Hortense vanished and left me alone when Randolph bayed at the moon with the tone of a vicious, wild animal. I'm quite sure I turned a whiter shade of horse. Groundless fear shrunk my throat, suspicions planted by that fraidycat, Hortense, and I quaked like Blythe's rocking horse. The doubts rolled like a snowball down a hill, getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

      "I know what I'm doing," I snickered softly. "I don't care what Hortense found in that book. Where is that brave pussy?"

      "You see, you see," Hortense purred proudly from out of the red tulips and blue crocuses of Mary's flower bed. "Here, ow, ow, ow, take this. They're hot."

      "What have you got there?" I said, noticing Hortense had hot cross buns in her paws. "Where did you get those?"

      "In the house," she mewed. "I hid when Randolph howled. Mary heated them for the family, and thought it cute when I made off with a couple. I've got one for you too. Put it on."

      "What are they for?" I whinnied nervously.

      "Dodo, they're to hang around your neck to ward off the werecoon," she gazed sarcastically at Randolph down by the creek.

      "You have to be joking," I snickered, "how?"

      "Here," she said, dangling the bun around my neck, this string holds it like a necklace."

      "I suppose it wouldn't be too much of a bother," I said. "Never know when I might get hungry."

      "They're not for eating," she hissed crossly. "These cross-buns are for warding off wereanimals."

      "They're for what? Hortense, have you gone bonkers."

      "Oh Clarence, do I have to tell you everything. Randolph gave me the idea. Remember when he said the sight of a cross will keep him from transforming into the werecoon."

      "Yes...I mean no, you've got that backwards, as usual, Hort old gal, the sight of a cross transforms him from a werecoon into a normal raccoon."

      "Either way," she meowed, "the hot cross buns will protect us from the werecoon."

      "Protect us!" I sputtered. "We don't need protecting. What if I refuse?"

      "Can't be too sure about that walking terror, Clarence. Do it for me, and if the werecoon proves not to be a danger...if my fears are groundless like you say...I'll make it up to you. I'll pretend I'm a werekitty."

      "I think you're overly dramatic, If you ask me," I whinnied. "All this fuss and bother for nothing. How do you keep coming up with such things?"

      Hortense grinned like a cheshire cat. "I always try to keep my head out of the clouds and on the ground..."

      "That's feet."

      "What's feet."

      "The saying is trying to keep your feet on the ground...oh, never mind. Talking to you makes as much sense as talking to cement."

      A shaft of light fell on Randolph the werecoon, and I could see a grin that went right down to his soul, past the wild eyes, past the wrinkled snout, past the bushy tail, and yes, past the sharp fangs. Belief in him surged into me. "I should have remained true to him all along," I said aloud."

      But Hortense didn't hear me. "How do you get rid of a werecoon?" she mused, "I suppose a silver bullet."

      "Balderdash," I whinnied. "Hot cross buns, silver bullets, are you kidding?"

      "Cats don't kid," Hortense flashed a serious eye at me. "It's something to think about, that's all," she mewed.

      "Balderdash, I say! That's not funny. You wouldn't use a silver bullet, would you?"

      "No, probably not, but it's something to think about."

      I was totally flabbergasted. "I am determined, determined I say, not to be stampeded by your rumors, Hortense."

      "Well, go down and show him your new hot cross necklace," Hortense said.

      "Do what?"

      "You aren't afraid of a harmless little werecoon are you?

      "Well I..."

      "A strapping big horse like you, Clarence. You're not afraid of danger, you can swallow it in, and spit it out."

      "Well sure, but..."

      "Use your head. He's a threat to this farm and every animal for miles around, but that doesn't mean you have to be afraid, a big stud like you. He won't attack, you're his friend. Take your cross bun in case, stick it in his face, and watch his eyes drool."

      I stuck my head between my hooves to cover my ears, and kept echoing, "I am his friend, I am his friend, I am his friend."

      "Keep repeating that, you big lummox," Hortense hissed.

      "Hort, I'll wear your stupid cross-bun, but when you see your fears are as thin as air, you'll eat your words. Hort, Randolph's my friend."

      "Of course he is," she purred with that cheshire grin. "And in case he's the monster I think he is, you have the hot cross bun, and you're safe. Just in case, you understand."

      I wondered how to convince Hortense I trusted Randolph fully. Then I eyed the cross bun, and took a nibble.

      "Stop," Hortense screamed. "That bun may be the only thing between you and the werecoon."

      "Oh come on, Hortense, get a grip. Behave yourself," I chuckled, nibbling another corner of the bun. "Now it will prevent me from becoming a werehorse."

      "This isn't any joking matter," Hortense meowed angrily. I went to a lot of trouble to get those cross buns, in case..."

      "I don't need any of your, in case," I said. My mouth opened and I started to drool. Now, let's eat. I took a big, gooey bite of hot, doughy bun, right on top, right over the cross. "Umm, that's good," I smacked.

      "Now you've gone and done it, Clarence. I don't think I can get any more either," she said, looking desperately to the house. "You know how that Matt has a vacuum cleaner for a mouth. Those hot cross buns are no more than a memory by now."

      "I don't need them, Hort, thank you very much. Even if the cross buns prevent Randolph from transforming into the werecoon, I wouldn't do it."

      "Oh no," said Hortense weakly, "why not?"

      "Simple," I nibbled up the last few crumbs of the cross bun, "I like the werecoon as he is, and I like Randolph. It's like two friends in one."

      "And I suppose as a friend I play a distant third behind the Randolph-werecoon duo?" she purred."

      "That's gibberish, Hortense, and you know it. It's poppycock that doesn't mean twiddle-daddle."

      "Clarence, what are you talking about? Did you say fiddle-faddle? I don't think I..."

      "No Hort," I whinnied, "I said twiddle-daddle, can't you hear good. It's all folderol, bunkum, bilge of boondoggle, flim flam flummery."

      "Clarence, what are you talking about?"

      "What am I talking about, Hortense? Don't give it no truck," I said, "the blatherskite, moonshine, flummadiddle, hoopdedoodle, humbug, hocus-pocus."

      "Have you gone completely out of your ever-living mind?" she purred nervously.

      "Have I gone out of my mind, Hort? Fiddle-dee-dee no. Should I know better? Oh yes, by all means I should know better. Being someone's friend means knowing, liking, trusting, believing. I don't know why I didn't see it before."

      "See what?" she meowed feebly, looking very confused.

      "I'm usually a pretty bright horse..."

      "As horses go," Hortense hissed, more aggravated than ever, "but lately you've been two bricks short of a load."

      "So nice of you to notice," I whinnied.

      "Well you have."

      "Tush, tush, Hortense, being a friend means not listening while others put your friend down. What if he does tie one on now and then? He makes me laugh."

      "But that werecoon is too different for words."

      "And you're not?"

      "It's for your benefit I tell you these things, Clarence."

      "Hortense, when are you going to learn? What animals look like shouldn't make any skimble-skamble difference at all. It's what they are inside that counts."

      "Skimble-skamble? Did you say skimble-skamble? Are you making that up?"

      "Of course not," I whinnied, "skimble-skamble's a perfectly good word, and the only one that means anything."

      "Clarence, don't be an idiot."

      "Don't you see," Hortense, "how friends make you feel when you're with them is the only thing that counts. Do they make you want to laugh, or cry, or sing in the rain?"

      "Talking about rain," she said calmly, "I think you've been out in it too long," she meowed nervously.

      "Now stop right there, Hort. "Randolph is my friend?"

      "Well that's your problem," she snapped.

      "Randolph's not a problem," I nickered. "Randolph's my friend, and Randolph will stay my friend. If you value my friendship you will accept that. Nothing you can say will make me change my mind."

      "I can only try," she purred. "I can only try."

      "Well, don't. Hort, I don't give a helter skelter lollipop what other people say. He's my friend, and he wants to be your friend too."

      "Me?" Hortense meowed.

      "Yes you!" I whinnied.

      "I'd never," she smiled her cheshire smile.

      "You could if you tried. Try it, you might like it. Although I don't know Randolph should take you in after all the grief you put him through."

      "Randolph wants to be my friend, yea right," Hortense hissed and spat. "Like I believe that. You like him better than me."

      "Do not, Hortense."

      "Do too!"

      I neighed, "I do not...but I do think we've been hanging around Matt and Blythe too long."

      "Well, it's still true Clarence, isn't it?"

      "No! of course not, you're my first best friend, Hort. Have been all along...and I hope you will be again."

      "You're just saying that, Clarence."

      "No, it's true, I tell you," I neighed. "Randolph hasn't taken me away from you."

      "Haven't you heard, Clarence? Three's a crowd."

      "When will you believe me, Hortense? Randolph's the one who insisted I make up with you."

      "Really Clarence?" she cooed, licking her paw to look casual, and oh so cool while she thought it over. "I suppose I have been a trifle petty."

      "A trifle," I snickered. "But my greater concern is the time we wasted. Wake up you flea brained meow meister..."

      "Flea brained?" Hortense hissed. "That's low."

      "Hortense, I'll always make time for you, but I like you both. If you'd let yourself know Randolph you'd see your fears are meaningless, you thimble brained scaredy cat."

      "Scaredy cat...thimble brained," Hortense sputtered, and hissed, and spat till I thought she'd throw a gasket. "Well, we'll see who's right or wrong about Randolph. We'll see."

      "You don't know what you're missing, Hortense. Don't fill your head with mumbo-jumbo, slip-slap, jabbering drivel."

      "You've lost your mind," Clarence.

      "Don't be so thick, Hort. Try to act smarter than the turnips in Mary's garden, will you?"

      "Do you have the slightest idea what you're saying?"

      "You're wasting time my friend, time that you and he could be the best of friends."

      "Is that what this is about?"

      "Think, Hortense," my lips fluttered. "If the three of us merged, the three of us together, there'd be no stopping us."

      "The three amigo's," she mused. "Has a nice ring to it."

      "Watch out world," I whinnied.

      "I guess I can try," she mewed, scratching playfully at me. "I'll pretend I'm his friend for your sake, that satisfy you?"

      I tightened my lips to endure the annoying prickling of her claws. "I guess pretending's a start in the right direction, but the sincerity needs work."

      "You think," Hortense purred. "You'll see I'm right about Randolph being different."

      "Uh, uh, uh, Hortense, you promised you'd try...and if you try, just maybe, you'll get beyond the pretending."

      "All right," she purred, licking her paw. "I suppose I might be wrong about Randolph. I suppose the danger I see in the werecoon might not be anything at all. Do you really think all of us could be friends, Clarence?"

      "Don't see why not," I whinnied, pawing at the dirt with my hooves. "It will make me happy if we can remain friends."

      We looked down to the creek where the raccoon washed a crawdad in the pale moonlight, tearing at it with his fangs. The whole world stopped dead still as the werecoon transformed into Randolph raccoon. "But he's so weird," Hortense gulped, like a hairball had caught in her throat. "Too weird for words."

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