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The possum chuckled as he found the nearly-whole tomato.

“Overripe, my granny’s bare tail,” he said. “I love a compost pile during garden season.” He sat flat in the moonlight, slurping as he chomped into the juicy pulp, eying a watermelon that would provide dessert.

Suddenly he dropped the tomato. Something was coming toward him in the moonlight. He quickly bared his teeth, stiffened his tail, and growled deep in his throat.

“Coon, I’m telling you one last time –“

Hola, amigo,” came a voice from the shadows. The possum relaxed.

“Armadillo! How you been?” Would you like some watermelon, or some tomato?”

“Thank you, but I would really prefer a nice grub. Have you seen any?’
“Look under those snap beans – I saw something wiggling in there earlier.”

“I am hungry. I have been lost for several days. I had a nice log full of termites and grubs,” Armadillo said, “but a coyote came along and I had to hide.”

“I despise those stinkin’ things,” Possum said. “Speaking of things that stink, do you smell something?”

“My friend, I thought it was you,” Armadillo said. “I mean no offense.”

“That last deer carcass was kind of high,” Possum admitted. “Gave me a bad case of acid reflux.”

“Pardon—what is the reflux?”

“Never mind,” Possum said. “This smell was – different. Kind of musky?”

“Like a coyote?” Armadillo’s voice was full of fear. He drew his legs together as if to close his shell.

“No, not like that,” Possum reassured him.

“I have smelled a disagreeable smell for several days,” Armadillo said. “I do not recognize it.” He rooted through the bean shells. “Bueno! I am rich! All these grubs!”

Possum continued munching the tomato, savoring the overripe fruit.

“I do love these Better Boys,” he said. “I hope that melon’s a Charleston Gray—the grew those here last year. There is that smell again. I declare it’s stronger.”

“It is not me,” Armadillo said, his voice muffled by the snap beans.

“I’m afraid it must be me,” came a voice from the shadows. “I do apologize.”

Possum dropped the tomato, bared his teeth again and sneezed at the scent. Armadillo squeaked, jumped and rolled up tight.

“Who’s there?’ Possum snarled.

“Is it a coyote?” Armadillo said.

“I hate coyotes,” the voice said. Possum relaxed slightly.

“Anybody who doesn’t like coyotes is welcome in my trash pile,” Possum said. “Who are you?’
A black and white animal emerged from the darkness. He had a fluffy tail, like a cat, but was lower to the ground. He had tiny eyes, which possum figured weren’t really good in the dark.

“They call me a skunk,” he said. “I guess it’s as good a name as any.”

Armadillo peeped out from his shell.

“I have heard of you,” Armadillo said. Possum scratched his chin.

“Wait a minute—I read about you when I was in a trash can the other day. A letter from the Wildlife people. Something about your kind moving back in around here?”

“I’d like to,” Skunk said. “There aren’t too many people around here. I am told that many of my family once lived here.”

“That’s what I read,” Possum said. Skunk looked confused.

“What do you mean—read?” Armadillo unrolled, and eyed the newcomer.

“Possum can make sense of the little marks on the pieces of paper the humans throw away,” he said, proudly. “He says it helps him predict the future.”

“Do what?” Skunk said. Possum laughed.

“He has tried to teach me,” Armadillo said, “but I cannot predict the future.”

“Armadillo exaggerates,” Possum said. “If you read the humans receipts and shopping lists, you know what they’ll be putting in the garbage in a few days. Then you know when to come back. Maybe bring a date.”

“See?” Armadillo said. “He predicts the future.”

“I will take your word for it,” Skunk said. “May I join you in this pile of food?”

“There’s plenty,” Possum said. “Help yourself. Try that cantaloupe – it’s hardly been touched. So have you been here long?” Skunk shrugged.

“I don’t really know. My mom had a den back deep in the woods. She kicked us out, and we all kind of wandered away. I don’t have a good sense of direction.”

“I guess that makes three of us,” Possum said. “It’s harder to keep Armadillo out of the road than it is some of my cousins. No offense, buddy.”

“None taken, my friend. Possum has been a good friend to me since I came here. My people are – what is the word?”

“An invasive species,” Possum said.

“Well, that sounds rude,” Skunk replied.

“Some invasive species are rude as all get out,” Possum said.

“Like coyotes,” Armadillo said, and shivered.

“I despise a coyote,” Skunk said. “My mom showed me how to handle them.” Possum stopped in mid-chew.

“What do you mean, handle them? I just run, or play dead.”

“I hide, or roll into a ball,” Armadillo offered. Skunk sneezed.

“Pardon me.”

“Bless you,” Armadillo said. “Do you have a cool?”

“Cold, Armadillo. Cold.” Possum shook his head.

“I will never figure out this language or these people,” Armadillo sighed. “But they have good food, and it creates nice grubs.”

“So what do you do when you see a coyote?” Possum asked. He had decided that Skunk wasn’t dangerous, but likely just a little bit off. Nobody could fight a coyote.

“Oh, this cantaloupe is lovely. Would you like to share?” I stand on my front paws and spray them,” Skunk said.

“You do what?” Possum asked, incredulous. Skunk set the cantaloupe down, turned toward a tree, and stamped his feet.

“First you warn them,” he said, looking between his front feet, “then you show them!”

Skunk’s hindquarters went into the air, his tail stretched out, and a stream of the most revolting fluid Possum had ever smelled splattered against the tree. Skunk flopped back to the ground and continue eating.

“Of all the things I have ever seen, that is incredible,” Possum said admiringly. “My word, but it stinks. I mean – in a good way, kind of.”

Skunk shrugged.

“When you grow up smelling like me, it’s hard to hurt to hurt one’s feelings.”

Armadillo sniffed, then sneezed. “Does that really work?”
“Oh yes—burns their eyes, and sticks to their fur for days. It works on dogs, too, but their humans wash them until they smell better.”

“Humans are strange,” Possum said. “Washing a dog. Look, if you don’t have any plans, why don’t you hang out with us for a while? You like fish? I know where there’s a camp that the people always leave a lot of good stuff behind.”

“I could go for some fish,” Skunk said.

Armadillo extended a paw.

“Welcome to the neighborhood, Friend Skunk.” The black and white animal eyed the paw.

“It’s something he picked up from the humans,” Possum said. “Just grab it and shake up and down.”

“Humans are strange,” Skunk said.

Editor’s note—the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is attempting to document the return of skunks to Southeastern North Carolina. Log on to ncwildlife.org for more information.

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