In the barn that night
there was no talking, and no sleeping. Tired down to my pasterns, I wanted
nothing more than to get a good night's sleep, but I had so much
to talk about. Everybody did. It seemed everyone wanted to talk,
but nobody did. Too much excitement scared away the words. And
too much electricity in the air robbed our sleep. Both words
and sleep appeared hopeless until the rays of the new morning
crept over the barnyard.
I bolted awake at Bob's arm over my back. "What's the
matter Clarence? You look like you've seen a werewolf."
If he only knew, I thought. "Hope you're not coming down
with something," he frowned. "You don't seem yourself this
morning, Clarence." I vowed to sleep better the next night.
"I don't know what came over me last night," Hortense meowed, as she
stirred on my rump. "I had the strangest dream you wouldn't
believe," she cooed, as she stretched out her long, furry body. She casually licked at her coat,
slicked her ears back close to her body, flicked
her tail, and batted her paw at flies landing on my flank.
"You mean Randolph the werecoon, of course,"
I neighed softly so as not to wake the others.
Suddenly she froze. "Then I didn't dream it, did I?" She
lifted her dainty nose and looked with alarm around the barnyard.
Daffy and Barney lay sleeping against the hay rack, Daffy's
wing wrapped over his buddy. A cold chill ran down my spine as
Hortense sprinted up and spread my ears wide, looking down to the
creek, searching, searching, searching. "We've got to do
something," she cried. "Times a wasting. That werecoon will be
back before we know it, and we've got to be ready for him."
"You are a prude, Hortense, " I whinnied. "You've got to
stop watching those late-night horror movies on the masters
television." I turned to the stall to get more sleep, but do you
think I could.
No-o-o-o! I felt the pitter patter of little feet as
Hortense retreated along my spine to my rump. "I'll stand first
watch," she purred dutifully.
"Do what you must," I sighed. "He's a cute little raccoon
that happens to puff up in the light of the full moon, so what --
the werecoon's harmless."
"Harmless...harmless," she shrieked at the top of her lungs.
"There wasn't a full moon, or any moon for that matter, when we
first saw him. Harmless eh, what do you think about that?"
"Well, I don't know," I snickered, puzzling at the
implication. "I hear raccoons are smart...smarter even than
cats," I neighed hoarsely in a husky voice, a sure sign that I
indeed had not got enough sleep. "I suppose he learned to turn
into the werecoon at any time of day it suits him."
Well, that got Hortense's fur on end. Her hair bristled and
her eyes got wild. "Don't you see," she caterwauled in a fury,
screeching and yowling, "that werecoon's a danger to this
barnyard and all the animals in it."
"Come on Hortense, lighten up," quacked Daffy.
"Lighten up," she shrieked. "Think of Blythe. Think of
Lindsey. Think of Matt, perish the thought. Cute little raccoon
my whiskers," she meowed most disagreeably.
"Hortense, listen to reason," I nuzzled her brow.
Hortense straightened up, aloof again, breathing refined
sophistication, all polished style, and savoir-faire. "Most
confident am I that soon, very soon indeed, we will know Randolph
raccoon for what he is. Try and thank me then for being the only
one with her head out of the clouds, thank you very much."
"Oh Hortense," I said, with an amused whinny, "sometimes you
act like a toad. I think you saw a scary movie and it's gone to
your head like when you overdosed on catnip."
"I'm not full of catnip," she responded arrogantly with a
flip of her nose. "I know what I'm talking about."
"Well, will you let me in on it," I whinnied, "because I
haven't the faintest idea what you're getting on about."
"There's something awful fishy about that werecoon," she
said, pausing to lick her lips at the reference to fish. "I
don't know what it is yet, not for sure, but we have to be
careful. Very careful indeed."
"What's making essence of fishbreath there so uneasy?" Daffy
squawked in a downright grumpy mood at being awakened. "Randolph
seems like a stand up guy to me. Who cares if he has his little
curiosities that make him different, now go back to sleep," he
said, and closed his eyes.
"Curiosities! Curiosities, is that all they are," the
finicky feline looked right and left to see if anyone listened.
"He's different all right. So different, he's bizarre."
Daffy opened an eye. "Hortense, you're quack-quack-quacky."
Sleep came to us all. All of us but Hortense. She paced up
and down my spine all night, making my hide feel a strong
compassion for pin cushions. She drooped wearily between my
ears, probing for doom down at the creek in the person of
When school started, no one played with poor, neglected,
bored to the teeth, Clarence. Daffy and Barney hung out at the
far end of the pasture. Hortense purred, "When that werecoon
comes back he'll lead us down the path to unholy degradation."
She still spent most of her day on my palatial rump, but as you
can see, we couldn't agree, and couldn't talk for arguing.
"That cute little raccoon," she hissed and spat every time
she caught my eye, "Clarence, you're as naive as a fence post."
"Hortense, you fussbudget," I neighed, "you're a prig. As
long as Randolph werecoon doesn't hurt anybody, why should it
worry you?" But our chit-chat strained to nothing.
Hortense relentlessly looked for the werecoon, fearing
danger would surely follow him to the barnyard. I looked for the
werecoon too, but not as an enemy, thinking perhaps Randolph and
I can strike up a friendship. I'm sure Hortense won't mind. The
fuddy-duddy acts like she no longer wants my friendship.
I dreamed of the werecoon riding on my back, watching him
wash his food, and, and...what is it that raccoons do? I sighed,
puffing a great gasp of air, puckering and fluttering my lips.
Hortense got a strange look in her eye. "What's wrong with
you Clarence? Are you looking for someone to kiss?"
"Yech, gag me with a spoon," I whinnied. I didn't know what
that meant, but Blythe said it when Matt teased her about a boy
at school flirting and wanting to kiss her. But Hortense didn't
think it funny, not funny at all. She looked at me stranger and
more worried than before, with troubled eyes, as if meeting the
werecoon had put me under a magic spell.
"I say, old fellow," she meowed, looking more stoic and
distant than usual, "you really must pull it all together." She
hopped off my rump and ambled to my favorite tree, climbing up
and lounging on one of the lower branches, leaving the spot where
she had lain cold. I missed Hortense's warmth on my veranda
already. The blustery fall winds came out of the east, and cold
gusts kicked up brown and yellow leaves around the barnyard. So
it's come to this, I thought sadly.
Barney happened to pass by as Hortense departed. I missed
her so, and wondered if Barney and I could be friends. Barney
and I, Barney and me -- the coarse sound didn't trip lightly off
the tongue with the same sophisticated balance as hortense and I.
Barney's spirit saw my emptiness, and
with feeling far more
wise than I had ever felt from him he cleared his voice. I
prepared for the gems of wisdom about to be spoken. "Well, I
reckon that only goes to show you that life never changes...till
it changes." Then, he too left.
I watched him go, a soul twin for a fractured moment. I
dipped my head in my feed bucket thinking it was probably a good
thing we hadn't bonded. Still, I missed the attachment, and felt
abandoned. First by Hortense, and more recently by Barney. A
parade of my barnyard fellows crossed my mind in review. Who
could take Hortense's place as my new best friend? Daffy duck,
too daffy, always stern, except when he's quacky, always harsh,
except when he's brash, always hoarse, but not my kind of
horse...no! Barney, sleepy old befuddled Barney, what can I
say...no, no, no! Hortense...would that she would.
I saw the little raccoon coming up from the
lily pond at the far end of the creek.
"You dropped out," I whinnied.
"I wouldn't put it like that," he squeaked. "I had a lot of
thinking to do, and I had to do it alone. I tried to purge this
werecoon that takes over my body, and acts more and more a part
of me. Did you know at first I changed only with the full moon,
but lately I can't control the urges, and change anytime?"
"Yes, I know," I nickered. "It was daylight when we first
saw you, remember? But you still do it better in the full moon."
"I want to go back to my valley, but this is who I am. The
werecoon is me, and I can never go back."
I neighed gently and nuzzled him, and Randolph promptly
jumped on my back so we could talk on the same level. He found a
comfortable spot on my impressive, inviting rump and curled up.
It felt good to have him there.
"I've decided I like who I am,"
and if anybody
doesn't like it, well..."
"That's her loss," I curled back my lips and gave a snicker
towards the tree. Hortense stared from the lower branches. I
invited her to join us, but she ignored me and climbed higher,
pretending to look out on the meadow.
"I'm sorry to come between you and your friend," Randolph
said sadly. "I'll go if you want me to."
"It's not your fault," I sighed. "I
didn't move...she did."
"It's her loss," Randolph said wisely.
"Maybe someday Hortense will see how much she's lost and come back. Friendship is not
only a valuable thing, but the most valuable thing we have."
"What have we here," Bob said when he
saw Randolph. "You're a cute little raccoon," he said, reaching out and
scratching Randolph behind the ears. Bob invited
Randolph to join in our nighttime vigil, but we made a rule never
to let him see the werecoon. I don't think he'd understand.
Life with a werecoon is anything but dull, let me tell you.
The days grew full, always with something to talk about, new
experiences, enjoying the change of character that came with the
metamorphosis transforming Randolph into the werecoon. During
this transforming the werecoon changed Randolph's whole
personality. But I knew that lying dormant underneath the werecoon's skin
dwelled Randolph wearing a mask. He was like two friends in one, and the werecoon
couldn't do anything Randolph wouldn't.
Whenever Randolph transformed to the werecoon
the whole barnyard electricized.
Excitement charged the air. Daffy
ruffled his feathers, quacking wildly and beating his wings.
Barney bayed mournfully at the moon, scratching the everpresent
fleas on his sagging hide. Hortense yowled like the true
barnyard cat in a cat fight, and her hair bristled on end.
Flustered, she climbed into the tree at the far end of the
pasture, and ignored us all.
Every time the transformation happened,
I ran around like I had a bur under my blanket.
When Bob came out, the kids followed him and Randolph hid.
Blythe and Linsey huddled together shaking, and Matt stood in
front with his fists clenched as if to protect his sisters from
whatever harm might come their way.
Made me think of what Hort said about their loving each
other after all. Their constant squabbles and quarrels really
amounted to nothing more than play. What had Hort called it,
Sibling Rivalry. After a few minutes the kid's began a game
called kick the can.
Daffy loved playing kick the can with the kids in the
twilight when the lightning bugs flickered and June bugs buzzed
amid the droning cicada serenade. Matt hid his eyes and counted
to forty. Blythe, Lindsey and Daffy ran and hid, scrunching
behind the haystack.
Daffy loveed the game, but silence was hard. Blythe holds
Daffy's bill to keep him from quacking when Matt comes looking.
When Matt turns the other way, Blythe and Lindsey run to kick the
can. Daffy follows joyfully, spreading his great flapping wings
with quacks and honking duck shrieks. The girls squeal with
glee, and Daffy squeals with glee, and I add a horse laugh to the
laughter. After kicking the can, Lindsey and Blythe scamper to a
new hiding place under the wooden porch. Blythe again holds
Daffy's bill to keep the watch duck from giving them away.
Hortense watched the goings on, on the edge of joining in
until she saw me. Then she pretended to fall asleep, pretended a
falling star captivated her, pretended to see something down at
the creek. Hortense's pretending elevated the art of ignoring to
a new level, as she jumped on Matt's shoulders to get a better
view of the action. She gave him a cat hug, pressing her furry
face against his.
"She misses the comfort of your sumptuous, comfortable
rump," Randolph groaned pleasurably.
"Pardon me," I snickered, looking back at the raccoon with a
twinkle in my eye, "sumptuous rump you say...sumptuous, indeed!"
"I meant no offense," he growled softly.
"None taken...I guess," I whinnied.
"I find your rump most magnificent," Randolph squeaked,
curling up on it. "It's always warm and comfortable, and I think
maybe Hortense misses it. She wants to come back, but doesn't
know how to ask."
I turned and nuzzled him. "You're a friend, Randolph
werecoon. A real friend, indeed."
"It's good to make new friends, but also, it's always good
to keep old friends."
"Nobody can take your place my fiercely funny little
werecoon, but there's room for two on my rump. As you so
tactfully said, hrumph, it is sumptuous." I looked at Hortense
sitting in her tree and sighed, "I'll always be here for Hort,
but I think those days are gone for good."
Randolph licked his paw, and as I watched his cleaning
ritual it so reminded me of Hortense. "An unlucky day dawned
when she lost you," he said, "and I think she knows that now."
"Knows what?" I whinnied.
"Knows how much she's lost. Clarence, maybe she doesn't
know how to get back. Maybe you could go to her and..."
"Me make the first move?" I'm not the one who left."
"I know, I know," Randolph said, watching the sad cat high
in the tree. "Still, maybe she doesn't know how to make the
first step. Maybe she needs you to make the first move."
"But it's not my fault, I tell you."
"Nobody's talking about fault," Randolph said.
"What are we talking about?" I whinnied.
"Patching up a life friendship."
"I don't know if we can get back to where we were."
"I heard somewhere that a long journey begins with the first
step. I think you'll be surprised. Do it for me."
"Yes! you can do it. You know you want to."
"Well, I guess I'll do it then."
"You're not as valuable a friend to me until you're whole,
Clarence. And without Hortense, part of you is missing."
Thus started the campaign to win back a friend.