And This Too, Shall Not Come to Pass
Max had never seen a possum before, even though the city he lived in, a bedroom community just outside of Detroit, hosted several. His first sight of one, on the day before his fortieth birthday, frightened him to the point of private embarrassment, causing his 6’3” and 240 pound frame to quiver.
Fear, absolute fear. He had never known that sensation, never in his adult life, and he instantly remembered a day from his early childhood when his father tried to teach him to swim, throwing him suddenly in the air and into the city pool. Max floundered for what seemed like an eternity, crying and screaming and he remembered his heart pounding rapidly behind his ribs.
His first sight of a possum caused that same sort of anguished fear. Blood drained from his face, and he felt all his organs save his heart descend into the bottom of his stomach.
He had stepped onto his porch that Friday morning, the disappearing dusk had made way for a crisp and bright early spring morning, the long dormant maple and elm and oak trees that stood majestically along his street seemed to be outlined in green as the leaves slowly started to bud. Max had his suit jacket draped over his arm and carried a travel mug of coffee, armed for the tedious commute to his office nearly an hour away through nerve-tautening traffic.
He saw the possum on the porch as he swung open the front door. It’s beady eyes behind its pointed little mouth seemed to be glaring at Max, staring him in the eye as if it was daring him, daring Max to come outside and face something he had never seen before.
The sight of the possum was so unexpected and so jarring; Max felt his heart start to race and his hands and torso shook as he stood with the storm door half open, his left foot extended outside.
He pulled his foot back in and closed the door.
The possum raised itself, and stood on its haunches with its mouth open, and Max saw a seemingly infinite number of sharp and jagged and little teeth.
It took Max a moment to realize that the creature was indeed a possum; he had always assumed his suburb was rodent free, save the red and black and gray squirrels that constantly scurried from tree to tree, rooftop to rooftop, power line to power line.
And besides, weren’t possums the animals that played dead when in an awkward situation?
This possum wasn’t playing dead. And this animal the size of a cat made Max feel like a prisoner in his own house, a brick colonial built just after World War II, one of a countless number of brick colonials along the tree-lined and serpentine streets of Max’s subdivision.
Max rapped on the glass of the storm door, trying to frighten the possum away. He was too scared to step onto the porch, he was too scared to stand so close to the possum. He was afraid the possum would bite him and he had visions of the possum’s little teeth ripping into the flesh of his ankle.
After what seemed like an eternity, the possum shuffled off slowly, very slowly, and Max saw it enter an arch-like opening at the base of the large maple tree in the front of Max’s house. The tree stood on the parkway between the sidewalk and the street and its branches towered over Max’s house and its roots had grown so large that they caused the sidewalk in front of Max’s house to buckle.
With a sigh of relief, Max walked to his driveway and hopped into his SUV, immediately cranking up the air conditioning to counter the sweat that broke out under his arms and across his back. He turned on the radio and found his favorite morning talk
show and immediately got lost in the inane banter. The possum became almost completely forgotten by the time Max exited his subdivision, as the dribble from the
radio and the caffeine from the coffee settled into his blood and numbed his brain.
Max always called his stay-at-home wife at nine each and every morning. He would call to tell her how frustrating the traffic was and to see how his three-year-old daughter, Emma, was faring on that particular morning.
He didn’t mention the possum to his wife on that Friday morning, his mind had already filed it into the recesses of its long-term memory.
The weekend came and went as did a certain amount of days and weeks and suddenly spring in southeastern Michigan was over and the summer heat came. Asphalt steamed under a relentless sun, the exhaust from a million automobiles constantly hung in the hazy and humid air and whatever patch of earth that wasn’t covered by concrete became shaded a sort of emerald green and the leaves on the trees along Max’s street became so full that leafy shadows were cast on every rooftop and on every inch of sidewalk.
It was another Friday morning in late June when a possum again greeted Max.
This time it wasn’t waiting for him on his porch. The possum waited for Max to wander onto the curved sidewalk which ran from his front porch to the driveway.
Max saw the possum coming from inside the maple tree and his heart stopped as he saw it run towards him, its long and pink tail trailing behind it, its pointed mouth laden with teeth almost dragging on the ground.
Without thinking, Max dropped his suit jacket and coffee mug right there on the sidewalk and ran quickly to his porch.
He hurriedly opened the door and entered his house, slamming the storm door shut behind him, loud enough that he was sure he woke his wife and daughter.
The possum crashed into the storm door just as Max slammed it shut, its head leaving a temporary imprint on the glass.
Max stood shaking again in the grips of fear, and his roseate complexion suddenly turned quite pale.
The possum, after crashing into the door, shook its head as if to regain a sense of equilibrium. Again, it stood on its haunches, and this time it opened its mouth and Max could hear a hiss coming from behind the sharp little teeth. Max closed the front door, hoping the possum would disappear because it could no longer see him. Max then went to the living room window and nervously peered behind the curtain, craning his neck to see the front porch.
Max exhaled deeply as he saw the possum had already left the porch. He studied the landscape of his front yard and street to see if the possum was anywhere in sight.
His breath again stopped as he heard the same hiss as before and looking down he saw the possum’s face there at the bottom of the picture window, its toothy mouth almost touching the glass.
Max started to scream and quickly put his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t
wake his wife and daughter.
The possum again stood and Max thought it looked quite huge among the impatiens and daffodils his wife had recently planted in the flowerbeds in front of the house. The possum then turned to face the maple tree and to Max’s horror another possum, not quite as large as the one in front of him, came from the opening at the bottom of the maple tree and joined its companion, both possums pressing their noses against the glass, as if they could gnaw their way through the window.
Max quickly replaced the curtain and stood away from the window. “What the hell is going on?” he asked himself. He wondered how he could go all his life without seeing a possum and then all of a sudden see two on the same day. He thought that maybe the previous mating season, or whatever it was for possums, was especially furious, and perhaps these two particular possums were rabid or diseased. He knew of no other reason to explain their aggressive behavior.
He peered behind the curtain to see the possums still standing there, and in an instant, as if they had been summoned by some figure or authority - some dark master, Max found himself thinking - the possums quickly left Max and ran to the house directly across the street, ambling down the driveway and disappearing into the back yard.
Max could have sworn he saw the woman who lived in the house across the street standing a few feet from her own front window, her silhouette darkened by the shadows of her living room, only her eyes reflecting any light. Max rubbed his eyes again, clearing away the sweat that had dripped from his brow and looked again. The woman wasn’t there and he assumed she never really was and he was glad; the thought of anyone else witnessing the episode with the possums would be too embarrassing.
“Good,” he said to himself, “let ‘em terrorize that bitch across the street.”
Max had a bit of history with the woman, a gaunt and pale-skinned woman with long reddish hair that always looked almost disheveled. The woman was recently divorced and lived in the house with her two school-aged girls. The oddest thing about the woman, something that Max’s wife always commented on when seeing her, was that she wore the same style dress in the spring, summer, fall and winter, long and shapeless
and uniform in color and absent of pattern, as if she were adorning her body with a used curtain.
“She probably makes them herself,” Max’s wife would say as they spied the woman getting in and out of her car, a rusty and older blue Volvo station wagon adorned in bumper stickers that read “Love Your Mother” and another puzzling one that read “Earth, Air, Fire, Water”.
“Someone should tell her how ridiculous she looks,” his wife would continue.
“Why don’t you?” Max would always retort.
“I’m not talking to that woman…” Max’s wife would reply with a sort of shudder.
Max had been sort of friendly with the woman’s husband, a cherubic looking man with balding blonde hair and a ruddy complexion. The two of them, when they moved across the street from Max a year or so after Max and his own wife came to the neighborhood, instantly struck Max as disharmonious. They didn’t look like they belonged together at all. The man was some sort of salesman and he kept long hours. Max would talk to him in the summer evenings when the man would sneak into his garage to smoke cigarettes and drink beer that he kept in a small refrigerator on top of a never-used workbench.
“She doesn’t like this stuff in the house,” the man once told Max, raising his hand that held a smoldering cigarette and a can of beer. “She doesn’t smoke and I think her dad was some kind of alcoholic or somethin’. Never met the man myself, he died when she was in school, long before I came on the scene.”
“It’s your house too, isn’t it?” Max once asked the man, drinking a can of offered beer, standing in the driveway in front of his opened garage, a garage cluttered with golf clubs and yard equipment.
“Well… yeah,” the man replied.
“Then you should be able to smoke and drink in the house if you want too, I wouldn’t let my wife push me around like that,” Max said, somewhat dishonestly, he was never one to seek out a confrontation with his wife, but his wife didn’t seem to be as bossy as the woman across the street.
Embarrassed for seeming un-masculine, the man said, “Yeah, you’re right, I should be able to smoke and drink in my own house, she doesn’t work and I slave away sixty hours a week, I should do as I please in my own house.”
“There you go,” Max said encouragingly, draining his can of beer before returning to his home across the street.
Max had forgotten about the advice he had given the man, until a week later a sharp and loud knock came at his front door. Max opened the door and found the woman across the street standing on his porch, her arms folded across her chest, tapping her right foot in an angry and staccato like fashion.
“I would appreciate if you can keep your opinions to yourself,” she said to Max before he could even open his mouth to say hello. “You have caused a very unfortunate situation for my husband.” And with that she turned on her heels and marched across the street.
The next morning, as Max climbed into his SUV, he saw the man across the street carrying a suitcase and some other personal effects to his older and domestic sedan. Max got out of his vehicle and walked to the curb, waiting to talk to the man as he drove away.
The man rolled down his window after he backed out into the street. “Thanks,” he hollered over the sound of his motor, over the screech of a protesting fan belt, “I did what you said, I lit up a cigarette while I was sittin’ on the couch and watchin’ TV, and I found out that my wife is a real witch. I gotta get out of here.” And he rolled away as Max held up his right hand to wave goodbye.
“Maybe he said she was a real bitch,” Max’s wife said as he talked to her at nine a.m. that same morning on the phone from his office.
“Maybe, but I could have sworn he said witch.”
“Well,” his wife continued, “she could be a witch, its common these days you know. I saw it on a talk show, a bunch of housewives who were into witchcraft, but it’s not what you think. It’s harmless, they’re like into nature and stuff, no spells or
broomsticks. It seemed kind of interesting actually…”
“Don’t even think getting into it,” Max quickly replied, his passive Catholic sensibilities suddenly offended with the thought of his wife being involved in witchcraft.
“Don’t worry,” his wife replied with half of a laugh, “it didn’t seem that interesting and I don’t like all that New Agey stuff anyway. That’s how those women struck me, you know, the kind you’d expect to see at the health food store or some gift shop where they sell crystals and incense.”
“Like what’s-her-face across the street…”
Max never saw the man after that, and in the succeeding year he had managed to avoid conversation with the woman, and they refused to make eye contact with one another when both parties happened to be coming or going at the same time.
“Let ‘em bother that bitch across the street,” Max said again, in regard to the possums, recalling his wife’s observation that witches were into nature and he wondered for only an instant if the woman and the possums were somehow connected. He ran back outside and quickly climbed into his SUV, slamming the door immediately behind him, in case a possum happened to jump inside.
Max had rough spots in his life before, patches of days and weeks and months where life was hard financially, physically or emotionally. The rough spots always came to pass, everything worked out just fine. The same would happen with the possums, he told himself, they too, would just go away.
But they didn’t.
That same Friday, Max’s wife called him before he had a chance to call her. Their daughter had been playing in the backyard by herself, and Max’s wife heard her scream loudly.
“She said an ugly squirrel was chasing her and that it bit her on the nose, but I see no mark anywhere on her body, not even a scratch,” Max’s wife explained. “And I’m not sure what she meant by an ugly squirrel.”
“She meant a possum,” Max said, relating his experience of the morning to his wife.
“Keep her inside the rest of the day, I’ll deal with the possums this weekend.”
The fright Max had felt turned into anger. His own daughter, his pride and joy, his flesh and blood, had been attacked by some brazen rodent.
He would have his vengeance.
Max woke up early that following Saturday morning. He made himself get up before the sun inched up over the eastern horizon. He allowed himself a few moments to enjoy the darkened and silent house save the calm and comforting noise of the coffee brewing in the kitchen.
Still in his pajama bottoms and an old t-shirt he wore solely for sleeping, Max stationed himself on his front porch with a cup of coffee and a spade-style shovel he retrieved from the garage the night before. He sat there, glaring at the opening in the maple tree on his parkway, glaring at the darkened windows of the house across the street.
Minutes passed and Max sat there in the warm summer silence. He had started to enjoy the solitude and he was struck by the beauty of the approaching daylight, the filtered light causing the lawns and trees on his street to appear more like a luminous yellow than green.
He had started to forget his mission.
He went back inside for another cup of coffee and when he came back outside he saw, standing on the porch next to the spade, a possum.
Max didn’t open the door, he stood inside the breezeway, angry with himself for letting his guard down.
The possum ran headfirst into the storm door, causing the glass to rattle.
This frightened Max and his hand shook, dribbling hot coffee on the top of his bare feet.
But his fright disappeared as he remembered his anger, angry that his daughter had been attacked, angry that a possum, a small rodent, had made him feel like a prisoner in his own home.
He remembered a lesson from a Sunday school class when he was a small boy; God gave man dominion over the beasts of the land and the fish of the sea. He kept this thought with him as he stomped down into his basement, foraging through his cluttered toolbox for a suitable weapon, as the possum had blocked his access to the spade.
He selected a large and seldom used pipe wrench, a big red one, like the kind plumbers use.
Max returned upstairs and held his breath before he opened the door.
The possum stood right in front of the door, as if it knew Max would return.
Max swung the front door open quickly, surprising himself with his own swiftness of body and thought, knocking the possum backward and off the porch. Max stepped outside and the shaken possum leaped back onto the porch, its mouth open and Max could swear that its eyes were red.
Max swung the pipe wrench like a sickle, the head of the wrench met the possums mouth just as it lunged for Max’s shin. The possum flew off the porch, blood and saliva flying out of its mouth.
Shaken but still standing, the possum flew back up the porch, but not as quickly as before and Max again swung with the pipe wrench, this time sending the possum even further off the porch.
Max didn’t allow time for the possum to recover, he chased it onto his front lawn and started clubbing the possum until it no longer moved and it’s gray fur turned scarlet red from the blood that ran out of its mouth and ears and from the wounds Max created throughout its small body.
Feeling vindicated and mighty, Max picked up the possum by the tail and flung it far into the base of the maple tree, leaving the corpse as a reminder to any would be aggressive rodent that Max was no one to mess with, and if they hung around his house they would be dealt with in a similar fashion.
Max felt a little nuts and a little barbaric. “Oh well,” he said to himself with a shrug. “This has finally come to pass.”
But it didn’t.
Max spent that Saturday doing yard work and running errands. He noticed with each passing hour that the maple tree in front of the house was starting to turn red, as if autumn was coming, even though it was only late June.
First the leaves turned red and by the end of Sunday afternoon Max swore that the tips of the branches too, were a dull red.
He pointed the tree out to his wife, who gave Max a look.
“It looks fine to me,” she said, “you got up too early yesterday, maybe that possum got your testosterone pumping or something, why don’t you go inside and rest, drink a beer.”
“But…” Max started to say, angry that his wife didn’t see what he saw, but he sensed she was right. Maybe it was the way the sun was shining. Maybe he was tired, and a beer sounded awfully, awfully, good.
Max did spend the evening inside, with his feet up and the television on, his wife bringing him cans of beer. He felt as if the weekend was successful; he got his yard work done and the possums were dealt with. He could walk out of his front door Monday morning without the fear of being greeted by another one of those scary creatures.
But Monday morning didn’t go as he planned.
The first thing he noticed as he stepped onto the porch Monday morning was the tree. It was a bright, bright, blood red, wine red, scarlet red, and drips of red fluid were dripping from the leaves, splashing on the freshly cut grass of Max’s parkway.
“I knew I wasn’t crazy,” Max said to himself, turning to go back inside to haul his wife out of bed wife so he could triumphantly point to the tree and say, “See, I told you, the tree really is turning red, maybe autumn is early this year or something, and I don’t know…”
But before he could go inside the front door of the house across the street opened and slowly, slowly the woman who Max had grown to despise stepped onto her own porch, her arms folded just beneath her bosom and her right leg pointed out at a 30 degree angle.
Max stared at her open-mouthed. He had never found this woman attractive at all in the past, but on this morning, in the hazy and rising sunlight she looked quite alluring. Her dress was a shiny, shimmering red and it hugged the contours of her figure more tightly than any dress he had ever seen her wear. For the first time Max noticed her voluptuousness - the curve of her hips, the narrowness of waist, the outline of her thighs, and her breasts seemed to be heaving, as if they were so large that they had to be held up by her folded arms.
She stood on the porch, and gave Max a sly sort of smile, and Max only vaguely noticed that her face and her whole body had a sort of reddish glow, almost like an aura, as if she was backlit by a soft and red light.
Max couldn’t believe it, but he found himself aroused by this woman who he had always viewed as too eccentric to be anything but loathsome.
He started to walk towards her, he was too attracted to her to do anything but, and that’s when he noticed the sound of the birds emanating from the maple tree now turned red.
It sounded like an imperfect symphony.
It sounded like literally a thousand birds of different sorts were chatting in the tree. There was the caw-caw of crows the chirping of robins, the tweeting of sparrows and the cooing of pigeons and doves.
Max looked into the tree, suddenly thinking of the movie The Birds, but he didn’t see a single bird, it seemed as if the tree rendered them all invisible. But more troubling still, was the sight he noticed on the rooftops of the neighborhood as he looked up into the tree; dozens of squirrels stood motionless on every rooftop, as if they were getting ready to watch a parade, and their gazes were directed towards Max.
Max scratched his head and continued to walk across the street, the sight of the woman pulling on his male organ like a magnet.
He was halfway down his driveway when the possums started streaming out of the small arch-like opening at the bottom of the maple tree.
Countless possum that seemed to be covered in blood started running towards Max, hissing as they sprinted across his lawn.
Max froze and stood dumbfounded in his driveway, and when he finally decided to run it was too late.
The first possum grabbed him at his ankle, the second bit him in his opposite ankle, a third bit him in the crotch and the pain brought Max to his knees. As soon as his stomach and neck were in reach the rest of the possums, and Max saw at least twenty, finished him off. Max finally tried to scream and yell for help but a possum put an end to his tongue as soon as he opened his mouth.
After what seemed like an hour, though it was only two minutes, the possums trailed back to the tree. As soon as the last possum entered the bottom of the tree, Max saw the tree turn instantly back to brown and green, but his body, his suit, his short and blonde and graying hair had all turned red by all the blood draining out of his body, blood gushing out in torrents from multiple wounds.
His last vision was the woman from across the street, standing over him, looking as plain and drab and mean as always. Max closed his eyes, and they never opened again.
Max’s wife found him a quarter of an hour later, after a neighbor rapped frantically on the door. His body was collapsed in the driveway, wound-free and bloodless.
“And This, Too, Shall
Not Come To Pass” is copyrighted 2006 by Oscar Deadwood and may not be reproduced under any circumstances without his permission.
Oscar Deadwood lives in Royal Oak, Michigan with his wife and two sons. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous webzines, but this is his first horror credit. He usually writes dark science fiction. Mr. Deadwood welcomes your comments on this story and invites the readers to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org