I had not fully closed the garage doors, letting into our basement whatever now hid in the darkness. It was probably me who'd left the doors open, and my absent-mindedness annoyed me as I stood there in the dark holding a shovel. None of this fussing about with opossums or whatever was getting my chapter written. It was cold in the garage and I wasn’t wearing shoes and I’d drunk too many cups of tea and needed to use the bathroom and I was getting pissed off, if you must know.
The thing in the dark corner hissed and my eyes were beginning to adjust so when it moved toward me I saw that whatever it was, it was a lot bigger than an opossum. I swung the shovel at it as hard as I could and the steel blade made contact with bone. The impact made a lot less noise than I thought it would, but the thing stopped moving when I hit it.
“What is that?” Emma asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s big. I hope I didn’t just kill someone’s dog.”
“Half a mo’,” Emma said, and she disappeared long enough to fetch an emergency candle. When she lit it and held it up we both saw that I hadn’t killed a dog. What I had done was hit our next door neighbor, Monica, in the forehead with a shovel. She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t breathing.
“Jesus,” Emma said. “You killed Monica.” Monica had a husband and two teenaged sons.
“Why is she in our garage?”
“Look at this,” Emma said, moving the candle to light up the corner of the garage Monica had been hiding in. I saw the bloody remains of an opossum. Its head was missing.
“What the hell?” I said, and then Monica sat up and gave an unearthly howl. It was not the howl of a woman in pain from a shovel blow to the forehead, but the howl of a beast, a thing from another dimension. It was not a human noise at all. To Emma’s credit, she did not drop the candle, although the light caught Monica’s attention. She looked at Emma and hissed, a thread of saliva pouring from her mouth. Emma took a step back and Monica followed on hands and knees. I swung the shovel again, the blade making a much louder sound against Monica’s skull this time. Just to be sure, I hit her a dozen more times and then used the shovel to cut her head from her body.
“Jesus,” Emma said. “Now what?”
“Monica’s got a family,” I said. “We need to go next door.”
Within an hour Emma and I had rounded up most of the neighbors on our block and we broke down the front door of Monica’s house and dealt with her husband and sons. We built a bonfire in the empty lot down the street and burned all four bodies. I threw the headless opossum onto the flames for good measure. I still need to finish that chapter of my work-in-progress. This is a story I wrote to entertain you all for Halloween.