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a novel by Gary Jacobson



Chapter One

          If you ask me, which nobody did, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Life around the farm was getting altogether too dreary...too dreary for words. That is, hrumph, till strange goings on started happening in the forest.

           Allow me to introduce myself. Clarence is the name. I know, you don’t have to say it. Clarence is rather a stuffy name for a colt playing and splashing in the diamond sprayed creek bottoms and chasing crickets in the meadow with his pet Bobby.


          Bobby thought the name sounded stuffy too! "Everybody will make fun of me, with that sissy name for a kid with knickers ruffled below the knees,” he had argued, as he tousled my mane. “Clarence is the name for someone that wears a lace shirt and fancy French cravat. Clarence is a boring name. It’s a tiresome name. It’s a sissy name.”

           But arguing did little good. Bobby’s maiden aunt Clara, had introduced me to my pet Bobby on his twelfth birthday, and had bestowed the name Clarence on me. Aunt Clara was an interesting human, even if she was a little bit crotchety, and Bobby’s father explained that she might be offended if Bobby changed my Clarence it was to be.

          Bobby and I grew inseparable at once. We romped in tall meadow grass that scraped my belly. We raced the winds, riding the shadows of his imagination, and playing a rousing game of tag with the grasshoppers in the field.


           We rode into battle against them, pretending they were savage warlord hordes, and we were saving helpless women and children. Bobby was a king's knight astride me, his mighty steed. He wore armor made of tin foil and cardboard that shone like a blue glass mirror in the hot summer sun. I chased down the grasshoppers and he smacked them right and left, with mighty blows from his trusty wooden sword all the live-long day.

           Another game we like to play was a fantasy where we were racing in the "Kentucky Derby." Thousands of singing crickets sat in the Kentucky Downs bluegrass, transformed as if by magic into cheering spectators, as we raced down the home stretch.

           And as we played, Bobby would hug my neck, whispering in my ear of his love. He said softly that if I should ever go, the last remnant of his youth would pass too. Ah, those were the days. As some human once said, "These were the best of times, and the worst of times." They were indeed the times of our life.

           Now in the Autumn sunset years of my life I’ve grown older, so the name Clarence fits somehow. My lustrous black coat has turned a mottled gray. My eyesight's not as good as in my ponyhood. My joints ache with something the veterinarian called arthritis, and I walk with a sway back.


           But I digress. I talked of strange goings on in the forest. Let me tell you about the day that had started just like so many before it. I was standing under a shade tree staring absently at the road like I always do. It seemed like a million miles away, or at least my thoughts were.

          Hortense, a refined, polished, cultivated cat, was curled on my rump. Hortense was rather hoity toity and standoffish, silly in a pompous sort of way if you ask me. She liked to pretend she was royalty, and had staked out for her own the expansive sweeping verandah my backside afforded, because she said it offered her such a marvelously superb view. But Hortense was my best friend in all the world, so what are you going to do. Besides, I kind of liked having her near me, so that was all right. cribby

           Her softly contented meowing songs melted my heart. Her gentle purring put me into a light sleep, dreaming of tall meadow grass that scraped my belly as I ran. I dreamed of cold drinks from the creek at the bottom of the pasture. The sun felt so warm and good on my back as I closed my eyes, that I soon forgot I was a revered old patriarch, with an honored place as King of the barnyard. It seemed my sole activity these days was gently swishing my tail to keep off the flies buzzing around my flank.

           I hardly noticed as Bobby...he likes to be called Bob now...came out the front door with his wife Mary. Their children, Matt, Blythe, and Lindsey romped around them. Blythe jumped on Matt, digging her heels in his side. "Got you with my silver spurs you wild pony," she giggled as she truly gouged his flanks with her heels.

           Matt reachedup and pulled her pony tail to get even, flashing a cheesy, "who-me?" grin. A scream like the awakening dead resulted...a scream heard all too often, if you ask me.

           "Mo-o-o-o-m, Matt pulled my pony tail."

           "Did not."

           "Did too," Blythe yelled.

           "You hit me first," the bigger boy yelled, "so there," he taunted, makingfaces at her as she chased him around the car.

           Lindsey, a very dignified lady, as always, tried to get between them. "Matt, you're in big trouble mister," she said." But did they listen? Do they ever listen? No-o-o-o!

           "Get in the car this minute," Bob said, raising his eyes hopelessly to look for a heavenly referee. Opening the door, he pointed inside. "You're going to make us late to the theater."

          "I get the front seat," Matt said, pushing his sister aside.

          "Mo-o-o-m, I got here first."

          "No you didn't," Matt snarled.

           "Did too."

           "Did not."

           "Just for that," Bob growled, "Lindsey gets the front seat." Lindsey beamed like she had won the lottery.

          "They really love each other you know," sighed Hortense, making a show of ignoring them. "They really do," she said, as she meandered along my back. Suddenly distracted at a movement down by the creek, she scampered up my neck and was staring between my ears. Her claws pierced and tickled my hide with every step. But I scrunched my eyes, and tried to ignore the feeling. I admired the way she moved, with the coils in her legs ready to spring in a flash. She was smooth, graceful and effortless, always in control, sliding, almost rolling with every step.

           "If they love each other they have a funny way of showing it," a barnyard friend named Daffy Duck quacked. ducks2

          Daffy was called "the watch duck," because he took upon himself the very important job of patrolling the borders of our yard seriously. His beady black eyes always watched and waited for trespassers. If a stranger even stepped on our property, Daffy would spring into action, barking like a watch dog. He would squawk an alarm, flapping and beating his wings. Oh me, oh my...whether friend or foe, everyone received Daffy's belligerent greeting.

          "Play tag with me,” he quacked, waddling after Blythe, Matt and Lindsey, fluttering his wings and nipping at their heels.

          Bob, won't you do something about that duck," Mary scolded. "He thinks he's going to town with us, daffy duck." Did I forget to mention, Mary had named him.

          Daffy pinched Bob with his bill, "Got you!" And Bob did his part in the game, chasing Daffy around the car. "Got you again!" squawked Daffy, pecking Bob from underneath the car.

          "Stop it you daffy duck," Bob chuckled, thinking how much the name fit. Finally he grabbed him. He held his beak closed to prevent a tweaked nose, tucked Daffy under his arm, and put him inside the gate. But the gate has not been made that will stop Daffy duck. When Bob made a mad dash for the car, Daffy was screeching and flapping right behind him.

           "Goodness," Mary said, "I don't know what we're going to do with that duck. I didn't know he would grow so big when we got him for the children last Easter. I didn't know he'd take over. We're going to have to find him a new home...Bob."

          "Oh mo-o-o-om," Matt, Blythe and Lindsey chimed as one, "Daffy's family."

          As the car drove off, Mary waved her hands in resignation as if she was fending off a swarm of killer bees.

          Barney, an old stack of bones in a gunny sack dog, ran up from the creek quick as molasses. He was panting and out of breath. His wet skin hung loosely from his carcass, drool slobbering from his muzzle, and sheer panic shone in his eyes.

          "Cat got your tail," Hortense mused with a Cheshire grin.

          "That's not fair, Barney," Daffy quacked, ruffling his feathers disgustedly. You'll ruin "the boundary game," you witless dog. You know you're not supposed to enter the yard that way?"

          Daffy had waited all morning for the flop eared, slab sided, flea-bitten, ribs sticking out, yeller coon hound. Daffy couldn’t start the “boundary” game without Barney. Every day the animals would watch their shadowy dance, as Daffy paced step for step at the edge of our property, in front of Barney, keeping him on the dirt road and out of the yard. the daffy sentry would spread his wings and screech whenever Barney came too close to our boundary line, raucously tweaking Barney's nose and hounding the poor dog.
ducks2 hound

          "Sorry," Barney sniveled, huffing and puffing, his massive head drooping. His long red tongue almost touched the ground. "But something came up..something more important."

          "What are you thinking?" Daffy scolded. "More important," you say. "I can't be everywhere at once you mangy flea circus. I wasn't ready for you," he quacked and chattered. "Go out and come in again. This time we'll play 'the boundary game,' like it's supposed to be played."

           But Barney didn't move. "I was circling down by the creek to surprise you from a different angle, but something awful...”

          "Awful...describe awful!" purred Hortense, sitting on my regal rump, cleaning her haunches with a flicking tongue.

           Now I like cleanliness as well as the next horse, but Hortense obsessed on it. She was constantly cleaning and licking herself. I opened my mouth to scold her about cleaning right down to the bone, when Barney stammered, "A monster from across the creek jumped me and..."

           "What did it do?" purred Hortense, cocking her head, one eye on Barney and the other looking down at the creek, "say boo?"

          "No," Barney whimpered, "it...came out of the bushes.” He looked back at the creek. “It had gray hair, bony teeth, and claws like you never saw before. It were kind of small, and I thought to myself, 'What's this?' then it chuckled...not just an ordinary chuckle, mind you, but the most awful chuckle you ever heard. Then iy, uh, uh, it vanished."

          "It vanished?" Hortense screwed up her face with mock fear, obviously trying hard not to split her cat gut. "Oh no! That horrid beast. That vile, it chuckled! And then it...vanished! Will the horror never end?"

          "The fiend," Daffy quacked up, squawking and rolling on the ground. "The grisly ol' beast chuckled...a tiny, itsy bitsy chuckle? How horrible for you!"

          Barney wrinkled his already wrinkled face, questioning what he'd seen. He growled, mostly I think because he was ashamed of his fear, and was screwing up the courage to sound brave. "C'mon now! It had a mask and...and, it looked like a miniature wolf."

          "A masked, chuckling fur ball, that looked like a very tiny...miniature wolf...right? Oh yeah, we get a lot of that around here,” Hortense purred restlessly, as if the amusement she first felt was growing old.

          "You lunkhead! You flea brained dunderhead," Daffy quacked, slapping his bony legs with his wing and falling over again. "Lilliputian masked wolves don't exist."

           Hortense was vainly absorbed with her image in my drinking tank, preening and smiling in the reflection like a Cheshire cat. cribby "Lamebrained dog probably chased butterflies and gulped spring water too quick."

          "A wolf does live in the next valley," I neighed, feeling sorry for the lunky dog. “He hardly never comes here, but maybe it was him you saw. It could happen."

          We stood at the edge of the fence, looking across the meadow and into the trees on the other side of the creek. We looked for something strange. We looked for something that none of us had ever seen before that might have put Barney into such a lather, something that hadn't been there before.

           "I'll go see what monster lurks down there," quacked Daffy. He beat his wings and craned his neck. He stood on the tippytoes of his webbed feet and ruffled his feathers.

          Daffy had always been such a brave duck, I thought. Been that way ever since he was a gosling.
ducks2 "It...whatever it is, has some tall explaining to do," Daffy honked menacingly.

          "I saw it first, you don't mind Mr. machismo duck," Barney snarled ferociously. His fur bristled on his back to frighten the unknown monster. "I'll go!"


           "I'm the biggest and oldest," hors2 I neighed. "I'll go!"

           But nobody moved.

           "Why don't we all go together," Hortense purred with her Cheshire smile. "I'll stand lookout from Clarence's back while you big, brave, savage animals protect helpless creatures like poor lil me from the big bad monster." cribbyI felt a tremor from her resting place on my derriere as she chuckled, barely attempting to hold back the mocking tones.

          I led the way to the creek with Hortense perched between my ears to give early warning. Daffy and Barney, a fearsome duo if ever I saw one, moved cautiously behind on my flanks. I cupped my ears to detect the slightest sound, but a giggling spasm from the cat on my balcony spoiled my concentration. "See anything?" I asked.

          "I see Daffy and Barney shivering from a sudden cold spell." Hortense meowed with pompus glee. She laughed so hard she almost fell off my neck, but dug in her claws to restore her balance.

          "Hey, watch it. That's not a wood staircase you're scratching," I said.

          "Sorry," Hortense purred, "I forgot. Won't happen again," she assured me.

          "Better not," I scrunched my eyes and tried to ignore the tickling sensation as the cat moseyed back to her noble resting place on my rump. As we approached the edge of the creek, I whinnied, "See anything?"

          "No," she said, purring. She hastily glanced at the river, but gave most of her concentration to licking down her right rear paw.

          "Hortense, stop cleaning for a minute, and take a good look," I said in annoyance. "What do you think?"

          She was miffed and sulking from the rebuke. "I think Barney's fruitcake imagination made him see things," Hortense hissed arrogantly. "The old geezer does suffer from hallucinations, poor dear," she purred, cutting her eyes and lifting her nose scornfully. "The whole barnyard knows that."

          Suddenly, a deafening crash in the brush across the creek got our attention.

          Daffy, who had swam into the middle of the river, ducking his head below water for bugs and snacking on greens from the creek bottom, suddenly squawked. "Did you hear that?" But he didn't wait for an answer. His webbed feet churned the water like pistons, and his wings flapped furiously. Almost flying, he skimmed the surface and catapulted out of the water.

           "What did I tell you," Barney snarled viciously, but backed away as a wolf-like creature came out of the trees on the opposite bank, growling and spitting and waving his paws.

          The beast appeared only half as big as Barney, but it had one thing Barney didn' attitude! When the brute reared on its hind legs and howled, hurling itself across the creek in our direction, we were history!

          Lickety-split, we four brave creatures were sprawling and galloping and huddling in the corner of the barn across the meadow at the far end of the pasture before you could say Daffy Duck three times. Daffy, hiding in the rafters with his head under his wing, said, “No, I didn't see a thing. Nuuuuuuthing! Barney's rattling bones made the barn tremble as if an earthquake had hit it. And Hortense...dear unflappable Hortense...she pulled the biggest fake of all.

          She lay curled in a ball on my back, like a royal princess, pretending she had slept through it all, as if nothing had happened. But she didn't fool me. No sirree Bob! You ask anybody, they'll tell you. “Clarence is a most sensitive horse, very shrewd and open to these things.” I can detect Hortense's subtle fears and innermost feelings...because her claws once more were digging furrowed rows in my hide.

          Nobody dared speak. I suppose not speaking kept us from facing up to what we'd seen. Finally Hortense cleared her voice. "Well, what do you say, shall we call him Fluffy?"

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