A Mother's Gift

The skies above the tranquil, small patch of forest hidden within the enormous suburbs surrounding them were a bright blue, the mid-morning sun shining brightly, and the only cloud that was in the sky currently was slowly, and idly floating away. In this forest, there lived a small family of various woodland creatures, eagerly nibbling on acorns and various nuts courtesy of the hyperactive squirrel of the bunch, Hamilton, who went by Hammy. Everyone was chattering conversationally with one another, at peace with the world around them. The young squirrel was racing around, hit with a sudden urge to look around for something interesting. He was sniffing around under bushes and in the roots of trees, while the others watched in amusement.

"Is he…eh, always this…enthusiastic?" The Persian shorthair cat, one of the newest members of the little clan, said softly to his fiancé, the striped skunk Stella, wrinkling his flat nose in annoyance. Stella rolled her green eyes.

"You'll get used to it, baby." She said with a smile, and Tiger returned it. The red squirrel soon disappeared into the brush, but this didn't bother the others. He often ran off in search of his nuts or some other thing that he had under his claim.

"I wonder what he's lookin' for." The young female opossum, Heather, said to her father. Ozzie smiled down at her.

"Oh, who knows the incompatible, unpredictable actions of Hammy." Ozzie replied with a laugh, while his daughter nibbled delicately on her nut. Suddenly, Hammy returned with lightning speed, rustling the fur of his friends. He was wildly brandishing something in his little paws, his bright eyes wide.

"I don't know what this is it looks really cool I don't know what it is but I want it and it's mine!" Hammy said so quickly, that the others could hardly unravel the words of excitement. Verne, the box turtle and leader, walked forward, a smile of amusement at Hammy's actions on his face.

"Alright, Hammy, let's take a look at what you found." He said, holding out his scaly hands, and the squirrel eagerly slammed the object down, giggling gleefully, obviously quite pleased with himself. The others, attracted by all this commotion, came over, chattering with excitement. What was this strange object that Hammy had discovered? Verne looked it over with soft brown eyes, turning it over in his hands. It was made from wood, tied together with the delicate fibers of a fern stem. Verne narrowed his eyes, and then they widened in recognition at the object.

"What is it Verne you should tell me what it is I wanna know pllleeeeeasse teeeeelll meh!" Hammy demanded, snatching away this new object and holding it to his furry chest.

"Uh, Hammy, wait…please, that's…" Verne tried saying, when the others crowded around to have a look.

"Look at what I found! I think I'll call it Chad. Chad is a nice name." He gave a huge buck-toothed smile, silly and eagerly pleased, holding the object out to show everyone.

"Jeepers, it looks like what…" Penny, the porcupine mother said, looking closely, before her eyes widened, as did Lou's, her husband. Their triplet sons, however, were fascinated by it, as it was before their time.

"Wow, it's so pretty!" Bucky said, while his brother, Spike, pushed him out of the way to have a better look at it. Bucky stuck out his tongue at his brother, while Quillo tried to see over Spike's head.

"Heather, Ozzie, lookie at what I found! It's so purty!" Hammy said, turning away from the children, while Spike gave an indignant, "Hey!"

The two possums looked at it, Heather giving a smile at her friend's craziness. Suddenly, she gasped, her beautiful azure eyes growing wide. The same look was mirrored in Ozzie's eyes, as the young girl had inherited her father's deep blue eyes. Suddenly, her brows furrowed in extreme anger, and she snatched the object from Hammy's hands, taking a few steps away from him.

"You don't ever touch this again, Hammy! Never again! I don't care if you find it again, just leave it alone!" She yelled at him, keeping it close to her chest, to her heart. Hammy stared at her, his eyes growing wide and filling with tears. His lower lip trembled, and it was obvious that he was about to burst into tears. Surprisingly, Heather looked the same, although it was obvious she was trying to hide it.

"Sweetheart, he didn't know…please…" Ozzie said softly, gently, trying to place a hand on his teenage daughter's shoulder, but she jerked away.

"No!" She cried out, looking around at the others, who were all staring at her in surprise. She shook her head lightly, before running away, disappearing into the brush. Ozzie looked at the others quickly.

"I…I apologize, but excuse me." He said before turning and running after his daughter, calling out, "Heather, please!"

Tiny tears rolled down Hammy's furry cheeks, dampening the fuzz, and Verne turned to him, shushing him softly.

"It's okay. It was…" he sighed. "It was Rose's mobile. The one she made when Heather was a baby." Everyone gave a collective, "Oh."

"Oh…right. I 'member that now." Hammy said sadly.

"You were just a kid then. Wow…I hadn't thought about that for a long time. I didn't know that she still had it." Everyone nodded around her, except for the children, Tiger and RJ.

"Who made that for Heather? And why is she so sensitive about this?" RJ asked, shrugging. Verne wanted to chastise him about being so harsh and heartless, but then he remembered that he hadn't joined the family as early as the others had. Neither had Tiger, who kept giving glances to Stella in question, and Spike, Bucky and Quillo asked Lou and Penny why Heather was crying, for they hadn't been born yet, and they didn't know what was going on.

"Well…uh…that's a long story…" Verne began, deciding to tell the newcomers about what had happened, those ten years ago…

Ozzie was wandering around his forest home, looking for his distraught daughter. He finally caught her sweet scent, and followed it, as possums do. He was led to a small cavern underneath some roots of a tree. The possum man sighed, looking upon the tree with extreme longing and recognition. He looked at a small carving above the entrance. It was a heart, with the letters "O" and "R" inside of it, and beneath it, was a small "H". He touched it tenderly with his fingertips. Sighing, remembering that terrible day as if it was yesterday, he slowly walked into the cavern. In the dimmed light, Ozzie saw his daughter sitting in a corner, in a nest of moss and down, the object strung upon a tiny root system of a fern above.

"What do you want?" She snapped, staring up at the object. It was a tiny mobile, made of two twigs, and there were three tiny carvings – one of a large opossum, the dad, a slightly shorter one, the mother, and they were holding paws. Between them, was a small opossum girl – Heather. When she was born, it had been made for her…

"Please, my girl. I'm sure Hammy didn't mean to find it. He probably forgot about it. He was only a little older than you at the time." Ozzie said, approaching his daughter.

"No. It's not Hammy." Heather said, sniffling a little, and Ozzie knew that she had been crying. He sighed and kneeled down beside her, looking up at the mobile as well.

"I still hang out here a lot. I keep thinking that maybe she'll...she'll somehow walk in here, and she'll be okay." Her lower lip trembled, admitting this to her father. "But then I know that she'll never come back." Then, the possum girl buried her long face into her paws, crying softly. Ozzie put his arms around his daughter, looking up at the mobile, tears falling down his face as well…

Sixteen years ago, when the only thing deforming the forest was a long stretch of road that seemed to go on forever, a tiny possum joey was born in the same hollow Ozzie and Heather were sitting in.

"Let us name her Heather." The father had said, and she nodded in agreement, holding her newborn to her heart, as the father sat close, stroking the fuzz of his daughter's head, telling his wife to just rest, that she had done well after fifteen hours of labor. So she had slept with her daughter nestled in her brood pouch, her husband close beside her, watching over them like a good father. Three weeks later, the young girl was brought out for the rest of the gang to see. Although her entire vocabulary consisted of squeaks, "Daddy," "Mama," and "Love," which was her way of telling her parents that she loved them, she was eager to meet the rest of the clan, like Uncle Verne, Auntie Stella, Aunt Penny and Uncle Lou, and Hammy, who was adopted into the clan after his parents disappeared when he was an infant. A few years passed, and Heather grew steadily.

Her mother's name was Rose. She was a beautiful female Virginia opossum, her eyes a deep green, and small spots around them, her ears tipped with the same speckled white as her daughter's. Ozzie had fallen in love with her when they were just teenagers, had gotten married, and now they had a beautiful daughter. The entire family, the others included, was very happy with the new arrival. She was hyper, but sweet, and was good at finding food. Then one day, while helping her parents look around for food for the winter, Heather had come upon the road. She had never wandered away this far from her parents, and this strange black path was like nothing she had seen before. Bending down, she sniffed it tentatively. It smelled awful, and made her insides turn. Trying to figure out what this horrible monster was, making a clear cut through her forest home, she placed a paw on it…then another…and another…it was scratchy, and hard, and difficult to walk upon. Suddenly, she found herself standing straight in the middle of it, sitting on her back legs and looking around.

"What are you?" She asked the ground, although it didn't answer her. She sniffed it again, seeing a black mark on the grey stone. It had a strange, distinct pattern to it, and Heather was quite curious to what had made this mark. There was also a bright yellow line painted upon the path, standing out from the black tar, but it smelled no different. It was part of the terrible thing around her…

"Heather!" A cry came from a few ways away, and the girl whirled around, startled, to see her mother and father standing on the bank of the path, their eyes wide with fright at seeing their daughter right in the middle of a road.

"Come back here, young lady! You are not to wander away from us again!" Rose chastised her daughter, waving a finger angrily. Heather bent her head, her ears drooping.

"I'm sorry, Mama and Daddy." She said to them, beginning to walk towards them. Rose assumed a loving look.

"It's alright, darling. But I don't want anything to happen to you." She said, and Ozzie nodded.

"Your mother's quite right. We love you, and want to keep you out of trouble." He said, winking at his daughter playfully. Heather giggled, almost to the bank, when, out of nowhere, there was this terrible roaring sound. It hurt her ears horribly, and the very ground beneath her trembled. It shook so hard that Heather was knocked over, and couldn't stand up again.

"Mama, Daddy, help me!" She cried, trying to struggle over to the bank. Ozzie began to run forward to save his daughter before the horrible monster overtook her, but Rose raced past him, pushing him back. He gasped, reaching for his wife and daughter, now both in serious danger.

"Mommy!" Heather cried as her mother came to her.

"It's alright, baby. Everything will be okay." Her mother shushed her soothingly, but then both were blinded by a bright, yellow-white light that flashed, seemingly, out of nowhere. Rose gasped in horror, seeing that the great monster was overtaking them.

"Rose, Heather, get over here, NOW!" Ozzie screamed desperately. Rose picked Heather up by the scruff of her neck, and threw her onto her back.

"Hold on tight, sweetie!" Rose screamed over the roar of the car, but it was extremely hard to run on such a shaking ground. However, she kept upright, keeping her baby safe. Suddenly, there was the screech of tires upon asphalt. Rose snapped up to see the car swerving around. It truth, the human behind the wheel hadn't seen Rose or Heather, but was busily talking on her cell phone, chattering away distractedly to someone, and had swerved to avoid going off the side of the road. Rose gasped, and turned suddenly, knowing that she was not going to make it, and grabbed Heather's scruff in her sharp teeth. She swung her head around, releasing her daughter, who flew through the air with a cry of terror. Rose screamed, "Ozzie!" The father possum caught his daughter in his arms safely, as she had wanted him to do. Just as he did this, Rose closed her eyes a millisecond before the car swerved once more, the teenager inside giving a yell of frustration, and the silver bumper on front connected hard with Rose's chest.

Everything seemed to slow down in Ozzie's eyes as his wife went flying through the air, and the wild teen and her car sped by, although she was obscured from the possum's short view. All Ozzie was focused on was Rose as she hit the road, bounced, and landed in the dying grass, limp.

"MAMA!" Heather screamed, trying to rush to her mother, but Ozzie held her back. The chaos was all around the two as Verne appeared suddenly and took a kicking, screaming Heather into his scaly arms, while Ozzie rushed forward and gently scooped Rose into his arms. She lay, completely limp, her brilliant emerald eyes closed tightly.

"No! NO! Lemme go, I wanna see Mama! I wanna see Mama!" Heather screamed, but as soon as Verne placed her on the ground, Stella grabbed her arm, and held her tightly to her chest, not letting her escape.

Ozzie rushed away from the road and back into the forest, holding his limp wife close to his heart. As soon as he reached safety, he dropped down to his knees, still holding Rose close.

"Rose? Rose! Please, my dear, wake up. Please." Ozzie begged Rose, pressing his large ear to her breast, listening for a heartbeat. There was none.

"Oh, no," Ozzie whispered as he withdrew, and then bent his cheek close to her mouth. He felt no warm air tickle his cheek fur. He felt nothing, except that his love was steadily growing colder. Ozzie's eyes filled with tears of grief, and he cried, "Rose, my dearest Rose, please!"

Stella held Heather close while the others watched. Penny cried into Lou's shoulder, for Rose had been a very close friend. Verne bent his head in angst, while Hammy blinked curiously, darting around a little, his tail flickering.

"What's wrong with her, Verne, huh? Is Rose sleeping? Why isn't she waking up, huh?" He questioned Verne repeatedly, although kept his voice low, seeing the sadness on everyone's faces.

"Rose is gone, Hammy. She's not going to wake up." Verne whispered, and the young squirrel's eyes grew exceptionally wide at this.

"She's not gonna wake up? Not ever?" He asked, and Verne shook his head.

"No."

Stella gently stroked the back of Heather's head, who had buried her face into Stella's shoulder, crying her heart out.

"It'll be okay, baby. Shhh, shh." Stella tried to soothe the youngling, but she would not be comforted.

Ozzie was looking over Rose one final time, his heart breaking cleanly in two. Verne walked forward slowly, kneeling beside Ozzie, looking for confirmation, although he could already sense the growing coldness of Rose's body, and the deep scent of…

"She's gone." Ozzie whispered, before bending over his wife, holding her close to his shattered heart. He cried softly, touching her cheek to his, wrapping his long tail around her own. Rose was gone. Forever.

The others all watched with mourn, bowing their heads, even Hammy. Heather looked up at Stella, tears flowing freely from her eyes.

"Why is Mama not waking up? Did that monster take her away?" She asked Stella, sniffling and wiping her nose on her arm. Stella gently wiped away her tears, her own darkening her black cheeks.

"I'm afraid so, baby." She replied softly, and Heather buried her face into Stella's fur once more, sobbing hard, her shoulders heaving, while the skunk wrapped her arms around the girl, holding her close in comfort. Heather knew that she would never, ever see her mother again, that the big, roaring monster had taken her away. And, she wasn't just playing dead, as possums do. She was truly gone. She wasn't going to wake up.

"I miss her so much. I wish she was still here." Heather whispered into her father's chest, her tears dampening his soft fur. But he didn't mind. He just kept her close to his heart, stroking the back of her head with a paw.

"I know, sweetheart. I miss her too." Ozzie replied, before withdrawing and placing a knuckle under Heather's chin, tilting her head to look up.

"But, your mother left one very important thing behind." He whispered, and Heather curiously tilted her head.

"What?"

"You. She left me you, and I'm very happy and lucky to have a girl like you." Ozzie said, hugging Heather tightly once more. "I love you with all my heart, Heather, and so does your mother."

"But…but Mom's…" Heather began, but her father shushed her gently.

"Your mother is not truly gone. You still love her, and remember her, so she'll always be with you, and look after you from wherever she may be. And you're her daughter. She still loves you, as do I." He said, and Heather lovingly nuzzled her father.

"I'm glad I still have you, Dad. I love you." She said softly, embracing Ozzie tightly. The adult possum smiled softly, and kissed the top of his daughter's head.

"Now, come along." He said, withdrawing from her and sitting up. "The others will be wondering what has happened." He said, but before he got up, he reached over and gently ran his paw over the mobile.

"Remember, Heather. If you ever feel like you need to speak to your mother, just come down here. I promise that she'll hear you." Heather gave a smile, knowing that the gift from her mother would always be here, and would always hold her mother's love.

"Thanks, Dad." She said, and the two possums left the cavern, going back to the clearing, Heather holding Ozzie's paw.

When they reached the log, they saw that Verne was speaking to everyone quietly. Hammy caught sight of the two, and he tensed up, cringing, and the others looked as well, Verne turning. Heather coughed nervously, and then spoke.

"I'm sorry, everyone. I forgot that," She looked up at Ozzie, and slipped her paw into his. "I forgot that my mom will always be with me, and so will my dad."

"Good girl." Ozzie said softly, and then Heather turned to Hammy.

"I'm sorry, Hammy. I didn't mean to yell at you. Friends?" She said, offering her paw. Hammy, instead, was overcome with a case of the weepies and threw his arms around Heather, holding her closely.

"Daw, it's okay, Heather! I still loves you!" He said, and Heather giggled, hugging the hyperactive squirrel back, while everyone smiled. There was a paw on her shoulder, suddenly, and Heather turned, Hammy finally releasing her.

"Verne told us about Rose. I'm sorry, kiddo." RJ said softly. Heather blinked, and then saw that Bucky, Spike and Quillo were clinging desperately to Penny, as if they didn't want their mama to leave either. Tiger had a paw inside of Stella's, not wanting to lose his mate, as Ozzie had. However, Heather smiled widely, and patted the raccoon's sympathetic paw.

"It's okay, RJ. I'm fine. I know that she'll always be with me." Heather said, and as she did, she could swear that in her ear, she could hear her mother's soft words.

"Good girl."