For Jeff

“Check this out, man,” said Rich, as he and his best friend Toby entered the garage. They carried their beers to the work counter, where a long piece of thick pipe rested. “What’s that, dude?” Toby inquired, motioning to the black pipe. “That’s my blow dart gun,” Rich replied, picking up the long object. “You can shoot some shit down with this, dude.” “What do you shoot, dude?” Toby sipped his beer. “You mean what do you shoot out, or what do you shoot at?” Rich sipped back. “Well,” Toby shrugged. “Both, I guess.” Rich set the pipe down and reached into a drawer, withdrawing three pointed contraptions, which he handed to Toby. Toby studied the darts: three thick, shiny nails with tails made of electrical tape, which wrapped around their heads and formed a neat cone behind them. They looked quite aerodynamic. “As for what you shoot them at,” Rich paused, considering. “Well, whatever the fuck you want to shoot I guess.”

Toby handed the darts back to Rich, and turned his attention back to his beer, which he drank from thoroughly. “Here, check it out,” Rich said, as he picked the weapon back up and walked out of the open garage door. Toby followed him down the driveway into the warm night, looking up at the tiny sliver of sunlight that cracked through the impending darkness. In this scant light, Toby’s eyes struggled to adjust, and when they did, he noticed something sliding across the top of the wall across the street. As he walked closer, he clarified that it was a possum scurrying through the night. Rich saw it too, and exclaimed, “Yeah! Perfect timing!” Toby caught up to Rich in the middle of the street, and they stood side by side watching the marsupial as it glided across the wall. Then, the creature stopped, sensing them. It cocked its head to the street as if surveying the territory. “They can’t see very good, but they sense movement, so go slow,” explained Rich, as he tiptoed closer to the possum, lining up his shot. As Toby followed, and they drew closer, he looked into the eyes of the creature. Its black hollow optics seemed to be directly aimed at them, but the possum did not move as they approached. Toby guessed that it did not sense them, or the animal did not think they were a threat. Rich stopped a few feet from the possum and slowly raised his blower into firing position. He loaded a nail dart in the chamber of the gun, and put the device to his mouth. Still, the beast did not stir on the wall, either unaware of its fate, or not fearing it. As Rich blew into the end of the pipe, the dart whirred from the barrel, speeding toward the unyielding possum. The animal jerked its head as the tip of the nail plunged into its neck. It arched its back up unsteadily a few times, then toppled off the edge of the wall, landing loudly on the sidewalk. Rich strode over to the rodent, now lying on its side. Toby approached the possum slowly, and immediately felt pity for the creature.

The possum was still moving, slowly flailing its feet desperately into the air. The movement gradually slowed as Toby stepped up to it and examined the suffering animal at his feet. He looked into its eyes, which looked more like ebony marbles in the dim streetlight, and the slight sparkle within the darkness seemed to plead with him for help. Even when the creature’s flapping legs finally stopped their sad dance, there was the same empty life in those eyes looking up at him. “Dude, I feel kind of bad,” said Toby, glancing over at Rich next to him. “Yeah, that was kind of too much, huh?” agreed Rich. He walked away, retrieving his beer where he had left it in the street. Toby considered this for a moment. “Aw, fuck it, dude. Possums are pretty much worthless animals. I mean, what purpose do possums serve anyway?” “Yeah, seriously, dude,” harmonized Rich. “All they do is steal cat food, and make dogs bark.” “Yeah, dude,” continued Toby. “They’re pretty much just big fucking rats.” They both laughed, and each took a big swallow of their respective beers. “Still,” mused Toby, “that was kind of fucked up, dude.” “Yeah, well, it’s dead now,” snapped Rich. “You can try giving it mouth to mouth if you want. Fucking hippie.” “Fuck you, bitch,” Toby cut back. “That is your name, right? Bitch?” Both laughed, and made their way back up the driveway for a round of pool, merrily forgetting the deceased possum on the sidewalk across the street. And after a few more beers, neither one of them even noticed when the animal carcass was quietly dragged into the night and out of memory. ••• Rich awoke suddenly that night. His head was groggy from the beers earlier that evening, and he hesitated to open his eyes, feeling a dizziness overcoming him.

The room swayed just a little, and there was a sickness in Rich’s stomach that he feared might overtake him. He was scared to move at all, in fact, and that’s when he realized that he couldn’t. Rich was confused for a moment, wondering if the alcohol was immobilizing him, but through his drunken, halfawake stupor, he felt something else. A slight tingling sensation on his skin ran across his entire body, and he sensed something: Prickly? That’s when Rich decided to let his drunken eyes begin to flitter their way open. As his vision dizzily adjusted to the darkness, he tried to focus on the ceiling, hoping it would stop moving. He slowly lifted his head, the only part of his body that he could move, and he attempted to study himself. His eyes refused to focus however, and it was hard to determine anything through the darkness of his room, but for a moment he chuckled, because he thought he saw something staring back at him through the dim, and it kind of looked like.... He laughed again, letting his head rest back down on the pillow, then made another attempt at movement. He lifted his head once more, and gradually his eyes began to adjust to their intoxication and the darkness. And then, Rich did not want to chuckle anymore, because as he struggled for coherence, his eyes attempted to tell his mind that there was a possum standing on his chest, its snout inches from his face, with a pair of black beads glaring directly at him. Slowly, he registered this twisted reality, and it was the last jolt his body needed to induce vomiting. He gagged, and when his mouth opened, he felt the animal’s snout fill the hole, forming a solid wall, which stopped his vomit on its way up his throat. As he began to suffocate on the bile, he quickly became aware that the warmth that enveloped him in his bed was not his blanket, because the softness became hundreds of little finger nails skittering across his body. It was they who held him

down, the dozens of possums that stood on him, their weight hindering his weak movements. He felt their long prickly tails slither across him as the beasts scurried on him playfully. He could not breathe to scream, still choking on his own vomit and the snout down his throat, but that was when the pain began. As endless tiny teeth began their systematic chewing, Rich became acquainted with an agony more intense than any he had ever experienced. He felt every part of his body disappear: each of his fingers as they were slowly ravaged off at the knuckles, all of his toes, his ears, and his penis, which several of the marsupials maliciously gnawed at. Rich was still unable to move, held down by several of the creatures who were not chewing, but he twitched as best as he could, his muffled screams trapped in his throat with his vomit. Tears began to flow heavily out of his wide open screaming eyes, and then those, too, were chewed through by the deceptively piercing teeth. As Rich’s last breaths stuttered from his body, he felt the possums invade their final target. Several began to chew into his stomach, and his last realization before his inevitable death was that the creatures were feistily disemboweling him. ••• Toby sat up in his bed quickly, then cursed himself for doing so. His head was pounding and the next morning’s hangover had already begun to settle in. His mouth was dry and chapped, and he shook through his haze long enough to realize that he desperately needed a glass of water. He convinced himself to his feet, and carefully carried himself down the hall to the bathroom. He filled a glass from the sink, and retrieved two aspirin from his medicine cabinet, pounding them down greedily. He muttered “fuck it” to himself, and retrieved two more, swallowing those with equal zest. He carried the glass back to his bedroom, and it was quickly shattered when

Toby entered the room and noticed what he had failed to see in bed. The sight almost knocked him over, and his hand quickly forgot about the glass, which toppled to the hardwood floor. In the corner of Toby’s room, Rich hung from a ceiling beam. Closer inspection revealed that it was not rope that held him swaying gently, but his own large intestine, which was lovingly wrapped around his throat. His chest cavity was torn open, and his organs unfolded in a grisly tendril that almost reached the floor, the gory insides still connected by various tissues. Neither the blood that covered what was left of the body, nor the large pool of it on the floor below the swaying corpse, was nearly as sickening to Toby as the meticulous deconstruction of humanity that had shed the fluid. Rich’s severed fingers and toes were spread merrily across the floor, and as Toby staggered back into the opposite corner of his room, shaking with heavy breaths, he felt some squish beneath his feet. He looked into the eyes of his friend and saw the same glaring, empty, black pits that he had seen on the possum earlier that evening, and the eyeballs that once filled them were floating in the pool beneath Rich’s hanging body. As Toby began to shriek, a cry that echoed agony, fear, and horror, he slunk to the floor in the corner, unable to take his eyes off the terrible sight. Only then, sitting on the floor, could he see the bloodstains that dotted the lower section of wall behind Rich’s body. Then, disbelief entered the tone of his screaming when he realized that the crude smears formed a clear pattern. He struggled to comprehend how the markings had been formed, but the swirls of blood on the wall comprised two clearly visible words: worthless animals