Learn the secret of the possum man.
By Helen Armstrong
"Hey, look at that sign!" pointed Davo. "Possum Man - call 54 2136."
"Where?" asked Sophie, looking around.
"There - the hand-painted sign nailed to that tree - see?"
The kids were bored, stuck in a traffic jam on their way back from a great day's surfing, boards idling on the roofrack. Gritty sand clung stubbornly to feet and towels, while their skin itched with salt and sunburn. Tomorrow would bring the tanned hide, followed perhaps by flaking and peeling, like shed lizard skin. Hair bleached to straw yellow and stiffened with salt and sand hung down in matted clumps. The smell of sweat, coconut oil and board wax was reminiscent of the beach and at odds with the winding, slowly crawling dragon's tail of traffic. Flashing coloured lights just visible on the hill rise indicated a breakdown as the cause.
"Wonder what the Possum Man sign is about?" mused Kate.
"Who cares?" muttered Nigel at the wheel, cursing under his breath at the traffic. "Just break out that cola, will you? I'm parched."
"Probably just a guy who rescues possums from roofs," commented Davo, watching Kate opening the slab. "You know how they can get into your ceiling. We had one once - used to galumph round all night and piddle in the ceiling, and I couldn't get any sleep. Old Lady Blake gave me heaps for falling asleep in History." Davo was still pissed off with that possum.
"I know!" giggled Sophie. "He lives in a house with possums everywhere - not just in the roof. Maybe one possum sweeps the floor, another cleans the bathroom, and a few more do the cooking. Gum blossom scones, perhaps? And maybe nectar tea. Speaking of which ... chuck us a coupl'a colas back here, willya Kate?"
The mood was getting hilarious, despite the traffic tedium. Cans of cola flew back and forth, along with theories about possums.
"I've got the best one yet!" yelled Davo. "Possum Man - he wears underpants outside his fur, has a big PM on his chest, and rescues wildlife in distress, swinging through the trees!"
They all cracked up, laughing, as each tried to come up with a more outrageous explanation.
"He's a refugee from a science lab. Genetic engineering plus radiation - he's part man, part possum, and has super powers. Maybe he's got a Possum-mobile in a cave deep under a gum tree!" screamed Sophie.
"You guys are totally ridiculous!" stormed Nigel, frustrated because the traffic kept him from thinking up silly ideas as well. "OK - looks like we're moving again."
And as the traffic snarl wound faster up the hill past the breakdown, the kids were already thinking about other things - pizza, fish and chips, the English assignment due next week.
Behind them, in the signposted tree, a phone rang. "Possum Man here," answered a gruff voice. "Yes ... yes ... I see. Certainly. I'll be right over."
Bleary eyes blinked over a quivering nose, bushy face and crooked teeth as the furry figure uncoiled from his sleeping ball and stretched. The set-up was working well. It had been over a year since escaping from the lab, and the wiring system he'd secretly installed from the substation to the tree, with the patch-in to the telephone lines, was all working perfectly. He pulled on his tracksuit with the big "PM" on the front, downed the last of his nectar tea and grabbed a gum blossom scone for later. The genetic experiments that had made speech possible had also foreshortened his face. Dressed and booted, he just looked like a bearded human, despite a shambling gait. Swinging through the trees wasn't going to be fast enough this time, he mused. Better get the Poss-mobile out of the tree cave for this job.