A glow in the east foretold the dawning of the new day. Bob whistled in the kitchen. Daffy quacked and complained noisily about Barney's daily assault. And Hortense attempted to befriend Randolph, but it didn't go smoothly.

      She tried to share the downy leaves and bluish flower spikes of catnip down at the creek with him, but it didn't excite him. And he didn't like stalking mice at all, but they compromised and hunted crawdads in the silvery sprays of the creek. She tried swatting a ball at him to play with, but he held it up in his paws and didn't know what to do with it. When she pounced on it he looked confused. He didn't understand the idea of an adult raccoon playing. "Why I haven't played so much since I wrestled with my brothers and sisters around my mothers den." But when Randolph transformed into the werecoon another story evolved. He changed into a party animal and partied hardy, party, party, all night long. Hortense found another common ground with Randolph when it came to cleaning. They both obsessed on it.

      I crossed my hooves that they would make it work, and build a friendship. The crossed hooves prompted a bewildered, misunderstanding look from Randolph, probably wondering if I crossed my hooves to hold off the werecoon.

      Still, Hortense didn't trust Randolph. There's no figuring out cats. She mewed loudly, "Too weird! Too weird for words! as she skulked from the creek to the barn swishing her tail to and fro. "Randolph looks like an ordinary, regular raccoon, but that's where he fools you. Oh yes, that's where he fools you."

      But true to her word, the cat tried, balking, finicky, stubborn and hard-headed, but I knew only a matter of time remained before distrust passed. Then would come liking, and the time almost before you knew it when Hortense and Randolph were best friends.

      But Hortense is downright spernickety at times. As the patriarch of the barnyard, bigger and wiser, already an old horse when Bob brought the kitten home, Hortense looked up to me from the start. Without question we'd be friends.

      For Hortense, making friends with Randolph hinted of different problems. Jealousy and fear bit and gnawed and jiggled inside her, causing all manner of strange behavior. She tried to adapt. Like the time Hortense put marbles in her mouth to make her cheeks round and puffy like Randolph. She took the comb to her furry, slick coat to tease and fluff it up, and had a real hissy fit.

      "What are you doing?" I whinnied when I saw her, but she didn't say a word. She stood tall as she could on her tippee-claws, and bound into the barnyard, spitting and hissing at everybody. She pulled the corners of her mouth back in a frightening, contorted sneer. With her hair plastered straight out she resembled a demented porcupine, wide eyed and staring. Let me tell you, her appearance made my blood run cold.

      "Da-d-d-d," cried Blythe, "Hortense is sick.

      "Nonsense, dear," Bob replied, "feel her nose. Cat's are funny beasts."

      "It's hot," cried Blythe.

      "She's acting," Daffy quacked.

      Bob felt Hort's nose and agreed it appeared a tad warmer than it should have been. "Don't be alarmed," he said in his best doctor voice. "We'll watch, and if she doesn't improve...we'll call the doctor and get some medicine."

      Nobody else noticed, but when Bob mentioned the doctor, Hortense quivered. And when he suggested medicine, she shook.

      "She's putting on an act," Matt said, nodding and sucking on a Tootsie Pop. "She's not sick."

      "That's what I said," quacked daffy. "Hortense is acting."

      "Do you think so, Matt," said Mary. "Isn't that cute."

      Hortense made my hooves want to scramble for the hills quick as my little hooves could carry me, let me tell you. If it's an act, it's a good one. I couldn't move. Sweat beaded up on my withers like under a saddle blanket, and I felt like I stood up to my fetlocks in quick-drying cement. But I didn't have a saddle blanket on, and there wasn't any cement.

      Her drawn teeth resembled long fangs, bared white and glowing in the pale moonlight, and her eyes burned with liquid fire. She howled an awful caterwauling like the demons themselves got hold of her big toe. She shrieked worse than the time her tail got caught in the butter churn, let me tell you.

      "Maybe I'd better call the vet," Bob said, looking worried. "Are you all right kitty cat?"

      I had to turn my head and laugh, as Hortense howled louder as if in overwhelming pain. What else could I do? Hort despised being called kitty cat.

      I kicked up my hooves dancing with delight, falling back in the loose hay. When I caught my breath, I whispered, "Hortense, what are you doing? you crazy feline." My lips trembled so hard, I barely held back another horse laugh. "Either you've flipped your lid totally, or this is an act like Matt says?"

      "The werecat knows all," Hortense purred, rearing on her haunches, paws folded across her chest, lips rigid and hardened black-iron rods.

      "Go on with you, you zany blockhead," I whinnied. "Pull the other leg, it has bells on."

      She looked straight in my eye with a deadly serious expression, "Can't you tell a werecat when you see one," she hissed. Her eyes, glassy as coated ceramics on ice, had a vacant, ghostly stare that made me shiver in spite of myself.

      I started laughing. I haven't laughed so hard since Blythe brought home the toe slippers and told everyone she planned to try out as a prima-ballerina in the school play. Doing a full pirouette right there in the barnyard, she turned elegantly on the tip of her toes so graceful and fine. She resembled quite a proper young lady, till she tripped over Hort's water bowl and landed in a mud puddle.

      "Hortense needs more love," said Blythe, picking the cat up like a limp dishrag, and hoisting her over her shoulder.

      "Poor little kitty cat," Bob said gravely, as Blythe carried Hortense into the house. "I'm worried about that cat."

      "We'll have to keep an eye on her," Mary nodded solemnly.

      "Well, I took a roll in the barnyard dust right there, shaking and dangling my hooves in the air.

      "Dear," Mary said, "Clarence is acting strange now. Do you think whatever Hortense has can be catching?" And that set me off again, like a rocket to the moon.

      We didn't see Hortense for hours. When we finally saw her, the werecat hairdo had vanished. "Where you been, Hort?" I asked, whoofing air and whinnying with fluttering lips.

      "Hiding in the kitchen cabinets from Blythe and Bob," she meowed arrogantly. "I didn't want them to find me."

      "Hiding from Blythe and Bob...why?" Randolph asked, twitching his nose and standing on his hind legs in puzzlement.

      "Because," Hortense hissed in aggravation, "Bob called the veterinarian...all right?"

      "Don't have a cat, Hort," I horse laughed. "Randolph has never in his life had a vet, so how can he understand?"

      Hortense licked her fur to compose herself, and finally explained, "Vets are humans with little black bags that poke at animals. They probe in my mouth with wooden sticks, digging at my tonsils till I gag. Then they jab at me with pointy spears that break my skin."

      "Humans must know something we don't know," I whinnied. "But they examined you for the noblest of reasons, Hort, to find out what's making you act crazy sick. They want to make you feel know they do, but they're misguided, of course."

      "Yes," Hortense said in a most superior tone, "of course. But do they have to wear those silly grins, cooing gibberish they think will make me calm?"

      "I think gagging's a key," she purred.

      "'s that?" Randolph looked puzzled.

      "I'm not sure," Hortense too looked puzzled, "but when I gag, the human with the black bag smiles and says, 'There we go, that's a good kitty, that's all right.'"

      "You poor cat," Randolph said, putting his paw around the cat's shoulder to console her.

      Like most cats, Hortense loved nothing more than affection. "People don't understand refined, sophisticated I ran away and hid. When nobody came after me, I figured they thought running's a sure sign the medicine has worked. They probably think if you can crawl away, you must be cured."

      "How awful for you," Randolph said in a sympathetic tone.

      "Not so bad really, buddy," she purred, putting her paw around Randolph's shoulder. "I've decided that if you will let me," she said, looking from me to Randolph, "I'd like to start over right from the beginning, from the first time I saw you."

      "What are you saying?" the little raccoon asked.

      "I'm saying I want to be your friend, Randolph...if you will still have me? What do you say?"

      Randolph looked puzzled, "You mean you want to be friends with me when I'm a raccoon?"

      "No, I'm saying I want to be friends with you no matter who you are," Hortense purred. I don't recall ever seeing her look more sincere. "Randolph raccoon, or Randolph werecoon, it makes no difference what you are and how you look, long as you're you."

      "Oh Hortense...Clarence," Randolph howled," you've made me a happy raccoon. I'll never let you two friends down."

      "And I'll stand beside you come what may," Hortense purred. "When Hortense cat says she'll be your friend you can count on it. You probably hadn't noticed, but lately I've acted scatterbrained..."

      Randolph and I looked at each other. "We noticed," I neighed, "but now that we're friends life won't be the same."

      "The three amigos," Randolph howled.

      "There's only one werecoon," Hort yowled, "but if we all get were-attitudes and pretend we're were-animals, think of the fun."

      "A hoot," I whinnied, rearing to paw at the sky with my hooves, "the werehorse, the werecat and the werecoon, playing under the silvery moon."

      "We'll have a rollicking good time," Hortense screeched.

      "It'll be a gas," Randolph howled.

      From that moment on, Hortense, Randolph and I shared a rare friendship. We found it unthinkable there had been a time when we weren't friends. I mean best friends. We did everything together, went everywhere together, everlasting, cosmic, supernatural, all-time best buddies, friends to the end of time.