Them Be Free
The garbage can toppled over. The young raccoon who had been
nosing about inside it leaped to the ground as it fell. He
stood quiet for a moment, staring up at the darkened farmhouse.
Suddenly a light went on, and a window flew open. A voice
yelled out, "Hey! Get out of there."
The raccoon snatched up a half-eaten corn cob and scampered
off toward the woods. No one followed him. After a little
while, the raccoon stopped by a fence post to catch his breath.
It was his first trip to the farmhouse, and he was not sure
how dangerous it was. Could he risk a trip back to pick up
more of those juicy scraps?
He pricked up his ears and sniffed the air. There were animals
nearby. He smelled a strange spell and heard a sleepy snort
and a shuffling. One of the horses in the barn was stirring.
The young raccoon was curious. He ducked under the fence rail
and trotted across the yard toward the barn. The smell was
stronger now. He walked slowly around the barn, sniffing at
the cracks in the walls. Suddenly he noticed the latch on
the barn door.
The raccoon had never seen a latch before, but when he stretched
upward he could just reach it with his nimble fingers. He
began to play with the latch, pushing one part and pulling
another. Suddenly the door swung open. Inside, the raccoon
saw four horses, staring at him from their stalls.
The raccoon called softly to them, but they shrank back in
their stalls, rolling their eyes and nickering worriedly.
The raccoon sat down in a patch of moonlight at the entrance
to the barn. "Come out into the beautiful moonlight," he wanted
to tell them. But they did not understand. They were quiet
now, but they just stared back at him. They did not try to
leave their stalls.
Finally the raccoon turned and left the barn. He trotted over
to the fence to pick up his corn cob and carried it down to
the stream to wash it thoroughly before eating it. While he
washed, and then while he ate the corn, he thought about the
horses. Why shouldn't they be free as he was? He thought about
them while he caught a crayfish and a frog in the edge of
the stream and ate them. He thought about them as the sun
was rising and he curled up in his den in a hollow tree. He
dozed fitfully through the day, dreaming about the horses
in the barn. And he woke that afternoon, while the sun was
still high in the sky.
The raccoon shook himself sleepily, then headed up through
the woods toward the farm. At the edge of the woods he peered
out toward the fence. The horses were out of the barn now.
But they still were not free! They were locked inside the
The raccoon moved closer. Soon he spotted a gate in the fence,
with a latch just like the one on the barn door. It took only
a moment to open it. The horses moved closer and looked at
him curiously. The gate swung wide. But they did not try to
leave the corral.
The raccoon trotted a few steps away and then turned to call
to them. One of the horses stepped timidly out through the
gate. The others followed. The raccoon scampered about happily.
The horses were free!
For an hour the horses nibbled at the grass outside the fence.
They went down to the stream from time to time to take a drink.
But then the farmer discovered the open gate. "Dancer!" he
called. "Whitey! Trotter! Velvet!" The raccoon watched in
amazement as the horses turned and trotted into the corral.
The farmer locked the gate and led them into the barn.
That night, when the farmer was asleep, the raccoon crept
up to the fence and unlatched the gate. He unlatched the barn
door, too. But the horses did not stir. The next morning the
farmer shook his head as be locked the gate again.
That afternoon the raccoon unlatched the gate again, but again
the horses did not stray far. They did not seem to want to
Day after day and night after night the same thing happened.
After a few days, the farmer was determined to find out who
was opening the gate. One afternoon he hid behind the barn
to watch. And he saw the raccoon open the latch. That night
he set a trap by the barn, baited with some tasty leftovers
The raccoon soon spotted the box and smelled the tempting
food inside. He walked in to investigate it, and a door suddenly
slammed shut behind him. Soon the farmer came to check the
trap. He put the raccoon into a big wire cage and snapped
a heavy padlock shut on the latch.
Days went by. The raccoon barely touched the food the farmer's
son put out for him, and he grew thinner and thinner. He watched
constantly for a chance to escape, but the chance never came.
He would never be free again.
The farmer's son watched the raccoon sadly. He tried again
and again to make friends with it, but the raccoon did not
trust him. "Poor thing," he thought. "How would I feel locked
up in a cage like that?"
One night, after his parents were asleep, he crept down to
the barn and lifted the ring of keys off the hook. In a moment
the padlock was off and the door of the cage was open. The
boy watched as the raccoon slipped like a shadow into the
night. Then he snapped the lock back on the empty cage and
crept quietly back to bed.
2013 The Silversteins