Daffy jumped down from the rafters, and pretended to look for grain that had fallen on the floorboards. He acted as if nothing had happened. Being the astute duck that he was, he figured it could have all been a bad dream. He could have imagined it all.
"How can you eat at a time like this," Barney said, shaking his head, his great flapping jowls slobbering slimy spray over everyone.
Daffy just ignored Barney. Cocking his head to the side, he spied a kernel of corn between the floorboards, and swept it out with his wings so he could easier get at it. But when he raised his head with beak held high to swallow, he saw the others looking at him. "What's up?" he quacked.
"You overblown feather duster," Barney jeered.
"Don't pretend like you don't know what's up. I saw you high-tailing it from
the creek like a scaredy duck. Don’t go acting like you’re
quacked up. You are as afraid as the rest of us. Admit it!"
Hortense purred, "You did look like a duck with his drake tail on fire the way you beat a hasty retreat old chum."
"Quack, quack, quack," Daffy protested, "I'm sure I don't know what you're all going on about."
I was so frustrated I was as frisky as a young filly in spring. I ran around the barnyard as fast as I could go several times.
"Puhlezzzzze!! Not all at once, if you don't mind," Hortense purred. “You’re talking like a crazy horse with his tail on fire.”
"Hrumph," I whinnied, clearing my throat. "Hort has a point. We've got to have order here, and as the biggest, oldest, and most mature, I should be the spokesman. Hrumph! Do you all remember the creature down by the creek that frightened us all?”
“He was quite a ferocious beast," Daffy said. "Thinking about it still sends shivers up my back feathers, but, uh...I didn't see him."
"You daffy duck,” I whinnied. “Don't go pretending you didn't see the beast. He had a shaggy coat, and beady eyes that glowed like fire, and..."
"You mean the monster that looks like a small wolf? The one with a black mask, terrible long fangs, and enormous white eyes?" Daffy quacked. All the while he was speaking he was casually shaking a kernal of corn in his beak to jiggle off the barnyard dirt.
"Yes, that's him, brrrr," Barney again shook his muzzle, and again we were all sprayed with flecks of foam.
"Well, I didn't see him then," Daffy quacked, “sorry,” and turned away to hunt for more corn.
Hortense purred scornfully, licking her paw with a detached, aloof air. "He certainly doesn't concern me in the least. Certainly not! My sophisticated blue blood is above getting all hot, bothered and scared about some minute monster."
Barney glared at Daffy, then at Hortense. "You fakers! Hort, you almost fell off Clarence when -- whatever that was -- came after us. Do you remember now? And daffy, you daft quacker, trying to pretend nothing happened."
Daffy's head jerked erect, like a bolt of electricity had went off behind his beady eyes. "I'll admit I saw it if you will, Hortense," Daffy said. But Hortense just lofted her pristine head and looked away. "Hortense, you daft pussy," he waddled in circles quacking hysterically at the cat. "You say you’re not scared? Check out the claw marks in Clarence's hide."
"Hort old gal," I nickered, “don't try to tell us you weren't scared. Your fur was frizzled like the time you got too near to where the master plugs in his lights."
"I think you went through at least four of your nine lives down by the creek,” Barney howled.
Hortense stood up on my hind quarters furiously cleaning herself, and properly ignored us. She is a sophisticated cat, you know! "The family has returned," she said with haughty grace. I think she seemed relieved that there was someone else for us to pay attention too.
"Matt won't let me carry the popcorn," Blythe whined.
"She's too little. She'll spill it," Matt snarled.
"Will too, squirt!"
Blythe punched Matt, and ran across the meadow. Matt chased after her, tickling and irritating her all the way. I saw trouble at once. I bolted towards the creek to save her from the monster, but too late. Before I could stop her, Blythe walked back up the hill with a wad of sandwich in her clenched fist. "Look Clarence, it was still on the rock where I left it."
She offered me a bite of her sandwich, but I neighed, "No thank you very much." It didn't look good. It didn't look good at all. Blythe's a nice kid, don't get me wrong, blonde ringlets, always smiling, but I just don’t eat sandwiches. I’m a hay and grain stallion myself.
Blythe swung onto my back and rode me back to the house, and I was wondering all the way, why what scared us, hadn't scared her. She didn't seem the least bit scared, talking and giggling about a cute little raccoon down by the creek washing off a crawdad, and rolling it in its paws.
No little raccoon had scared us, I thought. Maybe the monster had gone away.
"Good looking sandwich, squirt," Matt threw a dirt clod at Blythe as she got down. It hit me on the flank, but I'm too proud a horse to bolt.
"Mo-o-o-m," Blythe cried. "Matt hit Clarence with a rock."
"Did not, squirt!"
"I threw a clod...there's a big difference."
"You're in big trouble mister," Lindsey pointed from the back porch.
"Okay," said Mary through clenched teeth. "That's it! Matt...bed, Blythe...bed. Maybe we all ought to get some sleep."
"Why do I have to go to bed," Matt whined. "I don't want to go to sleep."
"Na-na-na-na-na," Blythe mocked, goading her big brother.
"Told you you'd be in big trouble, mister," Lindsey chimed in a know-it-all voice.
"Isn't that cute," Hortense sneered mockingly. Her voice was thick with sarcasm.
After the clod throwing incident I joined Barney and Daffy at the far end of the pasture out of the line of fire. At the point of the sun's passing, just at the moment it gave its last gasp of color, a voice wailed over the meadow. "Mo-o-o-o-m, I don't want to go to sleep."
"Go to bed, squirt."
"No, you go to bed."
"I'm already in bed, squirt."
"You're in big trouble mister."
"Aw, go to bed Lindsey."
"They really love each other," Hortense said, curled in a ball on my majestic rump covering her ears. It's a healthy case of sibling-rivalry,” she confided knowingly. “We cats know about these things."
"Sib-what?" I whinnied.
Hortense stretched out, and I saw a lecture coming. "Human children play games with their litter mates. You think they hate each other. Then you know they hate each other. Then they do something that totally surprises you, and you know they love each other after all. Play fighting tests them. It readies them for life outside their pack," she purred.
"That so," I said sleepily.
"That's so," Hortense meowed self-satisfied. "Sometimes my amazing intellect astonishes even me." She purred with a contented drone, stretching. And once again I felt her claws digging into my back.
Barney shook the loose skin of his muzzle, and sent lathered froth flying in all directions. "Never saw my littermates after my mother weaned us and we all went to other homes."
“You poor, dreadful dog,” Hortense purred, looking bored.
Down at the creek we saw a raccoon lounging
in a tree, watching the first glowing fingers of moonlight come over the far
mountains before the full moon.
I couldn’t get over feeling that something was odd about him. "Something's not right," I neighed in alarm. But at that moment what was wrong was Hortense. She was digging in her claws in my hide to keep from losing her balance, and pacing back and forth down my spine. "Stop that. I don't mind your being up there, but if you're going to stay up there...please stay still!"
"Hey you!" Daffy squawked, flapping his wings in a macho, pushy way at the raccoon. "Seen anything strange down there?"
"Pardon my brash friend," I apologized to the raccoon. "Daffy doesn't mean to be so offensive, hrumph, but we thought we saw something that looked like a tiny wolf earlier."
I looked reproachfully at Daffy, but his eyes now seemed to be popping out of his sockets. I wondered why the daffy duck was acting strangely, but then I looked back as the full moon came over the hill, and saw that the raccoon was changing shape.
His eyes were growing bigger, and wilder, into monster eyes. The browns in them turned to fiery orange. His fur grew longer, more densely bristled. His bushy ring-tail stretched longer, and even more bushy. His claws enlarged till they looked like sharp-edged razors. His cute, soft muzzle swelled until it covered his jaw with hard stubble and black wrinkled skin. Finally his mouth cracked broadly, and tiny fangs came out.
Never have I experienced such fear. I was unable to move. My hooves felt like they were sunk up to my fetlocks in hardened concrete. I tried to move, to whinny a warning, but my nei Daffy drew his wings into a cross, like he thought that might protect him. Why he thought that I don't know. Still, following his example, I crossed my hooves -- even my ears. Hortense froze into a rigid, marble statue on my back. I sensed her claws piercing me again, but her claws didn't worry me. Barney huddling and shivering under my belly doesn't worry me. The werecoon worried me.
The raccoon pleaded, plaintively howling, "Please don't be afraid.” Raising his head to the moon, he uttered a squeaky roar. “Please don't run away. Give me a chance to explain. I won't hurt you. I couldn't hurt you."
"But you're a...a wolf," Daffy shuddered. Daffy's drake tail was shivering so hard I thought he'd quack up. "You’re a little, tiny wolf! But a wolf nonetheless."
Barney trembled. “You’re more than just a wolf, you're a were..."
"Coon," the monstrosity said, scrunching down so as not to look so big and terrible. "I'm a werecoon...Randolph raccoon, at your service. But I just want to be your friend."
"A werecoon for a friend," Hortense gulped so hard I thought she had swallowed a hairball. "Why, how utterly absurd. The very idea...it’s just not done."
"Hrumph," I whinnied, "I've never heard of such a thing in all my born days. How...?"
The question hung in the air till it got deathly quiet. Randolph seemed at a loss for a way to explain his bizarre apparition. Fially, a tear fell from his eye. All of a sudden he did not appear so fierce.
"He's crying," I whinnied.
"He looks so sad," quacked Daffy, peeping over his still crossed wings. "But you scared the feathers off folks."
"Aw, poor little feller," sighed Barney.
"Really now,” purred hortense. “And now I suppose you’re just going to cozy up to the werecoon. You’re too much, all of you. It’s unbelievable!”
"I'm sorry," Randolph squeaked, sliding out of the tree. "I'm sorry," he said once more, and in a flash slipped into the forest.
"Wait," I whinnied, "don't go away until you tell us what's going on. Daffy didn't mean anything, he's just quacking to hear himself quack. And Hortense, well...she’s just hortense."
"Come on back," said Barney. “I promise not to bark.”
Daffy swam half-way into the creek to get a better look, fluffing and waving his wings. "Everybody wants to hear your story, and so do I. I'm no scaredy duck."
"Do you hear what you're saying?" Hortense screeched, "Do you hear?" She felt the tension. I know -- because I could feel her claws ripping my velvetty coat to shreds. I turned my head to nuzzle her on my sumptuous rump. "Come on Hort, I say we give the werecoon a chance. What do you say guys?"
"That's no ordinary raccoon," Hortense hissed. "That's a werecoon. He might...he might...who knows what he might do? Let the little creep go," I say.
"I'm not scared of Randolph,” Daffy quacked, “are you?"
"What harm can he do?" I snorted.
"What harm...what harm indeed?" Hortense pouted, turning her back to face the house on the hill. "I never!" she purred violently, trying to keep a contented composure.
"Come on Hort," I said, scuffing the ground with my hooves, "one wrong move and I butt him where the sun don't shine."
Hortense didn't answer. She was licking and cleaning furiously. So I turned to the werecoon.
Neighing softly, I said, "We don't mean any harm. but you're just so...different. Still, if you say you want to be our friend, that's good enough for me. My name is Clarence. That's Daffy duck making ripples in the water. Barney dog's under my belly, and that crabby grouch on my back is Hortense the cat."
"Really Clarence," Hortense purred.
"Sorry about that Hortense," I whinnied with a belly laugh, "but you are being cross. You know you are."
"Well, I like that" Hortense meowed scornfully. She looked for support from the other animals, but she had none. "Clarence, you go ahead and be friends with that, that, werecoon. Maybe you two can be best friends. I just hope you're not sorry tomorrow."
"Oh, go soak your head in a bucket, Hortense," I snorted, but stopped short when I felt her claws dig into my hide. My attention was diverted when I saw movement in the forest.
The forest lay still when Randolph looked from around a huge Oak tree. Not even the birds sang.
Hortense made the only sound. Sitting on my kingly rump, she whispered, "You can call your new best friend Fluffy for all I care."