We Have Met the Enemy and He is You

This is a long, lost story, from back in the daze when RRU was just beginning to germinate. The original went to usenet, and is lost. This is what I've dredged up from the bowels of my mind.
The roar of an uncorked, big V8, the sickening thump, the drunken rebel yell. I didn't have to look out the window to know who had just gone by. Wearily I crawled out of the waterbed and glanced through the curtains. As usual, there was a body in the street.

I threw on a robe and went outside, the cold December night slapping me more fully awake at once. No frost on the steps, at any rate. Under the streetlight the body lay still, a thin trickle of blood making its way between the stones in the pavement.

The striped jacket. The squashed porkpie hat. Sooner or later it was bound to be someone I knew, but it still hit home hard. And I knew that Pogo's demise meant rough times ahead for a lot of folks.

The pre-dawn quiet seemed to suck all life into itself as I carried Pogo's body to the flower bed, where I laid it tenderly on the pine straw, hat in hands, a pile of moss under the head. The eyes stared into the void above, the mouth showed no expression. There was no way to make this corpse look natural - Pogo's zeal for life could not be expressed by a lifeless body. Tears on my cheeks, I went inside, started some coffee, and threw the fouled robe into the fireplace.

Soon I heard rustling outside the windows. I didn't look. But shortly afterwards, I heard a scratching at my front door. This bore investigation. Wearing only my pajamas, I grabbed a steak knife and eased out the back door. Creeping to the front, I dropped to hands and knees and peered around the corner - the porch was covered with various sizes of possum, the largest of which had apparently just drawn an X on my door with chalk. I placed the knife on top of the gas meter, poured dirt on my head, and walked slowly around the corner.

Some of them fled, some played dead. A few snarled, but a few simply stood, staring at me somberly. One of the larger ones, one of a few with two black stripes down his back (``racing stripes'', Pogo had called them, much to his wife's amusement) finally spoke.

"Hallo, friend of Pogo. Is this your home?"

I nodded slowly, and looked quietly back.

The one with the chalk began erasing the X. "I'm Pogo, Junior. PJ, for short. We met at a meal, oncet. We didn't realize you lived here. When we found Dad here, we just assumed..."

"I understand. It was a hit and run. Some of his blood is still in the street at the end of the driveway. I brought him here to keep him from being run over more."

"Our thanks. But to you alone. All others are now fair game. This is the last straw."

"Even if I know who did this?"

They all hissed, drew a little closer. The feral light in their eyes blazed brighter than the huge ball of orange flame beginning to peek through the barren trees to the east.

"Who?", demanded PJ. "Tell us who, and there will be no war."

I pointed up the street. "All the way to the end. Turn right. Second house on the left. Stupid looking small pickup truck on huge tires, a bunch of lights on the cab. Orange. Rebel flags on the doors and gas tank."

"Rebel flags?", one of the youngsters queried, mystified.

I took the chalk, and drew the basic outline. After they all got a good look, I scratched it out. "What about the body?"

PJ pointed to a spot in the sky. "Where the stream passes nearest the unfinished buildings in the woods. Then." About 3 PM. I nodded. Usually they would have scampered off. Today they walked slowly, tails dragging in the grass.

Luckily Sharon & the kids were in North Carolina. Nobody else could communicate with the animals, so nobody believed I could. I'd learned early on to keep quiet about my ability, for obvious reasons.

I called work at 8.

"Miles! What are you doing calling so early?"

"I won't be in today. I have a funeral."

"Oh, no! I'm sorry. Was it family?"

"A very close friend. I should be in tomorrow."

"OK. You know this is vacation time, not funeral leave, since it isn't family..."

"Yeah, I know."

"OK - we've just had a couple of people argue that lately. Are you OK?"

"Close enough. Thanks. See you tomorrow."

. . .

At 2:30 I locked the back door and stepped into the balmy December afternoon. Down the steps, down the hills, I fought my way through the tangled brush to the back gate. It was so overgrown I didn't try to open it, just climbed over.

On the way, I heard occasional rustling in the bushes. An escort? Others on their way to pay respects? A sudden thought stopped me as I climbed over a dead tree. I left the path and hacked through the undergrowth to a huge, hollow trunk lying nearby. I tapped on the bark near the largest opening. A shrill whistle nearby broke the silence, and a head popped out.

"How'd you find us?" asked the young possum in the doorway.

"Something Pogo once told me just clicked. May I walk with you to the service?" I knew that wasn't the right word, but wasn't sure what to call it.

"What's with the gun?" the youngster demanded.

"Just in case anyone shows up who shouldn't. The guys in that truck sometimes come back here for firewood or to hunt."

A shiver ran down the racing stripes. "We know. Just a moment."

Soon, Pogo's widow walked out, followed closely by her clan. She stood quietly, mostly in black, regarding me with solemn eyes that seem to have cried themselves out. I kissed the offered paw.

"You are too kind. Eet ees good that ze only manfriend of Pogo should come weeth us, and I am honaired to 'ave you as an escort."

"Ma'amzelle Hephzibah, you have my deepest regrets. I trust that if there is anything I can do, you will tell me."

"Allors! Eet ees enough you haf already done! To bring my Pogos from the street, to tell us of who ees the killer, what more can we ask? And then you are here to protect us from the wild! I am een your debt forevair."

We arrived at the stream. Deacon Mole squinted at us through lenses thick enough to be NASA space telescopes, seemingly surprised at my presence, but he began as soon as all were present, with no other sign of noticing anything amiss.

Animals don't bury their dead. They leave them to the Earth. They seldom even have memorial services. This was one of those rare times, and also a council of war. I left for part of it, because I had the idea I didn't want to know what they were planning. When I returned, the Deacon was summing up.

"We have never minded serving man."

I thought of an old science fiction story and shuddered.

"And though some have suggested we should serve him up in stew..."

I'm sure I lost all composure at this point.

"...we will continue to serve him as before, when necessary. But while vengeance belongs to the Lord, justice He has put into our hands, and this we will do!" A general murmur of agreement broke out as people began walking away.

I sat and held Ma'amzelle Hephzibah's hand through the sunset. We talked a bit about Pogo, and life and death, but mostly we just sat. Finally I walked her home and hugged her goodnight. Somehow, I found myself laughing.

"And just what ees so funny that you can laugh on today, the day I haf lost my Pogos?"

I looked her straight in the eye. "I know. I couldn't help it. I just thought of my family's reaction if they saw me hugging you."

She stared at me a moment sternly, then smiled. "Sometimes I forget that you are the human kind of animal."

"Me, too. But most humans never think of things any other way."

"I know. Thank you again, our onliest manfriend." She curtsied and went inside.

PJ was waiting as I turned to go. He spoke quietly. "That toy possum your kids have..."

"The one Pogo made for them? On wheels?"

"Yup. You reckon they'd mind if we used it?"

"Probably not - what for?"

I whirled around at a hiss behind me. It was Albert, coming from downwind, so I hadn't noticed the seegar. "Don't ask questions what you don't want to know the answers to."

"I'll ask the kids. When do you want it?"

PJ pointed to the sky. Midnight. "OK," I said. "I'll call. If they say yes - as I imagine they will - I'll leave it on the front porch, under the swing." PJ nodded, thanked me, and walked off talking quietly with Albert. It hit me then.

"Albert! Where's Churchy?"

Albert fixed me with a baleful eye. "That postal duck talked him an' Pup Dog into migratin' south for the winter. I suspecks they is in Kissimmee by now."

"Weehah Junction, most likely," argued PJ.

I shuddered. I'd spent a month in Weehah Junction one afternoon, trying to hitch a ride. "Maybe," I mused, "they're in Tampa. Didn't that duck know a manatee down there?" But PJ and Albert were already lost in conspiratorial whispers again.

I called and explained to the kids that Pogo (they always assumed Pogo was a nickname for some friend who didn't want them to know his or her real identity) was dead, and that his family would like the pull possum back. They assumed it was for sentiment, and though I privately suspected otherwise, I didn't know, so I kept quiet. They both readily agreed, so I put it on the porch and went to bed.

. . .

An hour before dawn I awoke to the sound of scratching under the window. Looking out, I saw PJ, who waved impatiently for me to join him. I wrapped up in an afghan and met him in the shadows under some bushes near the street light. We hid as far back as we could get and still see the street. All my questions were met with the same answer - "Wait."

About a half hour before dawn, the old, familiar, obnoxious roar approached from up the hill. PJ peered intently up the street, where I saw a possum tail suddenly raise from a large clump of grass. (We seldom mow, which the neighbors hate, but the animals love.) The tail dropped, PJ hissed "now!" into the dark, and just as a blaze of headlights crested the hill, I saw a possum start across the street, at the very edge of the pool of light from overhead. Before I could shout a warning, PJ's paw covered my mouth - then I recognized the pull possum, and caught a glint of dark cord pulling it across the street. But were those sparks?

The truck tore down the street like a hundred rabid banshees, darting to the side to make sure it hit the critter seemingly frozen in its lights. Suddenly PJ buried his face in the dirt, and I followed suit.

A tremendous explosion rocked the ground, slamming me up and back, into the bushes. Pieces of steel, glass, and who knows what tore past, as a secondary explosion from the gas tank sent the remainder of the truck gone nova skyward. It rained fire and metal for 15 or 20 seconds. We stared at the gaping hole that had been a street in front of my house. "Guess that evens things up," said PJ with a tight smile. We wiggled through the shrubbery to the house as neighbors started arriving. I ditched the afghan and appeared, looking tired and startled, to see what the commotion was.

Along with half the neighborhood, I spoke with deputies off and on for several days. They finally decided the truck owner must have had dynamite in the truck, and it had gone off "by itself, for reasons unknown". It was kind of sad - nobody seemed too upset that these guys had died - just sort of relieved. Made me glad I hadn't lived next door to them.

Ma'amzelle Hephzibah eventually remarried to Porky Pine and they moved a few miles away. PJ and some of the other possum chiles still live nearby, and we occasionally get together. They bring us fish, fruit, or hand-carved toys sometimes, and I take them the odd article of clothing they like, knives, things like that. Grass and flowers grow thick upon Pogo's mound, and some of his descendents and I spend many a summer afternoon lying on it, looking into the sky and talking about whatever comes to mind.

Lately, I've been teaching more of them to read. They only care about a few books. They have several copies of ``The Way Things Work''. I suppose I shouldn't worry, but that is the book that taught me about making explosives, rockets, and so forth. I know I have nothing to fear, but lately I can't pass a neighbor's house without looking for chalk cross marks at the bottom of their doors.



Copyright 1996 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

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1705 Oak Forest / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514 / USA

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Miles O'Neal <meo@XYZZY.rru.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514