Let me just start off by sayin’ that havin’ told this story a time or two already, I expect you havin’ a question or three and maybe doubtin’ the whole scenario. Well, let me alleviate those concerns and assure you this is not a tale of fiction. And if by the end you still want to challenge the veracity of my tellin’ we can have that conversation afterword. And depending on your tone that may or may not involve the rearranging of your nose and or teeth.

In the late summer of Twenty Aught Three, a usual gathering took place at a friend’s country estate (man had indoor plumbing). It was an annual event to gather old friends together and catch up whilst enjoying a few beverages of an adult nature. The crowd wasn’t always exactly the same. Not everybody could make it every year and people moved in and out as they do. There was, however, a core of us that still lived around these parts that were there every year for what Randy called our “ritualistic youth reliving.” Goddamned college boy.

Well, the afternoon led into dusk and things were in a pretty good groove when I heard the scream. Now, you have to understand that this was not an unusual occurrence. It was about this time every year the same thing happened. Ed would get about six in ‘im, get one o’ them there maniacal grins on his face, and proceed to take out his tallywacker and chase the girls around. Could almost set your watch by it. The taking out, not the member itself.

So, there is the screachin’ and wailin’ and carryin’ on takin’ place and as usual it sounded like Ed didn’t know when to quit. So I hollar over at Abe. Abe wasn’t a regular member of the group but I always remembered his name ‘cause there ain’t a lot a fellers named Abe these days. But I digress. So, anyhow, I hollar at Abe “Can somebody go over there and tell Ed to put his damn pecker in his pants?”

Abe says to me, “You’re not going to believe this, but for a change he isn’t chasing them with his unit!”

Heh, “unit”. Funny word for a johnson.

Me and a couple other fellers sauntered (that’s right, sauntered) on over to the bonfire to see what the hell that dingbat was up to. Turns out the lunkhead had found hisself a dead critter in the trees and decided a rotting carcass was funnier than waggin’ parts at the ladies.

Well, this went on for a stupid amount of time, which is to say, any time at all, when finally Old Tom and New Tom yelled out, “Throw it in the fire, huyuck, yuck!” Instigatin’ sumbitches.

Ed giggled like the little boy he apparently is, swings his arm back and heaves.

Bout that time I hear Angela ask Bobbie, “What in the hell was that, anyway?”

“Dunno,” Bobbie responded, “looked like a possum.”

Now, before you git ahead of me, let us pause to build a little dramatic tension… Ok, ready?

As I watched that marsupial arc through the fading rays of sunlight, the phrase, “playing possum,” came into my grey matter.

Now, I’m not sure at what point in its trajectory that the possum realized what was going on, but gravity being what it is, it found out real soon.

The thing hit that fire, and, well, I don’t know if you ever heard what a possum sounds like in the best of times. Not pretty, so let me assure you, the sound that came outta this creature was the most gawd awful thing I ever heard. Pretty sure it carried for a good ten miles and a little further in the direction of the blowing breeze. And as any thinking animal would do when plunged into a pile of wood that had been set alight, it ran like hell.

Ed, rightfully so, was the first in its path. He let out a shriek to rival the possum, turned, and ran straight in to a tree. His then unconscious state led him to miss what came next.

A flamin’ possum surrounded by a bunch of half-drunk idjits will tend not to maintain a straight course in the process of fleein’. That thing darted to and fro amongst us like a pinball that had escaped Hades. Joanne fell backwards in her chair, spilling a 16 ounce mojito in her face. No big loss. The critter darted between Old Tom’s legs and set his pants on fire while New Tom stood there, slackjawed. Me and Abe, what in hindsight was not the wisest course of action, each took a handle of a massive cooler, figuring we could dowse the ignited beast. The only things that got soaked were Bobbie and Angela, who, in this moment of crisis were far more clear headed than us, had each grabbed a beach towel to smother the flames. Our mutual paths collided. The gals took multiple gallons of ice and water and one of the full cans of beer, that me and Abe had not considered, gave Bobbie a goose egg on her forehead that lasted a week.

Meanwhile, from behind the bushes came the two figures of Randy and Susan trying to button up their pants as they stumbled to identify who was being murdered. Their appearance did not go unnoticed by Francis, Susan’s husband.

Things just went south from there. I had heard the terms helter-skelter, pell-mell and bat-shit panic before, but this was my first real experience. Flailing limbs, tripping bodies and general chaos was the order of the early evening. A cacophony of human and possum shrikes rose in to the darkening sky. Then the bad thing happened.

George was not an excitable fella. The most I ever saw him get worked up was when his daughter won her first wrestling match and that was a fist pump and a subdued “Yes.” So you can understand our consensus surprise at what occurred next.

George came from around back of Jenny and Sam’s camper straight into the path of our ablaze possum. He let out a bellow of “JESUS CHRIST!” and flung his arms out to his side thereby releasing their contents. In his left, a beer. His right… a five gallon can of gasoline.

Most men would not have been able to fling a near full can of gasoline that far. George, being the approximate size and shape of a brown bear, was not most men. In the second slow motion curvation in less than five minutes, the action ceased as we all watched that big, red plastic rectangle make its way into the open door of the camper. The contents of the container flowing out as it flew.

The possum, through no fault of its own, darted at just the right angle to hit that stream of gas. A bright orange flame shot into the camper like a comet followed by a loud “whooof” and hither for unseen light coming from the interior. The camper that had the fire extinguishers.

That pretty much ended the frivolities.

By the time the fire department got there the camper was a total loss. After it had been put out, Fire Chief Bubbles (you had to be there for the story of that nick-name) had to keep apologizing to Sam and Jenny for laughing so much after he heard what happened. Francis’ face was bright red, even though he hadn’t been anywhere near the fire. Randy and Susan were wisely standing very far apart and very quiet. The two Toms, one pant less, were having an in-depth discussion about how long burnt off leg hair would take to regrow. Me and Abe were offering up profound contrition to the soaked gals. Angela just laughed and said it was ok as she rubbed her hair with the last reasonably dry towel. Bobbie sat on the ground next to Ed, each holding one cold beer to their heads and drinking another.

So, in the end, the sober ones gathered up the not so muches and we made our ways back into town. And straight for the bar.

But I got one last thing to tell you. If you ever find your way out in that part of the country, you may catch a glimpse of something… different, wandering amongst the trees. To this day, men claim to see an abomination with most of its hair gone, skin charred black in places, a vague smell of gasoline and an intense and malicious hatred for mankind. And if you find yourself face to face with this creature, get your ass out of there quick-like, because that little son of a bitch refuses to play dead.