Drawing by Robert Savannah



      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."

      cribby "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."

      ducks2 "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 Randolph werecoon.

      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.

He looked tiny, wanting nothing, asking nothing. I could scarce keep from rearing into the air and pawing at it, my heart longed to pull him in so. He stood on his hind legs, twitched his nose, and held up his paw. "Don't say anything," he said. "I've taken time the last two weeks to..."

      "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," rockyfly he chattered, 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. rockyfly 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.

And every time the transformation happened, Bob burst out of the house yelping, "Holy cow, what in ever loving tarnation's going on? Can someone tell me what's going on here?"

      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."

      "You think?"

      "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.

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