“There it is again. Wake up. Wake up.”
“Wha… wha… uhrrhum…??”
“Shh-shh-shh. Quiet! Just wake up and listen,” I stage-whispered into his ear.
As the moonlight shone through the barely opened bedroom window, I could see him blinking furiously as he valiantly shifted sleep aside.
Sure enough, though no shadow was evident, there was definitely something outside. The spider of dread crawled up my spine as that strange muffled huff-huff kind of tone came again.
“A heavy breather?” I murmured. Sheesh! I hadn’t heard one of those in the longest time. Way back when I was a Lifeline telephone counsellor, heavy breathers came with the territory – especially in the wee small hours of a sleepless night. They didn’t have any vocabulary to speak of. Guess it was mean of me, but finally I learned to say, “Shame about your asthma, dear. Perhaps you’d prefer to call again when you’ve steadied that breathing and you’re able to talk to me.” And I’d hang up. Worked a treat… there. But here? In my home? This was spooky.
I could see Kanute’s head shaking, answering my quivering question. “Not out here. Not this far from town.”
He had a point. This was surely an unwelcome event exclusive to suburbia – not out here in the country, on a farm set so far back from the road (and even that was a dirt track, off another wider dirt roadway, off a bitumen road, off the main road into our local town). So confident of our logic, we’d not set any type of trap. We would regret this.
After several silent moments that felt like forever, as we strained our ears and eyes for the tiniest movement, it came again. Huff-huff.
Kanute leaned close and whispered in my ear, “I’ve got my super torch here on the cupboard. Going out to figure what’s going on. Stay there.”
I hated it, imagining an ugly confrontation and who could imagine what next…
Despite Kanute’s sensible advice, I had to sneak out of bed and peer through the window from behind the heavy velvet curtains. Even amid this stressful moment, I registered the irony of these incredible ‘block-out-everything’ curtains that were never closed at night, because—who would be outside a farmhouse, waiting to look inside? Well, no-one. Or so we’d reasoned. Until now.
Attuned to the tiniest noise, I heard our front door’s small squeak on opening, instantly followed by the brilliant, revealing super-torchlight flashing along our wide verandah and then fanning out over the lawned area to the sheltering trees surrounding the house and garden.
With a mouth parched as blotting paper, my pulse thundered painfully in my ears as I saw a flurry of movement of something out at the light’s edge.
The long beam of light swung in the opposite direction. Oh, no! Kanute hadn’t seen it.
I couldn’t help myself calling loudly, “NO! He’s in amongst the trees. Over there. By the cherry plum tree!”
But it was too late. Whoever it was had escaped into the darkness and safety of the bushes.
For the next few nights we were braced for action. Kanute’s ‘you beaut’ torch was on my bedside cupboard, his rifle propped on his side of the bed in a corner behind his wardrobe. Until now we had restricted its use to putting down a suffering animal a few times, and shots fired into the air to frighten away kangaroos without harming them. Never used for hunting—nor protection, either. Until now.
Despite being SO ready, nothing happened. Not the first night—nor second—or third. And we relaxed, comforting ourselves that it must have been some strange ‘one-off’ type happening. Unexplainable, but… gone, it seemed.
On the fourth night we woke abruptly, our terror in full stampede mode as the dreaded huff-huff came once again. Our heavy breather was back! He’d find no paralysis from us on this occasion. We’d prepared ourselves most carefully—and sprung into instant action to defend all we held dear.
We snuck up to the door, flung it open with me brandishing the torch furiously and Kanute lining up the target. Again, our intruder outwitted us. Only a tremble of leaves of one bush marked his passing. His hearing must have been phenomenal. Or was it his eyesight, able to detect our silent awakening and sneakiest movement from our bed? That wasn’t a pleasant thought, imagining him lurking and watching us through our bedroom window—as we lay sleeping!
Undeterred by not arresting his departure immediately, we went after him with a vengeance, shouting our intention to GET him this time. Outrage replaced fear. And now, at the sound of our raised voices, our dogs headed into the bushes too. Abruptly we realised the movement through the leaves was going ever upwards.
“The blighter’s climbing the tree,” Kanute shouted. “The dogs have cut off his escape. We’ve got him now.”
I swung the torch backwards and forwards, at first only detecting ever upward leaf flutterings. Below, the dogs barked insanely, one clawing a tree trunk as he strained to climb higher, and the other jumping up and down to achieve the same.
Suddenly, the piercing beam of our torch found its target and Kanute swung the rifle into position, his eye pressed against the weapon’s magnifying sight. And it revealed all. Up as high as he could safely venture, our heavy breather had wedged himself on the junction of a sturdy tree branch. Kanute lowered the rifle as I battled to keep our intruder in its ‘reveal-all’ beam.
We gasped and then… “It’s a possum! Our intruder is a possum,” Kanute said, his tone echoing the astonishment of his face.
Enormous eyes glinted from the most beautiful bundle of cream and fawn fur we’d seen; and a gorgeous bushy tail, longer and more luxuriant than any possum I’d ever known. Unimaginable that just minutes before we had been ready to shoot him. Hearts melted and we hastily called off our hounds, to their great reluctance.
Now we also realized who was responsible for all the picked, bitten and rejected unripe cherry plums littering the ground beneath that bountiful old tree. His nightly shenanigans were suddenly closed down when we located a possum trap and transported him far away to have another chance at life.
We never told our neighbours of his deliverance. No possum would have gotten out alive from their places.
But OUR heavy breather? Well-ll…